Monday, September 16, 2013

With Reverence and Awe

I drove past a church in Richmond last week that had a sign which read: "Worship just got better.  Casual.  Contemporary.  Comfortable."  Now when I read more on this church's website, I think their worship might still be pretty legitimate--that is, centered upon God's word to us in the gospel, led by the Holy Spirit, for the sake of exalting God's name through Christ our Lord.  But should we expect worship to be casual and comfortable?

Actually, if we stop and are honest, many of us might use words like mundane or boring.  How many of us can resonate with something so un-noteworthy as a group of ordinary folks sitting around as the preacher goes on and on about Melchizedek-this or Shechem-that ... and you start daydreaming ... and fall asleep. (This was even true when the Apostle Paul taught; see Acts 20:7-9.)

But Jesus reminds us that "where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them" (Matthew 18:20).  Now, in context he is saying this about the leaders of the church in exercising church discipline.  But in doing so, Jesus says that whatever they do on earth is also happening in heaven (see Matthew 18:15-20).  When the church gathers on earth, she is also meeting in heaven.

In Hebrews 12:22-24 we see an even more vivid portrait of what happens when the saints gather:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly [or church; Greek ekklesia] of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
This is a present reality for the gathered church: you have come (v. 22).  Thus the author concludes with this exhortation: "See that you do not refuse him who is speaking.  For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. ... Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire" (vv. 25, 28-29; see also Psalm 50).

"There I am among them."  What should we expect when Jesus comes in the midst of his people?  What should worship look like?  Again, probably it will appear to our eyes very normal to us most of the time.  But we should never fail to remember that our Lord is active in our midst as one "from [whose] mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and [whose] face was like the sun shining in full strength" (see Revelation 1:12-20).

Source: Wintley Phipps, 
When we believe that Jesus is a living person present with us in our worship, we should expect more to be shaken than to be comfortable; we're encountering heaven.  Church gatherings like those we see in the New Testament begin to take on a new light:

Praying saints are shaken and filled with the Holy Spirit to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31).

The power of the Lord Jesus is present (1 Corinthians 5:4).

Sinners are forgiven and the sick are healed (James 5:14-16).

The dead are raised to life (Acts 20:7-12).

Unbelievers are convicted of sin, the secrets of their hearts are exposed, and they fall on their face in worship because God truly is present (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).

Believers participate in the benefits of the crucified and exalted body and blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16).

Sin-sick and life-weary hearts are refreshed and given hope (John 7:37-39; Acts 3:19-20).

Here in September, in the time between Pentecost and Advent, the church calendar says we're in "ordinary time."  However, right worship is anything but ordinary.  Or casual.  Or comfortable.

1 comment:

Halfmom said...

I particularly like this one, "Sin-sick and life-weary hearts are refreshed and given hope (John 7:37-39; Acts 3:19-20)." because that is what corporate worship did for me yesterday. It lifted my sad and heavy heavy heart for a while and reminded me that reality - or what seemed like reality to me - wasn't really reality at all. That what was going on in heaven, things that I could not understand or see, those things were reality and I just needed to trust that God had it all under control.