“And He must needs go through Samaria.” Most Jews would have gone out of their way to avoid Samaria, but Jesus felt compelled to go straight through the region. Why? He had an appointment to keep. Granted, no one else knew about this appointment as yet, but He knew, and that’s all that mattered.
Jesus got tired and thirsty. Can you comprehend that? He is God. He created heaven and earth. He created water. But He made Himself vulnerable and needy so that He could touch our lives, and ultimately purchase our eternal redemption.
Jesus and His entourage of disciples entered the city of Sychar in Samaria, at the place of Jacob’s Well. Being tired, Jesus sat down on the well and told the disciples to go on ahead of Him into the city to buy some food. While they were gone, a woman came to the well to draw water. It was high noon. What was she doing at the well at this hour? Why hadn’t she come that morning, when all the other women came? Had she overslept? Had she been busy with other things? Or was she avoiding something or someone?
Jesus asked her for a drink of water. The woman, surprised that He would even speak to her, replied, “How is it that You, a Jew, ask drink of me, a Samaritan—and a woman?”
The Lord was unperturbed by her response. Instead, He steered the conversation right where He wanted it to go by saying, “If you knew who was asking you for water, you would have asked of Him, and He would have given you living water.”
Jesus Corrects Her Reasoning
It took a while for the woman to realize that Jesus was not talking about the water that was in the well, but about satisfying the spiritual thirst inside her soul.
“Whoever drinks of this water shall thirst again: But whoever drinks 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.” —John 4:13-14
She was interested in what Jesus had to offer. The woman asked Jesus to give her the water of which He spoke, to which He replied, “Go get your husband.”
Jesus Corrects Her Relationships
“I don’t have a husband.”
“You have well said, for you have had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now is not your husband.”
Wow! This man seemed to know all about her, and she had never met Him before. In fact, He had only recently arrived, and had stopped short of going into the city. How could He know about her love life?—if you could call it that.
“Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.”
Jesus Corrects Her Religion
The Samaritans were half-breed Jews and despised by the general Jewish population, but there is more to it than their heritage. Other Gentiles had been accepted into the tribe, and their children were not despised as half-breeds. Most notably I recall Rahab from Jericho, Ruth from Moab, and Tamar from Canaan. Not only were these women accepted into Jewish society, but their children are in the line of Christ. So what’s the difference? The difference is that these women accepted Jehovah as their God. When these other Jews intermarried with Gentiles later on, their wives did not forsake their idols to serve the true and living God, but instead brought their idol worship with them and mixed it with worship of the true God. That is exactly what God had warned would happen if they married the women of the land.
The woman at the well addressed this issue by saying, “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; [Gerizim] and You Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Her implied question was, “Who’s right?” As they continued to talk, Jesus explained four important truths to this woman.
1. Tradition does not trump the truth.
There are many different religions in the world. Some people say, “We all serve the same God, just in different ways, and under different names.” But what about the people who serve multiple gods? How can they all be right?
Even among evangelicals there is wide array of forms of religion. Why else do you think there are so many churches? If they are different—and they are—which one is right?
Jesus told this woman that her religion was wrong, but pretty soon even that of the Jews would come to an end, for it was about to be fulfilled in the very Man who was speaking to her.
Do not base your religion on tradition alone. It’s not about what pleases you, but about what pleases God.
2. The where and the what are not as important as the who and the how.
In the Old Testament economy, only one place was acceptable for worship—the temple in Jerusalem. The people journeyed there to present their sacrifice to the priest to seek pardon for their sins. Old Testament worship worked from the outside in. Jesus introduced a new form of worship, one that works from the inside out. He said,
“The hour is coming, and now is, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him. God is a Spirit, and they who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” —John 4:23-24
Consider the difference (or should I say comparison) between Old Testament worship and New Testament worship, as taught by the apostle Peter:
1 Peter 2:5 You also, as living stones, are built up into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
We don’t go to the temple anymore—we are the temple.
We don’t answer to the priest anymore—we are priests.
We don’t bring sacrifices anymore—we are the sacrifice.
Worship is not something you do; worship is an attitude of the heart. Do we still meet with the assembly of believers for edification and fellowship? Absolutely! But true worship does not take place in the building, it takes place in the heart.
I love my husband, and I sometimes give him gifts. But the gift is not my love, it is merely a token of my love. I also give him hugs and kisses, but the hugs and kisses are not my love. They are merely outward expressions of my love. I use the hugs, kisses, and gifts (among other things) as tools to show my husband that I love him. Conversely, although unlikely, I can also give a gift, or even a hug or kiss, to someone I hate. How? Because these things are only tools, not love.
It is possible to go to church, sing, put some money in the offering plate, and listen to a sermon without worshiping God. These outward things that we do are not worship, they are merely expressions of our worship, or tools that we use in our worship. Without worship, your service in and for the church is nothing more than a vain performance.
Worship is “worth”-ship. It is giving praise to God because He is worthy.
3. The Father requires true worship and rejects all else.
I call your attention once again to John 4:23-24, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship Him. God is a Spirit, and they who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” The word seek in this passage can mean “to inquire after” or “to require.” According to men who know a lot more Greek than I do, here it means both. The Father requires true worship, and He is looking for those who will worship Him in that way. This implies that true worshipers are in the minority. Just look at what Jesus said as recorded in Matthew’s gospel:
Matthew 7:21-23 Not everyone who says unto Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name? and in Your name have cast out demons? and in Your name done many wonderful works?” And then will I profess unto them, “I never knew you: depart from Me, you that work iniquity.”
Folks, these are not the ungodly, the heathen, the down-and-outers. These are the religious people. These are the ones who are the most active, the most fervent in the church. They have probably grown up in church. They have certainly done a lot of good works in the name of Christ. But if they did not worship God in spirit and in truth, then their good works serve only to pave their way to hell. I don’t say that. God says that. There is only one way to heaven, and that is through repentance by faith in the shed blood of Christ. No amount of good works will make up for an unrepentant heart. You cannot come to God on your own terms; you have to come His way, or not at all.
Many in today’s society have come to believe that religion must be marketed in order to reach the masses. They will even go out into the communities with surveys, asking folks, “What do you want in a church?” They think that if they give the world the kind of music they want, and the kind of worship they want, then they will come. And when they come, then they can be reached with the gospel. The trouble is, if we use their own devices to attract them, then how can we convince them that we have something different, something better? Yes, you can draw a crowd this way, but you cannot change lives. There is something to be said for balance. Keep current with the times without blurring the line between sacred and secular. Be different. Be distinct.
2 Corinthians 6:17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.
This method will not draw a crowd, but it will attract the true seekers. In fact, you won’t be able to keep them away.
Psalm 111:2 The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.
4. You can’t worship God without worshiping both in spirit and in truth.
What does it mean to worship God in spirit? Are we talking about the kind of spirit the cheerleaders help to incite at a school pep rally? Not exactly. While it is true that dead churches do not glorify God, we are not talking about an emotional frenzy. Rather, we are talking about being led by the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. Worship is not about you, and it’s not about me; it’s about God. And who better knows what pleases God than the Spirit of God?
What about truth? Can we pick and choose the truths to which we hold? Again, no. There are churches that are right about a good many things, but they have a few serious hangups with certain doctrines in the Bible. Rather than correct their stand on those doctrines, they choose to ignore them. This is wrong.
You need both spirit and truth to please God in your worship.
Paul expressed concern for his fellow Jews because they had spirit without truth.
Romans 10:2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
The Lord Jesus, through a vision given to John, rebuked the church in Laodicea for their lack of fervency.
Revelation 3:15-16 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot: I would that you were cold or hot. So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth.
Cold water is refreshing, especially to someone who is thirsty. Hot water is great for a cup of tea or coffee. But no one wants to drink lukewarm water. I’ve heard that historically there was more significance still, but I don’t remember the particulars.
This article has been a bit longer than usual, and also I know that it may be deemed a bit controversial. It is not my intention to start an argument or throw stones at anyone. This is why I spoke in general terms throughout. I had already planned to write about the woman at the well, and for the past two weeks the assistant pastor of my church preached on this very passage. So I delayed posting this article for one week until I could hear both of his messages. The main points in my outline above are from his messages. I asked the Holy Spirit if He wanted me to share them, and I am convinced the answer is yes. Perhaps someone in my audience is having doubts about the church you are attending. Perhaps you are seeking the truth and in need of answers. Perhaps this is for you, to nudge you to look further, to not settle for mediocrity, to not settle for a church that is lacking in the truth, the Spirit, or both. There is no one church that is right to the exclusion of all others. There is no one denomination that is right to the exclusion of all others. If you know the Lord as your Savior, then you have the Holy Spirit living inside you. He will guide you into all truth. He will show you where you ought to be and what it looks like to worship God in spirit and in truth. May God bless you.
To read the entire account of Jesus’ interview with the woman at the well, I invite you to read John 4:4-42. Did Jesus ever get that drink of water? I don’t know. But the woman went home forever changed by the living water. It flowed out of her, and she brought others to Jesus so that they too could be changed. Religion can’t do that for you, but Jesus can.
Next week: Tamar, David’s Daughter
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