Text: Hebrews 12:18-29 2/19/2012
Worship is the right response to God through Jesus Christ
I want our worship of God to be as glorious as it should be. I want what we do in Jesus’ name to lift people out of their mundane cares and fill them with adoration and praise. Worship was designed to be a life-changing and life-defining experience. So what we need is a vision so great and so glorious that what we call worship stops being a routine gathering and becomes a transcendent meeting with the living God. When that happens, then we will be caught up in our spirits to join the heavenly choirs of saints and angels who even now are gathering around the throne of God. After this, our hearts and minds will be filled with the hope of glory so that we may truly love and serve the Lord in this life (Allen Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory, 39).
So, how do we get there? My plan for the next several months is for us to dig deep into what it means to truly worship the true God. This morning we’ll start with a definition of worship that will give some direction for the future.
Worship is the right response to God through Jesus Christ.
Let’s begin our journey in Hebrews 12:18-29.
I. Worship is the right response to God
Worship begins with the revelation of God
Even before Adam and Eve sinned they needed God to show up and talk with them if they were going to know God. Remember, they had the heavens declaring the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). They had all of the good creation speaking to them about God. Romans 1:20 tells us that even today this created world speaks to us about God. All of creation puts the invisible attributes of God on display. We know from looking at this vast universe that the Maker is eternal, powerful, and divine. We should worship Him because of what is revealed about Him. Since Adam and Eve, God has revealed himself and given us reason to worship Him.
But God’s revelation in creation is insufficient for a relationship with God. All creation says is, “There is an eternal and powerful God that you should worship.” Creation doesn’t tell us if God cares about us or wants to have anything to do with us. Creation doesn’t tell us how to live or how to relate to this eternal and powerful God. You see, even Adam and Eve needed God to come and talk to them. Since the beginning of time the right worship of God has depended on God speaking so humanity could respond properly to Him. Never, at any moment were we left to try to figure out God or the right response to God on our own.
Throughout history God has shown up and revealed Himself. Throughout time God has been speaking to his people and that word has been recorded for all to see. So what has God told us about himself in his word?
Let’s do a brief overview of the worship of God throughout the ages. God told Job that at the beginning of creation the angels were singing together and shouting for joy because of what God had done (Job 34:7). When the prophet Isaiah got a glimpse of worship in heaven there were fantastic creatures who saw God and cried out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” The ones who see God every day, who remain in his presence, cry out “He is completely and perfectly holy.” When the Apostle John was given a glimpse of the worship of God in heaven he also saw these creatures and they, some 500 years after Isaiah saw them, are still crying out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty” (Rev 4:8). Then John was given a vision of the end of time, 2000 plus years later, and he saw those living creatures again falling down and worshipping God, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” (Rev. 19:4). The record of the worship of God in heaven is consistent throughout the ages: God is holy and therefore worthy to be praised.
God is holy
To be holy means to be distinct, to be different, to be set apart, and unlike other things. To be holy is to be without sin; perfect in every way.
God said in Isaiah 55:17 that his name is holy. A good definition of holy is “other, almost incomprehensibly unique, set apart from all that is creaturely and corrupt, distinct from the physical and fallen world” (Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory, 43). And God’s holiness is described by his attributes (44ff). Let me explain what that means.
God is omnipotent which means he has infinite unlimited power. So in respect to power God is holy. God is also omniscient which means God knows everything perfectly. So in respect to knowledge God is holy. God is also omnipresent which means he is everywhere. So in respect to space God is holy. God is also eternal so in respect to time God is holy. God is also righteous which means he does everything right. So in respect to his ways he is holy. I hope you see the point because if you do not you will never be able to worship. Worshipping God depends upon seeing and responding to his holiness.
God is glorious
The display of God’s holiness is his glory. In the bible the word “glory” has the literal meaning of weightiness. We use the concept when we say that something was heavy. It is important, it is big, and it changes things. We also use the concept when we talk about someone throwing their weight around; they are exercising their authority. So the display of the importance and weightiness of God is the display of God’s glory.
Living for God’s glory means you live in such a way that demonstrates the fact that God is the most important person in your life; what He says is more important than what others say or even what you think or how you feel. God is supreme. So, to live for God’s glory at work is to live in such a way that demonstrates the fact that God influences your work more than anything else. You work for Him and in agreement with him. For this person the job is not about the bottom line. The job is about the glorious God. To live for God’s glory in your home is to live in such a way that it is evident to those around you that God and his desires are what shape who you are and what you do. The same is true concerning living for God’s glory at school.
So, would you be able to call in credible witnesses for your defense? Would the people around you say that you are living for God or for something else? This is why worship matters. What you worship is what you live for and God will not settle for second place. God will not share his glory with another (Isa. 48:11).
What I am about to say is important for worship, for life, and for our days ahead. If you miss this concept you won’t understand why it is crucial that we focus on worship.
For a Christian to live for the glory of God he must have a desire to see the glory of God. This is true because a life that exalts God can only come by actually seeing the exalted God. Without this fundamental desire to see the holy God there can be no true worship. We need to see God for who He truly is; as we see this holy God and his glory is displayed to his people, worship will occur. Moses prayed, “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18) Every time we gather the desire of Moses should guide our hearts, be in our minds, and come out of our mouths. God, show us your glory so that we might worship you. Worship depends on revelation. Worship is the right response to God.
II. Worship is the right response
When any person sees God there is a response. If you have spiritual eyes to see who God is, what He is doing, and how others have responded then you’re headed toward a right response. But if your eyes are blind to who God is, what He is doing, and how you should respond then you’re headed toward a wrong response. Let me show you what I’m talking about with some illustrations from the Bible
1. Trading God in Romans 1:18-32
Human history, from Cain till today, is full of people who think they have life figured out. They think they have God figured out but they don’t have anything figured out. These people do not see God clearly and they do not prize God above all else. God is not supreme he’s secondary or inconsequential. So, they trade what is truly glorious for lesser things and lesser people. They exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever more.
Humanity has traded the soul satisfying joy of worshipping God for the soul numbing worship of money, pleasure, and power. Now money, pleasure, and power are not wrong but to worship them by pursuing them for your joy is clearly wrong. And it is frightening to know that in God’s perfect wisdom there are people who he gives over to their unholy pursuits. We don’t know who they are and we don’t have the wisdom to label those who we think might be given over to their appetites. But what we do know is we must guard ourselves and our church family from being unholy like them (Hebrews 12:16-17). Keep a close watch on the desires of your heart. Have you begun to seek your joy outside of God? Have you traded the right worship of the glorious God for the pursuit of things or worldly pleasure?
2. Nadab and Abihu
Now this one is a bit harder for us because these two men had been given a clear view of God. They were there for the Exodus, and the parting of the Red Sea and the presence of God at Mt. Sinai. They saw God and they understood what God was doing but they still chose to respond sinfully to God.
We read this two weeks ago in our daily bible reading. Leviticus 10:1-3, “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’”
Nadab and Abihu thought they could do whatever they wanted in the presence of God and God would be okay with them. God wasn’t monumental in His holiness and treated as such. No, to Nadab and Abihu God was cool with whatever they had in mind. Nadab and Abihu responded to God in an unbiblical demeaning way and they paid for it.
The way you treat God, the way you respond to God, matters because it flows out of what you believe about God. You and I don’t have the right to define God however we want. And you and I don’t have the right to define for ourselves what is acceptable worship and what is not. Who He is and how He is to be worshipped has been defined by God himself.
He is to be exalted in our eyes. He is to be treated as holy in all we do. We are to listen to Him and obey Him. Nadab and Abihu teach us that how we treat God specifically in worship matters.
So what makes up a right response to God?
Before I answer that question let me offer a word of warning: worship will have these elements but it will not always have them in the same intensity. Every time Isaiah worshipped God it was not an Isaiah 6 moment. Every time the Apostle John worshipped Jesus it was not a Revelation 1 moment. The Apostle Paul wasn’t caught up into paradise every time he worshipped (2 Cor. 12:3). In fact, the way these guys wrote it looks like these amazing times of worship happened only once in their lifetimes.
So we must be on guard against demanding that every time we open our mouths to sing God’s praises it will be identical to the worship of the glorified saints in heaven. We must also guard against the mentality that says worship will always be dull and dry this side of heaven. Sometimes worship will come quickly because of God’s grace or because you have cultivated a life of worship. Sometimes worship will come slowly because of sin or dullness or unbelief. Sometimes God will visit us powerfully and we will worship. Other times we will be more concerned about visiting a restaurant or a friend or taking a nap and we will miss God.
All right, with that word of warning what makes up a right response to God?
1. Fear and adoration
Fear is a New Testament, New Covenant, Christian response to God. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus tells us to fear God. 1 Peter 2:17 in a two word sentence says plainly, “Fear God.” In Hebrews 12:28-29 we find this truth: “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming God.”
Fear and adoration, reverence and awe, these should be present in every moment of worship but let their amounts be fluid. God is infinite and you are finite. There should be fear. He is holy-different from us and that is not good news for sinful people who are compared to fragile jars of clay. He cannot be stopped or destroyed and you are easily broken. But alongside fear should be adoration or awe. Be amazed that God is God. Have you taken a boat right up close to the thunder of Niagara Falls? Have you peered over the edge of the Grand Canyon? In those times you experience fear and adoration, reverence and awe. I had fear and reverence because I am so small and weak compared to such grandeur. I had adoration and awe because the greatness of each of those wonders was amazing. I just stood there afraid but I didn’t want to run away. Such is worship. Do you have reverence and awe for God? What about
2. Confession and commitment
Confession is the response of a sinful person to a holy God. Sometimes there are grand terrifying moments of confession like Isaiah’s in Isaiah 6. At other times confession looks like the steady thoughtful confession of Isaiah 1 where sins like scarlet are made white like snow, people are cleansed, and what is evil is removed from his people. If you expect to gather with God’s people and worship him with reverence and awe without repentance then you are expecting the impossible. You are no more free from sin than I am free from my skin. To neglect confession is to derail worship.
And it is also true that if you try to worship God from a heart that refuses to obey God, worship will never happen. True worship will always bear the mark of genuine commitment. James said that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). What I’m saying is that true worshippers will be ready followers. So let’s take it in reverse. If you spend your entire week not following God and worshipping the idols of worldly pleasure or sinful sloth, worship is going to be hard. Do you think that on Sunday you’ll be ready to enter the presence of the God you have refused all week?
Check your commitment level on your way to worship. The Spirit may point out some sin or thing left undone that must be confessed before you engage God in worship.
The fact of our sinfulness leads us to our next main point
III. Worship is through Jesus Christ
Christ is our atoning sacrifice
I’m going to read you some passages that may be familiar. They’re familiar because they talk about what it means to be saved. These verses tell us about getting reconciled to God so that we can one day be in heaven with God. But these passages also speak to us about worship. Listen and think about what it means to be in God’s glorious presence today, even right now.
1. Hebrews 10:19-22
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
We are able right now to enter the presence of God only through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. We even have confidence to enter his presence. Now, the Father cannot tolerate sin in his presence. Habakkuk 1:13 tells us that God “cannot look at wrong.” That means God cannot endure sin without punishing the guilty. We need forgiveness and the righteousness of Christ in order to worship God. The righteous life and atoning work of Jesus Christ make salvation and worship possible.
2. John 14:6
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Certainly this has to do with salvation but do not overlook what Jesus is telling us about worship. You cannot come to the Father in worship except through faith in Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus we have confidence to enter God’s holy presence and worship him. Jesus is our atoning sacrifice.
Jesus is the ultimate revelation of the Father (Heb. 1:3-4; John 14:9)
Therefore, worship should focus on Jesus. The incarnation and the New Covenant bring an update to Moses prayer. Do you remember his prayer? He prayed in Exodus 33:19, “Please show me your glory.” So we pray, “Please show me Jesus.” Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” In John 14:9 Jesus told Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” An eyewitness and close companion of Jesus wrote, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus is the full and final revelation of the Father.
So, worship without Jesus just simply is not the true worship of God. Jesus is the perfect revelation of the Father so we must focus on Him. 1 John 2:23 says, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” Jesus is the means to the Father so we must worship in Him. Jesus is the perfect revelation of the Father so we must worship Him.
Worship is the right response to God through Jesus Christ.
What about the Spirit?
The Spirit is the car, the Son is the road, and the Father is the destination
Some people refuse the car, ignore the road, and still think what they are doing honors the Father and will ultimately lead to the Father. So we hear things like this: “All roads lead to the same place right?” and “Just believe in something and God will be pleased; just having faith in something is all that matters.” This is unbiblical and damning.
Other people want to jump in the Holy Spirit car and go off-roading. Some want to go where ever they want without much concern for the road; without concern for the word of Christ. “It’s all in the ride right?” or “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom so let’s do whatever we want!” This is unbiblical and harmful; think Nadab and Abihu.
Still others are afraid of the Holy Spirit car so they’ll just walk on the Jesus road thank you very much. Some, because they are afraid of or don’t understand the Spirit’s power try to worship on their own. This also is unbiblical and harmful.
The only way to worship is to worship God by the Spirit’s power through faith in Jesus Christ. The Son purifies us and the Spirit empowers us so that we can worship God. In the weeks ahead I’m going to try and unpack the specifics of all that so you can be better equipped to respond to God.
What about the Word?
The Word is our manual and map
The Word, the Bible, tells us how the Spirit works. So, if what you think and feel in your heart is the Spirit but it doesn’t match the manual then it is not the Spirit. It doesn’t matter how good it feels or how good your intentions are. God will never act in ways that contradict his Word. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17). We must worship according to the truth of God’s word.
The Word is also our map constantly pointing us to the true God who is our destination. The word corrects us and rebukes us when we start trying to make worship the destination. Every time we gather together the purpose is to go to the Father. We will do so as we rely on the Spirit’s power and trust in Christ’s provision of righteousness.
According to the word we learn that God is worthy of our right worship. But the word also tells us that we are sinful and cut off from God. We need a savior and He is Christ the Lord. Because of Jesus’ death and life we are given access even boldness to go to God in worship. By the power of the Spirit we are drawn to God through Christ and empowered to worship. In that place- according to the word, through Jesus, and by the Spirit we see the Father and worship him. He is holy and glorious. He is worthy of worship.