Jesus’ Teaching on Worship

Message delivered to India Gospel League Pastors’ Conference, Pune, Maharashtra, India, 19 February 2014

The theme for this conference is WORSHIP. We will be talking a great deal about worship in the next few days.

I would like to encourage you this evening by looking at a fundamental teaching about worship. This teaching is not from the beautiful halls of a university, or from the pen of a scholar or theologian working on writing a book. This teaching comes directly from the mouth of the Lord Jesus, and it was delivered in a remote, rural area. The audience of this teaching was a congregation of exactly one person – not a large crowd. And this one individual was not an important or influential person. No, Jesus chose to deliver this message to a poor, unknown woman from a forgotten tribe. We find this story in the Gospel of John, chapter four. We will start in the middle of the story, at verse 19. Jesus is speaking with a woman at a well; the woman has a concern about worship practices:

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

John 4:3-26

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well.

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well.

There is a beautiful humility about how God brings his Kingdom into the world – not with military might or ceremony or fanfare. He brought His Son into the world as a baby in an animals’ stable. And here He brings into the world a brand-new, revolutionary idea about worship – in a conversation that takes place with a poor woman at a lonely well in the middle of a hot day.
We will have a look at the rest of this conversation at the well and discover three amazing life-changing truths, truths that we believe and affirm to this day:

  1. Jesus offers us a new identity.
  2. Jesus offers us a new source of power.
  3. Jesus offers us a new way of worship.

Let’s pray.


Imagine the scene: It is a hot day in Samaria. The sun is directly overhead. There are very few trees to give shade. Most people are indoors at that hour, trying to stay out of the hot sun. This woman probably comes to the well during the middle of the day because she doesn’t want to be seen. She expects to see no one. On a normal day, she would see no one, and carry her jars of water back to her house without saying a word.

But this is not a normal day.

Instead, she encounters a man by the well – and not just any man! Let’s back up the story a little bit, starting at verse 3:

So he [Jesus] left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

This man, this Jewish man, starts to speak to her. The woman is surprised. Why? First, she is a woman, and in that culture (as in many cultures today), it is not appropriate for a man to speak to a woman. Second, she is a Samaritan. John gives us some insight into the meaning of this when he tells us “For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.” Samaritans were outcasts. They had intermarried with outsiders and mingled the Jewish religion with the religions of the neighboring tribes. As a result, they were rejected by both groups.
Some geography. John tells us that Jesus “had to go through Samaria.” Jerusalem to Galilee is a one-hundred-kilometer distance. There were no trains or buses or airplanes or auto-rickshaws. If you needed to go, you would start walking.

So Jesus started walking, one hundred kilometers. Fortunately the route from Jerusalem to Galilee is a direct one – right through Samaria. But there’s a problem here. John tells us, ‘Jews do not associate with Samaritans.’ In fact, most Jews were careful never to go through Samaria. In their travels between Jerusalem and Galilee, they usually went the long way, around Samaria. Because, you see, ‘Jews do not associate with Samaritans.’ Their prejudice was very powerful. They would rather suffer a long journey than accidentally encounter a Samaritan.

Jews do not associate with Samaritans. But Jesus does.

Listen to what the woman at the well says, as her first words spoken to Jesus:

“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

Now, before we consider Jesus’ answer to this, understand one thing: This woman has very clear ideas about identity. She knows her place in the world. She is a woman, a poor woman, and a Samaritan. In her mind, there is a wall between them. “What’s wrong with you?” she is saying. “Can’t you see there is a wall here?” Her opinion is that different people should be separated, to live out their lives among their own kind. Many people today have this attitude. They want to continue their traditions, their religious practices, their family connections, and not be disturbed.

What do you think? Should people be allowed to remain in their own traditions and ways? Think about your own lives. Someone spoke to you. Jesus came to you and changed you. In my own life, I am thankful that Jesus did not allow me to follow my own traditions and ways, or I would not be here today. I would not have the freedom and joy that are mine because He pursued me. He found me, just like he found this Samaritan woman, sitting by the well, looking for answers. He changed me. He has changed you.
Jesus offers us a NEW IDENTITY.

How does he do this? Jesus Christ exchanges the old life for a new one:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:17-18

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

1 Peter 1:18-19

In both of these verses, we learn that there is a brand new life to begin. People can be born again. People can have a new beginning, with a new identity in Christ. In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul lists all sorts of people who will not inherit the Kingdom of God – the drunkards, the thieves, the immoral and greedy – then tells the believers this amazing truth:

And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:11

The key word is “were.” Past tense. That is what some of you WERE. It’s past. Your identity is no longer that. You are no longer a drunkard, or a greedy person, or an idolater. You are a saint, a holy one, a child of God. Praise God, He gives us a new identity when we believe in Christ! Because of Him we are made new.

One result of this new identity is that the walls that divide us are removed.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

Ephesians 2:14-16

Perhaps we have grown up with prejudices against certain kinds of people. When a Samaritan and a Jew, for example, become believers in Christ, they become brothers. That wall is removed. Some of the greatest times of fellowship that I have ever experienced happened during our eighteen months living in Bangalore.

BICF Church Picnic, November 2012.

BICF Church Picnic, November 2012.

For one and a half years I served as worship leader for the Bangalore International Christian Fellowship. As I looked out over that congregation I would see Africans and Indians and Malaysians and Koreans and English and Europeans and Americans and Australians all singing together and praising God – it felt a little bit like heaven. In fact, it was:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Revelation 7:9-10

As Paul writes in Galatians :

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:26-28

Jesus removes the distinctions of ethnicity, of class, even of gender: He removes the walls that divide us. He makes us all one. Because in him we have a new identity: CHILDREN OF GOD.

This is the promise that he brings to this poor Samaritan woman at the well. Whereas she is consumed with her current status in the world — her identity as a Samaritan, and a woman, and a poor one — Jesus looks beyond that. He sees her as she really is – a human being in need of a Savior. He sees her as God sees her, because his eyes are God’s eyes. I pray that we all are capable, by God’s grace, to see beyond the things that divide us and recognize the common identity we share in Christ. We are children of God, forever blessed. Let us stand on that truth!


Returning to the story, as the conversation between the woman and Jesus continues, he tells her,

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

What does he mean by “living water”? Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus is attending a village festival (like a good Indian) and returns to this theme of living water; in this place he explains it a little bit more.

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

John 7:37-39

These stories and illustrations of wells and water are surely relevant to this group. Everyone in India understands the value of water. Clean, fresh water makes life possible – it could be considered the source of life. When astronomers seek out other planets in the universe, other worlds that might be capable of supporting life, the one thing they always hope to find is a planet with water. Life is not possible without water.

Pastors Glory Dhas and Kevin, and hard-working volunteers Jason and Shannon show off the new water-purification system.

Pastors Glory Dhas and Kevin, and hard-working volunteers Jason and Shannon show off the new water-purification system.

This photo was taken almost exactly one year ago, when Dorothea and I visited a leper colony in Tamil Nadu. A missions team (not IGL) had just completed installation of a water-purification system. There was a big celebration that day. The colony residents were very happy. They now had a reliable source of clean, fresh water. Water brings life.
Notice that Jesus speaks of “rivers” and not “lakes.” We’re not a lake or a tank or a cistern. Water in a tank is stagnant; it starts to smell and becomes useless. But a water source that is fed by an underground spring is always fresh. It is being continuously renewed. This is what God’s Spirit is like in us. He renews us continuously. We have a new source of power:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us…

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians 4:7, 16

That Spirit in us is nothing less than new life, the resurrecting power that raised Jesus from the dead:

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
Romans 8:11

If you are in Christ, you have His Spirit living in you. God, by His Spirit, is pleased to dwell in you. You have the bubbling, lively spring of life-giving water: the real, living power of Jesus in you.

That describes where the spring water comes from and where it resides. But where is it going?

My training, my background is mechanical engineering. And my special area is hydraulics – the science of moving things with fluids. So this is all very familiar to me, the idea of water flowing into something. The question is this: What happens to water that continuously flows into a closed volume? If a pump keeps pushing more and more water into a closed volume, the pressure becomes higher and higher. Eventually the pressure will become so high that the walls of the vessel will rupture, and the water will flow out.

My friends, this is my personal testimony: This image of water filling a vessel to the bursting point describes me right now, as I speak to you. For the past several years God has been pouring truth into my heart by His Spirit. But all this blessing is not merely for me to enjoy. The vessel must burst, I have to share these blessings with others. Others like you!

Jesus says that “rivers of living water will flow from within us” – this is important: Jesus says His Spirit in us is a stream of living water that flows OUT in blessing to others. It’s not meant to be contained. It’s meant to flow. What we minister to others is LIFE – the life that God’s Spirit puts into us.
Brothers and sisters, we are called to minister LIFE to others – not rules and laws, not the dry requirements of a religious tradition, but the reality of the New Life.

This was Paul’s way of saying it:

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Colossians 1:28-29 [ESV]

The life flows from within us; it is HIS energy that powerfully works. That is the power source that we must rely on. Here’s a story to illustrate what I mean:

John was a zealous Christian during his university days. He and his brother attended the same school. Together they started a well-known campus ministry of devoted, pious students. After graduation, John traveled overseas to do missionary work. He was by all accounts a strong, active Christian with great potential.

But the missionary work came to nothing. He returned home, frustrated. By the age of thirty-four John felt his life was worthless. He was by this time an ordained Gospel preacher, yet he had nothing to show for all his efforts. He was burned out, the flame was doused. He had no more fuel in the tank. John lamented his own sinfulness. He doubted his own salvation. He was exhausted, ready to give up.

Then something unusual happened to our friend John:

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where [some]one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

What happened to John? Jesus found him. Jesus took hold of him, gave him a new identity and a new source of energy. He was changed.

"John Wesley," painting by William Hamilton

“John Wesley,” painting by William Hamilton

From that moment on, for the next fifty years, until well past the age of eighty, John Wesley was the most effective, tireless preacher of the Gospel that the world has ever seen. This happened not because of his personal ambition to be a holy man. That had only brought him weariness and frustration. But at last he saw – by God’s grace, with the eyes of faith – that he himself, John Wesley, was indeed in Christ and forever free from the frustrating cycle of sin and failure, the “law of sin and death.” At that moment he became the vibrant, life-filled evangelist that God sent all throughout England to bring thousands of people into His Kingdom.

It’s not what we do for Jesus. It’s what he does in us that counts.

Ripe Mangoes

Ripe Mangoes

In another place Jesus teaches this truth using a different picture: “I am the vine,” he says, “and you are the branches.” We are the branches; we cannot bear fruit by ourselves. We must remain in the vine, connected to the vine. If you cut a branch off a mango tree and bring it to your house, no matter how hard you try, it will never produce a mango. The branch can bear fruit only when it is connected to vine. Jesus is that vine, that tree, that source of New Life, a well bubbling up with life-giving water.

Jesus offers us a new source of power.

We must return to the scene by the well for one last look at this conversation, because Jesus reveals one more new thing to the woman. From the moment he speaks these words, our understanding of worship is forever changed.


If you remember the story, Jesus reveals that he already knows about the woman’s life. At that point, she seems to challenge him. She realizes that she is in the presence of a prophet, but she cannot get away from her own prejudice, her own sense of hurt and mistreatment. She immediately brings the conversation back to the divide between Samaritans and Jews.

Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Jesus will not be drawn into this ancient conflict. He instead points to something greater: a new community of worship, a new kind of worship. Listen to his reply:

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.”

He could have stopped there. She probably expected him to stop there. But he wasn’t finished:

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

This new kind of worship is not tied to a certain geographical location, a temple or building; or a certain tribe or race of people, or a set of religious rules and practices. This new kind of worship is spiritual worship.

Importantly, he says that true worship is rooted in the nature of God Himself: “God is spirit.” Because God is what He is, our worship of Him must conform to Him, as He really is. “His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” It all begins with the nature of God. The heart of worship is God Himself – not an image of Him, not our thoughts of Him, or ideas about Him written in books, not our own personal experience of Him. We approach God in worship because He is God and we are His creation.

Jesus tells us that “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship him in spirit and in truth.” This is very lofty teaching. But we are practical people. We want to know the answer “How?” What is this kind of worship? What does “spiritual worship” look like?

Many people around the world “worship” with mere gestures and tokens. They go to the temple, make an offering; perhaps they go to a church or a mosque out of a sense of religious duty.

Where is our temple? We – the church – are God’s true temple.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?

1 Corinthians 3:16

Look at how Paul summarizes God’s amazing plan:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure, being joined together, rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22

He has given us a new identity: he calls us his children, members of his household. He has put his Spirit in us – a new power source. And He is building us together into a holy temple – a new way of worship.

The woman at the well wanted to know where and how to worship. Here is the answer.

In closing, I would like to encourage you with these three thoughts:

  1. Jesus offers a new identity. Because we are in Christ, we are new creatures. We are God’s own children. Praise God! All the hostility and prejudice that may exist between people has been overcome by the Cross.
  2. Jesus offers a new source. He gives us his indwelling Holy Spirit. He makes us into rivers of blessing into the lives of others. We minister in His strength, not our own.
  3. Jesus offers us a new way of worship. His purpose is to create a holy temple where He is worshiped. That temple is US, the church, worshiping Him in spirit and in truth.

Let’s pray.

Note: Some portions of this message have appeared in earlier posts on this blog. I am told that it is accepted practice for preachers sometimes to recycle material.

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