The original worship must have been amazing. Eve and Adam, surrounded by the Garden of Eden, something between a botanical garden and an orchard. Discussions at dusk of keeping trees, naming animals, new things they tried, and gratitude for the bounty and beauty they discovered every day.
We know how it ended. They fell into sin eating from the Conscience Tree. Starting with Cain and Abel, they worshiped God with offerings. They killed animals on altars made of earth or unshaped stone.
After the Israelites leave Egypt they are given the formal plan for a tent structure called the Tabernacle. It is designed to be moved when the people move. When they settled in Canaan, the Tabernacle was placed in Shiloh and there it stayed until David.
David’s son Solomon built The Temple, an extravagant place of worship. Over the centuries, there were times when it was highly used and other times when it fell into disrepair, but it was renovated and used until it was destroyed by the Babylonians.
When the exile was over, Haggai, Zechariah and Ezra spearheaded the building of a new Temple. This was a functional structure built by refugees without the political clout of Solomon, so the structure had no where near the awe inspiring presence of the former structure. In fact the Bible describes a confusing scene at the laying of the foundation:
With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: “He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.”
And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.
Ezra 3:11-13 (NIV)
This new temple served the people until Herod built a magnificent new Temple complex during the time between the Old and the New Testaments. This was the Temple during the time of Jesus that made the Apostles gawk like tourists when they saw it. Jesus and His apostles worshiped there.
Jesus, like many devout Jews went up to the Temple in Jerusalem during the Passover. Part of the ceremonies of the Passover demanded Temple sacrifice. In our passage, Jesus is just coming from the Temple during Passover season. During His visit there, he witnessed the people extorting those bringing sacrifices and for the first time, Jesus attacked and drove out the extortioners. It is following this episode that he comes to Samaria.
Worship in Spirit
Jesus introduces a shift in worship. Old forms included:
• Direct conversation
• Open air altars
• The Tabernacle
• The three Temples
And now Jesus says He represents a transitional period into a new type of worship. The first important facet of this new type of worship is Spirit. Jesus explains this part well. He says that worship in the Spirit is in keeping with the nature of God.
God is Spirit
Until now, the primary vehicles of worship have demanded specific physical dynamics.
• Written procedures
Jesus is saying that the new worship, that is ushered in with His coming, does away with the physical as the primary focus. From this time forward, the primary focus of worship will be spiritual instead of physical.
One big problem with worship was that people began focusing so much on the ritual that they forgot the purpose of worship. They thought the sacrifice was more important than the state of their hearts.
Jesus is introducing a refocus on worship that does away with the distraction. He is saying that from now on the physical facets of worship will not be as important as they have been in the past.
Another important idea behind Spirit worship is the nature of God. Jesus is drawing new attention to the three persons of the Trinity:
• Those who worship the Father
• Must worship in Spirit
• And in Truth
In a very real way, Jesus is taking us back to the time of Adam. Because we are created in God’s image, we have a spirit. Though we may not get together with God and watch the sunset in a holistic and physical sense, we can join with Him in Spirit.
• We are spiritual beings
• God is a spiritual being
Our spirits may commune with God’s Spirit directly. From the time of Jesus and forward, knowing God’s Spirit personally has become a necessary dynamic of worship. We do not approach God as a person who lives in the Temple, or who lives in Heaven looking down at us. We approach Him as a person who is immediate and near, in the world, with us all the time. So giving Him the honor He deserves is not limited to specific places and events.
• Paul says our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit
• Peter says people who believe are living stones being built up into a Temple
• The Law would be written on hearts rather than on stone tablets stored in the Ark of the Covenant
• Singing spiritual songs is an activity of the heart more than an activity of the Temple Courts
• The Spirit inhabits hearts, a promise of things to come
• Hearts rather than an altar would be sprinkled with sacrificial blood, the blood of Christ
The future of worship as Jesus was describing it would be a spiritual more than a ritual activity. Our spirits, both individually and corporately, would commune directly with the spirit of God serving all the purposes the Temple served in the past.
• A dwelling place of God
• A place of song, reverence and thanksgiving
• A place of communication and sacrifice
This would be a more direct and intimate form of worship because God is Spirit and so are we. It is more personal and not only corporate. We may worship privately in our spirits at any time.
Worship in Truth
This is the harder part of what Jesus was saying. His statement suggests that worship both at the Jewish Temple and the Samaritan Temple had something false about it, it had missed something true. This is a problem because God Himself dictated to Moses how worship would be carried out. So, what could be false about it?
We should remember what Jesus has come from. He saw at one of the most important sacrificial feasts of the year not reverence and unity among God’s people raising thanksgiving to the skies because of His great deliverance. He saw the time of sacrifice being used for making a profit through money exchange and through the selling of sacrificial animals. These were necessary parts of Temple ritual, but they were being abused and Jesus called it robbery. The Messiah had come to them when He was 12, and though they were impressed, they did not recognize Him. He cleared their courts, but they did not recognize His authority to do so. The Temple was not sufficient to the needs of true worship.
At the same time, the Samaritans had eliminated all the Scripture from their faith except the 5 books of Moses. In doing this, they neglected the House of David from whom Messiah had come. They ignored what had been prophesied about the Messiah, so clearly the Samaritan Temple, which no longer stood, was insufficient to lead to complete worship.
John tells us that Jesus said:
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:6 (NIV)
He is the Truth.
If the Temple at Jerusalem could not affirm God’s unfolding plan when the Messiah walked among them, they were not interested in the Truth, then that mode of worship too must come to an end. People may no longer worship there in truth. Any worship that does not recognize Christ is not true worship.
• Worship must take place in the Spirit
• Worship must take place in Christ
• Because both are part and parcel of the Father
This was the new shape of worship: A transformation that took shape within God’s people. As such, it would find ultimate expression within God’s people - a people defined by the Spirit who lived in them and the Truth who died for them.
Spirit and Truth
Continue the walk through historical worship
As Paul and his teams spread the gospel all over the world, he began his efforts in Synagogues, to the Jews first and many believed. At the same time, some non-Jews met at the Synagogues and they believed too. Unfortunately, most of the Jews rejected Jesus and opposed Paul’s message, so Christians would begin meeting in homes.
In 70 AD the Romans destroyed the Temple. Jews and Christians were scattered all over the world. Temple worship was over. Jesus’ transition was complete. The new worship was all that was left.
People began to worship in all kinds of places
• By rivers
• In businesses
• Even in the ruins of old pagan temples like the Parthenon and the ancient Egyptian Temple at Karnak
• Places of worship sprung up everywhere, especially in homes as persecution increased
Then Constantine legalized worship in the Roman Empire and people began building more houses specifically designated for worship
• Basilicas, built like Roman political buildings
All began taking shape and housing the corporate worship of God’s people.
But the wonder of it was how widely spread houses of worship could be and how varied their shapes were. The most profound architecture in the West is found in buildings built to the Glory of God, because the shape and the place no longer mattered, the form became creative.
In addition, music began to be written
It started out as chants based on the psalms and passages of the New Testament. Eventually it took more profound shape embodying entire passages of the prophets and the gospels. The development of music in the western world owes its life to the rise of varied forms of worship
• from Greggory
• to Bach
• to Handel
• to Brahms
• to Luther
• to Isaac Watts
• to Fanny Crosby
• to the Gaithers
• to Larry Norman
• to the David Crowder Band
Music has developed in style and shape through the centuries to become the voice of humanity lifted up in praise to God. Because people are free to be creative, we can even buy recordings of this music and worship while we drive. It is not limited to corporate worship.
The visual arts owe their lives to the worship of God
Walk through any museum and view the development of art in the West. As Christianity spread, the arts were developed around depictions of Christ and his family, around the Apostles and the prophets and the people of God in the early centuries who some now call saints, the leaders of spiritual movements and communities throughout Europe, the Middle East, Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is only at the rise of the Renaissance that art began retaking the humanistic form that it had during the height of Roman and Greek culture. Even then, some of the most profound themes in art, such as those developed by Michelangelo, were still spiritual and designed for worship purposes. It is only in the last 300 years that the church has become something less than the primary patron of the arts to raise the eyes of people in worship. Because of the wonders of modern technology, you may own copies of this art to lift your heart to God within your own home.
Worship today follows ancient traditions and modern creativity
• Incense was used in Tabernacle worship. It is still used in churches today
• Music was used during the time of David, it is still used in churches and homes today, some are even the same songs set to new tunes
• Ezra stood in the assembly and taught, teaching still happens in pulpits, on the radio, on TV and in print today
• Symbolic lamps were used in the Temple, they are still used in churches today
• Jesus transformed the Passover into a memorial covenant meal, we still eat it today
• Artistic representation was used in the oldest churches and Christian homes, they are still used today, with new media and techniques
• Prayer has been lifted among God’s people at all times, today we still pray together and alone, aloud and in our hearts
What form does your worship take?
God wants worshipers who worship in Spirit and in Truth. The catch of this new freer form of worship is it demands more personal responsibility. Only you can know the source of your worship. If you are to bring public worship to God, it is meaningless if it does not begin in your spirit.
Many Christians practice a quiet time. If you do not, you should make it a personal discipline, if not daily, at least periodically. That quiet time is the cultivation of a spirit of worship. It can include many things:
• Reading of Scripture and devotional material
• Singing, either freeform or along with a recording
• Contemplation of art of God’s greatness in His creation
• Praise and Thanksgiving for God’s greatness and goodness
And remember, this is not worship of a generic God, it is worship of God in Jesus Christ, Spirit and Truth. That may seem obvious, but it is one of the marks of a person who is faking it, that they forget that Christ is part of the equation.
It is only in a heart where personal worship takes place that corporate worship is possible. Worship God in your spirit this week. In the space of this week, I challenge you to make your personal worship time add up to an hour. If you practice it daily, that is only 10 minutes a day ... a brief time.
If you normally have a time of personal worship, wonderful. I challenge you to broaden your personal worship creatively this week. Find an avenue of music, or art, or contemplation that you have not used in the past.
If you have not had a personal worship time, you are in a position to be most creative. Incorporate each of these avenues of worship in your hour this week. Take a walk and praise God who made the clouds. Visit a sick friend and pray for them after you have left their home. Read a couple of chapters in the Bible and write down your thoughts on what you read.
Be still and know that He is God
After a week like this, come back next week for worship together with a heart full of personal experience with God. Enter into the prayer and the praise and the singing with the Truth in your Spirit and on your lips, together with your brothers and sisters in Christ experience the freedom that only He can give.