The Nature of Biblical Worship

December 17, 2017 in Bible - NT - Hebrews, Bible - OT - Psalms, Christmas, Liturgy, Lord's Day, Meditations, Worship

Hebrews 13:15 (NKJV)
15 Therefore by [Jesus] let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.

In our continuing study of Jesus in the Psalms we examine Psalm 35 today. Three times in our psalm, David will promise to praise God if God will but deliver him from his persecutors. And since Paul urges us to offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name, it seems fitting to study each of David’s promises and to learn what they teach us about biblical worship.

David makes his first promise in verses 9-10:

9 And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD; It shall rejoice in His salvation. 10 All my bones shall say, “LORD, who is like You, Delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, Yes, the poor and the needy from him who plunders him?”

Here David teaches us two things about biblical worship. First, biblical worship is to be personal. My soul shall be joyful; all my bones shall say, “Lord, who is like you…” Worship isn’t something “out there” that we participate in, it is something “in here” that emerges from grateful hearts. Second, biblical worship is to be joyful. My soul shall be joyful in the Lord; it shall rejoice in His salvation. Because God saves us from those too mighty for us – from sin, from Satan, from worldly foes who hate God – worship should be saturated with joy. Biblical worship is to be personal and joyful.

David makes his second promise in v. 18:

18 I will give You thanks in the great assembly; I will praise You among many people.

So let us add two more features of biblical worship. First, biblical worship is to be thankful. I will give you thanks… Every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights, so we ought to thank Him. Second, biblical worship is to be corporate. I will give you thanks in the great assembly [church]; I will praise You among many peoples. Biblical worship does not confine itself to me and God alone because God’s purposes for my life are far greater than my salvation. He saves me in order that I might bless and encourage others, that others might be saved through me. Biblical worship is to be thankful and corporate.

David makes his final promise in verse 28:

28 And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness And of Your praise all the day long.

So let us add two final features of biblical worship. First, biblical worship is to be vocal. And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness… Worship isn’t just a matter of the heart, it issues forth from our mouths using our lips and tongues. Second, biblical worship is to be continual. And my tongue shall speak…of Your praise all the day long. While our worship is to be corporate, it cannot be limited to times of corporate gathering – these times are few and far between. Consequently, our corporate worship must spill out into all my day, must shape the entirety of my life. My day should be filled with praising and thanking God. Biblical worship is to be vocal and continual.

Putting all this together, therefore, biblical worship is to be personal, joyful, thankful, corporate, vocal, and continual. Often, however, our worship lacks these traits. So as we enter into the presence of the Lord, let us confess our sin to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession, followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Preaching Coram Deo

August 13, 2017 in Bible - NT - 2 Corinthians, Bible - NT - 2 Timothy, Judgment, Lord's Day, Meditations, Preaching

2 Timothy 4:1–2 (NKJV)
1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

Last week we considered Paul’s charge to Timothy, Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. For the next few weeks I would like us to consider other portions of Paul’s exhortation that we grow in our love for the Word and become ever more humble before our God.

So this morning let us consider why Paul charges Timothy to preach the word. The answer? Timothy will answer to God. Paul writes, I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom… Why must Timothy be careful to preach the word in season and out of season? Because God is going to demand an accounting from Timothy for how he executed his responsibility. Did he preach the word faithfully? Did he encourage the fainthearted, rebuke the hardened, convince the doubtful, exhort the sinful?

Paul’s words remind us that we all live Coram Deo – we all live before the face of God. Consequently, we shall give an answer for every rash word that we have spoken, for every wicked action we have committed, and for every sinful thought we have entertained. It is appointed unto men to die once and after this to face the judgment. We shall answer for the foul words we spoke to that other driver; we shall answer for our cowardice in the face of opposition; we shall answer for our use of porn, our indifference to our spouse, our waste of our employer’s time. While such judgment will not result in the condemnation of those who are in Christ, neither will such judgment be a warm and fuzzy encounter with our best bud; it will rather be a sober evaluation before our Lord and Master.

Consequently, Paul charges Timothy to remember that this evaluation is coming and not to take it lightly. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10). This reminder was to fill Timothy and us with a due sense of reverence and diligence.

I want to take a moment to thank you all for your continued prayers for me and for my family as we await the results of the biopsy taken on one of the enlarged lymph nodes in my neck. Lord willing, we will receive the results the middle of this next week. The mere possibility that this may be some form of terminal cancer has reminded me vividly of the shortness of life, of how dependent we all are, each and every moment, on the sustaining hand of our Creator and Preserver, and of how critical it is that we be prepared to stand before Him cleansed by the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, robed in His righteousness, and adorned with good works by the power of His Spirit.

So reminded this morning that we shall all appear before our God and His Christ, let us remember that on this Lord’s Day we also appear before Him to hear His voice. And having heard His voice rebuking our complacency and our sinfulness, let us confess our sin in Christ’s name, beseeching His forgiveness. And as we confess, let us kneel together as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Father is Seeking Worshipers

June 18, 2017 in Bible - NT - John, Communion, Liturgy, Lord's Day, Meditations, Sovereignty of God, Worship

John 4:23–24 (NKJV)
23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth.”

Last week we observed that Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman explained some of the changes in worship from the old to the new covenant. While old covenant worship was centralized in Jerusalem, new covenant worship has been spread throughout the earth; and while old covenant worship was simply monotheistic, new covenant worship is Trinitarian, gloriously monotheistic. Today I’d like us to meditate on Jesus’ remark that the Father is seeking such to worship Him.

In the history of Christianity, one of the names used to identify the weekly corporate gathering of the congregation is the Divine Service or the Lord’s Service. Unfortunately, we rarely use this term any longer, almost exclusively using the word “worship” to label our weekly gathering.

On one level, of course, using the label “worship” is entirely fitting. To worship God is to ascribe worth to Him – it is to announce that He is the Lord and Creator of all and is therefore worthy of all honor and glory and power. Each Lord’s Day we gather to worship the High and Exalted One, the One who has created us from nothing and who has redeemed us from destruction. As Jesus says in our text today, we gather to worship God the Father in the Name of His Son and by the power of His Spirit. Worship is a great term.

But the term “worship” can obscure a fundamental reality to which Jesus points us in our text: The Father is seeking such to worship Him. Jesus declares that when we come to worship the Lord, the reason that we have come is because God in His mercy has sought us out. Our worship, in other words, is a response to God’s action. Why are you here today? Because God sought you out, God summoned you here, God brought you here. We love because He first loved us. We serve God in worship because God first served us by bringing us here.

And this is why the title the “Lord’s Service” is so helpful. The title is intentionally ambiguous – is the “Lord’s Service” our service of the Lord – worshiping Him, honoring Him, and praising Him – or is it the Lord’s Service of His people – calling us together, comforting us from His Word, and feeding us at His Table? Biblically our gathering each Lord’s Day is both. He serves us and we serve Him. And whose service is primary? Whose service comes first? The Lord’s. For if He did not serve us by calling us here then we would not serve Him by worshiping Him.

Ought we not, therefore, to begin each Lord’s Day with gratitude and thankfulness? God has called us here; summoned us to enter His presence and worship Him in Spirit and Truth. So how have you responded to His summons? Are you here with an eager heart and mind? Or are you here cloudy and disinterested, so worn from the cares of the week that you cannot serve Him well?

Reminded that God has sought us out and served us in order that we might serve Him, let us confess that we often respond to His work with ingratitude and indifference rather than joy and delight. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Why use leavened bread in the Supper?

April 2, 2017 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - Luke, Bible - OT - Exodus, Bible - OT - Leviticus, Communion, Lord's Day, Meditations, Postmillennialism
Luke 13:20–21 (NKJV)
20 And again He said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
For several weeks, we have been explaining some of the traditions that we include in our corporate worship. Last week we touched upon our practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly; this week let us consider our practice of using leavened bread in the Lord’s Supper. Why use yeast? Why leavened bread?
Given that the Lord’s Supper has parallels with the old covenant rite of Passover, some have argued that Christians should use unleavened bread in the Supper. Passover was the last day in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, given to celebrate the exodus from Egypt. Since the Lord’s Supper was inaugurated during that feast, some have argued that we should use unleavened bread in our celebration. What should we think of this?
Let us say, first, that there is nothing wrong with a church deciding to use unleavened bread in its celebration of the Supper. “The kingdom of God is not in eating and drinking but in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). Further, Paul exhorts us in Corinthians, “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor 5:8). Unleavened bread can be used to convey such an exhortation and there is nothing wrong in its use.
That said, throughout Scripture both leavened and unleavened bread were used in sacred rites. While unleavened bread was used at Passover, leavened bread was used for the peace offerings (Lev 7:13) as well as for the celebration of Pentecost (Lev 23:16-17). Given that the Lord’s Supper is the new covenant feast that centers all these rites in Christ’s death and resurrection, it is important to recall why unleavened bread was used at Passover to determine if that rationale applies to the Lord’s Supper.

According to Exodus 12, unleavened bread highlighted the “haste” with which our fathers were to leave Egypt. God wanted them to leave quickly and so they didn’t have time for the yeast to rise. This sense of haste was confirmed by their dress – they were to eat the meal prepared to travel. “And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waste, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste” (Ex 12:11).
So does the Lord’s Supper commemorate this same sense of “haste”? I don’t think so. The only haste seen at the Last Supper is that of Judas who is told, “What you have to do, do quickly!” That is hardly the type of haste we want to imitate! So what does the bread of the Lord’s Supper commemorate? It commemorates the sacrifice of Jesus’ body and the commencement of His kingdom. At the Supper Jesus took bread and broke it; He then shared it among his disciples, saying, “Take, eat, this is My body.” The bread points not to haste but to Christ.
And this brings us back to the parable I read earlier. And again [Jesus] said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” Jesus uses leaven to illustrate the pervasive influence of His kingdom, His rule. His kingdom shall operate in the world like leaven, slowly, organically permeating the world until the entire earth is leavened. And it is this characteristic of Christ’s rule that we are attempting to emphasize by using leavened bread: Jesus’ kingdom is like leaven. Slowly, organically the reality symbolized by this bread will become realized throughout the world. Jesus will spread His rule throughout the nations of the earth.

The use of leavened bread, therefore, summons us to be like leaven, to be instruments of God’s work in our families, communities, and workplaces. We are so to live and labor that the entire loaf becomes leavened. Reminded that God has called us to be leaven; to live so that through our witness Christ’s rule on earth is established; let us confess that we often fail to live in this leavening fashion. And as you are able, let us kneel together as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Dispatches from the Front

September 28, 2014 in Book Reviews, Church History, Evangelism, Lord's Day, Missions

For the last seven or so weeks our family has incorporated the video series Dispatches from the Front by Dr. Tim Keesee into our Saturday evening Sabbath meal ritual. I simply cannot say enough about this video series. Get it; watch it; be blessed; be encouraged; be challenged; be prepared to cheer and to cry and to contemplate. Dr. Keesee is with Frontline Missions International and the video series travels to a number of “frontline” mission fields, following the journeys of courageous men and women who are taking the Gospel to hard to reach places. As expected, the videos give a great vision for missions; but I also found myself challenged to think about the mission field outside my door. There are currently 7 videos available here. Our whole family is grieved that we’re done with the set and praying for more.

Worship and Posture

June 22, 2014 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - OT - Psalms, Ecclesiology, Liturgy, Lord's Day, Meditations, Worship
Psalm 95:6–7 (NKJV)
6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. 7 For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture, And the sheep of His hand.
One of the most frequent questions visitors have about our service of worship, one of the questions that you may also have, is this: What’s with all the different postures? We sit, we stand, we kneel, we bow heads, we lift hands – why all the variety?
The answer to these questions is threefold: first, God did not create us as mere spirits but as creatures with body and soul. As those who have bodies, God expects us to use them for His honor. Paul writes, “…you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Our bodies belong to God and so what we do with them is important. Our actions should should reflect our reverence for Him and our knowledge that one day Christ will return in glory and raise these very bodiesfrom the grave. Our bodies matter.
So this leads us to the second answer to our question: why all the variety? The answer is that in worship there are a variety of things we do. We praise and thank the Lord; we confess our sins; we hear the assurance of forgiveness; we listen to the reading of God’s Word; we confess the creeds; we present our tithes and offerings; we pray; we learn from the Scriptures; we feast with God at His Table. This wonderful variety demands a variety of responses – both verbally and bodily. There is no “one size fits all” bodily posture.
And this is why, third, the Scriptures invite us to worship God with a variety of postures – standing, kneeling, sitting, lifting hands, etc. So notice our text today from Psalm 95 – Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. This is but one example of the types of bodily invitations given in the context of worship.
But let us beware that we not merely go through the motions. For the ultimate reason that our posture changes is that we worship in God’s very presence. He is here with us and we dare not treat Him lightly. He calls us to worship; we respond by standing to praise Him. He thunders at our sin; we respond by kneeling to confess it. He assures us of pardon; we stand to listen and enter boldly into His presence through the blood of Christ. He instructs us from His Word; we stand to give our attention to its reading. This is the drama of the Divine Service – but it’s a drama that is meaningful only when accompanied by hearts that love and cherish Him.
So what of you? Why do you stand? Why do you kneel? Why do you sit? Do you do it just because that’s what you’re being told to do? Do you kneel so you won’t appear out of place? Do you sit so you can take a nap? Or do you do all these things because you recognize with awe and wonder that the God we worship this Day has invited you into His very presence to worship?

So today as we have entered into God’s presence He has thundered at our sin – let us confess that we have often just gone through the motions of worship; and let us kneel as we confess together.

The Covenant of Life

June 10, 2014 in Bible - OT - Genesis, Covenantal Living, Creation, Creeds, Federal Vision, King Jesus, Lord's Day, Marriage, Quotations, Sanctification

The Westminster Larger Catechism (modern version by the EPC):

Q. 20. What was God’s providence relating to the humans he created? 

A. God providentially put Adam and Eve in paradise and assigned them the job of taking care of it. He gave them permission to eat everything that grew, put them in authority over all the creatures, and established marriage as a help for Adam. God allowed them to have fellowship with him, instituted the Sabbath, and made a covenant of life with them on the condition of their personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience. The tree of life was a sign guaranteeing this covenant. Finally, God told them not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil or they would die.

Christ, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper

February 28, 2014 in Baptism, Book Reviews, Covenantal Living, Ecclesiology, Federal Vision, Lord's Day, Sacraments

A couple months ago I read Leonard Vander Zee’s book Christ, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. This was another helpful book explaining the biblical role of the sacraments for the life of the Church. Vander Zee does an excellent job identifying the true dividing line in sacramental theology: the true dividing line in different views of the sacraments is between those who view the sacraments fundamentally as a human declaration to God and those who view them primarily as God’s declaration to us. The Reformed position is the latter. In the sacraments it is primarily God who is speaking – speaking to us and about us, identifying who we are, the promises he has made to us, and the hopes we have for the future. I would recommend it. You can find it here.

Remember the Sabbath Day

February 9, 2014 in Bible - OT - Exodus, Eschatology, King Jesus, Lord's Day, Meditations, Old Testament, Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:8–11 (NKJV)
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
Today we return to our series of exhortations on the Ten Commandments. God’s law is an expression of God’s character and, as those who love and treasure Him, the law gives us an appreciation for what God is like and how we can become more like Him. Indeed, one of God’s promises in the New Covenant is that He will write His law upon our hearts and teach us His commandments. As believers in Christ we are to delight in the law of God in the inner man, hungering by the grace of God to please Him in all respects by treasuring His commandments and fulfilling them in our lives.
The first four commandments inform us of our duty in relation to God, the way in which we are to respond to Him and honor Him. The first commandment governs our heart: God alone is to be the object of our affection; the second regulates our bodies: God alone is the one to whom we bow in worship; the third governs our lips: God’s Name must not be treated lightly; the fourth regulates our time: God must be prioritized in our weekly lives.
The Westminster Confession explains:
As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath. (XXI.7)

The Lord’s Day is a holy day – a day set apart from ordinary days for the honor of God and the good of mankind. The Sabbath was given to mankind as a gift, a gift of rest from the Creator. The Sabbath reminds us that all we have and all we are comes as a gift from God not a result of our own labor and performance. God announces through the prophet Ezekiel:
Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them. (Ezek 20:12)
The Lord’s Day announces this same thing and more today. On this day Jesus rose from the dead and conquered sin and death. Because Jesus has risen, He has poured out His Spirit upon us that we might be sanctified – made more like our Savior, increasingly reflecting the character of God. God continues to use the rest of the Lord’s Day to remind us that all that we have and all we are come as gifts from Him. They are not primarily a result of our labor but of His grace – for there are many who labor long and hard and who have nothing to show for it.
Increasingly as a people we have ignored and despised the Lord’s Day, we have rejected the privilege of rest and have insisted on working. We have declared that it is not God whose work is primary but we whose work is primary. So God is increasingly making us slaves to our labor and making the portions which we have thinner. Unless we repent and acknowledge once again our dependence on God and the need to reverence His Name by resting on His Day, we can expect this bondage to increase.

So let us confess this day that as a people we have despised God’s holy day and that we need Him to forgive us and restore to us the rest we have lost. Let us kneel as we confess together.