WORSHIP CULMINATED

WORSHIP CULMINATED

Revelation 7:1-4, 9-17 NET

1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so no wind could blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree. 2 Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, who had the seal of the living God. He shouted out with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given permission to damage the earth and the sea: 3 “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees until we have put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” 4 Now I heard the number of those who were marked with the seal, one hundred and forty-four thousand, sealed from all the tribes of the people of Israel: 9 After these things I looked, and here was an enormous crowd that no one could count, made up of persons from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb dressed in long white robes, and with palm branches in their hands.

10 They were shouting out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, to the one seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood there in a circle around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they threw themselves down with their faces to the ground before the throne and worshiped God,

12 saying, “Amen! Praise and glory, and wisdom and thanksgiving, and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” 13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These dressed in long white robes — who are they and where have they come from?” 14 So I said to him, “My lord, you know the answer.” Then he said to me, “These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb! 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they serve him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will never go hungry or be thirsty again, and the sun will not beat down on them, nor any burning heat,

17 because the Lamb in the middle of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

We have been studying what the Bible says about worship this month. We first looked at two Old Testament passages and found that worship is something that we all ought to do, but it also something that can be corrupted. It can be done wrong.

Then we looked at Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in the Samaritan village of Sychar. In that conversation, Jesus revealed the fact that God is looking for sincere worshipers. We can worship in truth if we follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and don’t just rely on our traditions.

For our next look at worship, I want us to look at this vision that John received, as recorded in Revelation 7. Now, I realize that there are a lot of different ways of understanding the Book of Revelation. If we were studying the book as a whole, I would stop and explain these different approaches, and give you my evaluation of them. But my concern today is more specific. I want us to see what this chapter in Revelation tells us about worship.

So, let me just summarize what we would have to agree on to look at this chapter in that context.

First, Revelation is Scripture. The visions John received on Patmos were given to him by Jesus so that he could understand some things about the future. They also served to equip him and believers after him (including us) to endure the things we would have to endure until Jesus comes again.

Second, there is a blessing associated with this passage. Revelation 1:3 says “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy aloud, and blessed are those who hear and obey the things written in it, because the time is near!” Of course, the blessing will only come to us if we have ears to hear what God is saying, and if we have the courage to commit ourselves to obeying what the text commands.

That is where we get to our subject. When we look at the 144,000 who are described in verses 1-8 of the chapter, and the enormous crowd that no one could count who are described in verses 9-17, each of them has a reason to worship the LORD. That is what I want us to focus on. Our God wants us to consider our options, and to make the right choices in life. Should we worship, or should we not worship? God never gives us a command without giving us good reasons to obey it.

The picture John saw in this vision is a graphical description of those who will overcome the trials and dangers of this temporary life, and will be there to greet Jesus as their Savior, King, and Shepherd in eternity. It is a picture not just of the kinds of people who gather to worship now, but a picture of those who will be worshiping forever in the new heavens and new earth. The worshipers described here have all the marks we have been told about the previous passages we studied. It is obedient worship. It is pure worship. It is sincere worship.

But today’s text also tells us why these people will be worshiping forever. What will God do for these people that will make them want to serve and worship him throughout eternity? That is the question that this passage answers.

First, we will worship the LORD forever because of God’s faithful remnant (1-4).

The first thing the passage describes is a storm that is about to be let loose on the whole earth. Four angels are placed on each of the four corners of the planet, and are holding back the four winds, so that no destruction can happen. Another angel commands them not to let loose the destruction. They have something else they need to do first, before the storm of judgment. First, they have to “put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”

The Bible describes a number of instances where people were marked to seal them for protection. The mark he gave to Cain was an example of that. No, the mark was not a sign of a curse. The Bible says “the LORD put a special mark on Cain so that no one who found him would strike him down” (Genesis 4:15).

We know three things about these 144,000 men. First, it is clear that they are all Jews, not Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fact, they are numbered by Jewish tribe so that the fact is evident to all (Revelation 7:5-8).

Second, we know that these men are sealed before God unleashes his storm of destruction. They are not protected from the first death. The purpose of their sealing is to protect them from the second death.

Third, I think it is important to realize that John himself would be among them. He was a Jew, and he witnessed a great number of Jews come to faith in Christ, and many of them paid for that faith by being put to death either by their countrymen, or by Rome.

When John saw this large group of Jews, he was reminded that in the Old Testament, God always kept a remnant for himself. These 144,000 are the Jewish remnant.

The second group he sees in the vision are all the people from all the nations who would come to faith in Christ as a result of the ministry of that Jewish remnant. The vision is progressing in time. We know that the original apostles were Jews, but Christ commissioned them to reach the nations. We know that the original worshipers at Pentecost were Jews, but the Holy Spirit empowered them to go back to the various places where they lived and be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Revelation 7 records the result of their obedience.

Those of us who are Gentiles have come to faith in Christ because that Jewish remnant pledged their loyalty and many gave their lives to bring the gospel to us. Because of their obedience to the call, we can know Christ, and will worship him forever.

But that is not the only reason we will worship the LORD forever.

We will also worship the LORD forever because he will give us permanent victory over sin (9b, 13-14).

Look at those white robes we will wear. I know that the color white represents purity in the Bible. The LORD told his rebellious people “Come, let’s consider your options … Though your sins have stained you like the color red, you can become white like snow; though they are as easy to see as the color scarlet, you can become white like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

White is also the color of victory. The book of Revelation associates a white horse with warfare and conquering (6:2; 19:11, 14). So, the white robes don’t represent those who have merely managed to stay pure. The represent those who have won the victory over sin.

This is made clear in today’s passage by a conversation John has with “one of the elders” in the vision.

“Then one of the elders asked me, “These dressed in long white robes – who are they and where have they come from?” So I said to him, “My lord, you know the answer.” Then he said to me, “These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb!” (13-14).

Our white robes are not our reward for staying good enough for God to save. Our white robes are the result of our forgiveness. We have been forgiven not because we repented and not because we were less sinful that others. We have been forgiven because of the blood of the Lamb.

John the Baptist described Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

We will struggle in this life to stay true to our Savior. We will fight to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). The world will want to give in to the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions. We will have to fight against its influence. But none of that fighting will cleanse our robes. That kind of cleansing is only available by faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

We will also worship the LORD forever because he will give us a kingdom that will never end (9c, 15c-17).

Don’t forget the palm branches. You know that folks waived palm branches when they welcomed Christ into Jerusalem. The religious leaders objected, because they knew that these palm branches represented the welcoming of a new king. They asked Jesus to silence his pep rally. But Jesus told them “if they keep silent, the very stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:40).

The palm branches are a visible symbol of praise. The fact that the vision depicts them shows that our desire for God and his kingdom to come down and be among us will one day be satisfied. You better believe we will worship.

The high priest asked Jesus “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus, “and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). He was referring to Daniel’s prophecy:

“I was watching in the night visions, “And with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man was approaching. He went up to the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. To him was given ruling authority, honor, and sovereignty. All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him. His authority is eternal and will not pass away. His kingdom will not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

Daniel saw a king coming in the clouds. Some day you and I will see that king coming in the clouds. So will that unbelieving high priest. So will all our neighbors. When he comes there will be only two responses. Those of us who know him now will worship him forever. Those who reject him now will call for the mountains to fall on them to hide themselves from his wrath.

He is our coming king – we will worship him forever.

He is our victory over sin – we will worship him forever.

He had saved a remnant who faithfully proclaimed his gospel, so we could hear it and be saved – we will worship him forever.

This is worship culminated. This picture of those involved in perpetual worship for eternity is a picture of us. May we stay true to that beautiful picture as we await his return.

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WORSHIP CLARIFIED

WORSHIP CLARIFIED

John 4:20-26 NET

20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But a time is coming – and now is here – when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ); “whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.”

During the month of October, we have been looking at the subject of worship. It was important for us to go back to the Old Testament because that is where the Holy Spirit began teaching God’s people about worship.

In our study of 1 Chronicles 16, we found out that worship was God’s idea, and that we can honor and appreciate people, but only God deserves our worship.

In our study of 2 Kings 21, we found that worship can be corrupted by inviting other gods into our worship, and by picking up practices of other religions and world-views and trying to worship our God the way they worship their gods.

There is a lot more that we can learn from the Old Testament about worship, so some day we are going to come back to it. But for now, we are going to focus on some New Testament passages.

You might remember that a few months ago, I asked the LORD to tell me what he wanted me to focus on in my preaching here in Piney Grove. I believe he answered that prayer. He told me to focus on the commands of Christ.

It makes sense to focus on the commands of Christ because when our Lord gave us his Great Commission, he told us to teach the nations to obey everything he has commanded (Matthew 28:20).

I wanted to do that systematically. The Bible says that “every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). I believe that every means every. So I don’t want to just stay in the familiar territory of the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament, because there is some useful teaching on Christ’s commands in the Old Testament.

So, what I decided to do was reread the Gospels, and every time I encountered something that Jesus commanded, I would write that down on the list. Each of those commands would become a topic, and my plan is to preach a series of sermons on each topic. I would start each series in the Old Testament, and conclude in the New Testament. Doing it that way might take a long time, but that’s alright. I’m not going anywhere.

So, that’s why we have rested today at John chapter 4. It is here that Jesus has his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. Here we learn that…

Worship is not the same thing as worship traditions (20).

This woman at the well understood something about worship, and it was something significant. She knew that worship was something that people fight over. She recognized that when you get a Jewish person and a Samaritan person in the same room, you don’t bring up the subject of worship.

She told Jesus that her ancestors have the tradition of viewing Mount Gerazim as a place of deep spiritual significance. She knew from the Old Testament that Mount Gerazim was where the blessings of the covenant were pronounced by the Israelites in Moses’ time. I don’t know how she – herself showed reverence for that mountain, but she probably had some traditional way of doing that.

I remember when I was living in the Philippines, the people there had lots of religious traditions. One of my favorites that I noticed is that some Jeepney drivers had a set of rosary beads hanging from their rear-view mirror. Whenever they passed a cathedral, they would reach out and touch those beads. Now, those drivers may have been alcoholics. They may have cursed like sailors. They almost always drove recklessly like crazy people. But if you wanted to get in a fight, say something about those beads.

In the church today, we have not outgrown the passion for defending our traditions when it comes to worship. Everybody has their own favorite kind of worship music and their favorite style of worship. Some are comfortable with the worship style they grew up with, while others want to do something new.

I’m not here to convince you that your favorite way of worshiping is wrong. I don’t have a style of worship that I recommend for everyone. I would recommend for all of us that we don’t get hung up on a particular style of worship.

My reason for this is how Jesus responded to this woman’s statement about tradition and worship. He told her that the Jews had a very good reason for focusing their worship at Jerusalem. But then he told her something important about the relationship between traditions and worship.

Traditions change, but worship should not (21).

Jesus told her that a time would soon come when it did not matter which mountain you were near. It would not matter which region you were from, or living in. Both the Samaritans and the Jews would be worshiping God based on something else besides tradition.

Both cultures had learned that three keys to proper worship were “location, location, location.” But both cultures would be transformed by something that would put an end to that kind of thinking. That something that both cultures would be exposed to was the gospel.

It took time for that to happen. The disciples were just learning the gospel from Jesus himself. Yet, they could not understand why Jesus had chosen to go through Samaria, instead of avoiding it.

Notice also what happened when the disciples came back from their trip into town to buy supplies. John records that they “were shocked because he was speaking with a woman” (4:27). The Jewish Rabbis had taught that it is better to burn the Law than teach it to a woman. That was tradition. They had taught that even a husband should not talk with his wife about the Bible and that such a practice could wind up sending them both to hell. That was tradition. This was particularly true in public. The Rabbis taught that a man should not greet a woman in a public place, not even his own wife. That was tradition.

Jesus comes along and blows that tradition out of the water. He is God’s Messiah, and our example. The God of the Bible created both Adam and Eve in his own image and blessed them both with minds capable of learning from him and following his commands. His word to children was “Listen, my child, to the instruction from your father, and do not forsake the teaching from your mother” (Proverbs 1:8).

But then Jesus went on to explain another thing about worship that both the Jews and the Samaritans were going to have to learn.

Worship has to be sincere, and traditions can hinder that (23-24).

He said “a time is coming – and now is here – when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Jesus said that the Father is looking for a certain kind of worshiper. This kind of worshiper is not going to be so easily identified. You will not just be able to go to Mount Gerazim and find him. You might not even find any in Jerusalem.

No, Jesus says the evidence of a true worshiper is that the worship is “in spirit and truth.” But what does that mean?

The only explanation Jesus gives is that he says that God is spirit. What does that mean in this context? In the previous chapter, John had recorded Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.

Jesus told Nicodemus that “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). If I were to show you a family photo with myself, Penny, and our three daughters, you would see a physical resemblance. Flesh gives birth to similar flesh.

But Jesus told Nicodemus that a person cannot enter the kingdom unless he is born of the Spirit. He said “The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). One thing you might not know is that in the original of that verse, the word for wind and the word spirit is the same Greek word.

Spirit is like the wind. It is real, but you cannot see it. It is not tangible. You can only see its effect on tangible things. So, someone who is worshiping in Spirit takes on the characteristics of God’s Holy Spirit. Those characteristics cannot be explained by that person’s fleshly heritage. They will have nothing to do with where that person is from in the flesh – Gerazim, Jerusalem – it does not matter. What matters is the Holy Spirit is the source of the worship.

Those worshipers worship in truth. This is the easiest statement in the whole text to explain. It speaks of authenticity. A hypocrite might go to Gerazim, and act like a worshiper. He might go to Jerusalem and act like a worshiper. The traditions can actually hinder true worship.

But here is something else John mentioned in chapter 3:

“Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God” (John 3:19-21).

So, to worship in truth is to allow the light of Jesus’ presence to expose your falsehood, and replace it with his truth. That is authentic worship. It does not pretend to approach God on one’s own merit. It allows the light/truth to change you on the inside. It is giving up my control and allowing God to be sovereign – even over how I worship him.

LORD, we want to worship you – your way. Expose the darkness of our own traditions and fleshly choices. Teach us how to let go and let your Holy Spirit move us where you want us to go.

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WORSHIP CORRUPTED





WORSHIP CORRUPTED

2 Kings 21:1-16 NET

1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned for fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother was Hephzibah. 2 He did evil in the sight of the LORD and committed the same horrible sins practiced by the nations whom the LORD drove out from before the Israelites. 3 He rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he set up altars for Baal and made an Asherah pole just like King Ahab of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the stars in the sky and worshiped them. 4 He built altars in the LORD’s temple, about which the LORD had said, “Jerusalem will be my home.” 5 In the two courtyards of the LORD’s temple he built altars for all the stars in the sky. 6 He passed his son through the fire and practiced divination and omen reading. He set up a ritual pit to conjure up underworld spirits, and appointed magicians to supervise it. He did a great amount of evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger. 7 He put an idol of Asherah he had made in the temple, about which the LORD had said to David and to his son Solomon, “This temple in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, will be my permanent home. 8 I will not make Israel again leave the land I gave to their ancestors, provided that they carefully obey all I commanded them, the whole law my servant Moses ordered them to obey.” 9 But they did not obey, and Manasseh misled them so that they sinned more than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed from before the Israelites. 10 So the LORD announced through his servants the prophets: 11 “King Manasseh of Judah has committed horrible sins. He has sinned more than the Amorites before him and has encouraged Judah to sin by worshiping his disgusting idols. 12 So this is what the LORD God of Israel says, ‘I am about to bring disaster on Jerusalem and Judah. The news will reverberate in the ears of those who hear about it. 13 I will destroy Jerusalem the same way I did Samaria and the dynasty of Ahab. I will wipe Jerusalem clean, just as one wipes a plate on both sides. 14 I will abandon this last remaining tribe among my people and hand them over to their enemies; they will be plundered and robbed by all their enemies, 15 because they have done evil in my sight and have angered me from the time their ancestors left Egypt right up to this very day!'” 16 Furthermore Manasseh killed so many innocent people, he stained Jerusalem with their blood from end to end, in addition to encouraging Judah to sin by doing evil in the sight of the LORD.

We have been studying what the Bible says about worship. We understand that worship is very important to Jesus. It is not something we can do without. We saw last week that worship is something we should do regularly, but we should reserve our worship for God alone.

Jesus affirmed this when he was being tempted by Satan. He said to the devil “You are to worship the LORD your God and serve only him” (Matthew 4:10). We can appreciate others and even respect them. But worship is exclusive to God.

One of the reasons for this is that God’s character and power are flawless. His glory is above all others. For that reason, Moses commanded Israel to worship God exclusively. But he knew that they would fail to do that.

God told Moses that “after I have brought them to the land I promised to their ancestors – one flowing with milk and honey – and they eat their fill and become fat, then they will turn to other gods and worship them; they will reject me and break my covenant” (Deuteronomy 31:20).

Worship would become corrupted.

This happened many times in the history of God’s people. Today’s text highlights how worship was corrupted during the reign of King Manasseh of Judah.

Manasseh corrupted the worship in Judah by copying the religions of the nations (1-5)

Notice that Manasseh’s father – King Hezekiah – had torn down the high places that the pagans had used for worship. So Manasseh cannot claim that he was just doing what his father did before him. He chose to undo Hezekiah’s reforms. His father had taken steps to purge Judah of its idolatry, but Manasseh reversed his policies.

Manasseh invited other gods and goddesses to take their place in Jerusalem, which God had specifically designated as his home. How would you feel if someone came into your home uninvited by you? Manasseh had no business inviting these other gods into the Lord’s home.

God had warned his people that if they tried to be like all the nations around them, they would suffer the same fate as those nations. Some of those nations had been destroyed when the Israelites came into the promised land. The Lord had warned Israel that if they became idol worshipers like those nations…

“I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars, and I will stack your dead bodies on top of the lifeless bodies of your idols. I will abhor you. I will lay your cities waste and make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will refuse to smell your soothing aromas. I myself will make the land desolate and your enemies who live in it will be appalled. I will scatter you among the nations and unsheathe the sword after you, so your land will become desolate and your cities will become a waste” (Leviticus 26:30-33 NET).

When it comes to worship, God does not want us to be like everyone else. He wants us to worship him exclusively and he wants us to worship him differently than all the other religions worship their gods.

In this modern age, there are two major ways we can follow in the footsteps of Manasseh and corrupt biblical worship. One is that we can borrow worship practices from other religions. We can sometimes be tempted to borrow practices from non-Christian religions and Christianize them. We need to be careful that we examine the origins of certain practices.

But there is another way we can corrupt our worship as Manasseh did. The most prominent religion of today is atheistic secular humanism. We can build our high places to the god of human progress. If it replaces our devotion and loyalty to the God of the Bible, it corrupts his worship.

But Manasseh went even further than this.

Manasseh corrupted the worship in Judah by encouraging demonic practices (6-11).

The king passed his son through the fire (in other words, he sacrificed one of his sons to the pagan god Molech) and he also practiced divination and omen reading. He set up a ritual pit to conjure up underworld spirits, and appointed magicians to supervise it.

He opened the door to every kind of demonic activity that the Lord had labeled detestable. If he had published newspapers, he would have put the daily horoscope in them. He hired palm readers, and people to hold seances. He had his own royal magicians. These were not illusionists and sleight-of-hand magicians. It was practitioners of the magic arts. When it came to corrupting worship, Manasseh boldly went where no man had gone before. He plunged his nation into the darkness.

Because Manasseh corrupted the worship of Judah, the LORD pledged to wipe Jerusalem clean (12-16).

God could not let this sacrilege continue. But notice that God was not only going to judge Manasseh. Since the king led the nation into corrupted worship, the whole nation would have to suffer.

Since Manasseh has invited false gods and Satanic magic into God’s house – God was going to have to do some house cleaning. He likened it to cleaning a plate on both sides. It doesn’t make sense to just clean a plate on one side, because if you stack the plate afterward, and it is still dirty on the bottom, it will dirty the next plate on the top.

God said he will destroy Jerusalem the same way he did Samaria and the dynasty of Ahab. He will wipe Jerusalem clean, just as one wipes a plate on both sides.

He used foreign empires to take away the kingdoms from those kings. He did that because he could not and cannot tolerate hypocrisy. He cannot allow those who worship other gods to pretend to worship him too.

James tells us to draw near to God and he will draw near to us. He tells us sinners to cleanse our hands. He tells us double-minded people to make our hearts pure (James 4:8). God hates all sin, but he particularly detests corrupted worship.

LORD, we come to you confessing that we have failed to worship you exclusively. Forgive us, LORD, and show us how to clean our hands of this sin-stain. Show us how to make our hearts pure, and our minds singular. We want to worship you the right way.

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WORSHIP COMMANDED

WORSHIP COMMANDED

1 Chronicles 16:28-36 NET

28 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the nations, ascribe to the LORD splendor and strength! 29 Ascribe to the LORD the splendor he deserves! Bring an offering and enter his presence! Worship the LORD in holy attire! 30 Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is established, it cannot be moved. 31 Let the heavens rejoice, and the earth be happy! Let the nations say, ‘The LORD reigns!’ 32 Let the sea and everything in it shout! Let the fields and everything in them celebrate! 33 Then let the trees of the forest shout with joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth! 34 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good and his loyal love endures. 35 Say this prayer: “Deliver us, O God who delivers us! Gather us! Rescue us from the nations! Then we will give thanks to your holy name, and boast about your praiseworthy deeds.” 36 May the LORD God of Israel be praised, in the future and forevermore. Then all the people said, “We agree! Praise the LORD!”

I want to begin today’s message with a very controversial and politically charged statement. I’m asking you to bear with me because I am not bringing this up just to ruffle feathers. I am not saying this as clickbait. I’m making this statement for two reasons. One, it is true. Two, it can illustrate something that is taught in today’s text about the subject matter of this series of messages.

Now that I have warned you so that you can be prepared, here is the statement: “BLACK LIVES MATTER.”

I call this statement politically charged because people generally have a political agenda behind using it. It is designed to make white people rethink their attitudes. It draws attention to the fact that it is very easy to ignore people who are different than you are and to devalue their existence. This is especially true if those people are a minority.

I don’t have a “BLACK LIVES MATTER” bumper sticker on my car, but I do believe that black lives matter. When I say that, though, I am not making a political statement. I’m making a theological statement. I believe that every human being matters because God created us all, and he created us all equal in his sight. For that reason, I am trying my best to erase from my heart the racial prejudice, bigotry, and fear that I learned growing up. I think that is only fair because when our Lord Jesus returns, he is not going to set up separate countries for separate races. If we are part of his kingdom now, we will be part of his kingdom then, and the color of our skin is not going to be the basis of our value to him. It shouldn’t be a basis for our valuing people now.

Jesus grew up among a people who had mastered the art of devaluing the other ethnic groups around them. The Romans looked down on everyone but Romans. The Jews hated the Gentiles, but they especially hated the Samaritans. The Jews would not associate with Samaritans. But Jesus walked into a Samaritan town one day and preached the gospel to a Samaritan woman at the well.

While they were having a conversation, the woman brought up the subject of worship. She said that her ancestors worshipped on Mount Gerazim, and the Samaritans still do. But she pointed out that the Jews insist that true worship must take place in Jerusalem.

But Jesus told her that true worship is not about the place where you go. It’s about your attitude when you are worshipping. He talked about worshipping the Father in spirit and truth. I’ll talk more about that conversation later in the series.

True worship was very important to Jesus. He commissioned us to teach others to obey all his commands. One of those commands is that we should worship the Father in spirit and truth.

Today I want us to look at this passage from the Old Testament because it was given in the context of the welcoming of the ark into Jerusalem as David was setting up his kingdom, and preparing for the worship in the temple which would be built by his son Solomon. It tells us that in Israel, people mattered because they were made in God’s image. But God mattered most of all. So, worship was not to be something that only a few religious people did. It was not a fringe activity. Because God matters most of all, worship was essential.

This Scripture helps us to understand why we need to worship God.

We must worship God because he is glorious (28-29).

The command was to “Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the nations, ascribe to the LORD splendor and strength! Ascribe to the LORD the splendor he deserves! Bring an offering and enter his presence! Worship the LORD in holy attire!”

Notice that even though this prayer was being prayed in Israel at a certain event, it was intended to reach beyond the borders of Israel and beyond the limits of time. It is a command to all the families of the nations. Every human being is commanded to acknowledge the glory of God.

His glory is described using two words in Hebrew. First, there is Kavod (כָּבוֹד) — a word signifying honor, splendor, and magnificence. Then, there is Oz ( עוֹז) — meaning strength. Together these words indicate that our God is the supreme being in both character and power. That is what we mean when we say he is glorious.

Human glory is always limited. There is always someone more honorable, more beautiful, and stronger. So we should not worship any human being. We should respect everyone and acknowledge the inherent worth of all human beings, no matter who they are or how old they are. But God is in a different category altogether.

We must worship God because he is sovereign (30-31).

“Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is established, it cannot be moved. Let the heavens rejoice, and the earth be happy! Let the nations say, ‘The LORD reigns!’ “

Ezekiel had a vision in which he saw four amazing living beings with wings and wheels. The wings and wheels depicted their ability to move wherever they wanted. Ezekiel was impressed by these four beings until he looked up, and over their heads was a sky, and then he looked above that and saw God himself on the throne, and fire and brilliant light was coming out of him. The vision showed Ezekiel who he should be impressed with.

Knowing that God is sovereign should produce two opposite reactions in us. First, we should tremble. We should fear God above all others. Jesus taught us that we should fear God, not those human rulers because all they can do is kill us. But God can destroy us completely in Gehenna. He’s the one we should fear.

But the second emotion this passage in 1 Chronicles encourages seems like a contradiction. It tells the earth to be happy. True happiness does not come from ignoring God. True happiness comes from submitting to his sovereign plan for our lives.

We must worship God because he is good (32,34).

“Let the sea and everything in it shout! Let the fields and everything in them celebrate! Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good and his loyal love endures.”

The sea and the fields are always celebrating God’s goodness. The abundance they share with us is a testimony of a loving God who has built provision in his creation. He did that even before he created us. He did that because he is good. Every harvest — whether it is fish from the sea or grapes from the vine — testifies to our Lord’s goodness. Every tithe check in the offering plate is our way of saying “Thank you God for providing.” Our worship is the least we can do seeing that God has been so good to us.

We must worship God because he will deliver us (33,35-36).

“Then let the trees of the forest shout with joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth! Say this prayer: “Deliver us, O God who delivers us! Gather us! Rescue us from the nations! Then we will give thanks to your holy name, and boast about your praiseworthy deeds.” May the LORD God of Israel be praised, in the future and forevermore. Then all the people said, “We agree! Praise the LORD!”

Now the trees of the forest are getting into the act. Their worship sounds strange coming from trees. They are praying for God to rescue them from the nations. They are promising to praise God for his rescue. Why would they say something like that? Because the LORD is coming to judge the earth. It is not just people whom the LORD will deliver. Jesus says he is making all things new. He has a plan to restore the universe to God’s original intention.

Paul told the Romans “that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now” (Romans 8:20-21). Even though the world around us is filled with amazing majestic beauty, it is also falling apart. Go to the forest, and you will see tall, stately trees, but you will also see fallen, decomposing trees. When you see that, remember that the trees are telling us that they also long for God’s new creation.

God is glorious. God is sovereign. God is good. God is going to rescue the universe. No wonder we are commanded to worship him.

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A NEW ACCESS

A NEW ACCESS

Ephesians 2:11-22 NET

11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh — who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed on the body by human hands — 12 that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, 15 when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, 16 and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, 18 so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20 because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

For several weeks now, we have been studying what it means to be reborn — to be born from above.

On August 8th, we discovered from the prophet Jeremiah that God intended to make a new covenant with Israel because the old covenant had been broken. We learned that the new covenant would begin with forgiveness. We learned that it would involve discipleship and that it would produce a change of heart.

The next week, August 15th, we learned more about the new heart God promised his people from the prophet Ezekiel. It would be an internal change, not just an external change. God would take the initiative and share his Holy Spirit by pouring it out on them. The Holy Spirit would enable God’s people to bless the nations by sharing the gospel of salvation with them.

The next week, August 22nd, we examined this promise more carefully by looking at Joel’s prophecy of a new outpouring, and its fulfillment in Acts 2 at Pentecost. We saw how this outpouring enabled the believers at Pentecost to reach the unsaved wherever they went — that it helped them to fulfill Christ’s prophecy in Acts 1:8. Reaching the Gentiles was God’s plan all along.

The next week, August 29th, we looked at Christ’s interview with Nicodemus. This passage is the basis for this entire series because it revealed Jesus’ command for us all to be born from above.

Last week, September 19th, Penny shared the ultimate result of being born again — that Christ plans on making a whole new universe, and living in that new universe is our ultimate destiny.

I want to conclude the series by talking about the new access that believers have today as a result of being born from above.

Christ gave us all access to God without rituals (11,18).

In verse 11, Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians that they were formerly “Gentiles in the flesh.” They were called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed on the body by human hands.

The ritual of circumcision set the Jews apart as a seperate people. It identified them as a people of a certain race and religion. It served as a means of identifying who had access to God and who did not. But Paul’s point was that circumcision was only a ritual of the flesh. As a ritual of the flesh, circumcision could not identify the new birth. It could not be the symbol of the new covenant. It could not reveal who had a new heart. It could not symbolize forgiveness.

In fact, no ritual of the flesh could do that. In verse 18, Paul says that through Christ both Jews and Gentiles have access in one Spirit to the Father. Access to God is not determined by the religious rituals one performs. It is determined by the relationship one has with God. This relationship is made possible through Christ — by means of what he did.

Since the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on both Jews and Gentiles, possessing the Holy Spirit replaced circumcision as the sign of access to God. Circumcision could not be the permanent sign for two reasons. First, it was a matter of the flesh and did not reveal the heart. Second, it only included half the population. It only applied to males.

The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is a sign of access to God, and is revealed by the power his gives us to minister in his name, as we pray for others, and share the gospel with others so that they too can be born from above.

Christ gave us access to citizenship in his kingdom together with all its perks (12,19).

Paul told the Gentile Ephesians that they were once “without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (12). It was a citizenship issue. Those who were citizens had access to all the benefits of citizenship.

Now, Paul tells them that they “are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household” (19). God’s kingdom work is done by means of his kingdom citizens. His family business is done by his household. Through Christ’s death on the cross, we all have access to citizenship in that coming kingdom. The Holy Spirit within us makes us part of God’s family and empowers us to do the family business — reconciling others to God.

Christ gave us access to the presence of God through his death on the cross (13, 16a).

Paul told the Ephesian Christians that now in Christ Jesus they who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ (13). God reconciled both Jews and Gentiles “in one body to God through the cross” (16a). The issue in both of those verses is the distance that sin puts between people and our holy God. When we are first born, we are born separated from God because of sin. That separation continues until we are born from above. When we are blessed with forgiveness, God welcomes us into his presence for the first time. Christ’s death pays for our sins and reconciles us to God, so that we can enter his presence.

Christ gave us access to peace by removing the barrier of the law (14-17).

Paul told the Ephesian Christians that Christ “is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility” (14). When we were born, there was a wall of partition between us and our creator. Christ destroyed that wall.

Paul explained to the Ephesians that Christ did this by nullifying in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. Christ did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. (15-16). The wall of hostility was the law itself. It was a barrier for all of us. Christ destroyed the barrier by fulfilling the law — both with his sinless life and his sacrificial death.

Paul told the Ephesians that Christ came and preached peace to them were far off and peace to the Jews who were near (17). The peace he had to offer was for everyone — both Jew and Gentile. This is the peace with God we can have if we accept the excellent message that Christ preached.

Christ gave us access to his eternal plan by making us part of his holy temple (20-22).

The temple in Jerusalem was a physical symbol of God’s presence among his people. But that temple was only a promise of the permanent temple that God plans for eternity.

Paul told the Ephesian Christians that they have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone (20). That permanent temple incorporates both Old Testament and New Testament saints. It is not a place, but a people. But because God’s plan is to manifest his presence in the hearts of his people, we can be thought of as his temple.

Paul told the Ephesian Christians that in Christ the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom they also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (21-22). The good news for us today is that God wants to be among us. But he does not want to merely reside in a building and be worshipped by people who can visit the site. He wants to reside in us, and that all of us can experience that building process that makes us holy enough for God to live in, and work his miracles through.