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Sermon for Lent 3

Sermon on John 4:5-26

Augustana, 2010

Note:  I’m deeply indebted to Luther’s thoughts on this text as referenced at the end of this sermon.  Also this sermon was one I submitted to the Goettinger Sermon archive.

22 Sermon for Lent 3 mp3 audio

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel for today from the Gospel.  “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  This is our text.

The account of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well is one of those beautiful accounts in John through which we come to know Jesus, and through Jesus the very heart of God the Father.  Like so much of John’s Gospel, this story is not in the other Gospels.  I’ve said it before in other venues, and yes, it’s something of an overstatement to make a point, but I would venture to say that in the other Gospels, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we come to know about Jesus.  He can calm the storm and cleanse the leper.  He preaches great sermons and teaches in parables.  He can cast out demons with a word and walk on water.  But in John’s Gospel, Jesus makes water into wine, talks to the Samaritan women at the town well, weeps at Lazarus’ tomb, washes the disciples’ feet, and from His pierced side flows blood at water down the spear of the centurion.  And what do we see first?  We see the true humanity of Jesus, wearied by His travels sitting at Jacob’s well.

In addition to seeing a glimpse of His human weakness, we also get a wonderful look at the heart of our Savior.  Jesus asked this Samaritan woman for a drink of water and engaged her in conversation.  Historically and culturally, there was tremendous animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans.  The Samaritans had decided that the true place to worship was on Mount Gerizim in the north.  The Jews insisted that the worship of the only true God must take place only at the temple on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem.  Parallels to modern or more recent situations are hard to come by.  This is perhaps something closest to black-white race relations in the deep south of the United States in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  In this instance, both groups are Christian but they are separated by skin color as well as socio-cultural baggage of what we call race.  John is sure give us a glimpse of the cross-cultural encounter.  “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” (v. 9)  If we extend the reading just a bit we see the reaction from the disciples that Jesus is not just talking to a Samaritan but a woman.  “Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you seek?’ or, ‘Why are you talking with her?’” (v. 27)  But of course that He is talking to the Samaritan woman is not so much nearly as important as what He says to her.

So after Jesus asks for a drink form this Samaritan woman and the woman gets over being startled that this Jewish man has spoken to her, Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  “If you knew the gift of God,” Jesus says to her.  This word for gift is not the standard word in the NT, there is something more here.  There is an emphasis here on the overabundance of God’s giving.  Doctor Luther paraphrased this verse in this way.

“I would be happier to reverse the order and give you a drink. In fact, this is the reason for My presence here. I am asking for a drink to quench My physical thirst that I might have occasion to give you a drink. If you only realized what a gift is now to be found on earth, you would ask Me for it, and I would give you a drink that would taste better than this water. It is of the utmost importance to recognize this gift and to know Him who gives it. But neither the gift nor the Giver is known.”[1]

Do we know the gift?  Do we know the Giver of the gift?  Or do we instead look for something else in place of the gift because we think the gift is too plain nor not what we thought it would be?  We who claim to be followers of Christ, disciples fail to see the greatness of this gift and thus fail to recognize the Giver.  How few there are who hold this treasure highly and as genuine treasure, as an eternal gem, as the everlasting life Jesus says it is.  “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  In Matthew chapter 13 we read of a man who found a pearl in a field and he sold all his possessions in order to buy pearl and field. (Matt. 13:45–46)  So there are some but not many.  The far larger crowd says, “It’s just words.”  They think little bits of metal mined from the earth are real treasure and so they would labor night and day to get what thieves can steal and what rust can destroy.

What a great victory for the kingdom of God it would be if we could gradually train our hearts to believe that the preacher’s words are God’s Word.  As a matter of fact, it is not an angel or a hundred thousand angels but the Divine Majesty Himself that is preaching there.  And yet all we see with our eyes and hear with our ears is the voice of the preacher, or of my brother or father, and I see only a man in front of me.  But I see the picture more clearly I see with the eyes of faith that the voice and words of the preacher are not his own words and doctrine but those of our Lord and God.  I hear Him who declares that He is able to dispense the water of eternal life. If we could believe this, we would have all we need in this life.

People generally think: “If I had an opportunity to hear God speak in person, I would run my feet bloody.”  This is why people make pilgrimages all over the world.  Today people flock to Lourdes in France because they Mary will help them but only if they come there.  If I go to Lourdes and say, “I know of a place in the world where God speaks and anyone can hear God there”; and if people come here or any other place where a humble pastor is baptizing and preaching, and if I assure them:  “This is the place; here God is speaking through the voice of the preacher who brings God’s Word.”  What will they say?  They would say, “I see only a pastor.” I can’t blame them, I would love to have God speak to us in His majesty.  But you have the Word of God in church, in books, in your home; and this is God’s Word as surely as if God Himself were speaking to you.

Our Lord Jesus says to the woman at the well: “You do not know the gift.”  He is speaking to us too.  We recognize neither the Word nor the Person of Christ, but we take offense at His weariness that needs rest and water. When God wants to speak and deal with us, He does not avail Himself of an angel but of parents, of the pastor, or of my neighbor. This so confuses us and blinds us that we fail to recognize God, who is talking with us through the person of the pastor or father.  This prompts Jesus to say, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ then I would not be obliged to run after you and beg for a drink.  You would run after Me and ask Me for the living water.  But since you do not know the gift and do not recognize Him who is speaking with you, you despise Me.”  His treasure for us is forgiveness of sin and redemption from death, devil, and hell.  We can never express the value of this treasure adequately.  We shall always fall short of recognizing it fully and of esteeming it as we really and truly should.

This is spoken to all of us.  One of the professors I learned the most from while at seminary was an older man.  In his preaching at chapel and in the classroom he always expressed the Gospel in this way, as gift for us, gift received.  I saw him walking across campus one day with a couple of volumes of Doctor Luther under his arm and I politely asked him what he was reading.  And I have forgotten what he said but the next part I did not forget.  He said that he was beginning to understand what Luther was talking about.  I had already experienced much of what seminary had to offer.  I had already learned a great deal and the great thing about learning is learning enough to know what you don’t know.  Pastors can sometimes be thought of as know-it-alls.  Most pastors I know are the furthest thing from know-it-alls.  They may know quite a bit but if they know anything, they’re acutely aware of how much they don’t know.  Pastor Mueller was, for me anyway, something like this.  Jesus speaks to all of us, we don’t know the gift, not nearly as much we think we might know it.

We are just 6 years away from the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation.  This is an exciting time in Lutheranism around the world.  Our seminaries are educating men to understand the best of Lutheran doctrine and how to preach it to people who do not know the gift.  It is beginning to dawn on us again that God’s speaking to us is an inexpressibly precious gift and that we are honored to be God’s pupils and disciples. This is what is meant by knowing the nature of the gift and the person of Jesus.  Doctor Luther put it this way: “Dear Christian friends, regard it as a real treasure that God speaks into your physical ear. The only thing that detracts from this gift is our deficient knowledge of it. To be sure, I do hear the sermon; however, I am wont to ask: ‘Who is speaking?’ The pastor? By no means! You do not hear the pastor. Of course, the voice is his, but the words he employs are really spoken by my God.  Therefore I must hold the Word of God in high esteem that I may become an apt student of the Word.”  (AE, 22:528)

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  Jesus gives you living water today, water welling up to eternal life.  For the one who became a wellspring of eternal life for you did so at the cross for you when His side burst forth with blood and water.  From the side of His very body, Jesus became a fountain of life-giving water for you, a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.


[1] Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 22: Luther’s works, vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Jn 4:10). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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