Who hasn’t thought of this?
Surely, there is some passage, subject, idea, or something that you would love to ask the apostle Paul.
“Well, in Heaven you won’t care about that because all of your questions will be answered.”
Eh, we could debate that, but that really takes the fun out of it.
Now, there is someone in the Bible that got this opportunity. I can imagine that she spent many long nights wondering the answer to her question. Her entire life, existence, and identity maybe even depended upon the answer.
So, one day she met a prophet. But it wasn’t just any prophet – it was the Messiah Himself.
When she realizes to Whom she is speaking, she asked,
“Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”John 4:20
That’s what she wanted to know?
We may be tempted to laugh at this. I know when I consider it in this context, I definitely chuckle. But after a moment of reflection, I realize that this is probably the same question I would have asked Jesus five years ago.
Another way to word this is, “Are we the one true church or is that group over there the one true church?”
Or, “Should we worship the way we do here, or should we worship they way they do over there?”
These questions are important to many people, and they do deserve answers. But they are based in fear of Hell, a longing to be correct, and a need to validate their tribe or people. All this, usually leads, to alienation of the other and unnecessary divisions.
Jesus’s answer is enlightening, but many have missed the point of what Jesus says:
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”John 4:21-24
First, Jesus talks about a time when people wouldn’t worship “in this mountain” nor in Jerusalem. The reason for this, historically, is obvious: the Jewish-Roman war would leave thousands upon thousands dead, countrysides burned, and cities destroyed. It would be quite impossible to worship in either place.
Then, Jesus answers her question using her assumptions about how the world works. His answer is based in history and allegiance to the Law. It is also rooted in the promises and prophecies made in the Hebrew Scriptures. This, however, isn’t the real answer. It isn’t the last word.
After that, Jesus invites her into a new way of understanding worship. He says that while the hour when the land is under siege by Rome is far off, it was already possible to take part in the age to come. The word spirit is used 24 times in the Gospel According to John. In the majority of cases, He is speaking of the Holy Spirit. The word truth is also used a great number of times in John: 25 times to be exact. Jesus reveals, “I am the truth” (John 14:6). We learn at the beginning of the book that truth is closely related to grace and it comes through Jesus while the Law came through Moses. This reveals an important truth: the expression truth in John doesn’t necessarily refer to true statements (those were definitely in the Law), but it refers to an entire program of grace that is centered around who God actually is as revealed by Jesus (John 1:18).
Okay, that’s a lot. But the point is this: Jesus was introducing a new type of Holy Place. This one, however, wasn’t a location one could travel to but a relationship into which one can enter. All three members of the Godhead are present: God, the object of worship, and Jesus and the Spirit, the Mediator and Helper in our worship. This passage isn’t about the right form and the right attitude but about a new location.
This fits perfectly with the words of the psalmist:
For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.Psalm 51:16-17
Worship isn’t about the form or location but concerns a mutual relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit. It is in this way that we pray without ceasing.