It was a Sunday morning when two high school buddies in Charleston, South Carolina set out to go fishing on their 15 ft. boat. The boys, Troy Driscoll and Josh Long, paddled out from Sullivan’s Island not realizing that bad weather was on the way and that they would be in for an adventure that would almost end their lives. They had been on the water only about 20 minutes when they found themselves stuck in a strong riptide. They tried everything to stop being swept out to sea, but nothing worked. They tried to drop anchor, but it wouldn’t catch. They tried to wave people down, but no one saw them. Josh says that the last thing they saw were the towers on shore that lead cargo ships in.
They boys had no water, no food, no cell phone, and no emergency equipment. The night was long, they were soaking wet, and terrified. The boys were shivering cold so they huddled together throughout the night to try and keep warm. The waves were crashing over their boat. With each wave of water that crashed over their boat another wave of cold paralyzed Troy and Josh. The next day was so hot. The boys would take a quick dip in the ocean to try and cool off, but then the sharks came around and the boys weren’t as concerned about the heat as they were the sharks.
The boys had many problems to deal with during the seven days they were adrift at sea. By Saturday, the seventh day after they set out, the boys were 111 miles from where they had launched. They were cold, colder than they had ever been in their lives. They were hungry. Troy said that he was so hungry he ate jellyfish one day and then waited overnight to see if he would die from the poison in the jellyfish. The next morning he was still alive so he kept eating jellyfish even though they were “nasty and squishy” as he described them. They were hallucinating. Josh woke up screaming one day and believed he was at the store and needed to buy some Mountain Dew. The greatest problem was their dry, persistent, nagging thirst. The thirst was indescribable. They were so thirsty that drinking ocean water was a constant temptation they could not give in to. Josh said that far from shore the water was clear and looked like blue Gatorade. Josh was so thirsty that he begged Troy, “please, let me drink just a little.” Josh said, “If you drink it, you’ll die.” One day it began to drizzle and the boys opened their mouths like little birds sitting in a nest. It didn’t rain hard enough to quench their thirst so they started licking the water from the deck of their boat.
Finally, two fishermen spotted their little boat in the distance and came to their rescue. When they got the boys to the hospital, Josh had lost 30 lbs and Troy had to be hospitalized for three days for second-degree burns on his face and feet. (Rozsa, Lori. May 16, 2005. Six Days Lost at Sea. People.)
Can you imagine? Adrift at sea, over 100 miles from your home, sitting on an ocean of blue Gatorade, dying of thirst, and knowing that if you give in to the temptation to drink that you will most surely die? What more does a thirsty person need than a drink? If you are surrounded by water and you are thirsty then you should drink, right? Not, if it’s salt water.
Salt water fish are designed to drink salt water and they eliminate the salt through their gills. We, on the other hand, are designed in such a way that our kidneys separate the waste material in the blood which is then removed from the body in the form of urine. Our kidneys can’t make urine from a concentration of salts of more than 2% without using extra water from our bodies. Seawater is made up of about 3% salt so the more salt water a thirsty person drinks the more dehydrated they become until they die.
People are thirsty. We can easily identify our thirst for water. We know when we are thirsty, parched, and need a drink, but there is a deeper thirst within us that is often mistaken so we try and quench our thirst with whatever we think will satisfy. This is the predicament that plagued the woman at the well for years and it is the predicament that many of us seated in this sanctuary are dealing with this morning. Let’s read our Scripture and see what we can learn.
1 Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John– 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. 4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. 7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” 13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:1-15 NIV)
The woman at the well is the second person that we have been introduced to in John’s Gospel who was thirsty. The first person we met didn’t appear to those around him as thirsty at all. Nicodemus, by all appearances, had it made. He was a leader, a teacher, a member of the ruling class, and respected by all. Yet, Nicodemus was thirsty. He knew deep in his heart that there was something missing. He was thirsty. Jesus pointed out for Nicodemus what he needed most—he needed to be born again, given a long cool drink of eternal life from the Fountain of Life. Religion was salt water to his soul that left him thirsty, wanting more. What he needed was intimacy with the Father, not rituals.
The second person John introduced us to is the woman we’ve been talking about for two weeks now, the woman at the well. She was thirsty, literally thirsty, but she was thirsty at a deeper level as well. She had come to the well of Jacob to draw water for the day when she met Jesus and He offered her Living Water. He told the woman that if she drank of the Living Water that she would never thirst again. She said, “…Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:15 NIV) She, like many of us, was focused on the practical, the day-to-day needs that she worked so diligently to satisfy, but Jesus came to quench a deeper thirst.
I’ve been thinking about these individuals this week as I’ve been studying the story of the woman at the well. On one level, no two people could be more different, but at the same time, these two individuals, like all people, are exactly the same. James Montgomery Boice has written about the societal differences of Nicodemus and the woman at the well.
It is difficult to imagine a greater contrast between two persons than the contrast between the important and sophisticated Nicodemus, this ruler of the Jews, and the simple Samaritan woman. He was a Jew; she a Samaritan. He was a Pharisee; she belonged to no religious party. He was a politician; she had no status whatever. He was a scholar; she was uneducated. He was highly moral; she was immoral. He had a name; she is nameless. He was a man; she was a woman. He came at night, to protect his reputation; she, who had no reputation, came at noon. Nicodemus came seeking; the woman was sought by Jesus. (Boice, James M., The Gospel of John, Vol. 1. Pg. 272)
Different as day and night, just like many of us who are here this morning. Some of you have name recognition in our city. For others of us, we can count the number of people who know us on one hand. Some, like Nicodemus, are highly educated, scholars, authorities in one field of study or another. Others of us never graduated from high school. Some who are here this morning have always been very moral with a strong sense of “right” and “wrong.” Others of us, like the woman at the well, have lived a very immoral life and we’ve got a past that would scare most of you away if you only knew the real story of our lives. Nicodemus was a Jew; the nameless woman was a Samaritan. When it comes to people groups, the two were the oil and water of race relations. We come from various ethnic backgrounds, all of which have their own baggage to deal with, and some of which, generally speaking, don’t get along. Nicodemus and the woman at the well, at one level, were as different as night and day, and yet, on another level, they were so much alike…and so are we.
At their core, Nicodemus and the woman at the well were thirsty, seeking something, anything, that would satisfy that parched feeling, that deep thirst that seemed to gratify for a moment, only to come back with a vengeance. Nicodemus, like many of us, sought satisfaction and contentment in religion. We’ve somehow convinced ourselves that if we will just be “good enough” then God will be pleased with us. A young Martin Luther in the 1500s was convinced that religion could quench his thirst. He dedicated himself to the monastic life, to serving God and doing good works. Martin lived a rigorous life of spiritual discipline as he devoted himself to fasts, long hours of prayer, and constant confession. The more he tried to do for God, the more he became aware of his own sinfulness, and the more distant God seemed to be. Martin, with every ounce of effort he could muster, tried to satisfy his thirst with religion, but religion only made him more aware of his thirst for something more.
I have a feeling that many of us can relate to Martin and Nicodemus. We go to church, attend Bible study, have a “quiet time” throughout the week, give our time to serving in a ministry, but we know deep in our hearts that we are thirsty. Living life simply to “check the boxes” next to our religious “to do” lists for the day is exhausting. If you are like Martin Luther and seeking to quench your thirst with religion, then there are many times you get to the end of the day and think, “I’ve got to do better.” Better than what? God told His people,
45 I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. (Leviticus 11:45 NIV)
God says, “Be like Me.” Be like God? Many years ago while Michael Jordan was at the height of his fame and winning NBA Championships like they were YMCA Championships, Gatorade put out a popular commercial with the theme, “Be Like Mike!” Being like Mike is nothing compared to the challenge of being like God. We think that submitting to the rigors of religion will provide us with the blueprint of being “holy,” when in actuality they will only heighten our awareness of our deep, deep thirst.
Maybe some of you here this morning are like the woman at the well and you’ve sought to satisfy your thirst with relationships. She had been married to five different husbands and none of them worked out. That didn’t deter her from continuing her search for “Mr. Right.” She might have given up on marriage, but she hadn’t given up on men. The man she was living with when she met Jesus wasn’t her husband, but she hoped he could be her Prince Charming, the man who she thought would finally satisfy her nagging thirst.
You are thirsty aren’t you? You think that if you could just find the right guy or the right woman then your search for satisfaction, your thirst, could once and for all be quenched. You are sorely mistaken my friend. Dorothy may have believed Jerry Maguire when he said, “You complete me,” but I’m sure she found out in time that no person can quench another person’s deepest thirst. A few years ago, Keyshia Cole, sang,
You love me, you complete me
You hold my heart in your hands
And it’s okay ’cause I trust that
You’ll be the best man that you can
(You Complete Me, Keyshia Cole)
Then, just last month, it was reported that Keyshia and her husband, Daniel, aren’t getting along. That’s understandable. Every couple goes through rough waters. Problems are understandable, but looking for another person to complete us, to quench our thirst, is like drinking salt water. You’ll end up like the woman at the well, dying of thirst.
There are 7 billion people on the planet and they are all dying of thirst. I could fill 10,000 pages with the things that we try to quench our thirst, but I bet you already have some things in mind that you’ve tried, and tried, and tried again to stop that parched, empty feeling, deep in your soul. Trying to satisfy the longing, the thirst of our souls with jobs, a bigger check, bigger house, more expensive car, people, associates, partners, lovers, hobbies, distractions, jewelry and clothes, drugs, alcohol, passions, parties…all of them, each and every one of them is salt water that will only leave you more thirsty than when you felt the thirst come on.
Some say that it’s our generation. That’s the problem. We live in a very prosperous time in history. We live in a day that has overwhelmed us with us technology that is mesmerizing. Long before there were shopping malls, iPhones, Match.com, and designer drugs…people were thirsty. People were thirsty and trying everything “under the sun” to quench their thirst. The Bible says that Solomon was the wisest man who has ever lived. He was wealthier than Mark Zuckerberg, the Walton family, and Oprah Winfrey combined. Whatever he wanted to try to quench his thirst was well within his reach and yet he wrote Ecclesiastes as a testament to the fact that everything “under the sun” is meaningless, it can’t and never will satisfy. In Ecclesiastes 1 he tried his hand at understanding wisdom and folly. Surely by gaining an Ivy League education he could quench his thirst. Solomon found that trying to fill his emptiness with understanding wisdom and folly was fruitless…he was still thirsty. So, in Ecclesiastes 2, he drinks from other wells that he thinks show great promise. Listen in.
1 I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. 2 “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” 3 I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly–my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives. 4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well–the delights of a man’s heart. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. 10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. 11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 NIV)
Solomon was surrounded by endless opportunities to find just one thing that would satisfy, but at the end of it all his assessment of the value and potential of every one of his pursuits was summed up with, “This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind!” (Ecclesiastes 2:26 NIV) Solomon’s problem was that he was seeking satisfaction on the horizontal level. Here’s an interesting fact: The phrase “under the sun” is only used in Ecclesiastes. In the 12 chapters of this little book, Solomon used the phrase, “under the sun,” 29 times. That little fact is a key for us to understand Solomon’s difficulty in finding something meaningful to quench his thirst. Satisfaction is not found “under the sun,” it is found “in the Son.” Our real thirst is not for stuff, experiences, or notoriety; our thirst is for the Son and yet we are oblivious. God’s Word says,
10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. (Romans 3:10-11 NIV)
We are born physically alive, but spiritually dead. Therefore our attention, our passions, our energy is focused on finding something in the physical realm, something or someone around us that can fulfill us, satisfy us, and quench the thirst that we are very much aware of. In our mad dash to find “it” we never even consider God.
I was studying this lesson this past week when I received the latest copy of Christianity Today magazine. A headline caught my attention: Kirsten Powers: I hid. Jesus found. For those of you who don’t recognize the name, Kirsten Powers, worked for President Clinton in the White House. She’s still involved in politics as she writes for USA Today, Newsweek, The Daily Beast, and gives the Democratic slant on topics on the Fox News Network. Kirsten described herself as growing up in an Episcopal home, but by the time she was in her 20s she wavered between atheism and agnosticism. After working in Washington D.C. she moved to New York to continue her work in politics and her world became increasingly secular. She says, “Everyone I knew was politically left-leaning, and my group of friends was overwhelming atheist.” She went on to say,
Christians sometimes talk about how terrible life must be for atheists. But life actually seemed pretty wonderful, filled with opportunity and good conversation and privilege. I know now that it was not as wonderful as it could have been. But you don’t know what you don’t know. How could I have missed something I didn’t think existed? (Powers, Kirsten, The God I Can’t Write Off. 2013 November. Christianity Today)
What a profound statement! She didn’t know what life could be like because she never even gave God a thought. She was finding satisfaction in politics and her associations, but she had no idea that those things were really salt water to her soul compared to the Living Water, Jesus.
Kirsten started dating a very intelligent, highly educated, interesting man who she found out was a follower of Jesus. He asked her about Jesus, if she was a Christian, and Kirsten said, “No.” He asked her, “Do you think you could ever believe in Jesus?” She said, “No way. I will never believe in Jesus.” Then he appealed to her supposedly “liberal” philosophical outlook on life when he said, “Do you think you could keep an open mind about it?” Kirsten said, “Of course. I’m very open-minded.” Her boyfriend began to pray with her for the Lord to reveal Himself to her. Kirsten began to read the Bible. She began visiting Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. Then, she was on a trip to Taiwan when in the middle of the night she had a dream, or something like it. Jesus came to her and said, “Here I am.” Later, when she got back to New York, she began attending a Bible, still not excited at all about the thought of being a Christian, but something changed by the time she left the Bible study. She writes,
All I know is that when I left, everything had changed. I’ll never forget standing outside of that apartment on the Upper East Side and saying to myself, ‘It’s true. It’s completely true.’ The world looked entirely different, like a veil had been off it. I had not an iota of doubt. I was filled with indescribable joy. (Kirsten Powers, pg 103.)
Kirsten realized that she had been drinking salt water all her life when she tasted of the Living Water who satisfies in an indescribable way. How about you? You’re thirsty aren’t you?! I want to urge you this very morning to stop your search for what will quench your thirst and drink of the Living Waters. He alone can satisfy my friends.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
November 3, 2013