[You know, I'd thought sure that I'd written a reflections post on John 4, but I sure can't find it. So I'm taking us back a few chapters to correct my oversight.]
There are just so many powerful lessons built into John 4 that it’s hard to summarize them all.
Let’s make a list.
* The gospel cannot coexist with racism or nationalism. Jesus very intentionally crossed racial and national boundaries to extend the Kingdom into Samaria — even though the Samaritans were hated more than the Romans. Indeed, the Jews considered Samaritans subhuman.
A Jewish disciple might have argued that the Jews weren’t ready to bring the Samaritans in. The time isn’t right yet! It would make the Kingdom less attractive to bigoted Jews. That Jew would have been wrong.
* Jesus elevates women. He waited by the well. In that culture, the men were in the village — in the shade. Jesus waited where the women gathered.
Even though women were so looked down upon that they could not be witnesses in court, Jesus chose a woman to be his witness to the nation of Samaria.
* Jesus associates with unrepentant sinners, and so must we. The Samaritan woman was sexually promiscuous to the point that she had to go the well alone, in the heat of the noon, to get water. Even the other women would not associate with her. But Jesus did.
In that culture, it would have made the most sense for Jesus to first approach the elders of the village, to obtain their approval and blessing before teaching there as a Jewish rabbi. But Jesus didn’t follow protocol. Rather, he knew that the gospel is best spread by those touched by the gospel, who’ve seen what the words of life can do. And grace is most appreciated by someone who knows she needs grace.
* The indwelling of the Spirit is a fundamental element of the gospel of the kingdom of God. To deny the Spirit’s indwelling is to deny Living Water to the spiritually thirsty.
(Mat 5:6 ESV) 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
* ”Worship in Spirit and truth” is at the climax of Jesus’ dialogue. It’s clearly more than an incidental comment. Jesus is prophetically speaking of the end of Jewish Temple worship and anticipating a new kind of worship to come with the Kingdom.
The lesson is so cryptic that we tend to read our own preferences into it. But John surely thought he left enough information in the text to give us a clear answer.
Jesus repeatedly shares with his disciples that the Spirit will testify about Jesus. Therefore, worship “in Spirit” is Jesus-focused worship. That’s clearly the direction of the text.
“Truth” is the gospel, which is also about Jesus.
We find “worship” later in John at –
(John 9:35-38 ESV) 35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
It’s the same Greek word, a word that in the Old Testament refers to worship at the Temple by sacrifice. Here, of course, the meaning is broadened.
No longer is there any concern with the procedures or the rules or the time or the place. Rather, worship is spontaneous, from the heart, and directed toward Jesus because of faith. And this worship, which is in response to no command and to no example, is accepted by Jesus. The man didn’t need authority to worship the Savior in this manner. He just needed a heart that yearned to worship.
The blind man recognized Jesus as Messiah and himself as the object of grace. He worshiped, not because he told to on penalty of damnation, but because his heart could do nothing else, he was so aware of the beauty of Jesus.
* Notice how readily the Samaritans accepted Jesus as both the Messiah and the Savior of the world. This is all the more remarkable when we realize that the Samaritans only recognized the Torah as scripture!
Why would the Samaritans be so open to the gospel, when most of the Jews were not? My theory is that it’s easier to accept change when you’re not that happy with the status quo.
The Jewish leaders were a little too pleased with their power and prestige, and so they were unwilling to have their worlds turned upside down, whereas the Samaritans were not a wealthy or powerful people at all. In fact, the Jews denied them any access to the Temple and the synagogues. The Samaritans had no problem with change, and that made them open to the movement of God in their midst.