True Worship, Part 4
Key Scriptures: John 4:20-24
There’s nothing more important in a person’s life than to be oriented toward worshiping God. To worship God is the supreme activity of the universe. Now, we’ve been involved in a very essential study of acceptable, true, worship. Our central text has been John 4:20-24, but we have been examining many other passages on this subject. First of all, at the end of John 4:23, we find that “the Father seeketh such [true worshipers] to worship Him.”
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF WORSHIP
A. Scripture Is Dominated with It
B. Destiny Is Determined by It
C. Eternity and Redemptive History Are Described by It
D. Christ Commanded It
Now let’s look at:
II. THE SOURCE (BASIS) OF WORSHIP
The goal of salvation is worship. The reason God redeems people is so that they may be worshipers.
In 2 Corinthians 4:15 Paul says, “For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.” In other words, Paul said, “Everything we do, we do that you might receive the grace of God; and then in response, give thanks and glory to God.” Everything is ultimately geared to produce worship.
Now, acceptable worship is the direct result of Christ’s saving work. In Luke 19:10 the Lord says that He came into the world “to seek and to save that which was lost.” If you connect this verse with John 4:23b, which tells us that the Father seeks true worshipers, you get the whole picture of Christ’s coming. The worshipers that God seeks become worshipers through salvation in Christ. So the source, or basis, of worship is salvation. Let’s look at a few passages which support this truth.
A. The Response to Christ’s Death (Ps. 22:22-27)
Psalm 22:1-21 is an explicit prophetic picture of the crucifixion of Christ. Many of the things that were said in this passage were directly fulfilled on the cross. For example: verse 1 (Matt. 27:46); verses 6-8, 12-13 (Matt. 27:22-25, 39-44); verse 14 (Matt. 27:35a; John 19:34b); verse 15 (John 19:28); verse 16b (John 20:25); verses 16a, 17b (Luke 23:35); verse 18 (John 19:23-24). It was predicted that Christ would go to the cross and suffer those things – but for what? The answer to that begins in verse 22: “I will declare thy name unto my brethren; in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee. Ye who fear the Lord, praise him; all ye, the seed of Jacob, glorify him, and fear him, all ye, the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, neither hath he hidden his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.” The immediate response to the work of Christ is praise, isn’t it? Verse 25 continues, “My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation; I will pay my vows before them that fear Him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied; they shall praise the Lord that seek him; your heart shall live forever [i.e., the everlasting life that comes through the death of Christ]. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.” Psalm 22, then, is a rather explicit indication that the goal of redemption is worship. The truth that salvation is the basis of worship is also illustrated by:
B. The Reason for Israel’s Sacrifices (Ex. 20:22-26)
Look at Exodus 19:7-8: “And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord.”
This is the greatest illustration of wishful thinking in all of history. It was a nice thought, but God didn’t believe it for one minute. God knew they would never be able to approach Him on the basis of their law keeping or their self-righteousness. So after He gives them the specifics of the Ten Commandments in 20:1-17, He gives them a gracious provision in verses 22-26: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.
An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen; in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone thou shalt not build it of hewn stone; for if thou lift up this tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not exposed thereon.” You say, “What’s the point?” Well, God knew that men had no right and no access on their own to worship Him, because they could not keep His law-no matter what they thought they could do. So God established an altar, and the sacrifices that were placed upon it, as the basis of worship.
Sacrifice made communion possible.
The death of Christ, then was to provide God with the basis for seeking after true worshipers. As we meet at the cross, our sin is dealt with, we are purified by the blood of Jesus Christ, and we become acceptable worshipers of the Father. So our salvation, which is made possible by the sacrificial death of Christ, is the source of our worship.
C. The Revelation of Isaiah’s Prophecy (Isa. 66:22-23)
The book of Isaiah sweeps through redemptive history in a marvelous way. The first portion of the book (chapters 1-39) talks about God’s judgment, and then it moves into the great future – the coming of the Messiah and the coming of the kingdom. Then, in 66:22-23, it goes beyond the millennial kingdom into the eternal state and says, “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass that, from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before, me, saith the Lord.” In chapters 52 and 53, Isaiah talks about the suffering Messiah who was to die on the cross to pay the price for sin. And then in chapter 66 it tells us why – so that He might produce a generation of eternal worshipers who worship the true and living God.
D. The Reaction of a Converted Sinner (1Cor.14:23-25)
In 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 Paul says, “If, therefore, the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad [or insane]? But if all prophesy [i.e., speak the truth of God in an understood language], and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convicted of all, he is judged of all. And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest.”
Now, if you want to really crack open somebody’s heart, don’t speak in tongues. Speak so he can understand and speak that which will convict and condemn him.Once he’s convicted, judged, and reached, here’s his response: “And so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth” (v. 25b). I believe this is Paul’s way of indicating that the man has been brought to conversion. The initial response to salvation is worship. Salvation, then, is the source, or basis, of worship.
Is Christian worship simply Christianized Judaism?
If Jesus were to arrive on the scene today and look at the big picture of Christianity, I wonder what kind of things He’d have to say about the “Christian worship” that goes on. A.P. Gibbs, in his book “Worship”, says this: “Much of the so-called ‘public worship’ in Christendom, is merely a form of Christianized Judaism, and in some cases, thinly veiled paganism….In Judaism there was a separate priestly caste who alone could conduct the worship of Israel. In Christendom a man-made priesthood, called the ‘clergy’, is essential to its worship, in spite of the plain teaching of the New Testament that all believers are priests. These priests of Judaism wore a distinctive dress, as also does the clergy. Judaism emphasized an earthly sanctuary, or building. In like manner, Christendom makes much of its consecrated ‘places of worship,’ and miscalls the edifice… ‘the house of God.’
Jewish priests had an altar on which were offered sacrifices to God. Christendom has erected ‘altars’ in these ornate buildings, before which candles burn and incense is offered and, in many cases, on which a wafer is kept, which is looked upon as the body of Christ! It is hardly necessary to say that all this copying of Judaism is absolutely foreign to the teaching of the New Testament. “Thus Christendom has initiated its own specially educated and ordained priesthood, whose presence is indispensable to ‘administer the sacraments.’ These men, robed in gorgeous vestments, from within a roped off ‘sanctuary,’ stand before a bloodless ‘altar,’ with a background of burning candles, crosses and smoking incense, and ‘conduct the worship’ for the laity. With the use of an elaborate prepared ritual, with stereotyped prayers, and responses from the audience, the whole service proceeds smoothly and with mechanical precision. It is a marvel of human invention and ingenuity, with an undoubted appeal to the esthetic; but a tragic and sorry substitute for the spiritual worship which our Lord declared that His Father sought from His redeemed children.” ([Walterick:Kansas City, n.d.] pp.97-98.)
I believe if Jesus were to arrive on the scene today, He would indict all the ritualistic worship-similar to the Judaistic worship of His day – as well as the less elaborate, less ornate, less sophisticated, shallow, indifferent, Samaritan-type worship. He would indict these forms of worship and would accept only the true worship of those who “worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23b).
Before we go on to the next major point, let me set the scene for you. In John 4:3, it says that Jesus “left Judea, and departed again into Galilee.” But according to verse 4, He had to go through Samaria. Why? Because Jesus had a divine appointment with a special woman. God was seeking her out to be a true worshiper, so He sent Jesus out of the normal route to Galilee from Judea (for a Jew) and had Him go through Samaria.
Let’s follow the narrative of this divine encounter, starting in verse 5:
“Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son, Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat by the well; and it was about the sixth hour. “There cometh a woman of Samaria unto him, ‘How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, who am a woman of Samaria?’ “For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans [lit. ‘the Jews don’t use the same vessels as the Samaritans’]. “Jesus answered, and said unto her, ‘If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, “Give me to drink,” thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.’ “The woman saith unto him, ‘Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; from where, then, hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father, Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?’
“Jesus answered, ‘Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.’ “The woman saith unto him, ‘Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come here to draw.'” We really don’t know whether this woman’s response to Christ was in the terms of His parable or whether she was still on a literal level talking about real water. But I personally feel that she knew He was talking about something other than physical water. After all, what kind of water could give eternal life? Continuing on, in verse 16, Jesus goes right to the heart of the matter-a problem that hindered Him from giving this living water to her. Here’s how He brought this problem up:
“Jesus saith unto her, ‘Go, call thy husband, and come here.’
“The woman answered,and said, ‘I have no husband.’
“Jesus said unto her, ‘Thou hast well said, I have no husband; for thou hast had five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband; for thou hast had five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband; that saidst thou truly.’
“The woman said unto him, ‘Sir, I perceive that thou are a prophet.'”
Why did she perceive that Jesus was a prophet? Three reasons: (1) She understood that He was speaking of supernatural truth. Even though it appears, in her response to Him in verse 15, that she’s thinking in terms of the physical, I believe she saw Him as a prophet because she understood, to some extent, that He was speaking about spiritual things; (2) He went right to the core and indicted her for her sin; and (3) He knew secrets that only God could have revealed. Here was a man who spoke of spiritual realities, dealt with sin, and knew things only God could reveal. Once she perceived that the man she was talking to was obviously a prophet, verse 20 implies that her first reaction was, “I’ve got to get my life right! I want to worship, but I don’t know where to go! My people say to go up to Mount Gerizim. but Your people say to go down to Jerusalem. Where do I go to worship?” Then, in verses 21-24, Jesus basically says, “Lady, in just a little while, there isn’t going to be an ‘up here’ and a ‘down there’ – that’s not the issue. The issue is that you worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”
Now, all of that is the background to this marvelous passage in John 4:20-24 on true spiritual worship. This woman of Samaria probably felt profound conviction of her sin. Her conscience was pricked, her soul was pierced, and she wanted to deal with her sin, but she didn’t know where to go. She believed, like the rest of the people of that day, that worship was something that was done at a prescribed day, that worship was something that was to done at a prescribed place and a set time, only she wasn’t sure which place was the right place. So Jesus responded to her dilemma-giving us this great passage on worship.
As we look at John 4:20-24, I want to discuss:
III. THE OBJECT OF WORSHIP
What is the object of our worship? Well, Jesus tells us to “worship the Father” (v. 21b), “worship the Father” (v. 23b), and “worship Him” (v.24b). So who are we to worship? The Father. Also, it tells us in verse 24a who He is: “God is a Spirit.”
This gives us two aspects to the object of worship-God as Spirit and God as Father. We are to worship God as Spirit which speaks of His essential nature, and God as Father, which speaks of His essential relationship. Both of these are basic to true worship. Let’s look at them individually.
A. God as Spirit (His Essential Nature)
- The spirituality of God
John 4:24a, in the Greek, reads, “Spirit, the God.” Spirit and God are just melted together, making one equal to the other. In other words, God is the God who is the one glorious Spirit. What does it mean that He is Spirit?
a) He cannot be reduced to an image I believe an examination of Isaiah 40:18-26 will help us understand the essential nature of God as Spirit. Verse 18 begins:
“To whom, then, will ye liken God? Or what likeness will ye compare unto him?” In other words, if someone can’t deal with the spiritual nature of God, and he’s going to reduce Him into an image, what’s the image going to look like?
Verse 19 continues, “The workman melteth and casteth an image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains. He that is so impoverished that he hath no oblation, chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh a skillful workman to prepare a carved image, that shall not be moved. Have ye not known? Hath it not been told you from the beginning? Have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are like grasshoppers; who stretcheth out the heavens like a curtain, and spreadeth them out like a tent to dwell in: who bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity. Yea, they shall not be planted; yea, they shall not be sown; yea, their stock shall not take root in the earth; and he shall also blow upon them, and they shall wither, and the whirlwind shall take them away like stubble.”
In other words, the most important and powerful people in the world are nothing when compared to God. Verse 25 continues, “To whom, then, will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, who bringeth out their host by number; he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might; for he is strong in power. Not one faileth.”
The point of this passage is this: When you try to conceive of God in your mind’s eye, or in theological terms, or in biblical terms, you cannot reduce Him to an image. He is Spirit and must be worshiped as such.
b) He cannot be confined to a place
Jeremiah 23:23-24 says, “Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.” In other words, God is not an idol confined to a place. He cannot be confined to a specific place or time. Do you see how important that is in worship? We don’t have to go somewhere to worship God, with the thought that He’s only there at a specific time. God is Spirit and fills time and space.
(1) Mt. Gerizim/Jerusalem
In John 4:20, the woman of Samaria shows confusion about where to go to worship God. The Samaritans worshiped at Mount Gerizim, and the Jews worshiped at Jerusalem. So Jesus responds to her in verse 21:
“Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.” Verse 21 is so loaded with truth that it can be interpreted telescopically. Individually, Jesus could be saying, “Lady, you’re about to enter into a relationship with God through Me that will enable you to worship God in your heart, not in a geographical location.” Historically, He could be saying, “The time is coming when Jerusalem will be destroyed, and nothing is up on that mountain anyway.” And in its widest possible interpretation, He could be saying, “I am going to bring about the redemptive work on the cross of Calvary that will eliminate all that is in any way associated with the old covenant – true or false.” Then, in verse 23a, Jesus says,”But the hour cometh, and now is.”
That’s a fascinating statement. Something is future, and yet present. What did He mean by that? Well, basically He was saying, “I’m standing in a transition. In one hand I have the old covenant,and in the other hand I have the new covenant. The hour is coming, and is already here (because I’m here), when the old covenant will be gone and the new covenant will be here. In the new covenant, there will be no place, no Jerusalem, to worship in.” And just to make sure that nobody would get confused, God wiped out Jerusalem in A.D.70.
What Jesus was saying, then, is that God must be worshiped as Spirit, and as such, He is everywhere. He can’t be confined to a place – Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem. What is the “new and living way”? In our Lord’s discussion with the woman of Samaria in John 4, I believe He predicted the end of the whole Jewish ceremonial system of worship (vv.21b,23a)-the old covenant. This was also dramatized in one great climactic event that occurred when Jesus died on the cross. The veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom, exposing the holy of holies (Matt.27:51). This indicated that the whole ceremonial system had ended. The epistle of Hebrews also teaches that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross ended the Jewish ceremonial system, giving us a new kind of worship. Look at Chapter 10. Verse 4 says, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” In other words, the sacrificial system couldn’t do it. Further, verses 11-12 tell us: “And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering often the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but this man [Christ], after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God.” The fact that He sat down indicates that His work was finished. Verses 14-22a continue: “For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also is a witness to us; for after he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them, and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin [i.e., the sacrificial system was over when Christ died]. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way [not the old way of dead animals – the old way of ceremonial sacrifice], which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh, and having an high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.”
You see, it’s because of the work of Christ on the cross that we become a worshiping people. The old ceremonial systems are gone. Christ is the “new and living way.” So the issue isn’t the place of worship; the issue is who is worshiped. And He must be worshiped as a Spirit – not confined to a specific geographical location such as Mt. Gerizim or Jerusalem.
(2) The Tabernacle/Temple
You say, “John, how can you say that God was to be worshiped as a Spirit,everywhere, when the Jews had the Temple?” The Temple was only a resident symbol to stimulate their worship as a way of life. If you don’t understand that, you miss the whole point of the Temple. It was a symbol, not a reality! You say, “Didn’t the Shekinah glory of God dwell between the wings of the cherubim at the top of the mercy seat, on the Ark of the Covenant, in the holy of holies?” Sure, but do you think that the omnipresent God confined Himself to the Tabernacle or to the Temple and wasn’t present anywhere else? Of course not! The Shekinah glory was only a symbol of His presence. Only the Jews who were ignorant confined God to the Temple. Now, at times, God did express or reveal Himself in a place. Very often God would meet one of the patriarchs in a unique place, and the patriarch would build an altar there, wouldn’t he? But just because God was in one place, at one time, for one reason, that doesn’t mean that He wasn’t everywhere else at the same time. The Tabernacle and the Temple were just to stimulate them to a life of worship.
So, the issue isn’t where we worship. In fact, it isn’t even when we worship (Col. 2:16-17; Gal. 4:9-10). God is Spirit, and He must be worshiped in a spiritual way.
Focusing on the Facts
1. What is acceptable worship the direct result of? How do Luke 19:10 and John 4:23 relate to each other?
2. Of what is Psalm 22:1-21 a prophetic picture? What response follows that in verses 22-27?
3. After giving Israel the Ten Commandments, what else did God give them, according to Exodus 20:22-26? Why?
4. What did the Old Testament sacrifices make possible? Explain what the sacrifice of Christ did.
5. Explain the relationship of Isaiah 52 and 53 to chapter 66 with regard to worship.
6. What elements of worship in many churches are merely copies from the rituals of Judaism? Why are such practices no longer valid?
7. From a divine perspective, why did Jesus go through Samaria on His way to Galilee in John 4?
8. Why did the Samaritan woman perceive that Jesus was a prophet? What was her first reaction to that realization (implied in verse 20)?
9. What should be the object of all worship?
10. Can God be represented by an image? Support your answer using the reasoning of Isaiah 40:18-25.
11. How should the fact that God cannot be confined to a specific place or time affect our worship?
12. With regard to worship, what transition was Jesus standing in during His earthly ministry?
13. What did Jesus predict the end of in John 4:21 and 23? How was that ending dramatized at His death?
14. Explain the “new and living way” (Heb. 10:20) that Jesus opened up (Heb. 10:11-22).
15. What was the Temple meant to be in Judaism? What was the Shekinah of God a symbol of?
16. Did God ever manifest Himself in other locations? Give an example.
Pondering the Principles
1. When you first understood the significance of Christ’s death, what was your response? Do you regularly contemplate the death of Christ? Read 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26. What is the purpose of eating the bread and drinking the cup of Communion? Does your church have that focus? What do you personally think about during the times when your church celebrates Communion? Some churches overemphasize the suffering of Christ in Communion, and others fail to communicate the significance of Communion altogether. The next time you participate in the Lord’s Table, make sure that you recall the importance of the Lord’s death, and thank Him for the eternal benefit you derive from that incredible act of love. Meditate on the words of Charles Wesley, who wrote “And Can It Be
That I Should Gain?”:
And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
2. Read Hebrews 10:10-22. How was Christ able to make Christians holy in the sight of God (vv. 10-13)? How long will the perfection of our salvation last (v. 14)? What does the forgiveness of sins give to those who are under the new covenant (v. 19)? We can enter the presence of God now through prayer as we await our entrance into heaven. Are you actively exercising your privilege of prayer? Praise the Lord that He has opened the door for sinful man to be made holy that he may fellowship with for eternity!
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