“People Of Common Worship” Nehemiah 12:27-43 4/14/02
SI: Dedication of the wall. A worship service full of joy. Climax of book.
Patterns and principles for our worship
INTRO: On Jan. 28 of this year, Saudi Arabian officials arrested
three Ethiopian men, in prison suspended them with chains,
lashed them 80 times with a flexible metal cable.
Then they deported them. No official charges were ever filed.
But the reason they were arrested and tortured is well known.
They had assembled with some other Christians for worship.
Saudi Arabia allows foreigners who are Christians to worship privately,
but they do not allow corporate Christian worship.
I have a question: Why did those Christians risk worshiping together?
Christian faith is very personal. A Christian has a personal relationship with Christ.
You can be all by yourself and read your Bible, pray, know God is there.
So if it is going to cost you dearly, why assemble for worship?
Why not just worship in the privacy of your own room? Better than 80 lashes.
Every Christian here knows the answer—even if you’ve never articulated it.
Christian worship at its highest and best is corporate worship. Worship of body.
It is true that an individual can worship God sincerely and meaningfully
in strict solitude (and many of us do enjoy communion with Him when alone)
Can never know the full richness of worship unless you unite in common worship
with other members of the body of Christ.
God has created us so that there are deeper delights and more intense inspiration
in the worshiping congregation than in individual devotion.
Luther: “At home in my own house there is no warmth or vigor in me,
but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled
in my heart, and it breaks its way through.”
Have any doubt, look at the Bible.
From beginning to end—greatest worship common worship.
Have used term “common” worship. Older term, means worship of community
Speaking of the end. Revelation pulls back curtain, shows worship in heaven.
Is worship in heaven personal? Yes. Every heart is in tune with the Lord.
It is private? No. Common. All angels, great multitude of elect no one can count,
every creature in all creation is singing:
“To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be
praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever. Amen!”
Why is common worship sometimes so bad?
All of you could tell stories of times you have been to worship services,
left with the feeling—I don’t know what we just did, but didn’t worship God.
Have met professing Christians who have checked out of the church
because of so many years of sub-standard worship.
Figure they can worship better in private.
Nothing is wrong with common worship itself.
But when a church and individual Christians in a church are ignorant
of biblical principles of worship, the worship will suffer.
Worship that should satisfy your soul by glorifying God won’t do either.
Answer is not to check out, but to go back to Scripture.
And by the help of the Holy Spirit, with persistence, recognizing nothing perfect
this side of heaven, bring principles of biblical worship to bear in heart/church.
During last 20 years, few things have caused bigger battles in evangelical church
than changes in worship—especially musical styles (will mention music).
But the cause of the battles is not really music.
It is that there is a hunger for true worship in hearts of evangelical Christians.
And in many churches—Bible believing churches—
worship inadequate, sub-standard, people ignorant of Bible’s teaching.
So start looking for novelties that will fix things. Of course novelties won’t.
Just a temporary high, then back to the same emptiness.
Worship is a huge topic. But we are just looking at one short passage.
Five principles of common worship.
Challenge—these are not just for me, Jamie, Wayne.
For all of us—as a body and as individuals.
If we take these to heart—
our worship will be heavenly, soul-satisfying, glorifying to God.
MP#1 Worship must be purposeful.
All that we do must deliberately and joyfully proclaim the mighty acts of God
for our salvation.
Put another way. Purposeful worship is God-directed worship.
Strives in all things to praise God that He is, for who He is,
for what He has done, for His revelation of Himself,
for His work in our lives, for what He will do.
First verse and last verse of our reading, vs. 27 and 43
“At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they
lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of
thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres . . . And on that day they offered
great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy.”
Lots of details in the middle—who processed with whom, who sang, what sang,
who played instruments, what instruments they played.
But none of these details are out of place, “off message” haphazard—all purposeful.
The whole service, every part was a deliberate and joyful recital of the mighty
acts of God for their salvation.
Think about all mighty things God had done for them—not just the wall.
God had divinely guided that meeting between Nehemiah and brother.
God had sovereignly directed King Artaxerxes’ heart.
God had given Nehemiah willing, hard-working colleagues, people unity.
He had protected them against their enemies.
He had sustained them even when they were overwhelmed with rubble.
He had given them the freedom to worship again.
He had given them godly leaders.
All those thing freshly on minds—brought all with thanksgiving to God.
Negatively—can’t come to worship with any purpose higher than God’s glory.
Primary purpose shouldn’t even be your own spiritual well-being.
Any other purpose, will make worship hollow.
If worship leaders have purpose of pleasing the crowd, making feel good
Positively—like Jews, come to worship with a catalog of things to praise God for—
things about Him, blessings from His hand, guidance, protection—
in every detail, song, prayer, movement
take those thing and present to God with joy.
MP#2 Worship must be pure.
Vs. 30 “When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the
people, the gates and the wall.”
Two things—an outward ritual and an inward spiritual reality
Outward ritual—Levites sprinkled water on themselves, worshipers, wall
Inward reality—Worshipers must have clean hearts to come before a holy God
Directly carried over to our worship.
Outward ritual—Our worship must be Christ-centered
The redemptive, forgiving, purifying work of Jesus Christ must take center stage
Must sing about Jesus, pray in His name, preach about Him, remember body.
It is only through Jesus Christ that we can in any way be pure enough to
approach a holy God in worship.
Whenever worship loses its outward emphasis on Jesus Christ, sub-standard.
It can happen, has happened in different branches of the church,
Person and work of Jesus Christ receives less and less emphasis, something else
Inward reality—Your heart must be purified by Jesus Christ before can worship.
Your life must reflect the reality of that cleansing.
What happens to worship when you go through the motions without a pure heart?
Listen to what God says in Isaiah 1
Israelites going through all the motions (even sacrifice, blood of Messiah)
but did not have pure heart, unrepentant
Isaiah 1 “The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me? says the Lord. Stop bringing
meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and
convocations—I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your
appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing
them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you
offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves
clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong.”
If clinging to sin, unrepentant— You can come to church, sing about Jesus,
can say “In Jesus’ name Amen, put money in offering plate, listen to sermon,
take communion, but God says—It’s meaningless. I can’t bear to watch you.
Your so-called worship is a burden to me.
When a church body is full of unconfessed sin, then worship become hollow.
If going to come and worship a holy God, must be people with
“clean hands and a pure heart.”
MP#3 Worship must be prescribed.
The worship must be derived from Scripture. Must be based on Word.
When Nehemiah began to plan this elaborate dedication worship service,
he did not create something new—looked to Scripture for his pattern.
12:24 “And the leaders of the Levites were . . . and their associates who stood opposite them to
give praise and thanksgiving, one section responding to the other, as prescribed by David the
man of God.”
What did this worship service look like? Two large choirs of Levites,
Followed by musicians, officials, and a huge crowd (50,000)
Choirs and many people processed on top of new walls in opposite directions
until they met at the Temple courts
Along the way, at Temple, sang responsive songs, read/chanted responsive readings
This was then followed by the offering of sacrifices.
Nehemiah didn’t invent this. David gave instructions for this. I Chronicles 23-27
What should a dedication service look like? Turned to the Bible.
An even older history than David’s instructions.
When Israelites first entered Promised Land—God told them to follow form
in a worship service on Mt. Ebal and Gerezim—two choirs, and all people
One side would recite blessings of covenant, one curses—responsive readings
all this was followed by sacrifices.
For didn’t make everything simplistic, need for excellence, planning, rehearsals
Room for creativity—procession and choirs on the very wall dedicating
But all true to the Scriptures.
One of the aspects of worship recovered in the Protestant Reformation
WCF 21 “The acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so
limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped according to the imaginations
and devices of men, or the suggestion of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other
way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.”
What about choice of songs in worship? A matter of conflict in some churches.
12:45-46 “They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did also
the singers and gatekeepers, according to the commands of David and his son Solomon. For
long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the singers and for the
songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.”
Seems they sang the Psalms of praise and thanksgiving written by David and Asaph
hundreds of years earlier, part of the songbook of Israel.
Why sing old songs? new beginning, fresh experience? Why sing old hymns?
“There are experiences in life when our own faith may be severely tested. In such time the lamp of our personal faith may flicker, but these great songs from the past speak powerfully about a faith which is bigger and stronger than our own immediate experience of God. They renew our confidence, reminding us in our frailty that our faith is shared by a vast multitude who have sung these great songs before us and have been sustained by them. As we sing these magnificent psalms, we lose our sense of solitariness and realize we are part of a vast worshiping company of people throughout history who have proved the reliability and sufficiency of God.”
We sing old hymns because we believe true Christian worship is common worship.
Worship with the community of God’s people, not just here and now,
Connection, through hymns, with Christians who have gone before reminds us
that our faith is “bigger and stronger than our own immediate experience of God”
Not the whole picture—Psalm 147
Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God,
how pleasant and fitting to praise Him.
The Lord build up Jerusalem; He gathers the exiles of Israel.
This Psalm not written by David, Asaph—a psalm composed for rebuilding.
This is a contemporary worship song.
Many times in Bible, see God’s people composing new songs.
Every generation of the church should express the faith in its own songs.
We should sing new songs.
One of the responsibilities of the church, as sing new songs that have not
stood the test of time—to scrutinize, subject to test of Scripture.
Inaccurate and shallow songs just as bad as inaccurate and shallow sermons.
Worship must be derived from Scripture, true to the Scripture.
MP#4 Worship must be passionate.
Vs. 43 “And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them
great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could
be heard far away.”
True worship involves the worshiper, every aspect of his humanity.
Worship must involve your mind, imaginations, emotions and your body.
Thing that stood out in this worship service, Nehemiah calls attention to it—Joy
Joy—deep gladness and lively pleasure that comes from knowing the living God.
Joy is internal, could call it an emotion, but even deeper than an emotion.
What I want you to see is that this joy was expressed in rejoicing.
Everybody rejoiced—Levites, singers, musicians, men, women, children.
And it was loud. It was passionate.
You have to express your joy in worship.
Know this his hard to get a handle on—especially in a Presbyterian service
Imagine people jumping and shouting me up here saying—please be seated!
Cultures are different, denominations are different.
You are to respond with passion and fervor to every part of the service.
Just mention one part—our readings—call to worship, confession of faith.
In your private devotional worship—you can whisper or mumble—you and God.
But not your prerogative in common worship—you, God, and the congregation.
Whispering, mumbling congregation offers sub-standard worship.
Look at our confession of faith—very old form, early church, Christ has . . .
Your eternal security and joy rest on these three things.
If Christ did not rise, not coming again—of all men most miserable.
But He did and He will! Praise God! Read these words with passion and fervor.
Stir yourself up and speak—as you do, as brothers and sisters do,
sound of rejoicing is heard. Passionate worship is offered to the King.
Could say the same for singing. Some people say—I can’t sing.
Bible says sing to the Lord. No excuses. Mouth must express faith within you.
Woman in last church, now with Lord, Bobbie Temple—she sang—joy infectious
“God overlooks not, but graciously accepts, the honest, zealous services of His people, even when there is in them little of art and they are far from being fine.”
If singing honest and zealous—God is pleased with your worship.
MP#5 Worship must be proclamatory.
Do you remember what the surrounding people said about Jews when
first started rebuilding the wall? What are those sorry Jews doing?
That wall they are trying to build, even a fox could knock it down. (Chap 4)
Here they are standing on the wall, with this immense crowd of people,
Giving praise to God for all He has done in their lives.
Nehemiah reports, “The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.”
How did he know that? He was there.
What this has to mean is that after this worship service,
someone who was not there, who lived in the hills around Jerusalem—
apparently not a Jew, reported—I heard y’all.
Their worship was a testimony to their neighbors—
proclaimed that God had done something in their lives, God real to them.
Jerram Barrs—professor at Covenant Seminary.
“Evangelism primarily takes place in the ordinary worship of God’s people.
If you invited your unsaved friends to church, and they watched you worship,
What would they conclude about the sincerity and importance of your worship?
Would they see the power of the Gospel displayed in your life?
Would they see an awesome sense of being in the presence of God?
Would they see that you are a person who is seeking holiness?
Yes, they would. Your worship would proclaim the reality of your faith.
Who does Jesus say that the Father seeks? John 4
Seeks those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth.
Why does the Bible say you are set chosen as God’s people? I Peter 2
To declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into
His marvelous light.
Worship personal—not private, in common with fellow believers,
And a witness to those outside the faith.
To be proclamatory, must invite the lost to join us.