Isaiah: Prince of Prophets—“The Heart of Worship”
This evening, I want to pull one verse from the 29th Chapter of Isaiah to preach on. It’s verse 13: “The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” (Isaiah 29:13, NIV84). It’s a companion message to this morning’s sermon. This morning I preached primarily about the characteristics of false worship, but tonight I want to preach on the characteristics of true worship.
One of the reasons that judgment is coming upon Israel and Judah is their abandonment of true worship. Isaiah puts his finger on the source of their problem. They were going through the right religious motions, but their hearts were far from their God. A lot of times when we talk about worship we focus on what we do and if we’re doing it the ‘right way’. But when we look at the Bible, that was often the problem: the Israelites focused so much on the things they did, and how the did it that they didn’t think about what was on the inside their hearts. ILLUS. I don’t remember now how many years ago it has been, but I remember purposely switching the order of the Lord’s Supper just to see it anyone would notice. Boy, did some people notice! Let’s just say, that I’ll never do that again—at least in THIS church (or at least until a whole generation of folks have passed away—which ever comes first)!
This evening, I want to preach on the heart of the worshiper. The first person mentioned in the Bible as worshiping God did it wrong (which, when you think about it, is not very encouraging). Cain was the first to offer an offering to God, and it was unacceptable. His brother Able offered an acceptable offering. Cain became so upset that he ended up killing his brother. Some commentators have claimed that Cain’s problem was that he didn’t offer the right thing that he was supposed to offer or that something was wrong with the ceremony that he did, but I think the Bible shows us that his problem was a problem of the heart. He didn’t have the heart of a worshiper! First off, the Bible emphasizes that Abel brought the best, while it merely says that Cain brought part of his harvest. Then when you look at this reaction, you know that that cannot be the heart of someone truly seeking God.
Let’s look at the heart of the worshiper.
I. THE TRUE WORSHIPER WORSHIPS FROM THE INSIDE OUT
- what he does he does because of what is in his heart
- not the other way around
A. TRUE WORSHIPERS FOCUSES ON ATTITUDE, NOT ACTIONS
- God repeatedly tells us what He does not want in worship so that we can understand what he does want
- “The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” (Isaiah 29:13, NIV84)
- “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6, NIV84)
- Israel had fallen into the trap that their actions of worship were more important than their attitudes in worship
- the people thought, "I’m offering this sacrifice and keeping this feast and doing all these things, so I must be right with God."
- they weren’t
- and I’m afraid that we can do the same thing
- many professing Christians tell themselves, "Hey, I’m doing all the right things. I must be right with God."
- not necessarily
- God demands all of our affections, all of our focus, and all of our mental inquisitiveness
- “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4–5, NIV84)
- Hosea reminds his fellow Hebrews that sacrifice to God that does not involve mercy toward others means their worship has been meaningless
- when it comes to worship, the Apostle Paul is very clear that things must be done decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40)
B. TRUE WORSHIPERS WORSHIP CHEERFULLY, NOT GRUDGINGLY
- ““Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty. “But you profane it by saying of the Lord’s table, ‘It is defiled,’ and of its food, ‘It is contemptible.’ And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the LORD Almighty. “When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the LORD.” (Malachi 1:10–13, NIV84)
- worship had become a burden that the people grudgingly acquiesced to
- they complied with God’s commands to worship Him, not because they wanted to but because they felt compelled to
- God accuses the people of being contemptuous of Him
- the true worshiper does not consider worship a burden
- do you ever have the feeling "It’s Sunday morning again. I’d like to sleep in, but if I do sleep in, I’ll feel guilty, so I guess I’ll go to church."?
- worship of the Lord was never meant to be burdensome, but a blessing
- The True Worshiper Worships from the Inside out
II. THE TRUE WORSHIPER IS THE SAME OUTSIDE THE CHURCH AS HE IS INSIDE
- the word hypocrisy comes from the Greek (hypokrites), which means "play-acting"
- it’s a theatrical term that referred to an actor who was skilled at impersonating characters
- in time, it came to refer to a person who displayed a counterfeit persona
- the hypocrite is the person who purposely decides to wear different personas in different situations
A. TRUE WORSHIPERS USE THEIR WHOLE LIFE TO WORSHIP GOD
- the Prophet Jeremiah gives us an interesting perspective on this
- “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.” (Jeremiah 7:3–8, NIV84)
- the true worship of God affects how we relate to the people around us
- we will deal with each other justly
- we will refuse to deal unjustly with those who it is easy to take advantage of—the alien in our society, the fatherless and the widow
- we will not shed innocent blood
- we will not bow to and offer sacrifice to idols
B. TRUE WORSHIPERS DON’T USE THE CHURCH AS A “HIDEOUT”
- let’s continue to look at what the Prophet Jeremiah says ...
- “ ‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 7:9–11, NIV84)
- that’s not how it works
III. THE TRUE WORSHIPER GIVES GOD HIS BEST
- “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name. “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ “You place defiled food on my altar. “But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’ “By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.” (Malachi 1:6–8, NIV84)
- God wants our best
- you might say, "Well, that’s fine Pastor, but it’s been a long time since God asked me to bring a spotless lamb to sacrifice."
- but He does ask us to give of our time, our money, our talents
- we can give God what’s left over from the days of the week, or we can give Him our best
- in Jewish religious life, the people were commanded to observe the New Moon Festival
- every 29 days, they celebrated a holy day at the new moon. The reason?
- it was meant as a reminder to consecrate the rest of the month to God
- as Christians, we are encouraged to keep The Lord’s Day each week as a reminder to consecrate the rest of the week to Him
- we can give God what’s left over from our resources, or we can give Him our best
- the Israelites gave “the first fruits,” to God
- weather it was of their harvests or their herds, the best and the first always went to God. The reason?
- it was meant as a reminder to consecrate everything they owned to God
- as Christians, we are encouraged to give our tithes first and then worry about everything else
- too often, we give God second best
- ILLUS. A long time ago, in an old village in Spain, the people of this village heard that the king planned to visit them. No king had ever done that. So naturally, the villagers became excited and wanted to offer a great celebration that would show their adoration and that would honor the king. But these were poor people, and what could a village offer their king? Someone proposed that since so many of the villagers made their own wines – very good wines – they could offer that as a gift to the king. And so they each decided that they would all take some of their best wine, and combine them as a gift for the king. On the day of the king's arrival, they all came to the village square early in the morning with a large cup of their finest wine and poured their offering into the top of a large barrel. They were excited to think that the king was about to enjoy the best wine he'd ever tasted. When he arrived, the king was escorted to square where he was ceremoniously presented with a silver cup and invited to draw from the barrel. He was told the villagers were delighted to have him taste the best they had to offer. He filled his cup from the spigot, and took a drink. He then announced that it was one of the finest cups of water he had ever been refreshed with. The villagers were confused. Had some miracle-worker turned wine to water? Had someone stolen all of the wine that was meant for the king? Something quite different had taken place. Each villager had reasoned, "I'll withhold my best wine and give water instead. There will be so many cups of excellent wine poured into the barrel that mine will never be missed." After all was said and done, the king was left with a town full of people who simply went through the motions of showing their love and admiration for him.
- this is what the nation of Israel was guilty of
- and that is why God told them in verse 13, "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me."
- we give to God first and we give Him the best
IV. THE TRUE WORSHIPER SEEKS THE APPROVAL OF GOD, NOT THE PRAISE OF MEN
- "Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:1–8, NIV84)
- not all of our good deeds or Christian ministry can be hidden from the eyes of men
- but this passage does teach us to ruthlessly evaluate why we do the things we do, especially when we claim to be doing them in the name of Christ
- The True Worshiper Seeks the Approval of God, Not the Praise of Men
V. THE TRUE WORSHIPER MUST LOVE SO OTHERS FEEL THE LOVE OF GOD
- ILLUS. I recently read about a poll conducted among active American Catholics. The most startling revelation of this poll was the fact that more than 60% of American Catholics feel that abstinence from meat on Friday is more important than Jesus’ admonition to ’love our neighbor as ourself. Rather shocking isn’t it? In fact, I would go so far as to say it is downright appalling and pitiful that so many could have such a warped concept of what Christianity is all about. Yet, before we get on our self-righteous high horse and start condemning the Catholics, let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves how Baptists would respond to a similar question. Suppose, for example, that the same pollster were to ask the stalwart members of our brotherhood the question, ’Which is more important, abstention from the use of beverage alcohol or the command of Jesus to ’love your neighbor as yourself"? I have no doubt our response would be so overwhelmingly in favor of abstinence from beverage alcohol that we would make the Catholics look wishywashy in their preference for abstinence from meat.
- love flows to God when love flows to others
- who can worship God?
- "He . . . who has not slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and cast no slur on his fellow man ... “ (Psa. 15:2-3, INV)
A. WE CANNOT WORSHIP GOD WHEN WE THINK ILL OF OUR NEIGHBOR
- the person I hurt will not want to worship me
- when I slur my neighbor's reputation I hurt God's reputation with my neighbor
- if love does not flow from me to the people I meet day by day, then I cut off myself from worship
- I may also be cutting off from worship those I hurt
- The True Worshiper must Love So Others Feel the Love of God
Let me close by offering you some questions for us to consider.
- Am I worshiping God from inside out? Am I more concerned with what’s in my heart when I’m worshiping?
- Am I the same person outside the church as in?
- Do I give God my best?
- Do I seek God’s approval or man’s praise?
- Do I love in such a way that others feel the love of God through me?