Christians debate all the time about how God ought to be worshipped. In some church circles, there are well thought out standards for worship like “The Regulative Principle of Worship” and “The Normative Principle of Worship.” (For a brief overview of these two approaches, click here.) Some even say “anything goes.” To get an answer, it makes the most sense to just go to scripture…
In his Gospel, John records a conversation between Jesus and a women who meet at a well. During that conversation, the subject of worship comes up. How Jesus answers gives us some definite clues about what worship should look like. Here’s that portion of the conversation…
John 4:19-26 (HCSB)
“Sir,” the woman replied, “I see that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, yet you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus told her, “Believe Me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah, is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”
“I am He,” Jesus told her, “the One speaking to you.”
There are a few things that we can conclude about worship from this conversation…
The woman seemed concerned about the location of worship. She, being a Samaritan, followed their tradition in thinking that the mountain in view was the place for them to worship. At the same time, she assumed that the Jews were supposed to worship at their place of tradition… Jerusalem. But, Jesus corrected both assumptions, revealing that in the future neither of these places were going to be the designated place to worship. Though Jesus did not respond with a location, He did make it clear that those two locations (at least in the future) were not going to be the stipulated place for worship.
2) The Father
Wherever the future location for worship was, Jesus made it clear that the Father would be worshipped. What that would look like, Jesus doesn’t say. However, He was explicit about the fact that the Samaritans, whatever they worshipped, had no clue as to what or who it was. In other words, they did not know the object of their worship.
3) What the Jews Knew
Jesus makes it clear that the Jews worshipped what they knew, as opposed to the Samaritans who worshipped what they did not know.
And, why was that?
Jesus said it was because, “…salvation is from the Jews.” In other words, they were the chosen people who had been given an exclusive knowledge about the Creator that no other nation had ever been given…
Romans 9:4-5 (HCSB)
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple service, and the promises. The ancestors are theirs, and from them, by physical descent, came the Messiah, who is God over all, praised forever. Amen.
4) The “True Worshippers”
Jesus then mentions another group of people, “true worshippers.” These people would worship in the future, and they were also currently worshipping at the time of this conversation.
5) Spirit and Truth
Not only was this third group of people worshipping as Jesus and the woman spoke, but this group of people would continue worshipping into the future… and they worshipped the Father in “spirit and truth.” Plus, the Father wanted this specific group of people to worship Him.
6) God is Spirit
Perhaps, one of the greatest revelations about God is this little nugget given by Jesus… “God is spirit.” God had given the Israelites (through Moses) a specific warning about how he was to be worshipped…
Exodus 20:1-4 (HCSB)
Then God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.
Do not have other gods besides Me.
Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.
Nothing in the creation in it of itself can do any justice in exemplifying or illustrating who God is. Especially, something that man has fashioned.
Because, as Jesus said… “God is spirit.” Therefore, all the forms of worship ever designed by man’s assumption is improper.
Again, God is spirit, He’s not some object that we can find physically or even make ourselves. He is to be approached as He says that He is to be approached. That’s why Jesus again repeats to the woman that God is to be worshipped in “spirit and truth.” He is to be worshipped according to who He is (as described in His Word), and not by what we imagine Him to be.
Why God Now Can Be Approached
Check out this glorious progression…
Leviticus 16:2 (HCSB)
The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he may not come whenever he wants into the holy place behind the veil in front of the mercy seat on the ark or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.”
Matthew 27:50-51 (HCSB)
Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary, was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split.
Hebrews 10:19b-20 (HCSB)
…we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh)…
The Woman’s Response
Prior to talking to the woman about worship, Jesus had revealed to her who she was, based upon her past…
John 4:1-18 (HCSB)
When Jesus knew that the Pharisees heard He was making and baptizing more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea and went again to Galilee. He had to travel through Samaria, so He came to a town of Samaria called Sychar near the property that Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, worn out from His journey, sat down at the well. It was about six in the evening.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
“Give Me a drink,” Jesus said to her, for His disciples had gone into town to buy food.
“How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” she asked Him. For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.
Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would ask Him, and He would give you living water.”
“Sir,” said the woman, “You don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do You get this ‘living water’? You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are You? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.”
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again — ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well, of water springing up within him for eternal life.”
“Sir,” the woman said to Him, “give me this water so I won’t get thirsty and come here to draw water.”
“Go call your husband,” He told her, “and come back here.”
“I don’t have a husband,” she answered.
“You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus said. “For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
This then led to the discussion about worship (as shown above). After Jesus had concisely laid out what proper worship was, the woman then responded with this…
“I know that Messiah, is coming… When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”
She knew that she needed a Savior, and that He was coming. Little did she know, she was now talking to Him. As we saw earlier, Jesus replied to her…
“I am He… the One speaking to you.”
John then goes on, telling us the rest of the account…
John 4:27-42 (HCSB)
Just then His disciples arrived, and they were amazed that He was talking with a woman. Yet no one said, “What do You want?” or “Why are You talking with her?”
Then the woman left her water jar, went into town, and told the men, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?” They left the town and made their way to Him.
In the meantime the disciples kept urging Him, “ Rabbi, eat something.”
But He said, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.”
The disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought Him something to eat?”
“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work,” Jesus told them. “Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, then comes the harvest’? Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest. The reaper is already receiving pay and gathering fruit for eternal life, so the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you didn’t labor for; others have labored, and you have benefited from their labor.”
Now many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of what the woman said when she testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” Therefore, when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. Many more believed because of what He said. And they told the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world.”
The Prediction of Jesus
I’m not sure if you noticed, but Jesus had mentioned something quite remarkable during the discussion with the woman about worship. This, the woman did not catch…
“Believe Me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”
That hour came that day, and for many others as well; just as it also has for us…
Godspeed, to the brethren!
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