John 4:15-26: Acceptable worship

15 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.’16 He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’17 ‘I have no husband,’ she replied.Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.’19 ‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’21 ‘Woman,’ Jesus replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’25 The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah’ (called Christ) ‘is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’26 Then Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you – I am he.’ NIV

Augustine was right when he observed that God made us for Himself, and our hearts find no rest until they rest in Him.

This Samaritan woman wanted what Jesus was offering (15). True, she interpreted His words in a materialistic way, but Jesus could see the deeper thirst in her heart.

However, before anyone can have their spiritual desires satisfied, they must first repent of the sins standing between them and God. So Jesus brought up a touchy subject, but it had to be addressed (16-18). Someone said, ‘She had lived with a passing parade of men.’  This is the story of ‘the bad Samaritan’! Jesus’ words precipitated a crisis in the conversation and brought things to a head. He showed that He knew the hidden depths of her life. He knew about her desperate attempts to find meaning and satisfaction in (I imagine) successive disappointing relationships. It was this supernatural knowledge of her that so deeply impressed her (29), even if there was a certain hyperbole in her comments. No doubt this was not her only sin. She may have had far worse sins tarring her soul. But this was certainly her idol (whereas in the case of the rich young ruler it was wealth.) So Jesus pointed out the idolatry that had to be banished, if she was really to be satisfied with her Messiah (25, 26).

Like a rabbit caught in the headlights, she got twitchy. She tried changing the subject (19,20), with a dash of flattery thrown in for flavouring. In effect, it’s been suggested, she said, ‘What about all these denominations?’ (Roger Fredericksen suggests that in dealing with people’s questions, we have to reckon with ‘the RH factor.’ Is it a ‘red herring’ or ‘a real hindrance’? When you start to talk seriously about stuff that needs cleaning out of a person’s life, don’t be surprised if a few red herrings get tossed in to the conversation.)

There was an ancient dispute between Jews and Samaritans about WHERE to worship. Jesus said it’s not about the WHERE but the HOW (21-24). True worship acknowledges that ‘God is spirit’, and it is offered ‘in spirit’ (or ‘in the Spirit) ‘and in truth.’ In order to worship God, the adoration must flow from human spirits led, inspired, acted upon by the Holy Spirit, and it must all be in accordance with revealed truth.

Prayer: Lord God, may I worship you in just the way you want me to. And thank you that someone like me – a sinner by nature and practice – can worship you.