In these verses, Jesus makes a sharp distinction between what the woman called worship, and the worship the Father was seeking. What the Father was seeking is uniquely Christian in character – one that requires the Holy Spirit to be resident in the worshiper. The Samaritan woman spoke of worship in terms of mechanical procedures we might call empty rituals. Let’s distinguish between empty rituals and those that are authentically Christian. For example, the Lord’s Supper and baptism are rituals in the sense that they follow a fixed pattern of behavior. However, as Christian rituals they are symbols of historical or future realities. But as to the difference between the worship of which the woman spoke and that of which our Lord spoke, what the Samaritans practiced was patterned after the Jewish rituals. These rituals of the Levitical system were given by God through Moses, pointing to things that would be brought to fruition in the work of our Lord Jesus, who was yet to come. The Samaritans mixed rituals borrowed from the Jewish system with pagan superstition, and the Lord sought to help her to see the difference. So He says to her, “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.” The rituals practiced in Judaism were filled with references to the coming Christ.
In Hebrews 8-10 the writer tells us how these rituals relate to Christ and Christianity.
These three chapters explain that, in Christ, God was doing away with what He had given through Moses, to introduce something altogether new: “When He came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, “Behold I have come – In the volume of the book it is written of Me – to do Your will, O God.”’ … He takes away the first that He may establish the second” (Heb. 10:5-9).
With the advent of Christ and His atoning work, God introduced a new order which calls for a new kind of worshiper. Knowing what was to take place, Jesus said to the woman, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:24). Jesus told her that what was previously given by God would no longer be suited to true worshipers.
Hebrews 10:1-2 tells us that what Moses gave Israel was but a “shadow of the good things to come.” For this reason it was unable to make the worshipers that practiced its rituals perfect. But in Christ we have new worshipers who have been made “perfect” (complete), and who are capable of worshiping after the manner the Father was seeking. These have been equipped by the Spirit, who dwells in them, to worship in spirit and truth.
Let’s ponder the difference. Jewish worshipers were limited because their worship was connected with the physical temple in Jerusalem. They could not worship without the accouterments of the temple, and since it was in Jerusalem, they had to go there. This is why the exiles in Babylon said, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:4). The Jewish rituals of worship could only be carried out in Jerusalem.
Jesus was saying that true worshipers would no longer be tied to a physical temple in a physical location. True worshipers would henceforth worship God in spirit, for God is Spirit. True worshipers no longer have to seek a physical venue to carry out their worship, for they have been connected with God, who is Spirit, by the Holy Spirit who dwells in them. Thus proximity to a physical place is altogether unnecessary by this new order.
Isn’t it wonderful that Christians need not wait for a designated time to appear at an agreed-upon place to worship. Indeed, those who are in Christ have been brought into the true sanctuary, not a building made with hands. They have been brought by the Spirit into heaven itself (Heb 8:1-2). They are equipped and free to worship God at any time in any place. And that’s what we ought to be doing, for this is why we were created anew.
Note that Jesus said the Father seeks worshipers, not servants. How preoccupied we get with service! Is this because, in the secret recesses of our being, we seek glory for ourselves – glory derived from man’s assessment of our service? How God’s people are cheated of their true portion by becoming embroiled in rivalry focused on service!
Christians engaged in worship cannot at the same time engage in strife and division. It is in our acts of service that we disagree with each other. This is the result when we focus on “our” work for the Lord. I am not saying we should not care about serving as part of our Christian duty. I am saying that service can only be acceptable when it flows out of worship.
But there is still another dimension to worship that is rarely thought of. Worship does not consist primarily in our utterances of praise, the fruit of our lips, for God does not need our expression of adoration. He receives it from the depths of our being, for true worship is really the interaction of our spirit with His Spirit. Nor is worship limited to even this, for when we are truly in the Spirit, our attitude of worship overflows into actions that produce acceptable service. This process is not restricted by time, place or duration. We have perpetual access to this state.
In fact, instead of being an act, true worship is a continual attitude of reverence that results in changing the way we live, the way we do business, the quality of our relationships, how we help the poor and how we relate to our neighbors. It impels us to dedicated service in connection with the local church. This is what the Spirit of God teaches in Romans 12:1 (NIV): “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.”
By Humphrey Duncanson
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org