The Marks Of Authentic Worship
Does God care how He is worshipped?
Does God care how He is worshipped?
Have you ever really put any thought into that question? I’m going to leave that question up there for a few minutes as we talk about it, because the answer to that question may or may not have a profound impact on you and me. Does God care how He is worshipped, or is He just satisfied that He is worshipped? For instance, when we gather together on a Sunday, does God care how we worship or is He satisfied with the fact that we are worshipping in some way?
Let’s take a moment and define worship. I’ve learned in dealing with my friends from different denominations and religions that just because I define or use a word in a certain thing doesn’t everyone else does as well. According to Psalm 29:2, worship is ascribing to the Lord the glory He is due.
Now we again have to take a step back and attempt to understand “the glory He is due.” If you can’t understand the glory He is due, then how could you possibly ascribe to Him the glory He is due? J. I. Packer said that “The word glory, when applied to God, is always a declaration of His greatness and an invitation to worship.... He is far above us in greatness, and therefore is to be adored.”
In His commentary on the book of Ezekiel, Warren Wiersbe said, “One thing that is lacking in the church today is a sincere reverence for the name and glory of the Lord. At least a dozen times in the Book of Psalms, you find the psalmist praising God’s holy name. In fact, God’s people are identified in Revelation 11 as those who reverence God’s name .
Associated with God’s name is God’s glory, for His name is a glorious name. When God’s people glorify Him, they bring honor to His name, just as obedient children bring honor to their family name. “Hallowed be thy name” is the first petition in the Model Prayer, and one of the reasons God answers prayer is that His name might be glorified.
The messages of the Prophet Ezekiel, which we’ve been studying on Wednesday evenings, focuses on the glory of God, the throne of God, and the honor of the name of God. God is called “Lord God” over 400 times in the book, and you find the solemn phrase “I am the Lord” 59 times. In all that God says and does in the book of Ezekiel, He has one purpose in mind: “So that you will know that I am the Lord.” That phrase is repeated more than 60 times in some form or another.
The Bible tells us over and over again that God is serious about His name, His glory, and the worship that is due Him. In Isaiah 48:11 God says...
“For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.
God will not give His glory to another. He will not share it, because it is His and His alone. He alone is the eternal, immortal, creator and sustainer of all things, and He alone is worthy of our worship. But not just worship in any manner we choose. He must be worshipped rightly.
Several decades ago, A. W. Tozer wrote these words in relation to the condition of evangelical worship:
It is now commonplace in most Evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with him, for they must be wooed to a meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games, and refreshments.” And to that list I would add lighting, sound, and gimmicks.
This has influenced the whole pattern of church life, and has restructured what is supposed to be a time of corporate worship into a time of performance and entertainment.
Kent Hughes put it this way: “the unspoken but increasingly common assumption of today’s Christendom is that worship is primarily for us—to meet our needs. Such worship services are entertainment focused, and the worshipers are uncommitted spectators who were silently grading the performance. From this perspective preaching becomes a homiletics of consensus—preaching to felt needs—man’s conscious agenda instead of God’s. Such preaching is always topical and never textual. Biblical information is minimized, and the sermons are short and full stories. Anything and everything that is suspected of making the marginal attender uncomfortable is removed from the service… taken to the fullest extent, this philosophy instills a tragic self-centeredness. That is, everything is judged by how it affects man. This terribly corrupts one’s theology.”
And He’s right. Worship done wrong negatively affects how we view God, and a lesser view of God negatively affects our worship. So, again, let me ask: Does God care how he is worshipped? Yes. Most definitely. Listen to Leviticus 10:1-3.
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “It is what the LORD spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored.’ ” So Aaron, therefore, kept silent.
Nadab and Abihu were Aaron’s sons. They were priests and they had every right to offer sacrifices to God in worship. But they did what God had not commanded them to do. They brought strange fire to the altar, and because of that they were consumed. Clearly then, God does have an opinion about worship. He is a jealous God— a God who loves us, but a God who also instructs and commands His people to worship Him rightly.
Scripture makes it clear that worship is something we do, not just something we attend. It is not merely just an issue for the pastors, musicians, and others who plan the service. Worship is an issue for the entire congregation. Worship is something we do together, and it is our responsibility to worship God as He desires.
Fortunately, God doesn’t leave us guessing on how to worship Him. He has given us a pattern for worship in His word, and that is the only place to which we can turn to find a proper pattern for worship. In God’s word, from beginning to end, there is a normative pattern for worship. It is Scripture itself which sets the terms of worship.
If you’re not already there, turn with me to Isaiah 6, and we will be reading verses 1-8, which for many of you will be a familiar passage. The passage can be found on page 490 in the Bibles provided. Follow along with me as I read, and then we will discuss the Marks of Authentic Worship.
In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
The first mark of Authentic worship is that:
Authentic Worship Begins with a True Vision of the Living God
Authentic Worship Begins with a True Vision of the Living God
In Isaiah 6 we are given a picture of authentic worship, one that teaches us what God expects of his people when they worship him. First of all, the prophet Isaiah experienced a vision of the true and living God. And if we are to worship God as he would have us to worship, we must also see God as he is. Right worship begins with a vision of the one true and living God.
Isaiah explains that he has a vision of the Lord sitting on the throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of his robe filling the temple. The throne is a symbol of kingship and sovereignty, indicating that the one who sits upon it is both King and Judge. It represents both power and righteousness. But there’s even more, for the one whose train filled the temple is not alone. Verse 2 tells us that above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. The six wings of the seraphim—which literally means burning ones—convey a great deal of symbolism. The wings which cover their faces must certainly indicate humility, while covering of the feed represents purity. The Seraphim knew in whose presence they were, and they dared not look into his face.
These wing creatures were not merely flying or hovering there in silence. They call out to one another, saying, holy, holy, holy is the Lord of host. The whole earth is full of his glory! Those words—holy, holy, holy—are known as the trisagion, which means “thrice Holy.” In the Hebrew language there is no adequate to express what is being conveyed by the seraphim, so repetition is used in this way in order to make a point. This thrice repeated pattern occurs again in Revelation 4:8-11.
The early church saw in this pattern a reference to the Trinity, and looking backward with New Testament eyes, we can certainly understand that affirmation. But the central point of this construction seems to be one of emphasis. When the seraphim call out, holy, holy, holy, they’re declaring God’s essence, identity, and being in terms of an all-surpassing holiness.
The holiness of God refers to his separateness from all of creation. He is what we are not. We are finite; He is infinite. In other words, God is transcendent, and his Holiness reveals the difference and the infinite contrast between his nature and ours. J. Alec Moyter defines holiness as God’s total and unique moral majesty. God’s moral majesty is complete and without rival. Holiness includes all God’s attributes. Holiness is what defines him.
I wonder if the vision of God held by so many to come to worship is anything like what the seraphim are telling us here. Do we worship with the understanding that God is holy and that the whole earth is full of his glory? I doubt it. I wonder if in our worship went count or anything like this vision of God. Do those who come to our services of worship come face-to-face with the reality of God? Worship is the people of God gathering together to confess his worthiness, His unsurpassing worth. How can we do that if we did not make clear who got is? Are very pattern of worship must testify to the character of God
Worship has both Objective and subjective components. Certainly worship is subjective. There’s a personal, individual experience to be had in worship. But scripture also makes clear that the subjective experience of worship must be predicated on the objective truth of the true and living God, the God who has revealed himself in scripture.
Roger Scruton, I will not on British philosopher, has suggested that worship is the most important indicator of what a person or group of people really believes about God. He writes: God is defined in the act of worship for more precisely Denny is defined by any theology. In other words, if you want to know what are people really believe about God, don’t spend time reading their theologians. Watch them worship. Listen to what they saying and to how they pray. Then you will know what they believe about this God and they worship.
AL Mohler said, “I’m haunted by the thought that in the average evangelical church, the God the Bible would never be known by watching this worship. Instead what we have in so many churches is superficial worship of a superficial deity.”
There is a push in our day to make the worship service in the local church more palatable to those who don’t know Christ, or to those who are weak in their faith. The push is to take the cringe factor out of Scripture and focus on what makes us feel good. Don’t talk about sin, hell, wrath, obedience, or holiness. Tell me how to live a better life, get along with my spouse, relate to my kids, or move ahead in the business world. The push is for a type of teaching that is nothing more that a chapter or two out of a self-help book. If you take those things I mentioned out of the Bible, you’ll be left with a very thin and virtually unrecognizable book. Which explains why so much of what we see in Christianity today is a thin and virtually unrecognizable version of what Christ taught.
We see this in more than just the teaching of the Word of God. It’s also apparent in the music selection of many churches. So many of the modern songs, which claim to be Christian in nature, do little if anything to exalt Christ. I love all genres of music, so I don’t care if the song is fast, slow, just a piano, a full orchestra, or a full band. What do the words say? That’s what’s important. Are the words we singing bringing praise and glory to God, or do they just sound neat? Much of what is sung today is a surrender to the culture and essentially a dumbing down of the content in our songs. We’ve gone from “Holy, Holy, Holy” to “God the swell fellow.”
On that note Tozer said, “We have simplified until Christianity amounts to this: God is love; Jesus died for you; believe, accept, be jolly, have fun, and tell others. And we go away—that is the Christianity of out day. I would not give a plug nickel for the whole business of it. Once in a while God has a poor bleeding sheep that manages to live on that kind of thing and we wonder how.”
True worship begins with a vision of the God of the Bible—a vision of the one true and living God.
The second mark of authentic worship is that: Authentic worship leads to confession of sin.
Authentic Worship Leads to a Confession of Sin
Authentic Worship Leads to a Confession of Sin
Seeing God for who He is will always lead to seeing yourself for who you are. That’s what happened to Isaiah as recorded in verse 5. Listen again to what he said upon seeing this vision of the Lord God on His throne in His temple being worshipped by the Seraphim:
Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”
Isaiah was undone when he saw the true and living God in His holiness. He saw God in all of His glory, in all of His perfection, in al of His unblemished holiness. And because He saw the purity in God, He saw the impurity in Himself. When He saw himself in this way, he saw himself as doomed.
That should describe the scene when you and I come into the presence of God for worship. If you and I do not come face-to-face with our sin individually and as a congregation, then we have not seen God, and we have not worshipped Him. When you come face-to-face with God in worship, you’ll see yourself as He sees you. You’ll see yourself as a sinner deserving of His wrath.
Psalm 51 is a great example of what this would look like.
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity And cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge.
If you’re a parent you know the difference between a sincere, heartfelt, genuine apology, and a “sorry I got caught” apology. What Isaiah experienced in the presence of God was true conviction and repentance, the contrite and broken heart of one who knows that He or she has done wrong and has committed a grievous offense against a holy God. I’m afraid so much of what we think is confession and repentance is simply just, “oops. Didn’t mean that. I hope we’re still cool.” It’s a half-apology to get off the hook, instead of the complete brokenness and ruin we should feel when we come into God’s presence.
When the kids quote their verses at the beginning of the service, as cute as that is, it should lead us into the presence of God. When we have the opening prayer, or the Scripture reading, those should transport us into His presence. As we sing songs, listen to the teaching of the Word, and give an offering, all of those should remind us of who God is, who we are, and they should lead us to authentic worship through the confession of sin.
The next mark of authentic worship, which will result from the first two marks, is that: Authentic Worship leads to the proclamation of the gospel.
Authentic Worship Leads to a Proclamation of the Gospel
Authentic Worship Leads to a Proclamation of the Gospel
Listen again to display of redemption in verses 6-7.
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”
This is clearly an anticipation of the work of Christ. What we see in this is the picture of the substitutionary atonement of Christ. Isaiah brought absolutely nothing to God. When he came into the presence of God, He didn’t see himself as a good person who just needed a little help to get over the hump. He had been brought face-to-face with his sin, and he now realizes that redemption is all of grace, and that it is costly. The coal, after all, came from the altar of sacrifice, not a campfire.
Martin Luther said that Isaiah saw himself self first, as he truly is—a sinner who was undone—and next as one who knows redemption. Luther wrote, “But it turned out for the salvation of the prophet that he was thrust down to hell, so that he might be led away and lead others away from that uncleanliness of the Law to the purity of Christ, so that he alone might reign. Here now a resurrection of the dead takes place.”
That has to happen in our worship as well. Authentic worship requires seeing the true and living God as He is, then seeing ourselves as we truly are in our defiled, sinful state. When we experience being ruined before God, we will be led to confess our sins, and we will experience the display and declaration of redemption. And when that happens, authentic worship always leads to the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ. It proclaims that God, in Christ, through the cross has provided redemption.
If you owed $200,000 on a house, and someone paid it off just out of the kindness of their heart, what would be your response? You would share the good news of what has been done for you. Having you’re the iniquity of your sins forgiven is infinitely greater than having your house paid off. If you would share that good news, how could you not even more share the good news of Jesus Christ?
That leads us to our last mark of authentic worship, which is that Authentic Worship Requires a Response.
Authentic Worship Requires a Response
Authentic Worship Requires a Response
Look again at verse 8.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
What we see happening in this passage is similar to that recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, when Jesus gave the Great Commission. Jesus told the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He commanded them. Authentic worship of the Lord cannot be separated from responding to the command of go and tell. If your worship is weak, your emphasis on missions and evangelism will be weak. If your worship is not authentic, then you’ll forget that God has sent you, and you’ll neglect the content of the message of redemption with which He has sent you.
I’ve heard it said before that it’s not how you worship, but who you worship that matters most. I think Nadab and Abihu would disagree. Remember, they worshipped God, but they did it in the wrong way and God struck them down. The who determines the how. This may be why so many churches today neglect the preaching of the Word of God, and instead strive to fill the pulpit with a message to make someone feel good about themselves. But preaching is the central component to Christian worship. I mentioned this on Wednesday night, but let me do so again. Do you know why this pulpit is right here in the center of an elevated stage? Why is it here on not off to the side somewhere? Because the preaching of the Word of God is the primary means through which we get an accurate view of God, recognize our sinfulness, hear the declaration of redemption, and are called to a response of faith, repentance, and service. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of God.
Listen to what Paul says in Romans 10:13-15.
for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”
Preaching and listening to preaching is worship. If you asked the average person today about worship service at church, any church, the response would likely be something like this: “We have a great time of worship. The music is awesome and really helps you to feel the presence of God. Then after worship, the preacher preaches.”
In Nehemiah 8 the people beg Ezra to read from the book of the law. He read it from early in the morning to midday. When he opened the book to read all the people stood up and they answered “Amen! Amen!” while they lifted their hands and bowed their heads low and worshipped the Lord. Here’s my question, where is that posture in churches today. And I’m talking from the pulpit to the pew. When pastor’s stand up, and yes, I am most certainly including myself, when pastor’s stand up to speak do are they approaching the proclamation of the Word of God as a time of worship to God as He speaks through His mouthpiece? When you and I hear the teaching of the word do we have a posture as if we are lifting our hands and bowing our heads in worship? Has worship in the local church become a spectator event put on by professionals? God forgive us if it is or ever becomes that!
Do you think of worship at church as only singing? Let me ask a question to help you determine that. If I told you we were going to have a music group here on Friday night for a 2-hour worship service with nothing but singing, would you come? Most people would, at least if I could guarantee the music isn’t too loud. But what if I said we are going to have a 2-hour worship service Friday evening and it will be 2 straight hours of preaching. Now, how many would come?
In so many churches across our notion today, there is no Scripture reading, there is very little prayer, there’s a lot of music, then there’s a short little feel-good devotional tacked on at the end, and it’s mistakenly called “worship.” Michael Greene said it this way: “This is the age of the sermonette, and sermonettes make Christianettes.” And I’m going to add that just like sermonettes aren’t real sermons, Christianettes aren’t real Christians.
Does God care how we worship? Absolutely! Do you? I have a longing to see God as He really is when we gather together for worship, and I hope you do too. I pray that through the music, and prayer, and scripture reading, and especially the preaching that God is glorified; that His name is made known. When a guest comes in to visit with us in a worship service at this church, I want them to leave having seen God, having seen God’s people worshipping Him in repentance and faith, having heard the faithful proclamation of the gospel, and having been moved to a response. And I want the same for you and me. Whether member or guest, Christian or not, when anyone leaves a worship service from this faith family my hope, my prayer is that, just as God said his purpose was in Ezekiel, I pray that each of us will no that God is the Lord.
I want to close by reading a passage from Revelation that mentioned earlier, then we’ll have a short hymn of response, then we are going to sing a couple of songs in worship and praise to the God whom we have spoken about and seen through this sermon. I’m going to ask you to stand with me and close your eyes as I read this passage. I want you to envision the scene in heaven as I read. John has been taken up to heaven and, like Isaiah, is a witness to what is happening there. God is seated on the throne surrounded by the 24 elders who are also seated on thrones. Thunder and lightning are coming from the throne of God. There are 4 seraphim flying above the throne. Listen with your ears and your heart as I read Revelation 4:8-11, and 5:11-14.
And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.” And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
Take a moment and see Him as He is, confess to Him your sin, commit to going and proclaiming the good news of Christ.