for True WorshipĒ
Is there a right way and a wrong
way to worship God? Yes,
there is. The right way to worship God is according to the truth.
The wrong way to worship God is according to our own lights.
On this Epiphany, when the church confesses Jesus as the Light
that has come to shine Godís grace upon us, it is only appropriate
that we consider how the Magi, or Wise Men, worshipped the new born King
of the Jews. Their worship
sets a fine pattern for Christians of every generation to follow.
God did not give to the New Testament church detailed instructions on
how to worship as he did for his church of the Old Testament.
We arenít bound by various days, seasons, or places.
When I was a boy, my dad used to serve at congregations that had
pastoral vacancies. I
remember one congregation that worshipped in a room at the local fire
station. A movable altar
and pulpit were put in place, along with folding chairs.
Of course, everything was removed after services were over.
During our Lordís conversation with a Samaritan woman at
Jacobís well, she tried to bait Jesus into an argument about whether
the Jews or the Samaritans worshipped on the right mountain.
Jesus replied: ďthe hour is coming when you will neither on
this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father . . . the hour is
coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in
spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.
God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit
and truth.Ē Worship is
never just going through outward motions.
It is always a matter of the heart.
Only those who have the Holy Spirit living within them and moving
them are capable of true worship.
While this worship is always an inward thing, there have always
been clearly identifiable outward signs of the true worship of the true
God. God is the only one
who can see the sincerity or hypocrisy of the human heart.
The whole world can see what the outward signs of the true inward
worship are. We leave it to
God to ascertain whose worship is and is not genuine on the inside.
We look to the Magi or Wise Men to see what true worship looks
like on the outside. It
involves four identifiable features.
First, it is according to Godís word, the Holy Scriptures.
Second, it is sacramental. Third,
it is Christ-centered. Fourth,
it involves the offering of the fruits of faith.
The Magi couldnít have found the new born King of the Jews unless the
prophet Micah had said that he was to be born in Bethlehem.
Without the written word of God we cannot know where God is or
how to worship him. You
cannot find Jesus your Savior without the Bible.
The chief priests and scribes of the people who were later to
turn against Jesus, denounce him, and agitate for his crucifixion
werenít so utterly devoid of spiritual discernment that they did not
know the Bible is Godís word. The
first thing we need to know about true worship is that it is based on
what the Bible says about God and about his only begotten Son, Jesus
Christ. The Church
doesnít decide for herself where Jesus may be found.
She looks to the written word of God.
She looks to the Bible. The
Magi were led by the words of the Holy Scriptures to Bethlehem where
they found their Savior and worshipped him.
Just so, we are led by the Sacred Scriptures today to find Jesus
and worship him.
Not only is true worship biblical, it is always sacramental.
True worship has always involved outward signs.
This is because God has always chosen to deal with people through
outward signs. Consider
Adam and Eve. He gave them
a sign in the Garden of Eden. It
was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
It was a beautiful tree. It
was a sign of Godís faithfulness.
When they ate of that tree contrary to Godís clear command they
denied God. On the other hand, when God clothed them with animal skins he
gave them another sign: that by the shedding of blood their sins would
be covered. God appeared to
Moses in the sign of a bush that burned without being consumed. God showed his presence to the children of Israel during
their wanderings in the Sinai wilderness by the sign of a cloud by day
and a fire by night. The
sign of circumcision was for the Old Testament church a sign of Godís
faithfulness. God has
always dealt with his people through signs.
A sacrament is a sign that God himself chooses and to which God
attaches the promise of grace. It
is God who chooses to deal with us through sacraments that he chooses.
It was God who sent the star.
God set the star as a sign to guide the Magi to their Savior,
Jesus. The star arose in
the East. So they traveled
westward. But the star
disappeared. It did not
guide them to where the Infant was until after they had learned from the
Holy Scriptures that he would be born in Bethlehem.
This is a very important lesson for us.
Only the Scriptures can determine for us when God attaches his
promise to a sign. Only God
can institute sacraments. The
church may not do so. She
may only receive in faith the sacraments that God himself institutes.
When the church presumes to establish her own sacraments, she
disobeys God and she sets her word as equal to or even greater than
Godís word. This is a serious matter.
For example, while the Bible teaches that the holy ministry is divinely
instituted, the Bible doesnít teach that ordination by a bishop loyal
to the Pope at Rome is the only way a man can enter into the office.
But the Roman Catholic Church insists that their so-called
ďsacramentĒ of ordination is necessary for a man to become a pastor
and administer the sacraments of Christ. In fact, while most Roman Catholic priests would be far too
polite to say so openly, their official doctrine is that when your
pastor consecrates the sacramental bread and wine at this altar those
elements remain only bread and wine.
Why is that? He
hasnít received an ordination of which their church approves.
They make Godís sacrament depend for its validity on an
ordinance that they have invented.
Our pastors are called and ordained and follow Christís
institution when administering the Lordís Supper.
Yet Rome denies that we have the true Lordís Supper because we
refuse to submit to their man-made rules about what constitutes
ordination into the holy ministry.
Thus a human ordinance sets itself up against a divine sacrament.
Many Protestants do the same thing.
Some Protestant churches deny to infants the sacrament that
Christ instituted and then administer instead a rite that God did not
institute. They bless or
dedicate their children to God instead of doing what God said should be
done. Yes, Jesus most
certainly did bless the little children.
But he didnít command his church to do so.
He instituted no sacrament of blessing or dedication.
He did institute the sacrament of Holy Baptism.
It is up to God, not the church, to institute sacraments.
It is God, not the church, who joins the sign to his gracious
promises and thus gives us sacraments.
God calls his church together by the washing of Holy Baptism.
God feeds his church with Christís body and blood in his Holy
Supper. These are divinely
instituted sacraments in which God himself joins a visible sign to his
gracious word. Just as the
star led the Magi to the manger, so Holy Baptism and the Lordís Supper
lead us to Christ. More
than that, they bind us to Christ.
They join us to Christ. They
give us communion with Christ. We should not look for Christ apart from
our baptism. We should not
neglect the Christ who gives his body and blood in the Supper.
God himself has joined signs to his promises in Christ and so we
seek Christ, as the Magi did, by seeking the sign God has given.
And this brings us to the third and most important feature of true
worship. It is
Christ-centered. In fact,
worship is impossible apart from Christ.
Apart from Christ we are nothing but sinners who fall short of
Godís glory and stand condemned by Godís law.
Apart from the blood of Christ, shed on the altar of the cross to
pacify Godís wrath and purchase our freedom from the curse of the law,
we remain cursed, condemned, and without hope.
When we have Christ, we have forgiveness of all our sin, peace
with God, true light, and the guarantee of eternal life.
Worship that excludes Christ is false worship.
We know little about the Magi or Wise Men.
Perhaps they were astrologers who hailed from Persia, what is
today called Iran. Maybe
they were Wise Men Ė philosopher-scientists Ė from Babylonia, what
it today called Iraq. Who
knows? We donít know how
many there were. Three is
only a guess Ė based on the number of gifts they gave to Jesus.
There could have been a dozen of them.
What we do know about the Wise Men is that they traveled a long
way to see Jesus. They
could have stayed at home. They
could have prayed all alone in their houses.
They could have offered praise to God without travelling one
mile. But they didnít.
They had to go to where Jesus was.
They traveled many hundreds of miles.
Their journey wasnít a matter of days.
It was weeks, perhaps even months.
They had to go to where God had revealed himself.
They had to go to Jesus.
God the Son had just assumed human flesh and blood in order to redeem
all human flesh and blood. The
Wise Men were wise enough to see their need for forgiveness.
They were sinners in search of a righteousness that would make
them fit for heaven. They lived among idolaters who worshipped various false gods.
They lived among the sexually immoral, the vainly materialistic,
and pleasure seekers who cared mostly about doing what feels good to do.
Things arenít so much different today for us.
We are influenced by our culture to fall into and follow our
lying hearts. We need
Jesus. We need his
righteousness to cover our sin. We
need to be justified by God. That
is, we need God to forgive us all of our sins and to regard us as
saints. We need this, and
only Jesus can meet this need. We
need to go to where Jesus is. Only
there can we worship God. Non-Christian
worship is false. It sets
human sin before God as if God should honor it.
It offers God bribes, lies, and false promises, as if God is some
kind of fool who can be conned by sinful men.
The only worship that is truly worship Ė that means ascribing
true worth and glory to God alone Ė is the worship that looks for God
in Christ. True worship
sees God in the manger. True
worship sees God nailed to the cross. But since God is no longer in the manger and God is no longer
hanging on the cross, true worship today seeks Jesus in the pure
preaching of his gospel and in the right administration of his
sacraments. True faith
relies on the true word of God, trusts in the signs or sacraments that
God gives, and receives Godís verdict of acquittal by trusting in
Jesus who won that precious verdict for us all.
And then true faith offers itself back to God in concrete giving.
True faith knows what is precious in Godís sight.
It surely isnít gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
But faith is. The
faith that God has elicited, established, nourished, and preserved in
our hearts is more precious than the finest gold or the costliest
perfumes and spices. These
gifts were the confession Ė the concrete affirmation of faith Ė that
the Magi needed to offer God. Their
gold confessed that Jesus was the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Their frankincense confessed that all prayers to God the Father
must ascend to the throne of grace only through Christ his only begotten
Son. Incense is symbolic of
prayer. Their myrrh
confessed that Jesus would die for them, and they brought the spice to
anoint his body in the grave.
We confess the faith by coming to church for God to give us forgiveness
through his gospel and sacraments.
We confess the faith by telling anyone who asks us what we
believe about Jesus and why we believe it and why he or she should
believe it too. We confess
the faith by inviting friends and family to church to meet the Jesus
whose blood has redeemed them and whose Spirit would call them to faith
and keep them in faith. We
confess the faith by giving offerings of money, a portion off the top of
what God has first given to us. This
gift acknowledges that we need Jesus more than we need our money.
God accepts these fruits of faith and he cherishes them and
blesses them. The God who
withheld nothing from us that he loves, but gave his dearest Treasure,
condescends to accept from us our unworthy offerings.
He makes them worthy. He
does so by making us worthy. He
does that by justifying us, by reckoning to us the pure obedience of his
Son even as he reckoned to his Son all of our sins.
True worship is when we believe this.
May the God who has called us to this faith keep it alive and
well through the word and the sacraments he has graciously given to his
church on earth.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus
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