|Replica of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem|
When we read of Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, there are many ideas that stand out to us in this encounter: the fact that He was speaking to a Samaritan (hated by the Jews for intermarrying after the exile), the fact that He was speaking to a woman (Jewish men typically did not speak to women who were not their wives), and the fact that He was speaking to an immoral person. The very fact that He spoke to her at all can sometimes negate the power of what He actually spoke to her about. And what did He talk to her about? He spoke to her about worship.
“The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when 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.” John 4:19-24
The place of worship that the Samaritan woman refers to can actually be traced back to the beginning of the divided kingdom. When Solomon’s son Rehoboam refused to lighten the tax burden (and foolishly threatened to increase it) the ten northern tribes refused to accept him as a king. They put their own king Jeroboam on the throne, and their kingdom became known as Israel while the two other tribes who followed Solomon’s son were called Judah. There was a problem, however. Jerusalem (which was located in Judah) was the center of Jewish worship. Jeroboam’s people would therefore want to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate feasts and festivals as part of their faith. To counter this, Jeroboam built the high places in Samaria for them to worship God without going to Jerusalem. As you can imagine, it wasn’t long before this one rule change led to others and idolatry soon became a regular part of Israel’s “worship”.
This Samaritan woman wanted to know who was right: the Samaritans for worshiping on this mountain or the Jews worshiping in Jerusalem. Jesus corrected her by saying that the Jews are right in this situation, but that this isn’t the final goal. The final goal is that worship will no longer be limited by physical walls and borders. You see, God is completely unlimited by physical boundaries; He is Spirit. So He doesn’t care about buildings and cities and holy places. His worship has completely different criteria; worship must be in spirit and in truth.
When God (who is completely spiritual) created the world, He made a beautiful, physical world filled with physical plants and physical animals, and He said it was good. When He made man, He did things a bit differently. He made us with both aspects: spiritual and physical. We are the only creation that combines these two realities. However, these two realities are often not so easy to reconcile. You see, our physical reality is very demanding; our five senses bombard us with information constantly, and we are responding to this stimuli all the time. It is easy to see how we can overlook the spiritual part of our nature. The spiritual side does not bombard; it does not overwhelm. The spiritual side is only for those who ask, seek, knock, and desire. Ironically, the spiritual side is the most real part of us because it is the part that lives forever and the part that isn’t burdened with our sinful nature. The point is that it is easy to focus on the physical because it’s so obvious, and it takes determined effort to focus on the spiritual.
So what does it mean to worship God in spirit then? Throughout the ages, the church has vacillated between two erroneous conclusions: one, that all physical is evil and unimportant (thanks to a little influence from Plato), and, second and opposite, that physical is extremely important and we must make a division between sacred and secular places and jobs. The first mindset is impossible to live in, and the second mindset kills true worship.
You may not have thought about this but the early church didn’t care about buildings. They didn’t save or revere Jesus’s few belongings. They didn’t camp out at the places where Jesus revealed Himself. They knew that to truly worship Him meant not focusing on the physical aspects of His time on earth, but that it meant to worship Him on His terms. For us, it means that we recognize that He cannot be limited by time and space. Church buildings are not holy. We are. He hasn’t chosen a location to reveal Himself. He’s chosen us.
And that brings us to the second part of worship: worshiping in truth. Sincerity. Honesty. Candor. Authenticity. Validity. How real are we with God? Do we feel we must say the things we think He wants to hear? Do we have to get ourselves in a proper spiritual mindset to approach Him? Do we realize how ridiculous that is? God is not shocked or surprised by what is really going on in our minds. He does, however, still invite us to come to Him. We come as we are, and we allow Him to be who He is. We allow Him to be inscrutable, enormous, deep, loving, scary, and quiet. We allow Him to give us rules, guidelines, help, advice, and discipline. We trust Him with our hearts, dreams, hopes, and failures. We are real with Him, and He is real with us.
This is the heart of worship, folks. We don’t just worship Him in a location, on a certain day, at a certain time. We worship Him ALL the time because, yeah, He’s Spirit and He doesn’t esteem one day or place above another.
Then we come as REAL people talking to a REAL person. And you know what’s really cool? Jesus is seeking those type of worshipers. He’s looking for those who want the real deal. Then we must ask: are we true worshipers?