Worship: Whom, where, and how? Devotional Commentary for February 19-25
John 4:20-26 (NASB)
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us wisdom and insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
4:20 "Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship."
After having acknowledged Jesus as a Prophet, the Samaritan woman attempted to advance a different line of conversation from what Jesus was pursuing: her lost soul. Perhaps she was overwhelmed by Jesus' incisive and revealing disclosure about her illicit life. She remarked on a very divisive issue between the Jews and the Samaritans. Where is the proper place for worshipping God? Is it Mount Gerizim as the Samaritans claim, or, Jerusalem as do the Jews?
Should she follow the traditions of her ancestrs or should she go to Jerusalem to worship with the Jews? As we shall see soon, Jesus' answer did not directly address the issue to her immediate satisfaction. But He gave her a corrective and an instructive response. He revealed to her the true value of worship, meaningful worship, significant worship.
21Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in 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 an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.
24"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
Jesus' answer seemed to have avoided the question posed by the Samaritan woman. But He spoke to her firmly with a steadfast care. He neither conceded nor argued against her point. But He recast her question in a more pertinent context relating to His message of salvation: what she needed but did not know.
Jesus corrected the woman right away and told her that her focus on the place of worship would soon be of little significance. He said that the time was at hand when the locus of worship would no longer matter. No one would be able to worship the Father neither at Mount Gerizim nor in Jerusalem. Those places would cease serving as the national site for worshipping God, making the controversy over the place of worship pointless.
Jesus pointed out to the Samaritan woman that her question on the place of worship was driven by an uninformed commitment to tradition. The Samaritans worshipped at Mount Gerizim because that was the practice they inherited from their forefathers. They did not want to join the Jews in Jerusalem because the Jews regarded them with contempt. But God, in His sovereign pleasure, appointed the Jewish nation to receive, preserve, and proclaim the Good News of God's salvation to the world. Jesus showed the woman that she received tradition from men while the Jews received revelation from God.
True worship is not constrained by location, process, or ritual. True worship focuses on Who must be worshipped instead of how or where. God seeks His people to worship Him in truth with godly knowledge and understanding. He wants His people to worship Him in spirit because worship is a heavenly phenomenon expressible only in spirit and in truth by the Power of the Holy Spirit. In just a few words, Jesus told the woman that worship is the enduring spiritual essence of the life of the child of God.
Most probably, the woman did not expect to get a lesson on the true meaning of worship. Like most of us, she was probably sure of her knowledge about it. She just wanted to know where it should be exercised. But Jesus, Who knew what she needed, taught her what true worship is. Worship is expressed in spirit and in truth in the heart captured by God's redeeming Grace and Love. Jesus explained to her that worship is not a matter of where, but Who. Worship is cultivated in a redeemed heart: the temple of God.
4:25 The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us."
Jesus and the Samaritan woman had been talking for some time now sitting at Jacob’s Well in Sychar. After listening to Him for a while, she probably wondered what His thoughts were about things that mattered to her. She was convinced that Jesus must be a prophet. She was quite impressed with Jesus. Nevertheless, she still thought that He was merely a prophet. Certainly a remarkable prophet, but a prophet nonetheless.
In her understanding of Moses and the Prophets, all issues will be resolved only when the Messiah comes. She told Jesus, when God’s Messiah comes, He will reveal everything. He will declare the truth because He is the Christ.
4:26 Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."
Then! The moment of Truth! A glorious instant of divine revelation still ringing in her mind: "I who speak to you am He." In plain and simple words, Jesus told the woman that He is the Messiah, the One she was expecting to come from God. No longer was the conversation dotted with enigmatic statements that are difficult to understand or interpret.
Now she knows that she had been speaking with the Messiah. Now she knows that He was not just a remarkable prophet or a polite Jewish man. He is the Messiah Who came to reveal God in person. He is the Messiah Who came to accomplish redemption. Because He is the Messiah Who came to seek and save the lost, He found her.
The Messiah was revealed to a woman despised by a tradition of ignorance and bigotry. Jesus was revealed in Samaria, a place relegated to disfavor but where God's Love abounded and the despised is now glorified in Jesus Christ. Now she knows the truth because she met the Truth in Person.
The story of the Samaritan woman continues through the rest of the chapter with a dramatic twist. The disciples returned from buying lunch and found themselves surprised that their Master was in the company of a Samaritan woman. They did not dare say anything to Jesus, but the woman probably noticed their disapproval and the outrage on their faces.
But that did not seem to bother the new woman in Christ. Leaving her water pot at the well and the disciples to wallow in their condescension, she rushed to her town with a mission. She invited the whole town to come out to Jacob's Well and meet the Messiah Who told her everything about her past. In the meantime, the disciples continued to pester Jesus about lunch.
In his book "Jesus Among Other Gods", author Ravi Zacharias captures the moment with vivid imagination and describes the scene with contrastive insight. He writes:
The Samaritan woman grasped what Jesus said with a fervor that came from an awareness of her real need. The transaction was fascinating.
She had come with a bucket. He sent her back with a spring of living water.
She had come as a reject. He sent her back being accepted by God Himself.
She came wounded. He sent her back whole.
She came laden with questions. He sent her back as a source for answers.
She came living a life of quiet desperation. She ran back overflowing with hope.
The disciples missed it all. It was lunchtime for them.
What was the difference? The disciples were shackled by the debilitating fetters of their culture. They were agitated by their Master's behavior. They could not see a lost soul. They noticed a despised woman, a Samaritan.
But the woman was free in Christ. She hastened to her town where many of her people still remained lost in sin. No longer was she preoccupied with the controversy between her people and the Jews regarding the place of worship. The Messiah had come. She had places to go and people to tell the Good News.
She was drawn by the Truth. She was embraced by God's Grace. She was captured by God's Love. God revealed Himself to her in the person of Jesus Christ. She was redeemed. She came looking for water, but returned a redeemed woman filled with the Living Water.
Now she knows what true worship is. True worship is expressed directly toward God from a heart that is captured by redemption. Our human nature often suffocates the Truth that we have seen and heard. We struggle to perceive the Spirit of God in our daily routines because our life is dominated by our concerns for the immediate and the present.
When we pause long enough to sense Jesus' engaging touches, we are able to recognize that He is the Christ, indeed the Messiah. The disciples saw it. The people heard it. It was lunchtime for the Disciples, but a moment of truth, a moment of redemption for the lost Samaritan woman.