Where People Ought to Worship

Here in John 4:19-30, we find the themes of worship and mission coming together. The passage can be summarized in two words: worship and tell. To add a couple more words, worship where Jesus is, and tell others where Jesus is.

The story of the encounter with the woman at the well gives us a great look at Jesus in the act of evangelism. Without regard to establishing a relationship or earning the right to be heard, Jesus quickly brings up this woman’s unsatisfied thirst for a relationship, a thirst that has led her into sin. She diverts the conversation to the topic of the proper location for worship, but Jesus answers both her spiritual need and her theological question in His own person. He reveals His identity as a Savior who satisfies spiritual thirst with living water, and who is to be worshiped as the one who embodies the presence of God.

When people realize that we speak for God, spiritual questions tend to come up pretty naturally. The question that this woman asks concerns worship, specifically, where worship should take place, and Jesus throws a curveball with His answer. He is a Jew, but He doesn’t simply repeat the Jewish party line that Jerusalem is the right place to worship. Instead, He brings this woman the good news that people no longer have to go to a certain place to find God; instead, God is seeking them out. And the woman’s response is not a subject change; she connects the idea of the Father seeking worshipers with the coming of the Messiah: how is the Father seeking worshipers? By sending the Messiah to them.

And then Jesus drops the bomb: “I who speak to you am He.” By that statement, Jesus relocates true worship away from any particular mountain or city or temple or building, transcending the long-standing division between Jews and Samaritans over the question: “Where should you go to worship the Father?” The answer now becomes: “Wherever Jesus the Messiah is.” This makes finding Jesus the ultimate priority for a true worshiper, both in the first century, and today.

So where is Jesus? Jesus’ embodied presence is currently seated at the right hand of God, ruling and reigning over the earth. This means that in order to worship Jesus rightly, we need the Spirit to take us to heaven. In worship, we enter God’s presence by the power of the Holy Spirit in order to be with Jesus.

But there is another aspect for us to consider: Jesus is present where He said He would be, and through the means He gave us. Where the Word is read, prayed, preached, sung, that’s where Jesus is. Where the waters of baptism are poured out, where the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, that’s where Jesus is. Jesus is present in the world through the Church: through the gathered corporate worship of His people. This truth should beat down divisions between congregations and denominations. Worship might look very different in different congregations, but when that worship is centered around the Word and the Sacraments, Jesus is there.

And at the end of this passage, what does the woman do? She drops what she is doing, forgets her water jar, and runs into town, telling everyone to come and see Jesus. And in this she is our example: worship where Jesus is, and when you find Him, tell everyone else where He is, so that they can worship too. This is what evangelism is, in a nutshell. We go wrong when we prioritize our water jars over the gospel, when we think that telling others doesn’t involve going to them, and when we don’t speak words that make Jesus sound attractive. When someone sees us drop everything, leave our comfort zone, and speak on God’s behalf to give them the gospel, they know that what we’re saying is important. And so this is that important message: worship and tell. Worship Jesus, and tell others. Worship where Jesus is, and tell other people where to find Jesus.

Posted on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 by CJ Bowen