It’s Easter morning here in Houston where thousands of people are putting on their “Sunday best” and going to their favorite church building, temple, cathedral, etc. Many of them are convinced that their “church” is the right one to worship in and that they are doing exactly what God requires of them. Here in the Bible Belt of southern USA, it’s considered a sin to miss church on Sundays and a sacrilege to miss on Easter and Christmas! It was this mindset that Jesus was confronted with by that Samaritan woman He met by the well outside her village that day.
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.” (John 4:19-20, ESV)
As usual, Jesus did not answer people’s questions from their earthbound mindsets, but from the viewpoint of His Father in heaven.
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. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:19-24, ESV)
What? Her head must have been spinning! You mean that real worship in the eyes of the Father has nothing to do with going to sacred buildings and temples on “holy days of obligation?” Nope! True worship comes from the Spirit of God in hearts that live IN His truth, not in an outward pretense of the religious norms and traditions of men. Even David of old had that figured out (read Psalm 51). It is interesting that today’s Open Windows (1) daily reading that I receive is addressing this very thing on the day when an outward show or piety is at its max.
You desire truth in the inner being. (Psalm 51:6)
In the course of our spiritual history God deals with us in ever-deepening ways. Down, down, down, He goes, until He touches bottom to have things true at our very depth. He undercuts all our professions, doctrines, assumptions, pretensions, illusions, and customs…. There is no mere formalism about this; no mere Jewish ritual in this; no mere outward observance of rites and ceremonies in this! No! This has got to go right into the inmost being, in the inward parts. God works toward that. God is ever working toward the most inward parts. Do you recognize that? Do you understand what He is doing with us? Oh, He will meet us with blessing on a certain level, as we walk before Him, like the man in Psalm 1. He will meet us with His gracious provision when we transgress and trespass and fail, and do wrong – He will meet us there in grace. But God is going to pursue this matter to the most inward place of our being, and register there His work of grace and redemption.
The Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are characterized by this one feature – truth! And God desires and has set His heart upon having people who are partakers of the Divine nature, and so He is working ever more deeply toward this end: what is true of Himself shall be true of His children – those begotten of Him – that they should be true sons of God in this sense. (2)
Oh yes, He deals with us in ever deepening ways. Most of us Christians feel His probing gaze into our hearts and it makes us uncomfortable to say the least. So, what do we do? We run off to a church, Bible school or seminary (our Samaritan “holy mountains”) and offer the sacrifice of our lips to try and appease Him so that our soulish discomfort will go away. It’s this holding to the traditions of men (which are not supported by the New Testament) that keeps us going to these places while the piercing gaze of the Father goes ever deeper into our souls. So what’s next? We give more money, more time to those systems and more effort to make them work while we try to appease our inward discomfort. Eventually, we get the picture that all this institutionalism is not getting the job done, so we try meeting in homes on a regular basis, not understanding that our Father is not going to let up until He finds truth, His Son, freely living in our inward parts.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. (Ps 51:6, ESV2011)
I thank God that He never lets-up until He sees His divine truth in our inner most being where He desires to dwell. With David I pray,
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:10-12, ESV)