Text: Revelation 4
Some things we just seem to take for granted. You know what I mean. We live with them, even depend on them in vital ways, without giving a thought as to how they work or whether we can do better by them than we currently do. We take for granted, at least sometimes, things like breathing, food in the pantry, the effects of gravity, that we will be around tomorrow, and that family will always be there for us. Of course, some of those things are more dependable than others. But we live our lives around them as if they will always be there, like a comfortable pillow that is only missed when it suddenly isn’t there.
I think we have a similar tendency when it comes to worship. We are so accustomed to it and familiar with it, that we worship, when we worship, with hardly any thought as to what we are doing. It is a familiar friend whom we assume we know so well that we do not even bother to take a look and consider whether we are doing right by it. Over the next eight weeks, I hope to shake us out of any presumptions of worship we may have. What is worship? What prompts us to worship? Why do we worship? How do we worship? Maybe you assume that you know the answers to those questions. Maybe you really do know the answers. But I hope this two month long discussions will help us grow in our both our understanding and practice of worship.
Our look at worship will be based on the work of Mike Holland and Stan Moser in Lifeway’s resource called Seven Words of Worship. There is both a book to read and a daily Bible study, if you are interested in pursuing more on your own beyond what we do in our morning services together.
Worship is simply the attributing of worth or honor to someone or something. Anything can be the object of worship. We are accustomed to thinking of worship only in terms of God or perhaps pagan gods and goddesses, but worship is not necessarily a Christian or even a religious thing. Worship, in Old English, was originally used to describe the worth and honor that was to be given to one’s lord or king, back in the days of post-Roman feudal Europe. As Christianity swept the continent, and with it the understanding that our ultimate lord or king is God, the ideas of honor and worth given to a king, prince, or lord were carried over into the acts of praise and adoration due to God.
So stop for a moment and consider – what do you consider of worth and honor in your life. Now, we’re in church. That necessarily means that we will automatically answer “God” or “Jesus,” which are the “right” answers. But I’m not looking for the right answers. I want the honest ones. When you find yourself with a few extra hours in a week, or some extra money at the end of the month that you weren’t expecting, what do you do with it? If your answer is anything other than asking God what He would have you to do with it, then something either besides God or in addition to God is something that you are attributing worth to. To at least some degree, you are worshipping it. Perhaps it’s getting your lawn to a state of magazine perfect. Perhaps it’s getting your house decorated just right. Perhaps it’s keeping your house Martha Stewart clean and organized. Perhaps it’s your golf swing or fishing cast. Perhaps it’s a collection you keep adding to. Perhaps it’s finding that incredible deal.
There’s a reason that we so easily worship things. We are specifically created to be worshippers. We need something to worship, and we will worship anything that avails itself. If nothing reasonable avails itself, we will even worship ourselves. But we are going to worship something, if not multiple somethings. Paul says in Romans 11:36, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Revelations 4:11 says, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” God created us, and our purpose, as answered by the first question of the teaching tool called the Shorter Catechism, is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
God designed us to be worshippers because He desires our worship. In a sinful world, that would be an egotistical, self-serving thing. But God’s desire of our worship carries none of those sinful overtones. God desires our worship because that is what He designed us to do. He wants us to be the best we can be. Any inventor or creator wants the thing he designs or works on to work in the way he intended. A car should drive, a wheel should turn, and a work of art should convey some meaning. Our Designer created us to be worshippers. And the best thing or person we can worship is God. Why settle for less? Why would our designer want anything less for us?
Because God is spirit and unseen, it might seem natural that some people would miss the fact that God even exists and so their worship would be directed elsewhere. That would explain why humans, apart from the direct revelation of God, have turned to so many other objects and idols. The Israelites, fearing that Moses was lost in a storm on the mountain, convinced Aaron to create for them an idol in the form of a golden calf. Once created, they then partied and reveled around their new god while Moses was receiving the true God’s laws on the mountaintop. Of course, the Israelites had no legitimate excuse. They had experienced miracle after miracle in the course of the exodus from Egypt.
But what of the rest of humanity that had no such miraculous exodus story? Paul says that they – that is we – are without excuse. Hear Romans 1:19-20, “19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” God has made himself plain in creation. The true object of our worship is clear from the things around us in the world. It is we who have chosen to ignore them, the way the Israelites chose to ignore the pillar of fire and cloud that guided them along the way.
God has revealed himself to us. In every sunrise, every spring bloom, every summer storm, every fall breeze, every winter’s calm. He has revealed himself to us in every constellation, every bird’s call, every mountain’s majesty. More so, God has revealed himself to us through His word, meaning both the written word of Scripture and the living Word, His Son, Jesus. We can and should know God through these things, and therefore the direction of our worship should be clear. God, the God who is revealed in the world around us, is the only worthy recipient of our worship. He alone deserves our praise and adoration. He alone deserves our devotion and attention.
God desires our worship, and His revelation of Himself demands our worship. Worship is the only right response to God based on the things He has shown about Himself in all the means He has revealed Himself.
But there is a complication. Isaiah describes the predicament perfectly in Isaiah 64:4-6. “4 From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. 5 You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” We are all sinners, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” Paul tells the Romans in Romans 3:23. And our sin means that the best that we can offer, the best worth we can attribute to God, is at best nothing more than how the King James translates Isaiah’s polluted garments as “filthy rags.”
Would you present yourself before a king in your cleaning or gardening garb? Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven as a feast being thrown in honor of a wedding. However, none of the guests arrive. So the king throws open the feast to anyone and everyone from every roadway and corner that his servants can find. However, when he comes across someone at the feast who is not dressed for a wedding, he throws them out to the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. We must come to God appropriately. But the best we have are but dirty rags that stink before God because of our sin.
How then are we to worship? The Israelites were allowed to worship based on their sin sacrifices, including the pinnacle sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. They were declared righteous – at least for a year – based on the penance of an innocent lamb. And so they could freely worship. We do not worship based on a Day of Atonement sacrifice. We worship based upon the ultimate sacrifice of God’s own Son for our sins and our sakes. We are set free by Christ, and within the freedom that He grants to us by His work on the cross to redeem us and restore us is the freedom to worship God fully and completely without fear of retribution for being dressed inappropriately, or coming to God with nothing but polluted garments and dirty rags.
Through and by Christ, we exchange our dirty clothes for the pure white robe of the redeemed. And then we are able to join in the song of the redeemed before the throne of God, worshipping him with all that we are – our entire heart, soul, mind, and strength, given over to the glory and praise of God in the true, complete, unadulterated worship for which we were originally designed and created.
You see, God desires our worship. More than that, God has revealed himself to us, and His revelation demands only one response: that of worship. God has also provided the freedom for us to worship by delivering us from the sin that binds us and dirties us so that we can rightfully attend the wedding feast and surround the throne without fear of being cast out into the outer darkness.
Then, finally, there is this truth about worship. Psalm 22 is known best for being the psalm that Jesus quotes from the cross. It’s opening lines are, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And the psalm goes on to describe in frightening detail many of the very things that Jesus experienced on the day when he was crucified, from the agony of his bones to the dividing of his clothes by lot. Consider though, the third verse, and what it tells us about worship. Psalm 22:3 says, “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.”
The word my translation renders as “enthroned” can mean to sit or dwell. The King James translates this verse as, “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” It is in their acts of worship that God comes to dwell in Israel. It is when they praise Him that God finds His throne to sit on. In our worship, we invite God to be with us, to dwell with us, to rule over us. But more than just invite God to do these things, we find that God actually dwells with us, sits with us, rules over us as we worship Him. There is a reason that the veil between us and God is so thin in worship. There is a reason that we experience God most keenly when we are worshipping Him. And that reason is because God is enthroned with us, He dwells with us, He inhabits us when our lives are doing what we are designed to do – worship God.
Paul beseeched the Romans, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Imagine if we learned to understand worship not just as a few songs we sing together on Sunday mornings, but the fullness of our lives given to His glory. Imagine if we gave everything over as an act of worship to God. Imagine if our gardening were an act of worship. Imagine if our shopping were an act of worship. Imagine if our breathing were an act of worship. Imagine if we found God inhabiting these things, being with us in those moments. What would life be like with God always present, always enthroned with us in our constant acts of praise? What if the darkening veil that is between us were always that thin?
Ah, what a rich life! Then we will have reached the heart of worship. This is what we need to strive for always. This is what we will be learning for these next eight weeks.