I love the story of the Samaritan woman. I’m moved by how Jesus engages her and then uses a simple word to awaken her long-suppressed need for “living water.” (Jn. 4:13-16) It’s noteworthy that when Jesus asks her to call her “husband” she abruptly changes the subject to the topic of worship. (It’s a whole lot easier to talk about theological questions than to be confronted with our sin, is it not?) So she, perceiving that Jesus is a prophet, uses the opportunity to ask a long-disputed question among the Samaritans and Jews. “Sir,” she says, “I perceive that you are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” (Jn. 4:19-20)
The gist of her inquiry is insightful. She has an institutional concept of worship – worship that is tied to a physical place, a physical time and physical, ceremonial activities. What is interesting, however, is that Jesus in answering her says nothing about mountains. He references neither a place and time, nor religious rituals. Rather He speaks to a shift in the whole area of worship. He says, “The hour is coming” (v.21) and then “The hour is coming and now is.” (v.23) There’s a distinction Jesus makes that is often missed. His message is essentially – you used to worship there and the Jews worshipped over here, but the time has come that such is going to change.
In discussing such He says: “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.” (Jn. 4:23-24) The hour has come and worship is going to change. No longer will it be tied to a mountain, to a place, to a certain time or ritual – the hour has come and “now is” that people will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
So naturally the question is, “What does it mean to worship in spirit and in truth?” While I’ll speak to that next week, I do want to share that the usual answer to that question does not catch the distinction to which Jesus alludes. One website among our people states:
We must worship in spirit. That is, our hearts must be right. We must be right in life. We must have the correct attitude. We must be thinking of what we are doing (Isaiah 1:11-20; Proverbs 28:9; Matthew 15:8). We must worship God in truth. To worship God in truth means that we will worship God according to the truth. God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). Therefore, for our devotions to be acceptable to God, they must be offered in accordance with His Word.
This explanation is not necessarily false; it just doesn’t capture the contrast and distinction the Lord is making. Again, Jesus says “the hour has come and now is” that there is to be a fundamental shift in worship. It has always be the case that people are to be sincere. And it has never been appropriate for people to forgo the Truth as the standard in worship. Jesus isn’t promising more of the same – He tells this Samaritan woman and He tells us – worship is going to change. It is no longer going to be tied to a mountain, to a physical temple, to a piece of real estate or even physical rituals. It is to be in “spirit” and in “truth.” More to come!
You are loved,