Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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True Worship

John 4:16-24

Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well was astounding in both circumstance and content.

The Jews hated the Samaritans, and the feeling was mutual. The conflict had its origin in the divided kingdom, and the animosity only grew through the centuries until the time of our Lord. It is important to note that the Samaritans were the remnants of the northern Jews who had been taken into Assyrian captivity, and had intermarried with other races upon their return to Samaria. The mingling of races, combined with the Samaritans acceptance of pagan gods led to a mongrel race and religion.

The Samaritans had built a temple upon Mount Gerizim, adjacent to Jacob’s well. It is this mountain to which the woman referred, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship” (vs. 20); and is the setting and context for the conversation recorded in John 4.

Beginning in verse 16 of the text, Jesus made a seemingly peculiar request of the woman. He had intrigued her with his statement concerning “living water”, and at her request that he give some to her, He said, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” He did this fully knowing that she had a checkered past, having been divorced from five husbands, and currently living with a man to whom she was not married. As He revealed this knowledge to her, His discernment convinced her that He was a prophet from God. This led her to make the statement in verse 20, and allowed Jesus to fully turn her attention to spiritual matters. Until this point, the woman had lacked sufficient discernment to realize that the Lord, in referring to “living water” was alluding to spiritual rather than physical matters.

As Jesus answered the woman, He alluded to a future that would see the removal of the animosity that existed between the Jews and Samaritans. While Jesus denied that Samaritan worship was legitimate, and as such asserting it to be inferior to the God ordained worship of the Jews in Jerusalem, Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (vs. 23). That the Samaritans would be included among the true worshipers was evident as He included the woman, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming where you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father” (21).

With these words, Jesus affirmed the foundation of worship under His new covenant with mankind. Three important points are here established. First, man-made worship would not be accepted under the new covenant any more than it was under the old. The Samaritan worship was not acceptable because it was not true worship — it did not emanate from God. Under the new covenant God would demand the same. Acceptable worship would be limited to that done in “truth.”

Second, the covenantal worship of the Jews likewise would not be accepted under the new covenant. Though the Jews “know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews” (vs. 22), Jesus affirmed that an hour would come when such worship in Jerusalem would cease. It is not surprising that with the establishment of a new covenant, Jesus would make changes in the worship to be offered. However, it is a significant point, as so many religious people continue to make their appeal to the old covenant as their authority for worship offered to God. Whether it be the use of mechanical instruments of music, an observance of the Sabbath, the practice of tithing, the burning of incense or the offering of animal sacrifices, there is no basis for an appeal to Jewish worship in that “hour.”

Third, for worship to be acceptable to God in that hour, it had to be offered with the proper “spirit.” Mere ritual, though comforting to the petitioner, would not appeal to God. Zeal, ardor, and sincerity would be the hallmarks of true worship in the Kingdom of the Lord. “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth” (vs. 24).

Perhaps such a radical prediction of change is what focused the woman on the prophesies of the Christ. Her statement, “When He (the Messiah) comes, He will tell us all things,” gave the Lord an opportunity to reveal Himself fully to her. “I who speak to you am He” (vs. 26).

Jesus is our Lord and Savior. He has established His own covenant, and has revealed to man what true worship under that covenant will be. It is left for us to search out His will, and submit to it fully. Only then will our worship of Him be, “in spirit, and in truth.”