A Theology of Worship: Worship Starts with Seeing God
This is sermon #2 from a short four part series I did a while back. The sermon series was called ‘A Theology of the Body for the 21st Century.” I wasn’t terribly pleased with the series as a whole, but I did enjoy writing and preaching this sermon on worship. jerry
A Theology of the Body for the 21st Century
Sermon #2: In Praise of the King or
Worship Starts with Seeing God
John 4, 1 Corinthians, Revelation 4-5, Psalm 103, Isaiah 6, Exodus 15
David was a man after God’s own heart. David was king over Israel.
David was a man who understood what worship involved.
As we read through the Psalms, the majority of which he wrote, we can sense his understanding of what it means to worship the Lord.
But it was an event that took place near the end of his life that, in my judgment, opens the eyes of all would be worshipers of the Lord.
David had sinned by taking a census of his fighting men. When David had repented he was told by a prophet what to do. From 2 Samuel 24:18-25:
On that day Gad went to David and said to him, “Go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” So David went up, as the LORD had commanded through Gad. When Araunah looked and saw the king and his men coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground.
Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”
“To buy your threshing floor,” David answered, “so I can build an altar to the LORD, that the plague on the people may be stopped.”
Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take whatever pleases him and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. O king, Araunah gives all this to the king.” Araunah also said to him, “May the LORD your God accept you.”
But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them. David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the LORD answered prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.
David teaches us that worship involves sacrifice-that is, it must cost us something. Worship is freely offered, but it is not free.
In his beautifully written book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places Eugene Peterson says as much, “For a people like us, trained in a culture of getting things done…and taking care of ourselves, sacrifice doesn’t seem at all obvious; neither does it seem attractive.” He quotes from Annie Dillard who wrote in Holy the Firm “A life without sacrifice is an abomination.” Again Peterson writes, “There is only one Gospel way to participate in Jesus’ work-live a sacrificial life in Jesus’ name.”
We can sing the songs we like, have the best worship leaders the planet has to offer, have the best trained musicians or sing a cappella if we like, but these things will make little difference. Ultimately, worship is how we see God. And the way in which we see God ultimately dictates the manner in which we will come before him. David wrote, “You do not delight in sacrifice or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, o God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17) “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?” asked the Psalmist David again. “Who may stand in the holy place?” he asked. “He who has clean hands and a pure heart who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.” (Psalm 24) This is the type of person who may worship the Lord God. What Scripture declares, explicitly and implicitly, by example and by metaphor, is that when it comes to worship the thing that matters the most is the heart of the person worship not the style of the worship being offered.
Not every style appeals to every heart. It does not have to.
But you see that’s not where we live. Worship is not fashionable. Says Charles Colson, “True worship…is radically countercultural, being directed not towards self but God.” That’s not where we live.
Writes Richard Neuhaus, “The celebration we call worship has less to do with the satisfaction or the pursuit of happiness than with the abandonment of the pursuit of happiness.” But that’s not where we live.
It is not such an attitude that makes up the majority of American culture today. We live in a land where hero worship is in the flavor of the day. We live in a land where we worship the self.
Quoth Jesus, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Matthew 15:8-9)
Many worship. John wrote in Revelation that all inhabitants of the earth will worship the Beast-all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Paul wrote that someday every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
From here on, I would like to share with you seven thoughts from the Scripture concerning worship. To be sure, I am leaving out a bunch of thoughts. And I don’t think these seven thoughts are in any way comprehensive. I do think they are representative of that attitude the Bible says a true worshiper of God will have.
First, Worship is our response to God’s salvation acts. What response should we make when we consider what God has done for us?
Israel had just been brought out of captivity. They had just been brought out of 400 years of slavery in Egypt. “That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.”
What was the first thing Moses did? Throw a party for himself? Throw a party for Israel? Get a plaque declaring himself a hero or starting up a charitable, tax-deductible fund in his and Aaron’s and Miriam’s names? No. The first thing Moses did, in response to God’s salvation was worship. “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord.”
Eugene Peterson writes, “What is true for Israel is true for us: a people immersed in salvation-determined history in which we maintain a believing, participating, involvement by worship the God of history.” Worship is our response. When Thomas saw the resurrected Jesus for the first time, his response was worship: “My Lord, and my God.”
Second, Worship is always appropriate and never out of place. I could frame this negatively, worship is never inappropriate and it is always in season.
Again I turn to our most prolific worship leader, King David. Every occasion was an occasion for David to worship. When the ark was returned to Jerusalem after a rather conspicuous absence, David danced in worship. He praised God during times of war. After his illicit adultery with Bathsheeba produced a child the child soon afterwards died. After the child died, David worship. “Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” David’s life was defined by his intimate heart of worship. Daniel worshiped God after being told not to. Deborah worshiped God after a great military victory. Zechariah worshiped at the birth of his son John. Simeon and Anna worshiped at the presence of the baby Jesus in the Temple. Angels worship God without ceasing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who Was, and Is, and Is to Come.”
In Psalm 103 we read in part, “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” Worship is always an appropriate way to respond. I like funerals that are not just occasions to weep, but are another reason to worship. When is there a time when we should not worship?
Third, and perhaps this should be first, worship starts when we have a vision of the grandeur of God.
How can we worship until we see? Matt Redman’s song says, “Worship starts with seeing you. Our hearts respond to your revelation.” How often, in the course of reading Scripture do we just burst into praise at the grandeur of God? The call of Isaiah the prophet in chapter 6 speaks directly to this point. “In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robes filled the temple.”
[sing] ‘I see the Lord, seated on his throne on high, exalted. And the train of his robe, fills the temple with Glory. And the whole earth is full. And the whole earth is full. And the whole earth is full of his glory. Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord. Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord, our God.’
Funny how we see God when we take our eyes of the things of this earth. “In the year Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.” “In the year I gave up drinking, I saw the Lord.” Randall Harris wrote in the Restoration Herald in 1996, “Worship always begins with a vision of God, and until we see God, worship doesn’t happen. If we want to improve public worship this is where we start. We must have people who see God more clearly and therefore love Him more dearly.”
Fourth, Worship is done in Spirit and in truth and such are the worshipers that God seeks.
Now we enter the realm of the New Testament and we begin to listen to the words of Jesus. I find this much interesting, God seeks worshipers. We often speak nowadays of designing a worship service that is ‘seeker friendly’ which is a way of saying, ‘we hope you won’t be offended if we become undignified this morning in our worship.’ I think we should change this around. The Bible says no one seeks God, but that God seeks worshipers. The only seeker we need to be sensitive to is the Lord God Almighty who is seeking worshipers.
“Yet 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. God is Spirit and his worshipers must worship in Spirit and in truth.”
Eugene Peterson wrote, “Any approach to salvation that does not eventually become worship and the sooner the better, distorts and reduces salvation to a concept or a program or a technique that we can master and therefore control.” In other words, we are saved so that we can respond properly to God and glorify Him and praise His name. This is why worship is so counter-cultural in America, and in some American churches: It steals worship away from us and directs it where it belongs.
Fifth, worship is not just an act we do on Sundays. Worship is a lifestyle that reflects our dedication to Jesus Christ.
Jesus made this clear when he said, “Take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow me.” He was saying, Live a sacrificial life-one that is not focused on the worship of self. The world delights in self-worship. The world delights in all things that glorify the flesh, all things to the glory of men, man is the measure of all things. Paul wrote in Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.” Our spiritual act of worship consists of the way in which we live our daily lives. This means, at minimum, that worship is not something we do only on Sundays at 10:30 AM.
Mary Noll Venables wrote, “Nonetheless, when congregations gather to praise God and learn from Him, they express their enduring belief that worship-whether set in prayers or spontaneous utterances, in venerable hymns or contemporary choruses-is integral to their lives.” We are living worship. Don Carson expressed the same thought when asked how we should convey this sort of worship to children: “Somewhere along the line it is important not only to explain that genuine worship is nothing more than loving God with heart, soul, strength and mind and loving our neighbors as ourselves, but also to show what a statement like that means in the concrete decisions of life.” How does our worship of God impact our every day living or how does our everyday living reflect a life of worship-a life that loves God and loves people?
Sixth, Worship must be done in an orderly manner that reflects God’s character. When such is true, evangelism takes place during worship.
Paul wrote in Corinthians 15: “For the spirits of the prophets are subject to the control of the prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace…Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” Then in chapter 14: “But if any unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!'”
I agree with Chuck Colson who writes, “…the worship service itself should not be primarily evangelistic…” Worship should be worship. But I think the Bible clearly states that worship should be done in a manner that reflects the character of the One we are worshiping. Then, as a natural outgrowth of that faithfulness, those who are unbelievers, or in the modern vernacular ‘seekers’, will be convicted that God is among us. It is not when we are sensitive to seekers that God is honored in the life of a sinner. It is when we are faithful to God’s character that sinners are convicted. Paul’s point is that genuine, God-reflecting worship, is contagious. If we worship in a manner that reflects God’s character, people will be convicted and there will be no need to water anything down.
Finally, Worship is properly directed to Jesus.
We turn to the Revelation, chapters 4 & 5.
In chapter 4 we see that God is clearly being worshiped: “You are worthy, our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
In chapter 4, there is a subtle shift: “Then I saw a Lamb looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and elders.”
And again, “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
And again, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
And again, “To him to sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever.”
Frankly, it is the pseudo-feel-good worship that offends God. It is white-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones. It is a sacrifice that the Lord detests. Worship in Spirit and Truth is worship that focuses entirely on Jesus. If there is any change that needs to take place anywhere, and I’m not suggesting that there is or is not, it is that worship must get back to being focused on Jesus: “The real way that you improve worship,” writes Randall Harris, “is not by talking about worship but by talking about Jesus. When you start to see Jesus, He wins your heart and worship happens.”
“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that confess His Name.”
Jacob, when he was old and full of years, worshiped while leaning on his staff in Goshen.
Abraham built altars all over the place after God called him and he worshiped God.
Joshua made the worship of God a test of faith: “Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped….But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14, 15)
Mary worshiped with Elizabeth, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”
Worship consists of singing-oh, we Christians are good ones for singing. We can sing any old time.
Worship consists of praying, preaching, breaking bread-partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
Worship consists of fellowship, and going to work.
Worship consists of plenty of noise-and profound silence.
Worship has everything and nothing to do with musical instruments.
Worship is the daily, weekly reenactment of the Passion of Jesus.
It is all of these things and none of these things. Worship is planned. Worship is spontaneous. Worship has a beginning-worship starts with seeing God. But we are not told worship has an end-everyday, day and night, they never stop saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty who Was, and Is, and Is to Come.”
“We have no right,” says Randall Harris, “judging worship by how it makes us feel.”