Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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“But an hour is coming, and is here already, when true worshippers will worship the Father spiritually and truly, for the Father is searching for such people to worship Him. God is a spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
Jesus, in John 4:23—24
Moses learned, the hard way, the danger of obeying an old commandment of God instead of the new one that replaced it when he took his rod and struck the rock at Kadesh-barnea (Num. 20:7—12). A year or so earlier, God told Moses to strike a rock at Mount Sinai (Ex. 17:5—6), but here at Kadesh, God’s commandment was not to strike the rock but to “speak to the rock.” Moses’ punishment for this disobedience was severe (Num. 20:12). Apparently, Moses prayed too often that God would change His mind about the punishment He meted out to Moses because God finally told him not to say anything else about it (Dt. 3:23—27).
Anyone of faith who has read the Old Testament understands that, through Moses, God gave the law to Israel at Mount Sinai. His commandments concerning the various sacrifices that Israel’s priests were to offer were His; they were “holy, and just, and good”, and every person in Israel who loved God observed them.
Before Moses’ law was given, the righteous worshiped God where they wanted to, on high hills (Gen. 12:8), in groves (Gen. 21:33), or anywhere else they chose, but in the law, God changed that. In the law, He commanded His people to offer their sacrifices in only one place, the place that He would choose (Dt. 12:1—8). Those in Israel who continued to worship God in high places and groves after God chose that one place for sacrifices were considered transgressors, and some of them were executed by righteous kings and prophets for their rebellion. But whether or not they were punished by rulers on earth, after death, every one of those rebels against the law was cast into hell by God — for obeying God’s old way of worship instead of His new way. Many of them justified their rebellion against God’s new way of worship by claiming that they were merely doing as Abraham did. But God’s damnation of them was just.
All in Israel who were wise understood that their hope of eternal life depended upon their obedience to God’s commandments, including His commandments concerning sacrifices. In spite of the importance of those commandments, however, God did not intend for the kind of worship contained in the law, the ceremonial kind of worship, to continue forever.
Moses and David
Through Moses, God said He would chose a place for worship. Later, through David, God revealed to Israel that the one place He had chosen was the city of Jerusalem. Once, when Jesus was traveling north from Jerusalem to return to Galilee, he passed through the territory of Samaria. The Samaritans believed in the God of Israel but they rejected Moses and David’s doctrine that God had chosen one place, Jerusalem, as the place for them to worship Him. The Samaritans justified their rebellion against God by pointing to the many different places where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob worshiped God. They did not understand that although Abraham’s kind of worship was acceptable in Abraham’s day, after the law came, it became sin to worship God as Abraham had worshiped.
In his journey through Samaria, Jesus paused to rest by a well, where he met a woman who, when she discerned that Jesus was a Jew, began to bicker with him concerning the Jews’ claim that Jerusalem was the only place of acceptable worship. She said to Jesus, “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, but you, you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people have to worship.”
Jesus’ response was completely unexpected. “Woman, believe me, an hour is coming when you’ll worship the Father neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans don’t know what you’re worshipping; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But an hour is coming, and is here already, when true worshippers will worship the Father spiritually and truly, for the Father is searching for such people to worship Him. God is a spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:21—24). Do we understand what Jesus was saying here?
It was an extremely important matter under the law for the Jews to worship as God commanded them to worship instead of worshiping Him as He had once commanded Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The proper worship of God is no less important to our souls now. When God gave the law to Israel, Moses could have said to them, “The time is coming, and now is, when neither in high places or groves will you worship God. They who worship God must worship him in ceremonies and truth, for God is seeking for such people to worship Him.” God was requiring Israel to change the method of worship, and their souls depended on them obeying God’s new commandment to change! And just as there was a death penalty under the law for those who obeyed God’s old commandment concerning worship instead of His new one, there is an eternal consequence now for those who worship God as Israel once did instead of the way Jesus said we MUST worship God: “in spirit and in truth.”
Another Time and Place
The prophet Isaiah foretold of the time when God would command Israel to worship Him in the way Jesus mentioned and to abandon the old way of worship in fleshly ceremonies. In the law, for example, God commanded Israel to sacrifice oxen, but Isaiah said there was a time coming when whoever killed an ox for sacrifice would be guilty of a crime equivalent to the murder of a human being (Is. 66:3). That is how much God hates the man who obeys His old commandments! For another example, God commanded Israel’s priests to burn incense twice a day, every day of the year, but Isaiah said there was coming a time when whoever burned incense would be guilty of a crime equivalent to worshiping idols (Is. 66:3)! We know that whoever committed murder or worshiped idols was worthy of damnation; so, what does that tell us about how God feels about obeying His old commandments concerning worship instead of His new one?
Many of us desire to obey God’s commandments, but if we want to be saved from eternal damnation, we must obey God’s commandments that are for us now instead of His commandments that were for others in another time and place. Jesus said that those who worship God acceptably now “must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” The word “must” tells us that it still matters to God how we worship Him, and that it matters to Him a lot. The body of Christ is required to worship God as He commands them to worship Him, just as the Jews were absolutely required to worship as He commanded them. It has always been the case that there are eternal consequences for how God’s people worship Him.
Isaiah boldly told Israel the day was coming when animal sacrifice would be a capital offense. He risked his life to make such prophecies, for God’s people did not understand his words and could have condemned him for blasphemy against the law’s way of worship, which they knew God had given to man. But the boldness of Isaiah is needed today, to show God’s people their transgression against His new commandments concerning worship. Who has dared to proclaim to God’s people that if they are practicing water baptism, they are following an old commandment of God instead of worshiping Him as He now commands us to worship, for in this covenant, there is only “one baptism” (Eph. 4:5), that of the Spirit, not that of the flesh. Or who is warning God’s dear children that if they are burning incense as an act of worship now, it is all the same to God as if they are worshiping an idol? Where are the voices of courage and wisdom that God’s people need to hear? Who will tell them that if they are observing one day above another, or if they are wearing special clothing for worship, or ceremonial eating and drinking in the flesh, they are following an old commandment that is contrary to the Spirit of Christ — and that there is a death penalty for such rebellion against Christ?
In the Flesh
God’s old commandments were carnal in nature because the holy Ghost had not yet been given, but now that the Son of God has come and given his life to purchase life for us, God requires that we all must “walk in the Spirit, and not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” If we fail to understand this and continue serving God according to old commandments, we will show great disrespect for the suffering of the Son of God and run the risk of provoking the wrath of the Father.
May God give us the grace to honor Jesus as our Savior by trusting him alone to save us. His power is sufficient; his baptism is sufficient; his circumcision is sufficient; and his wisdom is sufficient. We are altogether “complete in him.” When we truly understand this, we will abandon every other form of worship but the worship that is in “spirit and in truth.”
The way Abraham worshiped God is insufficient for salvation. We all know that. None of us feels obligated to worship God on high hills and in groves. But we do not all understand that the way Peter, James, and John worshiped God, the law’s way of ceremonies and holy days, is also insufficient for us. Those righteous men were Jews under the law and worshiped as the law commanded. But when the Spirit came, they received the power to worship God “in a new and living way.” That is what Jesus died for, and that is what he is living for, to give us power to worship as God now commands all men to worship. To refuse that access to acceptable worship is to make yourself worthy of damnation.