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God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.’ 

Here is the essence of the view of Jesus when it comes to everything from denominations to worship styles and everything in between.

God is spirit. What did Jesus say about spirit earlier in the Gospel of John? Remember?

The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is like the wind and he will blow wherever he wants. We will know if we are worshiping with spirit and truth when we see things happening through us that happened with Jesus and his followers in his day.

Enemies are loved. Seeking the good of others, no matter who they are. Cheeks are turned. No revenge. Seeking the truth of Jesus with courage and consideration, even when society calls it hatred or bigotry. When our lives look more and more like Jesus is living our lives we know we are are the path of spirit and truth.

No, it’s not about places or building, it’s about hearts and minds and bodies and souls and relationships that all point to the love of God in Jesus Christ.

ME

“They will know we are Christians by our love…” Not a quaint chorus for an old camp song, but maybe the essence of who we are…

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John 4

‘Believe me, woman,’ replied Jesus, ‘the time is coming when you won’t worship the father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You worship what you don’t know. We worship what we do know; salvation, you see, is indeed from the Jews. But the time is coming – indeed, it’s here already! – when true worshippers will worship the father in spirit and in truth. Yes; that’s the kind of worshippers the father is looking for. 

God and the Church aren’t the same thing. You can’t confuse one with the other. Jesus knows that one mountain or one Temple isn’t going to contain God anyway. It’s like denominations.

When God is offering the living water, getting caught up on which church you should go to becomes a moot point. Denominations are human inventions, not God’s inventions. There is only one Church. Where Jesus reigns. Just like holy mountains or holy buildings, denominations can become idols. All of these things are at most signposts pointing to God, not a box that contains God.

ME

How many different churches have you attended?

woman at the well

John 4
‘Well, sir,’ replied the woman, ‘I can see you’re a prophet …Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain. And you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.’ 

Jesus is catching the woman in an uncomfortable situation. He seems to know quite a bit about her.

Whenever a light is shined on issues that may have something to do with morality, people often try to change the subject. Even though Jesus isn’t making any moral judgments, the woman quickly tries to shift the focus. And one of the ways people try to change the subject quickly is bringing up religion.

I get this quite a bit. Someone will ask what I do for a living, I’ll say I’m a pastor, and often it immediately enters into their view of religion and usually, why they don’t follow one. Though I haven’t asked about anything! If they are older, I will often hear this.

“I used go church when I was little, but…”

Then will come the reasons they aren’t connected anymore.

  • All the church did was ask for money…
  • My church was really strict and judgmental…
  • My mom was a Baptist and my dad was a Catholic and so we ended up not going to church at all…
  • I’m spiritual, I’m just not religious…

You can hear it in her voice. The tone doesn’t change.

‘I was brought up to think that this mountain, here in Samaria, was God’s holy mountain. But you Jews think yours is the right one.’

She seems to be saying, we can’t both be right about which place is the right one to worship. Maybe nobody knows. And maybe, here comes the kicker, nobody knows about morality either.

Yet, the woman is asking a serious question. She is not being flippant. And Jesus honors her question with a serious answer.

ME

Do you have friends who use to “go to church” but don’t now? What do they think about you?

LindaWolfe-90178

John 4

‘Well then,’ said Jesus to the woman, ‘go and call your husband and come here.’ ‘I haven’t got a husband,’ replied the woman. ‘You can say that again!’ replied Jesus. 18 ‘The fact is, you’ve had five husbands, and the one you’ve got now isn’t your husband. You were speaking the truth!’

We all know about Hollywood celebrities who have married many times. Elizabeth Taylor comes to mind. 8 marriages. Or with more, Zsa Zsa Gabor, married 9 times. But, it’s not just celebrities who are serial spouses. This is Linda Wolfe, and she has been married 23 times. That’s the Guinness World Record.

She took her last husband, Glynn Wolfe, as part of a publicity stunt. Their vows made Linda his 29th wife, making him the most married person at the time. He died a year later at age 88. Linda said she said that she was “on the lookout for number 24”.She says, “It’s been years since I walked down the aisle. I miss it.”

So, how about a woman from Samaria who has been married five times and is currently working on number 6? What is going on with her?
First century marriage and divorce customs aren’t the same in first century Israel as today. For a woman you initiate a divorce was highly rare.
It is likely her five marriages are an unfortunate combination of death and maybe a couple of divorces. Since a woman would need a dowry to marry, she probably is out of options by now. She might be an older man’s concubine.
The reason these may be likely is first there are no examples of 5 divorces from any sources in ancient times. Second, later we will see she is respected enough to be listened to by townspeople when she speaks with them.
Yet, no matter what the situation, five men and now number six is awkward, even if it isn’t promiscuous. Troublesome, and probably a combination of bad luck and bad choices. But, why did Jesus know any of this? She will find out soon enough.

ME
Has Jesus spoken direct truth to you like this? What was it like?

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John 4

But sir,’ replied the woman, ‘you haven’t got a bucket! And the well’s deep! So how were you thinking of getting living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself, with his sons and his animals ‘Everyone who drinks this water’, Jesus replied, ‘will get thirsty again. But anyone who drinks the water I’ll give them won’t ever be thirsty again. No: the water I’ll give them will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ ‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘give me this water! Then I won’t be thirsty any more, and I won’t have to come here to draw from the well.’

All direct writings that compare God to “living water” in the Old Testament are in Psalms and the Prophets. Since the Samaritans don’t consider those books the Bible, it shouldn’t be shocking the woman is taking Jesus literally, and thinking only about water. She is not familiar with those passages.

But, Jesus is talking about so much more. He is offering a new way of life. Unlike all the religions and philosophies of the world up until this time, Jesus is uniquely offering life with God no matter what your sex, your geography, your race, your prior religious background. When you come to God through Jesus, the living water, all distinctions are washed away. With Jesus beginning now and for eternity, true life with God is “out of many one.” It isn’t by accident that the ancestors of our country took this as a de facto motto for our nation. E pluribus Unum. 

Here is the thing. As a Christian, my sole identity is as a son of God the Father and the subject of my Lord, Jesus. Everything else about me may be a description, but this is not my identity. Jesus comes into the world and breaks the world’s emphasis on what sets us apart, and offers a new life that brings us together with the living water. There is only one answer to what can bring humanity together as one. It has nothing to do with diversity training and using labels for everything. The answer has everything to do with coming to the same living water and drink of it as one.

ME

Why is it attractive to emphasize diversity?

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John 4

‘If only you’d known God’s gift,’ replied Jesus, ‘and who it is that’s saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you’d have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’

Now Jesus is using a play on words. “Living water” would refer to fresh moving water from a river or stream, rather than pond water or well water, which may be getting stagnant. But, Jesus is connecting the living water to God. Then we have a whole new meaning. In Jeremiah for instance, God speaks about himself as “living water.”

Jeremiah 2:13 They have abandoned me— the fountain of living water.

17:13 They will be buried in the dust of the earth,

for they have abandoned the Lord, the fountain of living water.

Or, water will come from the Temple.

Joel 3

Water will fill the streambeds of Judah, and a fountain will burst forth from the Lord’s Temple, watering the arid valley of acacias.

God is the living water. Out if him flows all that is good. And Jesus is alluding to himself as the living water, which fits the fact that in John’s Gospel Jesus is already pointing to himself being God and the Temple.

ME

If you swim in ponds vs. fresh water mountain streams, what do you think you notice?

woman at the well

John 4

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus spoke to her. ‘Give me a drink,’ he said. (The disciples had gone off into the town to buy food.) ‘What!’ said the Samaritan woman. ‘You, a Jew, asking for a drink from me, a woman, and a Samaritan at that?’ (Jews, you see, don’t have any dealings with Samaritans.)

Notice we are not told the Samaritan woman is alone. We just assume she is because of the ensuing conversation. What we are seeing here is Jesus breaking a bunch of taboos.

First, we know Jesus is already considered a holy man and in his religion he would not be alone with a woman in public. He would certainly not speak to her. Strike one. We know this is highly unusual because later we will see his disciples are shocked when they see what is happening.

Second, the woman is a Samaritan. The enemy. And with the heavy Jewish religious emphasis on clean and unclean utensils, the last thing you would do is drink from her cup. Strike two.

And third, the woman may not have the best of character. She is drawing water at noon, probably by herself. Now, it is not unheard of for a woman to draw water from a well at noon as this could be a time for clothes washing, rather than going in the morning for water for the day for cooking, bathing and drinking. Not unheard of, but unusual that she is not with other women who mainly go in the morning. Noon would be the least likely time to meet someone. Something is not quite right with her. Strike three.

But, notice the woman is breaking taboos, too. And everything is made highly unusual by her confidence in speaking to Jesus the way she does. It is not usual in her day to speak as an equal.

ME

Now, what does this scene have to say about the earlier phrase, “He had to go through Samaria?”

Jacob's Well today

Jacob’s Well today

John 4

He had to go through Samaria, and he came to a town in Samaria named Sychar. It was near the place which Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, tired from the journey, sat down there by the well. It was about midday.

Samaria. What is it? When you look at a map of Israel you see it is between Judea to the south and Galilee to the north.

If you look at a map of ancient Israel, you will notice that you can get to Galilee from Judea without going through Samaria. So why does John say Jesus “had to go” through Samaria. Jesus is compelled to go through Samaria for a reason. And it must be a good one because Jews and Samaritans at the time didn’t get along.

Jews and Samaritans originally were both part of the 12 tribes of Israel. Then when the Babylonian’s conquered Israel around 587 BC, they took many of the Jews back with them to Babylon. These were the best and the brightest Jews. The people who were left behind, like the Samaritans, made due. The Samaritans followed God’s law strictly. They recognized only the first five books of the Bible as the Bible. They interpreted the Bible to say Abraham brought Isaac to be sacrificed on Mt. Gezarim, not Mt. Zion, present day Jerusalem.

And so when the exiles returned from Babylonia they accused the Samaritans of worshipping falsely. The Samaritans did intermarry with non-Jews and were accused of making up new stuff because of their pagan spouses. The Samaritans accused the Jews returning from Babylon of doing the same thing. Intermarrying with the Babylonians and changing the true nature of Judaism. So, from this point on, the Samaritans and Jews were enemies.

It is not unheard of for Jews to travel through Samaria and Jesus does so. He is tired, just another indication that Jesus is truly a human being, and we will see next he is also thirsty. He stops at Jacob’s well which is near Mt. Gerazim. The village is originally called Shechem, which means “shoulder”, but it is called Sychar here. Why the difference? Well, Sychar means “liar” or “drunkard”. Guess which group got the change the name?

ME

What is an example of one group of people accusing another group of not being authentic, though they are supposed to represent the same group?

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John 4

So when Jesus knew that the Pharisees had heard that he was making more disciples than John, and was baptizing them (Jesus himself didn’t baptize people; it was his disciples who were doing it), he left Judaea and went back to Galilee.

There is no place for jealousy or competition in the Christian family. Jesus looks at the churches of a city as one church as we can see if we consider the churches spoken of in the Book of Revelation, for instance. In other words, there isn’t LIFEhouse as an individual group of Christians and then other Lutheran churches and then Roman Catholic and Baptist churches and such. There is one church locally. The church of  Jesus in Los Angeles, as it were.

Currently, we see the Pharisees, the Jewish religious authorities, are bringing trouble to Jesus and John the Baptist. The way they are carrying out their ministry isn’t proper to them. Jesus leaves Judea to avoid the problems the Pharisees could bring to him. This is an example of Jesus doing what he said to his mother at the wedding at Cana.

“It’s not my time, yet.”

Jesus will set his own agenda and not let the Pharisees force his hand. Something else interesting is recorded here. Remember the Gospel of John is an eyewitness account of one of Jesus’ closet followers. He will make editorial comments in his gospel so the non-Jewish readers will understand what is going on, and also to highlight greater detail in what he is writing. In our English translation of the Bible when we see these editorial words of John they are placed in parentheses.

(Jesus himself didn’t baptize people; it was his disciples who were doing it)

So, what is wrong with baptism that Jesus isn’t doing it? It is not about the act of baptism somehow being beneath Jesus, it is more about the disciples learning by doing. Jesus is teaching his disciples to do the things he does.

I would say he is also making sure everyone understands it is God doing the baptizing through the person, not the prestige of the person doing the baptism. You can see people later saying, “I was baptized by Jesus himself,” as a badge of honor or something. Jesus would have none of that.

ME

When infants are baptized, God is baptizing them. When adults are baptized, God is baptizing them.