Faithlife Sermons

The Movement of Worship

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Worship has become one of the most divisive things in the church today. The songs we sing, the style of music, the length of services, the prayer, the readings, dancing, banners, and more all become fodder for frustration and arguments among God's people. But what is worship really? In Isaiah 6, Isaiah has an encounter with God that is profound and produces a response. What would happen if we took our focus off our our preferences and turned instead to the One who is worthy to be praised? Would we respond the way that Isaiah does?


What is worship?

Is it the music? Is it the preaching?
How do you know when worship has happened? Do you get those goose-bumps and that emotional feeling of being in God’s presence? Does it result in joy or tears or both?
How long should worship be? 45 minutes, 60, 90, 4-5 hours like in several places in Africa, all night as in Korea?
Worship is one of those things that is illusive. It divides churches as a result of preferences. Traditional verses contemporary, reserved verses charismatic.
As a society - we all want to worship. We worship sports figures, politicians, musicians, actors, etc. Our society seems to be centered around elevating people and things to worship. According to a recent chapel service at Union Seminary in New York - we even worship and pray to plants - well some people to do.
As Chris Tomlin has sung - “You and I were made to worship” - I think the question is, are we worshipping the only One who is truly worthy of being worshipped? Are we responding appropriately?
Over the last few weeks, the folks at Hosanna have been studying and contemplating worship. Today, we’re going to wrap up that series of discussions with one final look at worship.
In Isaiah 6, Isaiah has an encounter with God. He seems to have a vision of a worship service. This worship service, while it does not prescribe a liturgy (or order of worship), it does give us a beautiful pattern for worship. Isaiah’s encounter is not a static event, there is a great deal of movement. It’s not a stand alone event or a holy huddle, but it’s an active and profound encounter with the living God.
So let’s dive in and consider Isaiah’s worship service and look at what we can apply.
To begin with, we see that worship begins in an upward direction:

Upward - worshiping God for Who He is (Isaiah 6:1-4)

Isaiah 6:1–4 ESV
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 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. And one called 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 shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
Isaiah gets this vision or this encounter with a majestic time of worship. The seraphim are surrounding the throne of God and calling out to one another - “Holy, Holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.”
So much of our modern American worship is rooted in a sort of Therapeutic Moral Deism - worshipping a god who will do something for me, make me feel better about me and help me act better, but not judge me when I sin (whatever that is). When you consider the songs you might hear on WGTS or KLOVE - consider how many of the songs deal with “I” or “me”? How many of them are simply about me becoming a better person? Sure, there may be truth about God, but if I’m the core subject of the song - then maybe I’ve got it wrong.
What Isaiah encounters here is worship that is God centered and God oriented.
Consider what we get to learn:
God is on a throne - which means that he is sovereign - how often do we acknowledge His rule and reign in our lives? Do we see him as sovereign over the affairs of humanity? Do we worship Him as King?
God is high and lifted up - we often think about heaven as being up - God as being up above us. God is wholly different that we are, He is Spirit (John 4) - which means that literally He is everywhere. He is above us, more important - not a deity that we can manipulate for our own needs, but someone worthy to be submitted to.
The train of his robe filled the temple - this is sometimes difficult for us to grasp because our leaders tend to wear suits - but one sign of royalty and importance was the size of someone’s train. Historians have talked about the trains of royal brides - how long some of them are as being significant of the importance of that individual. Queen Victoria had a train of 18 feet. The late Princess Diana had a wedding train of 25 feet. Other people have built longer trains - even up to 5 miles in length in order to set records. While the record setters may not have had royal importance, they were trying to make a name for themselves. The train that Isaiah saw filled the temple - it was big. Think about this, when the train passes by, everyone has to step back and is immediately forced to bow their heads to make sure their not stepping on the train. Being in the temple - this royal train and the throne (thrones don’t typically sit in temples) - seem to signify that God’s worship is not relegated to religious activities, but should impact more of life. In addition, we see that...
God is Holy - well, not simply holy - He is holy, holy, holy. One commentator said: “The threefold repetition of the word holy suggests supreme or complete holiness.” God is THE most holy - there is none like Him.
Martin, John A. “Isaiah.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. Vol. 1. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985. 1045. Print..
God is the LORD - in Hebrew - this is YHWH or Yahweh - this is the covenant name of God that He revealed of himself to Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:15). He is not some lofty, unknowable deity - but He has made himself known. He is self-existent and eternal, but also known by His people. Finally, we can observe from Isaiah’s encounter that...
God’s glory fills the earth - another way to say this would be “may his glory fill the earth” - As God’s people, we are his ambassadors - we spread his fame and renown. Throughout the Old Testament - we see God represented to the nations through His people. There is a promise that we have in the New Testament that one day people from every nation, tribe, and language group will be worshiping Him - not unlike the glimpse of what we get to experience today.
As Isaiah’s vision or encounter continues - we he observes the glory of the Lord filling the temple with smoke, and his presence causing the foundations to shake. Some have jokingly said that this was the first rock concert - smoke and loud noise. But this is reminiscent of Exodus 19 when God is speaking to Moses on Sinai and his presence and his speaking was like great blasts of thunder and flashes of lightening. So much so that the people asked Moses to intervene - they couldn’t take it that God was talking to them - he was too much for them.
There is so much more that we could say on this, but I simply want to ask - when we worship - do we worship God for who He is? Do we acknowledge His attributes? Do we proclaim His goodness?
Now - I know - in a sermon on Sunday’s the preacher preaches and congregation listens. But I want us to take a moment to proclaim His attributes, to worship Him, in this place it a little different way. We’ve done it in song, we’ve worshiped as we read his word, but let’s worship as we speak.
Psalm 119 is a very long Psalm that uses the letters of the Hebrew alphabet as a way of meditating on the benefits and blessings of the law of God. Let’s use our alphabet as a way of describing the attributes of God. I’m going to call out a letter of the Alphabet (in order) and I would love to have a few of you call out attributes of God that begin with that letter.
A, B, C… (possibly repeat the alphabet if needed) - feel free to get creative on things like X and Z.
Sing: How Great is Our God (A)
Thank you for going through that exercise with me. I hope you realize and are reminded of just how great our God is. As one song says - he is indescribable - there are truly not enough words to capture all that God is.
So, back to Isaiah’s encounter - he has been looking upward in worship. His immediate response is downward - realizing just how sinful he truly is. So the next movement in worship is...

Downward - seeing who we really are - sinful (Isaiah 6:5)

Isaiah 6:5 ESV
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Isaiah comes face to face with who he is truly - as his character is contrasted with God’s he realizes that he is lost, unclean on his own, and corrupted by the unclean lips that surround him. Some translations use the word “undone” or “ruined” or “destroyed.” Time and again we get these encounters in scripture where God’s presence invokes fear of death.
I think an appropriate response to true worship is true repentance. While this is an appropriate response, it’s not always a natural response. Especially in the culture in which we live. We exist in a culture that is filled with self-righteousness and pride.
Over the years we’ve heard stories of athletic teams and players who were invited to visit the President of the United States and refused the invitation on political grounds - they didn’t want to go because this president is bigoted or that president doesn’t agree with my position on X. It’s sad.
Unfortunately, that self-righteous attitude has permeated our worship. We think that God is blessed because we have come to worship. We think that it’s good for God that I’m here - because I have graced his presence.
Oh that we would repent of even having that kind of thought.
When recognizing who God is and acknowledging His holiness, splendor, perfection - we should be in awe and we should be ruined.
This is why we have times of confession in some of our worship services. This corporate act humbles before a holy God.
So what began as an upward oriented act worship led to a downward oriented act of confession. In the very next verse, we get to see something beautiful happen as things seem to move backward and Isaiah is restored to the way things should be

Backward - restored to the way it should be (Isaiah 6:6-7)

Isaiah 6:6–7 ESV
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
In this act of mercy - one of these angelic beings goes to the alter and brings forgiveness in the form of a coal from the altar.
If we were to go back to the Torah or the Pentateuch (especially the book of Leviticus and some of Numbers) - we would see some very explicit instructions on sacrificial worship. Animals were brought to the tabernacle and later the temple in order to be offered up as sacrifices to atone for the sin of the people. There was a fire constantly going on the altar so that these sacrifices could be made.
Sometimes I think its easy for us to think that these sacrifices actually bought forgiveness. What we have to realize is that forgiveness can only come from the offended. If I offend my wife or hurt her feelings - I can go and repent (implying that I’m going to change something in my actions or words) - I have done my part. I can’t expect or demand forgiveness - it is completely up to her.
With this angel bringing cleansing or forgiveness symbolized in this coal from the altar, the angel is communicating that the relationship is restored that things are the way it should be.
You see, we were made to be in perfect fellowship and interaction with God. Adam and Eve got to enjoy a bit of that until the fall.
God sacrificed animals to atone for their sin and covered them with the hides to address their shame - but sin was now a part of their character and make up. it’s a part of who we are.
This altar is in the presence of God. This forgiveness for Isaiah is coming from God - through his messenger.
Jesus Christ - came from God into this world to live a perfect life - the One human who could do that. His death on the cross brought restoration to the relationship between God and humans that was broken by sin.
(verses talking about forgiveness through Jesus)
Listen to some of these truths about the forgiveness that we have through Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:6–11 NLT
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
Ephesians 1:7 ESV
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,
1 Peter 2:21–25 ESV
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
So now that the relationship is restored back to where it should be - there is one final movement that we see in this worship service as Isaiah moves forward in response.

Forward - responding with action (Isaiah 6:8)

Isaiah 6:8 ESV
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Now that he is in a better place because of God’s forgiveness - Isaiah is able to hear the call of the Lord and respond.
It’s hard to tell if Isaiah’s response is eager or reserved - but he simply responds with a willingness to go.
This week my son Zack and I read and discussed a short little book entitled “A Message to Garcia.” This is a story about the simple obedience of one soldier during the Spanish-American war as this man was charged to bring an important message to General Garcia in Cuba. He was not told his exact location. He did not ask any qualifying questions - he simply acted in obedience.
The same is true here of Isaiah - He simple responds - “Here am I, send me!” - No questions of where would I go, what would I do, how will people respond - he simply says “send me.”
Look at the next couple of verses:
Isaiah 6:9–13 ESV
And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.
Wow - that’s not a very easy or joyful job.
How often do you and I get convicted by the Holy Spirit to act and we respond with excuses? “But Lord, what will they say, what will I say, please send someone else, I don’t want to offend...”
When we consider all that God has done for us - he doesn’t owe us anything - and yet He has forgiven us - I believe the least we can do is to faithfully live as ambassadors for Him - declare His glory among the nations, among our neighbors.
What would happen if you picked one night a week, or one night a month to invite a non-believing neighbor over for dinner? Imagine the conversations that could follow after you open the meal in prayer.
Fostering a child or hosting an exchange student
Serving an elderly neighbor who needs some help around the house
What would happen if you allowed your biblical ethics to impact your business ethics - even if it meant you might not make as much money - but God would be honored and your clients would get better or more sincere service?
What about the possibility of volunteering to invest in high school students who need a healthy place to burn some energy - by being here one day a week to play, listen, or simply be available?
What about the possibility of applying for a position in your company or in another company or agency that would allow you to go to a closed country - using your talents in the workplace and your passion for God to be a light in a world that is desperately needing a witness? Missionaries can’t go there, but maybe you can! I was listening to a message that David Platt gave at the Gospel Coalition Conference this year. He told a story about a nurse who took a position in Saudi Arabia. She gets to do lots of teaching and nursing, but she also gets to lead a weekly bible study. Her supervisors overlook the Bible study because she is so good at nursing.
There are so many other ways that we can respond locally and globally - the point is that our worship should result in some sort of a response. We don’t gather simply to feel good or to make some moral adjustment in our lives - sure - those may happen too, but ultimately I think our worship should result in us doing thing, even hard things, in order to spread the glory of God throughout the world - starting right here - right where you live and where I live.

Closing thoughts

Isaiah’s encounter doesn’t prescribe how we should worship, but imagine what would happen if our worship was structured like that?
Upward Praise
Downward Confession
Backward restoration
Forward response
It kind of looks like a cross. You see ultimately our worship should be cross centered.
We don’t need to constantly confess our sin in order to be in a right place with God - if you’re a child of God, if you’ve received the forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ, then your position is sealed. I do think we need to confess our sin so that we can continue to grow - being sanctified. We also can be reminded that while I need to be cleansed now - Jesus Christ has finished the work - what he did nearly 2000 years ago completely paid for our sin. What will we do in response? Will we declare His glory? Will we proclaim His good news - even if people don’t respond?
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