15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”
John 4:15-26 (NIV)
So, who exactly is Jesus? As Jesus talked with the woman at the well, her opinion of Him underwent a strange progression.
At first, she just found Him kind of odd; a Jewish man who dared to ask a Samaritan woman for a drink of water. This would be odd for two reasons: first of all, no Jewish person would ever drink from a jug that had been touched by a Samaritan, because even touching it would immediately make them ceremonially unclean. And secondly, no self-respecting Jewish man would ever strike up a conversation with an unrelated woman, whether they were a Samaritan or not. But here He was, asking her for a drink!
But then He claimed that He would give living water to anyone who would ask Him for it. Not understanding the spiritual symbolism, the woman must have figured that He was some kind of a magician, or a wonder worker – someone who was able to get living water without even having a bucket! Water that would keep the drinker from ever getting thirsty again. It would be a really convenient thing to have access to. If she had that, she wouldn’t have to go to the well every day to draw water and carry the heavy jar back to the house.
But when He had sent her to fetch her husband, and she had to admit that she didn’t have one, Jesus told her startling truths about her personal life – she had actually had five husbands to date, and she was involved with another man who hadn’t married her yet. Now she figured that this man must be prophet, someone who could know things without being told. Someone who was in touch with God Himself. And so she took the opportunity to ask this “prophet” something that had apparently been on her mind for a while: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” The implied question was, “Which one is right?”
Jesus’ answer totally reset the paradigm for worship. The key issue in worship is not WHERE, but HOW. Jesus knew that in just a few short years, the temple at Jerusalem was going to be torn down all the way to bare dirt by the Romans, and the Jewish people would be without a place to worship. But He also knew that, because God didn’t actually live in the temple, but was present everywhere all the time, His the true worshipers could worship Him whenever and wherever they wanted to. They just had to worship Him in the right way: in spirit and in truth.
To worship God in spirit implies that worship is not a matter of forms or rituals, but a matter of the heart. You can be saying or singing all the “right” words, and even doing it in the “right” place, and with the “right” physical posture. But if your heart is focused on something else, you aren’t really worshiping God. On the other hand, if your heart is totally focused on God, even if your singing is off-key, or you stumble over the words, or you can’t kneel at the altar, your worship is genuine and will be received by God.
To worship God in truth means that you must worship God as He really is. A lot of people today “pick and choose” characteristics of God that they want to focus on, and they also choose characteristics that they choose to ignore or disbelieve. I have had people tell me, “I can’t believe in a God who would tell the Israelites to totally destroy everyone in Jericho, even women and children.” But God DID do that. And if you want to exclude that characteristic from the god that you worship, then you aren’t worshiping God in truth; you are worshiping a different god, one that you have made in the image that you want him to be. If you really want to worship God, the real God, then you must worship Him with all of you, and you must worship Him as He has revealed Himself to be.
It seems like Jesus’ answer to the woman’s question went right over her head. These were some massive concepts that Jesus was trying to communicate to her, and she just couldn’t seem to understand them. And so she answered, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” When it’s hard to understand something, it’s always tempting to push the solution into the undefined future. It takes the pressure off of us to work it through right now.
But Jesus’ answer forced her to take the final step in her strange progression of opinion as to Jesus’ identity: “I who speak to you am he. I am the Messiah. I am the one you have been waiting for. I have all of the answers, and if you will listen to Me, and receive what I am telling you, then I will be able to give you access to the very kingdom of God.”
Today a lot of people have opinions as to who Jesus was and is. But all of the debate, all of the discussion, all of the “scholarly opinion” in the end, are utterly worthless. Jesus Himself gave us the authoritative answer that must end all debate. He is the Messiah, the Christ, the very Son of the living God, the Lord.