- The topic of “worship” is an enormous one that in many ways climaxes the entire biblical story.
- Following on from the topic of last week, our worship of God is best seen as a response to his love revealed in Christ.
- This approach has the advantage of clarifying that worship is about offering all of life up in service up to God; “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.” (Rom 12:1)
- The theme of worship is a highly controversial one because the dominant religious culture of the contemporary Western Church is based on personal experience rather than scripture. The name and practice of the largest congregation in Australia, Hillsong, is indicative of this emphasis. People are in general looking for special personal experiences from God; it is easy to equate my own experience of what Jesus means for me with the truth of who he is. This compromises Christ’s sole Lordship and severely impedes growth in authentic Christian living.
- This explosion in “worship” in Western churches over the last few decades has often sidelined other biblical emphases on God’s Word e.g. in preaching and spiritual gifts. Combined with an excessive focus on worship as singing and an expression of intense emotion these trends have crippled growth in discipleship. E.g. One young man, upon returning to the Christian faith with repentance, admitted, “I used to come to church each week for my regular ‘fix’”. The problem of religious addiction has a hold on the lives of many believers.
- The centre of today’s teaching is that Jesus teaches us to worship the Father in the same way that he was discipled by the Spirit to live a life of worship to God.
- Before we examine the life of Jesus as the one true worshipper it is necessary to correct some popular confusions about “worship”.
Confusion About Worship
- The English word “worship” has at its root the recognition of another’s “worthiness”. Today the word “worship” conjures up images of people in church singing and praising God. This is not a Christian understanding of the term.
- This is however much closer to the way worship is described in the Old Testament. Under the old covenant acts of bowing down to God (technically, the main Hebrew word for “worship” mean to “bow down/prostrate” oneself) are concentrated on holy sites; particularly the Jerusalem temple as the place of sacrifice by properly ordained persons.
- Such worship is generally quite formal and ritualistic (e.g. 2 Sam 12:20; 2 Chron 20:18-19; 29:28-29). There are more spontaneous expressions (Gen 24:26; Job 1:20), but these are not at the centre of Old Testament patterns of approaching and revering God.
- When we come to the New Testament the situation is radically different. Apart from scenes of heavenly worship in the book of Revelation, Christian worship is spontaneous. Generally people worship in response to the presence of Jesus; “And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” (Matt 8:2); “ While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.” (Luke 24:51-53) cf. e.g. Matt 2:2, 8, 11; 4:9, 10; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9, 17; Mark 5:6).
- More generally, Paul can say, “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3) where he is referring to a mode of life characteristic of the end-times. (This text is equivalent in meaning to John 4:23-24 which will be discussed below.)
- The great difference between the God-ordained worship of the old covenant and the new covenant is Jesus! Where Jesus is not at the very centre of the Church there is always a reversion to Old Testament practices; worship becomes focussed on special places and times and hinges around the leading of specially gifted people. I.e. church “services” and “worship leaders” who act as mediators bringing the people into the presence of God cf. 1 Tim 2:5; Heb 9:15.
- In terms of the teaching of the New Testament, the persistence of old covenant patterns of approach to God in the Church indicate the persistence of a conscience that retains a sense of sin and guilt. This was particularly the error addressed in the letter to the Hebrews e.g. 10:1-18.
- In such a system Jesus is seen as an example of worship that we are to follow or imitate. This inevitably leads to self-reliance and religious busyness and opens us up to pride and self-righteousness. Under such conditions the sins characteristic of the Pharisees become prevalent.
- Where Jesus’ role in worship is not understood one part of the church comes to “worship worship”. The Sunday service is the highlight of the week, and the centre of the service is the worship time. Another part of the church, sometimes in reaction to the spiritual culture mentioned above, sees “worship” as merely preparatory for the real ministry of the Church e.g. evangelism, social justice. Neither of these perspectives is biblical.
- At the focal point of true Christian worship is the knowledge that we have nothing to offer God apart from Jesus, who must be kept at the centre of all things. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
A Personal Testimony
As a young Christian I was very zealous for the Lord, but not always with understanding (Rom 10:2). The first church I attended was a traditional Pentecostal one; there was a half hour prayer meeting before the service, usually attended by 40 or so people, the services often went for two hours, people were keen to sit up the front near the preacher, everyone brought Bibles, there were many baptisms and inspiring testimonies etc. However, after I had been there for a couple of years I remember coming out of the service and a friend of mine (who’d become a Christian through my witness) and I said to one another in unison, “We come here Sunday by Sunday and say, ‘Praise the Lord, Hallelujah’ and we are not changed.” This was a shocking realisation at the time, but we didn’t know what to do about it! No-one was teaching us that it was not about our efforts, it is about Jesus the one true worshipper.
Jesus the True Worshipper
- In thinking about Christ as the one true worshipper the place to begin is the decision of the eternal Son of God to become human (Incarnation). This was an infinitely reverential act of obedience to the will of the Father, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Phil 2:5-7; cf. 2 Cor 8:9). The Incarnation was not simply an act of devotion or humble adoration, but one that always meant sacrifice. In his capacity as the sacrificial Lamb of God Christ was “foreknown (chosen) before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet 1:19-20 cf. Rev 13:8).
- Worship is not something that Jesus does; his whole existence is an act of worship. “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” (Heb 10:1-7)
- The act of the Son becoming a human being is a transforming act in the life of God himself; e.g. “And 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; cf. 1 Tim 3:16). This means that God-in-the-flesh sees the world through human eyes hears through human ears and loves the LORD his God with all his (human) heart, soul, mind and strength. The “man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5) knows the Father as he can be known and the great motive of his life is that others might know the Father’s love as he does (John 17:3; 23-26). This form of life involved a daily struggle against evil.
- Since the “flesh” which Jesus took on is weak, under the rule of Satan and death and disposed to sin, his human journey with God is a constant overcoming of these powers that stand against giving to God the worth he is due; “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,” (Rom 8:3 cf. Heb 4:15); “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Heb 2:14-15). To undertake this mission of destroying the powers of evil Jesus needed the help of God.
- The baptism of Jesus represents the first public act of the Son’s obedience to the Father; it is an act of worship that unveils more deeply Jesus’ identification with the will of God to redeem the world through suffering (John 1:29). This is why he is confirmed as the Messiah through the gift of the Spirit and the pleasured voice of the Father (Luke 3:21-22). In this way he is fully equipped in Word and Spirit to enact the kingdom of God through word and deed, this is his worship.
- Satan instinctively knew the centrality of worship to the effectiveness of the life mission of Christ; as such he tempted Jesus in the area of devotion after his baptismal anointing as Messiah and when he was physically weakened by 40 days of fasting (Matt 4:2). “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Matt 4:8-10). Christ’s obedience to the Father when his own physical survival was at stake contains the essence of worship i.e. reckoning God more worthy than anything else, even one’s own life
- Jesus most explicit treatment of worship is found in John 4 in his conversation with the Samaritan woman. The Samaritans believed that God’s temple and its rites of worship should have been situated in their territory (Mt Gerizim), rather on Mt Zion in Jerusalem. ““Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in S/spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in S/spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”” (John 4:20-26
- The Samaritans and the Jews were both mistaken about worship, for Christ himself is the new temple of God who replaces the one standing in Jerusalem. “So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body.” (John 2:18-21). If Jesus is the temple or house of God, this means that worship occurs wherever Jesus is located. Christ clarifies this by speaking of “worship in S/spirit and truth”
- “Worship in S/spirit and truth” does not mean non-material or disembodied worship. In John’s Gospel the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13) and Jesus says of himself “I am …the truth…no one comes to the Father but by me.” (14:6). The worship that the Father seeks is defined solely by the shape of the life of Jesus. “Worship happens when one participates in the life of the Spirit and accepts the truth found in Christ.” (Stuart cf. John 10:38; 14:10, 20; 15:4-11)
- In the Gospel accounts Jesus’ life as worship in Spirit and truth climaxes at the cross. “Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”” (John 18:37
- Whilst the presence of the Spirit might seem to be absent from the cross Hebrews tells us, “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve (= worship) the living God.” (9:13-14). This is worship in Spirit and truth
- Jesus’ witness to the depth of devotion that God had always sought from humanity is expressed in him being the perfect offering that completes the worship of those who trust in him. “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb 5:7-10); “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Heb 10:11-14
- Christ is the one non-rebellious human being who has offered himself totally to God in worship. This sacrifice is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2). “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2
- The resurrection is the verification of the sufficiency of Jesus’ offering of himself to God; he is now totally one with the Father and has returned to the glory that he had before the foundation of the world (John 17:5). The goal of the eternal plan of God that he be completely united in love with a faithful human being has been accomplished once and for all (cf. John 19:30; Heb 1:3)
- From the time of his exaltation until his Return Jesus works with the Father in the power of the Spirit to “bring many sons to glory” (Heb 2:10) by the sharing of his worship-full life.
Worship with Jesus
- Those “in Christ” are fully included in Jesus worship of the Father. Our very desire to worship God is placed in us by Christ’s Spirit.
- It is Jesus himself who leads us in our participation in the worship of heaven. “Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.” (Heb 8:1-2 cf.12:18-24)
- It is solely through the Lord that we enjoy privileged access into the presence of God; “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Rom 5:2; cf. Eph 2:18; 3:12)
- By faith (not feelings) we know that whatever we offer to God is received if it is done in the name of Jesus. “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” (Heb13:15); “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 2:5)
- The Biblical picture is even more dynamic than this. When Paul commands, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:16-17) he means it is as true to say “We speak/sing the Word” as “The Word speaks/sings in us”. As we are united with Jesus’ speech and song the Spirit reveals the wisdom, goodness, victory etc. of God in the life of Christ. Our hearts are strengthened through our participation in the ongoing act of Jesus triumph which is continually being released in us through his presence as we speak and sing in his name.
- Christ’s dynamic presence in the midst of his people is a recurrent theme in the New Testament. “Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”” (Rom 15:8-9 Cf. 2 Samuel 22:50 = Psalm 18:49) Today Jesus is singing of the life-rescuing resurrection power of his Father in all the nations of the world where disciples are made in his name (Matt 28:18-20).
- “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.””(Heb 2:10-12) The word translated “congregation” in Hebrews 2:12 is ecclesia, the usual New Testament word for “church”. Jesus is presented as singing the praise of God in the midst of the family of God today. The quotation in this passage is drawn from Psalm 22:22, which is part of Israel’s great song of lament. The first verse of this psalm was spoken by Jesus from the cross, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34). After Jesus’ experience of the tribulation of the cross and the delivering power of God in resurrection, he is found in the Church speaking from heaven of what the Father has wrought in his life. He is declaring the delivering power of his Father and ours whenever we meet together in worship
- Jesus’ greatest joy is to enact the will of his Father’s kingdom through us (Luke 10:21; Heb 12:2). This is the ongoing power and fruit of his self-offering to God. Christ makes us those worshippers in S/Spirit and truth that the Father seeks in the same way that his worship was perfected, through struggle and suffering (2 Cor 12:9-10). In the great matter of worship there can never be two-centres, I and Jesus, but only ONE. This means that those popular choruses emphasising my commitment to God must take second place to words about God’s commitment to us (1 John 4:10, 19).
True Worship: An Illustration
A few days ago I received emails from two Christian friends with links to YouTube videos. One was a rendition of “He Rose” by the contemporary Christian group “Deluge”; the other was a presentation by the world famous violinist Andre Rieu and his orchestra and choir of Frank Sinatra’s famous song, “I Did It My Way”. The musical quality of the two pieces was of course incomparable, but they have something in common that illustrates the heart of worship. Both celebrate a life; Rieu celebrates the life of a notorious sinner and egoist, Deluge celebrates the sinless Son of God. They are radically different; Sinatra is dead, Jesus lives for evermore (Rev 1:18). Sinatra lived for himself; Jesus lived, died and rose again for me!
Our culture is increasingly obsessed with “idols” whose lifestyle and achievements we desire to imitate, but Jesus died to put to death our highest aspirations. To follow Jesus as a true disciple means to die to self-worship. The unique aspect of Christian worship is that we desire to share in the life of him who has triumphed over the form of all our natural fleshly inclinations. This explains why the book of Revelation contains the most concentrated scenes of worship in the New Testament; at the centre of the heavenly adoration is the “Lamb, standing as slain” i.e. crucified and risen (5:6). “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea” cry out “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev 5:13). This is a book of the prophets and witnesses of the Lamb who offer true worship to him who was slain for them, they overcome evil as Christ did, “for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev 12:9).
- As Jesus own life as a worshipper was perfected through death and resurrection, this is also the pattern for the growth of our lives as worshippers. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20); “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal 5:24 cf. 6:14; Phil 3:10)
- The worshippers in S/spirit and truth that the Father is seeking are passionately committed to Christ likeness in all of life (Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 11:1). They long to see the world through Christ’s eyes, hear through his ears and love the LORD their God as Jesus does with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. To know the Father as Jesus does and to make known the Father’s love as he does.
- The great motive of all Christian devotion is clearly expressed by Paul, “it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Phil 1:20)
- Paul’s exhortation, “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.” (Romans 12:1 cf. Rom 6:13, 16, 19), appears at the end of eleven sustained chapters on the grace of God in restoring us through the salvation in Christ. His language is therefore not metaphorical; our lives are truly to be lived sacrificially in the power of the Spirit. As such, we are “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,” (2 Cor 2:15 cf. Phil 4:18).
- Worship occupies a central part of the plan of God, for it is humanity’s response to his love and the means by which he is valued according to his true worth.
- “Christian worship” in contemporary Australia commonly functions in an atmosphere of self-conscious effort that denies the absolute centrality of the person of Christ. Such “worship” often takes the shape of old covenant forms and blocks access to the grace of God that is necessary for true discipleship.
- New Testament worship however is not focussed on special places, times and personnel, but equally embraces all the people of God and their offering up of themselves to God in every sphere of life because its centre is the life of Christ.
- Only the Son of God has seen the Father and knows his true limitless worth (John 6:46). Motivated by an infinite desire that humanity might know and love the Father truly, the Son became a mortal human being in the power of the Spirit.
- By his selfless service of humanity, perfect obedience to the will of God and sacrificial death Jesus has offered to the Father the honour that is due to his name (Pss 29:2; 96:8; John 12:28; 17:4).
- Christ alone is qualified and able to lead the worship of the Church on earth from his exalted position in heaven. Through his presence in our midst we are granted insight into God’s great vision of a new heavens and earth where every thought and action will be consciously one of true praise. As the hymn writer so insightfully says, “And at last our eyes shall see him through his own redeeming love.”
- Disciples of Jesus are motivated to offer their lives up in service and sacrifice for others, that they also might become true worshipers who will worship the Father in S/spirit and truth.
 There is a debate over whether the Greek word pneuma here means the human spirit or the Spirit of God.