Friday, October 9, 2015

Are We Missing Something?

I mentioned previously about our pastor’s current teaching series on prayer and the importance of beginning with God’s Word and incorporating worship.  Thinking more on these things, my mind returned to the general topic of worship, and how it, too, begins with God’s revelation of Himself.  Pulling out my copy of Worship: the Christian’s Highest Occupation, I noted that A. P. Gibbs gives seven characteristics of worship drawn from Genesis 22.
1.  Worship is based on a revelation of God.
2.  Worship is conditioned by faith in, and obedience to that Divine revelation.
3.  Worship involves a costly presentation to God.
4.  Worship necessitates a deliberate separation unto God.
5.  Worship predicates the absolute renunciation with self, in all its varied forms.*
6.  Worship glorifies God.
7.  Worship results in blessing to the worshiper.
Gibbs makes good points, but the list paints an incomplete picture.  Local assemblies to often have defaulted to the same general approach of worship: we perform rituals (singing, praying, giving money) to God to demonstrate our appreciation.  Those three rituals fall within the domain of worship, however they all are directed from man to God.  Scripture seems to indicate that the reverse direction is equally true.  To partially fill some missing gaps, we need to examine a portion of the Levitical system.

Moses gave a good summary of worship practice to the people of Israel before crossing the Jordan River:
But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lᴏʀᴅ your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, then to the place that the Lᴏʀᴅ your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the Lᴏʀᴅ.  And you shall rejoice before the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male servants and your female servants, and the Levite that is within your towns, since he has no portion or inheritance with you.  (Deut 12:10-12)
God promised to meet with His collected people who will be engaged in sacrifices, offerings, and rejoicing very much like a typical evangelical church service.  The reader may assume, “See?  All this giving with no receiving.”  But that view demonstrates an important, but often forgotten, function of offerings and sacrifices in worship—atonement.  In a section on the correct procedures for dealing with the blood, Moses instructs that it is not to be consumed, because it serves a holy use.
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.  (Lev 17:11)
By extension, then, all blood sacrifices make atonement.  This can be seen most plainly in the Guilt (Lev 4:1-5:13) and Sin (Lev 5:14-6:7) offerings, as well as the Day of Atonement (Lev 16).  Even the Burnt offering (Lev 1), considered the epitome of pure, costly worship, is an atoning sacrifice (Lev 1:4).  Our best is tainted with sin.  Over and again the instruction is given: the priest shall make atonement.

Our concept of the connection between atonement and worship is that sins are first covered, and then we are allowed to worship the Lord.  In a sense that is correct, because if no atoning sacrifice is given, no worship can be offered or accepted.  When the atoning offering is presented with the sin(s) of the person or people pronounced on the animal, it must precede the any other offering when they are brought together.  What we fail to apprehend is that offerings to atone for sin and transgression are as much worship as any other offering.  Through an understanding of guilt before God and the promise of His forgiveness, the sinner comes in an act of repentance with confession.  When forgiveness is pronounced, God has communicated His good gifts through the Levitical priest to the worshiper who, by virtue of his restored status before the Lord, is then allowed to present whatever other gift might be deemed appropriate for the occasion and to enter into the praise.

Jesus’ death on the cross fulfilled the need for further bloodshed by His final sacrifice for sin on the cross.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  That work is complete.  Sin is covered and guilt is removed for those who are in Christ Jesus.  That being said, is there a need for believers today to expect this atoning work to be accomplished in their lives as part of worship?  The atoning working work of Jesus, while completed, has eternal effects continually meted out, because He ever lives to make intercession.  I contend that God is still giving His gifts in worship.

When you go to worship, does sin interfere?  If you come repentant, desiring to confess because you bear a great guilt and can echo David's words:
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. (Psa 32:3-4)
As you are present in worship, do you receive the Lord Jesus in the bread and cup of Communion?  Do you come under conviction as God’s Law is preached, seeing your great need?  Confess the sin, and receive the Lord’s sure forgiveness.  Do you come in assurance of comfort and grace bought by Jesus’ perfect sacrifice?  Worship boldly, knowing that your worship, though zealous and sincere, is imperfect.  In each case, atonement is received.

 In this world Jesus’ atoning work never stops.  We always need it.  We look forward to a day, when the Lord returns and makes all things new.  Until that time, praise God that our Lord ever lives to make intercession for us.  We are a needy people.

*  Some of my readers will quibble on the validity of this point since nobody can absolutely renounce self.  I think the post will help address that concern.

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