GOD SEEKS WORSHIPPERS JOHN 4
Comedian Flip Wilson used to have a character in his repertoire named Reverend Leroy, who pastored The Church of What's Happenin' Now. In the early 1970s Reverend Leroy and his church were an outrageous parody. But, truthfully, the evangelical community these days is swarming with Reverend Leroys and churches that might aptly be named The Church of What's Happenin' Now.
It appears that many evangelical churches will do anything to be relevant and contemporary for those who are unbelievers. You would be amazed at what some churches are doing in order to attract a crowd into their church. Pastors have gone to great links to be creative so that they could be relative to their society.
I may have mentioned these illustrations before, but I believe they are worth mentioning again so that you can understand where I am coming from in this sermon. The Los Angeles Times Magazine recently reported on one Lutheran church in Southern California that distributes flyers advertising their church service as "God's Country Goodtime Hour." The flyers boldly promise "line dancing following worship." According to the magazine article, the church advertises "the pastor is dancing, too, decked out in Wrangler boots and Levis." The pastor credits the campaign with revitalizing his church. The article describes Sunday morning at the church: Members listen to sermons whose topics include the pastor's '70 Ford pickup and Christian sex (rated R for "relevance, respect, and relationship," says [the pastor], "and more fun than it sounds"). After the service, they dance to a band called—what else?—the Honkytonk Angels. Another church in America’s “Bible Belt” put an ad in the newspaper that read like this: “See Barnum and Bailey bested as the magic of the big top circus comes to The Fellowship of Excitement! Clowns! Acrobats! Animals! Popcorn! What a great night!”
In reading about these illustrations, I believe the church has lost the real meaning of worship. Worship for many falls into the category of ritual, liturgy, music, drama, etc. For some it is a matter of whether it is traditional, contemporary, or blended. Yet, none of these things really capture the heart of worship.
This morning, our text found in the fourth chapter of the gospel of John, answers the question of what is real worship. The kind of worship accepted by the Father. I hope and pray that the desire of everyone in this congregation is to truly worship. And if you have not truly worshipped, then you will be convicted to confess your lack of worship to a heavenly Father who is willing to forgive you of this sin.
In the verses, we are about to read Jesus uses a conversation with a harlot to teach us how and whom we must worship. So if you will open your Bibles to John 4 beginning in verse 20. In order for us to understand what I want to teach about this morning, then I must give you a little background to set the stage for this topic.
Go back to the beginning of the chapter beginning in verse 4 and reading through verse 6. Jesus was on a journey from Judea to Galilee. Instead of taking the long road from Judea to Galilee, which most Jews did because of the hostility with the Samaritans; Jesus takes the short route through Samaria. Let me remind you who the Samaritans are in case you have forgotten. They were the remnant of the Northern Kingdom who had intermarried with foreigners after their chiefs and nobles had been carried off into captivity in 729 B.C. They had once built a separate worship place of their own at Mount Gerizim. Also, they rejected all of the Old Testament except their version of the first five books of Moses. So there was great animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans for centuries.
It is against this backdrop that Jesus offers us what is genuine worship. As I read these verses, several truths stand out; but one amazes me. The Father seeks worshippers. God desires for His creation to worship Him. We are created to worship. People will worship anything or anyone. There is a vacuum in the heart that draws us to worship. For some people worship is misguided by sin.
For example, some people may worship their material things. Some people will go to great links to obtain new toys for themselves and then take such pride in them that nothing else matters. Some people worship their jobs and therefore addicted to long hours. Some people worship their hobbies and will neglect the things of God such as the Lord’s Day to fulfill their joy for that hobby. People may worship their bank account or power or prestige or even themselves. Everyone worships, it is just a matter of what and who they worship.
Yet, in our text God is seeking genuine worshippers. Worship is commanded of us. In the first of the Ten Commandments, God said “You shall have no other gods before me.” He is not to be the top on the lists of gods we may possess. No, He is to be the only God that we should worship. Also, the last book of the Bible gives us a great picture of what we will do when we get to heaven. All through the book, there are angels who worship Him. The elders, apostles, martyr saints, and those saints from every tribe, nation, and tongue are worshipping Him. So God is seeking worshipers.
So through the conversation with the woman at the well, Jesus had to get her to see her sin and need for a Savior in order to get her to be the type of worshipper that the Lord seeks. Jesus, throughout the dialogue, is drawing her into a conversation about her spiritual life. He begins in verse 7 by asking for a drink. She is amazed that He, a Jew, would even ask her for such a favor because she was a Samaritan.
But Jesus did not answer her question, instead He changes the focus of the conversation to if you knew the gift of God and the one who asks you for a drink, then you would ask me and I would give you living water.
Again she does not understand where He is going with the conversation because her focus is on literal water, a physical need rather than her spiritual need. She did not see Him with a bucket or anything to draw water from the well. So how could He possibly give her something which she perceives he does not have? Again, Jesus raises her level of amazement by stating that those who drink of that literal well will thirst again, but those who drink of the water that He can give will never thirst again. In fact, the water that Jesus had to offer will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life. The water Jesus offers does not come in a bucket, but those who drink of it will never thirst again.
What Jesus has to offer is the Holy Spirit to satisfy our thirst. In other words, it is the presence of the Spirit in the life of the believer which takes away a frustrated soul-thirst. So many people are trying to appease their soul by doing many and various things such as good works, etc. But it is only trusting in Christ and what he has done for us on the cross that can offer real peace.
John Piper, in his sermon on this passage, says these words encourage him. “Sometimes I feel so dead and so sinful that I don’t see how I can be of any use to the church anymore. But God has always come to me at those times and graciously shown me something like this-the hope that a worldly, sensually-minded, unspiritual harlot from Samaria can become—not just saved (which is wonderful enough)—but a fountain of life. In other words, she can be used to give life. I take heart that I can turn from my sin and keep drinking at the well of Jesus’ words; I may still be of use to this congregation.”
Have you ever felt like that, I know that I have and so I take great comfort shared by this pastor and our Lord Jesus Christ in this text? Again, I must remind you that God’s grace is truly amazing. Just as I stated last week the gospel is for sinners, which you and I are one.
In verse 15, she is still not aware of what Jesus was trying to get her to understand, until He went for the heart. He confronted her with her sin in verse 16, by telling her to go call her husband. Someone said, “The quickest way to the heart is through a wound.” You see Jesus is getting her to probe her heart and recognize what so many people do not want to admit and that is she was a sinner. Earlier in this gospel, Jesus said, “Everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:20). Concealed sin keeps us from seeing the light of Christ. Sin deadens our senses to our greatest need – a Savior.
She like most lost people tries to avoid conviction. She tries to change the topic of conversation perceiving Him to be a prophet. As a result, she asks a question about worship. Finally, we get to the point, I want to make this morning and that is God is seeking worshipers. Yet, I wonder how many people really understand what true worship is.
As I stated earlier, in my sermon, many people associate worship with a specific style such as contemporary, traditional, or a blend. Therefore, you have the worship wars that have plagued our churches in recent years. If you don’t have this style of worship, then your church will not grow. Folks, I am here to tell you that there are churches with each of those styles that are growing.
Another thing is that people only see the music as worship. But there is more to worship than just hymns and choruses. In fact, there are several elements included in our worship: prayer, tithes, preaching of the gospel, and response. All of these things are elements of worship.
The woman at the well is like many today, who get trapped by certain pitfalls. If we are not careful, we can fall into the same traps of how we might define worship. Let me give you a few of the pitfalls.
Places instead of the Presence of God
The woman asked Jesus about worshiping at “this mountain or in Jerusalem.” We struggle with the same issue, except we place the emphasis on beautiful sanctuaries, stained glass windows, or plush carpet. Stephen was stoned as the first Christian martyr because he challenged the Jewish practice of limiting the presence of God to a man- made temple. Certainly, we can appreciate the beauty of a facility dedicated for worship, but we must guard against being more concerned about stones instead of souls, and property instead of people.
Personalities instead of the Person of Jesus
The mountain this woman referred was the home of “Jacob’s well.” The place had special meaning because of a hero of the faith. I love Jesus’ response when He says, “If you knew Me, you would ask Me for a drink.” Far too often in our churches we are more attracted to the gifted preacher or talented singer, or we are disappointed if the preaching and singing are not the quality of the “superstar churches.” In His book Lessons from the Heart, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention Dr. Jack Graham shares about the danger of churches embracing the trend of performance instead of genuine praise. Believers want to be entertained not transformed. “Legions of people are coming to church every Sunday going through the motions of worship, mouthing words of praise and adoration to God, and yet going home with their hearts unchanged.” (Lessons from the Heart, p.125.) Many years ago, Thomas K. Beecher once substituted for his famous brother, Henry Ward Beecher, at the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York. Many curiosity seekers had come to hear the renowned Henry Beecher speak. Therefore, when Thomas Beecher appeared in the pulpit instead, some people got up and started for the doors. Sensing that they were disappointed because he was substituting for his brother, Thomas raised his hand for silence and announced, “All those who came here this morning to worship Henry Ward Beecher may withdraw from the church; all who came to worship God may remain.”
Traditions instead of Truth
Jesus makes it clear that genuine worship is based upon truth, yet the sad reality in most churches is that you could preach heresy as long as you don’t mess with the precious traditions of the church. You could deny the trinity just as long as you sing the Doxology to begin the service. Just try changing the order of service in most Baptist churches and watch the saints fume with anger and frustration. We even created the term “worship wars” to describe the tension experienced in churches attempting to add contemporary elements of worship into their services. We pursue and protect the truth not the tradition, method, or package of the truth.
Programs instead of the Power of God
We are tempted to become dependent upon colorful discipleship materials, rehearsed choirs, crafted sermons, and seamless services instead of the power and presence of God. Our evaluation of worship is sadly measured by attendance instead of anointing or the flow of the service instead of the favor of God. There is certainly a place for planned, organized, and prepared worship services, but you cannot plan the power of God. We need to wrestle with God like Jacob. We need to seek God’s presence in a burning bush. We need to touch the hem of Christ’s garment. We need the bright light on a Damascus road. We need the power and presence of almighty God not another program.
So Jesus gets very specific about who and how we are to worship. I mentioned that the first commandment deals with whom we worship, but the next three commandments given to the children of Israel dealt with the how of worship. There are prescribed ways in which God desires to be worshipped. He want except any kind of worship, instead it must be on His terms. Jesus said, in verse 21, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” In other words, the location has nothing to do with it. Authentic worship is not gauged by where you are. Worship is not just an external activity that can be accomplished by going to a certain place. In Matthew 15:8, Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me.” Worship is a matter of the heart. Prayer is done in vain without the heart. Songs sung are in vain without the heart. Confession and sermons and giving are done in vain without the heart. In other words, don’t get hung up on the motions of worship that you actually fail to worship with the heart. William Temple, in his book The Hope of a New World, stated to worship is to quicken the conscience to the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.” In other words, worship engages our heart, mind, soul, and strength through bowing, clapping, singing, giving, declaring, etc. So the whom of worship is important. There is only one deserving of worship. This woman at the well was confused because the worship of the Samaritans was deficient. Jesus reminded her that salvation was of the Jews. Their knowledge of the Old Testament was deficient which made their worship deficient. Jesus did the loving thing like a person who tells a person with lung cancer to stop smoking. In other words, He was guiding her to the truth. But not only is the whom of worship important, but the how is just as important. We cannot worship God any way we want to. He says that God is a spirit and must be worshipped in spirit and truth. Note how emphatic this is—MUST. There is no alternative, no choice in the matter. This must is final. There are three "musts" in this Gospel, equally important and unequivocal. In John 3:7 we read, "Ye must be born again." In John 3:14, "The Son of man must be lifted up." In John 4:24, "God must be worshipped in spirit and in truth." It is indeed striking to observe that the first of these has reference to the work of God the Spirit, for He is the One who affects the new birth. The second "must" have reference to God the Son, for He was the One who had to die in order for atonement to be made. The third "must" respect God the Father, for He is the object of worship, the One who "seeks" worshippers. And this order cannot be changed. It is only they who have been regenerated by God the Spirit, and justified by the Atonement of God the Son, who can worship God the Father. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord" (Prov. 15:8). So God must be worshipped in spirit and truth. First, we must worship Him in spirit. Now worshipping God in spirit is the opposite of external ways such as formalism, ritualism, or traditionalism. To worship in spirit is to take the flesh out of the equation. It is worshipping God from a new nature. Second, God must be worshipped in truth. To worship in truth is to worship God on an adequate view of who He is. In other words, it is worship based on and informed by Scripture. Remember David how he approached God in moving the ark back to Jerusalem after it had been captured by the Philistines. He put it on an ox cart and one man lost his life by reaching out to steady the ark from falling. David was extremely upset, but read how the ark was to be handled and went back later to retrieve it as God had stated how it was to be carried. John Calvin was one of the first to articulate it succinctly: We may not adopt any device [in our worship] which seems fit to ourselves, but look to the injunctions of him who alone is entitled to prescribe. Therefore, if we would have Him approve our worship, this rule, which he everywhere enforces with the utmost strictness, must be carefully observed. . . . God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by his word. Calvin supported that principle with a number of biblical texts, including 1 Samuel 15:22: "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams." And Matthew 15:9: "In vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men." So together the words “spirit and truth” mean that real worship comes from the spirit within and is based on true views of God. Worship must have heart and head. Worship must engage emotion and thought. John Piper wrote, “Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full of unspiritual fighters. Emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates flaky people who reject the discipline of rigorous thought. True worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. The result of this dialogue about water and worship leads this woman to salvation. She now wants the Messiah in verse 25 and Jesus replied in verse 26 that He is the Messiah. I am right here in front of you. So she leaves her waterpot, which never satisfies because she has now found the well of living water. She came to the well for that which was a physical need and left with someone who has now met her spiritual need. This transformed life through worship now shares what she has experienced. So this morning, you have come here with your clay pots of works and deeds or heritage and traditions which can never satisfy the soul, but you can leave this place with the living waters that only God can offer. Or you may be saved, like the disciples, who learn that doing the Father’s will is finding true worshippers. Jesus said he was sent to find true worshippers and therefore sends His disciples to do the same.