Today’s Literal 4 Lent post is based on John 4:5-42 (click here to read the text online).
For many of us, this is a familiar story. It’s always tempting, with familiar stories, to fall back on what we already know about it. Sometimes these previous learnings can keep us from being open to a fresh, new picture of the truth that God wants to paint with His Word.
I like visuals. If I can connect a learning with a picture in my head, it’s more likely to stick. The picture above is of a painting done by my friend, Clareen Barrett. What I like about this painting of Clareen’s is that it sets the scene for us – it’s actually her vision of what this well in Sychar might have looked like – but you’ll notice that something is missing…
Neither Jesus nor the woman are in the picture.
Whether or not she painted it this way on purpose, I like how it invites me to place MYSELF in this scene – an invitation to step into the story WITH Jesus. To join Him there, sitting at the edge of the well.
We’re going to do a bit of text-weaving today, as we consider the literal applications of Jesus’ words at the well. Exodus 17:1-7 is important to a new understanding of this story, and it begins with these words:
“The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded…”
Which reminds me, I was in Las Vegas last week! Now, I know that the biblical Desert of Sin probably had less neon and fewer temptations than the desert that is Las Vegas, but don’t miss the irony as the story of the Israelites unfolds.
The Israelites’ Desert of Sin DID have temptations; in particular, when they found themselves without water, their intense physical thirst tempted them to demand that Moses GIVE THEM WATER! Things got pretty ugly between them, with Israel grumbling and complaining to the point of being ready to kill Moses if he didn’t come through.
Now, keep in mind that I am remembering Vegas, but this behavior of God’s people reminds me of the way in which we belly-up to the bar to quench our “thirst” (or, if you’re short like me, you elbow-up to the bar…).
Israel had been rescued by God, fed by God, and sustained by God up to this point, yet their THIRST threatened to get the better of them. WE argue with and test God, just like Israel did, sometimes even to the point where we find ourselves asking “is the Lord here with me or NOT?”
The people of Israel were not satisfied that their thirst was being met by God, so they looked to Moses – the MAN – as their source and provider. When our THIRST isn’t met to OUR SATISFACTION, we look to quench it with whatever is available, too. And sometimes that means bellying up to the bar for a large draught of what’s on tap.
The place where this happened, in the Desert of Sin, was a place called “Rephidim.” Ironically, “Rephidim” in Greek means “Refreshments,” which is exactly what Israel was thirsty for.
In this story, the good news is that God comes through for Israel, in spite of their complaints and ugliness. God leads Moses to a rock from which He brings fresh, clear water for His people to drink. God IS FAITHFUL to provide ‘refreshment’ to His people, just as the woman at the well provided for the physical refreshment of Jesus by meeting his need for water to drink. But there’s MORE to being ‘refreshed’, isn’t there? More than a cup of water or a cold & frothy brew?
The water that poured from the rock in the desert was refreshment for a physical thirst. Scholars have suggested that this scene out of Israel’s history is the physical representation of a harder-to-grasp spiritual truth, and since we’re into visuals today, get this picture in your head…
The ROCK is Christ Himself, our salvation and the best picture of God we have on earth. The staff or walking stick that Moses uses to strike the rock is the Law – the old covenant – the system of rule-keeping laid out for the Jewish people in the first 5 books of the Old Testament. The act of hitting the rock with the staff is a picture of the crucifixion, where the system of Law lashes out at the human representation of God Himself, and He is pierced.
But as it was for the Israelites, what resulted from the piercing was a cleansing flow of life-giving water. For them, drinking water. For us, Living Water.
Romans 5:5 says that “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to us.” The Living Water Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman about IS the Living Spirit of God that gushes up to eternal life! Draughts of love, where what’s on tap will NEVER run dry!
When she dropped her buckets at the watering hole that day, the Samaritan woman brought all of her ‘stuff’ along with her, and she was met by the Well-Tender Himself – the one who knew exactly what would provide the refreshment that she needed, and knew exactly how to get it.
And when He took a seat at the well on that day, Jesus did so in the face of a set of rules and conventions that made even His PRESENCE there a blatant disregard for customary Jewish behaviors and social norms of the time. Not only were the Jews to steer clear of Samaritans, but religious rule-keeping also dictated that men were not to ‘socialize’ with women. To top it off, Jesus was a rabbi and a teacher. No self-respecting holy man of the day would have been caught in the company of a disreputable woman, especially one whose ill-repute had much to do with many men.
Apparently, Jesus had no problem with breaking the rules of men in order to do the work of God, no matter what the consequences might be.
When we belly or elbow up to the bar, we each come with our own set of issues, too – just like Israel in the Desert of Sin. Just like the Samaritan woman at the well. We bring our complaining, our history, our doubts, our wrong turns, our failed relationships, our bad choices.
Physical thirst will be temporarily quenched over and over and over again, but it will always come back. It isn’t a question of whether we thirst, but of what we thirst for. What’s on tap at the bar is going to change, because someone else decides what choices you will have when you ask – ‘what’s on tap?’
What’s on tap at the ROCK is always going to be the SAME – always fresh, always clear, LIVING WATER! Romans chapter 5 goes even further in describing what’s on tap for those of us who need more information – for those of us who hear the words ‘Living Water’ and have to ask, ‘what’s That MEAN?’
When we break it down, there are at least seven things on tap when we belly-up to the ROCK, according to Romans 5:1-11, and they are:
- ACCESS to God
- BEGIN to develop the CHARACTER of God
- KNOW the LOVE of God
- RECEIVE RECONCILIATION with God
- ENJOY the SECURITY of God
- PEACE with God
- STAND in the GRACE of God
ACCESS. CHARACTER. LOVE. RECONCILIATION. SECURITY. PEACE. GRACE.
A CLeaR SPRinG.
No matter WHO you are.
No matter WHAT you’ve done.
God’s LIFE-GIVING water is always on tap.