Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"The Woman of Samaria: Worship" Sermon: John 4:16-26



“The Woman of Samaria:  Worship”

[John 4:16-26]

June 21, 2015Second Reformed Church

            Last week, we saw that Jesus followed the Will of God, His Father, and went to Samaria, despite the fact that, nationally, Jews and Samaritans hated each other:  the Jews considered the Samaritans half-breeds, and the Samaritans worshipped in a different temple, used pagan rites, and only accepted the books of Moses – not the prophets.

            Jesus, thirsty in His humanity, sat down at Jacob’s well while the disciples went into town to buy food, and Jesus asked a Samaritan woman to draw some water for Him that He might have a drink.  The woman responded stereotypically – barking back at Him that He was a Jew – Who was He to ask her for a drink?

            Jesus explained to her that He was the Giver of living water – the spring of water to eternal life, but she didn’t understand what He was saying:  she thought He was offering her water that would keep her physically sated, so she would never have to draw water from the well again – and that she wanted.

            We continue, this morning, with Jesus’ response to her saying that she didn’t want to be physically thirsty again:

            And we see, first, we must be convicted of our sin before we can receive the Gospel.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’  The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’  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.’”

In a quick reading, we might think Jesus was changing the subject, but He wasn’t:  His point was to get her to understand the Gospel, and the first step in understanding the Gospel is understanding that we are sinners who have sinned against the Holy God.

So, Jesus, having been informed of her marital and sexual status by His Divinity, since Jesus is fully God and fully human, He asked her to bring her husband to Him so she would be convicted of her sin – then she would be ready to hear the Gospel.

It’s like this:  if I told you I had a spare tire you could use, but you didn’t have a flat, you would most likely say, “thanks, but no thanks, I don’t need it.”

The same is true of the Gospel – the Good News – until we know the bad news – until we are convicted of the bad news – until we truly believe the truth of the bad news – that we are sinners who have sinned against the Holy God – and deserve His Holy Wrath against us for our sins – we won’t care to hear the Good News – that there is One Way to be right with God – through Jesus Christ and His work.

If we tell people we have the Good News, and they believe that everything is right with them and God and the world – the Good News won’t matter – it won’t even make sense – the sin that they don’t believe in will blind them.  If someone doesn’t believe there is a problem, he won’t care to hear how to fix it.

So, this woman had been fixated on the difference between Jews and Gentiles and her desire not to have to keep hauling water up out of Jacob’s well, but Jesus wanted her to understand the Gospel, so He asked her to bring her husband to Him, and she said, “I have no husband.”

Commentators make a point of noting how the woman was so talkative until she was confronted by her sin – then she gave a brief response.  We may be prone to talk and talk and tell stories, but when we are confronted with our sin, are not many of us given to short answers as well?

Jesus told the woman that she had been honest and spoken the truth:  she had had five husbands, and the man she was currently living with was not her husband. 

Now, it is possible that all five of her husbands sinned against her in divorcing her, but there is no questioning the fact of her sin in living with a man she was not married to.

Yet, it was in the recognition and admission that she was sinning in living with a man who was not her husband that she was able to see her need and be open to hearing and understanding the Good News that Jesus was speaking to her.

(Don’t forget, as we saw in the beginning of chapter three – being born twice – being spiritually resurrected – is the work of God the Holy Spirit, and unless He raises a person to spiritual life, even if he knows he is a sinner, he will not be able to receive the Gospel to salvation.)

So, she could have responded – as most people I talk to do – “Well, yes, I do things that are wrong, but God is just and He will see that I am basically a good person and receive me into His Kingdom.”

A person who says that doesn’t get it – he doesn’t understand that our God is Holy, Holy, Holy, and all sin is against our Thrice Holy God, the Greatest Being in all of existence.  So, if God is Just – and He is – the punishment must fit the crime:  the punishment for a crime against the Greatest Being must be the greatest possible punishment.

But the woman of Samaria got it:  she was a sinner and needed help.

Second, conviction of sin ought to make us desire to worship properly.

“The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.’”

Again, this might seem like she is trying to change the subject:  Jesus asked her about her husband, exposed that she was five times divorced and was living with a man who was not her husband, so she asked Jesus which mountain is the right mountain to worship on.

But it wasn’t an attempt to change the subject:  if your heart and its corruption – if your spiritual death – has been made known to you, and the Holy Spirit is at work in you, the natural response is to desire to worship God rightly – to throw yourself before Him and plead His forgiveness – to know how to be right with God.

After King Nebuchadnezzar sinfully attempted to execute Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, by burning them alive, he freed them and repented and sent a proclamation of worship to his kingdom:  “King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in the earth:  Peace be multiplied to you!  It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me.  How great are his signs, how mighty are his wonders!  His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:1-3, ESV).

We see this truth exhibited in our Sunday liturgy:  we begin by calling our attention to the God Who has called us to worship, we sing a hymn of praise, and then we confess our sin, and receive pardon and assurance that we may continue to worship God through the Word, Sacraments, and prayer.

As believers – as Christians – when we sin, we are driven to the Throne of God for forgiveness and then worship.

The woman of Samaria recognized, as well, that Jesus is a prophet, so He was the right One to ask this question:  “We have had a tradition of worshipping here on Mount Gerizzim, but You say that we must worship in the Temple in Jerusalem.”

As a prophet of God – even a Jewish prophet – she wanted Jesus to settle a major issue of worship between the Jews and the Samaritans:

“Let’s start with square one:  where is the right place to worship?  Must we worship God in the Temple He had built in Jerusalem, or may we worship Him here on Mount Gerizzim?”

Jesus answered her with what was a startling answer:

“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers 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.’  The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ).  When he comes, he will tell us all things.’  Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am he.’”

            Third, real worship is worship in spirit and truth.

            Well, what does that mean?
            
            Let’s break down what Jesus said:

“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.’”

Jesus pointed to the day when there will be no temple.

The day was coming soon – and it did come to pass in 70 A.D. – when the people of God worshipped God in homes and synagogues and other places, but not in the Temple, because it was destroyed by the Romans – never to be rebuilt.

So, the first part of Jesus’ answer was:  it makes absolutely no difference whether you worship God in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerizzim.

But Jesus continued: 

“You worship what you do not knw; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”

Jesus told her that worship was to be in the Temple in Jerusalem, because God oversaw the building of the Temple for Himself, and once that Temple was built, there was no other.  The Smaritans were worshipping in a false temple, based on tradition, not the command of God.  And if the excuse was given that the Jews would not give the Samaritans access to the Temple the way the Jews had, the answer was, “Of course not, the Gospel is to the Jew first – salvation is to the Jew first.”

And if anyone says, “That’s no fair!”  We have Paul’s answer:  “They are the Israelites, and to them belongs 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.  Amen” (Romans 9:4-5, ESV).

So, the second part of Jesus’ answer was:  of course you should worship in Jerusalem, because God has chosen Israel, brought salvation through her as a people, and established the only approved place of worship in Jerusalem.

How do we understand this?

Jesus’ answer to her was, yes, you ought to worship in the Temple in Jerusalem, because that is where God has ordained the worship of Him.  However, the day will come when that requirement is taken away – they day will come when you don’t have to worship in Jerusalem, but until God makes it clear that no one has to worship in Jerusalem, yes, you have to worship in Jerusalem.

It’s a similar idea to the kosher food laws:  a Gentile who asked in the Old Testament days if it was necessary to eat kosher – to obey the kosher food laws – could have been told – yes, you have to obey the kosher food laws, until God makes it clear that no one has to keep the kosher food laws – which has happened since Christ has come.

Still, Jesus had more to say:

“’But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers 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.’”

Jesus explained that the time that it will not be necessary to worship in Jerusalem has come – “now” being this transition period from about 30 to 70 A.D. – from Jesus’ ministry and death to the actual destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

True worshippers – those who worship God as true believers – worship God – and will do so without a head temple – in spirit and in truth.  That is, worship will come from an inward faith of the heart – not merely a head-knowledge of the facts.  Worship will come from a purity of conscience and will seek to obey God in all things.

We are flesh and we tend to follow after the flesh, but God is not impressed by mere physical obedience – God wants people who delight and abound in spiritual obedience.

If we come to worship merely to get on God’s “good side” – if we come to worship merely to put our offering in to “pay our part of the bills” or “to buy God off for another week” – if we come to worship because we want people to see that we are religious and therefore trustworthy, good, and so forth – we are not worshipping in spirit and in truth.

If we come to worship because we want to join together with our brothers and sisters in praising God and thanking God for the amazing Gift of Love in sending His Son to live and die and live again so we might be right with God – and we give an offering out of thanks and love for God, believing in His work in this place – and we come knowing that we are only here with each other and before the Face of God out of His great mercy and grace – and we come desiring to know God more and grow in Him more and obey Him more – that is what it looks like to worship in spirit and truth.

“Yes, you Samaritans have gotten it wrong by not worshipping in Jerusalem, but what is most important is that you understand that going through the motions isn’t worship, just having all the right facts in your head is not worship, it’s having a heart that is changed – a spiritual thirst for the life of the believer in faith and obedience that is true worship – worship that God accepts.”

Can you imagine having this discussion with Jesus?  Can you imagine hearing Him explain these things to you about worship – about obedience to what God has said and spiritual obedience of the heart?  Can you imagine hearing Him speak and suddenly a lightbulb comes on in your head and you say:

“The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ).  When he comes, he will tell us all things.’  Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am he.’”

All of a sudden – deep within this woman’s heart, she said, “Wait a minute!”

The wisdom and love of this Man Who holds the Law in high esteem but explains that there is a difference between true belief and a simple checking off of items on a list.  This Man – this Jew – Who talked with a Samaritan Woman as a real person who bears the Image of God.

Could it be?  She couldn’t ask – so she made a statement:

“‘I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ).  When he comes, he will tell us all things.’”

Can you hear her heart screaming:  “Are you the Messiah?!”

And remember:  the Samaritans only believed the five books of Moses – so reading the five books of Moses is enough to know that we need a Savior – that God is sending a Savior – and that the Savior will look like this.

And Jesus said, “I who speak to you am he.”  He said, “Yes!  I am God the Savior – the Promised Savior – prophesied in the books of Moses.”

Lord willing, we’ll look at what happened next week.

For today, let us understand:

We must be convicted of our sin to receive the Gospel.  Unless we know and believe the bad news – that we are sinners under the Wrath of God – we will not receive the Good News.  As we talk to other people about Jesus and His Gospel, they need to know that we need Him and the work He did on behalf of all those who will believe, because we have eternally offended God with our sin – and Jesus is the Only Way we can be made right with God.

As we – and others – recognize our sin and our need for the Gospel – we will find ourselves drawn to worship – to seeking out worshipping God – showing how worthy God is of our praise and thanks and obedience – that is most pleasing to God.  We will desire to look to the Scripture to find out how God wants – commands – us to worship Him – and to do so.

And we see the difference between false worship and true worship.  True worship is worship in spirit and truth – whenever we come to God believing in our hearts in Who He is and what He has done – following after Him in spiritual obedience in every aspect of all that we are – we do not merely go through the motions.

So, let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You that You chose to reveal Yourself and Your Salvation in Your Son Jesus, gifting the Gospel to us and applying it through God the Holy Spirit.  We thank You for the conviction of sin – that we would be drawn back to You – finding our only Hope and Meaning in You – our Salvation.  Help us to worship You, not based on our whims or preferences, but based on the way You have called us to worship You.  Be glorified in our worship of You.  And continue to grow us in faith and obedience.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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