This is an adapted transcript of a sermon I preached in March 2019. You can listen to the recording here: https://www.stmaryswollatonpark.co.uk/sermons/john-41-26-worship/
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.)9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “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 again.The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 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.”
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.” 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.” 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.”
John 4:1-26 (ESV)
I wonder if you’ve had moments where you’re not quite sure what a word means? If you’ve spent time around young children or with people from other countries you’ve probably had questions from them asking, “What does that mean?” I don’t know about you, but I’ve found there are some words that I kind of know how to use, but if someone asks me what it means, I get stuck. I can use words like ‘astute’, but if you ask me what it means, I can only offer a gawpy open-mouthed stall.
‘Worship’ can be a bit like one of those words. It comes up in the Bible a lot. We hear about it a lot in church, too. You might ask someone where they worship if you want to know what church they go to. If a church has a particularly upbeat band and a passionate congregation, you might hear people describe it as having ‘lively’ worship. And of course we talk about worship leaders, worship bands and worship music. But what does it actually mean?
More importantly, what does ‘worship’ mean in your life? What do you worship? How do you worship?
Worship is far too big for me to cover everything about it here, so I’ll quickly look at what worship is, and then dig deeper into what makes worship a discipline to build in to our lives as well as a spiritual delight to enjoy.
So what is worship?
There are a few different words that are translated into English as ‘worship’ in our Bibles, but what it all boils down to is this: Worship is about what we love and value most of all, and what we do out of that love. Because when we love something or someone above all else, that devotion causes us to submit everything to it, to give things up for it, to do anything for it. If it’s a person, we want to please them and be with them. If it’s a thing, we want to get it. It dictates what we hope for, what we fear, what makes us happy or angry or sad, what we spend our time on, what we spend our money on – everything that we do!
Worship is about our whole being; our inside and our outside; our hearts and hands.
God says this to His people in Deuteronomy 6:5. It starts with the heart: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul…” and flows into outward action: “You shall love the LORD your God… with all your might.”
God has always wanted His people’s actions to flow out of their hearts and their relationship with Him. Out of remembering all He’d been to them before, and trusting all He said He’d be for them now and in the future. And the physical centre of their relationship with Him was where He lived among them, where He specially put His presence: First the tabernacle in the desert, and then the temple in Jerusalem. It was the place where relationship between God and His people was made possible. The touchpoint between God and humanity.
If we left it there, it would make sense to think that church is the physical centre of our relationship with God and our worship too, wouldn’t it? After all, don’t we come to church to meet with God?
Let’s fast forward a few hundred years to John 4.
Jesus and the disciples were travelling north through Samaria from Judea to Galilee. Needing a pit-stop in the midday heat, they went to the town of Sychar. Jesus sat by the local well while his disciples went into town to buy food. He met a woman at the well and asked her for a drink.
This got her attention, because, as it says in verse 9, Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans.
Actually, Jews often would actively avoid them – Samaritans were a mixed-race group of Jews who had intermarried with Gentiles after Israel had been taken into exile centuries before. They had their own version of the Old Testament Law and their own temple on Mount Gerizim. Jews considered them to be permanently unclean, and any Jew who touched them would become unclean too. And, on top of that, she was a woman, and Jewish men did not often associate with women in public.
It was not normal for Jesus to even go near her, let alone speak to her!
This led to a big conversation about eternal life, and as it took a personal turn, the woman started to feel uncomfortable. So she tried to change the subject in verse 19: “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain [that’s Mount Gerizim] but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” [v19-20] Jesus’ response was, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father… 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.” [v21 & 23]
This was earth-shattering, because Jesus was saying that the building that was the centre of their spiritual lives was about to become utterly irrelevant.
Now He hadn’t come to change what worship is. In Matthew 22:37 Jesus affirmed that Deuteronomy 6:5 was the greatest commandment. Worship is still about loving God with all our heart, soul and might. But what was about to happen was a radical relocation of their relationship with God.
Because God was about to move house.
You see, there was a problem with the temple. God loved His people, but the problem with God putting His presence in the middle of a bunch of humans is that humans cannot survive direct contact with God.
Because we’re fundamentally sinful. At our core, we want to be in charge instead of God. And God can’t overlook this or pretend it’s not true because it’s an attack on His authority, it breaks relationship with Him, and it makes us hurt other people. And what sin deserves is death.
So God gave His people a way to deal with their sin so that they could have a relationship with Him. This involved an animal dying in their place. But even if you had just killed an animal to pay for your sin, by the time you’d walked out the temple gates you’d probably already sinned again. So for His own people’s protection against the white-hot purity of His holiness, God kept His presence in a building, behind a thick curtain and several walls. Only the high priest could go behind that curtain to be in God’s presence, and he had to follow strict rules to not die: He could only go in once a year; only after making more sacrifices, having a wash, and wearing special clothes; and even then he’d only stay alive if he created a smokescreen of incense between him and God (see Leviticus 16 for the details!).
But when Jesus came, He changed everything. He is the Messiah, the Christ, God’s promised Saviour, as the woman at the well realised in v25. In Jesus God lived among us, as one of us, so that He could die as one of us. Jesus took the punishment of death that our sin deserves on Himself when He died on the cross, and that did far more than any other sacrifice ever could. He made us completely clean by swapping our sinfulness for His perfection.
Which meant that God could finally live not just with His people, but in them.
God’s dwelling place could move from behind a curtain in a building in Jerusalem to the heart of every single person who trusts in Jesus.
Jesus said that “true worshippers worship the Father in spirit and truth,” (v23). You can only truly worship by knowing God, knowing that Jesus died to make relationship with God possible, and by being made spiritually alive through believing that truth and having God’s Holy Spirit come to live in you.
Jesus is now the centre of our relationship with God! Through Him, we can know and be known by God without sin getting in the way. And God has now made our hearts His special dwelling-place on earth.
And because God now lives in everyone who is a Christian, we don’t go to a place to worship God. If you’re a Christian, where you worship God is right here, right now – wherever that is. If you’re a Christian, you are a temple! Not old and crumbling and maybe haunted, but living and lived-in by the Spirit of God Himself.
Christians are now the touchpoint between God and humanity. And as we worship God with our hearts and hands we will put Him on display for the world to see. That’s why in the New Testament we see the language of the temple being used to describe what being a Christian is like. 1 Peter 2 says we’re a holy priesthood being built into a house for God. We are to be the place where God can be found on earth and the people who bring others to Him. In Romans 12 we’re called to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, devoting everything we are and do to God in every part of life.
And ultimately all this is leading up to the new creation and the holy city at the end of Revelation. Where the invisible reality of God’s closeness to us now will become a reality that we will see and touch when we see God face-to-face and live in the new Jerusalem.
So enjoy the fact that you are always, always with God. Enjoy the fact that He is not just with you, He’s in you. Enjoy the fact that you can abide in Christ, as we’ve seen in our sermons in the last two weeks; and that you can do it literally anywhere!
And consider how you are loving God with your heart and hands. Is it all the time? Everywhere?
What do you really worship?
This is where the rubber hits the road. This is where the delight of worshipping God is also a discipline.
How are we loving God in our inner being? In what we think and feel?
How are we loving God in how we relate to Him? In our actions and obedience to Him?
If you’re a Christian and thinking about these questions makes you realise just how much you don’t worship God, I think it is right to feel sad. It’s right to realise that we do grieve God’s Spirit within us when we dishonour Him by not loving Him as we should. But we also must remember that Jesus’ blood is worth far more than an infinite number of dead animals – He has made us clean for ever. And since worship is about living in relationship with God and believing all that He has promised, it’s actually worship to trust that Jesus has made us clean! It’s worship to respond to that with thankfulness and praise. It’s worship to enjoy God! And it’s worship for that enjoyment to make us want to love God by obeying Him above everything else, including the command to invite more people to know and worship and enjoy Him.
If you’re not a Christian, what is the most important thing in your life?
Is it really worth everything you give to it?
How does it compare to the God you’ve heard about here?
Does it care about what happens to you?
Has it taken the initiative to build a bridge between you?
Will it really satisfy?
Nobody and nothing is like God. Making anything or anyone else the most precious thing in your life will only lead to emptiness, and nobody besides God can truly deal with our emptiness and brokenness. Nobody besides God can make us right with Him. So if you find yourself in church and you aren’t a Christian, you are so welcome. Please talk to us. Please ask us questions. Please come back. Because we’d love you to know God like we do.
So our challenge as Christians is to be living sacrifices, temples with a pulse. Are we putting things in place that help us to be those living sacrifices?
The fact that God lives in His people means that we don’t meet together on a Sunday specifically to meet with God, because we can do that anytime, anywhere. Instead, we meet because we need each other to help us worship God.
Hebrews 10 says that since Jesus has made us right with God,
…let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10: 24-25
We need to encourage each other, because we live in a world that is hostile to God and His people. The lies of the devil, the culture around us, and the sin of our own hearts all conspire to drag our living sacrifices off God’s altar and put them on the altar of something else.
We can’t fight this on our own. Everyone has times when they’re struggling. Everyone has times when God feels distant. When His promises look like a pipe dream. When worshipping something else looks so much better, or so much easier, than worshipping God. So we need to remind each other, and be reminded, of who God is and what we know to be true.
And in Colossians 3:16 it says we do this by “[Letting] the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God.” The whole of what we do in church should be geared towards helping us to know God through His Word. To understand His Word and digest it and apply it so that it becomes the breath in our lungs and the blood in our veins.
Now of course we are meeting with God in church. But the point of church, rather than our own devotional time, is that we can know God better with other people than we can on our own. God has given each of us spiritual gifts that He has deliberately placed in us to build each other up (1 Corinthians 12). And in 1 Peter 2 God says that He is building us up to be a spiritual house together. Each of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit, but we display God more fully together than we ever could by ourselves.
And like that verse in Colossians says, singing together helps us to build each other up in faith. When we sing together, we’re singing to each other as well as to God. We’re training each other in godliness. That’s what teaching and admonishing is.
We are telling each other with our voices that yes, God is great, He is real; and whatever is happening the rest of the week, He is what really matters, and what He says is what’s really true.
So when you go to church on a Sunday, remember that God is not the only person you’re going to meet with. All of us are called to have an active part in our time together, so come to church thinking and praying about how you can encourage your church family. It might be serving on the teams who help to make the service happen, but it might also be something that’s less obvious, like taking the time to listen to how someone’s week has gone after the service and reminding them that God listens and cares, too. It might be sitting next to someone you haven’t sat next to before to show them that they’re welcome here, and they’re not doing life alone. It might mean singing your heart out because you want the brother or sister next to you, or in front of you, or behind you to really get that what we are singing really is true.
Worship is about loving God with all that we are, wherever we are. It’s about knowing Him and living life out of relationship with Him. And as we meet and sing together as a church family, we help each other to grow in godliness and encourage each other in our worship of God together.
And together, we’ll glorify God in a much greater way than we ever could alone.