In this short passage, the word worship is mentioned 10 times. On the surface, this Samaritan woman’s problem appears to be her relationship with men. She is a representative of humanity. We are always trying to find that elusive someone or something that can make us truly happy. But to Jesus, her problem, as well as ours is a worship problem. Blaise Pascal wrote, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus”. In other words, our souls only find rest when we worship God. In this passage, we will learn three things about worship: What is worship, the why of worship, and the how of worship.
First, What is worship?
When we think of worship, we think of worship music or other expressions such as raising their hands or eyes closed. It is more than that. It comes from the Greek word, proskuneo. It means “to fall down before” or “bow down before.” The English word worship is right in line with this Greek word. ‘Worship’ comes from the old English word ‘worth-ship’ which interprets as ‘worthiness, dignity or merit...’ It literally means to recognize someone or something of ultimate value. Once we discover the value, it changes how we live. You begin to see beauty as you never saw. It occupies you day and night. You begin to sacrifice your time, effort, money and even your life because you have discovered its immense value.
There is a show I sometimes watch on PBS called Antique Roadshow. People come on the show with junk they found in their basement or attic. An appraiser examines the item and determines the value. Once a woman brought some jade jewelry she found in her basement. A jeweler examines them carefully. He priced the value of the jewelry for 1 million dollars! The woman was completely shocked! She discovered the value. Do you think she will just throw in a shoe box or place it with all her other junk? Certainly not! She will guard it with her life. She will put it in a security safe!
Sometimes we stick God in the basement of our hearts. We find no value in Him. C.S. Lewis says we are like ignorant children who are content making mud pies in the slum when God offers a holiday at a beach house. But once you discover the treasure of who he truly is, you are transformed! Your life will completely change.
Throughout the history of the church, there were ordinary people willing to stand up for what was right, lose their reputations, lose their livelihoods, and lose their lives. Why could they do this? They were nothing special, what made them different was they discovered their ultimate value. That is what worship is all about. You don’t assign God as high value, you assign him the ultimate value. Instead of investing much more, you invest everything.
Isaiah 6 records the prophet entering the temple and seeing God. For the first time, he grasps the greatness of God in the temple he falls down in worship. Then God says, “By the way, I have job to be done. I need someone to communicate to people who will never listen to you.” What does Isaiah do? He jumps up and says, “I volunteer”. Why? Because he discovered the ultimate value! In Acts 17 Stephen was about to be executed. They ask him, “Do you have any last words?” He looks up and and says, “I see God, the Father, seated on his throne, and the Son of Man standing at his right hand.” At the moment before death, he saw his ultimate value. He worshipped and was ready to die.
Libby Little was a missionary in war-torn Afghanistan for 30 years. Three years ago she lost her husband in an ambush. Someone asked her what was her secret to remain so faithful. She simply said “Sabbath”. She said, her most precious times of worship was in a janitor’s closet. In that closet, she came into the presence of God! In that closet she found her ultimate value.
Second, Why do we need to worship?
In verse 23, the Father seeks people to worship him. God presses us, urges us, demands and pleads with us that we worship him (Exodus 20:3-5). We really don't like people who demand they be praised. Isn't it strange that God ask us to worship him? Is God so insecure?
Why does he seeks for people to worship him (John 4:23)? Why does he presses and yearn? Not because he needs it, but because you and I desperately need it. God is a self-sufficient being. God is perfect in worship with the Son and the Holy Spirit. Anthropologists have noted that people in every culture instinctively worship something. It’s a universal urge, hard-wired by God into the very fiber of our being - an inbuilt need to connect with God. If we fail to worship God, we always find a substitute; it can be our children, money, ministry, careers and even ourselves.
Our hearts are idol factories that create these substitutes. We idolize movie stars, athletes, our bodies, food, jobs, homes, etc. Even good things like ministry, our wives or husbands, our children can become idols. If we are not careful, it can replace God as the ultimate value. Everything is sacrificed on the altar of that particular idol. How do you know you have an idol? Here are some questions to determine them: What do you worry about the most? What do you daydream about? What or who do I love the most? What do I spend on the most? If (blank) was suddenly taken away from me, I would consider my life ruined or worthless! If (blank) is taken away or criticized, I get angry and violent.
To not worship is to become less than human, because people who can't praise lose their humanity, they lose their greatness and they lose their warmth. They become worthless like the idols they worship (Psalm 115:4-8). An overview of the current headlines clearly reveals the destructive power of idols. The carnage in Kenya reveals the destructive idol religious pride. A number of fights occurred as customers fought to get the latest iPhone idol.
Do you see the need for worship? The reason you have to worship God is it’s the only way to be fully human. When a person worships and praises God, they becomes a source of praise and worship too. They overlook obvious flaws and they always find something encouraging to say. The people most in love with God are the people who find the world a gorgeous place, who find something to praise and sing about in everything. This is what happened to the Samaritan woman. The moment she worshiped Christ, she became alive again! Her soul was raised from the dead. The idols were crushed and Christ became her source of praise and honor. She went back to her town and told them about Jesus (John 4: 28-30).
Third, How do we worship?
The Samaritan woman thought God is pleased if she goes to Jerusalem to worship (John 4:20). Many misunderstand worship means to placate a holy and demanding God by back-breaking moral effort. I shouldn't watch violent movies, visit bad sites on the internet, enjoy my kids too much, etc. I must go to church, I must read 11 chapters, not 10, etc. The problem with moralism is we become prideful when we have some success. We despair and feel deep shame when we fail. This type of Christian life is like riding on an endless roller coaster. We just want to throw up!
Jesus said, “You will worship him neither place” (John 4:21). He said, “You don’t need to go to that temple or that mountain; you worship through me.” Jesus mentions twice “the hour” (John 4:21, 4:23). What does the hour mean? It is his death on the cross. Essentially, Jesus is saying, “When I die, I will utterly change worship forever”. Because of our sins, we were separated from God. On the cross, Jesus died the death we should have died. On the cross, he paid the penalty for our sins. We are reconciled with God. Our worship is restored. We worship not to be love, approved and accepted by God, rather we worship because we are loved, approved and accepted in spite of our sins.
How do we worship? We must remind ourselves of the gospel every day. Tullian Tchividjian said, “If you uproot the idol and fail to plant the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back.” The Gospel means we are not reconciled to God through our efforts and record, but through Christ efforts and record. Christians are those who trust in Christ for their acceptance with God, rather than in their own moral character, commitment, or performance.
In summary, we learn Worship is to discover your ultimate value. Worship is to become fully human! We become a source of praise and worship. Finally, we learn worship is to remind ourselves of what Jesus did for us.
Keller, T. J. Gospel of John, Part 1 (Lessons on Worship)—January 27, 1991. The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
Keller, T.J. The Meaning of the Gospel. The Gospel in Action, 2007. http://extendingthekingdom.org/?page_id=17
Davis, Erin. How to Spot an Idol. Lies Young Women Believe, 10 May 2011. http://www.liesyoungwomenbelieve.com/index.php?id=720
Driscoll, Mark. Worship: God Transforms. Mars Hill, 15, Jun. 2008. http://marshill.com/media/doctrine/worship-god-transforms