The woman says to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus says to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour comes when you shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know. We know what we worship, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour comes, and is now, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship him. God is a Spirit. And those who worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.” John 4:19-24
After Jesus revealed His knowledge of this woman’s life – that she had had five husbands and was now living together with one who was not her husband – she perceived that He was a prophet and changed the subject away from herself and her own sin and need of a Savior to a more generic question which had been disputed between the Samaritans and the Jews for several centuries: Where should men worship?
As she said, the Samaritans said Mt. Gerizim in Samaria was the place to worship, even altering that portion of the Old Testament Scriptures they accepted to reflect their beliefs. The Jews, on the other hand, said, as did the Old Testament Scriptures, that people should worship at the temple in Jerusalem – that’s where they were to bring their gifts and offer up their sacrifices.
Jesus’ answer, however, is rather astonishing to both Jew and Samaritan, and to us today: “Woman, believe me, the hour comes when you shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know. We know what we worship, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour comes, and is now, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship him. God is a Spirit. And those who worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
Though where one worshipped was an issue under the Old Covenant (cf. 1 Kings 12), the real issue under the New Covenant would not be the place of worship but the heart of the worshiper. Simply observing the prescribed feasts and festivals of the Old Covenant in accordance with God’s commands is not what God seeks. He desires worship to be genuine and sincere worship from the heart that is motivated by God’s Spirit and the knowledge and belief of the truth. The Jews had that truth and testimony in the Scriptures, but the Samaritans had altered and rejected it.
But Jesus said true worship would no longer be connected to the temple at Jerusalem which had served to point to the coming of the Messiah and His perfect sacrifice for sin for now the Messiah had come and the temple would soon be destroyed. Nor is true worship today dependent upon following certain forms or traditions. True worship is dependent upon knowing and trusting in Christ Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God made man, and the Savior of the world.
The truth is that only those who know and trust in Christ Jesus can worship the Father. It is as Jesus said in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me” (cf. 1 John 2:23).
Apart from Jesus, we cannot know or worship the Father (cf. John 15:5). Thus, true worshipers gain access to the Father, not by going to a certain place like Mt. Gerizim or Jerusalem, not by following certain worship forms or saying certain words, but through faith in Christ Jesus, the Savior.
In Hebrews 9:11-28, we read: “But Christ, having come as a high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building, neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean sanctify to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
And it is because of Christ and His atoning sacrifice on the cross that we can have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he has dedicated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh, and having a high priest over the house of God,” we can “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:19-22). It is because God “has made us accepted in the Beloved, in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:6,7), that we can approach God with our prayers and praises and be acceptable in His sight.
Jesus, God’s own dear Son in the flesh, shed His blood on the cross and paid in full for our sins to make us acceptable in God’s eyes. Through faith in Him, we gain access to the Father and, for His sake, our worship is acceptable to God. And, it is also because of what He has done for us that we are moved to sincerely and truly worship and glorify the Father for His grace and mercy toward us in Christ Jesus.
So, it’s not where we worship, the music we sing, or even the words we speak. God desires that we worship Him in spirit and in truth. And that only happens when we repent of our sinful ways and look in faith to Jesus and His cross for pardon, forgiveness and acceptance in God’s sight. True and genuine worship only flows from the hearts of those who know and trust in Christ Jesus, their Savior!
Dear Lord Jesus, our Messiah and Savior, grant us Your Holy Spirit and faith in You and Your shed blood that we might partake of Your salvation, be assured of forgiveness for all our sins, and live in fellowship with You and the Father. Let our worship and praise of the Father be acceptable for the sake of Your innocent sufferings and death in our stead. Amen.
[Scripture is quoted from the Revised Common Version of the Bible.]