Summary: "Real Worship" is an exposition of John 4:21-24 that makes two main points: (1) Real worship is not about us (4:21-22). And (2) real worship is about God (4:23-24)
Spiritual necessity compelled Jesus to travel to Galilee through Samaria. Weary from the journey, Jesus rested at Jacob’s Well in Sychar as his disciples went for food. As he sat there, a woman of Samaria came to draw water. And a life-changing conversation ensued. This conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well has two points of emphasis. There is a conversation about water in verses 7-18. And there is a conversation about worship in verses 19-26.
The conversation began when Jesus asked the woman for a drink of water. The woman could not believe this Jew would ask a Samaritan to draw water for him. In verse 10, Jesus says, “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 did not understand what Jesus was talking about. The well was deep. And Jesus did not have a bucket. How could he give her living water? Is this water from another well? And how could this well be greater than Jacob’s well, which was a national landmark to the Samaritans? In verses 13-14, Jesus answers, “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 give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman still did not understand what Jesus was talking about. But she wanted this water so she would not thirst again or have to come to this well anymore. In verse 16, Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband, and come here.” The woman claimed she did not have a husband. Jesus agreed. “You have had five husbands,” said Jesus, “and the one you now have is not your husband.” This is where our text picks up the story, as the conversation shifts from water to worship. And it is in this context that Jesus makes the most definitive statement about worship in the Bible. This is the final word about real worship. And it is just as relevant today as it was the day Jesus spoke these words to the woman at the well.
John 3 records the conversation Jesus has with a religious scholar named Nicodemus. But Jesus does not make this statement about worship to Nicodemus. He instead gives this instruction about worship to a nameless, immoral, half-breed. This shameful woman came to the well at a time when she thought no one else would be there. But she met a thirsty Messiah there who taught her what real worship is all about. In Desiring God, JOHN PIPER writes: “The first thing we learn is that worship has to do with real life. It is not a mythical interlude in a week of reality. Worship has to do with adultery and hunger and racial conflict.” In other words, worship is the key that opens the door to real life. But how does one grab hold of this key that opens the door to life? In this conversation with the woman at the well, Jesus explains the essence of worship: Real worship is about a relationship with God and not about us. In verses 21-24, Jesus explains what real worship is and is not about.
I. REAL WORSHIP IS NOT ABOUT YOU.
In verse 19, the woman at the well said to Jesus, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.” On one hand, this was not a remarkable discovery. It was a basic deduction. Predictive prophecy typically gets the most attention. But biblical prophecy is about insight more than it is about foresight. So this woman could not help but recognize Jesus as a prophet who demonstrated perfect insight into her sinful life that she desperately sought to keep secret. On the other hand, when this woman called Jesus a prophet, she was calling him more than just a prophet. The Samaritans only received the first five books of the Old Testament – the Pentateuch – as coming from God. Because they did not accept the psalms and the prophets as scripture, they had a limited understanding of the coming Messiah. They believed the Messiah would be primarily a prophet, like Moses. And they did not view Isaiah or Daniel or Malachi as inspired prophets, because they did not want to attribute to them any messianic credentials. In their minds, the Messiah would be the prophet.
So when this woman said to Jesus, “I perceive that you are a prophet,” she was making an initial but substantial profession of faith. But her seed of faith needed to be watered to grow. So she presented Jesus with a dilemma that only a true prophet could sort out. Verse 20 says, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Many commentators read this statement as a tactical diversion. It seems the woman tried to lure Jesus into a religious debate to shift the conversation away from her multiple divorces and adulterous affair. I disagree. I believe this woman was genuinely convicted by the words of Jesus. She recognized her sinfulness. She wanted to get right with God. And she understood this process required the offering of a sacrifice. But herein was the dilemma. What was the proper place to offer acceptable worship – on the mountain or in Jerusalem? In verses 21-22, Jesus answered, “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.” These words of Jesus make it clear that real worship is not about you.