Jesus and the Empty Waterpot

John 4 is one of the most wonderful chapters in the Bible. In it we find the account of Jesus’ soul-satisfying offer to the woman at the well--the lengthiest single discourse our Lord has with any one individual in the Gospels. The account provides us with the understanding of the nature of sin as well as the nature of salvation. It gives us a glimpse into the secret of salvation and sanctification in a more illustrative way that almost anywhere else in the Scriptures. In short, the account of Jesus and the woman at the well gives us a picture of a theology of desire and satisfaction. In order for us to glean the most benefit from the passage it will help us to familiarize ourselves with it.

A Sinner Seeking Satisfaction

A sinful woman came to the well with a waterpot--a waterpot which served as a symbol of her empty life. She was a woman who had been seeking to sinfully satisfy herself with men. She was a notoriously immoral woman. She could not come to the well when the other women of the city came because of the shame of her sin. She was living with the reality of her sin. She was not seeking redemption. She was, in every respect, a picture of all sinners by nature. While the Jewish religious leader Nicodemous (John 3:1-13) was set in stark contrast with this sinful gentile woman, they together exemplified the lostness of all men by nature. The woman at the well, in a more heightened manner, showed forth the lostness of those who are living pleasure seeking lifestyles apart from Christ.

A Savior Seeking Sinners

Our Lord came to seek and save that which was lost. He was tired, but was on the eternal mission of His Father. God the Father was seeking this woman by sending His Son to her. The Father brought His Son to the well with one hand and this sinful woman there with the other. In John 4:23 we learn that “The Father is seeking…” Jesus did not wait for the woman to speak to Him. He initiated the conversation because He was seeking her. This is the way of the Lord with all His lost sheep. He does not wait for us to seek Him; He knows that we would go on in our sin if He did not pursue us with His relentless grace.

Jesus uncovers our deepest need to give us what only He can provide. Jesus began His work of uncovering this woman’s sinful heart by explaining that her great problem was that she did not know “the gift of God and who it was who said, ‘Give Me a drink…” He brings His act of uncovering her sinful heart to a close by opening her eyes to see that He was indeed the Christ (v. 26). In the midst of His act of uncovering her deepest need, Jesus goes to the heart of the matter by showing this woman that He knows she is a woman who has been sinfully seeking to satisfy herself with men. The nature of sin is essentially idolatry. This woman was worshiping herself and men. She needed something else, something that could replace her desire for sinful self-pleasure. She was a pleasure seeker who needed to have her desire for pleasure satisfied by God Himself. Jesus came to satisfy the deepest longings of the sinner's heart. 

Having first engaged this woman on the basis on her lifestyle, Jesus then met her attempt at diverting attention from Himself. The woman, feeling uncomfortable by the Savior's knowledge of her lifestyle tried to change to the subject to that of denominational differences. This is a common tactic by the unbelieving world. When the searching truth of Jesus becomes uncomfortable men and women will try to deviate attention from themselves by any means possible--even by discussions of religious distinctions. Jesus grabs hold of this objection and brings it right back to the heart of the matter: "The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24-25). The beauty of the account lies in the fact that the woman at the well--while not a renown worshipper--was a worshipper nonetheless. She was a worshiper of the creature rather than the Creator; therefore, the Creator came to the well in the flesh to make this woman a true worshiper. 

A Sinner Satisfied by the Savior

In his classic sermon "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,' Thomas Chalmers explained that everyone lives in a constant state of desire, and, for someone to stop desiring one object an object of equal or greater value must be presented to it. Chalmers developed this idea by means of the following line of reasoning:

If to be without desire and without exertion altogether is a state of violence and discomfort then the present desire, with its correspondent train of exertion, is not to be got rid of simply by destroying it. It must be by substituting another desire, and another line or habit of exertion in its place—and the most effectual way of withdrawing the mind from one object, is not by turning it away upon desolate and unpeopled vacancy— but by presenting to its regards another object still more alluring.1

The Apostle John intimates that the woman found the infinitely better object when he tells us that she “left her waterpot" (v. 28). She finally came to see and realize who Christ was. Though this woman had been drinking from broken cisterns that can hold no waters (Jer. 2:13) she found the living waters that would satisfy the inner depths of the soul. The very thing that had symbolized her life of self-satisfaction was now left behind because she had found the living water that “would become…a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” The woman immediately went into the city and “told the men, ‘Come see a Man who told me all things that I ever did.’” It is quite possible that this woman went to “the men” to whom she had been married previously in order to tell them that her soul had found satisfaction in Christ. It is interesting to note that this woman, who was seeking satisfaction in men, found satisfaction in a Man, even the God-Man! The Son of God took a human nature to Himself in order to deal with our great problem of idolatry. He would go to the cross and cry out “I thirst” so that we could drink the living waters that only He can give. Are you thirsty? Are you seeking to satisfy your soul with created things? If so, know that there is a well of living water in Jesus Christ that is free for all who “know the gift of God” and who ask for this water.

Adolphe Monod captured the mystery of the incarnation as the solution to idolatry when he wrote:

I strive to live in the communion of Jesus Christ—in the peace of Jesus Christ—praying to Him, waiting for Him, speaking to Him, hearing Him, and, in a word, constantly bearing witness to Him day and night: all which, would be idolatry if He were not God, and God in the highest sense of the word, the highest that the human mind is capable of giving to that sublime name.2

Jesus came in the flesh because our deepest problem was that we were seeking to satisfy ourselves with created things. The woman at the well was seeking to satisfy herself with men. Only the God-Man could satisfy her deepest longings. We ultimately discover how Jesus satisfied the woman's spiritual thirst when we come to the end of the Gospel an hear Him crying out on the cross, "I thirst." In this way, He bore the punishment for our forsaking the fountain of living of waters and for our drinking out of broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jer. 2:13). Jesus continues to do satisfy sinners today.

Just three chapters after the account of Jesus and the woman at the well, the Apostle John records for us the account of Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles. "On the last day, the great day of the feast," he tells us, "Jesus stood and cried out, saying, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive..." (John 7:37-39). John then carries his readers to the foot of the cross where we are told that "one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out" (John 19:34). In this act, what Jesus had promised in John 7:37-39 was being symbolized. The water that flowed from the Lord Jesus was a picture of the Holy Spirit who is everywhere in Scripture likened to flowing water. Interestingly, the  final chapter of the Bible also closes with a call to come and drink from the living waters. The same Apostle wrote: "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17). God wants sinners worldwide to experience what the woman at the well experienced in her encounter with Jesus. James M. Boice captured this call of grace so well in his hymn Come to the Waters:

Come to the waters, whoever is thirsty; drink from the Fountain that never runs dry. Jesus, the Living One, offers you mercy, life more abundant in boundless supply.3

Everyone is seeking satisfaction in created things or experiences--whether it is a person, a job, money, status, music, family, travel, pleasure, etc. We all seek satisfaction. God has created us to seek and to find satisfaction in Himself alone--the fountain of living water. For our idolatrous pleasure seeking to be cured, God became Man and thirsted under His the wrath that we deserve so that we might come to Him by faith and drink of the living waters than never run dry. Jesus is an infinite fountain of soul-satisfying grace and enjoyment. It is only as we come to Him that we will find an "object still more alluring" than that with which we are now seeking to satisfy ourselves. And we come again, and again, and again, and again to the well that never runs dry:



1. Thomas Chalmers "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection

2. Adolph Monod Farewell to His Friends (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1858) pp. 133-134

3. James M. Boice and Paul S. Jones Hymns for a Modern Reformation


Further Resources

Desiring God "What Is Christian Hedonism

John Piper Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ

Sinclair Ferguson Jesus: The Samaritan Revival

Eric Alexander Sermon on John 4:1-26

Nick Batzig "The Aroma of Christ

Nick Batzig "The Allurement of Christ" (Tabletalk Magazine)

Nick Batzig "The Idol-Crushing King" (Tabletalk Magazine)