John 4:20-24 (NIV): “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 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. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
Now that her shell has been broken through, the heart of this woman is starting to show. She is a woman who has some serious questions about God, and here is a man, a prophet, perhaps, who might be able to give her some answers.
Sychar was located in the shadows of Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, two rises that played an important part in the history of the land. When the Israelites had conquered Ai and Bethel, Joshua led the people north to these two mountains where the Lord had commanded them to read all of the blessings and curses He had pronounced over them (Deuteronomy 27:1-26). Joshua built an altar on Mount Ebal and offered sacrifices (Joshua 8:30-35). Thus Mount Ebal became a sacred high place, especially honored by the Samaritans.
But the woman knew that the Jews worshipped exclusively at Jerusalem, saying that their temple there was the home of the true God. At last, here was a man who might have that answer as to who was right!
Jesus’ answer contains two parts. First is the acknowledgement that the Jewish people were the source from which salvation was springing. God had revealed Himself to the Jews in ways that other groups, including the Samaritans, who believed that they were worshipping the true God, could not relate to.
But the question ultimately missed the point. In the second part of His answer, Jesus points out something that would be made conclusively apparent when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in the near future: the worship of the true God was not about where, but about Who, and about how. The true God exists everywhere at all times, and so He can be worshipped in all places all of the time.
What Jesus was pointing out was that, not only was it possible to worship God anywhere, it was also possible to worship at Jerusalem and not be worshipping the true God. Many of the people who devotedly went to the temple, like the Pharisees, were worshipping a god of their own making; a god that they had made in their own image; a god that would even approve the killing of someone like Jesus. But God is spirit, and His true worshippers must worship Him in spirit, not as some manifestation that can be seen, but in relationship with Him. And He must be worshipped in truth, as He really is, not as they imagine Him to be.
When the Christians were scattered from Jerusalem (Acts 8:1) where they had frequently met and worshipped at the temple, they discovered that God was with them in power every place that they went, and He could be worshipped effectively everywhere they went because He was with them, ,and His presence dwelt in them. And so they gathered in homes and in public places, praising God, worshiping Him in spirit and in truth, and experiencing His presence and power at all times.
Father, it is amazing to realize that Your presence and power can be just as real for us who worship You today in spirit and in truth as it was for those first disciples. It is sad that so many have been taught to still think of You as inhabiting a building or a “sacred space,” reducing our worship of you back to a “where” instead of a Who and how. Help us, Lord, to worship You the way You are to be truly worshipped, and to experience You in powerful ways. Amen.