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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

The Heart of Christian Worship


 

Last time the focus of the message was love. Love for God which comes from God, and which, by God’s power, we must keep burning. For, the love of most will grow cold (Matt 24:12).

Then, last week, Paul brought us a word from Ruth and showed us the nature of heartfelt devotion. Namely, that Ruth was willing to forsake her own people and her own Gods and call Naomi’s people her people. And call Naomi’s God, her God.

Paul showed us how that heartfelt devotion coming to expression in faithful action made Ruth, in God’s divine plan, a direct ancestor of the Saviour, Jesus.

This morning I feel the need to build on those two messages and I think the Lord has some things to show us in that vein, here in John 4.


Samaritans

The account that John records for us is an encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman.

The Samaritan people occupied a region of Israel roughly located in the centre of the country.

To the north of that region was the region of Galilee, and to the south of it was Judea.


The people who lived there were a kind of ethnic hybrid.

When the Assyrians had taken Israel captive all those years ago, they left some of the Israelites behind in their native country. The Israelites they took into captivity in Assyria, they substituted in Israel with native Assyrians. Thus, over time, the remaining Israelites intermarried with the gentile Assyrian settlers, and the resultant people were the Samaritans.


The Samaritan flavour of religion was a semi-Judaism.

The Samaritans accepted, only, the first five books of the old testament scriptures.

The old, northern vs southern kingdom divide, remained.

And significantly, they had built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, not far from Sychar, the town where Jesus encounters this Samaritan woman.

Therefore, it’s not difficult to understand the discord that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans. To the Jews, the Samaritans were a minority half-breed at best – soiled with the blood of gentiles and despised. So, as Verse 9 says, ‘Jews did not associate with Samaritans’.


The route

Now, verse 1 and 2 tell us that Jesus decided to move from Judea in the south, to Galilee in the north because of the Pharisees in Judea. His time had not yet come to die (John 7:8), and he knew the hearts of all people (John 2:24), so he left Judea in favour of Galilee where there were people who would welcome him (John 4:45). His journey from south to north took him through the region of Samaria as verse 4 says. But, don’t be tempted to think that the only route through Samaria was via this town of Sychar.

That would be erroneous.

The route via Sychar was mountainous and rugged which is why, in verse 6 we’re told, Jesus was tired. The alternative route would have taken him on a much smoother road.

A more direct road. And in all likelihood a less dangerous road.

A road that was well travelled, because it was a trade route.

But we find him taking the high road, and arriving at a Samaritan well, in a town known in Jesus’ day as Sychar, but in Jacob’s day as Shechem (Genesis 33).


Conflicting conversation

John’s record says Jesus was tired, it was noon – the hottest part of the day –

and evidently Jesus was thirsty. So, when a woman came by to collect water, Jesus asked her for a drink. He couldn’t get one himself, because the well was deep and Jesus didn’t have a bucket (v.11).

And it’s at this point that I want to draw our attention to how the conversation develops in a series of conflicting statements and questions, that reveal a lot about people, and a lot about God.

In fact, I note five conflicting interactions in the exchange.

And I think they are worthy of our consideration because, they will show us why Jesus ends up saying that ‘God wants worshippers who worship in spirit and truth’ (v.23).

First, I want to state the conflicting pairs quickly, and then explain what they show.


So, the first pair is in verses 9 & 10.

The woman says, ‘how can you ask me for a drink?

And Jesus answers in this obscure way:

If you knew the gift of God

- He’s referring to himself (Rom 5:17) –

And who it is who asks you for a drink

- He’s referring to his divinity -

You would have asked [me] and I would have given you living water’.

So that’s pair number 1.


The second conflicting pair is in verses 10 & 14.

The woman says, ‘Sir you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep’.

And Jesus responds, ‘The water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life’.


The third pair is in verses 18 & 19.

Jesus says in verse 18, ‘The fact is you’ve had five husbands and the man you’re now with is not your husband’.

And the woman says in verse 19, ‘Sir, I can see you’re a prophet’.


The fourth pair is in verses 20 & 21.

The woman says, ‘Sir, our ancestors worshipped on this mountain

- That’s a reference to the covenant blessings that were given on Mount Gerizim in Deuteronomy 11 -

But you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.

And Jesus responds with,

Woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father [Yahweh; God Almighty] neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem’.


And the final pair is in verses 12 & 23.

The woman says to Jesus, ‘are you greater than our father Jacob?

And, Jesus says in verse 23, ‘true worshippers will worship The Father’.

So, there they are. Five conflicting pairs.

Now let’s see the conflict in some detail.


Surface vs spirit

In pair no.1, the woman looks at Jesus only from the outside.

She says, ‘You’re a Jew, how can you – a Jew –

ask me – a Samaritan - for water?

What you are outwardly -

What I am outwardly -

are not compatible.

Why are you asking me for water?’


But Jesus’ response is, ‘if you knew who I really was –

not first and foremost a Jew, but the very essence of divinity.

What Hebrews calls, the exact representation of God’s being.

If you could see beyond the externals -

you’d know that the one asking you for a drink is not confined by external cultural limitations’.

So, that’s number one. This woman is superficially handling Jesus, but Jesus is showing her she needs to go deeper.


Number 2.

The woman: ‘This well is deep and you haven’t got a bucket. How could you give me any water?’

By all accounts Jacob’s well is about 30m deep.

So, she’s not lying, or ignorant.

She’s just missing the point.


Jesus’ response deals with the depth problem in a spectacular way. Watch:

You’re right, I don’t have a bucket.

And the well is deep.

But I can give you water that is so life-giving, that it springs up from below all the way up to the surface, even onto eternal life’.

Woman, you’re getting hung up on externals again’.


She’s seeing the obstacles of depth and receptacle.

But Jesus has water that is subject neither to depth nor receptacle.

He’s got water that comes up to the surface in the soul of a man or woman.


What about pair number 3?

The woman has listened to pretty amazing things come out of Jesus’ mouth by the time verse 19 rolls around, not least what he just said in verses 16-18.

In verse 18, Jesus completely exposes her life and her heart.

Verse 16, ‘Go and call your husband’.

All the woman says in response is, ‘I don’t have a husband’.

Then this remarkable observation from Jesus:

You’re right, the fact is you’ve had five husbands and the man you now have, isn’t even your husband’.


I think it’s unlikely that this woman had been widowed five times.

It’s much more likely she had been divorced several times (maybe even five times) and now she was living in a depraved relationship with a man who wasn’t her husband.

What she wanted to keep secret with the statement, ‘I don’t have a husband’,

Jesus uncovers with stunning, supernatural insight.

He knows her life.

And, He knows her heart.


We’re not told why she’d been divorced so many times, or why she’d now decided to live with a man who wasn’t her husband, but Jesus knew.

It’s not surprising then, that later on the woman told her townsfolk,

come see a man who told me everything I ever did’!

But she’s still seeing only externally.

Her response in verse 19: ‘Sir I can see you’re a prophet’.

That’s an alarming understatement at this point in their conversation.


Pair number 4.

The woman, seeing that Jesus has some wisdom and insight, decides to test him with the trickiest of questions.

We say we worship God.

You Jews claim to worship the same God.

But what about locations?

We say here on this mountain.

You say in Jerusalem.

What do you think?


But she’s still missing the point.

Jesus has been showing her since the beginning of the conversation, it’s not about externals.

It’s about the heart. Her question exposes her ignorance.

Jesus, deals with her so gently though.

Watch again:

Woman, believe me, a time is coming –

it’s not going to be long –

when you will worship God, neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem.

So, if not here or there, then where?

Verse 23, ‘in spirit and truth’.


Jesus is saying, there’s no external location for worshipping God.

In me, that notion is gone, forever.

Worship is going to be relocated, to the inner being of a person.

A completely radical shift of location.

From external and visible, to internal and spiritual.


Finally, pair number 5.

The woman asked, back in verse 12, if Jesus was ‘greater than their father Jacob’ who had given them the well.

To the woman, Jacob was an ancestral hero.

He had given them a well that had supplied their people for countless generations.

Jacob was a great father to her.


But again, she’d missed the point.

Jacob had been a man, like any man –

let’s just say he had some faults –

like we all do.

This woman was focussed on a human father.

She’s seeing the externals again.

Jesus, takes her back to spiritual realities in verse 23,

worshippers the heavenly father seeks are those who worship him in spirit and truth’.


Living water

So, what we’ve seen is that the woman is so externally focused that she’s missed the point of her very existence.

Now Jesus is on the scene, and he’s showing her what she was made for.

She was made by God, to worship God –

who is Spirit (verse 24) –

not primarily with external expression, but with her inmost being.

And Jesus is telling her that coming to get water every day from Jacob’s well is useful for her external body, but has zero benefit for the soul.


For her to become what she was made for, she needs something from Jesus.

She needs living water, welling up to eternal, spiritual life.

Living water only Jesus can give.

If she comes to Jesus and asks him for water, he will give her living water.

After that, she won’t be primarily concerned with Jacob any more.

After that she won't be primarily concerned with relationships any more.

After that, she’ll have a new worship bent; a bent towards the living God.

That’s the message of Jesus at the well to her and to us.

'So, drink!

Sup! Slake! Satiate your thirst!'


Satisfaction

Her thirst for intimate relationships was just a pointer.

But Jesus has come here to tell her she needs to stop hewing out for herself empty cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13).

She needs a spring to well up inside of her where she can drink and drink and drink - for ever!


Remember the Israelites, when they grumbled that they had no water in the desert?

God brought water out of a rock for them to drink.

1 Corinthians 10:4 says, Jesus was that rock that Moses hit in the desert.

Those Israelites’ bottles were sandy-dry when they drank from Jesus in the desert.

And Jesus slaked their thirst.

How thirsty are our souls?

Our appetites are telling us how thirsty we are – every day!

For those appetites to be satisfied, we need the spring of living water that is Jesus.


In spirit

What is worship?

Jesus says, ‘true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth’.

I really like the NIV; I doubt I’ll ever swap versions.

But I think I’m not so happy with the translation here. Not that I’m an expert, but none of the other major translations go for ‘in The Spirit’ here, like the NIV does. Rather they say ‘in spirit’.

The tricky thing is, the Greek word for ‘spirit’ is the same whether the sentence is referring to the Holy Spirit, or the human spirit or an evil spirit.

It’s all the same word.

John uses the word for ‘spirit’ in the sense of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus in 1:32.

And, he uses the same word for Jesus being moved in ‘spirit’ in 11:33 and for Jesus dying in 19:30.

Clearly in each case something different is in view.

So, here in 4:23 - ‘in spirit and truth’ - how should we understand the word?

Most commentators I’ve read - and Strongs lexicon agrees – think John has in view here the human spirit.

Strongs is helpful.

The nature of the ‘spirit’ in view here is the seat or sphere or location of the human affections, feelings, longings or desires, the will, the thoughts.

But, I think we should be cautious about drawing a hard and fast distinction here in John 4.

In John 3:5 Jesus says, ‘no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit’ – capital ‘S’ for spirit.

And in verse 6, ‘flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit’.

Since Jesus has water in mind there, and here in John 4, we should allow John 3 to influence our understanding of John 4.


So, I think it’s something like this:

A person has a natural birth of water.

The waters of a pregnant mother break in child birth.


A spiritual person has a second birth.

Also by water, but not natural water.

Spiritual water.

Jesus is the spring of living water.

The Spirit of God is sent by Jesus (John 15:26) into the soul of a person, so that God takes up residence in them. That person is called a ‘spiritual person’, and is able to worship in 'spirit'.

Nobody, without the Spirit (capital ‘S’) can worship in spirit little ‘s’, even though they naturally have a human spirit.


True worship

So, here’s what I think Jesus means when he says, ‘true worshippers will worship the father in spirit and truth’.

He means the person to which the worship is directed is God the Father (spirit) and it becomes worship when, the human mind comprehends some truth about God, and the human spirit (the soul) indwelt by the Spirit of God, responds to that truth with lively affections (love) for God.

Notice, all of that is happening inside.

You could be anywhere and that happen.

Which, is why, Hebrews 13:15 exhorts us to continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise.

Not just on Sunday morning in a church building, but all the time.


That means, when you get a pay rise, and when the washing machine breaks.

It means when, you get a grade 9, and when you flunk the exam.

It means when a child is born, and you drill the wall and hit the water pipe you didn’t know was there, flooding the room you’ve just spent hours making nice.

For every situation there is truth about God that is enough to make a person, in-dwelt by the Spirit of God, a true worshipper of God in their hearts.

Right there and then, in that very place, in that very moment.

Therefore, the marrow of worship is never external things.

Hymnbooks, pianos, buildings, chairs, screens.

The essence of worship is spirit, responding to truth, directed to God.

That’s what we’re about this morning.

I hope.

If we’re not, we’re not worshippers.

 

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