Summary: Is there a right or wrong way to approach God’s throne? This sermon looks at what Jesus says is the appropriate posture for worship.
The Approach to Worship
Text: John 4:20-26
Introduction: A couple had two boys, 8 and 10, who were always getting into trouble. The parents were certain if any mischief occurred in the community their two young sons were involved. They were at a loss as to what to do about their behavior. Then the mother heard about a clergyman who had been successful disciplining children, so she brought the boys to him. The minister asked to see them individually, so the youngest was brought in first. The pastor sat the boy down, and figuring that he needed to understand that nothing escaped the knowledge of God, asked, "Where is God?" The boy made no attempt to answer. The question was repeated in a sterner voice, "Where is God?" but still with no answer. Then the minister shook his finger at the boy and asked in an even harsher voice, "Where is God?" At that the boy ran from the room and into a closet in the lobby slamming the door behind him. His older brother followed him in and asked, "What’s wrong?" "I’m not sure," the younger sibling replied, "But it looks like God is missing, and they think we did it!"
Have you ever asked the same question, "Where is God?" particularly as you have been attempting to seek His face and worship Him? I don’t ask this question to criticize what we’re doing here. I believe our worship teams, choirs and leaders do a very good job of providing an environment that is conducive to worship. Also, I believe that Christians ought to be able to worship God in virtually any setting. But, if you’re like me, there just seem to be some times when it is more difficult to experience the presence of God than others. Why is this? The passage we’re looking at this morning (John 4:19-24) speaks to this question. Jesus was engaged in a conversation with a Samaritan woman who had at least two things going against her: First, she lived an immoral life having had five husbands and a live-in boyfriend thus making a mockery of the institution of marriage. Second, as a Samaritan she had some false assumptions about worship which Jesus was seeking to correct. I invite you to join me in looking at what our Lord had to say about this vitally important subject.
The "where" of worship (See John 4:21-22, 24a). The right place of worship was a common dispute between the Samaritans and the Jews. The Samaritans built a temple on Mount Gerizim and regarded it as the rightful place for the people of God to come into His presence. Remember that Mount Gerizim was the scene of the blessing of the people when they came into the Promised Land (See Deuteronomy 11:29). They had a tradition that Abraham’s offering of Isaac took place on this mountain, and they held that it was the location for Abraham’s meeting with Melchizedek. In fact every time they saw in the Scriptures an expression such as "the house of God," or "the goodly mount" they perceived it to be a reference to their holy mountain. The Jews regarded Jerusalem, and specifically the temple built there, as the only place for real worship. It was considered to be the very dwelling place of God on earth for the Jews. Even the prophets believed this (See Ezekiel 43:4-7). As you can imagine, there was no small amount controversy associated with this conflict. When Jesus came, he began to challenge the thinking of both groups. Worship, He said, is not restricted to a location. Why? For the simple reason that God is spirit. To think of Him as a material being that is bound in any way to a specific place is ridiculous. What sort of God would He be if He was restricted to a certain location? Of course we would never think like this, or would we? When we call this building "the church" are we perhaps making the same error, especially when we know that the church is an entirely different entity (See Colossians 1:24)? Or how about if we refer to it as "the house of God (See Hebrews 3:6)? Just like the Jews and Samaritans we must guard against thinking that worship is something that only happens for us here on Sunday mornings because this is the place where God dwells. Worship can take place anywhere. Allow me to take a moment to point out to you some other locations in which worship occurred in the Bible: At a well outside the city of Nahor (See Genesis 24:26); In a foreign land (See Exodus 4:31); On the top of a mountain (See 2 Samuel 15:32); In front of the Water Gate in the city of Jerusalem (See Nehemiah 8:6); In the wilderness of Uz (See Job 1:20); Before the throne of God in heaven (See Revelation 7:11). Do you get the point? The worship of God is not confined to "the house of God." We are free to worship Him anywhere. ILLUSTRATION: When the Roman General Pompey defeated the Jews and conquered Jerusalem, he noticed how hard they fought to defend their temple. This made him all the more anxious to see what was in their most sacred room, the Holy of Holies. When he was finally able to look in, He was both surprised and disappointed to learn that it was empty. He wondered why they fought so hard to defend an empty room! Application: I suspect it was because the Jews had an incorrect understanding of the place where God dwells. Tony Evans says, “If you limit worship to where you are (i.e. your church), the minute you leave that place of worship you will leave your attitude of worship behind like a crumpled-up church bulletin.” Perhaps that was the error of the Jews and Samaritans alike. They thought God was only meant to be worshiped in their temples. We would do well to remember that God is spirit and therefore ever-present. The best place to worship Him is right where we are, no matter where that might be.