John 4:20, "Our fathers
worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where
men ought to worship."
This morning, there is an adage that states there are no foolish statements or
stupid questions. In all fairness, the Bible refutes that line of thinking by
referencing vain and profane babblings (II Timothy 2:16) and foolish and
unlearned questions. (II Timothy 2:23) However, our attitude and reaction to
these things needs to be tempered with wisdom, prudence, and certainly loving
compassion. If we readily find that we are dealing with an unreasonable fool
(Proverbs 26:4), then we need to shun his babblings and avoid his questions.
But, if we readily discover that we are dealing with an ignorant fool (Proverbs
26:5), then we need to seek to instruct him more perfectly in the way of the
Lord. (Acts 18:26) As our perfect example, Christ was posed with many foolish
questions and vain babblings, and his answer to these situations varied based on
the people He was dealing with. Whenever He is in the presence of the ignorant
(as opposed to the unreasonable), His mode of answer is much different than
what we might expect. It is this venue that we would like to investigate this
morning with the woman at the well.
In speaking with this Samaritan woman, Christ expounds upon a great many
subjects, and the structure of the conversation bears a striking resemblance to
the conversation in the previous chapter with Nicodemus. While the subjects
discussed were not identical, Christ's interaction with both people is quite
similar. The woman has changed the subject line of the conversation to speak
about public worship, as the previously discussed subject was getting a little
too personal for her. Her statement is made with an implied question. Even
though she did not ask Christ a direct question, there is an inference made in
her statement as to what He thinks about proper worship, specifically where it
should be offered.
Now, looking at this from my own viewpoint, I might have been tempted to respond
quite shortly, "Geography is not important." However, Christ chooses rather to
speak in the affirmative and show in positive language what is really important.
He does indeed use some negative language - Verse 21 - to show that one day
neither Jerusalem nor that mountain would be a haven of proper worship, but He
does not leave her in the dark about how proper worship should be (and at that
time was being) executed. As we converse with people today, we may at times have
to use some negative language talking about how things are not, but we should
always affirm the way things are so that the hearers know what to seek and how
to perform. (Titus 3:8) Yet, without so many words, Christ takes her statement
and shows a measure of truth within it.
This woman could have picked any number of geographical locations to reference
if they were places of proper worship. The Greeks worshipped in Athens at Mars'
hill. The Ephesians had a large temple to Diana. Yet, she offers up two
locations as choices for correct worship. While not quite on the subject here,
always be careful of people offering limited choices. When someone says, "It is
either A or B," many times there can be a C, D, or E. Whenever we come to the
"crossroads of life," folks will say, "Choose left or right." At a true
crossroads, we can turn left or right, but if we are headed in the right
direction, we can choose to continue straight, or if we are in a seriously
erroneous path, we can back away (turn around).
As Christ drives toward the ultimate thought of this discussion (spirit and
truth - Verse 24), He makes a few statements that show that the woman's
geographical choices did have some symbolical merit. He tells her that she does
not know what she worships, but that the Jews did. (Verse 22) What He is telling
her is that she (nor her kinsmen) have the truth of how to worship. The Jews had
the knowledge of how to worship, but she was lacking in that regard. Yet, the
Samaritans of that region still chose to worship in a mountain. They may have
had a noble spirit about what they were doing, but they were ultimately not
worshipping properly as they did not have the truth.
Studying various religious practices, many groups prefer elevated places to
worship (mountains and hills). While this is not indicative (in all cases) of
changed hearts, they are zealous in their efforts. The prophets of Baal in I
Kings 18 were very zealous on Mount Carmel. There was some spirit there (albeit
the wrong kind - I John 4:1), and their efforts showed great dedication to their
religion. Some today worship they know not what and have a zeal of God, but not
according to knowledge. (Romans 10:2) Yet, they still feel lifted up in their
service. They have elevated thoughts and elevated actions that are indicative of
seeking to rise above this world in their efforts of service. They loathe things
in the world and want to be above them.
On the other hand, the Jews were "in love" with Jerusalem. It contained their
temple, the ornaments, the holy place, the priests, etc. Everything they held
dear was there, and to them, it was the only geographical place worthy of
worshipping. Now, to a point, Jerusalem was the haven of proper worship as the
truth was the priesthood was necessary to perform different acts (and so the
people had to go up to Jerusalem for feasts, sacrifices, etc.). Jerusalem was
the keeper of the truth of proper worship, bound up in the old covenant
priesthood. Yet, Christ just as clearly shows that Jerusalem's importance in
that regard would soon be gone. As simply as I know how to say it, natural
Jerusalem does not hold spiritual significance to me unless there are bands of
people inhabiting that city worshipping in spirit and in truth.
Yet, people today still go up to a heavenly Jerusalem that is still the keeper
of truth, bound up in the ordinances as they have been delivered and kept.
(Galatians 4:26, I Timothy 3:15, I Corinthians 11:2) People today still believe
what Christ and His apostles taught then. As such, we are stewards of that great
truth as found in the Holy Scriptures. Indeed, none of us know everything there
is to know, but His people in His church still have the faith once delivered to
the saints. (Jude 3) Just as the Samaritans had much spirit in their service
without the truth of faith and order, so the Jews had the oracles of God but had
become rigid and cold in their exercise of it. It might be called duty for
duty's sake or perhaps a single-minded focus of legalistic purity.
Now the point for us today is simply this. The woman's statement inadvertently
showed that the Jews and the Samaritans (to a degree) had the elements of proper
worship. The mountain signified the spirit of rising up, while Jerusalem
signified the truth as committed unto the Jews. We have today an oasis in the
desert of life that Christ calls His church. (Matthew 16:18) She is referred to
as a mountain (Psalm 48, Hebrews 12, Daniel 2, etc), and she is also called
Jerusalem. (Isaiah 33:20, Galatians 4:26, etc.) For her to worship properly
today, she must be found rising up as a mountain that is above the filth of the
world. She must have the gracious, dedicated, and loving spirit of the virtuous
woman that is like a light set on a hill. However, she cannot have this loving
persona to the neglect of keeping the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, much like
natural Jerusalem was to be a beacon of the covenant of God upon Israel. May we
be found keeping ourselves unspotted from the world dwelling in the mountain of
our God while earnestly cleaving to the truth of God's word in spiritual