Sermon by Tony Hobbs – 6th May 2018
Into a new situation with the Lord
In Spirit and Truth
The Jews tried to have as little contact with the Samaritans as possible. There were historical reasons, going back a number of centuries.
The current Samaritans were the descendants of foreign peoples placed in the northern territories of Israel after the exile of the northern tribes to Assyria (721 BCE). The foreigners had inter-married with the Jews that remained.
The exile had happened because the northern tribes had moved further and further away from the Lord, especially rejecting Jerusalem and God’s covenant with David.
Samaria was far from isolated! It was in a strategic location, and Jews would need to travel through it.
Samaritan religion survived – and survives to this day. It has two features that are noteworthy:
1. They recognised the authority of the Law, the first five books of the OT.
2. Their focal point of worship was Mt Gerizim. This was the mountain we encountered last week; the mountain associated with God’s blessings of Israel as they entered the Promised Land.
Jesus in Samaria
To avoid premature confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus leaves Judea and leaves for Galilee – which effectively necessitates going through Samaria.
The encounter with the woman at the well at Sycar is used by the Gospel writer to highlight an important theological principle: that Jesus, as Messiah, is the one who will gather the ten ‘lost tribes’ and re-unite true Israel.
As important as this theological principle is, today we highlight some other themes from the passage that are of particular relevance to us.
True worship is not about place
The woman is initially confused by the dialogue!
Jesus makes it clear that true worship is not about any geographical location – no matter how important it has been under the old covenant – but about worshipping in Spirit and Truth.
However, we should note that Jesus never says the old covenant truths can be ignored! He emphasises that it is through the Jews, through the Davidic covenant, that God’s promises are to be, are being, fulfilled.
Open to all
Jesus’ encounter with the woman makes it very clear that no-one is excluded from true worship, true relationship with the Father.
The Samaritan woman is amazed that Jesus accepts her!
Her testimony leads other Samaritans to come to Jesus and He also accepts them.
Relationship with God is not about worshipping Him in a particular place but through a particular person:
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Kingdom events take place where the King is!
Following the star, the Magi are first puzzled that the new King is not found in a palace.
They bring their worship to an ordinary house in Bethlehem. (Matthew 2:11.)
In John 4, Jesus works in the very place despised by Jews.
An outworking of the principle we from another reading we often associate with Christmas:
He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
As we move into a new situation…
It is helpful to remember – it is vital to remember – that true relationship with the Lord, true worship of Him, is not dependent on either place or practice. This is old covenant thinking.
True worship of Him is about relating to Him in Spirit and Truth.
For the woman, part of this was having her old sinful, self exposed, facing up to the truth that she was a damaged person, having her old coping strategies stripped away, and experiencing in her life the truth that Jesus brought.
It was her testimony relationship with Jesus that impacted her community.