The Cure for a Lonely Soul
Dr. Jim Denison
My father-in-law recently sent me this story. It seems that a young preacher was asked by the local funeral director to hold a graveside service at a small local cemetery. The deceased had no family or friends. The preacher got lost getting to the cemetery. Half an hour late, he saw a backhoe and its crew, but the hearse was nowhere in sight and the workmen were eating lunch.
The diligent young pastor went to the open grave and found the vault lid already in place. Taking out his Bible, he began to speak. Feeling guilty because of his tardiness, he delivered an impassioned and lengthy message. As he was returning to his car, he overheard one of the workmen say, “I’ve been putting in septic tanks for 20 years and have never seen anything like that.”
At least the preacher was passionate. We could do worse today.
This morning we begin a biblical series titled, “Knowing the Great ‘I Am.’” In these weeks we will see God as he really is. Not the God our culture imagines, a kindly Grandfather in the sky who never interferes with our lives and makes no demands of us. Nor the God some religions imagine, a Judge with religious requirements and legalistic rules.
I’ll be showing you God as he really is. How do I know? Because we will study Jesus’ own autobiography. Eight events where he says, “I am.” Eight stages where he pulls back the curtain and reveals himself to us. Eight invitations to worship him as he requires, and to be transformed by the experience.
We begin today with the first “I am,” and its call to worship God “in spirit and truth.” This morning we are called to worship the Great I Am with personal passion and intensity. Unless we offer such worship, our souls are lonely, weak, and impoverished, more than we may know. Here is their cure.
Rejoice in his grace (vs. 1-6)
Jesus is in the first year of his public ministry. The Pharisees learn of his growing success; to avoid conflict at this early stage of his work, he leaves Judea for Galilee. And so “he had to go through Samaria” (v. 4). Not geographically, but spiritually.
Samaria was that land between Judea to the south and Galilee to the north; it was the most direct route for Jesus’ journey. But most Jews avoided it like the plague, for reasons we’ll soon see. They crossed the Jordan River to the east, traveled north through Perea, and then re-crossed the Jordan into Galilee.
But not Jesus. He was compelled by the Spirit of God to go through this forsaken, despised, rejected region.
He found himself at Sychar, the modern village of Askar. It was an important place historically; Joseph’s bones were buried there (Joshua 24:32), and the “well of Jacob” was located half a mile south. The well is 100 feet deep; you can still drink its water today.
It is the “sixth hour” (v. 6), 12:00 noon, the hottest part of the day. So Jesus sits on the wooden platform built around the mouth of the well. And talks to a Samaritan woman, one of the most shocking things our Lord ever did on this planet.
Why the shock?
She is a Samaritan, and “Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (v. 9). When the Assyrian king captured the Jewish Northern Kingdom, he replaced the Jews in Samaria with foreigners who worshiped the Lord but also their own idolatrous gods. The Jews despised them, so they built their own Temple on Mt. Gerazim to rival the one in Jerusalem, rejected all the books of the Jewish Bible except the first five, and made their own high priest.
In 129 B.C., John Hyrcanus led the Jews to attack Samaria and destroy their temple. In retaliation, the Samaritans worked with the Romans against the Jews. They welcomed all who had been excommunicated by the Jews. And so the Jews considered them the worst of the human race. And this woman is one of them.
She is a woman. And no Jewish rabbi would speak to a woman in public—not even his own wife, daughter, or sister.
And she is a sinner. She has had five husbands, and is living with a sixth man now. She is so rejected by her society that she must walk half a mile, past 80 springs in the area, to get water during the heat of the day.
What would people think if they saw a visiting rabbi, a single man, alone with the most notorious adulteress in town?
Jesus doesn’t care what the crowds or disciples will think. He cares only for this lonely soul. If he cares about her, he cares about you. And me. If he knows her past, he knows ours. If he knows her failings, he knows ours. He knows our troubles at work, our problems at school, our frustrations with our parents or our children. He knows our temptations and weaknesses. He knows who we are when no one else is looking. And if he would accept her, he will accept us.
But there’s a string attached.
Worship him with the passion he deserves (vs. 21-26)
The woman has asked Jesus where they should worship—on Mt. Gerazim or in Jerusalem. Hear his reply: “…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (v. 23). Why? Because “God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (v. 24).
Anyone can worship God. As Augustine said, we can trust our past to God’s mercy, our present to his love, and our future to his providence. Any of us can know God as he truly is. But only if we worship him “in spirit and truth.” Let’s explore both.
First, we must worship God “in spirit.”