Message 3, The Priority of Worship:
One of the most neglected contributions of the Reformation is its emphasis on the importance of public worship, and especially the role of hymns and music, for the health of the church. This session reflects upon this legacy while also considering the importance of public worship today. Finally, it considers why reforming worship is of utmost importance for the church worldwide in the future.
I’m sure it wasn’t deliberate on the part of the organizers to place a Brazilian in between the Englishman and the Scotsman, we’re all one in Christ Jesus and rejoice in that. And, it is a privilege and a treat to be back at the Ligonier conference again, more than most of you would imagine, I suspect. I want to ask you to turn with me to the letter to Hebrews, chapter 12.
I’m going to read a few verses there. I won’t expound them later on, I’m almost embarrassed to say there is no text for this address, but there are texts. And here is one of the great New Testament passages on the great reformation of worship. Hebrews chapter 12, I’m beginning to read at verse 18.
“For you have not come to what may be touched. A blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given if even a beast touches the mountain it shall be stoned. Indeed, so terrifying was the site that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’
But you have come to Mt. Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to enumerable angels in festal gathering. And to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. And to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Able. See that you do not refuse Him who is speaking, for if they did not escape when they refused Him, who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject Him who warns from heaven.”
Now, I’ve been asked to reflect with you on some of the lessons that we may learn together by God’s grace, from the way in which the Reformer’s approached the subject of worship. And I want us to try and do that in a number of different ways. I have four major points, but before we come to them, I think it’s important for us to try to put in some kind of theological as well as historical context what took place at the time of the Reformation.
I imagine if you asked most Protestant Christians what the Reformation was, they would say it was a real battle. And if you then asked them what that battle was about, predominantly, I suspect, the answer would be, it was a battle over justification. And certainly in large measure, that was true, but if you had asked the Reformers what the battle was about, they would not only have said it was a battle over justification, they would have said it was a battle about worship.
Indeed, they regarded it for reasons we need not go into here as a critical battle about worship, and they saw that battle as part of an elongated war that had marked the people of God since the garden of Eden. They understood that the narrative that ran through the pages of Scripture was a narrative that could be comprehensibly understood through the lenses of seeing history as a war about the worship of God.
And that that war began in the garden of Eden was brought to a critical moment on the cross of Calvary and the resurrection of Christ, and in the gift of the Holy Spirit and would come to its final consummation in the return of Jesus Christ, the establishing of the New Jerusalem and the destruction of the city of Man. The city of Babylon.
And that that war began in the very early stages of man’s existence in the garden of Eden. That that battle which became a historical war took place in the very first moments of which we read after the story of creation. When Adam was created and put in a garden, that very clearly in the pages of the Old Testament becomes the model for the tabernacle and the temple. And that he is called there as part of His obedience and love for the lord to lead the whole of creation in worship.
Adam in that sense is created to be the priest who leads and conducts and gives voice to, articulates as the image of God the worship of all creatures and of all creation. And that part of his task in that as he subdues everything to himself is to extend this temple of a garden until it comes to fill the whole earth. The very thing that eventually is described in the closing chapters of the book of Revelation was clearly intended to be Adam’s ministry from the beginning.
That the earth should be full of the knowledge of the glory of God as the watchers cover the sea. That the day should come when there would be no more temple because everything was temple. And here he is given this high privilege as the divinely appointed priest of all creation to express the praises of the inanimate creature, and to articulate the praises of creatures who have sounds but no words. To bring and to lead worship and praise and adoration to the Lord.
Adam is created to fulfill a ministry that is described in the New Testament as the ministry of the forerunner, the ministry of the pioneer who brings all that is under his control into the presence of God and leads in the presence of God the worship of God’s name. And so it is, of course, significant that in Genesis chapter 3 we read of the wiliness and the subtlety and the perverted wisdom of the serpent, who’s goal at the end of the day is to distort and to destroy this true worship of God.
You remember Paul’s incisive commentary on the events of Genesis chapter 3 as he expounds it in Roman’s chapter 1. That they exchange the truth about God for the lie and they substituted the worship of the creature for the worship of the Creator. And from that last battle until the consummation of all spiritual conflict, from that point at which they are thrown out of the garden of Eden, out of the temple as false worshipers, having exchanged the worship of God for the worship of creatures. The whole of the rest of the biblical narrative is an ongoing saga of that war. It erupts again, doesn’t it, in Genesis 4, in Cain and Abel.
It erupts again later on in Genesis, in the building of the tower of Babel in order to pull down God from His throne and to establish the worship of man. It recurs in the Exodus of God’s people, they are called out of Egypt in order to worship God, and so they continue that war in their battles against the false gods and the false religions. It erupts from time to time in the rest of the biblical narrative.
This is the function of prophets, whose message so often is that the people of God, for whom God has given the revelation of true worship. How he wants, even in the old covenant days to be worshiped in spirit and in truth, that the people have gone astray and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, and the prophets come in so incisively to expose their sinfulness and their degradation. And it comes of course to a grand climax in the closing three years of our Lord Jesus’ ministry.
It’s not incidental that in Matthew’s gospel, the climatic temptation Jesus faces is a temptation about worship. He can have what He came into the world to gain — the kingdoms of this world. But only at the high cost of worshiping a creature rather than the creator. And it’s in this context that Jesus pronounces His manifesto in Matthew 16:18, isn’t it?
On this now enemy occupied territory, I am going to create my church, my ‘ecclesia,’ my assembly. So that the whole vision of our Lord Jesus Christ is actually focused. The goal He has in view and His dying and rising and ascending and sending the Holy Spirit and ultimately coming again in majesty and glory, is to create a new assembly. The very assembly of which Hebrews speaks, in Hebrews chapter 12.
Because Jesus died on the cross in order that God might be rightly worshiped again. And this was one of the great burdens of the early Reformers as you may well know. Yes, to battle over the issue of how it is that people are saved, and from what source that salvation comes. But in addition, and even as the goal in view, that God may be properly worshiped according to His will, according to His Word for His glory, for our good and for our mutual pleasure.
So for example in 1543, 1544 when John Calvin pens and publishes his great work on the necessity of the reformation of the church, he pinpoints these two issues as absolutely fundamental.
The source from which our salvation comes and the way in which God is rightly to be worshiped. And He makes the first of these subservient to the second. In a way that powerfully speaks to the early twenty-first century church. Which in its evangelical form so often regards my personal salvation as the great goal of the economy of God.
Whereas the Reformers wisely saw that for all the wonder of the salvation that Jesus Christ gives to us, that salvation has a goal in view that those whom God saves should come and worship Him in Spirit and in truth.
That what was lost in the garden of Eden would be restored in measure in the assembly that Jesus inaugurates. And that our very existence as Christians should be an existence here and now for worship and adoration, and there and then for more of the same. This is what we were created for, this is what we were diverted from by Satan, and this, by the marvelous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is what we are reconstituted for.
So that sometimes in our worship services we rightly think about heaven coming down and glory filling our souls, or perhaps better of us going up and glory filling our souls. And we have the sense that although we know we could not cope with it, we do nevertheless long that these moments will go on forever. But we cannot in our frailty and our sinfulness take that. But we look forward as the Scripture teaches us to a day when that worship in spirit and in truth will go on forever and we will be fully satisfied.
The day the book of Revelation describes towards the end, when the unholy false trinity are destroyed. The serpent, the dragon and the beast and the false prophet and the city that man has built in his self-centered, anthropocentric adoration and worship will be destroyed. Fallen is Babylon, and then comes down from heaven that new Jerusalem, the city of God, the garden expanded into the whole world where John tells us in the book of Revelation, there was no temple.
And the reason there was no temple is because there, everything will be temple. The people of God serving Him, lost in wonder and love and praise.
Because the Reformers understood that redemptive exodus always has worship in view. Let my people go so that they may worship me at this mountain. And as Jesus picks up that theme, you remember in the transfiguration discussion in Luke chapter 19, He discusses with Moses and Elijah the exodus that He will accomplish at Jerusalem.
It’s His way of hinting to His listening disciples that the goal that His work has in view is to consummate the reality which the exodus was simply a shadow of. “Let my people go that they may worship me.”
I want to try and say four things that I think we can learn as we listen to the work of the Reformation and the teaching of the Reformers as they understood how difficult it is to persuade people that we worship God the way He wants us to worship and not the way we like to worship.
And this is a helpful thing for us because we live in a time where the very question, how does God want to be worshiped is a question that I suspect multitudes of evangelical Christians would respond to with total incredulity as though it were even a relevant question how God wanted to be worshiped or that God would disclose to us how He wanted to be worshiped. And yet, of course this was the driving principle of the Reformation.
So first of all what we see in the work of the Reformers is the false worship that the Reformation exposed. The false worship the Reformation exposed. Now, we’ve already heard from Mike Reeves, many of us are familiar with the false doctrine of the pre-reformation church, the medieval theology that placed maybe justification at the end of God’s work in you, rather than justification producing assurance because it was God’s glorious declaration about you right at the very beginning of your Christian life.
But let me simply focus attention on some of the more locally emphasized worship issues that concerned Reformers. As they looked on what the medieval church had produced as the worship of God. One of the most obvious distortions they saw was that worship had become visual and sensory, even sensual rather than biblical and spiritual. These verses in Hebrews chapter 12, the old way of worship coming to something that could be touched standing in contrast with worship in spirit and truth where nothing could be touched.
These Hebrew Christians to whom the author is writing, they have no building, they have no temple, they have no altar. They have no priestly garments, they meet, perhaps in somebody’s front room. There is nothing tangible. Everything is focused on what is better than the tangible. That to which the tangible pointed in the high priestly ministry and temple of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And one of the things that they noticed was that as the Word of God was demeaned, as the leaders of the church confessedly became ignorant and sometimes proudly ignorant of the teaching of the Word of God, all of the emphasis lay in what you saw, what you saw the priest wearing, what you saw the priest doing with his hands, his gestures, what you saw in the choir singing.
And so everything was tangible and this was true even of the sacraments, grace became an almost tangible reality, a kind of quasi-substance that would be infused into you or restored to you, as you physically took the sacraments and it was by these sacraments that God gave you grace. Unless perhaps, it was admitted there was some appalling obstacle to you receiving grace. A quasi-substantial grace would be given to you, right into you.
Incidentally language that still lingers on in Protestantism, doesn’t it? As though there was such a thing as grace. And what the Reformers wanted to point to was the Word of God that was heard. Not the things that were visible and could be touched. And of course they saw that this was what had happened in the garden of Eden that had led in the first place to the false worship. That the serpent kept saying to Eve by innuendo, what do you see? What do you see? What do you see?
Forget about God’s verbal regulation through which you are to interpret everything that you see. And instead of seeing with her ears, according to the Word of God, she saw with her eyes and was dislocated from God’s revelation about how He was pleased lovingly to be worshiped by those to whom He had given so much.
And the whole of God’s character was distorted and therefore the whole of true worship was distorted there in the garden of Eden and the Reformers believed it was happening all over again, by the focus on the visual and what we saw. You would not have asked someone leaving a service in the late middle ages, what did you hear? A) Because that person probably did not understand the Latin that he or she heard, and B) because all of the focus was on what we saw.
So there was this deformation of worship from what we hear in the power of the Spirit to what we see and feel and taste and touch. And along with that, a second element in deformation which was inevitably that worship became vicarious rather than congregational. It was bound to be, because only the priests had the language of worship. And by and large only the choir would sing the ancient hymns of the church, and so worship was a vicarious performance. Masses could be said for you by others. And the whole biblical notion that we are the people of God, the royal priesthood and that worship is not vicarious but congregational and participatory.
And then this third element. Worship had become visual rather than verbal, it’d become vicarious rather than congregational, done in front of you rather than by you. And worship had become complex and lost its simplicity. If you had read the manuals that were given to the priests, they were like manuals for computer programmers. Where you went then, why you did this, what your wore then, what you didn’t wear. Why you didn’t wear it, what you touched, what your gesticulations were.
If there had been theological seminaries in the English speaking world, in those days most of the courses would have been on hand actions and vestments, and not on the action of God and the preaching of His Word and the understanding of that Word by God’s people in the sheer simplicity of biblical worship in the New Testament.
From which you remember Paul warns that we are so easily drawn away from the simplicity that is in Jesus Christ. So that when some the Reformers appeared, they were despised like the apostles, because they were not priests. They’d never had the mark of priesthood put upon them. They were ignorant men.
And could not therefore understand what it really meant to worship God, and the Reformers stood on this, that Christ called the apostles in order that they would give the very Word of God to the church in the twenty-seven books of the New Testament Scriptures. And that it was to this, God’s revelation of what pleases Him in worship that they wanted to reform the church.
The second thing I want us to notice goes along with the first. If the first is the false worship that the Reformation exposed, the second is the gospel worship that the Reformation restored. The Reformers, in varying degrees, of course, there was a spectrum of personality among them, just as there was a spectrum of personality among the Old Testament prophets, ranged from a gentle exposition of the gospel to Jeremiads, in which — you remember Jeremiah’s call?
He’s called to pull down and to pluck up and to destroy what belongs to the flesh and to plant and to build. This is how, for example, how Luther saw himself. As pulling down, plucking up, destroying and planting and building the true worship of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so what did they do, they went back to the fundamentals of worship. That the Word of God should be proclaimed, and that the name of God should be praised.
I was brought up in a city in Scotland which had its city motto from that principal of the Reformation. “Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the Word and the praising of His name.” And children now only know the motto is “Let Glasgow Flourish.” The false worship of man taking over from the true worship of God.
I used to as a young teenage, Christian go into the city necropolis, the city graveyard, and climb to its highest point where there is this massive statue of John Knox looking over the city that had been given a motto that was the perfect expression of the goal of his ministry. “Let this city flourish through the preaching of the Word and the praising of His name.” And it was, of course, this that the Reformers, the great Reformers all established this. Re-established the systematic preaching of the Word of God.
Remember when Zwingli began this, people were absolutely astonished, it was a shock to their system that anyone would preach the Word of God, day after day, and do it in a consecutive way. But this, of course became the great hallmark. I think of Calvin in Geneva, day after day. Day after day. Twice, at least, on the Lord’s Day. Opening the Scriptures, pouring the Word of God into the people of God. And doing, of course, exactly what Jesus had done. He went everywhere teaching and preaching. What the Apostle Paul had done.
Perhaps most signally, in Ephesus where you remember over the extended period he was there he gathered the disciples every single day and for — if the footnotes of the Western text of the acts of the apostles are anything to go by, for hours every day, poured the Word of God into the people of God. And the result? Well, the result of the proclamation of the Word of God was the singing of the people of God.
That’s how Paul understands it. When the Word is preached in the power of the Spirit and people on the one hand, Colossians 3, have the Word of Christ dwelling in them richly, and in terms of Ephesians 5:18, are filled with the Holy Spirit, the result is always worship and praise. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you sing psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs, and teach one another and make melody to the Lord in your heart, be filled with the Spirit and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Why so much preaching of the Word?
Because they believed, incidentally, contrary to the twenty-first century, that it’s not the believer who does the work of the Word, it’s the Word that does the work in the believer.
And when we are diverted to that first, it is the believer who does the work of the Word, true immeasurable it may be, less and less will we be anxious for more and more of the Word, because all it will do to us is place a burden on our backs that we cannot bear. But when the Word of God is poured into us, when the Word of God indwells us wonderfully. Then as Paul says to the Thessalonians, you receive the Word which is at work in you, and it produces song.
It didn’t actually do that with Zwingli, because he really wondered whether we should sing at all, given what had happened in singing, that it was a spectator sport. But Luther and Calvin?
Calvin began to produce new versions of the psalms, probably realized he wasn’t the greatest poet in the world. Handed it on to others. Luther, 1523, by at least 1523, he has understood the church needs a praise book, and he begins to work over ancient hymns and to rework the psalms in a Christian way and to write his own hymns. And Ein feste Burg is just the tip of the iceberg, isn’t it? The best known one and almost the only sung one, apparently there’re almost a hundred different versions of a ‘Mighty Fortress Is Our God.’ So powerful was it.
But Luther wrote, perhaps, another three dozen, as far as I know, psalms and hymns and it seems to me very clear that Luther, if I may so, was not half the systematic thinker that Calvin was, was actually at his most systematic in writing hymns.
And if you go through those hymns, you would discover something very remarkable. That they focus, by and large, on the great articles of the ‘Apostles Creed.’ That he sings about the text and the creed. That he sings about what it means to have God as your Father and protector.
That he sings about the coming of the Lord Jesus, and His ministry and His passion and His resurrection, and His ascension and His coming again in majesty. And he sings of the blessed coming of the Holy Spirit and of the conviction of sin. And of growth in the Christian life and of departing this life in faith. And being with the Lord in heaven.
And although I think it’s true that we associate Luther with subjective experience, his own powerful, subjective experience when he realized what the people of God needed, He turned their eyes, first of all, to all that God had done in his grace, that would life up their hearts, and cause praise and adoration to be born in them. Out of which, their experience of God would develop in a most marvelous way.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whom some of you will remember suffering from having to learn the ‘Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner,’ once wrote that he reckoned that Martin Luther did about as much with his few dozen hymns as he did with his entire German bible. Why? Because most people in Germany, most people in Scotland, most people in Brazil, most people in the United States of America and in Canada, and wherever, learned most of their theology, alas, not by the sermons they hear.
Certainly not by coming to Ligonier Ministries, this is a big crowd, but it’s a small group. And not by reading Christian books — by what they sing. And Luther wanted to put the praises of God, you see. He wanted to take this distorted worship, in which, man as he says, has become curved in upon himself and in the power of the Word and the songs that were sung to, as it were, draw a reversal out so that that tragic exchange that had been made of worshiping the creature and even worshiping God the way the creature likes to do it would be transformed into worshiping God as He is and how He wants to be known, how He wants to be worshiped and how He wants us to come to Him in and through Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And so they began to restore the true worship of God by the preaching of the Word, by the praising of His name, by the exposition of the truth, by praying for the power of the Holy Spirit. When Calvin returned to Geneva, an older and wiser man than the relatively young man who had been kicked out a little while earlier, he had learned something.
And so he said, when I come back, Wednesday is going to be the day of prayer here, because this is what pleases God. That the ministry of the Word, the exposition of the gospel, the praises of God should be oiled by the petitions of God’s people. He saw the pattern in the New Testament. It was when the people of God, prayed for God to come that God was pleased to come, and their worship left such an extraordinary impact.
But in measure, there was repeated what, I think it was Ignatius, the early father, said to his fellow Christians, it is our worship that will destroy the temples of the idols. And my friends, if that was true then, it certainly will be true now.
Well, thirdly, what warnings should we hear from the worship that the Reformation restored? I wonder how many of you have read Thomas Bergler’s 2012 book, ‘The Juvenilization of the American Church?’ Interesting statement, isn’t it? The way in which parachurch organizations, led by young people, have now provided for the church, the leaders in the church, who juvenilize the worship in order that it may mimic what they experienced when they were teenagers.
It’s a very profound thought. But in a sense, the issue goes even deeper than that. It goes back to the issues of the time of Reformation. Because we’re living in a time where in many places, perhaps not in your place, but in many places perhaps dominantly in the evangelical subculture, much worship has become visual rather than verbal.
Now, there is visual in worship. Christ has ordained that there should be visual in worship and he’s given us the two visuals. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. My dear friends, you ask the average evangelical Christian how much baptism has meant to them in the last two weeks of their lives and how much coming to the Lord’s table has meant to them in the last three weeks of their lives, and they will wonder why you’re even asking the question. Because we have our own visuals. And so, understanding God’s visuals, according to God’s Word become incidental to us.
I saw a picture, the other week in Scotland. This is Scotland. S-C-O-T-L-A-N-D, the land of the Reformation, the land of the book. It was a photograph in the local newspaper of the ordination and installation of a new minister to a Presbyterian Church. Other ministers from the Presbytery, and other churches there, two things struck me.
The first was the majority of them were women. The second thing was this, I don’t think any of them was wearing a Geneva gown. They were all wearing brightly colored vestments. Do you think that’s incidental? There’s a symbolism here that when we cease to believe that it’s the Word of God that brings people to worship then we substitute it with color, with vestments, with hand actions, and evangelical Christians are by no means immune.
People say, yes but you don’t understand. This is an image-driven society, to which I think the Reformers would have said, that was exactly our problem too, and we need the Word of God to transform that so that the verbal makes much more impact us than the visual.
It affects preaching, isn’t it? We want to make a point, then show something from a movie because we live in a visual culture and so we’ll show things to people in movies on the screen and it’s cool. Why do we do that? Because we don’t believe the Word of God has the power itself to do it. We don’t believe that the models of Scripture have the power to do it and God help us we don’t believe that the people in the congregation themselves are the best illustrations to those who are there.
Because the Word of God has transformed them, and yes, back to the medieval period worshipers become vicarious in many, many churches. We watch it and there is enormous talent, and it’s done for us.
I remember asking a group of elders what an evangelical church was. They said it’s a biblical church, and I pressed home a little. I said, well, what is a biblical church? They said a biblical church is a church where the Word of God is preached from the pulpit. To which, of course, I said, that sounds to me like a biblical preacher and a biblical pulpit. Doesn’t the Word of God get out of the pulpit and transform what the congregation does and is? And so much of — this is a real — I find this a real battle in my own life. I sing the praises that have been written by others and my gaze focuses on what they have written for me, and not on the one about whom they have written.
And I love this. I can’t tell you how many of the great hymns and the great psalms of the church constitute what I am as a Christian, love them so much. But every time, the battle is still being fought, isn’t it?
That I’m not gazing on the words for their own sake and because I like them, but because they show me God. And so my worship, at its very best can still be vicarious and not actually worship. I may actually be worshiping the creature of the hymn or the psalm rather than the God about whom the hymn or the psalm speaks. It’s so insidious. The Serpent is not called wily for nothing my dear friends.
And I’ve been told by ministers with straight faces, looking into my eyes, saying, you know, we have had consultants, church consultants in. And they have suggested some changes but you know what they have said? Your morning worship is of an outstanding and excellent quality. And I’m Scottish enough and dark enough, melancholic enough to wish that the heavens would open and a voice would say, ‘Will you not let me be the judge of the quality of your worship?’
And so I’ve come to develop a response. I say I have a litmus test for the quality of morning worship. And if your morning worship is that good, you want to know that you meet the litmus test. What is your litmus test? The litmus test of the quality of morning worship is the quality of evening worship. Why? My friends, because if it’s that good, how can you live another seven days without tasting it again?
And see, in all these subtle ways we can condemn the medieval church, but the serpent is wilier than all the beasts of the field. And he has his own way of trapping us, doesn’t he? Indeed, even to the point where our worship can become very complex.
Technology, as we’ve been hearing is an amazing tool. One of the extraordinary things that has happened in Ligonier Ministries has been its wonderful use of technology. But you know, we need to watch the servant in case it becomes the master. Just my own opinion, don’t put any authority on this. I think if Calvin and Luther came to some churches, they would say where are the hymn books? We wrote hymn books. We don’t need hymn books, we’ve got a screen. But in most churches, what does that screen tell you? One verse.
What does a hymn book do? It tells you this is the category of this hymn, here is the flow of this hymn, follow the theology of this hymn. It’s so marvelous. You know, I believe in some churches one of the most difficult things to do to persuade people that we need to teach other and worship, is that you know what you’re singing. And you know what you could be singing, but these people are not letting you sing. I think in some churches a riot would break out. Because we can’t worship God without using the technology.
You know if this microphone went dead — please don’t — if this microphone went dead, I would not be able to project, I don’t think to the back of this room. Spurgeon would have had no problem, Whitefield would have had no problem, W.C. Burns, of whom most of you have never heard, would have had no problem. Why?
Because they needed to develop their voice for a pre-technological age and now you see, Moi, as Miss Piggy would say. I’m dependent on this, and I didn’t even notice it happening. So, you see technology can be a great tool and a great servant, but it can also be used insidiously, can’t it? To blind us to how dependent we come on technology without seeing what it can actually do.
So my friends, you have a responsibility. If you’re in a church where they use a screen, you need to — you’re duty-bound to buy a hymn book. You’re duty bound to give new members a hymn book. And I’ll restrain myself from saying you’re duty-bound not to clap.
Well, let me finish, I have five seconds. Let me give you three passages that embody the Reformation recovery of worship.
The first is the marvelous narrative of Isaiah chapter 6, in which, for the first time in his life, Isaiah actually felt he knew what worship was.
The second is that passage we read from Hebrews chapter 12, that tells us that Jesus Christ leads us into the very presence of God.
And the third, of course, is the opening chapters of the book of Revelation, where the apostle John tells us he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and what marvels he saw. The throne of God, the Lion who had become the Lamb at the center of the throne. The gushing rivers of the Spirit bringing refreshment to all of the people of God. If someone said to him, it must’ve been pretty ropy out there on the Island of Patmos. I think he would have said, I tasted something that I will taste forever.
You know to me, some of the most magical words in the English language are the words with which, really, every service began when I was a young Christian. Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth, and then the magical words, “Let us worship God.”
I think you don’t hear those words so frequently in churches today. They’re not cool or they’re not warm. They’re not welcoming and they’re traditional. Or is there another reason? Then let us learn what it means beloved, let us worship God.
Oh, our heavenly Father, we thank You that You are high and exalted, that Your train fills the temple. That in our sinfulness, we are asphyxiated by the sheer majestic holiness of Your presence. And yet, as we come to worship You, You send live coals from the altar of Calvary to touch our lips, and indeed to work on all of our sinfulness, hidden in the recesses of our hearts.
You humble us, but not in order to destroy us, but to lift us up, to bring us into Your presence and to say to us, come now. Come and worship. Come and worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and find the destiny for which you were created. Hear us and grow us in this we pray, our Father, in Jesus name, ame