John 4:1-30 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 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.) 10 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.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will 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 will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
27 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?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.
Have you ever considered the connection between salvation and worship? Are they related in any meaningful or significant way, and if so, how?
I must admit, for a long time it never occurred to me that they were connected. And even after having it brought to my attention, it took a while longer for me to actually appreciate the significance of the connection. It is passages like John 4 that God used to help me see what was right in front of me. How, then are salvation and worship connected? Or, why did Jesus speak on both in this passage? Or, how is last Sunday’s sermon (on salvation from John 4) connected with this one (on worship from John 4)? Very simply, but very significantly…
A failure to properly worship is the heart of all sin and all resulting condemnation and death. And a restoration of proper worship is the heart of all salvation and chief occupation of all who are in heaven.
Whether the importance of that is immediately obvious to you or not, I can assure you that it is. And as such, it is worth working at to get. Let me explain just a bit more before I pray.
All sin is a problem with our worship and salvation is about fixing that problem. God created us to be entirely satisfied in Him and to express that primarily in worship. Adam and Eve’s main sin was failing to be satisfied in God and, therefore, failing to properly worship Him. The wages of this rebellion is broken fellowship and ultimately death. But God loved the world in such a way that He gave His only Son to pay sin’s wages and restore us to fellowship and right worship. God’s greatest promise in Jesus is that He will save us from our sin, to the everlasting joy and worship we were made for.
We are saved from the sin of improper worship and we are saved to eternal, proper worship.
For all of these reasons, it is critical that we rightly understand God’s salvation (last week) and worship (this morning). The heart of salvation, as we saw last week, is that (1) everyone needs saving, (2) salvation is in Jesus alone, (3) Jesus’ salvation is for all who will receive it in faith, and (4) that salvation is more than forgiveness of sins—it is, as I just said, forgiveness of sins so that our worship might be full and complete.
And the keys to understanding worship, according to this passage, are that (1) false worship is natural apart from salvation, (2) God is seeking true worshipers, (3) true worshipers worship in spirit and truth, and (4) true worship spreads. Let’s pray that our understanding and practice of worship would grow this week, as would our understanding and appreciation of its connection to salvation.
Before we get to the nature of true worship/worshipers, the text first highlights false worship/worshipers.
In v.19-20 we read, “The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but [the Jews] say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.’” And to that, Jesus responded (in vs.21-23) by saying, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know … 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…”.
The implications of these few words are that there are true worshipers and false worshipers; true worship and false worship.
I’ve found that considering the negative of a thing is often a really helpful tool for truly grasping the positive. For instance, I read a book recently that focused on good “followership” (rather than leadership) as the aim of genuine Christian maturity. And to help explain what they meant by good “followership,” the authors began by naming several things it isn’t: existing for the sake of the leader, an unworthy goal for godly people, passive, requiring few gifts/abilities, unattractive, oppressive, achievable without training, and inherently inferior to leading. By establishing what followership isn’t, it is a lot easier to understand what it is.
Again, along those lines, on our way to understanding what worship is, let’s first consider a couple of things it isn’t. The two main things we see are that false worship is tied to a place and it is tied to ignorance.
False Worship Is Tied to a Place (21-23)
There was a long-standing argument between Jews and Samaritans concerning the proper place of worship. Jew and Samaritan alike understood Deuteronomy 12:5 to be a significant promise and command in this regard.
You shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go, 6 and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock.
God would assign a proper place of worship. The Jews understood this to be Jerusalem according to Kings and Chronicles. God clearly determined to have Solomon, David’s son, build His temple there, and he did.
For two specific reasons, the Samaritans had a different understanding of the fulfillment of the Deuteronomy promise. First, as I mentioned two weeks ago, they only accepted the first five books of the OT as inspired. Therefore, they didn’t have Kings or Chronicles to answer the question. Second, they had their own translation of Deuteronomy 5. Instead of “God will choose” (the place of worship), they believed it said, “God has chosen” (the place of worship). In other words, they believed Deuteronomy taught that God had already decided on the place.
That place, according to the Samaritans, was Mount Gerizim; the place that God first made the covenant with Abraham (Genesis 22) and gave the commandments to Moses (Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21).
That is what the woman was talking/asking about.
It is true that prior to Jesus, there was a kind of worship that was location-dependent. God did command certain aspects of worship to take place in the Jerusalem temple. However, it was never the location that ultimately made the worship acceptable. And even that was about to change in Jesus. For that reason, Jesus declared that true worshipers will not worship either at the mountain in Samaria or in Jerusalem (v.21), “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” And in so declaring, Jesus taught that false worship begins with a location or is location-dependent.
False Worship Is Tied to Ignorance (22)
The second mark of false worship/worshipers is ignorance. We’ll cover this more thoroughly in the section of proper worship (which is always tied to truth), so I’ll only mention it here. Jesus accused the woman at the well, along with all her people, of worshiping what she/they did not know (v.22).
Our very nature requires that we worship. We can’t not worship. The only questions, therefore, are what and how we worship. Since Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, the world has been filled with false worshipers. Sometimes the falsity of our worship is centered on what we worship. There really are (Paul tells us in the opening chapters of Romans) only three options. We will either worship the One True God, something created by God, or something created by our own imaginations. Sometimes false worship is centered on the form our worship takes. There are many people in the Bible who are judged severely for attempting to worship the One True God on their own terms instead of His. And sometimes it is centered on a mistaken understandings of where that worship must take place (as was the case in Jesus’ day).
Grace, it is impossible to offer true worship in ignorance. Zealously worshiping something we created and called “God” or “Jesus” is false worship. Likewise, sincerely, even if unknowingly, worshiping God in ways He has prohibited or hasn’t authorized is false worship. Ignorant worship is always false worship. Again, Grace, we can’t just make stuff up about God and truly worship God. In the same way, we can’t just do whatever pops into our head (even if the idea “comes from” the Bible) and call it worship.
The only reasonable response to all of this is to eagerly and earnestly ask, “What, then, constitutes true worship, or what makes a true worshiper?!” If that question isn’t ringing in your head and heart already, ask God to make it so, for true worship cannot exist without it.
SOUGHT BY GOD (23)
Before we get to the specific characteristics of true worship/worshipers, I want to give you a bit of help from the text to lean way into what we’re about to cover. In other words, if you are having trouble feeling as you know you ought to feel about fleeing false worship and embracing true worship, there’s a subtle clause at the end of v.23 that will help with that, in two significant ways.
The clause I’m referring to is: “for the Father is seeking such people [true worshipers] to worship him.”
And the first aspect of the help it provides flows from the reality that godliness always seeks godly things. In other words, when we find that God seeks something, we’ve found, without exception, something truly holy, righteous, good, beautiful, and true. It is a great privilege to know what God is seeking, therefore, because whatever He seeks is invaluable treasure.
Thus, when we read that “the Father is seeking such people to worship him,” we ought to immediately wonder how we might honor God by being found by God to be such people. Grace, by listening well to what comes next (Jesus’ description of true worshipers), and by pursuing it in faith, we may become the treasure of God.
The second aspect of the help this clause provides is found in the three-letter preposition at the very beginning, “for”. As is often the case in biblical prepositions, there’s a ton of power here. The “for” indicates that true worshipers will be found because God is seeking them. It is an inviolable truth that God finds what He seeks. And that means that the faithful have sufficient help to be what God requires, in this and every case.
Again, then, false worshipers are not pleasing to God. God is seeking true worshipers, which means that we must long to be what God seeks and that we have sufficient help to do so.
What, then, constitutes true worship and worshipers?
God is seeking true worshipers. But He will not find them exclusively on a mountain in Samaria or Jerusalem. Where, then, will they be found? Or, what is it that makes true worship?
23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Whatever constituted true worship in the past was about to change in significant ways. Jesus was about to change everything. Much more will become clear as we work through John’s Gospel. Here, though, we find one correction, one clarification, and one change.
Salvation Is from the Jews (22)
The correction Jesus made was that the Samaritan understandings of God, His Word, His Worship, and His salvation were all incorrect, while the Jewish ones were right. The Samaritans, many of whom were once on the right path, had veered off from it. The Jews, for all their faults, remained on the right path. Jesus left no doubt as to what was to be made of the man-made religion of the Samaritans.
“You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (v.22).
To be clear, there were true and false worshipers before Jesus came, while He was on earth, and after He ascended into heaven. Likewise, there were true and false worshipers found among Abraham’s offspring, the Jews. The two simple points are that: 1) The Samaritans, because they veered off the path of God, could not be true worshipers, and 2) Jesus did not come to bring about true worship, but to redefine it forever.
The key for us, if we mean to be the kind of true worshipers sought by God, is that we must follow the path established and maintained by God from Adam and Eve, through the patriarchs and prophets, to Jesus and His apostles. That is, we must be people of the Bible. We must understand the promises made and the shadows given in the OT as well as the promises kept and the true light that had come in Jesus. And we must be people who live entirely in light of God’s promises of future grace as we move toward the fullness of time. We cannot veer from the path of God—His revelation and salvation—and be true worshipers.
The Nature of True Worship Changes Forever at the Cross (23)
The clarification concerned the timing of the change in the nature of true worship. Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father…” (v.23). What did Jesus mean? What changes will Jesus bring about, when, how, and why? All of that will become clear in the next section. For now, though, let me say a quick word about what John meant by “the hour”.
In John’s Gospel, “the hour” always refers to the events surrounding the cross. In other words, although the woman at the well couldn’t possibly have understood this entirely, Jesus was letting her know that true worship would be forever changed once Jesus fulfilled the mission for which He was sent; taking on the wrath of God, defeating death, tearing the veil, rising from the dead, ascending to the Father’s side, and sending the Spirit to dwell in believers.
True Worship Is in Spirit and Truth (23-24)
And the change Jesus was making to the nature of God-honoring worship is found at the beginning of v.23, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” While this sounds like two changes (worship in (1) spirit and (2) truth), and while it is true that there is a distinction between spirit and truth, it is almost universally agreed that worshiping in “spirit and truth” is to be understood as a single, inseparable charge. But what does that mean?
Much has been made about what it means to worship in spirit. Most of the noise is tied to the question of whether Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit or to the immaterial part of our personhood (our spirit). Frankly, there is a rather strong exegetical and theological case for both. Indeed, we know from the rest of the Bible that both are true. True worshipers worship with the whole of our being (body and spirit; head, heart, and body) and it is the Holy Spirit of God alone who enables and empowers such worship. (In a similar way, the grounding clause in v.24 tells us that “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” God is immaterial and the Holy Spirit is God.) While it is clear that Jesus didn’t mean both simultaneously, finally sorting out which He had in mind is less important than truly grasping the reason He said it.
His main point is that God-honoring worship had taken a certain form for many years. It involved sacrifices and rituals. It involved a specific nation (Israel) and a specific place (Jerusalem). But all of that was about to change because Jesus is the fulfillment of all of those things. He is the sacrifice once for all. He is the Sabbath and the Passover. He is the fulfillment of the covenant and the promises. And He is the true temple. All of those things were necessary for a time, to create proper categories for the people of God and to point to Jesus, but the fulfillment of them all was in their midst and He was about to truly and fully accomplish all that those things could only hint at.
Before Jesus, God-honoring worship meant keeping all of God’s commands, offering all of His prescribed sacrifices, making all of His required offerings, and celebrating all of His appointed feasts. A time was coming (at the cross) and is now here (in the person of Jesus), however, where all of those things would fade away in fulfillment and true worshipers would simply worship in spirit and truth—in fullness of our being, in the Holy Spirit’s power, and according to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
Again, then, the main point Jesus was trying to make was that the debate about the proper place of worship and sacrifice (Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem) was soon to be an irrelevant question. Now that Jesus had come, those things would no longer matter.
Grace, on this side of the cross, this is our command. True worship for us, the kind the Father seeks, worship in the proper stream, worship not in ignorance, but in truth, worship in spirit, empowered by the Spirit—worship that is pleasing to God—is worship that is in spirit and truth. Failure to do so is why we need saving, and being able to do so is what it means to be saved. What an awesome reality and gift. What amazing grace.
SPREADING WORSHIP (28-30)
Finally, I’ll end this sermon by going back to the end of this passage, just as I did last week. In it, in the woman’s response to all of this, we see proof of salvation and genuine worship. When our faith is truly in Jesus, when we have truly experienced the new birth and the salvation of God, we will leave everything behind (v.28) and follow Jesus. Likewise, the clearest expression of genuine worship in spirit and truth, is praise that flows out of you uncontrollably.
In C.S. Lewis’s books, Reflections on the Psalms, he writes, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.”
To worship in spirit and truth is to be filled with awe, wonder, joy, and satisfaction in God. When you have no desire to share the glory of God in Jesus Christ, at worst your salvation is fake, and at best your worship deficient. When you desire to share it with another, but you are regularly checked from doing so by something like fear or embarrassment or busyness, your worship is deficient. When you seek to share your worship and it comes out primarily in the way of facts and arguments and imparting information, your worship is deficient.
But when your worship comes out as it did for the woman at the well—freely, naturally, uncontrollably, in spite of formidable obstacles (which her social position certainly produced), in light of the Word of God, and in such a way that God causes it to spread—then you may have confidence that you really have been saved and that your worship is, in fact, in spirit and truth (that you are a true worshiper).
In conclusion, may we never forget, Grace, that all of this is a gift of God. It is a gift that is both already and not yet. Through faith, we are saved and we truly worship, even as we are being saved and made into true worshipers. And all of this is in Jesus Christ, the One who offered Himself to the woman at the well and the One offering Himself to all of us right now. Will you receive Him and His salvation in faith? Will you acknowledge that He alone is the proper object of our worship and the only thing that can satisfy our longings? If you will, you will be the kind of worshiper sought by God, a worshiper in spirit and truth.