Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
If you were here when we began our consideration of the 2nd Commandment, you will recall that I mentioned MESSY-CHURCH as a fairly recent example of what is known as seeker-sensitive worship. Seeker-sensitive ‘worship’ is worship designed around what people want. Messy-Church is designed to create alternative congregations where you can colour in and sing action songs and eat popcorn and listen to a story from the Messy-Church book.
Well, today I begin with an anonymous quote that I have changed very slightly to make it contemporary. It goes like this: Thanks to Youth Pastors and Messy-Church and Christchurch Easter Camp and other such methods of introducing people to the Word, “there are today many millions of people who hold ‘right opinions,’ probably more than ever before in the history of the church. Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the program [or the ‘event’ or the ‘gathering.’] [These] word[s] [have] been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us.” End quote.
Do you think this is a fair assessment? Well, to be able to answer that question assumes we know what true spiritual worship is. And that is precisely what we hope to consider today. But what we can say now is that this is a really important matter. And it is really important not because I say so but because of what we read in 2 Timothy 4.
There the Apostle Paul is talking to Timothy about his core duty as a minister. He says, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” But listen to what he says next against the background of what I have just described, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” And congregation, worship today, for a great many professing Christians, has a lot to do with “their own passions.” They want worship that suits them.
So last time we looked at a number of OT PASSAGES to demonstrate God’s displeasure with any worship that was self-invented and/or a departure from His very explicit commands about worship in the Law.
We read of Nadab and Abihu being burned to death on the spot for wrongful worship; we read of King Saul being stripped of the kingdom for wrongful worship; we read of the people of Israel being sent into exile, largely because of wrongful worship. We took time to demonstrate from Scripture that the true worship of God must be according to His command.
Well, we ended in the NT with a few words about our text today. We very briefly noted that Jesus is well-qualified to speak a new word about worship. He is the Word made flesh. The 2nd Commandment is His Word. He is the only man who has kept the 2nd Commandment. And all of the worship ceremonies that accord with the 2nd Commandment have their fulfilment in Him.
Well, we want to look at this passage in more detail today, for in it THE LORD JESUS SPEAKS A WORD ON WORSHIP. And we see this as we simply consider the QUESTION of the Samaritan woman and the ANSWER of the Lord Jesus. And the bulk of our time, naturally, will be spent on the answer of the Lord Jesus and especially what He says about worship IN SPIRIT AND TRUTH.
So we begin with vv19-20 and THE QUESTION OF THE SAMARITAN WOMAN.
1. Jesus is in SAMARIA, which was North of Israel, and He is having a conversation with a Samaritan woman. After the Northern Kingdom was exiled, foreigners came and inter-married with the Jews who were left behind. And these people were the Samaritans. The first 5 books of the Bible alone were their Bible. They had a temple on Mt. Gerizim. Mt. Gerizim was were the covenant blessings were spoken to Israel – Deut 27. Shechem, which was on the slopes of Mt. Gerizim, was were Abraham and Jacob had built altars to God. In Deut. 12, God said He was to be worshipped in one place. So for the Samaritans, Mt. Gerizim was that place.
2. Well, in v16, Jesus asked the Samaritan woman to CALL HER HUSBAND but she replied that she had no husband. And He proceeded to tell her about the five husbands she had in the past and the man she was currently living in sin with.
3. And because of this, as we see in v19, the woman recognizes that Jesus must be a PROPHET. Now, remembering that the Samaritans only accepted the first 5 books of the Bible, which means no record of Samuel and Elijah and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Habakkuk, etc, the Samaritans believed that Moses was the only prophet God gave to His people. But in Deut. 18, Moses speaks of a greater prophet than Himself who is to come. So the Samaritans believed the next prophet would be the Messiah. Thus, her recognizing that Jesus must be a prophet reveals how she has started to think about Jesus. Later on we read about her going back to the town and telling the people about Jesus and they coming to listen to Him and many more believing in Him as the Saviour of the world in vv41-42. So the Holy Spirit appears to be at work in her now as she asks the question of v20 about which mountain being the ‘one place’ to worship God. And to her credit, she understands how important it is to worship God according to His command.
But now we come to THE ANSWER OF THE LORD JESUS in vv21-24.
1. In VERSE 21, Jesus tells her that “AN HOUR IS COMING.”
A. Back in vv18-19 of ch. 2, Jesus cleansed the temple and spoke about destroying the temple and raising it up again in three days. Now, His language was metaphorical because we are told that He was actually speaking of His body and the resurrection. But the image He used of a destroyed Temple reminds us of the tearing of the temple veil that took place when He died, which was later followed by the destruction of the whole Temple. So that is the hour Jesus is talking about that is “coming soon.” His death and resurrection will be the decisive change from OT to NT and from Jew to Gentile.
B. But Jesus also says in v23 that the hour is coming “AND IS NOW HERE.” And He said this because this Samaritan woman and the people of her village are examples of those who come to believe in Him already, despite His death not yet having happened.
C. So Jesus is the one who brings about this decisive change. That is why, as we said, He is well-qualified to speak a new word about worship. His words here are preparing us for the hugely important words we shall read in JOHN 14:6, which are? “I am the way, the truth and the life.” For those words together with His death and resurrection reveal Him to be the pathway to the Father. But we shall return to this point later.
D. One more thing I want to draw to your attention from v21 is that when Jesus says, “when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will YOU worship the Father,” at the end of the verse, the ‘you’ is plural. So Jesus is not just talking about the woman; He is talking about something that shall be for all people. What He says here has universal implications.
E. But His main point in v21 has to do with the WHERE OF WORSHIP. When He says that “an hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father,” His point is that there will no longer be one place where God is to be worshipped.
i. Earlier in the service we read from ZEPHANIAH 2:11. There we read these words, “The LORD will be awesome against them; for He will famish (or starve) all the gods of the earth, and to Him shall bow down, each in its place, all the lands of the nations.” Zephaniah prophesied of a time to come when different nations would worship God, “each in its place.”
ii. And listen also to that same thought in Malachi 1:11, “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering.”
iii. And what the prophets spoke of way back then, Jesus announces now as soon to occur. The old where of worship was the temple in Jerusalem. The new where of worship could be a home in the Ukraine, a cave in Afghanistan, a barn in Cuba, a cathedral in London, or 28 Shands Rd, Hornby. Putting it in its simplest form: The new where of worship is wherever 2 or 3 gather in the name of Jesus.
2. Well, having spoken about the WHERE of worship, Jesus will also discuss the HOW of worship in vv23-24. But before we get there, we must consider VERSE 22, which is very important for what follows.
A. Speaking of the woman and her fellow Samaritans and Himself and His fellow Jews, Jesus says, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”
i. In Deut. 12, God commanded that He be worshipped in one place and said that He would tell His people where that place was. Well, in 2 Chron. 6:6, for example, where God says, “I have chosen Jerusalem that my name may be there,” He was crystal clear about where that ‘one place’ was – Jerusalem. But the Samaritans held only to the first 5 books of the Bible. So their worship was not worship according to the 2nd Commandment; it was self-invented worship. So, says Jesus, “salvation is from the Jews.” And this is true in two ways:
a. First, because the Jews had the whole OT, and because the true God cannot be known apart from His word, to be a part of the people of God in OT times meant BECOMING A JEW. You boys and girls will remember Rahab who was from Jericho and Ruth who was from Moab. Both of these became Jewish. So “salvation is from the Jews” meant, at that time, becoming a Jew. It was that simple.
b. But also, the Greek of v22 literally says, “For THE salvation is from the Jews.” And here again we are being pointed forward again to JOHN 14:6, which says? “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Jesus was the Son of God who came to lay down His life for the forgiveness of sins hat whoever would believe in Him would “not perish but have eternal life.” But Jesus was born of a Jewish woman. Jesus was Jewish. Thus, THE salvation is from the Jews.
3. Well, the remainder of Jesus’ answer is largely about worship in spirit and truth. But before we come to that, having described true worshippers as those who worship in spirit and truth, Jesus says at the end of v23, “FOR THE FATHER IS SEEKING SUCH PEOPLE TO WORSHIP HIM.”
A. And the first time you read this it sounds like God is just searching all over the place hoping that eventually He might find people who have figured out the proper way to worship Him.
B. But that image does not match at all with the SOVEREIGN God of the Bible and especially the God who is sovereign in man’s salvation. Romans 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy.” So what do these words mean?
i. Well, JOHN 6:44 says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” God is the one who brings people to faith in Christ. God is not passive in salvation but active.
ii. In LUKE 19:10, we read this of Jesus, “For the Son of Man came to seek (same word) and to save the lost.” With God, seeking is saving.
iii. What these words in our text mean then is that God yearns for His elect ones in order to make them this type of worshiper. God has chosen a definite number of persons to save throughout world history. He rescues them from the deadness and slavery of sin. So these words set Him before us as eagerly yearning for each calendar day to come so that He can rescue the elect of that day from out of darkness and into the light of this fellowship of worship. Isn’t that beautiful?! These words reveal that the Father eagerly looked forward to the day that He brought you to faith in Christ and the right worship of the Triune God!
4. Well, we come now, lastly, to WORSHIP IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH.
A. And we begin with TRUTH.
i. We have just observed that the SAMARITANS did not worship God correctly because they did not have His complete revelation at that time, which was the OT. So first up, worship in truth, for us today, is worship that is in accord with God’s complete revelation, which for us is the OT and NT together. Worship in truth is worship is guided by the Bible.
ii. But let’s secondly think about the word WORSHIP. Worship is a kind of abbreviation of the old English word worth-ship. Worship is to recognize the true worth of God and to render Him the honour and praise that He is worthy of (Repeat). So the question is What is God’s true worth? and How do we come to know it?
a. And the answer returns us to the point we have just made – the only way we can come to know the true worth of God is in the Bible.
1) In 2 TIMOTHY 3:15, Paul is addressing Timothy and he says, “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” This book and this book alone can make one wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
2) So to worship God in truth means to properly know God and yourself and His work of salvation in Jesus from the Bible. Jesus prayed in John 17:17, “Your word is truth.”
b. So this is why one of the key fruits of the Reformation was the change from having the Bible only in Latin, which very few people understood, to the common languages that different people spoke. BIBLE TRANSLATION is an application of what Jesus says here about worship in truth. And that makes Bible translation a career well worth considering, boys and girls and young people.
c. But another application of worship in truth is that the central part of the worship that God commands is the PREACHING OF THE WORD.
1) Do you remember Paul’s instructions to Timothy about his chief calling that we read at the beginning of the sermon? “Preach the word.” In ROMANS 10:13 we are told that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved? But how do they hear the name of the Lord? V14 answers that, “How are they to hear without someone preaching to them?” Worship in truth has the preaching of God’s Word at its centre.
2) And you know, this is why, in the Reformation, the PULPIT that had been shoved off to the side of the church so that the Lord’s Supper altar could take pride of place in the center of the church of that day, and as it still does in Roman Catholic and Anglican and Lutheran and Orthodox churches, was brought back to the center of the church, where it belongs – as a symbol of the centrality of the word!
3) But this is also why whenever you hear about a new style of ‘worship’ where there is no preaching or we watch a video instead, such as is the case with Messy-Church, you have worship that is not in accord with the 2nd Commandment.
d. But this is also why the modern phenomena of TONGUE-SPEAKING that is supposedly a heavenly language in worship is wrong. There are several problems with it but in 1 Cor. 14, Paul decries the problem of so-called ‘spiritual worship’ because the outsider is unable to say “Amen,” when he has no idea what has been said. Instead, says Paul, speak five understandable words so as to instruct! Worship in truth means all the words we speak in worship can be understood by everyone.
e. And this is also why we sing HYMNS AND PSALMS with truth content rather than repeating a single line chorus song with our eyes closed, over and over again as the lights are dimmed and the music gets softer and the person up front calls on us to feel God moving among us – that is not worship in truth, congregation.
f. And by way of a bridge that links worship in truth to worship in spirit, to worship in truth requires HONESTY on behalf of the worshipper. One of the things you read about in the prophets is the complaint of God that His people worshipped Him on the Sabbath and then went to the Baals and Asherah poles the rest of the week and lived lives of injustice and immorality. That was dishonest and untruthful worship. And Jesus criticized this type of worship in MATTHEW 15, when He said, “This people honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me.” To praise God in here and then to go out there to lie and lust and swear and disobey from week to week means that what you do in here is not worship in truth.
B. And this is a bridge to worship in SPIRIT because it has to do with the importance of the heart or the mind or the spirit in terms of worship.
i. The preaching of the truth may have the central part in a worship service and the sermon may be clear and logical and accurate, but you know as well as I do that not everyone who hears it responds in faith and obedience; not everyone who hears it worships God. True worship, therefore, is worship in truth and spirit.
ii. So what does it mean to worship God in Spirit? Well, Jesus says here that “GOD IS SPIRIT.” And the word order in the Greek has it as “spirit is God” – the emphasis here is on spirit. And this is not a reference to the Holy Spirit but to the essential character of the Triune God. Yes, Jesus took to Himself a human nature, but like the Father and the Holy Spirit, His essential being is that of spirit. The children’s catechism asks What is God? The answer? God is a spirit and has not a body like men.
a. And just by way of a very important aside, this is why it is WRONG TO MAKE PICTURES or statues of the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit. The Father and the Holy Spirit have no physical form. And while the Lord Jesus took on a human form, the moment you draw a picture of Him or look at a movie portraying Him, it is that image that comes to mind as you worship Him. And this is a violation of the 2nd Commandment which forbids us to worship images of God.
1) But someone will say I am not trying to draw God, just Jesus the human being who walked on earth. Well, they may not be the strongest arguments, but when I once told an Uncle of mine that I couldn’t see what was wrong with having pictures of Jesus in children’s story books, for example, he asked me if I doodle the Lord Jesus – you know, draw some glasses and give Him big ears kind of thing. Or, he asked me, if he cut the picture out and put it on a dart board and gave me three darts to throw at it, would I do that? And I had to answer no, I would not, because He is God. His human nature and His divine cannot be separated. Pictures of God are a violation of the 2nd Commandment.
2) One day, the Bible promises us, we will see Jesus, face to face. Let’s be content to wait until then and not try and draw His face now.
iii. But because God is Spirit, He does not come to a church service in a physical sense so we can meet with Him physically. And this means that your BODY at church is not worship. Plenty of people throughout history have physically attended a worship service and folded their hands or kneeled or sung a song with their lips, without worshipping God. Just being physically at a church service does not mean you have worshipped God.
iv. And neither are we talking here about EMOTIONS. We can have feelings of joy or tears can stream from our eyes, but it is possible for this to happen and still no worship to be there. We can be emotionally moved during a service without truly knowing Him and praising Him.
v. Because God is Spirit, His nature and His worth can only be APPREHENDED SPIRITUALLY. And to apprehend God spiritually means your spirit meets with God and understands and experiences His love, wisdom, beauty, truth, holiness, mercy, patience, power, grace and glory, etc, and responds with adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. True worship is when your spirit, the immortal and invisible part of you, meets God and hears God and praises God, who is immortal and invisible. Repeat.
vi. Now, for this to happen, the truth must be preached and read and sung in worship. And you must be physically present at a worship service, and you must use your body in worship – your ears and eyes and lips, etc. And it will require the engagement of your emotions – there is plenty of emotion described in the Psalms. But above all of this, you must pray that the Spirit of the Lord will lead your spirit into His presence; that He will help your spirit to know and experience the true worth of God.
vii. Indeed, this is why we begin every worship service declaring that our help comes from the Lord God, the Creator of heaven and earth. We can only worship with the aid of His Spirit.
viii. And this also needs to be the case also in relation to our private worship. Let us pray often that the Spirit of the Lord would cause our spirit to meet Him in His word.
True spiritual worship is no longer tied to one place; it is wherever two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus.
True spiritual worship is worship governed by the whole of God’s revelation in the Bible.
True spiritual worship has the preaching of the word at its centre and the whole service is filled with the content of Scripture.
True spiritual worship is when your spirit meets with the God who is spirit.
Jesus said, “Those who worship [God] must worship in spirit and truth. And did you know that this is the third of three great musts in John’s Gospel?
• The first is John 3:7 where Jesus says, “You MUST be born again.”
• The second is in John 3:14-15 where Jesus says “So MUST the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”
• Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life.” So worship in Spirit and truth is the worship of those who by God’s Spirit come to know Jesus as the way to the Father. And such is their love for Him and their desire to meet with Him that every day at home and every Lord’s Day at church they give Him the worth-ship that He deserves. Amen.