Examining Worship

Deuteronomy 12:5-9 – 5 But you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go, 6 and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. 7 And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the Lord your God has blessed you.

8 “You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes, 9 for you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance that the Lord your God is giving you.

In Deuteronomy 12, we see God give the people of Israel a command to worship him, not in the ways or even in the locations of the nations they will drive from the land, but in a place of God’s choosing. A quick, non-thorough search of Deuteronomy in the ESV shows me that at least 20 verses in Deuteronomy refer to a place that God will choose for Israel to be the central place of the worship of the Lord. Thus, I think I can safely say that this issue mattered to God. As we see in verse 8, the people are not allowed to do whatever seems right in their sight (cf. Judg. 21:25). They are to worship where and how the Lord commands.

Mentally step out of Deuteronomy and into modern church life. How many of us do not consider at all what the Lord commands his people to do or how he commands them to do it? How many of our churches question whether or not any particular section of the worship service is in keeping with the commands and ways of the Lord? What is our standard for determining the purposes and practices of the church, especially in the area of gathered worship?

Note, by the way, that the first response that you are likely to have is to assume that, yes, churches should consider this stuff and, obviously, your church is doing it right. In truth, worship is not as easily defined in the New Testament as it is for the nation of Israel in Deuteronomy. Orders of worship are not given us as examples. We know that God commands the gathering, the preaching of the word, the celebration of Lord’s Supper, the singing of multiple kinds of spiritual songs, and the public reading of Scripture. Unlike Deuteronomy, there is no particular location limitation, and many of the acts of worship are not so strictly prescribed.

With that said, god has something for us to learn from Deuteronomy. God had every right to tell Israel exactly where they could worship him and where they could not. His limitations may have made no sense to many a human mind. What makes one town better than another town for meeting God? Why can we not just worship God on any hilltop we choose. Of course, some of it has to do with how the Canaanites worshipped the evil pagan deities of their imagination. But, and we must not miss this, God prescribed a place for his worship because he wanted us to know that he has the right to do so. God determines how we worship him and what is acceptable. Our best ideas, things that are right in our own eyes, are not what make worship acceptable.

If it was true in the Old Testament that God has the right to say what will worship him and what will dishonor him, the same is true in the New Testament. We should be very careful not to assume that, just because something makes us feel spiritual, it is therefore acceptable worship. Nor should we assume that whatever the church down the street has done which seems to be bringing people into their building is a right and God-honoring practice.

Examine yourself. Examine your church. Are you doing the things that God commands you to do in worship? Also, examine to see if you are doing things that God forbids. And carefully examine things that are neither commanded nor forbidden. Is it really wise to bring practices into the worship of God which have no basis in his word? After all, God told Israel they were not to have each person doing whatever was right in their own eyes.

Of course I’m not here suggesting that we embrace a legalistic form of the regulative principle that would have us refuse to use electricity, microphones, or even a display screen. I’m not suggesting we do away with modern instruments and the like. What I am suggesting is that everything we bring into the service which we think will enhance the experience, everything we do which we call an act of worship, everything we do should be held closely to the light of Scripture and examined. Has God commanded this? Has God affirmed this? Has God allowed this? Is this a thing that matches biblical command and wisdom? Or are we feeding our flesh instead of our souls? Are we magnifying ourselves and our emotions instead of magnifying the Lord? Are we aping the world? Are we bringing into the practice of worship a thing that we enjoy, but which God has never sanctioned for his worship? After all, God, not man, is the determiner of what right worship is.

Atonement or Destruction

Numbers 8:19 – And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the people of Israel, to do the service for the people of Israel at the tent of meeting and to make atonement for the people of Israel, that there may be no plague among the people of Israel when the people of Israel come near the sanctuary.”

Worship is central to the lives of all people. Everybody worships. Everybody, physically or symbolically, bows down to declare a thing worthy. Informally, that act of worship might be obedience to the word of God. It might be a person elevating his job above his family. It might be a mom honoring the Lord in caring for her family. It might be a person chanting a political slogan. Not all worship is good. But all people worship.

God created us to worship him. When we honor him rightly, we do the very thing for which we exist. But we must not allow ourselves to miss the fact that God is the Creator, he is the Lord, and he has every right to determine what is right in worship. God has given us standards as to what formal worship he will accept.

I pondered this in a read through the book of Numbers. In chapter 8, God gives the instructions for how the Levites were to be set apart for service. We read of how they were to be ceremonially cleansed (a set of requirements that was interestingly similar to the cleansing process for a person recovering from leprosy in Leviticus 14). The Levites were presented as a wave offering, symbolically given over to the Lord. And eventually, once the cleansing ceremonies as required by God were complete, the Levites were able to serve in the tabernacle.

If you look at the verse above, the Levites were given to the priestly line. Why? They were to do the service in the tabernacle and later the temple. That means they were to simply do the work required to make the ministry happen. Of course, a major part of that ministry is that the Levites were to make atonement for the sins of others. They sacrificed animals in accord with the covenant law of God.

What caught my attention in this read through is the reason why atonement needed to be made. At the end of the verse, we read, “that there may be no plague among the people of Israel when the people of Israel come near the sanctuary.” Catch the implication. If the people of Israel, in their natural state of sinful uncleanness, were to approach the place of the presence of God, a plague would break out among the people. Translate that. If we, in our sinfulness, enter the presence of God without atonement made for us, we die.

Of course, this has gospel implications. Jesus made the atoning sacrifice for all that God will welcome into his presence. And without Jesus’ sacrifice, we will die eternally.

But what grabbed my attention this time is the connection to worship. Worship is an act where a person, physically or symbolically, bows before the Lord to give him homage, where a person participates in commanded acts of obedience. Thus, the work at the tabernacle is worship. And this passage, requiring particular acts of atonement for people to approach the Lord, reminds us that God has standards for what worship he will accept. Formal worship of the lord is not a thing that we are allowed to simply make up as we go along. We are to approach the Lord in his way, according to his word, under the atoning grace of Jesus Christ.

Worship in Pain – A HEAR Journal Entry

Today, I want to continue to experiment with a form of journaling that I learned a few years ago and was recently reminded of.

H – Highlight

2 Samuel 12:19-20 – 19 But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.” 20 Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate.

E – Explain

In 2 Samuel 12, David had been praying and fasting, begging the Lord to spare the life of the son born to Bathsheba and him. Sadly, the child died. The Bible records for us that David, after the child’s death, returned to life. He washed, anointed himself, and put on different clothing. David went into the house of God and worshipped. Later, he would eat, breaking his fast.

A – Apply

In verse 20, the phrase that got my attention is, “And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” David, in the middle of his return to life, took time to go before the Lord in worship. This tells me that worship is about something that is not commonly understood in our culture. Worship is not about a rich feeling of joy or bubbly happiness. Worship has to be about something else, or David would not have been able to worship in this setting. Yes, often worship is accompanied by feeling of great joy and soul satisfaction. But happiness is not at the core of what worship is. Emotional movement is not the point of worship.

What is worship about? Worship is about humility and truth. Worship is about subject of God bowing before their Sovereign as King. Worship is about us confessing the glorious attributes of God as truth. It is about us making sure that we see our place as servants of the Lord.

I am sure God comforted David. And I am sure that David felt joy at some point in his worship of God. But it is vital that we understand that worship is first and foremost about
God, about truth, and about our submission to his lordship. I cannot imagine a clearer passage to help us to see that. If worship were about stirring up an emotion as is commonly the strategy of modern worship leaders, then David could not have worshipped in his grief. But if worship is about truth and God’s glory, then David most certainly could do so.

R – Response

God wants us to know from this passage that worship is about something far greater than emotion. A right response includes changing my thinking about worship. It includes me remembering that biblical worship is about my humbling myself before the Lord.

A right response is also to worship, declaring God to be King and me to be his subject, regardless of how I feel on a given day.

Prayer: Lord, I worship you. You, O Lord, are my King and Master. I bow before you in submission. God, the universe and all it contains belongs to you. My life fully belongs to you. I declare that I have nothing that is mine. All that I have is yours, and I am but the steward of your possessions. I pray that you will help me to truly honor you as King.

A Picture of Worship

In my study for Ruth 2, I ran across an interesting scene that has something to teach us about what the word worship means. I probably will not have time to put this into the sermon, so I’ll write it here.

In this scene, Boaz has just shown great kindness and godly character in protecting and providing for ruth. Watch how she responds.

Ruth 2:10 – Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”

Ruth is humble and amazed. She prostrates herself before Boaz as a sign of respect and gratitude. And that is the focus of what we are to see in her action. But the language that is used will teach us a truth about worship.

The Hebrew word for bowed there actually is often translated worship. Ruth is not worshipping Boaz as we think of religious worship. ?She is giving him honor as a response to his character and actions.

The reason I point out that the word for worship is used here is that this is precisely what we do when we worship. When we see the character of God revealed in Scripture, we perform actions to honor God. We show that God is great and that we are submitted to him. We bow before God and demonstrate that he is our Lord. That is worship. We perform acts to honor God, to show that we surrender to God. We sing, pray, give, respond to sermons, participate in Lord’s Supper, and all the rest in order to show that God is our King and we are grateful to be under his rule.

Do Not Copy the World

In Deuteronomy 12, the Lord uses Moses to speak to his people about how they are to worship him when they enter into the promised land. Notice, both at the beginning and the end of this chapter, how clear the Lord is about the fact that the people of Israel are not to learn their practices of worship from the land’s inhabitants and their practices.

Deuteronomy 12:1-4 – 1 “These are the statutes and rules that you shall be careful to do in the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. 2 You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. 3 You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place. 4 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way.

Deuteronomy 12:29-31 – 29 “When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ 31 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.

When you read through the Old Testament, especially the books of the Kings and Chronicles, you will often find references to a king as good or bad. Part of the reference includes whether or not the king kept or destroyed the high places. That might sound a little odd to you, but a look at this section makes it clearer. The high places were places where Canaanites would worship their false gods. And for some reason, the people of Israel were tempted to mimic the acts of the Canaanites, either to worship the evil and false gods of Canaan or to try to incorporate those practices into the worship of the Lord.

The verses between these two sections tell the people of Israel what God requires of them in worship. He instructs them about things like sacrifice, offerings, tithes, and the place of worship. It is a simple look at important principles for Old Testament worship. And, as I mentioned, bookended around those instructions is that the worship of the Lord is not to be influenced by the practices of the world.

God then closes this section with a thought we need to keep.

Deuteronomy 12:32 – “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.

This chapter is about worship. God says to do what he commands. He says to do so carefully. And he says not to add to it or take from it.

Now, we are a people in the 21st century. We are New Testament Christians. Does any of this apply? For sure, we can find some principles. God’s word is to govern how God’s people worship. We are foolish if we add to his word, bringing into our worship things God did not command. We are especially foolish if our practices mimic the world. Israel was not to look at the high places and try to incorporate their elements into the worship of the Lord. WE too need to be very careful not to try to learn our practice of worship from the lost world. The lost world knows a great deal about manipulating human emotion and working us into a frenzy. The lost world knows nothing about the true worship of the living God.

Does this mean I am opposing the use of modern instruments or equipment? No. But I would suggest that we be careful to do, in our services of worship, the things God’s word has actually commanded. I also would suggest that we be careful to avoid adding to the biblical formula for worship, as we have no ability or right to improve upon what the Lord has commanded his people to do.

Strange Fire and Obedience

I want you to think back to the Garden of Eden. There, Adam and Eve rebelled against the Lord when they ate the fruit of a particular tree. That act brought the curse of God on the world. That act brought death and destruction. That act introduced sin to humanity.

What was the big problem? Was the fall of man in the garden about the particular fruit? Was God particularly angry at the loss of a fruit that he treasured? I really do not think that is the core issue. Instead, the issue is one of obedience and authority. Adam and Eve knew the command of God, decided their way was better, and rebelled.

We see a similar type of rebellion in Leviticus, a rebellion that caused the death of Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron.

Leviticus 10:1-3 – 1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.

On this particular day, the presence of God was noticeable at the tabernacle. It was a glorious sight. The people were awestruck. And Nadab and Abihu got so excited that they offered unauthorized fire, another translation says “strange fire,” before the Lord. And Nadab and Abihu died for their hubris.

What was the problem? Was a particular kind of fire, a particular kind of incense, a particular smell that offensive? Or, as I suggested in the account of the garden, is the issue here one of obedience? Look at the words of God. The Lord does not say, “That kind of fire really offends me.” Instead, God tells the people through Moses, “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.” God saw that, in this instance, the sons of Aaron did not treat him as holy.

What does it mean that God is holy? In this instance, the issue is one of treating God as far greater, higher, above and beyond us. Nadab and Abihu acted as if God were like them, just another guy. Nadab and Abihu thought that their idea of what fire to offer was just as good as what God had commanded. They assumed that their ideas were equally valid as those of God. They did not glorify God. They did not sanctify God. They did not treat him as holy by meticulously obeying his commands for how he would be worshipped.

Consider now our world. The God we worship is the same God who flashed forth fire to consume Nadab and Abihu because those men did not treat him as holy. Do we? When your church gathers to worship, are you careful to do what the Lord has commanded. Many a church has introduced things to the service of worship that have nothing to do with the commands of God. I’m not here discussing equipment or instrumentation, lighting or visual design. But there are many churches that include practices of things that God has not commanded. Or, even worse, there are many who participate in practices that the Lord has forbidden.

We should be thankful that, because of the grace of the Lord Jesus, we are not experiencing what Nadab and Abihu experienced. We should be grateful to God that many of us have not been consumed by the holy wrath of God for approaching him in a way inconsistent with treating him as holy. And we should be driven to worship the Lord in loving obedience to his word.

With all that said, the New Testament does not tell us exactly how to order the worship service. We see a great deal of instruction about how sacrifices were made in the Old Testament. WE see God setting up things that point to Christ with great detail. But in the New Testament, we have fewer step-by-step directions. WE know that we are to pray, to sing, to read the word, to preach, to participate in ordinances like Lord’s Supper, to give, and to do all this to the glory of God and in a spirit of love and fellowship. WE also know that things are forbidden. God has said who is allowed to teach and who is not allowed to teach. God has warned against the fleshly indulgences of the world and the temptation to bring them into his worship.

So, let me simply call us to be careful. We gather as the family of God. Thus, familial love, joy, kindness, and caring are all part of our gatherings. We gather to worship the Holy One, and thus what we do must be fully in keeping with his commands. WE dare not violate his commands and treat him as less than holy, pretending our ways are superior to his. We dare not hijack the purpose of the service of worship, making it more about connecting to those who do not know the Lord than about honoring the Lord we are supposed to be there to worship.

Nadab and Abihu died because they failed to treat the Lord and his ways as holy. Adam and Eve fell when they refused to treat the simple command of God as holy. Jesus died to pay for the sins of people who have, in their past, refused to treat God as holy. May we, in our services of worship, be sure that we treat the Lord and his commands as holy.

Exactly as I Show You

AT Mount Sinai, the Lord spoke to his people and gave them his commands. After God gave an initial summary of the law—more would come—the Lord also instructed Moses on the building of the tabernacle. This structure would be a portable place of worship, a traveling temple, where the Lord would allow his presence to dwell in the midst of the people.

When God gave this instruction, he was clear that the people were to build in exact accord with his specification.

Exodus 25:9 – Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.

There is nothing confusing here. God said to the people that they are to fashion and erect the tabernacle exactly as he said. This is no surprise to us. If we have read Exodus before, we expect it and we keep on reading.

But wait a moment. Let’s use this to challenge a modern kind of thinking. How do you feel about God telling the people exactly how to build the tabernacle? Are you OK with that? Do you feel like God has the right to tell the people what to build? How dare he do so?

Why does God not just say to Moses to build a tabernacle, if he wants, to whatever specifications he wants and to offer worship however he wants? I think we know. God is the one who tells the people how to worship him. God is the one who tells the people how they may approach him. God is the one who makes provision so that the people’s sin may be covered and their lives spared from his fiery judgment. God is God, and he will deliver his standards. HE will not be told by sinful man how he must be followed or worshipped.

The funny thing is, when it comes to the Old Testament, when it comes to the tabernacle, I do not hear people saying that this is unfair of God. I do not hear people demanding that God explain himself. People, in general, are not accusing God of wronging people by demanding that the tabernacle be built to a particular design. We tend to suggest that God has every right to tell the people of Israel what pleases him instead of him shifting his pleasure to match their creative whim.

Where do people find themselves offended when God makes his standards known? I’ll offer two examples. One is in modern worship. Another is in salvation itself.

Today, Christians are often taken aback when people dare suggest that what mankind may do in a service of worship is in any way limited. How dare we say that only a man can preach the sermon? Why would we assume that things like sermons, sacraments, prayer, giving, Scripture reading, and song are what worship should include? How can we be so old-fashioned and limiting? The answer should be that we look to the command of God and attempt to build our services of worship in accord with the design shown us in Scripture. Yes, some churches will feel more ceremonial and formal than others. Some churches will use different instrumentation and musical style. But, if we are to honor the Lord in accord with his word, we need to do the things that he commands. And we would be wise to be very careful about bringing into the services things that are not commanded in his word.

How about the issue of salvation? Some folks are deeply offended that God is so restrictive about how people approach him for life and forgiveness. Many of these same people are not offended in the least that God commanded the tabernacle look a particular way. Ask yourself why this is. I would suggest that the reason they are offended by the exclusivity of Christ but are not offended by the exclusivity of the tabernacle design is because they think that human salvation is far more important than the tabernacle.

For sure, the salvation of our souls is important. But we would be incorrect if we assumed that our souls are more important than God’s glory. God is the Almighty. He is the Creator. HE is the Lord over all the universe. Everything that exists in the universe exists for the honor of the Lord. Our salvation, if we are saved, is to the glory of God as it depicts God’s wonderful love and mercy. The judgment of God poured out on those who reject him is to the glory of God as it depicts his perfect and holy justice.

If we say that it is fine for God to tell people how to shape the tabernacle, but it is not fine for God to tell people that there is one way and only one way of salvation, we have very much missed who God is in comparison to who we are. God is the Lord. HE will do all that he pleases. He has every right to tell us how he must be approached. HE has every right to tell us what is acceptable worship. He had every right to tell Israel what the tabernacle should look like. He has every right to tell you, no matter who you think you are, what your life should look like. Like the people of old, approach God in accord with his commands. If you seek to worship, do so in accord with the commands of holy Scripture. IF you seek salvation, come seeking God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone for the glory of God alone.

God is Different Than People Think

You know why Scripture is such a gift? You could never know God without his revealing himself in his word. If God does not tell us what he is like, if we do not pay attention, we will totally have the wrong image in our minds as to who god is, what he does, and what he requires.

I Thought of this in a read through Exodus 19-20. In that passage, the text around the original giving of the Ten Commandments, God makes some restrictions on the people that do not sound like what many around you think God is like.

Why do I say this? In our world, most people think that God is open to any sincere attempt to worship him. People assume that God is open to all expressions of human religion so long as those expressions do not attack other humans. But look at God’s words and God’s standards for the people near the mountain. In two places, we will see something important.

Exodus 19:21-22 – 21 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish. 22 Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.”

As God prepared to speak to Moses from the Mountain, he gave two significant restrictions. The people could not approach or touch the mountain while God’s presence was upon it. And the priests could not experience this day without a holy consecration. Either group who disobeyed the commands of God here would die. God himself would kill people for disobedience.

But that does not sound like the modern understanding of God put forth by so many people. And at this point we have to ask, is our picture of god from God’s revelation or from our own minds? God is holy. God may not be approached by sinful man. And God will destroy those who violate his holy standards and remain without his forgiveness.

Exodus 20:25 – If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.

Here God points out that the people of Israel were not free to make just any kind of altar for worship. If they were to fashion a stone altar with their tools, their touching of the altar would defile it. God was clear that his worship was to be holy. God is clear that he sets the standards as to what is acceptable and unacceptable worship.

The simple thought that I want us to take away from these passages is that God is holy. God is not what the modern American believes. God will judge people. God will judge based on his own standards. God will not bend to our will and our standards. God is not OK with just any old action we want to take. God will tell us how he is to be worshipped.

And in both passages, we see that God is clear that sinful mankind cannot approach him. If we wish to avoid God’s judgment, we must find ourselves under his grace. We are sinners who need to be forgiven. We need to have God apply to us the perfect righteousness of Christ. If we do not have God’s forgiving grace and the imputed righteousness of Jesus, anything we would do that could be considered worship will only serve to bring us under God’s judgment.

So, what do we take away? First, you need Jesus. Ask him to forgive you and cleanse you before the Lord. Surrender to him and be saved by his grace through faith. Then, realize that God has a high and holy standard that is far more dangerous than anything you have ever imagined. Submit to his holy word in order to live and worship in a way that pleases the Lord.

Would You Have Gone?

In Matthew 2, we read about the wise men who came to Jerusalem looking for the newborn King of the Jews. These men from the east had seen a new star in the sky and knew that this was a sign that the promised one from God had been born. They went to Jerusalem, as one would assume a king to be born in the capital city.

You probably know the story pretty well. After all, it is told around Christmas time on a regular basis. If you know the story, you know that Herod asked the Jewish priests and scribes around him where the Christ was to be born, and they were easily able to quote for him a Scripture that promised the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Then Herod sent the wise men to Bethlehem to find the child.

Matthew 2:9-11 — 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

The wise men left Herod, found the

Christ, and worshipped him. This is a good and right response. When you become aware of the Lord, the right move is to worship.

Sometimes when I think about this passage, I actually find myself thinking about those whose actions are not mentioned. I think about the priests and scribes. To be fair, they may have been generally kept out of the loop and asked only a data question without any context. But I wonder. I wonder if the religious men around Herod knew that the wise men from the east were present. I wonder if they knew that these men were claiming to have seen a star. I wonder if they knew that Herod was sending the wise men to fish out the location of the newborn King.

What I know for sure is that these priests did not go. It seems like they had the data, but they did nothing with it. Knowing Scripture as well as they did, the priests should have recognized that it was time for the Christ to arrive. They should have known that the Messiah would be born around their generation. There was enough information available for these men to know that God had broken into history in a fantastic way.

If my gut guess is right, if the scholars knew about the wise men and the star and the promises of Scripture, then something very sad takes place in this passage. They knew the Christ had come. They knew the star had shone. They knew men were sent to find the baby. And they went back to their books, back to their lives, back to their temple, and did nothing with the news they had heard. They were told enough to know that God had broken into history and sent his promised one, and they were not concerned about it.

Like I said, this is a surmise on my part. It could be that the scholars were only asked the question without getting any info. If so, I cannot blame them for remaining in Jerusalem, as they had no info to go on. But I’m still convicted by the possibility. I’m convicted by the notion that a man could know that God is with us, that Christ is near, and stay home instead of going to worship the Savior.

Surmises aside, do you think you would have gone? If you knew where Jesus was, would you have dropped everything to run to Bethlehem just so you could bow down before the young Jesus? Would you have risked the danger of Herod’s wrath to catch a glimpse of God with us? I hope so.

Now, if you would have taken a significant risk to get where Jesus is, to see him, to bow before him, to worship him, does that show in your life today? After all, Jesus is with us. The Spirit of the Lord is with us. God’s people gather on a weekly basis to worship the same Jesus. God’s people shape our lives differently because of the finished work and presence of Jesus.

Ask yourself, “Does my life look more like the scholars or the wise men?” Do you have a lot of knowledge that leaves you unmoved? Or does what you know from the word of God call you to take note, get up, and act?

Christians, may you and I be a people who are not mere receptacles of knowledge. May the knowledge we have of the word of God and the claims of Christ change our lives. May it lead us to value worship greatly. May it lead us to change, deep and lasting change. May it lead us to not be able to sit still. May we never be able to neglect worshipping the Savior.

Hardship and Worship

In the book of Joel, the people of Judah are suffering. The prophet blends into his telling of the nation’s hardships a few different images. There has been a locust plague that has laid waste to the land. There has been drought and food shortage. And, there is also the horror of the army from the north who are threatening the survival of the nation.

As I was reading through this text, something struck me. It has to do with one of the first problems that the Lord lists as a result of the destruction faced in the land.

Joel 1:9 and 13

9 The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off
from the house of the Lord.
The priests mourn,
the ministers of the Lord.
13 Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests;
wail, O ministers of the altar.
Go in, pass the night in sackcloth,
O ministers of my God!
Because grain offering and drink offering
are withheld from the house of your God.

The land is desolate. The people are suffering. On the one hand, Joel calls on the drunkards of Judah to weep at their loss of wine. But on the other, what stands out to me, is that Joel calls on the priests to mourn over the lack of offerings available to give to the worship of God.

Then, in chapter 2, God calls the nation to repentance. In that call, God suggests that, if they repent, he will restore them. And in that restoration, we again see that restoring their ability to worship him is at the center. The healing of the land will lead to the people’s ability of again offering to the Lord their produce.

Joel 2:12-14

12 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the Lord your God?

I wonder, when we hurt, do we consider more than our own physical loss? Do we see that the worship of our God is still of utmost priority? Would we, were we to lose all our physical resources and financial stability mourn, not merely what we personally lack, but what we cannot give to the glory of God?

I do not have a great deal of clear, particular, concrete application here. But I think it is worth noticing that the Lord, in his explanation of what is wrong in Judah, points out that the judgment that they have brought upon themselves has robbed them of the ability to worship the Lord as he should be worshipped. The hardship that the people face is not simply personal or even national. The hardship they face impacts their response to God.

Here, I think, we can give thanks to God for the gospel. Christ has fulfilled all righteousness for us. No grain offering is necessary for us to please the Lord. Our ability to worship is not impacted by our material wealth.

At the same time, we should have hearts that are so God-focused that, when we lack in life, we think about how even this is connected to our spiritual lives. We should not become so self-minded that we forget that all that we have and all that we are belongs to the Lord our God.