“God-Pleasing Worship” May 30, 2010
Deuteronomy 12:1-14; 29-32
SI: We’re starting the second part of Deuteronomy today.
Up to this point, the Lord has been reminding Israel of the history of his
relationship with them. It’s been a relationship of grace.
God chose them. God saved them. God forgave their sin and rebellion.
God kept his promises to them and has brought them to the Promised Land.
Up to this point he’s given general instructions—
trust me, love me, obey me.
But now he starts with the specifics.
So the next big section of Deuteronomy is important for Christians.
How do we trust and obey God? What specifically does that look like?
Well here it is.
I’m going to introduce this section, and then, we’re going to take a break
and spend the weeks of summer looking at something wonderful from
the New Testament. I’ll tell you what that is the next time I’m in the pulpit.
INTRO: Whenever we go on family vacation and we’re away on a Sunday,
we always go to church no matter where we are.
We love worship, we love to be with God’s people on the Lord’s Day.
And, over the years, we’ve had some memorable experiences
We once worshipped in a Lutheran Church in Aspen, Colorado.
Aspen is beautiful but it’s very secular, very worldly, very image-conscious.
But the young Lutheran minister at this church wasn’t into any of that.
He didn’t try to be cool or relevant.
He wore his robe, he led us in that solid Lutheran liturgy with Scripture
readings and prayers, and then he preached a good, long biblical sermon and
It was so out of step with the culture of Aspen, that it was a breath of fresh air.
We once worshipped in a Pentecostal Church in Baton Rouge.
Before the service started we were talking to a man sitting in front of us.
He was an accountant, he was wearing a navy blue suit, a white button-down shirt
and tie, and I thought—This guy can’t be Pentecostal, he looks Presbyterian!
But during the pastoral prayer, he got down on his knees—
and then stretched himself full-length, face down on the floor.
I was trying to keep my eyes closed, but I couldn’t help peeking.
It made me think of that passage in Revelation where the 24 elders
fall on their faces before the Lamb and gave me a little glimpse of heaven.
Last summer we worshipped Sunday morning and Sunday evening on the
rim of the Grand Canyon. The service was led by college students who were part
of a non-denominational Christian ministry to the national parks.
At the evening service the setting sun was turning the Canyon deep red.
There were about 20 people there—Christians from all over America.
We sang and prayed the Lord’s Prayer together.
And the kids said later it was one of the best parts of the trip.
How important is worship for Christians?
How important is regular, corporate, Lord’s Day worship with the
assembled people of God? Very important? Somewhat? Optional?
Isn’t it interesting that after Moses has finished his eleven chapter introduction
to Deuteronomy, after saying over and over, God has saved you by grace,
trust God, love God, fear God, and obey all of his commandments—
that the very first specific commandment he gives is about worship.
He doesn’t start out saying: Thou shalt not kill or thou shalt not steal.
He starts out with a commandment about worship.
The first specific way that you demonstrate your love and fear of the
Lord when you enter the Promised Land is that you will worship him.
You’ll join with God’s people in the place he has chosen,
and you will participate with joy in all of the sacrifices and prayers
and elements of worship that the Lord has commanded.
But then Moses makes an even more sobering point.
He says that the real issue for you Israelites is not going to be
worshipping God vs. not worshipping God,
going to church vs. not going to church.
It’s going to be worshipping the Lord the right way or the wrong way.
All worship of God doesn’t please God.
And your big temptation is going to be worshipping God the way you
want to do it, not the way God wants it done.
But the only worship that pleases him is worship done his way.
You know that many churches have had fights over worship style—
usually it’s over contemporary or traditional music,
or fights over the order of the worship, whether to include certain elements.
And so often the arguments used on both sides boil down to preference
or pragmatism. This is what I like. This is what moves me.
This is what will work in our community. This is what will reach people.
That sort of thing.
There are none of those arguments in this passage.
Moses says there is just one standard for worship—
It must please God. And worship that pleases God is worship done his way.
This is a great passage for us as a church to study together,
because Christ Covenant is an assembly of worshippers.
That’s our primary identity. A worshipping body that gathers on the Lord’s Day.
So this is something we must get right.
Three points: Worship that pleases God
1. Follows the Word
2. Rejects the world
3. Comes from the heart
Let’s look at each.
MP#1 Worship that pleases God follows the Word.
It follows the instructions and pattern that the Lord has given us in the Bible.
Moses says: Don’t worship as you see fit,
and don’t worship the Lord in the ways the Canaanites worship their gods.
Worship God as he has told you to worship.
Then he describes their worship this way:
“Bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts,
your freewill offerings. There in the presence of the Lord you and
your families shall eat and shall rejoice.”
And what we have in that verse is a shorthand reference to all of the worship
instructions and the worship pattern given in the Old Testament.
Moses is simply saying: Your worship must follow God’s Word.
Not what you like. Not what the Canaanites feel comfortable with.
But what the Lord has commanded.
As you study Leviticus, and other worship services in the OT,
you see that there was a pattern. There was an order of service.
The same things were done Sabbath after Sabbath.
The service would begin with the priests calling the people to worship.
Later on, after the Temple was built, the Levites added music and singing.
So worship would begin with a call to worship and songs of praises.
Then there were three sacrifices, always offered in the same order.
Each of these sacrifices had a different emphasis.
The sin offering was first.
After the animal was killed, the emphasis was on the sprinkling of blood
on the altar. The point was that only blood opens the way into God’s presence.
There can be no access without confession and forgiveness through a substitute.
So as the sin offering was being sacrificed, the people would confess sins,
and be assured of their cleansing by God.
The burnt offering was second.
After the animal was killed, the emphasis was on the cutting up and washing
and arranging of the body parts on the altar to be ready for God’s use.
It was a picture of the consecration of God’s people by the Word and Spirit.
Think of Word of God as a sharp sword, cutting us up, and re-arranging
us so that we are fit for God’s service.
The fellowship offering was third.
After the animal was killed, the emphasis was on eating the sacrifice.
Part was burned. That was God’s part, God’s food. And the other part
was eaten with bread by the worshipper as a picture of communion with God.
Then, the worship service ended with the priest giving a benediction:
“The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you . . .”
God blessed his people and commissioned them to go out and serve him.
When you look at the whole worship service of the Old Testament church,
in all of its parts, there is this magnificent emphasis on the work of God.
God calls us to praise him, we respond with singing.
God cleanses us with the blood of Christ, we respond by confessing our sins.
God consecrates us by the Word and Spirit, we respond by listening and obeying.
God communes with us through signs of his grace, we commune with him.
God blesses and commissions us to serve him, we go out with joy.
That was the pattern of the Old Testament church, and the New Testament church.
Even though the animal sacrifices are gone, all of those essential elements
are there in the worship of the New Testament church as well.
We have singing praise mentioned and confession and the Word and communion
and prayer and giving of offerings.
And all of these things are God-centered and Christ-centered
and commanded in the Word by precept and example.
Obviously, Christians don’t agree about the specifics. None of us have it perfect.
There was once a debate among the Dutch Calvinists about the place of
the Ten Commandments in the worship service.
One group said: We should read the Ten Commandments before we confess our
sins to show us how much we need Christ.
Another group said: No, we should read the Ten Commandments after we’ve
confessed about our sins to show us how to live for Christ.
And there are even bigger disagreements between churches and denominations.
But this is the important thing: What’s our final authority for worship?
When we disagree with brothers about specifics of worship, is our disagreement
over the interpretation of Scripture, or are we using some other standard—
What I like. What moves me. What works. What others are comfortable with.
God-pleasing worship follows the Word.
MP#2 Worship that pleases God rejects the world.
Moses makes this point in two ways.
He says you must not worship the Lord as you see fit.
What’s comfortable with you, what you like, what moves you.
That can’t be your standard. You might be as sincere as can be.
But it’s not God’s standard. It’s your standard.
He also says that you must not worship the Lord in the way that the Canaanites
worship their gods. And he gives them a specific. He says that when they
get to the Promised Land, the Lord is going to choose one place for worship.
And that is the place they would have to go three times a year.
That place ultimately was Jerusalem, where the Temple was built.
But the Canaanite practice was to worship their gods at hilltop shrines.
They called them the high places. It seemed perfectly reasonable for the
Israelites to say—You know, this is a good idea.
Let’s worship the Lord at these high places. We’re worshipping the Lord.
Our hearts are in the right place. Maybe it will even attract the Canaanites.
But Moses says: No. God doesn’t want that.
He doesn’t want you to worship Him in the way that is comfortable to pagans.
He wants you to worship him his way.
You know that in later years, the Israelites ignored this.
They built altars to the Lord on the high places.
And then they gradually worked in more and more Canaanite worship practices.
Until finally, their worship of the Lord looked no different from the Canaanites.
That’s always a danger. It’s so easy to adopt the world’s values and for
pragmatic reasons to bring them right into the worship of God.
A fellow PCA minister sent me copy of flyer advertising a new church in his town.
The front has a picture of a cool, 20-something couple, barefoot, jeans and t-shirts.
Big words say: Short services, loud music, casual atmosphere, fun for kids.
Then there is a sentence in quotation marks, I guess it’s spoken by
the 20-something gal on the front, “Finally a church my husband would come to.”
On the back is some information about the church:
Loud music, laughter, fun kids programs, and a causal atmosphere. We wanted to start a church that was great for men—not just women and children. That’s why you’ll notice our media, short services, stupid jokes, and a place where you can dress however the heck you want.
Men, if you’re mentally lazy and like to look like a slob—this is the church for you.
We’re not going to make you think. We’re not going to challenge you.
We’re going to get you out early so you can get back your TV.
What a low view of men. That’s not how the Scripture calls men to Christ.
But even more to the point—what does this say about worship?
There is only one mention of God on this whole flier.
Big words on the front: Honoring God, Building Friendships, Having a Blast.
But how is God honored in a worship service that caters to lazy men.
A worship service that is short (told that twice) and has media and stupid jokes.
I have no doubt that the worship services at this church are exactly as advertised.
No one who got this flyer would have any reason to think that this church
worships the God who is a consuming fire, surrounded by cherubim.
And no one who got this flyer would have any reason to think that this church
worships a Savior who died for sin and who demands that the men and
husbands who follow him take up their crosses daily.
This kind of advertising and worship is rampant in evangelical church in America.
And what’s the rationale?
It reaches people. It makes them feel comfortable.
Of course we want to reach people and make them feel welcomed.
Of course we want to be relevant and speak to the needs of the heart.
But how are we going to do it? By Scripture, trusting God, or by values of culture?
One preacher put it this way:
“Tom Sawyer said: ‘Church ain’t shucks to the circus.’ And it’s true. Church isn’t nearly as entertaining as the circus. That was exactly the problem and the temptation which Israel faced as she entered the promised land. Her church services weren’t nearly as exciting or as entertaining as the church services of the Canaanites. Those services were easy to get to—you didn't have to travel to Jerusalem—they were full of sex and violence—nobody was ever bored at a Canaanite high place church service! And no sooner had Israel settled in the promised land than there were folk who were attracted by those Canaanite services and were trying to make their own services more like them. No doubt the arguments were the same. More people will come if the services are more interesting. Doesn’t God want more people in church? People are bored with our present worship. God can’t be pleased, after all, with a church full of bored people. It’s the same today. What are the services of present day paganism? What are the equivalents of the Canaanite high place services in our day? They are our great forms of entertainment: the play, the movie, the celebrity and so on. And so, more and more, church worship services are full of plays, movies, and celebrities.
Let’s not be proud. Let’s search our hearts and confess worldliness.
And it is a matter of the heart. That brings us to our third point.
MP#3 Worship that pleases God comes from the heart.
The Bible never lets us escape God’s grace.
It never lets us build a self-righteous record so we don’t need Christ.
You could easily do that with worship. I’ve done it with worship.
Focus on getting it right and then giving that to God.
Searching the Scripture for the principles and patterns and then
doing that on Sunday morning and thinking you’ve got it right.
But you can have everything right and still be wrong because true worship
must come from the heart. And the way Moses emphasizes that is three
times he tells the Israelites that when they perform their acts of worship
they must “rejoice before the Lord.”
Everything the church does in worship—all of the elements of worship—
the songs, the prayers, the offerings, the confessions, the reading and teaching—
all of it points to the great things that God has done for us in Christ.
For the Israelites, the things they did in worship were reminders of
their redemption from slavery in Egypt,
and their baptism in the Red Sea,
and their inheritance of the Promised Land.
And for us, the elements of worship point to all of those things
and to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ for our salvation.
So true worship must be offered with joy.
The Lord forbids going through the motions of worship without heart and
enthusiasm. He is not pleased with worship that is a series of acts done in a
spirit of duty or mere custom.
No, the Lord looks on the heart, and he weighs the heart, and the worship
he requires is just as much a matter of the heart as it is the performance
of certain rituals and duties.
So if we come to church on the Lord’s day, and sing the hymns and offer
our prayers and listen to the Word with no real pleasure, and no sense
of wonder for what God had done—then our worship is not good.
And it can’t be pleasing to the Lord.
Because he deserves not motions, but joy in our hearts for knowing him.
Thomas Cranmer wrote the Book of Common Prayer in 1662 for Anglican Church.
In the marriage ceremony is a beautiful line that unfortunately has been removed.
It’s in the giving of the ring. In Cranmer’s day, only the man gave a ring
to the woman. The woman did not give a ring to the man.
As he was putting it on her finger he said:
With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee
endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
“With my body, I thee worship.” What does that mean?
It’s a beautiful way of saying that all actions of my body,
all the things I do for you and with you,
come from a heart that adores you.
It’s certainly talking about the marriage bed. The things I do with my body
are an expression of the worth, the value, the honor I have for you.
That’s what worship is, declaration of the worth, honor of someone, something.
But it’s more than just the marriage bed.
Everything I do in the body for you or with you, from the motive of love, delight.
I’m not going to do things to manipulate you, or keep you busy, or shut you up.
Everything I do is going to come from a heart that is glad to be married to you.
Parents, isn’t that what we want from our children too?
They have to take out the trash and do their chores, but what we really want is
for them to be motivated by gladness to be a part of the family.
As sense of appreciation for the good life they have, happiness that they can
contribute in just a little way to the order and prosperity of the household.
You would almost rather do it yourself, if they do their chores with
unloving and unappreciative hearts.
There are many times when church is just church.
It’s just like sitting down to a plain meal. You eat your peanut butter sandwich
and glass of milk. And it’s not exciting. But it’s good, filling and you’re happy.
It’s not like you get a seven course meal at every worship service.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit surprises you and it happens.
And there are many times you come to church on Sunday with all kinds
of distractions and with our souls bowed down with sorrow and pain.
But when we come into this room, and the Lord is set before us in all his majesty.
And when we sing, as we have this morning—of the immortal, invisible glory,
and of the glorious King, and of Christ’s bleeding wounds.
And when we affirm the great truths in the Creed—
the coming judgment and life everlasting.
And when we have talked to the living God in our prayers—and been reminded
that no matter how dark a valley you are going through, he is with you.
All of that ought to fill us with rejoicing. Remember joy can exist with pain.
You can be grieving in worship and still full of joy.
You’ve seen before dark clouds with streaks of sunshine beaming through.
That’s what the Lord wants. He wants our hearts engaged, rejoicing in Him.
That’s hard. That’s much harder than planning a worship service that short,
fun, and entertaining. Because it takes full cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
That’s what you must do. Cooperate with the Holy Spirit,
and get your heart ready for the Lord’s Day. Prepare for worship.
Not just when you walk in on Sunday morning—but the night before.
And through the week, make it your prayer—that on the Lord’s Day,
our hearts would be ready to worship him as he wants to be worshipped.
1 Peter 2:9 says:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises
of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Why has God chosen us and called us saved us?
To be a worshipping people.
So that together we give witness to the love of God and the grace of Christ
in our acts of corporate praise.
How do we declare the worth and honor of our Savior—
by worshipping him as he wants to be worshipped and with all of our hearts.