Worship as Possibility: Hebrews 9-10

[Friends: I will be posting some sermons I am preaching on ‘Worship.’ I have benefited greatly from some recent posts at blogs around the web that have dealt with worship. A little searching turned up some great quotes. After I preached this sermon, I thought perhaps points 2 & 3 were a bit cluttered, so I have edited those points for clarity. What I am saying is that 2) Christ Jesus has made worship a possibility in His Cross work and 3) He has also empowered us to worship by making us Holy. I hope that is clear enough, but let me know if not. This particular sermon is from Hebrews 9-10. The rationale behind it is that Jesus, in His Cross work, made True worship a possibility. What remains is for the Believer to enter into the Holiest (Andrew Murray’s term for the Holy of Holies) and worship. Obviously, I didn’t deal with every single issue these marvelous chapters introduce, but I don’t think I have harmed the general character of the author’s point. I’ll appreciate any feedback.–jerry]

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January 6, 2008
Spiritual Disciplines: Worship 1.1
Hebrews 9-10
The Possibility of Worship: Facing the Cross

Introduction

1Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. 2A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. 3Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, 4which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. 5Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.

6When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 7But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. 8The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. 9This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.

11When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

15For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

16In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

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Yesterday, I got to thinking. We were working outside putting drive-through stuff away for another year. The temperature wasn’t bad—except, I noticed, when the wind blew. When the wind blew, things became a little more dangerous; the temperature dropped; work became more difficult. And the wind cannot be controlled. Would it be any different if the wind blew among us? If God’s Holy Spirit blew among us, would worship be easier? Would worship be less complicated? But if the wind cannot be controlled, neither can the Spirit. So I don’t think, or believe for that matter, that worship necessarily becomes simpler as we grow deeper. Growing and going deeper in Christ necessarily entails a counter-cultural movement that will grate against popular notions of worship; will fly in the face of watered down ecumenism; will be a threat to the peaceful, established order of the worldly culture.

In other words: True worship of a Holy God will rankle the devil’s of this world. True worship faces the cross of Jesus and cries out for mercy.

So a brief example of the consequences. I begin with these words from Barry Taylor who wrote them in a work titled An Emergent Manifesto: “To ‘go with the flow’ might seem a trite way of describing theological engagement, but a commitment to fluidity and a willingness to swim in the cultural waters rather than insisting on one’s own paddling pool is a necessary perspective.” But if we swim in the cultural waters we swim against the stream not with it. He says we should live in the haze of uncertainty that our ‘declarations of faith are always fragmentary and provisional.’ But is this so in a world where the very Christian life depends upon our faith in revealed witness and eyewitness testimony to certain historical realities and truths? In other words, we are not worshiping the wayward, frenzied, hazy-gray culture. Nor are we worshiping a God who is shaped by that culture. We are worshiping God who is anything but culturally relevant. Will a fragmented, provisional, and hazy faith stand up to the rigors of this world’s persecutions, this culture’s evils, this life’s struggles? I shall suggest later that the answer is a resounding ‘No!’

We could strip all the stuff out of our buildings, give away the hymnbooks, the amplifiers, the guitars, pianos, pews, and buildings, and powerpoints, and projectors and still worship; perhaps worship better. The truth is that worship is not and never was designed to ‘reach the senses’ of the worshiper. We are not to create a worship that appeals to the worshiper as if the aesthetic were what mattered. So Eugene Peterson wrote, “If Christians only worshipped when they felt like it, there would be precious little worship that went on. Feelings are important in many areas, but completely unreliable in matters of faith….Living in the age of sensation, we think that if we don’t feel something, there can be no authenticity in doing it. But the wisdom of God says something different, namely, that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Worship is an act which develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God which is expressed in an act of worship. When we obey the command to praise God in worship, our deep, essential need to be in relationship with God is nurtured.” (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.) In other words, the last thing we ought to be doing in worship is appealing to the senses which are over-stimulated. Worship so much deeper than the senses.

What draws people to God, as I hope to show you this morning is the Cross—and the Creator who confronts the creation in that Cross. We are dealing with a holy God into whose hands it is a dangerous place to fall. Cultural advances, cultural impressions, cultural demands do not determine the nature of worship or even create the possibility for worship. The possibility of worship is created by God, in the Cross, for His Glory.

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So Andrew Murray wrote,

“The veil was the symbol of separation between a holy God and sinful man: they cannot dwell together. The tabernacle thus expressed the union of two apparently conflicting truths. God called man to come and worship and serve him, and yet might not come too near: the veil kept him at a distance. His worship in the tabernacle testified to his longing for the restoration of the fellowship with God he had lost in Paradise, but also to his unfitness for it, and his inability to attain it.”—305

I’d like to make 4 quick points about these two chapters. Bear in mind please that what the author of these two chapters is talking about to a great extent is our ‘separatedness’ from God and how God restored the possibility of worship through Christ’s work on the cross. In a full sense, he is speaking of our alienation from God in a salvific sense. In other words, there existed no relationship between man and God even though God clearly commanded man to worship. What we are doing this morning is looking at this severed relationship from the point of view of Christian worship, which is the essence of the restored relationship.

These two chapters explain how it is that this relationship was restored—how the tabernacle veil was rent thus enabling man into what Murray calls the holiest. And the author continues to come back again and again to the thought that our proper response to God’s initiative is to acknowledge and pursue the possibility that God has created for us in the Cross to worship.

First, Why Can’t we Enter in? “This is an illustration for present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.” I have to say: If this was true of the Jewish people, how much more is it true for us who did not have the tabernacle? The author is making the point that no matter how nice the externals, no matter how golden the furniture, no matter how well organized and orderly—we have nothing to bring before God that makes our worship acceptable. And I think this is even true now. Many people try to worship God out of the abundance of the flesh, out of the abundance of emotion, out of their abundance of externals—but none of these thing enable us to truly worship God.

If there was a time when we couldn’t properly worship God, I wonder if there is still a time? I think so. I think we have, to a large degree, a modern church so enamored with externals and emotions that we haven’t yet really worshiped God and primarily because too many haven’t yet allowed Christ to properly deal with their sin. Something stood in the way: externals do nothing to deal with sin and sin is clearly a major, major, if not the major, obstacle to true worship. We need something to deal with the sin that prevents us from truly entering in to the holiest and worshiping God. Sin must be dealt with, and only in Christ Jesus is sin dealt with sufficiently to not only allow, but to promote worship of God.

Second, The Cross of Jesus makes worship a real possibility! AW Tozer wrote:

“It is true that order in nature depends upon right relationships; to achieve harmony each thing must be in its proper position relative to each other thing. In human life it is not otherwise. I have hinted before in these chapters that the cause of all our human miseries is a radical moral dislocation, an upset in our relation to God and to each other. For whatever else the Fall may have been, it was certainly a sharp change in man’s relation to his Creator. He adopted toward God an altered attitude, and by so doing destroyed the proper Creator-creature relation in which, unknown to him, his true happiness lay. Essentially, salvation is the restoration of a right relation between man and his Creator, a bringing back to normal of the Creator-creature relation.”

The author of Hebrews here says that it is possible for this relationship to be restored and it was by Jesus Christ. The possibility of true worship does exist but only after this relationship has been restored. He writes, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God?” In other words, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ creates the possibility for worship, true worship of a Holy God to happen. To be sure, what externals cannot do, Jesus can.

“He has died a ransom to set them free from sins…” And “He is the Mediator of a new covenant…” “Christ entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence…” “But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sins by the sacrifice of himself…” And, “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people…” Now this all means that we can worship. The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ makes the possibility of worship of God, of entering into the holiest, a real possibility. The previous point contends that the possibility to worship God is a reality.

Third, We Can Worship, we can Enter in, He Created us for this Purpose!The Cross has made possible the reality that we can worship God, unfiltered so to speak, because he has finally and ultimately dealt with our sin at Calvary. The author makes the point that bulls and goats did nothing for the cleansing of the worship and created no freedom from the sin that prevents worship. Now, the author says in these verses that the very reason Jesus came was so that we Could Enter In! He says, “And by that will we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” So, not only has the possibility been created, but he has also empowered us to worship by making us holy.

Jesus is the great High Priest who does the work that we cannot do. He has, by his one sacrifice, ‘made perfect forever those who are being made holy.’ He did in one sacrifice what millions of animal sacrifices never could do: Create a Nation of worshipers. Here’s what Peter wrote, “As you come to him, the Living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The author of Hebrews makes a similar statement, “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts and I will write them on their minds.”

In the sacrifice of Jesus, God has created a Kingdom of priests—that’s you and me—who will declare his praises. In other words, he created us to be his praise and glory, to be the ones who mimic what the angels in heaven do all day long: “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty. Who was and Is, and Is to Come.” We are to lead the chorus of praise on this earth, and among the inhabitants of earth. We can’t do that if we mired down in the waters of this earth, corrupted by the culture of this earth, trapped by the haze of uncertainty and doubt. If sin has been dealt with sufficiently, can we say with Christ, “I have come to do your will”? Will we be the ones who lead the chorus of praise? That’s what we are made for.

Fourth, we must answer the question: Will we Enter in? Chapter 10:19 begins this way: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus by a new and living way opened for us through curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

This is what we must ask. Are we prepared to enter in? So you can see that the author of Hebrews declares that the external and emotional aspect of worship is not what draws us near to God. Rather, we draw near to God because of Christ. And we make that choice. “Let us draw near to God…” means an act of our will. We draw near to Him because of Christ. I suppose there is an emotional element in this, but ultimately it is a conscious decision of the will. If we know that God has restored us to a right relation with him through Christ, and we know the possibility for worship exists, and we know that God has created us for worship, then the only question that remains is: Will we enter in? And what are we waiting for?

The only thing that prevents us from worshiping God is ourselves. God has made every provision for us in Christ Jesus. What are we waiting for?

Fifth, There Must be Nothing that Hinders our worship.Here the key word is: Perseverance. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage each other all the more as you see the day approaching.” Bad habits must not be a hindrance to worship.

Nor must sloth be a hindrance to worship.

He also says that sin should not be a hindrance to worship: Get rid of it. He warns Christians that it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.

Persecution should not hinder us from worshiping God.

“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised…we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed but of those who believe and are saved.” There must be nothing that hinders our worship. Tozer again says, “True worship of God must be a constant and consistent attitude or state of mind within the believer.”

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[I will add the source of this news-story tomorrow. I left my source in my study.–jerry]

North Korea (MNN) ― A disconcerting report is coming out of a fairly reliable North Korea watchdog source. According to the report, the North Korean government is reportedly setting up fake underground churches and disguising national security agents as defectors to expose Christians.

Voice of the Martyrs Canada’s Glenn Penner can’t confirm specifics. However, based on the source, he says, “Apparently, they’re going into China, infiltrating the Korean churches that are assisting the North Korean defectors, and then coming back into North Korea with money and with Bibles, with the whole idea of unmasking Christians and also taking the funds and then using them for the North Korean government.” Penner says it’s not a totally new strategy. He notes the Soviets did something similar during the Cold War, but he urges prayer. “Continue to pray for wisdom and for discernment on the part of believers who work in such restrictive nations. There’s always the fear of discovery. You don’t want to be controlled by fear, and these are really good prayers to be praying for our brothers and sisters, that the Lord would rule, and not fear.”

According to VOMC, citizens are required to worship their dead leader, the “Eternal President” Kim Il Sung, and his son, the current dictator Kim Jong Il.

Churches have been bulldozed, and Christians must practice their faith in secrecy and constant danger. Religious prisoners are often subjected to harsher treatment and given the most dangerous tasks, all in an effort to force them to renounce their faith. When they refuse, they have often been tortured to death.

More often, a Christian caught with a Bible can be executed. Those caught worshipping God will be imprisoned with their whole family, where they will be beaten, starved and worked to death.

Pray fervently for what remains of the church in North Korea. Pray for strength for prisoners of faith. And pray that Christians will have opportunities to share the eternal life available through Jesus Christ.

And yet they continue to worship and why? Because these Christians have hinged their faith not on cultural relevance but on the cross of Jesus Christ that makes worship a possibility in the first place. These are Christians who have renounced fragmented, provisional, hazy faith; these are Christians who have rejected a culturally relevant Christianity; these are Christians who have rejected a god who has no answers. These are Christians who know in whom they have believed because they have believed the testimony of God in the Cross of Christ.

AW Tozer wrote in his small book The Pursuit of God:

The moment we make up our minds that we are going on with this determination to exalt God over all, we step out of the world’s parade. We shall find ourselves out of adjustment to the ways of the world, and increasingly so as we make progress in the holy way. We shall acquire a new viewpoint; a new and different psychology will be formed within us; a new power will begin to surprise us by its upsurgings and its outgoings.

Our break with the world will be the direct outcome of our changed relation to God. For the world of fallen men does not honor God. Millions call themselves by His name, it is true, and pay some token of respect to Him, but a simple test will show how little He is really honored among them. Let the average man be put to the proof on the question of who or what is above, and his true position will be exposed. Let him be forced into making a choice between God and money, between God and men, between God and personal ambition, God and self, God and human love, and God will take second place every time. Those other things will be exalted above. However the man may protest, the proof is in the choices he makes day after day.

“Be Thou exalted” (Psalm 21:13) is the language of victorious spiritual experience. It is a little key to unlock the door to great treasures of grace. It is central in the life of God in the soul. Let the seeking man reach a place where life and lips join to say continually, “Be thou exalted,” and a thousand minor problems will be solved at once. His Christian life ceases to be the complicated thing it had been before and becomes the very essence of simplicity.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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