15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 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. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 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.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
Here the woman expresses her desire for this living water, but she still does not understand, as is indicated in her desire to not have to keep coming back to Jacob’s well. So Jesus continues the conversation. He continues pursuing her.
Jesus Reveals the Woman’s Sin, v. 16-18 (Jesus Knows)
Why does Jesus bring up this woman’s husband situation? The most common assumption is that this woman was an adulterer based on the number of husbands she has gone through. However we don’t actually know that. They all could have died, and she just remarried. However, the fact that she is living with a man who is not her husband, does indicate at least some immorality, and the common assumption is probably safe to make. So why did Jesus bring this up? Again, the common assumption is that it was to expose her sin, so she could see her need for this Living Water, and begin to understand that Jesus is speaking of something more than physical water. She then diverts from this topic to a more impersonal topic, or so she thinks. In which case Jesus doesn’t stop His pursuit of her. He presses home the issue.
While this may at least have some truth to it, I don’t think that that is the main thing that is necessarily going on. If you notice, she does not lie to Jesus. She simply does not divulge her whole story, which is absolutely appropriate to someone you just met. We talked about it last week – she’s here at the well alone – she already understands the shame of her sin. It is not so much that she needs it exposed. Her real problem here is what Jesus says in verse 10 – if she only knew the gift of God and who was speaking to her. That’s her real problem – she doesn’t understand who the Messiah is. She doesn’t understand who God is. She doesn’t understand who Jesus is. Jesus is not so much revealing who she is, but who He is. And really, He reveals who He is by revealing who she is. I believe that’s what Jesus is doing here, because the end result is that she believes Him to be a prophet, and then eventually she believes Him to be the Savior of the World. Remember John 2:25, Jesus “needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” By telling the woman information about her personal life, Jesus is showing the woman His omniscience and divinity.
Jesus Reveals True Worship, v. 19-24 (Jesus Provides)
Some people say that the Samaritan woman likely brings up the issue of worship and mountains to deflect from the conversation about her many husbands. If that is the case, as Jesus allows the conversation to go that direction, it indicates to us that her adultery problem was ultimately a worship problem. She’s been worshiping the wrong god. Jesus is here to tell her about the true God.
Others say, and I would lean this way, that she wasn’t trying to deflect, but perceiving Jesus to be a prophet, she wants to further question Him on what is of ultimate matter. This is her putting the prophet to the test, so to speak. Or maybe again its not that the woman is deflecting when she speaks about the mountain, but she’s getting to the heart of the issue. How can they talk about Living Water and her personal life while they have a fundamental disagreement on what true worship is.
Regardless, the issue of the Samaritans worshiping at one mountain, Mount Gerizim, and the Jews at another in Jerusalem is brought up. She wants to know which is the true mountain to worship at?
The term “Spirit and truth” is not a call for modern day charismatic worship. We are not permitted to pull this phrase out of John 4 and interpret it in modern day terminology. The context of John 4 within the wider context of Scripture determines the meaning of this phrase. We are taught here that we worship not at a necessary location like a certain temple, or a certain mountain, or a certain city. True worship can be done anywhere, because it is no longer tied to a certain location, as Jesus brings in New Covenant worship. Jesus says, the hour is coming when you will neither worship at this mountain or in Jerusalem. Not only is this discussing the reality of New Covenant worship not tied to a location, but it also at least hints at the fact that in just a few years from when Jesus speaks this, Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed in AD 70, never to be re-instituted. So the idea that worshiping “in spirit” indicates some kind of charismatic worship is utterly foreign to the text, to the conversation, and to the intent of what Jesus was saying.
Also, follow the flow of the gospel of John. Jesus is the true tabernacle (John 1:14). Jesus is the true temple (2:19). The tabernacle and temple were places of worship for Israel at various times. Jesus has been shown to be the fulfillment of them. They were shadows of what was to come. That theme of shadows and types finding their fulfillment in Christ continues here in John 4. Jesus is the true holy mountain where God can be encountered.
This new reality that Christ brings also indicates that God is not only to be worshiped by Jews or Samaritans but by all the nations. The reality of true worship is no longer restricted to Israel as a location or as a people. It expounds to all the nations. As it says in Isaiah 2, the nations shall flow to the mountain of God. Worshiping God “in spirit and truth” is a spiritual engagement with God by means of Christ. Our meeting place with God is in Christ.
One point of application of this is that we are not to be superstitious about certain locations, like Israel. This teaching of Jesus refutes the practices of many religions. Muslims have Mecca. The Jews still cling to Jerusalem and still do not understand these words of Christ. At least in days passed, travelling to the Vatican City for Roman Catholics was of great superstition. If you remember, Martin Luther went to walk up a set of stairs that Christ supposedly walked up, but it gave him no peace. All this is because mankind is carnal and fleshly and when they have not the truth and the Spirit of God, even the religions they build up are built upon carnal superstitions. So we are not to treat Jerusalem as the Muslims treat Mecca. We can worship God just as well without ever setting eyes on Jerusalem. This also means that we are not obligated to be blindly “pro-Israel” in our politics or foreign policy. We ought to use discernment as with every other nation. Don’t get me wrong, it would certainly be cool to see and walk the places Jesus walked. I’d love to do that someday. But there is an unhealthy fascination with Israel in modern American Christianity. It is not a more holy ground. God does not dwell in Israel alone. He dwells all over the planet, in the hearts of all His people, no matter where they are. He is rightly worshiped throughout the earth.
While the main intent of worshiping in spirit here means that worship is not tied to a location, it is also true that worship must be done through the enabling power of the Spirit. This means we cannot force our emotions or pander to the preferential desires of our flesh. This means we can offer up true worship to God regardless of whether the music is professionally polished, or the preacher is the smoothest talker, or the prayers are too long, or not. The spirit enables our worship, not polished professionalism. So, true worship in spirit and truth is not emotional based worship. True worship is not conjured up when the speaker says everything just perfectly and tugs on your heart strings, and the music comes in just as the lights are dimming to set this atmosphere that plays on our emotions. There certainly ought to be right emotions accompanying true worship. The point is that true worship is not enabled by just the right atmosphere, but by the Spirit of God.
Note also, true Christian worship is Trinitarian. The Spirit of God indwells and enables us to worship the Father by applying the sacrifice of Christ to our lives, uniting us to Him, thus we are ever able to offer true worship to God. True worship is given to the Father, through the Son’s sacrifice, applied and sealed to us by the Spirit. In other words, being born of the Spirit is necessary to worship in spirit and truth. You must be born again!
The Samaritans did not worship according to revealed truth in Scripture. They worshiped in ignorance. As much as Jesus spoke against the pharisees, He did not back down from the fact that salvation is to come through Israel. In the debate between the Samaritans, Israel was right. Ignorance is not honored, and it is no excuse.
Worshiping in truth means worshiping according to God’s revelation. That would include creation – the heavens declare the glory of God. That would include His Word, Scripture. And that would include the incarnate Word, the Truth, the Lord Jesus Christ. Since worshiping in truth means worshiping according to God’s revelation that means that we do not make things up, nor do we leave things out. God’s truth sets the parameters for true worship.
I absolutely love what Calvin says here, “…God is not properly worshiped but by the certainty of faith, which cannot be produced in any other way than by the Word of God. Hence it follows that all who forsake the word fall into idolatry.”
So what does true worship look like? Well, it looks pretty ordinary. It looks like bread and wine. It looks like baptismal waters. It looks like a people gathered around the Word with songs and prayers on their lips. In one sense, of course, all of life is worship. We live according to what or who we worship. So while we are on the job, or while we’re at dinner, or at the grocery store, or at home, we can worship in spirit and truth in many ways. But God has also given us a weekly and ordinary means of grace in the local church to sustain our souls. It ought to be our routine to partake of them. Yes, routine. There is a weekly formal gathering that consists of prayer, singing, preaching of the Word, and the sacraments. These are the “means of grace” given by God through which we express worship in spirit and truth with one another. They are “ordinary” because we do them weekly; but they are special because they especially sustain our souls above the rest of life; and they do so, because in them, Christ meets with us, who is the sustainer of our souls, the author and finisher of our faith.
Jesus Reveals Himself, v. 25-26 (Jesus Saves)
So in response to Jesus’ explanation of where to worship, the woman does not argue, but simply states that she knows Messiah is coming who will confirm this or not, and tell them all things. Then Jesus reveals himself as that messiah, “I who speak to you am he.” You can imagine this being such an eye opening, scales falling off the eyes type of moment, that would leave her speechless. Jesus reveals Himself as Messiah. He revealed who she was, to reveal who He was. He showed the woman her insufficiency to reveal His sufficiency. He told her her life, to show her His knowledge. He corrected her ignorance to reveal Himself as Truth. He showed her her sin, to show Himself her Savior. Has He done this for you? Do you know yourself to be a sinner? Do you know you have a great need? Only to sinners does Christ reveal Himself to be their Savior.
As Jesus is the true mountain of God, there is no mountain for us to climb to get to God, for God has come down to us, and sought us out in Christ. We don’t need to ascend a mountain to offer a sacrifice to God. For Christ descended from heaven and was lifted up on a cross, on the hill of Calvary, to be our final-once-and-for-all sacrifice before God. You don’t climb a mountain or travel to a holy land, you don’t offer a sacrifice. Jesus comes to you, and gives you himself, our true sacrifice of worship. His body and blood, for us, as He reminds us in the bread and wine.
We were once all like the Samaritan woman; lost in sin, covered in ignorance and idolatry. But God, sought us out through His Son, who seeks and saves the lost like us. He came to us in our sin and ignorance, and revealed Himself to us, as Messiah, as Christ, as our Savior. Maybe that’s you today. Maybe you are lost in a life of sin, ignorant to the Savior. If so, may God open your eyes to see, that Christ meets you here today, in His Word, In His Gospel, In His People, right here before you, if you only knew. Take and drink of Him, the Living Water.
This is the gospel: Christ climbed the mountain to meet with God, and offered up Himself as the sacrifice, as true worship, and God met Him there with wrath and punishment, yet also love for us. Jesus was the ultimate true worshiper because He offered up Himself and it was enough; enough to be the Savior of the World. Before Christ, no one else could offer up enough to be enough, and neither can you; but Christ did. And since Christ went up to the mountain to offer Himself as a sacrifice of true spiritual worship, we now, in Him, can live our lives as living sacrifices which is our spiritual worship.
We cannot scale up the mountain to God with our own good works or our backpack of righteousness. If you think you are strong enough, you aren’t. Maybe you know you are weak and wounded, and wallowing in sin at the bottom of the mountain without ever the dream of making it up to God. You’ve made a big mess of your life. My friend, Christ came down to you. He meets you where you are at, just as he met the woman at the well where she was at. He takes your sin, and gives you his righteousness. And he seats you with him in the heavenly places where he sits right now ruling and reigning at the right hand of God subjecting all enemies under his feet. Oh, do we have a merciful, compassionate Savior, who is strong and mighty and able.