Now He had to go through Samaria. So He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as He was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
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.)
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.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 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?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 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.”
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.”
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 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.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time 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, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
The woman said, “I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am He.”
This conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well is one of the most profound conversations recorded in the entire Bible, and is undoubtedly one of the high points of John’s gospel. There are many deep lessons contained in these verses, and included in this conversation is a priceless lesson about true worship, which is what we will be looking at this morning.
The first thing which we notice is that this encounter didn’t take place in a hushed, sacred setting. We might have thought that if Jesus was going to teach us about worship, He would have done it in the Temple, but of all places He chose Samaria – a place the Jews avoided at all costs, but Jesus revealed the heart of true worship to a woman whose life was marred by all kinds of immorality.
But this is the glory and beauty of God’s truth: it knows no limit of time, place, or person. It is revealed to those who are ready to receive it, whoever they are and wherever they are. From our perspective there was no more unsuitable setting or person which God could have chosen to teach us about worship. So by God’s Spirit the truth was revealed to this Samaritan woman. And true to form – something which we sinners are very good at doing – when Jesus began teaching her the truth, and started revealing the deeper sin in her life, she tried to change the subject.
Jesus was talking about her morals, and what was her reply? “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Rather than deal with the important things in her life, she preferred to focus on when and where they were supposed to worship. As I was preparing this I couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that these are exactly the same red herrings which have created so much lively debate in our own congregation recently. If only we had the same passion for Jesus that we have for service times, music styles and buildings! Imagine how much deeper our own worship would be…
It’s interesting though that when Jesus was presented with this red herring by the Samaritan woman, He didn’t ignore the question. Rather, He used it as a springboard from which to reveal to her the classic Christian definition of worship, the pattern for all true worship.
The first subject which He tackled was man-made worship, and in His conversation with her, Jesus shows us three basic weaknesses of worship when we decide just what worship is, and how it should happen.
Firstly, man-made worship is contrived. It is the result of people adding a little here and taking away a little there until they have redefined the Bible to suit themselves. By doing this they have turned the Scriptures into a monstrosity. We either believe the entire Word of God (from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22), or we reject the entire Word of God. What the Samaritans had done was to adjust God’s truth to such an extent that they insisted that true worship must be conducted on Mount Gerizim. They had adjusted history to suit themselves by insisting that it was on this mountain that Abraham had been willing to sacrifice Isaac, and that it was here that Abraham had paid tithes to Melchizedek. Not only that , but they tampered with the Scriptures themselves when they taught that it was on this mountain that Moses first built an altar and sacrificed to God in preparation for the entry of the Israelites into the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 27:4 clearly states that this all happened on Mount Ebal (about 10km away), not Mount Gerizim. Every cult has done the same thing in twisting and distorting the Truth of God. A contrived gospel is a false gospel and it will always lead people to destruction.
Secondly, not only is man-made worship contrived - it is also ignorant of the truth. Jesus said to the woman, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know.” What He was talking about here was the fact that the Samaritans accepted only the Pentateuch, what we know as the first 5 books of the Bible. They rejected all of the teachings of the prophets and all of the beauty and inspiration of the Psalms. So what they ended up with was only a partial revelation of the truth. It was available to them, but they would not accept it. They chose to remain in spiritual darkness.
The lesson for us today is that we need to spend time in all of God’s Word. Some Christian denominations will teach only from the Old or only from the New Testament. They are in the same spiritual darkness that the Samaritans chose to live in. By disregarding the whole of God’s truth, they are no different to the Samaritans of Jesus’ time. There is no excuse today for Christians to be ignorant of what they believe or of the basic teachings of God’s Word. There was a time when people were ignorant of spiritual things because they did not have the full revelation of God. But not anymore. Jesus has come and He has revealed God’s true nature to us. We have the complete Word of God. And not only that: we have the gift of God’s Holy Spirit who interprets the Word for us.
Thirdly, Jesus pointed out to the Samaritan woman that man-made worship is also superstitious. The Samaritans had twisted true worship of God by recognising the pagan gods of the foreigners who lived among them. They had mixed in with their worship of God all of the superstitions of the pagans. The danger and the warning sign for us is that we must guard against allowing superstitions to dictate how we worship.
Someone once said that some Christians attend church not out of a genuine sense of need, nor out of any real desire to meet God in a worship experience, but because they are afraid not to, and they feel that if they do not go through the motions of worship, something bad will happen to them. I suppose the question we need to ask ourselves before coming to worship is ‘why?’
Why am I here today? Is it because it is 8:30 on a Sunday morning, or is it because I have a genuine desire to meet with God? Am I excited or even apprehensive about how God’s Spirit is going to stir my heart today, or am I here because my biological clock dictates that this is where I come every week?
Eugene Peterson, who wrote the Message translation of the Bible, answers the question ‘why’ far more eloquently than I can: “Worship is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God. Worship is the time and place that we assign for deliberate attentiveness to God - not because He’s confined to time and place but because our self-importance is so assiduously relentless that if we don't deliberately interrupt ourselves regularly, we have no chance of attending to Him at all at other times and in other places.”
A true worship experience is motivated by love for God and by gratitude for what God has done in our lives and in the lives of our families.
Once Jesus had dealt with the issue of man-made worship, He began to teach the Samaritan woman about true worship, God-centred worship.
“A time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
In these words, Jesus defines for us the true heart of worship.
The first point is that true worship is initiated by God. He makes the first move towards us in establishing a true worship experience. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t need to go looking for Him. Other religions do that with their rituals and superstitions, but we don’t need to seek after God or beg and plead with Him to meet us in worship. Seeking out a non-existent god is precisely what the prophets of Baal did on Mount Carmel in that famous contest with Elijah. They begged and cried and worked themselves up into hysteria, eventually cutting themselves and shedding their own blood in their fanatical frenzy.
But what did Jesus say? “The Father seeks His worshippers.”
People do not seek God; God seeks people. God has always worked that way. When Adam and Eve sinned, what was God’s first question? “Where are you?”
And He continues to ask that same question of you and I today. He wants us to experience Him in every aspect of our lives. This is not about a weekly one hour ritual. He is seeking us constantly, wanting us to experience a life of worship. People often say that you don’t need to go to Church to worship God. That is quite correct, but the problem is that when people say that, they are usually using that statement as an excuse to cut themselves off from the fellowship of other believers. Worship is a very personal experience, but the corporate aspect of worship is just as important. When we come together as His people, He is here, the audience of One, waiting and eager to meet us.
The second point about God-centred worship is that it is not only initiated by Him, but worship is a spiritual experience. “God is spirit, and His worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
What did Jesus mean when He said that God is spirit? Does this mean He is some vague, impersonal, ethereal being and beyond our reach? No.
Because God is Spirit, He is free. He is not confined to any one place or time. How else could He be with us in a very real way right now, and also in other true Christian Churches all over the world at the same time?
For thirty-three years, in a mysterious union which we cannot fully understand, God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus. Then, in an even greater miracle, God died in the person of His Son and rose again on the third day. But even during that amazing time of identification with us, God was still omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. At no stage did God stop being God. During those 33 years Jesus remained fully God, even though He was fully human at the same time.
Because God is spirit, His omnipresence makes it possible for us to worship Him anytime, anywhere. In the privacy of personal devotions, in the routine of the mundane affairs of everyday life, and here in a place where believers sing and pray together, we can worship God. God-centred worship is a spiritual experience that is expressed both privately and corporately. We are not just physical beings. There is a deep spiritual hunger within every human being to want to know and understand the God who created us and loves us, and through worship, He makes this possible.
Thirdly, we are to worship God not only in spirit, but also in truth.
In His prayer for us in John 17, Jesus prayed to the Father on our behalf, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”
God still speaks to us today, and His primary means of doing so is through His Word – the Bible. We will find that when we treat the Bible as the living Word of God, rather than just as a book, His Holy Spirit will speak to us. In other words, when we spend time in God’s Word, we experience worship. Worship is not simply about singing hymns or choruses. That is only part of the experience. Every time we have an encounter with God, including the times He reveals His truth to us through His Word, we are worshipping Him.
In John 18 we find the conversation between Jesus and Pilate which deals with a crucial question (reading from verse 35): “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (Then comes the big question, asked by Pilate).
“What is truth?”
It is a question which every human being has asked. And we have come up with some rather weird, wonderful and quite frankly, some incredibly stupid ways of answering that question, but we will really only be able to answer it by responding to God as He reveals Himself to us. I suppose you could say that truth is not something we can learn or know. Rather, it is something we can experience as we learn to worship the Father in Spirit and Truth. He is Truth, and He reveals Himself to us.
So what is true worship? How are we to experience worshipping in spirit and truth?
If it is man-made worship and contrived, it is filled with ignorance of the true message of God’s Word, and will lead us to all kinds of false ideas and superstitions. But if it is God-centred worship, then it is always initiated by God. He is constantly seeking us to enter into a worship experience with Him.
True worship is a spiritual experience that transcends the earthly, the mundane and the worldly. It is Bible-centred, because God’s Word is truth.
Do you want to experience true worship? Then you have to turn to Christ.
“I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am He.”