True Worship Rooted in the Work of Christ
Passage: John 4:16–26
Sermon from John 4:16-26 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on April 28, 2013
Three Truths Written for Your Eternal Life
Today, we see three more truths about Jesus Christ that come to light from his encounter with the woman of Samaria. John wrote this entire gospel that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we might have life in his name (20:31). Everything John has written serves that gracious and glorious end of us gaining life in Jesus’ name when we believe.
So, under divine inspiration, John includes this encounter with the Samaritan woman, so that we—fallen, rebellious, broken, blind sinners—might see our deepest need for life and see God’s perfect provision for life in his Son, Jesus Christ. And there are three more truths about Jesus that unfold, here, as he speaks to this woman such that believing them will give you life—not simply conversion, not simply the entrance into life out of death, but the forever-nourishing life of unhindered fellowship with God himself characteristic of the age to come. That’s the kind of life we were made for, the kind of life we need, and that’s the kind of life we find in Jesus Christ if we believe John’s testimony about him is true.
1. Jesus Is Our Prophet Who Pursues Our Wondering Hearts
The first truth about Jesus we see, here, is that Jesus is our Prophet who pursues our wandering hearts. I don’t know about you, but I find Jesus’ reply to the woman in verse 16 to be quite jarring to the conversation and his response in verse 18 to be devastating. Jesus has been trying to get this woman to see that her greatest need is not the physical water she’s pulling from Jacob’s well, but the “living water” that comes as God’s gift through Jesus Christ. Jesus patiently teaches this woman that the only drink that truly satisfies the soul is the all-satisfying water he gives—a water that becomes for the thirsty soul a spring of water welling up to eternal life. But his words continue to fall on deaf ears. The woman again misses Jesus’ point. She doesn’t see her true need is to have Jesus and all the life he offers her. All she thinks that she needs is a more comfortable life.
Verse 15, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” Her concern is not with what she really needs—namely, Jesus himself. Her concern is with mere personal convenience: “If you’ve got such water, let’s see it, so that I need not trouble myself with coming here anymore, alone, at high noon, to fetch water.” So Jesus—apparently not fearing the awkward—then says, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” At this point you’re going, “Where are you taking her? Give me a drink; you need living water; my water is superior to Jacob’s; go call your husband. What are you doing, Jesus?” What we see in verses 17-19 is that Jesus is right on track.
Verse 17, “The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’” Shoo…that was a fast, clever dodge. We’re professionals at this. We give enough truth to keep the depth of our hurt hidden; we use just enough words to keep things superficial. Jesus’ response is devastating: “Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.’” For this woman to see her true need for Jesus, she must see the depth of her thirst and where she has been seeking satisfaction but to no avail. With this question about her husband, Jesus isn’t out to throw in her face all her painful past—five husbands later and now a “friend-with-benefits” [Here!]—he’s out to win her heart where the true problem lies.
Instead of satisfying herself with the Fountain of living waters, her heart seeks satisfaction in lesser things—five and now six men later. The woman needs to come to terms with her own sinfulness and with the nature of the gift Jesus is offering her to rescue her from her sinfulness. That’s why he tells her to bring her husband. He’s a prophet. His words expose the true nature of things—namely, we have desperately wandering hearts—and his words direct us to where true satisfaction is found—namely, in the Lord himself. What’s even more, Jesus is God. Jesus knows who she’s been with; he knows her history; he’s familiar with her sins; he knows where she’s turning to find satisfaction; he knows what she’s doing now. And he tells her “Go, call your husband” to awaken her to what he’s been trying to say all along: “You are desperate for me—just look at your life wrought with sin and pain and broken relationships—and I am here to give you all-satisfying drink from God.”
Do you see yourself in this woman? What tears do you choke back when you hear Jesus say, “You’re right, for you’ve had five and the one you have now is not your husband?” All the pain you’ve been hiding behind the superficial smiles, the surface-level repentance, the trite replies to people’s questions, the half-truths disguising reality—all that you’ve been hiding now exposed before the Light of the world. What sinks in your gut when you discover “Jesus knows me like this? Jesus knows my whereabouts? He knows what I’m clicking on in the middle of the night? He knows my every credit card swipe? He knows what my voice sounds like over my children when I’m in private? He sees me when I’m twiddling my thumbs at work? He knows what I said about her? He knows what I think of my care group members? I’m undone.” There’s nowhere for us to hide from Jesus.
Just like he knew this woman of Samaria, he knows us through and through. He knows where you turn for your satisfaction in life. He sees the thrill on your face when you get that new package in the mail and wake up the following morning putting off the word of God. He knows how excited you get over a new book and how little joy there is when someone gets saved. He watches how easy it is for us to commune with each other through social media and yet how hard it is to commune with God in prayer. He knows what moves our souls in this world; he sees what a sinful heart will value even above the eternal, life-giving God. He’s well aware of how we’ve all “exchanged the glory of the immortal God” for power, sex, and loads of cash.
Do you see yourself in this woman? I hope so, because what we also see in Jesus’ encounter with the woman is the fact that he still came near to her. Knowing all this about her, Jesus approached her. He came near to her in order to offer her life in himself. He extended to her eternal life and brought up her past sinfulness and her present sinfulness not to leave her in it, but to show her that he was her escape from it. And he is your escape too! Jesus’ isn’t afraid of your past—your sins are not too much for him to handle. Your sins are not too ugly for him to look at; they’re not too gross for him to talk about; they’re not too embarrassing for him to deal with. He brought them up with the woman! Why? Because he’s going to the cross to deal with them once and for all and then rise from the dead on the third day, that this woman (and you) might drink like never before. He will fill your weary soul with life where there is death. He will bring light where there is darkness. He will satisfy where you are longing because he pursued your wandering heart unto death on a cross that leads to life.
2. Jesus Is Our Savior Who Transforms Us into True Worshipers
The second truth about Jesus: Jesus is our Savior who transforms us into true worshipers. So, it’s not merely that Jesus pursues knowing us in our sinfulness and filth; he relates to us in order to transform us into something new—true worshipers. Verse 19 says that the woman perceived that Jesus was a prophet. Jesus exposed her immoral baggage and she basically says, “Alright, this guy’s not playing around. He’s for real. ‘I perceive you are a prophet.’” But verse 20 shows us that the woman still doesn’t get it fully. She’s right to say that Jesus is a prophet—though it’s like the understatement of the world since Jesus is also God. Nevertheless, she’s right to say he’s a prophet. But if she really thought Jesus was a prophet, his words should have led her to turning away from her sins and trusting that God gives life through Jesus Christ. That’s not what happens—at least, not yet.
Instead, she cuts off any more talk about her sinfulness and raises a matter of religious debate over which location her people should travel to worship: “This mountain or that one in Jerusalem? Let’s not go deeper here into the needs of my thirsty heart, Jesus, let’s keep things out there, on external meeting places (or 80’s music, etc.). I mean, as long as we’re talking about my five husbands, you tell me whose side I’m supposed to take on worship.” So again, the woman misses Jesus’ point. And again,Jesus answers her by patiently pointing her to himself and what he accomplishes for her. He doesn’t answer by engaging in the religious debate, but actually by undermining the whole debate with what he provides—namely, access to the true worship of his Father.
Let’s walk through his response in verses 21-24. Verse 21, “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.’” So, he’s already beginning to show her that there’s nothing really substantial to debate about here if an hour is coming when these mountains won’t matter any longer for worshiping the Father. Even the temple in Jerusalem will be obsolete when it comes to worshiping the Father. That doesn’t mean the old temple was insignificant—it was a major part of God’s unfolding plan of salvation. What it does mean is that the expected hour was dawning when the temple would be replaced by what it had always foreshadowed—fellowship with the Father through a new and greater temple found in the Son of God himself.
We already saw this in 2:19-21, “‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But [Jesus] was speaking about the temple of his body.” Jesus is God’s greater meeting place. Once the hour arrived, true worship would relate not to a place in Jerusalem—with all its sacrifices and priestly mediaries—but to the person of Jesus alone. He is the one the entire system anticipated. “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” Why? Because when the hour arrives, true worship will not be limited to a place in Jerusalem but to the person of Jesus himself.
Verse 22, “You [Samaritans] worship what you do not know; we [Jews] worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” Now, that doesn’t mean that all Jews are saved. Rather, it means that God chose to reveal his plan of salvation to the nation of Israel, not to the Samaritans, and that his plan to save the world would be fulfilled through a Jew. You can almost hear the apostle Paul in these words as he says it in Rom 9:4-5, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever.” In short, “Salvation is from the Jews.”
So Jesus has now shown her that her debate will soon be irrelevant because the temple mount is being replaced, and that if she’s to give attention to anything when it comes to worship, it should be the fact that “salvation is from the Jews.” Why? Because the one true Jew to whom all of Israel’s Scriptures point is standing right in front of her. In that light, Jesus goes on in verse 23: “But the hour is coming, and is now here [he means here, in my coming; the whole temple-replacement thing; the whole salvation-from-the-Jews thing—is here in my coming], when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
This is the second time Jesus has mentioned to this woman “the hour is coming.” What hour do you suppose he’s talking about again?* He’s talking about the hour when he will lay down his life for our sins and rise again victorious from the dead. By saying “the hour is coming and is now here,” Jesus is telling this woman that he’s on his way to the cross to die for her sins that she might worship the Father in spirit and truth. In fact, what he will achieve for her in his mission to the cross is so sure, so certain, that it’s as good as done. “Ma’m, the hour is now here! Just like the living water is available through me, so also the true worship of the Father is available through me.”
Don’t miss this. The picture is not that the woman is worshiping the Father and then once Jesus dies for her, she can then do it in spirit and truth. The picture is that this woman is already worshiping something, but what she’s worshiping is not God. Her religious background has not only pointed her in the wrong direction, but she’s also made an idol of sex. This is why Jesus has an hour; this is why he’s going to the cross to die for her sins—namely, that she might worship the Father in spirit and truth. She’s not worshiping the Father at all: she’s not born again; her spirit is dead; she’s using the truth to hide her sins; and at best she’s setting up false shrines on the wrong mountain to make sacrifices to a false god. According to God’s law, idolatry of the heart merits eternal separation from God under the fury of his wrath. There is no worship of the Father happening when that’s true of you. You are wholly cut off from enjoying God; you are his enemy by nature. And that’s true not only for the woman of Samaria, but for all of us. We all have gone astray in an attempt to satisfy ourselves with false worship.
And this is why Jesus came—to die for our rebellious worship preferences and transform us from being idolaters under a wrathful God into being sons and daughters who worship under a Father’s gracious smile. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus opens the way for us to relate to the Father in spirit and truth. That means it’s a worship stemming from the supernatural life of the new birth—our spirits being awakened to God’s Spirit—and it’s a worship rooted in God’s ultimate revelation in Jesus Christ. Apart from the new birth and apart from Jesus Christ, the human soul does not participate in true worship, but paganism. True worship only takes place from a new heart for God in and through Jesus Christ. That means that true worship is not dependent on external things and places and sounds. True worship is dependent on internal affections—gaining a new nature in Christ; experiencing inner-transformation by the Spirit; communing with God in a supernatural relationship; relating to God as a child relates to his father.
This is what Jesus’ hour brings for this woman and brings for all of us who believe—true worship of the Father. It’s a worship that occurs not just with song on Sunday morning, but one that occurs continually as we walk with the Lord at home, in our Care Groups, in our respective workplaces, while eating and while we play. Since true worship is bound up with our relationship not to any one place but to the person of Christ, our worship is unlimited with respect to location. Without minimizing the importance of a corporate worship on a Sunday morning, we can still say that all of life becomes an expression of worship—an expression of our relationship with the Father.
Now, don’t get worship backwards. It’s not that God waits for us to bring him true worship before he accepts us. Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Samaria shows us just the opposite: “the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” More than that, he even sends his Son to pursue them and die for their transformation into true worshipers. He doesn’t wait for us to make ourselves true worshipers; he arrests our hearts while we’re still sinful and makes us into true worshipers.
Remind yourself of this kindness of your Father when you’re trying to clean yourself up before coming to him in prayer after yelling at your kids. Remind yourself that he’s the one who pursued you when you’re feeling too ashamed to lift your head for a Sunday morning song. Remind yourself that your Father is in the business of transformation when you find yourself clutching to some idol you’ve created of your kids, or your money, or your health, or your ministry. Remind yourself that your Father never wavers in his commitment to you worshiping him rightly. As zealous as he was when he sought you and brought you to himself initially, his zeal to see that he brings you to himself finally will never waver. How do I know that? Because Jesus’ hour came—he died; he rose again on the third day; and when we believed, he sealed us with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of the Father’s glory.
3. Jesus Is Our Messiah Who Reveals God's Saving Purposes For Us
Jesus is our Prophet who pursues our wandering hearts; Jesus is our Savior who transforms us into true worshipers. Lastly, Jesus is our Messiah who reveals God’s saving purposes for us. Even at this point, it’s difficult to know how many dots the woman begins connecting: “a man has offered her living water; he’s an Israelite who says he’s superior to Jacob; he’s appears to be a prophet who knows me inside and out; he speaks of a day when the old order of things will end and a new age of true worshipers will begin. It’s beginning to sound like that so-called messiah figure the Jews speak of.” However much she’s putting together, she has yet to see how any of it relates to Jesus himself. So, instead of responding to her need for transformation into a true worshiper, she lobs another religious question into the discussion.
Verse 25, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” That’s when her questions will be answered. Jesus hasn’t answered her questions the way she would have liked him to. He kept answering in ways that confronted her with her true need, her sexual immorality, and her false worship. But she is sure that when the Messiah comes, he will give her the answers she was looking for. Verse 26, “Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am he.’” Ironically, the woman was right. When the Messiah comes, he will tell us all things. The man speaking with her at the well was doing just that, telling her all things.
Jesus told her of God’s gift of living water and where she could access it—in him. He told her of how she can gain eternal life with God—through him. He told her of all her sinful past that she might see her true need—for him. He told her about the nature of true worship and how the Father grants sinners access to himself—through him. He is surely telling her all things and how they all relate to him. Jesus is the fulfillment of all the expectations bound up with Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. All of history centers upon what God planned to accomplish through him. Paul says that God set forth a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things together in the Messiah, whether things in heaven or things on the earth (Eph 1:9-10). Paul even says this is why the created order exists, period: “all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through [the Christ] him and for [the Christ].”
As the Messiah, Jesus is revealing to her all that God is up to through his mission. And what becomes clear in the verses to come is that God is up to something way bigger than what this woman sees but of which this woman has just become a part—God gathering the nations to himself through his Messiah. The Messiah comes through the Jews, but he’s not a Messiah merely for the Jews—he’s Messiah for the world. He is the offspring of the woman who would achieve God’s purpose in crushing the head of our ferocious enemy, Satan (Gen 3:15). He is the expected son of Abraham who would achieve God’s purpose in blessing all the families of the earth—giving them a righteousness not their own (Gen 12:3; Gal 3:16). He is the royal king from Judah who would achieve God’s purpose in subduing the nations (Gen 49:10). He is the son of David who would achieve God’s purpose in establishing a kingdom of peace that lasts forever (2 Sam 7:14). He is Immanuel, the Shoot from Jesse, the Righteous Branch, the Suffering Servant, the Shepherd-king, the Lord’s anointed, our Great High Priest; and God has made him both Lord and Christ by raising him from the dead; and all his promises for eternal life with God are for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself (Acts 2:36, 39).
We don’t have to look for another way to be saved. Jesus has revealed God’s purposes to us in himself. God sent his only Son into the world to show us where to find true life and to bring us true life; to show us how sinful we are and to die for our sins; to expose our idolatry and to transform us into true worshipers. There’s no one else we need to turn to for life and nothing else we need to satisfy our souls. As our Prophet, he pursues our wandering hearts; as our Savior, he transforms us into true worshipers; and as our Messiah, he reveals God’s saving purposes for us fully. Cast your thirsty souls upon him again today.
More in The Gospel According to John
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