God seeks worshipers. That’s what Jesus says in our Gospel reading. Israel was called out of Egypt to worship. But, at Sinai, they proved unfaithful. The Samaritans, who worshiped on Mount Gerizim, incorporated foreign gods, along with Yahweh in their sacred assemblies. The Jews worshiped God in Jerusalem. But, even in the Holy City, worship of God was not pure. Many laws had been added to God’s commands and statutes. The leaders became legalistic and power hungry. When the Messiah came, they did not worship Him. Rather, they rejected Him. Would mankind ever truly worship God in a way pleasing to Him? An hour was coming and has indeed come! Read on…
Read Exodus 3:1-18 – Come and Worship
Exodus 3 contains the famous “burning bush” meeting of God and Moses. In this encounter, Moses receives a commissioning from God to return to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. God is moving to fulfill His promise to Abraham – that His people will have a land. Genesis 17:8 reiterates God’s vow. “And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
But God’s purpose for the Exodus was more than just a “get out of jail free” card. And it was more than setting up his covenant family in a prime location with a view. Exodus 3:18 reveals another intention behind the extraction of the children of Israel from Egypt. God instructs Moses and the elders to, “…go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’” After 400 years of living as slaves in a foreign land, the people had adopted pagan practices and worshiped the false gods of Egypt. Hosea 11:1 states, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.” So, it should come as no surprise that the first matter at hand is leading the Israelites into the wilderness so that they might sacrifice to the Lord and return to the exclusive worship of God.
God desired for the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be His faithful worshipers. But, even after God extracted His people from their plight in Egypt by dramatic and unmistakable signs and miracles, within days, they returned to worshiping a golden calf – a god of the Egyptians. God’s anger burned against the people because of their unfaithfulness, but Moses reminded God of the covenant He had established with Abraham – to multiply his offspring and give them a land. Moses inquired what kind of testimony it would be to bring the Israelites into freedom merely to slay them in the wilderness. God relented, but a plague fell on His people because of their sin (Genesis 32). In this horrendous scene of false worship and unfaithfulness, a pattern was set in place for generations. God would deliver His people and they would be faithful for a time. But as they grew complacent, they turned to other gods and other ways. God would bring judgment. The people would repent and return to God. God would restore them. The people would become complacent. And so it goes. Would the people ever learn to follow the covenant perfectly? Frankly, no they wouldn’t. Not ever. NEVER.
Now, before we become too pious, we cannot keep the covenant perfectly either. We also have things which take the place of God. They go by different names than Baal, Dagon or Ashteroth. But they are worshiped nonetheless. We bow down to sports, technology, entertainment, leisure, prestige, beauty, food, fame, fortune and everything that goes with it. So, what is the answer for unfaithful humanity? We are unable to relate to God on our own merits. Our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). We turn back to Egypt and the old way of life every time. So, how will we be set free from our bondage to the repeated pattern of infidelity? We need someone who will accomplish this for us! Wouldn’t it be great to have Someone who could take our place and represent us before God? Someone who could lead us into a purity and holiness that we would never discover on our own!
Read John 4:19-26 – Come and Worship in Spirit and Truth
In Jesus’ amazing discussion with the Samaritan woman, after offering her “living water” and confronting her sinful lifestyle, they turn to a discussion of right worship. What a jarring transition! They were talking about her five husbands and she changes the subject to worship. There may be a very good reason for this. You see, the Canaanite word for “husbands” is “Baals.” This is the same word for the male gods of the Samaritans. 2 Kings 17:28-31 reveals to us that the Israelites dispersed to Samaria adopted the 5 male “Baals” or false gods of five foreign nations. Jesus was obviously talking to the Samaritan woman about her dysfunctional family life and her five husbands. But, could there also be a deeper meaning. Let’s substitute “god” for “husband” since the word “Baal” can be translated either way. Could Jesus have also communicated to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no god; for you have had five gods, and the one you are with now (Jesus was with her at that time) is not your God. What you have said is true” (John 4:17-18). This reading makes for a much smoother transition to a discussion of right worship!
John 4:21-24 contains their dialogue. “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.”
This passage reveals several fascinating truths. Foremost, God is still interested in having faithful worshipers. In fact, God “seeks” worshipers. But the worshipers God desires must worship “in spirit” and “in truth”. Through the annals of history, mankind has proven that we lack the capacity to worship as God desires. So, God gives us exactly what we need. He sends Himself to us through the Incarnation of His only begotten Son. Jesus comes as our representative head and to restore us to right standing before His Father. Our only hope to worship as God desires is to approach Him through Christ in the power of the Spirit. This means that we need an Exodus from sin and into the Savior. It requires dying to the old way of bondage to sin, and being raised from death to life. But how is this New Exodus accomplished? It is accomplished by being united to Christ.
Paul writes in Romans 6:6-11, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Our Exodus from sin and death is exclusively established in unity with Christ. In verse 5 of Romans 6 Paul says, For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
If we are to worship God as He desires, that is, in “Spirit and Truth”, then we must crucify our old selves and the old ways, and be raised up to new life in Christ. Jesus said, “I am the Way, THE TRUTH, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). In Christ, we are in the Truth! And those who are in Christ also have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (John 14:17). Herein is the requirement met and the blessing given so that we may worship in the Spirit and in the Truth!
The Israelites could be taken out of Egypt, but could Egypt be taken out of the Israelites? The answer was, “No!” What about us? For us to break free from the old ways, we must be buried with Christ, and raised with Christ to walk in newness of life. If we are truly to worship God as He desires, it must be “in Christ” – for Jesus is the only One who gets it right! As we walk this pathway to the Passion, may each step become a further immersion into the story of Jesus.