John 4:21-24 (NKJV)
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth.”
The text before us today is frequently misconstrued. It is imagined that Jesus is contrasting the external, formal worship of the Old Testament period with the heartfelt, internal worship of the New. At one time people worshiped externally, now all worship is “in spirit and truth” – that is, heartfelt and genuine.
The difficulty faced by advocates of this approach is not the insistence that worship is to be heartfelt and genuine. That is most certainly true. The difficulty is that this was no less true in the Old Testament than in the New. “Sacrifice and burnt offering you did not desire,” David declares. “The sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite spirit.” Heartfelt, genuine worship was to characterize the Old Testament no less than the new?
What then is the change Jesus is anticipating? There are actually two changes. First, Jesus insists that the corporate worship of the people of God would be decentralized. No longer on Mount Gerizim in Samaria nor on Mount Zion in Jerusalem would corporate worship be confined – rather corporate worship would be spread throughout the earth. Note that he is addressing corporate worship, for that was what happened in Jerusalem and, idolatrously, on Mt. Gerizim. Jesus is announcing that wherever the servants of God gather together in the Name of Christ and lift His Name on high, there is Mount Zion, there is the City of our God, there is the place of corporate worship. Jerusalem in Israel is no longer the center of God’s dealings with man; the heavenly Jerusalem, Mount Zion, the Church is the center.
Second, Jesus informs us that not only would corporate worship be decentralized, it would be explicitly Trinitarian. When Jesus rose from the dead and sent forth His Spirit, the worship of God’s people was forever transformed. It became explicitly Trinitarian – worshiping the Father in Spirit – the very Spirit whom Jesus promised would come and lead His people into all righteousness – and in Truth – the very Truth who took on human flesh and declared to His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” Today is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday the Church has historically emphasized the Triune nature of God. It is this that Jesus does in our text. Worshiping the Father in Spirit and Truth is not an exhortation to heartfelt, genuine worship – that exhortation had been given throughout the Old Testament. Worshiping the Father in Spirit and Truth is to worship the Triune God not some vanilla deity. It was this transformation that Jesus anticipated and announced in His words to the Samaritan woman. “The time is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.”
So what does this mean for us? It means that this morning as we gather together to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth we are entering into the presence of God Himself. Brothers and sisters, the roof has been ripped off and we have been ushered into the presence of the Most High. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born who are registered in heaven…” (Heb 12:22-23) And, like Isaiah, who entered into the presence of God in the Temple, the first thing that should strike us is our own unworthiness – we are not worthy to be here. And so let us kneel and seek His forgiveness through Christ.