Worship: John 4:7-26

Volumes of books have been written on the subject. Individual congregations disagree over the form and the style. What is it really? What is it that God really wants?

John 4:7 – 26
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 flocks and herds?"

13 Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him 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."

16 He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back."

17 "I have no husband," she replied. Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true."

19 "Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."

21 Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

25 The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us."

26 Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he."

A very well-known passage and many preachers have used it when speaking on worship. It contains the over-arching command, from the lips of Jesus himself, on worship – namely that we must worship "in spirit and truth". What does that mean in practice though? How, two millennia later, can we understand what He meant?

As with all bible studies, we must look at context – in this case the whole conversation going on here. It appears that by verse 19, Jesus has managed to really unsettle the Samaritan woman: putting it into modern day terms, Christians might be confronted with phrases like "Well, that’s great for you, but I have my own truth" which amount to nothing more than saying "Leave me alone – you’re shaking the tree and I might fall out".

Firstly, the woman does concede to acknowledge that there’s something different about Jesus – he had correctly spoken about her five previous husbands. After giving a little ground, she follows up by saying "Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem" That is, "I have my truth and you have yours". Does her claim hold up? Is this merely an empty excuse to stop the unsettling conversation or, is there something to her assertion?

"on this mountain"

Biblical scholars place this discussion as occurring at the foot of Mount Gerizim.

Deuteronomy 11:29
29 When the LORD your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses.

Later, on entering the land, we read

Joshua 8:30 – 35
30 Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, 31 as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses–an altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool had been used. On it they offered to the LORD burnt offerings and sacrificed fellowship offerings. 32 There, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua copied on stones the law of Moses, which he had written. 33 All Israel, aliens and citizens alike, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the LORD, facing those who carried it–the priests, who were Levites. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the LORD had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel.

34 Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law–the blessings and the curses–just as it is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the aliens who lived among them

So, the Samaritans were worshipping at a place where an event of great importance had occurred: the covenant of the Law was confirmed between God and His people the Jews, marking the end of one phase of their history and the beginning of their move into the promised land.

This event was so important that it required the Ark of the Covenant to be placed at it’s centre. To the Israelites, this represented the physical presence of the Lord Almighty in their midst. During the time of their wandering it says:

Exodus 40:34 – 38
34 Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

36 In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; 37 but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out–until the day it lifted. 38 So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.

So, for the Samaritans, Mount Gerizim represented a place where the presence of God had been and it held great spiritual significance due to the re-confirmation of their faith, their commitment to the Law and their belief in the promises made through Moses.

The Samaritan woman was drawing on her knowledge of history "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain (where, in the presence of God Himself as represented by the Ark of the Covenant, the Israelites pledged themselves faithfully to Him before taking posession of he promised land)".

"worship … in Jerusalem"

We see that God was still in the business of confirming His presence with fire and smoke when we read of the dedication of the great temple, built by Solomon, in Jerusalem.

2 Chronicles 5:1 through to 7:3
5:1 When all the work Solomon had done for the temple of the LORD was finished, he brought in the things his father David had dedicated–the silver and gold and all the furnishings–and he placed them in the treasuries of God’s temple.
2 Then Solomon summoned to Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Zion, the City of David. 3 And all the men of Israel came together to the king at the time of the festival in the seventh month.
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7:1 When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. 2 The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it. 3 When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying,
   "He is good;
        his love endures forever."

The same fire and smoke that had lead the Israelites in their wanderings in the desert confirmed the arrival of God Almighty to the new temple. Once again, centred on the Ark of the Covenant. Later temple worship looks back to this confirmation.

The woman, speaking to Jesus, recognised this when she said "but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem (where, just like during the wanderings in the desert, the presence of God came into a location and filled it, confirming it as a resting place)".

So, both sides of the discussion – Samaritans (looking at Mount Gerizim where the presence of the ark confirmed a great spiritual occurrence) and the Jews (remembering how the fire and glory of God came to dwell within the temple) had a claim to the truth. However, just like in the wilderness, God moves on. In John 4:21, Jesus says "a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem" echoing the words of a prophesy given by the prophet Malachi:

Malachi 1:11
11 "My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations," says the LORD Almighty.

God desires pure worship and pure offerings. Jesus predicted a time when God’s Name would be great in all the nations and worship would occur all over the world. Though God had confirmed His presence in the temple with smoke and fire, a time would come when His presence would infuse praises worldwide.

Temple worship followed a clear pattern laid down by God. Participants had definite roles to play in things and everyone knew what was right and orderly. This had been highlighted by the Lord when Aaron’s sons took things upon themselves and offered unauthorised worship:

Leviticus 10:1 – 3

1 Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorised fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. 2 So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. 3 Moses then said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD spoke of when he said:

    " `Among those who approach me
        I will show myself holy;
    in the sight of all the people
    I will be honored.’ "

Aaron remained silent.

To borrow a phrase, Aaron "didn’t have a leg to stand on" when it came to the death of his sons – God had established the priesthood with clear delineations of how and when offerings should be made. It is very easy to write this incident off as being part of the "wrath of God" we associate with the Old Testament and miss its significance. Well, it would be easy to dismiss if it wasn’t for the writer of Hebrews who reminded us:

Hebrews 12:28 – 29
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our "God is a consuming fire."

The bible tells us that no-one is righteous, we have all fallen short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death – see Romans 3:23, 6:23 for details! When we come to worship God, we too should (by rights) be consumed by fire as with the sons of Aaron. Something has happened to redirect this fire, however.

John 1:14
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 14:6
6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Jesus came to the earth, laid aside the glory due to Him to live as a human being. The wrath and anger of God at our sin was carried on the cross by Jesus. When we approach God in worship today, it is because Jesus has opened the way and exchanged our own unrighteousness for his spotless perfection.

Jesus claimed to be not only the way but also to be the truth. We are called to worship God in Spirit and Truth – half of that equation is found in the person of Jesus, the very personification of truth.

We worship a triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The second piece to the worship puzzle is found in the person of the 3rd member of the Godhead:

John 16:12 – 15
12 "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you."

We are told that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth. We can therefore be confident that He will lead us to the truth personified: Jesus. Truth will flow through all members of the trinity to get to us, BUT, we ultimately it will be communicated to us by the person of the Holy Spirit.

It was God through the Holy Spirit that inspired the writing of the Bible. We are told that "all Scripture is God breathed" but He didn’t just stop there. The Holy Spirit is the promised seal, a down payment on our inheritance in Christ, available to us from the moment we come to faith.

Luke 11:9 – 13
9 "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Jesus tells us that true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth. What is incredible to me is the depth that God participates in the act of worship – every member of the trinity is at work in worship. If we ask Him, the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth, to Jesus. Jesus, our saviour who died to make us righteous in the eyes of God, the only way to God the Father whom we are commanded to worship.

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