The Sermon for Sunday, March 12th, 2023, the Third Sunday in Lent

The Lessons: Psalm 95; Exodus 17:1-7; John 4:5-26, 39-42

The Text: John 4:5-26, 39-42


The famous Boston pastor Dr. A.J. Gordon visited the World’s Fair in Chicago. In the distance he saw a man robed in bright, gaudy Oriental clothes who appeared to be laboriously turning the crank of a pump and thereby making a mighty flow of water. Gordon was impressed with the man’s energy, his smooth motions, and his obvious physical conditioning. He was pumping a tremendous amount of water.

Drawing closer, Gordon was surprised to discover that the man was actually made of wood. Instead of turning the crank and making the water flow, the flow of water was actually turning the crank and thereby making him go!

So it is with the Lord’s work. It isn’t our efforts that produce the results. The flowing river of the Holy Spirit, channeled through our lives and lips, keeps us going and yields considerable results, to the glory of God.[1]


Our First Lesson today sets before us the account of the Israelites’ grumbling to Moses that they had no water to drink in the desert, and what God’s answer was. Moses was commanded to take the elders of Israel with him, as well as the rod with which he had done miracles before Pharaoh in Egypt, and to go ahead of Israel and strike the rock of Mt. Horeb with the rod. Then the Lord caused water to flow from the rock for the people to drink (Exodus 17:5-7).

After reflecting and meditating on this, St. Paul wrote many years later:

Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.

(1 Corinthians 10:1-4, KJV)

Some interpreters believe that the striking of the rock in Exodus 17 prefigures the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, and how through his death on the cross, and through his subsequent resurrection and ascension into heaven, the Holy Spirit, the water of life, was given to all mankind to drink. God provided water for the Israelites in the wilderness when they accused Moses of bringing them into the desert to cause them to die of thirst. Though God and Moses were unjustly accused of this, and the people doubted if God was really among them or would really provide water to satisfy their thirst, God nonetheless showed his faithfulness by providing water for them. Moreover, their thirst indicated mankind’s far greater thirst and need of the water of everlasting life that the Lord Jesus Christ has provided in abundance through the Holy Spirit.


Against the background of our First Lesson, we can more easily appreciate the meaning of our Lord’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar in the Second Lesson.

Jesus’ disciples have gone into the city to buy food, leaving him alone at the well of Sychar. The sixth hour was probably 12 p.m., when it would have been hot, and Jesus was weary from his long journey on foot. Sitting by the well, he asks a Samaritan woman who comes to draw water for a drink of water. In our First Lesson, the Israelites demanded water from Moses. Here, Jesus, naturally thirsty from a long, hot walk, asks for a drink of water. Because the Jews were on bad terms with the Samaritans, it was surprising to the woman that Jesus was even asking her for a drink of water. But Jesus does not directly answer her question why he is asking her for water. Instead, he replies with the idea that she would have asked him for a drink of living water (John 4:10), if she had known the gift of God and who He is. In saying these things, Jesus is lifting the conversation to a higher level. Everyone knew how important water is in a dry land with no abundant supply of water. Water in a well was not the running water of a stream, river, waterfall, or fountain. “Living water” usually meant “running water,” which was fresher water than water from a well or water stored in a cistern in the ground. The woman’s understanding now is still limited to the idea of running water. Therefore, she at first wonders where Jesus would get this water from, since he has no vessel with which to draw water, and the well is deep (John 4:11). The Lord’s reply to her shows that the water of which he speaks is no running water, but spiritual water:

Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

(John 4:13b-14, KJV).

The Lord clearly distinguishes between ordinary water of which anyone who drinks will be thirsty again and the water that he will give that causes a person never to thirst for spiritual water again, for this water will be in the person who drinks of it a well of water springing up to eternal life.

In John 2 we read about the Lord’s first miracle at Cana of Galilee, where he changed water into wine at a wedding. The water changed into wine and being made available as new wine to all the wedding guests symbolizes the Holy Spirit given to all believers to drink. In John 3, the Lord Jesus tells Nicodemus that no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he has been born of water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5). The water of baptism is thus linked to the new birth, or regeneration, given by the Holy Spirit. In John 7:37-39, at the Feast of Tabernacles, on the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus invites anyone who is thirsty to come to him and drink. From the one who believes in him rivers of living water will flow. St. John explains that this living water is the Holy Spirit, whom believers would receive after Jesus had been glorified, that is, after he had died on the cross, risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven.

However, in John 4, the woman still thinks that somehow receiving the living water, her need of ordinary water will cease. Yet she goes and calls her husband after Jesus has told her the knowledge that no stranger to her would have been expected to know, that she had had five husbands, and the man she was now living with was not her husband. Because of her testimony to her fellow-citizens that Jesus had told her all she ever did, the Samaritans asked him to stay with them. In two days many more came to believe in Jesus, confessing him to be the Christ, the Savior of the world.


Let us observe how the Lord Jesus Christ’s conversation with one Samaritan woman led to her salvation, and to the salvation of many others of her own city. We live now in the age of the Church, on which the Holy Spirit has been poured out. It is vital that we are being filled with the Holy Spirit day by day, as we read the Bible, pray, praise God and worship him, showing His love to all around us, and offering them this water of life, the Holy Spirit, through the Gospel we share not only in our words, but by our love in action.

[1] p. 441, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2007.

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