We will focus today on John 4:20–26. And oh how full of God’s greatness this text is. We have seen in verses 1–15 that Jesus is the living water which he offers to the Samaritan woman at the well, and which she totally misunderstands. We saw last time (verses 16–19) that Jesus is a surgically penetrating prophet who lays bare our souls and knows us to the bottom of our being and pursues us anyway. “You have had five husbands and the man you now have is not your husband.”
Now we will see Jesus as the Savior who unlocks the mysteries of true worship, and who is otherwise known as the Jewish Messiah (verse 26). And so much more.
Worship Not Limited to Location
First focus with me on verses 20–22. To get away from his prophetic probing of her heart, the Samaritan woman leads Jesus into a discussion about worship. But even here she wants to keep things on the external surface of worship not the heart of worship. She wants to talk about “where.” Verse 20: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
Jesus is willing to go with her into this topic, but is not willing to let her limit the issue to location. He will press into the heart of the matter. 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.’”
Mountains Irrelevant for Worship
Jesus starts with a denial. A negation. You wonder about where? You are concerned about location? Ma’am there’s a day coming — sooner than you think — when both these mountains will be irrelevant for true worship. That’s amazing for a Jew to say. The day is coming, he says, when Jerusalem, the holy city, the city of David, the place with the temple of God, will not be the focus of true worship.
“Instead of where we worship, Jesus focuses on whom we worship and how we worship.”
This is not the answer she expected. She expected a good argument that Jews defend Jerusalem as the focal point of worship, and Samaritans defend Mount Gerazim. But Jesus rejects the whole argument. Instead, he says we are on the brink of something new: “The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.”
Why Mention Worshiping ‘the Father’?
Instead of where we worship, Jesus focuses on whom we worship and how we worship. Notice the reference to “the Father” at the end of verse 21: “The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” She had not said that. He said that. Why? Why not say, “God” or “the Lord” or some other designation? Why “the Father”? — you are not going to worship “the Father” in either of these mountains.
1. God is ‘the Father’ of Samaritans
Three reasons. First he uses it to link with her reference to the Samaritan fathers and draw her attention to the one all-important Father. She said in verse 20, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain.” And she had already asked in verse 12, “Are you greater than our father Jacob” (John 4:12)? So she is very focused on the externals of place and tradition. The fathers seem very prominent in her mind.
Jesus shifts the focus. He doesn’t say: well, the real Jewish fathers worshiped in Jerusalem. He says, there is a Father you should care about, namely, “the Father” — the Father who aims to be worshipped, but not in any particular place.
2. God is ‘the Father’ of Children Who Receive Him
Second, in saying that the one to be worshipped is “the Father” he points her to the fact that God has children. There is no such thing as father who doesn’t have children. Giving conception to children is what makes you a father. So when Jesus says that the one to be worshipped is “the Father,” he raises the question of who his children are.
The answer was already given in John 1:12: “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Those who receive Jesus are the children of God. God is a Father to those who are born again and believe in Jesus. So Jesus is wakening her to the truth that when it comes to worship, place is not the issue, but whether you have God as your Father, that is, whether you are born again and believe on his Son.
3. God is ‘the Father’ of the Son, Jesus Christ
And that leads to the third answer to why he referred to God as “the Father” at the end of verse 21. It calls to mind — for us at least — that “the Father” has one unique Son who is “the Son.” The two terms are used together so often, it’s hard not to hear that here.
“The Father loves the Son” (John 3:35).
“Whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).
“The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).
“Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23).
“As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” (John 5:26).
“The Father [is] glorified in the Son” (John 14:13).
The one to be worshipped is “the Father.” This woman is dealing here with “the Son.” And we are going to see: his presence is far more important in worship than what mountain you are on, or what city you are in.
Not Where, but Who
Remember he had already said in John 2:19, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” In other words, he had already said that he himself was the new temple — the new meeting place with God. The temple was about to pass away as the focal point of worship. And what would be in its place? A new mountain? A new city? A new building? No. A new person. The Son.
This is what he is getting at in saying, “Not in this mountain, Ma’am, nor in Jerusalem.” Not where, but who is what matters. The Father and the Son. The living water, the prophet, the Savior, the Messiah.
‘You Worship What You Do Not Know’
Then verse 22 comes at the same thing another way. “You [Samaritans] worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” This is blunt and painful: the problem with you Samaritans is not that you worship in the wrong mountain, but that you don’t know whom you worship.
“True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”
Why not? “Because,” he says (verse 22b), “salvation is from the Jews.” What does that mean? Does it mean that all Jews knew whom they worshipped? No. Listen to what Jesus says to the Pharisees in John 8:19 (the really serious Jews): “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” They don’t even know God. They’re just like the Samaritans. “You worship what you do not know.” All such worship Jesus says is “vain,” empty (Matthew 15:9). It is not “true worship” (John 4:23).
‘We Worship What We Know’
So what does Jesus mean in verse 22b: “We worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” He means that Jews teach that a Savior is coming into the world. He is coming as the Son of David, the Messiah, the servant of the Lord. And because there will be a Savior, true knowledge of God and true worship of God are possible. The very last clause of this whole story (that runs from verse 1 to verse 42) is the announcement of the Samaritans in the town of Sychar: “We know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (verse 42).
When Jesus says (verse 22b), “Salvation is from the Jews” and because of that “we worship what we know,” he means a Savior is coming into the world who will make it possible for sinners (like people who have been married five times and are living with their boyfriend) to know God, call him Father, and worship him in truth.
You don’t know whom you worship because you are not depending on the Savior — the salvation that is coming into the world. The Savior is the Jewish Messiah. You Samaritans don’t believe that. And therefore your worship is not true worship.
No True Religion Without Jesus
It’s very important that we see the implications of this for our situation today — in regard to Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and any other religion that does not embrace Jesus as the divine Savior of the world who comes to die for sinners and rise again and become the Mediator between God and man. It’s important because the glorious, unique, supremacy of Jesus among all the religions depends on it. And because many Christians are abandoning the truth that knowing and honoring and loving and believing on Jesus is necessary for salvation.
No True Worship Without Jesus
On the contrary, Jesus’s point here and elsewhere in this Gospel is that there is no true worship apart from receiving the Savior that comes from the Jews. Not only did Jesus say in John 8:19, “If you knew me, you would know my Father also,” but he also said to the Jews in John 5:23, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” And in John 5:42–43 he said to them, “I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me.”
In other words, whoever does not know who I really am, and honor me for who I really am, and love me for who I really am, does not know or honor or love God. And therefore whatever they do on their mountains or in their temples or shrines or mosques or synagogues, they do not worship God.
You Can’t Worship One You Reject
That’s the point of Luke 10:16: “The one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” It makes no sense to say they worship when they reject. And Matthew 10:40: “Whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” It makes no sense to say they worship the one they do not receive. And John 5:46, which is especially relevant for the Samaritans and the Jewish people, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me.” In other words, if you refuse to own who I truly am, then you don’t really believe Moses and the “worship” you do in response to Moses is not true worship.
In a pluralistic, multicultural, relativistic, shrinking world like ours, this will be harder and harder to believe in the years to come. The more people you know personally who are very religious but who do not embrace Jesus as their Lord and Savior, the harder it will be to believe that their worship is not true worship. But if the courage of your faith gives way, you will forsake the Jesus of the New Testament and join the world in creating your own.
The Hour Has Come
Then in verse 23 Jesus makes it explicit that the hour has come — the hour when worship shifts from the temple in Jerusalem to Jesus himself. 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.”
Just a few closing comments to show how this fits together. The hour is now here because the Savior is here. The Son is here. Jesus is the way the Father is seeking worshippers. That’s why he came into the world. Not to condemn, but to save. Jesus is God seeking the worship of God. (Another sermon at this point is needed to show our being saved and God being worshipped are one.)
True Worship Requires New Birth
When it says that this true worship happens in spirit and truth, it means at least this: you must be born of the Spirit in order to worship God, and you must come to him through the truth, that is, through Jesus, who said, “I am the way the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
“Jesus is God seeking the worship of God.”
Remember, Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:6, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” To worship God in spirit means to be born of the Spirit and therefore to be a living spirit. Before the new birth all we do is go to church or go to the synagogue or go to the mosque or the temple and act in the flesh. Whether we call ourselves Christians or Jews or Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists, we have no living spirit. We are dead and we don’t know God. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.”
But when through faith in Jesus the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual life, we are born again. We have a living spirit. We can worship in spirit; our spirits are alive and we have God’s Spirit within. And now we can see and embrace truth — the Truth, Jesus Christ. Now we worship the Father in spirit — our Spirit-given, living spirit — and in truth — God’s supreme Truth, Jesus Christ the sum of all truth.
Living Water, Prophet, Savior and Messiah
Now the woman walks up to the edge of this mystery and says in verse 25, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” And Jesus says to her in verse 26, “I who speak to you am he.”
And he is saying it to you as really as if he were standing here in the flesh, “I am the living water you were made to drink. I am the prophet who knows everything about you and still wants you. I am the Savior who has come into the world and died for sinners to make true worship possible for you. You ask about the coming Messiah, I who speak to you am he. Trust me.”