Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on 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 the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
— John 4:16-21
At Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, John Piper has been preaching through the book of John. The past weeks they have been looking at the story of Jesus and his encounter with the woman at the well. This past week they examined how Jesus spoke with her concerning her adultery and what it means to us as we read it:
You may move through sexual partners, like she did, or through friends, or jobs, or churches, or hobbies, or hairstyles, or wardrobes, or cars, or locations. Never able to settle with a kind of deeply contented identity in Christ, satisfied daily with the ever-springing water of his fellowship.
I don’t mean that the Christian life is static. But there is a difference between the confident movement of faith and the craving movement of frustration. On the one hand, there is restless movement from one thing to the next because we have no solid, satisfied identity in Christ. And on the other hand, we have Christ as our Fountain of life and we move with purposefulness and creativity in the life and power that this living water gives. There is a difference between the jumping from one thing to the next out of frustration and the moving purposefully out of faith.
Jesus is teaching us about ourselves as well as about his glorious sufficiency as water, prophet, savior, and Messiah.
The other thing that is happening in the story is that the woman, like us, is looking at all kinds of externals (water, adultery, where to worship) and is ignoring the inner issues. Jesus knows this and, while not trying to press her on her sin, is not going there either. Piper addresses this as well:
How many times have you been trying to explain to someone about how Jesus died for sinners and rose again to provide forgiveness and reconciliation and have the persons say, “What about the hate speech of right-wing fanatics?” Or “What about gay rights?” Or “What about the people who have never heard about Jesus?”
The remarkable thing about Jesus here is that he does not say, “Let’s stay on the subject, ma’am. We are talking about your adultery.” But neither does he let her define exactly where they are going next.
Jesus is willing to go with her to her topic, but not to her issue. Her issue is: Where do we worship? Her whole life is one of externals. She is dead on the inside, and all she can relate to now are superficial externals. Her distracting question only deals with geography (verse 20): “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
Jesus won’t deal at that level. He has gone into her heart, and that is what he will deal with. Verse 21: Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” In other words, “We are at a juncture in history when the place of worship will simply be irrelevant.” Verse 23: “The hour is coming, and is now here [because I am here!], when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” The issue is not in this mountain or that mountain, but spirit and truth.
What you need, ma’am, is a spirit that is alive and a mind in love with truth.