The following sermon was prepared by Ps Lucas Stoltz. Click here: John 4:20-24, to download or stream the audio sermon, or click here: John 4:20-24. for the video version. Alternatively, you can read the notes below, or follow along as you watch or listen.

John 4:20-24, Acceptable Worship:

  • Last week’s theme really dug deep into our hearts and minds, and it called us to reform. However, even though we looked at some practicalities, and the approach of worship; a question that arose was – what makes our worship of God worthy?
  • You see, because our hearts grow hard and weary so quickly, how can our worship at any time be of worth before God? Outside of Christ, it isn’t. In Christ, it can be – but it doesn’t mean that it always is.

1. The Context of Acceptable Worship:

  • Text – v1-24
  • Explanation – so this is a conversation Jesus is having with a Samaritan woman, and He confronts her with her sin. She is an outcast as a Samaritan, and she’s even more an outcast as a harlot. So He’s having this conversation with this woman, and He talks about living water and never thirsting spiritually again.
  • Then she realizes that He knows about her sin, and she is convicted by that. Eventually, as you follow the story, she acknowledges Him as Messiah, goes and tells her village, and a marvellous act of evangelism is resulted in the salvation of Samaritans.
  • But our focus is with the conversation from verse 20 where having had her sin exposed, she realizes she’s in trouble with God. And immediately she poses the question about how to make that right. And what she refers to is, worship. She says in verse 20, “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.
  • Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.
  • Illustration – She understands what many people don’t understand, that being delivered from divine judgment requires worship. She knows that she is a sinner, she is exposed! More importantly, she now knows that the Messiah knows this about her too.
  • How does she remedy that? The answer is to become a true worshiper. So the conversation is about worship. There are ten appearances of the word “worship” just in these few verses. So the conversation is intensely about worship. And it reveals to us the initiator of worship, the object of worship, the realm of worship, and even the nature of worship.
  • Application – A similar example of this this happening in a church can be seen in 1 Corinthians 14. Paul is writing to the Corinthians about their services and the times they were coming together. He says that there’s too much disorder – there was all kinds of people speaking in tongues out of place and turn; just having no order.
  • Paul says, verse 23 – “unbelievers are going to say, ‘You’re mad.’” But go down to verse 24, “if all prophesy,” or preach – same  word, “and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” 
  • An unbeliever in a service sitting under preaching falling on his face and worshipping God is another way of talking about their conversion, or salvation. We don’t use this kind of language, but this is tha language used in the New Testament, and by Jesus.
  • When you come to Christ, you bow down, you fall on your face, and you recognize your sinfulness. You cry out for salvation so that you will become a worshiper of God.
  • Conclusion – See Jesus and Paul reveals something about our natural condition, and that is this; we are all worshippers. A true worshiper worships in the Spirit of God. Not just like this on a Sunday, but in the everyday doings of life.
  • Still, everybody worships, everybody bows. But most people bow to themselves in some way, and truly then, they are bowing to the kingdom of darkness.
  • Yet the Bible is very clear about how we are to worship. Turn to Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
  • Let’s go further down in Romans to 14:17, “The kingdom of God is not eating or drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves” or worships “Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” So that’s three examples where we are told to offer God acceptable worship because that is what pleases God.
  • Bridge – Hebrews 12:28 says, “since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service” – or worship – “with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.
  • So there is also a seriousness of coming to God – He is a consuming fire. We come with reverence, and awe, and joy in the Holy Spirit. We come with our bodies and our minds prepared. That’s the approach of acceptable worship. But before I get into the practicalities of the ‘how’ of acceptable worship, let’s talk about unacceptable worship.

2. The Contrast to Acceptable Worship:

  • Text – v20-22
  • Explanation – In our passage, we have an incorrect understanding of true worship. The woman’s focus and the where and when, not the who and how. This brings me to the first reality of unacceptable worship, and that is the worship of any other god.
  • Scripture teaches us that you “shall have no other gods before Me. My glory will I not give to another.” This is such a serious command that in the Old Testament, capital punishment came along with worshiping a false god. So unacceptable worship would be to worship any other god than the true and living God as revealed in Scripture.
  • Illustration – An example of this is to go to Exodus chapter 32. God’s people melted all their gold while Moses was up on the mountain getting the law, and they created a golden calf, and they worshiped that golden calf.
  • They worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, “‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” What was the result of this? God destroyed three thousand of them on the spot because of this unacceptable worship of any other god than the true God.
  • Application – There is a second kind of unacceptable worship, and we can call it a self-style approach. This means not following the revealed prescriptions for worship. God gave the children of Israel very clear instructions as to how He would be worshiped.
  • Yet, when we go to Leviticus 10, we find two priests, Nadab and Abihu, who come before the Lord and offer strange fire. What that means is that whatever they brought of fire to the altar was not according to the divine prescription.
  • See the point was to let everyone know that God cares about how He is worshiped, but Nadab and Abihu showed up and offered some kind of strange fire of their own design, and immediately were executed on the spot. Their issue was, they were worshiping the true God but in a way that violated God’s own revealed prescription.
  • Conclusion – so violating any of God’s prescriptions for worship, resulted in death. This is what led the Reformers to come up with what’s called the regulative principle. They regulated their worship according to what the Scripture says worship should be: observing communion, praying, the reading of the Word, the preaching of the Word, and praise in song.
  • However, there’s a third reality of unacceptable worship. This is worship of the true God with the proper form but an empty heart. As an example, we look at Matthew 15, Jesus says to the religious leaders of Israel, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. In vain do they worship Me.” So you might be in the right place doing the right thing at the right time, but if your heart does not belong to the Lord it is worship in vain.
  • God down to Matthew 23, Jesus again says, “You hypocrites.” He just keeps repeating it! What was the issue? You may be in the right place, doing the prescribed things; but if you don’t have a heart of love and devotion to God, you’re a hypocrite.
  • Bridge – So unacceptable worship is to worship another god, or the true God in a self-style motivation, or the true God with an empty heart. So what is acceptable worship? Let’s go back to our passage in John.

3. The Comfort of Acceptable Worship:

  • Text – v23-24
  • Explanation – Jesus reveals the truth about worship to this woman, and firstly; the comfort is the position. Acceptable worship can only come from a true worshiper. A true worshiper is someone who has been saved by grace through faith, Ephesians 2:8-9.
  • Now even as a pagan Samaritan, she understood that the issue was about worshiping God appropriately. If she was going to be delivered from judgment and from the consequence of her sin, she needed to become a true worshiper.
  • And her response is, “Where do I worship?” Is it on the mountain? Is it down in Jerusalem? Where do I go to worship? The where is before God. Let’s look at verse 23 again, and you’ll see that there is an initiator of worship.
  • We read, “For such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” The Father initiates worship. Our text doesn’t say the Creator seeks true worshipers, but the Father. Why the Father? It speaks of relationship.  That is to say that since God is by nature a Father, He is a God of love.
  • Illustration – Friends, this loving God seeks to redeem sinners and bring them into relationship to Him. And God has always revealed Himself as a Father. John 14 describes salvation as being wrapped up in this incredible love of God.
  • Listen to verse 20 onward, “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 
  • Verse 23 says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” So salvation is all about being wrapped up in the amazing love of God.
  • There is no true worship unless we are in Christ, that is why Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” So we say the goal of salvation is worshipers, sought by God, because He loves.
  • Application – So that’s the where. The where is before God. Now the question may be, the who or what of worship? The object of worship is the Father. Our text says, “You worship the Father.” Verse 23, “Worshipers will worship the Father.”
  • This Father is also identified in verse 24 as Spirit. This means He is not confined to an idol or confined to a building. Isaiah 66 tells us “The Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands.”
  • So where do you go to worship? God is Spirit, you worship Him anywhere and everywhere. He has a new temple. What is His new temple? 1 Corinthians 10: “We are the body of Christ.” Paul says to the Corinthians, “We are the temple of the Spirit of God.” God has taken up residence in us.
  • And that leads us to a final thought: the nature of worship. This is where we get to the practicals. “Jesus said to her, you worship what you don’t know.’” What did He mean by that? The Samaritans only accepted the five books of Moses and they rejected all the rest of the Old Testament.
  • Jesus is saying, “You don’t have the full revelation, so you worship in ignorance.” And He says, “We worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” They had the full revelation, and with it, the knowledge of salvation came to the Jews.
  • Therefore, Jesus says “Those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit” – that is from the heart with love – “and truth,” according to the Word of God. 
  • Conclusion – Psalm 47:7 says, “Sing praise with understanding.” So you need to worship with a full knowledge of the truth and with a full heart of love. That’s worship. Friends, true worship is any and every expression of obedience, praise, honor, adoration, and gratitude offered to the true God by a heart who knows the truth about God and loves Him.
  • This is a way of life. We are the true worshipers the Father sought and found. If you’re a Christian, you’re a worshiper and you’ve been literally saved to worship. So prayer is worship. Ministry is worship. Thankfulness to God is worship. Everything you do in your life should be an act of worship to the Lord.