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Sermon: John 4:19-26: The Woman of Samaria (Part 3)

I’ve enjoyed our look at the story of Jesus and the woman of Samaria very much. It truly is rich. And I think it is rich because it set’s forth rich doctrine – that is, it presents deep and significant truths concerning Jesus, his person and work. But it does so by way of historical narrative. In other words, these rich doctrines are presented by way of real life story. We see Jesus – a real person – interacting with a woman of Samaria – a real person with real issues. We can identify with her. We know what is to feel guilt concerning our past. We know what it is to have questions concerning God. Jesus is real; she is real; and so we can relate to this story. It illustrates the way in which the truths concerning Jesus impacts real life. We see here that all of this talk about Jesus being the Savior of the world, the one through whom purification is possible, the one who reveals the Father to us, shining as the light of the world, is more than merely hypothetical, cerebral, intellectual. Jesus, who is all that John says he is, engages the person. He opens the mind, transforms the heart, and calls people in real life to follow him. It was true then, and it is true today,

The turning point for this woman, as we noted last week, was when she came to perceive Jesus as one who spoke with divine authority. She was hostile to Jesus at first, but her perception of him changed.

Let’s pick up the reading in verse 19 and read once more through verse 26. It’s going to take at least one more sermon to get through to the end in verse 42. Verse 19:

Reading of God’s Word

“The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.’ Jesus said to her, ‘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. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am he.’” (John 4:19–26, ESV)

Introduction

The woman’s confession, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet”, is the turning point of this story, but clearly it is not the climax. The woman has made a good confession at this point, but not a full one. Her understanding of Jesus is not yet complete. She was right to see him as a prophet – as one who spoke with divine authority. She and Nicodemus both came to the correct conclusion as they interacted with Jesus. Nicodemus put it this way, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2, ESV) The woman stated it differently, but meant essentially the same thing, “Sir, [because you have revealed these things about me] I perceive that you are a prophet”.

But it is essential to notice that neither Nicodemus nor the woman arrived when they they initially confessed that Jesus was someone who spoke with divine authority. We don’t know how long it actually took Nicodemus to come to terms with who Jesus claimed to be. He walks away from Jesus in chapter 3 with questions; he appears to have a some degree of commitment to Jesus as he is mentioned again in chapter 7; but he is not presented as a full fledged follower of Christ until John chapter 19. 

The journey to faith is a bit more accelerated for the Samaritan woman. She clearly comes to a full confession of faith within this story – but she is not yet there as of verse 19.

So what is hindering her at this point? What barrier is standing between she and Jesus?

Well, it is clear that she has questions. The same was true of Nicodemus, I think. He went away from Jesus needing to think upon what Jesus has said. This woman, likewise, had questions. That Jesus was a prophet was clear to her – how could he know about her past and the secrets of her heart unless he were something other than an ordinary man? – but there were unresolved questions – issues of the heart that needed to be resolved before she could see Jesus for who he was and follow him truly.

Look at what she says in verse 20. She admits that Jesus is a prophet and then immediately brings up something that is on her heart and mind. She says, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” (John 4:20, ESV)

Some see in this statement an attempt on behalf of the woman to dodge Jesus’ penetrating assessment of her by bringing up some controversial theological issue. In other words, some see this statement, not as a legitimate question, but as an evasive tactic – she is taken to be saying, I’d rather not talk about my past, much less my present sin – let’s talk about theology instead. 

And it’s true, people do use this tactic – they hide behind the veil of theological banter. I’ve seen that! But that is not what this woman is doing. This is a legitimate question – one that needs to be addressed if she is to make a full and adequate confession of faith.

Consider two things: One, Jesus takes the time to answer her question. If this is an evasive move on the part of the women, why does Jesus take the bait? Two, her question is not meaningless. Actually, it pertains to something very serious and close to her heart. If it goes unresolved it appears that she will not be able to see Christ for who he is and respond appropriately.

Notice that her question is about the proper worship of God. “Our fathers [the Samaritans] worshiped on this mountain, but you [the Jewish people] say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

If Jesus is a prophet – as she now sees him to be – it is only reasonable that the first question she would ask him would be, how am I to approach God? Who is correct? Are my ancestors correct to worship on this mountain (perhaps Jesus and the women were standing in a place where they could see the mountain and the Samaritan place of worship) or are the Jews correct in believing that the temple in Jerusalem is the proper location? Which is true? How do I approach God righty?

This is no insignificant question – no evasive tactic – but something of great significance.

Application: We live in a day where Christians care little about the proper worship of God. Anything goes in the worship of God, so long as it is not explicitly forbidden by the scriptures – that is the spirit of our age. We are of the persuasion here at Emmaus that the scriptures do indeed say something about the proper worship of God. If we are to approach him, we are to approach him as he has commanded. It was true in the Old Covenant, and it is true in the New. We are to approach God as he has prescribed in his Holy Word. The scriptures are not silent on this matter. 

So the woman’s question was in fact an excellent one. Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet, and the first thing I want to have settled is, how do I worship God? How am I to approach him?

There is actually a deeper question which lays behind the question stated. The deeper question is this, who is looking to the correct authority – the Samaritans with their truncated scriptures  – Genesis through Deuteronomy – or the Jews with the their scriptures, which are the same as our Old Testament – Genesis through Malachi.

So there are two very important theological issues here: what is the proper way to worship, and what is the proper authority for truth. Both lay at the heart of the division between Jew and Samaritan. These issues divided Jesus and the women initially, now they need to be hashed out. At least she is asking the right questions, and talking to the right person – she is on the right track!

Listen to Jesus’ response. Verse 21: “Jesus said to her, ‘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. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.’” (John 4:21–23, ESV)

These are deep waters. I feel as if we could settle here for hours and talk about the Old Testament background which lead up up to this statement, the work that  Christ accomplished making this statement possible, and the implications of this statement for Christian living after the life death and resection of Jesus. So much can be said.

I’ll mention only a few things about verses 21-23 and leave the rest for another time.

First of all, notice that Jesus’ response to the woman does not dwell on the past, but mainly looks forward. The woman’s question had to do with the past, didn’t it? Jesus, who was correct, my ancestors or yours; the Samaritans or the Jews. In a way, Jesus says, it doesn’t really matter because we are entering into a time – an era – an epoch where things will not operate in the same way. There was a time, from the days of Moses to the days of Jesus, where mountains and temples and geographical boundaries mattered greatly but, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” Jesus is primarily forward looking. He is communicating that a new age is breaking through right before her eyes.

Secondly, while it is true that Jesus was announcing the breaking in of a new age, he in no way spoke down upon the old way. In other words, Jesus did not demean the Old Covenant form of worship. The is no suggestion whatsoever that the worship of God under the Old Covent was somehow wrong or inappropriate. And this is Jesus’ consistent view of the Old Testament. In Matthew’s gospel we hear Jesus saying these words about the Old Testament: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17–18, ESV) For Jesus and his apostles the Old Testament was a good thing so long as it was understood that it was given for a very particular purpose and for a particular time in order to pave the way for a particular person, namely Jesus the Christ. Christ did not come to trash the Old Testament, but to fulfill it. He did not come as a religious revolutionary, desiring to establish something totally novel and new, but to build upon the Old by way of fulfilling it. That Jesus established something new is unquestionable. But he did it in a certain way. He did not come to abolish or trash the Old Testament. He filled it up and thus took it away, it’s purposes being exhausted in Christ Jesus. What I am saying is that it was right and good and holy for the people of God to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem under the Old Covenant as they did. Why? Because it was God who instructed them to do so! It was the means by which the people were to approach God. But it was temporary. It was preparatory. It was meant to prepare the way for the Christ.

Thirdly, notice that although Jesus looks mainly forward and announces the arrival of a new era, he does in fact answer the woman’s question about the past. In effect he says, the Jews were right, and the Samaritans wrong. Verse 22: “You [the Samaritans] worship what you do not know; we [the Jews] worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” In other words the Jewish people had it right in terms of having the proper scriptures as their authority and worshiping in the correct way. They – the Jews – were the conduit through whom the Savior of the world would come. They were God’s holy and distinct people from the days of Abraham through to the coming of the Christ. “Salvation is from the Jews.” 

Fourthly – and I think this is most significant – Jesus presents himself as being the crux of the issue. The obvious question that needs to be asked when we hear Jesus saying that a new age is at hand is this: Why on earth would things change? What could possibly prompt a shift from proper worship being centered at the temple in Jerusalem to a time where location no longer matters at all? That is a massive change – a massive transition. Things have been this way for some 1,500 years, from the days of Moses to the time of Christ. What could possible prompt such a drastic transition? Well, as we will see, the arrival of the Messiah prompted it. The inauguration of the New Covenant prompted it.  Christ’s life, death, burial and resurrection prompted the change.

V. Jesus is the Fulfillment to the Old Covenant Temple

This is actually the fifth point out of the seven points that have been spread across three sermons now. I gave you three in the first one, the fourth in the second, and here is the fifth – that Jesus is the fulfillment to the Old Covenant temple. This theme was already introduced in John 2:13-22 in the story of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. Remember that he spoke these words while in the temple at Jerusalem: “‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body.” (John 2:19–21, ESV)

And so this theme has already been introduced, but  in a bit of a mysterious and veiled way. We know that somehow Jesus was making a connection between his body and the temple. Here Jesus states things most directly: the days of temple worship are coming to a close, and new age is breaking through even now.

The meaning of all of this will become abundantly clear as John’s gospel unfolds. Under the Old Covenant the people of God were to approach God through temple worship. The temple was a  symbol of the universe – the holy of holies being the place where God’s presence dwelt. They were to approach God in purity through the shedding of the blood of the animal sacrifice and through the washing of water. All of that was temporary though; it was symbolic; it represented some greater and heavenly reality; it was a place holder, if you will, until the Christ would come. Now that he had come, there was no need for the temple. The temple, in many ways, pointed forward to him. He is the way to the Father. We approach God through him.

That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

We will eventually come to the story about Thomas, who was one the disciples of Jesus. He was particularly troubled when Jesus began to talk about how he would soon being going away. He was nervous about it, and he had on his mind essentially the same thing that Nicodemus and the woman at the well had – namely, how do I approach the Father? How do I enter in? And what did Jesus say to him most famously in John 14:6? “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, ESV) 

The writer to the Hebrews reflects upon this beautifully saying, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:19–23, ESV)

I know these are rather complex things, but they are important things. I find that Christians are often confused abut the original purpose of the Law and the way of worship under the Old Covenant, especially as they relate to Jesus. Why do things move from complex (think Leviticus), and centered in the temple in Jerusalem, to utterly  simple with no particular place being identified as holy or sacred? The simple answer: Because the Messiah has come and the New Covenant has been inaugurated. Christ came in fulfillment to the things pictured or symbolized under the Old Covenant form of worship. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We approach God in worship, therefore, not by going up to the temple with a lamb in our arms and incense to burn, but through Christ or Lord who has died and rose again and is seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly Jerusalem..

So how are we to worship God in Christ Jesus? Jesus says in verse 23, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23–24, ESV)

The phrase “spirit and truth” has been used and abused in our day. Many claim that Jesus uses the word “spirit” here to say that our worship should be passionate. Others use it to claim that our worship should be free from all constraint – it doesn’t matter what we do so long as we do it from the heart! Neither interpretations have biblical warrant.

It seems wise to look to John for the answer to what spirit means. John has spoken often of the Spirit in his gospel. Christ will baptize with the Spirit. Nicodemus was told that he must be born again by the Spirit. To worship in spirit, therefore, means that worshipers are to worship from a renewed heart and in the power of the Holy Spirit. The word truth is not describing some separate aspect of worship – as if spirit referred to our singing and truth to study, or something of the sort – but it further describes what true worship looks like. True worship emanates from a renewed heart in the power of the Holy Spirit and is to be authentic – it is to be done in truth. To worship in spirit and truth is to worship truly and from a heart renewed by the Spirit of God. In other words, Jesus told the woman at the well essentially the same thing that he told Nicodemus concerning the need for new birth, a renewed heart.

Notice a couple of other things about verse 23-24 before we move on.

One, God is spirit. Christians are sometimes confused about this and are surprised to hear that God does not have hands and arms and legs and so on. He is not flesh and blood as we are – he is spirit. Why are people confused about this? Because they think of those scriptures that talk about God’s strong right arm, or heaven being his footstool, or something like that. Remember that God reveals himself to us using language that we can understand. He is, in fact, beyond our comprehension. The scriptures use, what we call, anthropomorphic language – the language of human anatomy – and anthropopathic language – the language of human emotion – to talk about God in a way the we can grasp. God does not have a right arm. But when the scriptures talk about God’s right arm we understand them to be communicating something of his strength – his power. Similarly, God does not have regrets – but when the scriptures talk about God regretting something they are communicating something abut God’s interaction with sinful man in time, which is something that God is not bound by. God is spirit, and worship that is true and pure must be spiritual – Spirit empowered; true; from the heart.

Two, notice that, according to verse 23, God is the one who is seeking people to worship him. Man does not seek God on his own; God seeks man. The point is striking and the message clear – God was, in this, moment seeking the woman of Samaria. He was calling her to himself through Christ Jesus. As the story unfolds we will see God was seeking many from her home town as well. This is significant.

The woman shows us that she is tracking with Jesus in verse 25 when she responds, saying, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” (John 4:25, ESV)

She was putting it all together, I think. She was making the connection between what Jesus the “prophet” was saying concerning the in breaking of this new age and the arrival of this figure known as the Messiah. She says, I see what you are saying, Jesus, and I too am expecting the Messiah. 

And what does Jesus say to her? Simply this: “I who speak to you am he.’” (John 4:26, ESV)

VI. Jesus is the Messiah

This is the sixth theme already introduced by John, picked up and shown in action here in this story – Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

Jesus says to the woman, “I who speak to you am he.” John’s gospel is full of instances where Jesus makes claims concerning himself using the words, “I am”.  “I am the light of the world”; “I am bread of life”; “before Abraham was, I am”. Here Jesus says, I am the Messiah.

To say that Jesus is the Messiah is much more significant than saying that he is a prophet. There were many prophets in the Old Testament. We know some of them by name, but there where others of whom we know very little, or nothing at all. But there was and is only one Messiah.

The word Messiah means one who is anointed. It is the greek transliteration of the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ (māšiyaḥ). Christós, or Christ, is the greek equivalent of that Hebrew word. Both the Jews and the Samaritans expected a Messiah figure to appear. He would be uniquely anointed of the Lord and would provide salvation for his people.

Jesus offers the woman of Samaria a most full and direct revelation concerning himself:  “I who speak to you am he.”

This woman now has the information she needs in order to respond to Jesus appropriately. He is a prophet? Yes! But he is more than a prophet. He is the Messiah – the Christ – the one who will usher in the new age promised from long ago – an age marked by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

As we will see, she responds well.

Application 

It seems to me that this woman serves as a model of sorts. Not everyone walks the same road in their journey to faith in Christ, but there do seem to be some common elements.

This woman was skeptical at first, as many are. Her heart was hard, her eyes blind.

In the process of time she began to see Jesus differently.

 

But she had questions that needed to be answered. You should seek answers!

Answering all questions will not guarantee faith.

Having questions that remain doesn’t mean that you are not yet a follower of Christ. We will never come to a full understanding of God in this life.

But there are some questions that loom large. Ask them. Go to God. Go to Christ. Go to the Word and ask them.

This is one of my favorite things as a pastor – to walk with people as they wrestle with these questions and to see the way that the scriptures have a transforming effect.

Conclusion 

Prayer

 

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that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

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