“I Am The Christ”
One of the things that marks Jesus as distinct from other religious leaders is the way He spoke about Himself. While others, like John the Baptist, were self-effacing, Jesus was self-advancing. While other religious teachers claimed to point to the way, Jesus came saying, “I AM the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6).
Jesus did not come merely as another teacher, or as another prophet, but rather, Jesus identified Himself as the Christ—He identified Himself as the anointed One of God.
This is a striking claim in any context, but it is particularly memorable that Jesus would make such a claim to a Samaritan woman while sitting beside a well.
It is interesting to note that the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman was occasioned by the weariness and thirst of Jesus (4:6, 7). Jesus did not meet the woman because of any planned evangelistic outreach. Jesus did not meet this woman in any sort of religious context, but rather, Jesus turns an ordinary everyday occurrence into an opportunity to present the Good News of salvation.
Before we even learn anything about the nature of salvation, Jesus teaches us, by His example, how you and I should be prepared at all times to share the gospel. Though weary and thirsty from His journey, Jesus seizes an opportunity to share the Gospel with a complete stranger, a foreigner from Samaria.
Now, it is an understatement to say that Jews had little affection for Samaritans. Samaritans, you might recall, owe their origin to the inter-marriage of the remnant Jews with foreigners. The result of this inter-marrying was that their worship became contaminated by idolatry (Tasker, John, 79).
There are many more reasons why the Jews and the Samaritans despised each other, but what is important for our purposes today is that you understand that Jews and Samaritans were not exactly on friendly terms. And that adds to why this encounter is so fascinating. Rather than complying with cultural norms and ignoring the Samaritan woman, Jesus engages her in a conversation, and even asks her for a favour: "Give Me a drink", Jesus asks (4:7).
The Samaritan woman was, predictably, surprised by this request and asks Jesus, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?"(4:9).
Jesus is not being deceptive here—He does not ask for a drink to simply engineer an opportunity to teach the Samaritan woman. Jesus, after a long journey, was, no doubt, genuinely thirsty. Yet, Jesus perceives that the woman's need for salvation exceeds His need for a drink of water and so He proceeds to turn the conversation towards spiritual matters.
Jesus responds to the woman by saying, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you 'Give Me a drink', you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water" (4:10).
We see by the woman's response that she does not comprehend what Jesus was offering. "Sir", she asks, "You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water?" (4:11).
Jesus continues, "Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life" (4:13, 14).
Jesus goes on to shock the woman by articulating His knowledge that she has had "five husbands, and the one (she) now has is not (her) husband"(4:18). Immediately, the woman's focus changes. The woman says to Jesus, "I perceive that You are a prophet"(4:19), and from there, they begin to speak openly about spiritual matters.
After discussing some theological points, the woman says to Jesus, "I know that the Messiah is coming" and "He will declare all things to us" (4:25). To my modern ears, I hear the Samaritan woman trying to wrap up the conversation. Her statement reminds me of all those theological conversations that end with someone saying, "Well, we will know for certain when we are up in heaven." It is as if she was saying, "I don't want to argue about what real worship is, and whether we are to worship in this mountain or in Jerusalem—we will find out when the Messiah comes."
To this, Jesus responds plainly, "I who speak to you am He" (4:26). Jesus had already told the Samaritan woman that He had "living water" to offer, but she did not know what He meant by that. In order for the message of Jesus to be understood by the woman, Jesus needed to reveal who He was: "I am the Christ", He tells her.
There is an important principle here: The message of salvation is bound up in the identity of Jesus. If Jesus is simply a moral teacher, he has no authority to grant eternal life to anyone. And if Jesus is merely a prophet, he has severely overstepped his boundaries, because the prophets attributed the giving of salvation to God alone (i.e. Ezek.36:22-28). But if Jesus is the Christ, if Jesus is God Incarnate, indeed He does possess the authority to grant eternal life to those who seek it.
Keep in mind that Jesus' promise of "living water" was nonsensical to the woman until she understood that she was speaking with the Messiah. There is an inseparable connection between the Gospel message and the person of Jesus Christ. Salvation requires much more than agreeing with a body of information—Jesus calls us to "believe in Him" (4:39).
Being a Christian should never be reduced to subscribing to a particular ideology, nor should Christianity be reduced to abiding to a particular ethical code—Christianity requires believing in God manifest in Jesus. That is why many Christians speak of Christianity in terms of being in a relationship with Christ. Or, as John Stott says, in its essence, “Christianity is Christ”.
Now, I'd like to return to verses 13 and 14, because in these verses we have an important application for everyday life. Jesus says to the woman, "Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst". Here, Jesus compares that which nourishes us physically with that which nourishes us spiritually. Jesus’ statement clearly reveals which kind of nourishment He regards to be superior. And while we may readily agree with such an assessment, I suspect that on an application level, we struggle with this.
If you are like me, you tend to address that which is most pressing, not that which is most important. This is why so many people elevate work above family matters—it’s not that we think that work is more important than family, but our vocational responsibilities often present themselves as more urgent. And because our spouse and children are typically more forgiving than our employer and clients, they tend to get our secondary attention.
The same can likely be said of the relationship between the temporal matters and the eternal matters that require our attention. I think we know that God should have first place in our lives, and yet, our temporal obligations often appear more urgent. And, again, because we know God to be more forgiving than our family and friends, He tends to get pushed to the periphery.
In that many of our temporal obligations have specific timetables and prescribed deadlines, these obligations crowd out the more open-ended obligations we have to pray, to attend worship and to engage in Christian fellowship.
On one level, it is understandable why we might submit to such a skewed ordering of things. But, on another level, prioritizing temporal matters makes little sense. Jesus says that even when our physical needs are met, we will always need more. This is because physical things can be consumed, physical things can be exhausted, and physical things can be worn out.
Conversely, Jesus promises that the spiritual resources that are bestowed to us by Him have an eternal quality. Jesus does not respond to us with half-measures. The quality and the quantity of the spiritual resources given by Jesus is never less than what our situation requires.
Our preference and priority then should be for the spiritual resources made available by Christ. The prophet Jeremiah says much the same in chapter 2, verse 13, of his book—speaking "the word of the Lord" Jeremiah says, "My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water". If there was ever an accurate description of our own day and age this is it. Many people, including probably a great many Christians, spend a disproportionate amount of time hewing cisterns that hold no water.
Rather than seeking the approval of God, we go to great lengths to gain the approval of colleagues and friends. Rather than seeking "treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust can destroy", we eagerly seek to earn more money and to gain more material possessions. Rather than spending abundant time with God in prayer, study, and corporate worship, we choose to use our free time watching television and reading the newspaper.
In my estimation, too many people—too many Christians—spend time hewing cisterns that hold no water. Why is this the case? The only reason I can think of is that we lack an appreciation for how good the "living water" of Christ is. As C.S. Lewis has said, our biggest problem is not that we want too much, but that we want too little. We are like a child who insists upon having a hamburger even while beef tenderloin is being offered.
Perhaps our expectations are all wrong. We expect that going to Sunday service will be an inconvenience. We expect that reading the Bible will be a bore. We expect that prayer will never change anything. We expect that obeying Christ will be too difficult a task. The first thing that many of us must do is change our expectations concerning the "living water". Jesus says that, with His water, we will never thirst again.
What I hear Jesus saying is that what He provides will satisfy us. The living water of Christ is designed to satisfy our deepest longings. Jesus says that when we possess what He gives, we won’t be thirsty—we won’t be lacking what we really need.
Do you believe that? Have you tasted this living water for yourself?
There is no limit to the spiritual resources available in Christ. If we bow our hearts before Him, if we thirst after Him, every spiritual grace will be at our disposal. The grace to persevere hardship, the grace to overcome temptation, the grace to obey, the grace to experience joy and lasting peace.
Friends, I am not asking you to abandon your efforts to meet your physical needs—we’re all going to go and eat lunch very shortly in order to satisfy our stomachs. Later today we’ll make sure the heat in our home is sufficient to keep our body warm. Undoubtedly, we’ll visit a bank this week to ensure that our finances are in order. . . I’m not asking you to abandon your temporal responsibilities, but I am reminding you of Jeremiah's warning—these cisterns, at the end of the day, hold no water—they don’t ultimately satisfy.
Temporal responsibilities should not occupy first place in your life. Jesus tells us that true fulfillment comes when we thirst for Him, and when we seek the "living water" He provides. Amen.