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Instead of answering her directly, Jesus shifts the focus of her amazement up a level. He says, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (v. 10). The really amazing thing is not that He asked her for a drink, but that she didn’t ask Him! He has “living water,” and He calls it the “gift of God.” But the woman doesn’t rise very high. She simply says, “How can you give me water when you don’t have a bucket?” She is not on Jesus’ wavelength yet.
So Jesus again lifts the level of amazement. “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (vv. 13–14). The amazing thing is not that He can give her water without a bucket, but that His water satisfies forever.
Even more: When you drink it, your soul becomes a spring. It is miracle water:
WO R S H I P It buries itself in a sandy soul and bubbles up a spring of life.
What does this mean?
THE WATER THAT BECOMES WELL
But the closest parallel to the image of a soul becoming a spring is in John 7:37–39: “Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive.” So the water Jesus gives is the Holy Spirit. The presence of God’s Spirit in your life takes away the frustrated soul-thirst and turns you into a fountain where others can find life.
But probably both these meanings are true. Both the teaching of Jesus and the Holy Spirit satisfy the longing of our souls and make us into fountains for others. Jesus held the Word and the Spirit together.
For example, in John 14:26 He said, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said.” The work of the Spirit of Christ is to make the Word of Christ clear and satisfying to the soul.
The water offered to the Samaritan adulteress was the Word of truth and the power of the Spirit. When we come to Christ to drink, what we drink is truth—not dry, lifeless, powerless truth, but truth soaked with the life-giving Spirit of God! The Word of promise and the power of the Spirit are the living water held out to the Samaritan harlot.
draw water” (John 4:15). Beware of giving up on people too soon, though. Jesus has set His saving sights on this woman. He aims to create a worshiper of God “in spirit and truth.”
So now He touches the most sensitive and vulnerable spot in her life:
“Go, call your husband” (v. 16). The quickest way to the heart is through a wound.
Why does Jesus strip open the woman’s inner life like this? Because He had said in John 3:20, “Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” Concealed sin keeps us from seeing the light of Christ.
Sin is like spiritual leprosy. It deadens your spiritual senses so that you rip your soul to shreds and don’t even feel it. But Christ lays bare her spiritual leprosy: “You have had five husbands, and the man you are sleeping with now is not your husband.”
A TRAPPED ANIMAL WILL CHEW OFF ITS LEGNow watch the universal reflex of a person trying to avoid conviction. She has to admit that He has extraordinary insight: “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet” (John 4:19). But instead of going the direction He pointed, she tries to switch to an academic controversy: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain;
but you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.
What’s your position on this issue?” A trapped animal will chew off its own leg to escape. A trapped sinner will mangle her own mind and rip up the rules of logic. “Why, yes, as long as we are talking about my adultery, what is Your stance on the issue of where people should worship?” This is standard evasive double-talk for trapped sinners.
But the great Soul Hunter is not so easily eluded. He does not insist that she stay on His path. He will follow her into the bush. Or could it be that He has circled around and is waiting there for her as she brings up the subject of worship? He never goes back to the issue of adultery. It was a thrust against the sealed door of her heart. But now His foot is in, and He is willing to deal with the issue of worship.
WO R S H I P
THE HOW WHOM WORSHIPAND OF The woman raised the issue of where people ought to worship. Jesus responds by saying, “That controversy can’t compare in importance with the issue of how and whom you worship.” First, He draws her attention to the how: “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father’” (John 4:21). In other words, don’t get bogged down in unessential controversies. It is possible to worship God in vain both in your place and in ours! Did not God say, “This people…honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13)? The issue is not where, but how.
Then He rivets her attention on whom: “You worship what you do not know;
we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (v. 22). These are harsh words. But when life and earth are at stake, there comes a point when you put the matter bluntly—like telling a person with lung disease to stop smoking.
The Samaritans rejected all the Old Testament except their own version of the first five books. Their knowledge of God was deficient. Therefore, Jesus tells the woman that Samaritan worship is deficient. It matters whether you know the One you worship!
How and whom are crucial, not where. Worship must be vital and real in the heart, and worship must rest on a true perception of God. There must be spirit and there must be truth. So Jesus says, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” The two words spirit and truth correspond to the how and whom of worship.
Worshiping in spirit is the opposite of worshiping in merely external ways.
It is the opposite of empty formalism and traditionalism. Worshiping in truth is the opposite of worship based on an inadequate view of God. Worship must have heart and head. Worship must engage emotions and thought.
Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or halffull) of artificial admirers (like people who write generic anniversary cards for a living). On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. But true
worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship.
FUEL, FURNACE, HEAT AND Perhaps we can tie things together with this picture: The fuel of worship is the truth of God; the furnace of worship is the spirit of man; and the heat of worship is the vital affections of reverence, contrition, trust, gratitude, and joy.
But there is something missing from this picture. There is furnace, fuel, and heat, but no fire. The fuel of truth in the furnace of our spirit does not automatically produce the heat of worship. There must be ignition and fire. This is the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus says, “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth,” some interpreters take this to refer to the Holy Spirit. I have taken it to mean our spirit. But maybe these two interpretations are not far apart in Jesus’ mind. In John 3:6, Jesus connects God’s Spirit and our spirit in a remarkable way.
He says, “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” In other words, until the Holy Spirit quickens our spirit with the flame of life, our spirit is so dead and unresponsive it does not even qualify as spirit. Only that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. So when Jesus says that true worshipers worship the Father “in spirit,” He must mean that true worship comes only from spirits made alive and sensitive by the quickening of the Spirit of God.
Now we can complete our picture. The fuel of worship is a true vision of the greatness of God; the fire that makes the fuel burn white hot is the quickening of the Holy Spirit; the furnace made alive and warm by the flame of truth is our renewed spirit; and the resulting heat of our affections is powerful worship, pushing its way out in confessions, longings, acclamations, tears, songs, shouts, bowed heads, lifted hands, and obedient lives.
return, they offer Jesus lunch. But He does the same thing with them that He
had done with the woman—He jumps from matters of food to matters of faith:
“I have food to eat that you do not know about” (John 4:32). Jesus has been eating the whole time they were gone. But what? “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (v. 34). And what is the work of the Father? The Father is seeking people to worship Him in spirit and truth.
The whole interchange between Jesus and the Samaritan adulteress is the work of God to make a genuine worshiper. Then Jesus applies the episode to the disciples—and to us! “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (v. 35). He is saying, “There is a white harvest of harlots in Samaria. I have just made one into a worshiper of God. That is why the Father sent me—so send I you. God seeks people to worship Him in spirit and truth. Here comes the city of Sychar white unto harvest. If you love the glory of God, make ready to reap.” Christ has set a course for us in the rest of this chapter on worship. What does it really mean to worship “in spirit and truth”? What is the response of the Spirit-quickened spirit of man? What is the relationship of truth to this experience? That’s our plan: to ponder the nature of worship as an affair of the heart, and then as an affair of the mind. Then at the end we will briefly consider the external form of worship.1
AN AFFAIR HEARTOF THE Almost everyone would agree that biblical worship involves some kind of outward act. The very word in Hebrew means to bow down. Worship is bowing, lifting hands, praying, singing, reciting, preaching, performing rites of eating, cleansing, ordaining, and so on.
But the startling fact is that all these things can be done in vain. They can be pointless and useless and empty.
This is the warning of Jesus in Matthew 15:8–9 when He devastates the Pharisees with God’s word from Isaiah 29:13:
1. To make it crystal clear, when I speak of worship, I do not limit what I mean to corporate events where Christians sing. That is one expression of worship. But you can sing and read the Scriptures and pray and not be worshiping, because worship is first and most essentially an act of the heart. It is a being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus. That satisfaction can be expressed in song or in visiting a prisoner.
“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me.” First, notice that the parallel between the phrases “honor me” and “worship me” shows that worship is essentially a way of honoring God. Of course, that doesn’t mean making Him honorable or increasing His honor. It means recognizing His honor and feeling the worth of it and ascribing it to Him in all the ways appropriate to His character.
Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.
(Psalm 96:6–8) So the first thing to see in Jesus’ words is that worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth.
The reason for saying gladly is that even mountains and trees reflect back to God the radiance of His worth: “Praise the LORD from the earth…mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!” (Psalm 148:7, 9). Yet this reflection of God’s glory in nature is not conscious. The mountains and hills do not willingly worship. In all the earth, only humans have this unique capacity.
If we do not gladly reflect God’s glory in worship, we will nevertheless reflect the glory of His justice in our own condemnation: “Surely the wrath of man shall praise you” (Psalm 76:10). But this unwilling reflection of God’s worth is not worship. Therefore, it is necessary to define worship not simply as a way of reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth, but, more precisely, as a way of doing it gladly.
The word gladly is liable to misunderstanding because (as we will see in a moment) worship at times involves contrition and brokenness, which we do not usually associate with gladness. But I keep the word because if we say only, for example, that worship is a “willing” reflection back to God of His worth, then we are on the brink of a worse misunderstanding; namely, that worship can be WO R S H I P willed when the heart has no real desire, or as Jesus says, when the heart is “far from God.” Moreover, I think we will see that in genuine biblical contrition there is at least a seed of gladness that comes from the awakening hope that God will “revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).