Mississippi Valley Presbytery
May 1, 2007
The Greatness of God in the Exaltation of Christ in our Worship
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Good morning. What a joy it is to worship together. Let me ask you to take your hymnals in hand and prepare to sing. As we hear God's call to worship, turn to No. 52.
O come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker, for He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.
Let us worship God, singing Psalm 90 – No. 52 – Our God, Our help in Ages Past.
Our Lord and our God, we come before You this day, and as those who are servants of the word, elders who shepherd Your flock by the word, ministers who preach the word of Christ, the word of the cross, the whole counsel of God written for us in Scripture to Your flock for the gathering and perfecting of the saints. We come to You, Good Shepherd; we come to You, Almighty God, and we look to Your word for You to refresh our souls today. In the midst of our business, we pause to meet with, to do business with, the One who is the lover of our souls, the Savior of our life, the God of the whole of this universe, the ruler of all, the One who sustains it by the word of His power, who rules it by His providence, and through our Lord Jesus Christ is now our heavenly Father. We pray, O God, that You would meet with us today, and that our hearts would long to meet with You. We ask that You would teach us by Your word, encourage us by Your word, comfort us by Your word, make us to delight in Your word, grow us in Your word; and in growing us that You would also bless Your people whom we so long to shepherd and help and guide and feed. We ask now that You would hear our prayers, that You would forgive our sins, that You would receive our thanks and praise in Jesus' name. Amen.
Please be seated. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to John 4. This is a very familiar passage. It is a great passage of the Scripture, and therefore it is a fairly frightening passage to preach in front of a bunch of preachers who have themselves preached on this passage and thought on this passage, and heard many sermons–and perhaps many great sermons–on this passage. But I think it's a timely passage for us to think about today. It's of course the passage in which Jesus, passing through Galilee and into Samaria, meets a woman at Jacob's well and engages in a very significant conversation that eventually turns to the subject of worship. And worship is actually the theme around which I want to focus the message today.
We live in a day and age where I think most of us sense that there is something of coldness and complacency and carelessness, and maybe even a bit of a critical spirit, often in those who are coming to worship in the house of God. And various Christians have looked for different answers to serve as solution to the problem of what they rightly perceive, I think, as a problem in the worship of many in the churches today. But very often the solutions that have been sought are primarily external solutions. They are solutions pertaining to the forms or the styles of worship–if only our worship was according to the Strasbourg Liturgy, everything would be right; or, if only our worship was more contemporary; if only our worship was more contextualized, all of the problems would be solved.
But I suspect that the problems go much deeper than that, that face us in worship today. And I believe that this passage points us to the places where we need to start if we would see a revival of a more biblical, Christ-centered, God-centered worship in our churches. So let's give attention to God's word in John 4, beginning in verse 1.
This is the word of God:
“When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee. And He had to pass through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’ For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman therefore said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’ She said to Him, ‘Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?’ Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Everyone who 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 become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw.’ He said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’ The woman answered and said, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You have well said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands; and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit; and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, inerrant, and authoritative word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
There's so much to say from this passage, isn't there? We could dwell on the brave way that Jesus speaks truth into this woman's life. It would have been very tempting for Jesus–it would have been very tempting for you and me–simply to give comfort to this woman. She is there drawing water alone in the middle of the day when no one else is around. It's very apparent perhaps that this is the result of her own sense of ostracism in her own town. It would have been very tempting for Jesus to comfort her in her situation, but He speaks uncomfortable truth into her life. It's actually a manifestation of His love and pastoral care that He does that. It would have been very tempting just to take her side of things and tell her that she had been wronged, an that everything was going to be all right, God was going to take care of her…but He speaks uncomfortable truth into her life. We could spend a lot of time dwelling on that.
We could spend a lot of time contemplating how the very fact that Jesus is having this conversation with this woman is a colossal manifestation of the grace of God. Have you ever thought about it? The most important conversation that Jesus ever had on the subject of the worship of the living God was with a serial adulteress. Can you imagine God in the councils of eternity announcing to the angels before time was and before the world was, that ‘By the way, We have taken counsel in Ourselves, the Persons of the Godhead, and We have determined that the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ will have the most important conversation in the history of humanity on the subject of worship with a serial adulteress from Samaria.’ Can you see the hands going up in the back?
‘Well, Lord…I mean…don't You think it might be better to have that conversation with, say, Moses? Or Peter? Or Paul? Or Calvin?’
‘No, it's going to be with a serial adulteress from Samaria. The incarnate Son is going to have the most significant conversation about worship in the history of humanity with that woman.’
Is that in and of itself not a manifestation of the grace of God? It's a picture, isn't it, of the sovereign, just, righteous, kind, merciful, gracious sovereign God pursuing sinners.
But I want you to focus on three things with me today: the Bible; God; and Jesus.
I. In the Bible, God gives us His directions for worshiping Him.
Because in this passage the Lord Jesus Christ points this woman to the necessity of worshiping God according to His revealed truth, because He is a spirit; He points her to the importance of worshiping God and not something else;; and He points her to the fact that no one can come to the Father except through Him. And so He points her to the Bible and to God and to Jesus, and it is in fact these three things that I think are the most important things for the recovery of true worship in our own time: the Bible; God; and Jesus.
How much Bible is there in your worship? How much Bible is there in the hearts of your people as they worship? How much of the word of God is in your worship? Our worship must be word-based. It must be biblical because of what Jesus says here. Jesus in this whole passage makes it clear in this conversation that worship must be according to the truth which God has revealed, because God is a spirit; and we cannot encounter a spirit, we cannot worship God as He is, unless He reveals to us Himself by His own word, even as Jesus corrects the woman who has said, ‘Well, you know, our forefathers, they worshiped here in Samaria. You Jews say that Jerusalem is the right place.’
You understand that she seems to be attempting to sidetrack Him. He's meddling in a very uncomfortable area of her life, talking about her present adultery with a man with whom she is not married, and her serial marriages. Immediately she says, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet,” and she throws out a question that she thinks is going to sidetrack Him. Now, you've read Calvin on this. Calvin does not think that she is trying to sidetrack Him. He's the only commentator, I think, who thinks that she's not trying to sidetrack Him. And the reason, he says, is because the subject matter that Jesus goes to is directly germane to the woman's situation. I agree with Calvin on that; I disagree with him on the fact that she is not trying to sidetrack Him. I think she's trying to sidetrack Him, and she happens to walk right into His trap! She tries to sidetrack Him to get Him off her back, and she walks right into the very subject that she really needs to be thinking about, to where Jesus would have taken her anyway. But He stresses to her that the Samaritans have been wrong in their worship. Why? Because they haven't’ been worshiping according to the light of truth. They don't know what it is that they’re worshiping, because they haven't been worshiping according to the word. That kind of false worship had started there in the days after Solomon, after the kingdom was divided and Jeroboam didn't want people going down to Jerusalem because he thought it would lead to divided loyalty towards the Northern Kingdom, and so he set up his own worship centers so that his people wouldn't go down to Jerusalem. And the false worship of the Northern Kingdom proceeded from there.
But Jesus not only corrects that particular mistake, He says to her that those who worship God must worship in spirit and in truth. They must worship God according to God's truth. Understand that in all of these points, Jesus is bringing to bear this truth: that who God is determines how you must worship Him…who God is determines how you must worship Him.
Don't you love the way that R. C. Sproul talks about “Reformed Theology Proper”? The Reformed doctrine of God, the Reformed doctrine of who God is, and he says this:
“The Reformed doctrine of God is in none of its particulars distinct from the historic Chalcedonian, Nicene, Orthodox, Catholic tradition of teaching about the nature of God; and, the Reformed doctrine of God is its most unique contribution to theology.”
Don't you love the way that R.C. says that? Now hold on! It is in “none of its particulars distinct” from the great Catholic, Orthodox tradition of the church, and it is the “most unique” thing about Reformed theology. Now, you know when R.C. says something like that he's got something big to deliver! And he does indeed. He says:
“Why do I say that? Because Reformed theology, in distinction from the development of Catholic and Orthodox theology proper, insists that all theology must be understood in light of theology proper.”
In other words, all theology has to be understood from the standpoint of who God is. You have to work out who God is into every area of theology to do theology right.
Well, Jesus is doing that in the subject of worship here. And that's why it starts with a commitment to worshiping God in accordance with truth. The nature of God–He is a spirit–requires that you worship Him in the way that He has prescribed for you to worship Him. You can't just worship a spirit in any old way. How do you encounter a spirit? You only encounter a spirit in the way that that spirit reveals himself to you, and therefore you only encounter the spirit of the living God by truth that He has revealed. You cannot commune with Him, you cannot meet with Him, you cannot worship Him unless He reveals Himself to you in truth. And so He stresses to her that worship must be in accordance with truth. This is one of the reasons why the Bible has always been seen to be at the center of the substance and the elements of worship in the Protestant tradition.
A number of years ago, my friend Mark Dever was preaching or teaching, or giving a lecture, at a Puritan conference in England, and it was a lecture on Puritan preaching, post-Reformation preaching in England. And during the course of the lecture he asked people if they had ever seen an iron hook extending from a pulpit in any of the English village churches that they had attended. And several people in the conference had seen this iron hook. And he said, “Do you know what that particular accoutrement is on the piece of furniture–the pulpit? Do you know what it is?” And no one knew what it was for. And he says, “That was to hold a gift from the congregation to the pastor. The gift was an hourglass! And if the congregation loved their pastor, they would give him one or two turns.” Now, at that point, a woman audibly gasped during the lecture! And during the Q&A time, she asked him, “Dr. Dever, if the pastor preached for two or three hours, when would they have had time to worship?” This was not the thing to ask Mark Dever! Let me say quickly in passing, most post-Reformation pastors in England did not preach an hour or two or three hours. However, thirty minutes has been probably the average time for a sermon for 500 years now.
But what he said is this. One, understand that from the standpoint of Reformed preachers, they believe that the very apex of worship is the preaching of the word of God, and that the conscionable hearing of the word of God is the greatest act of worship that a human being can render to the living God. So it's not like you “do worship” and then you get that out of the way, and then you hear the sermon.
Have you ever had somebody meet you at the door and say, “That was a great time of worship today, pastor,” and then, “your message was really practical, too,” like worship stopped the minute he got to the sermon? No, that's the apex. The conscionable hearing of the word of God is the greatest act of worship that is rendered in the context of the gathering of the saints for the worship of the living God.
But the second thing he said was this. People that would have been sitting in the pews of those English churches that had given those gifts to their pastor, many of them may have been able to remember the smell of burning flesh in their nostrils of those who had died in order that the word of God could be translated into their language and explained Lord's Day morning and evening, after Lord's Day morning and evening. And he said, “And you know what? The people sitting in those pews pretty much did not care how long their pastor took to explain the word of God to them, because they knew people who had given their lives so that they could hear that word read and preached in their own language.”
You know, I'm sure that there’re going to be some people, as we mentioned about those three missionaries murdered in Turkey, there are going to be some people in Turkey who feel the same way over the weeks to come. Here are three people who gave their lives and experienced brutal torture so that they could hear the word of God read and preached to them in their own language. They pretty much will not care how long the pastor takes to explain that word of God.
And I want to suggest that that lack of love for and appreciation of the word of God is one of the reasons that our worship often seems so cold. There is no hunger for the word of God. There is no love for the Bible. We have nineteen Bibles at home, and eighteen of them are collecting dust. We have no sense of appreciation of how special a thing it is to hear the word read and proclaimed, and I like to remind our folks at First Pres from time to time that there are four billion people on planet Earth who have never heard what they’re about to hear: that is, the word of God read in their own language in the context of Christian worship as a means of grace. There are four billion people alive on the planet today who have never heard that, and our people take it for granted that they just get to come to church and hear the word of God read. We should never ever take that for granted, because the only way that you can worship God, who is spirit, is if God has revealed Himself–He has revealed Himself–in His word. It is by His truth that we commune with Him. It is the most enormous privilege in the world to be able to hear God's word.
You know, people are always coming to you and saying, “Pastor, does God have some guidance for me? Does God have a word for me?”
“Ah…yes. There is. Here's God's word for you. He doesn't just have one; He's got a lot of them! He's got a word for you.”
And we take it for granted. I think until there is an appreciation for, a love for, a hunger and a thirst for, the word of God, our worship is going to be cold.
II. God is the focus of our worship.
Secondly, notice how Jesus points this woman to God. How much delight in God is there in your worship? How much delight in God is there in your worship service? How much delight in God is there in your people as they come to worship? Jesus points this woman to God. I don't know much about this woman. Really, all I know about this woman is what's said here, and then maybe a little bit extra that the commentators might add on by way of contextual surmise. But I can tell you this: This woman was not living a life of desiring God. Now you say, ‘How do you know that? You don't know her.’ And you’re right. I don't know her. But John tells me that she was unmarried and living with a man, and that she’d been married five times. Now I don't know the nature of the dissolution of those marriages. Maybe the first time, maybe her husband died. And maybe out of a desire for security she married again, and I don't know anything about the nature of the marriage, although the indication that John is giving you about the last state of her present marital status is that she's a serial adulteress. But even if all five of her previous marriages were legitimate, the fact that she is in an adulterous relationship now lets me know that God is not the desire of her heart.
Now you say, ‘Wait! How do you know this woman's heart?’ Because she is trying to find her need for security met and her satisfaction met in a relationship that God says in His word is wrong. And you can't desire God and say to His word, ‘No, I'm not going to do Your word.’ You don't desire God when you say, ‘I'm not going to do Your word.’ Go back to the Garden. You can't worship the living God and say, ‘You know, I think I am going to take of that fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden of the knowledge of good and evil, that You told me not to take.’ That is an act of not desiring God. It's an act whereby we say that there is some satisfaction out there apart from God that can fulfill me other than or better than God. So I don't need to know anything else about this woman but the fact that she is living in an adulterous relationship in an unmarried state to know that she does not desire God.
And isn't it interesting where this conversation goes? It goes right to worship, and that's exactly where it needs to go, because this woman's problem is not that she is not a worshiper; she is a worshiper. Her problem is that she's a worshiper of a false god. And it's not just the idols that Jeroboam set up 900 years before. She's worshiping herself. She's worshiping security, or she's worshiping sex, or she's worshiping something else, but she's not worshiping the living God. It is vital for the Lord Jesus Christ to point her to the living God, because who we worship is the prime question of worship. That's why worship has to be God-centered, because Christian worship is all about God. He is to be the object of our worship, the focus of our worship. When we gather as a congregation, we don't gather to seek an experience, but to meet with God to give Him praise. And so the “whom” of worship is central to true worship, and many Christians leave services today asking questions of themselves like, “Well, what did that service do for me today?” It would be more helpful and biblical for them to think, “What did I give to God in worship? How did I encourage my brothers and sisters to praise God for His grace? How did I take advantage of the means of grace in order to glorify God?”
Now we ought to be asking ourselves not what this service will do for us, but what we will give to God through this service. The rest takes care of itself.
Don Carson has observed that worship is a transitive verb; that is, it is a verb that requires an object, and that object in the Bible is God. Whereas in our day we find people who worship “worship”, or they worship experience, or they worship a style, or they worship themselves, but they don't worship God. And the most important thing about a transitive verb is its object: Worship God.
Here's what Carson says:
“Should we not remind ourselves that worship is a transitive verb? We do not meet to worship or to experience worship; we aim to worship God. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” This is the heart of the matter. In this area one must not confuse what is central with the by-products. If you seek peace, you will not find it. If you seek Christ, you will find peace. If you seek joy, you will not find it. If you seek Christ, you will find joy. If you seek holiness, you will not find it. If you seek Christ, you will find holiness. If you seek experiences of worship, you will not find them. If you worship the living God, you will experience something of what is reflected in the Psalms. Worship is a transitive verb, and the most important thing about it is its direct object.”
And that woman at the well, like you and me, needed to understand that truth because she had the wrong direct object on the end of the verb. She was worshiping something else other than the true God, and so that conversation for her in which Jesus explained to her who the true God is… ‘Let Me tell you something about God. He is a spirit. He's not like you. He's seeking worshipers. You’re out worshiping something else, but He's seeking worshipers. You’re not looking for a God who's seeking worship. You’re looking to worship your own gods. But the true God is a spirit who's seeking worshipers.’ And so He gives her a lecture on the doctrine of God, because she needs to know who it is that she ought to worship, and this is something that all of our members, that we ourselves need to be confronted with.
I love the way Lou Giglio, who's been so involved in the Passion movement of late, puts this question. He says:
“Think of it this way. Worship is simply about value. The simplest definition I can give is this: Worship is a response to what we value most. That's why worship is that thing that we all do. We do it all on any given day. Worship is about saying this person, this thing, this experience, this whatever, is what matters most to me. It is of what is of highest value in my life. That thing may be a relationship, a dream, a position, a status, something you own, a name, a job, some kind of pleasure. Whatever name you put on it, this thing is what you have concluded in your heart is worth most to you, and whatever is worth most to you is (you guessed it) what you worship. Worship is in essence declaring what we value most.
“As a result, worship fuels all our actions. It becomes the driving force of all we do, and we're not just talking about those who are religious. Everybody is a worshiper on planet Earth. A multitude of souls are proclaiming with every breath what is worthy of their affection, their attention, their allegiance. They proclaim with every step what it is that they worship. Some of us attend the church on the corner, professing to worship the living God above all. Others rarely darken the church doors, and would say that worship isn't a part of their lives because they are not religious. But everybody has an altar, and every altar has a throne.
“So how do you know where and what you worship? It's easy. You simply follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your allegiance. And at the end of that trail you will find a throne, and whoever or whatever is on that throne is what is of highest value to you. In other words, on that throne is what you worship. Sure, not too many of us walk around saying, ‘I worship my stuff; I worship my job; I worship this pleasure; I worship her; I worship my body; I worship me.’ But the trail never lies. We may say that we value this thing or that thing more than any other, but the volume of our actions speaks louder than words.”
And that's exactly what Jesus is talking to this woman about. She's worshiping the wrong god, and so He displays to her God.
Now, I wonder if that is not one of the things that leads to the coldness and the carelessness and the complacency that sometimes attends our worship–that we're worshiping the wrong god. The worship must be according to truth. It's got to be Bible-based, because the God who is spirit has revealed Himself to us by His word, and therefore we must worship Him in the way that He has revealed Himself. And, we must worship Him as He has revealed Himself. We must worship the Who of God. We must worship the Direct Object: the true living God revealed in the word. And so that's why worship has to be God-centered, because true worship is acknowledging the true God as the One of the greatest worth…what we prize most. Therefore, Jesus points us to Bible-based, God-centered worship in His conversation with this woman.
III. True Christian worship focuses on Jesus…He alone is our greatest delight in this world.
One more thing. Jesus points us to Himself in our worship. He asks us to prize Him in our worship. And I wonder if I asked you, what would your answer be? How much of Jesus and the gospel is in your own worship, personally? How much of Jesus and the gospel is in your service? How much delight in Jesus and the gospel is in your service?
Our congregations ought to be characterized by people who are delighting in Christ when they gather on the Lord's Day morning. They ought to be worshiping in a way that is totally consumed with delight in Christ, with passion for Christ. Does that sound a little un-Presbyterian? A little too emotional? A little too intense and passionate for you? Well, it's not. True worship is filled with delight, and Jesus stresses this to this woman.
It's interesting. Twice in the early part of John, Jesus has conversations with women in extraordinary circumstances in which He seeks to focus their faith on the truth of the redeeming message of Scripture and His person, and He pulls those things together. It happens in John 11, when He's having the conversation with Martha. You remember He deliberately delays going to Bethany after He hears that Lazarus is ill. When He goes, Martha has some questions for Him: ‘Lord, if You had been here, this wouldn't have happened. My brother wouldn't have died. I know that You could have healed him.’ And Jesus takes that opportunity, that poignant opportunity, to have a very significant discussion with Martha, so that Martha's faith is firmly focused on the truth of God's redeeming message in Scripture and on His person.
By the way, isn't it interesting that our Westminster Confession of Faith, in its chapter on Saving Faith, says that saving faith is focused on — what? Whatever God reveals in Scripture; but the principle acts of saving faith are receiving and believing and resting on Jesus Christ alone as He is offered for our salvation in the gospel. And so what does it do? It says that our faith is to be focused on the word and on the person of Jesus. So when somebody comes along and starts giving you this schlock about Christianity being “personal, not propositional”–you know, “It's about a personal relationship, not about truth.” Well, sorry! That's not what Jesus said, and that's not what Jesus did in His ministry. Propositional and personal go together in biblical truth. You can't have the relationship with a person without the propositional truth; the propositional truth without the person doesn't do you any good. That's what John 5 is about.
But notice how Jesus gets Martha to focus in on both the truth and on His person. She says to Him, after Jesus says, ‘Look, Martha, Lazarus is going to be raised again from the dead.’ What does Martha say to Jesus? ‘Well, I know that. I know that. On the Last Day, the righteous are going to be raised.’ Why? Because Martha had read her Bible! She’d read her Hebrew Bible, and she knew that there was going to be a resurrection at the Last Day. She was fully confident that God was going to raise the just from the dead, and they were going to see Him in their own flesh. Remind you of something out of Job?
“On the last day I will take my stand, and I will see my Redeemer with my own eyes; in this flesh I will see Him.”
Martha knew that. She believed the Bible. But what does Jesus say to her? What's the very next thing He says? “Martha, I am the resurrection.”
So what did He do? He took her belief in the truth of God's word, and He united it to what? His person. ‘Martha, your faith has got to be squarely focused on the truth of God's word and on My person, because that word is about Me. That word is My word. It's all about Me, and you need to understand; you’re right – the just will be raised on the Last Day. But let Me tell you how they’re going to be raised. They’re going to be raised because of Me, because I am the resurrection. They’re going to be raised because of Me, in Me.’ And then He turns and says, “Lazarus, come forth!” so that she will know that He has the power to raise the dead. And I love the way that James S. Stewart says that Jesus had to say, “Lazarus, come forth, “ because if Jesus had said “Come forth,” every human being in the world would have come out of his tomb! Because He's the resurrection!
And Jesus is doing the same thing with the woman at the well here. Notice how even at the beginning of the conversation about living water–“If you knew who it was who was speaking to you, and the gift of God”–this message of eternal life, of living water, and the person who is speaking to her–and then at the end of the conversation look what happens. She says to Him, ‘Lord, I understand that. I understand that when Messiah comes, He's going to sort all this out. He's going to sort out this whopping disagreement that we Samaritans have had with the Jews over worship for the last 900 years. He's going to sort it all out. I understand that.’
And what does Jesus do in verse 26? ‘Dear woman, you’re talking to Him. I am the Messiah.’ What has He said to her? “Woman, a day is coming when neither will you worship in Samaria or in Jerusalem, because God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
Now what's He saying there? He is saying that the old covenant place of the unique manifestation of the presence of God with His people, the temple, is no longer going to be the focal point of God's meeting with His people, but He is not saying that the place where God meets with His people no longer matters. Sometimes that's the way we read this passage. We say, “OK, I see. This passage reminds us that God is spirit. Because God is spirit, He is immense, as the theologians say. He is omnipresent. Therefore, what Jesus is saying is you’re no longer going to worship at the temple; you can worship God anywhere, because God is everywhere.”
That's not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is not talking about the generic omnipresence of God the Spirit as the basis for new covenant worship being able to happen in other places other than the temple. He's telling you something much more precious.
He's telling you that because God is spirit, you can't approach Him in any other way than that way by which He reveals Himself, and He has revealed Himself fully and finally in Jesus. And therefore Jesus is saying to this woman, ‘I am the place where true worshipers will come to worship the living God from now on, not the temple, but Me.’ He's not saying once upon a time you worshiped at the temple, now you can worship anywhere; He's saying, ‘Once upon a time you worshiped at the temple; the only place you can worship now is in Me, through Me. No man comes to the Father but by the Son. If you want to know this living God that I've just told you about, dear woman, if you want to commune with this living God, dear woman, and taste of that water of eternal life, the way you've got to do that is through Me. You've got to prize Me.’
John cuts away from her response. You know the disciples come back, they’re all discombobulated about Him being alone with a woman, and a Samaritan woman at that, at the well, and they’re questioning Him. But the woman goes back and tells everybody in the town, ‘This guy told me everything about my life! You've got to come meet him! Could this be the Messiah?’ She's totally turned around on His person after meeting Him. She's delighting in Him, and my friends, no Christian worship that is not Christ-delighted, that is not prizing Christ, is worthy of that description “Christian worship.”
“True saints [Jonathan Edwards says] center their attention on Christ, and His beauty transcends all others. His delight is the source of all other delight. He in Himself is the best among ten thousand, and altogether lovely. These saints delight in the way of salvation through Christ because it demonstrates God's affection and wonder. They enjoy holiness, wholeness, but they take no pleasure in sin. God's love is a sweet taste in their mouths regardless of whether their own interests are met or not. They rejoice over all that Christ has done for them, but this is not the deepest root of their joy. No, they delight merely because God is God and only then does their delight spill over onto all God's works, including their own salvation.”
This is how John Piper puts it:
“The authenticating inner essence of worship is being satisfied with Christ, prizing Christ, cherishing Christ, treasuring Christ. This is tremendously relevant to understanding what Sunday worship services should be about. They are about going hard after God. When we say that what we do on Sunday mornings and evenings is go hard after God, we mean that we are going hard after satisfaction in God. Going hard after God is our prize. Going hard after God is our treasure, our soul food, our heart delight, our spirit's pleasure; or, to put Christ in His rightful place, it means that we are going hard after all that God is for us in Jesus Christ crucified and risen. There is a prizing of Christ in all true worship.”
I told our congregation at First Presbyterian Church a few weeks ago that at the Shepherds Conference in March, John MacArthur shared a story about a teenage girl who is a sophomore at The Master's College there in Sun Valley, California, who is from a Muslim country. Her father is sort of a mid-level official in the Muslim-dominated country from which she comes, and her father is a devout Muslim, but loves his daughter. And his daughter came to faith in Christ in this Muslim country by listening to John MacArthur's sermons that had been translated into her language. And having listened to those messages, she had this growing desire to come to the United States and study the Bible. And her father, though an orthodox Muslim, because of his love for her, enabled her to come to the United States and enroll at The Master's College in computer sciences, because her country would not allow her to come to study the Bible. So she is majoring in computer science, but she is studying Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, because she wants to be able to translate the word of God back into the language of the people from whom she comes. And when she has gone home, she has been regularly questioned by the authorities, primarily because when she has gone home she has associated with other Christians. Over Christmas break, she went home. She was met at the airport by the police, the security people, and she was questioned for several hours before she was allowed to be released. When she was released, she got home and her father was not there but her uncle was. And her uncle asked her if she had converted to Christianity, and she said, “Yes, I have.” And he said, “You have disgraced the family and you have brought shame on Allah,” and he began to beat her. He beat her first with his fists, and as she fell to the floor he picked up a chair and he broke the chair over her, and he began to beat her with the leg of the chair. And as she began to drift off out of consciousness with her uncle beating her, her father walked in the door and restrained her uncle from killing her; rushed her to the doctors, got her taken care of, put her back on a plane and sent her to California. And he said, “You can't come back. You’re not safe here.”
John MacArthur got to speak with her several weeks after she was back in California, and during his conversation he said, “Can I ask you a question? What were you thinking while your uncle was doing this to you?” And without a pause she said to him, “I was thinking, ‘My uncle has a religion that he will kill for, and I have a Savior that I will die for.” Eighteen, nineteen year-old girl, just come to faith in Christ, twelve…eighteen months before…studying the Bible so she can translate it back into her own language…ready to die because she prizes Christ.
You know, when I read about those Turkish missionaries that were murdered last week because they were printing Bibles in Turkish, I wondered, “Do I prize the word of God that much? Do I love God that much? Do I prize Christ that much? Could it be that precisely what is lacking in our worship services is that we don't prize and love the word of God like that? And we don't delight in God like that, and we don't prize Christ like that?”
No, I think that this passage has a lot to say to us about how we are to worship: with a love for the word, a desire for God, with a delight in Christ.
May God make it so in our hearts and in all of our churches.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your word. We want to become worshipers who are evident and affectionate in our appreciation for, love of, delight in the word of God, the God of the word, and in our Savior Jesus Christ, in whom, through whom, and by whom alone we come into fellowship and communion with the only true and living God. Make that to be a reality in our lives and make it be a reality in the worship services of all the congregations represented here, so that when unbelievers are present in our midst they would be able to say, “Surely God is among them.” This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.