After leaving Judea for Galilee, Jesus traveled with His disciples through Samaria. Stopping in the town of Sychar to rest He sent the disciples into town to get lunch, and as He’s resting by Jacob’s well Jesus sees a woman approaching to draw water. Though weary and thirsty Himself, Jesus spoke to her about the greater well which gives the greater water in v7-14. We saw that this greater and living water is meant to be an image of what the ministry of the Holy Spirit is like in the soul of man. It brings life, vibrancy, satisfaction, and vitality to us. The Samaritan woman, perhaps only understanding a bit of what Jesus was speaking of, in v15, asked for this living water so she would be freed from the feeling of thirst and from the task of having to return to this well everyday to get water. This is where we pick up in the conversation, John 4:16-26. Follow along as I read.
The issue the apostle John would like us to consider in this abrupt passage together is our worship, whether it is pure or impure, proper or improper, pleasing or displeasing to God, and what can be done about it. As v16-26 unfolds, three portions of this text seem to be pre-arranged for us.
An Abrupt Request (4:16-19)
Having just been asked for this living water in v15, Jesus makes an abrupt request of the Samaritan woman. He asks her to go get her husband and come back in v16. She responds, ashamedly admitting that she has no husband in v17. Then Jesus, though fully human, thirsty, and weary…reveals that He is also fully divine and omniscient, or all-knowing in v17b-18, “You are right in saying ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” Imagine what this would’ve been like for this woman. To have a total stranger come up to you and tell you the details of your deepest and most shameful secrets? It would’ve been completely astonishing as well as totally embarrassing for her. No one wants their dirty laundry exposed or known by others. You can almost guarantee that in this moment she was thinking one thing, “How does this man know these things?”
That may be the question she is asking at this point, but it’s not the question I want to be asking. ‘Why?’ is the question I want to ask. They were having a wonderful discussion about the living water offered by Christ and Jesus abruptly turns the tables on her to expose her shame and guilt? Why would He do this? What’s the meaning in it, or behind it? I think He did it, to cause her to thirst because her response to His offer of living water in v15 reveals a lack of understanding on her part so Jesus in an effort to create a true thirst in her for what truly satisfies reveals her utterly unsatisfied heart. Where is the primary source of her unsatisfied heart? In her guilt and shame. Jesus isn’t being rude here. He doesn’t come out and say, ‘You wicked adulterous prostitute, how dare you misunderstand my offer of living water!’ No, Jesus gently reveals her sin because His aim isn’t to provoke, but to lead her to a proper understanding of her need which will then in turn lead her to the only thing that truly satisfies. The German reformer Johannes Brenz, in his commentary on John’s gospel says here, “…none earnestly thirst for the promises of the gospel unless they know their sin and sense their own damnation because of their sins. Before judgment and the exposing of our sins we seem well and are carefree…But when the Lord reveals sin, death is placed before our eyes and hell is set on fire.”
How many of you are sitting here well? How many of you are sitting here carefree? If you only knew the evil that lurks within your heart fear and trembling would strike the heart of you. It may adulterous desires like this woman’s that lie at the root of your own unsatisfied heart, it may pride, it may be greed, it could be all sorts of things…but do you see that it’s love in Jesus to expose it? It’s love in Him that reveals sin, places death before us, and sets hell on fire, so that having been so warned we would flee from our sins to the Savior who can only satisfy us. What happens when the heart is moved and satisfied? Proper and pure worship.
So having been exposed she responds, “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet…” in v19.
An Abrupt Question (4:20-24)
As Jesus abruptly changed the topic of conversation in v16, here in v20 it seems that the Samaritan woman is the one who abruptly changes the topic of conversation. It would seem on the surface of things that she is seeking to avoid hearing more about her shameful escapades with all these men. I think some of that is truly happening here, but I also think she is expressing more. Surely she wouldn’t want to hear any more about her shameful past and present lifestyle, but now being told of her sins so abruptly she brings up the subject of worship because she is now aware of her adulterous heart and desires to go to the temple to make atonement for her sins. So seemingly abruptly, but more naturally than meets the eye, the conversation moves to the proper worship of God, which for her, is a particularly pressing and personal issue knowing her sin and guilt.
Her inquiry into worship comes up in v20, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” To this Jesus answers in v21-24 saying, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 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. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
In His response Jesus taught the Samaritan woman then and is about to teach us now, two massive realities about the proper and pure worship of God.
The Essential Place of Worship (4:20-22)
In v20 she brings up the place of worship and points again to the historical hostility between the Samaritans and the Jews. The Samaritans worshiped on Mt. Gerizim with the first five books of Moses while the Jews worshiped in Jerusalem under the direction of the entire Old Testament canon. Throughout the history of the world it has been mountains where people have made religious sacrifices and engaged in various practices of worship. All the wise kings of Israel acted well when they tore down the pagan altars on the high places in the land. Some of the most well known moments throughout redemptive history took place on mountains (think…Mt. Sinai, Mt. Carmel, or the Mt. of transfiguration). When the Jews built the temple in Jerusalem they outlawed the practice of sacrificing on mountains. When the Samaritans built their temple on Mt. Gerizim the hostility between them and the Jews reached a new level of hatred. The issue she is bringing up in v20 is clear; what is the true place of worship, Mt. Gerizim or Mt. Zion?
Jesus’ answer in v21-22 not only shows that Samaritan worship is false because it rejects much of God’s revealed truth, He not only shows that the Jews worship is correct because they embrace the whole of God’s revealed truth, He shows that ultimately because of what God is now doing through Himself, who is the truth, the place of worship no longer matters. Jesus is saying that because of Him, the place we now meet God isn’t a place but a Person. The place is irrelevant whether it be Mt. Gerizim or Mt. Zion, Samaria or Jerusalem. Those who follow God are intended by God to be a people who are attached to God, not a certain place where others or we ourselves have had a religious experience. Yes, there are many places in the Bible of abundant importance. Mt. Sinai, Mt. Carmel, the Mt. of transfiguration, even the temple itself that has had so much historical significance…with regard to our worship these are all irrelevant because when God saves someone, God the Spirit comes to reside in the heart, and when God the Spirit comes to reside in the heart that heart becomes holy ground. So since we are now the living and breathing temple of God everything we do and everywhere we go is an act of worship.
If the place is irrelevant, and the Person of Father, Son, and Spirit are supremely relevant, what then are the relevant and proper principles for the worship of God? Jesus continues His answer by giving us the rules of worship.
The Fundamental Principles of Worship (4:23-24)
The fundamental principles of the worship of God are that we must worship in spirit and in truth. By ‘spirit’ is Jesus referring to the Holy Spirit or to our spirit? All throughout our present context in John 3-4 we’ve seen Jesus speak of the ministry of the Spirit and the life of the Spirit in the soul of man, so when we come to this great passage here in v23-24, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth…” we would be mistaken to think the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with this. But we would also be mistaken to think that our spirit has nothing to do with this. After all, didn’t Mary soar in praise in Luke 1:47, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”? Of course she did! So worshiping in spirit refers to both the Holy Spirit and our spirit. How do the two of these realities come together? John Piper says it very well in his book Desiring God, “True worship comes only from spirits made alive and sensitive by the quickening of the Spirit of God.” So, Piper is only saying what Jesus is saying here. God the Spirit creates, ignites, and enlivens our spirit, making us sensitive to the beauty and wonder of God, and then moves us to worship Him with our whole spirit. This is what it means to worship ‘in spirit.’
But we’re not only to worship ‘in spirit’ we’re to worship ‘in truth’ as well. This means that in our worship we don’t come to God and confess what we feel God is like, what we want God to be like, or what we wish God were like. No, in our worship we come to God and confess what God is like, we confess who God is, we confess what He has done, and we pray that His truth would correct our errors. Psalm 145:18, “The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.” The opposite of this verse is just as true. The Lord isn’t near to those who call on Him in error. For example, did you notice in this text it says we’re to worship the Father in v23? Yes Christianity is about worshiping Christ and the Holy Spirit, but we’re to worship the Father. Remember, the Father sent the Son to save, the Son absorbed the Father’s wrath for us, so that we can now come to the Father without shame and guilt, and once we come by faith and are saved the Spirit then reminds us of what the Father did in sending His Son so that we could be brought to Him. When we worship the Father we worship ‘in truth.’
So taking these two together, that we’re to worship ‘in spirit’ and ‘in truth’ means that in our worship we’re aiming at both our heads and our hearts. Heads informed and hearts inflamed, heads engaged and hearts enlivened, heads that are full and hearts that are on fire. We don’t want a lifeless orthodoxy, and we don’t want an enthusiastic heresy. No, we want an enthusiastic orthodoxy.
These are the fundamental principles of worship. This is the need of the hour. Churches filled with Christians who worship according to what God has commanded rather than what man has desired. Churches that plan and carry out their worship with pleasing God in mind and coming underneath His desires rather than pleasing man and seeking to meet felt needs. Do you think I’m speaking to strongly here? I don’t. v23 says the Father is seeking such worship, and v24 says we MUST worship God in this manner. In Leviticus 10 two young men named Nadab and Abihu felt that they could worship God in any way they so desired, so they did. You know what happened? God killed them on the spot. What they did wasn’t an exercise of true worship, it was an exercise of idolatry, of putting their desires in worship above God’s. Church, worshiping God how God wants to be worshiped isn’t a matter of debate. Since the Bible is where we learn who God is, the Bible is also to be the place where we learn how God is to be worshiped.
An Abrupt Revelation (4:25-26)
We’ve seen Jesus’ abrupt request, and the woman’s seemingly abrupt question in response. Finally we’ve come to an abrupt revelation. The woman, unable to come back at Jesus’ statements on worship, says that when the Messiah comes He will clear all these things up. Then Jesus in a moment blazing clarity gives her a stunning revelation, “I who speak to you am He.”
What a passage! God the Son, speaking of rightly worshiping God the Father, in the power of God the Spirit, and revealing the shame and guilt of this woman to ultimately show her that He is the long awaited Messiah who will clarify the true worship of God. Little did this woman know what she would receive this day at the well. We will see how this woman was changed by this meeting soon enough, but for now, let me end by asking a few questions.
What do you worship? How do you worship? Whom do you worship? If you’ve disconnected with this, thinking worship is something only church people do, hear this. The issue isn’t whether we worship or not, the issue if what, how, and who we worship.
Most of you are aware of the disorder called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, where a person out of extreme anxiety or nervousness repeats normal daily tasks over and over to ensure they are done right. I can be a little OCD when it comes to my desk and what’s on it, I find it hard to concentrate if my desk isn’t organized just so…perhaps some of you have similar weird traits about you. Well, take the concept of OCD and learn a new disorder, one that is common to all men – OCW. We all are Obsessive Compulsive Worshipers, repeatedly worshiping something. This is a problem and a disorder because we all are born into this world worshiping and giving our attention and our lives to the wrong things. Into our OCW hearts, praise God, that He sends out His Son and Spirit to awaken us from the dead by faith in the gospel, and create out of us a people who loves to worship Him rightly.
May God reorient our worship from what pleases us to what pleases Him.
 Wolfgang Musculus, John 1-12, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 133.
 Johhanes Brenz, John 1-12, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 132-133.
 Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John, page 162.
 Martin Bucer, John 1-12, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 135.
 John Piper, Desiring God, page 82.