Chapter 1 Worship - Symbolic Or Spiritual

The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him (John 4:23).

The reason for writing the Epistle to the Hebrews was to convince those Hebrews professing faith in the Lord Jesus that the ritualistic and ceremonial ways of approaching God had passed away. The ritualistic form of things was a grand spectacular with its beautiful temple, gorgeous robes, priests and sacrifices, singers and choirs.

All such contributed to the grand spectacle. It was a God-ordained system for that particular dispensation. It was full of color and music, heavy with incense, a sight fascinating to the senses. It was hard for the Hebrews to believe that all that had passed away, that the Lord had forsaken the Temple in Jerusalem, that He no longer regarded Jewish priests and sacrifices, that the institutions of Moses had lost their utility and usefulness.

The Ritualistic Worship

This ritualisitc and symbolic form of worship was that which the woman of Samaria referred to as she conversed with our Lord at the well of Sychar. “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” (John 4:20).

She may have been evading a conscience awakened to her sinful life, but she was also genuinely groping for the true meaning of worship. She knew a form of worship—a form “in this mountain” and another form “at Jerusalem.” In both places there was that which was related to God’s appointed way to approach Him in that dispensation. That form had its temples, its priests, its sacrifices, its altars, its incense, its vestments. When the woman said, “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain” (Mount Gerizim), she may have been referring to Abraham and Jacob, both of whom erected altars in Samaria.

Thus both in Samaria and in Jerusalem there was that which was known as worship. In this worship there was recognition of the true and living God, that He was worthy of worship, and that such worship could only be offered through the priests and sacrifices appointed by God. The priests were His ministers—His altar servants—especially set apart to serve Him and His people. It was all a very precious rite, and it was all symbolic of the Saviour’s worth. It taught how His shed blood was necessary to approach God. The altar taught the bleeding cross. The shed blood taught the wholeness of the atoning sacrifice.

The Spiritual Worship

The Lord Jesus then said to the woman, “Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father… But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21, 23-24).

The hour for true worship had come. The symbolic worship thus ended. It was done away. He to whom all symbols pointed had now come. Believers, then, must look to Him. They had seen animal victims without number die. Each drop of blood from those sacrifices pointed forward to the Lamb of God. They had their witnessing priests who spared not the innocent animals but struck the death blow to them. The blazing fires on the altars witnessed the consuming of their prey. His people were shown in symbol that in sacrifice all demands of wrath were met.

But when the Son of God hung on a curse-bearing tree, reality was set before them. Guilt was taken away, and sinners were ransomed by the Lord’s anguish. The hour had come. The shadows and symbols had passed. The hour had struck for the reality of worship.

This was a new worship—not ceremonial, but spiritual. The new worship was true worship. And the Lord Jesus told the woman of Samaria three times that true worship was the worship of the Father. The Father sought such worshipers. From the cross onward there was to be an age when the Father would seek true worshipers.

No such name for God had ever been given Israel. He was to them Elohim, the God of power; El Shaddai, the God of provision; Jehovah, the God of promise; El Elyon, the God of preservation—but never Father. The approach to God as Father, and the worship of Him as Father, only became possible through the coming of His Son, the completion of the redemptive sacrifice, and the impartation of the Holy Spirit, who would enable true worship. This kind of worship stands in contrast to what was of old in Israel—a worship which at best was incomplete and in shadow.

May we, then, worship the Son through the enabling of the indwelling Spirit? Yes, we may! The Father Himself has said, “All men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father” (John 5:23). For further verification of this, we are given a view of Heaven in Revelation 5, where both the Father and the Son are joint objects of worship. “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever” (Revelation 5:13). The Lamb, who was slain, shares the worship due only to God, because He is God—God the Son.

Father, we worship Thee,
Thro’ Thy beloved Son;
And, by the Spirit, now draw near
Before Thy holy throne.

We bless Thee Thou art love,
How vast that matchless grace,
Whose breadth and length and height and depth
No finite mind can trace.

For what Thou art, we praise,
And worship, and adore:
To Father, Son, and Spirit be
The glory evermore!

Alfred P. Gibbs