"What Is Worship?"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2001 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Now we're turning in our Bibles to Matthew's gospel and chapter 2. We have been in Matthew's gospel for some time now, studying the Sermon on the Mount, and then last week we were in Matthew again looking at the birth of the Lord Jesus and comparing the barren wombs of the Bible with the virgin birth of our Saviour. This morning what I want us to look at together, this Christmas Sunday morning, is 'Worshipping With The Wise Men', and we're looking at chapter 2 of Matthew and verse 1.
"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way".
Let us pray together: Our Father, we have not come into the Lord's house today, we are the Lord's house - a temple not made with hands. Our Father, we have come together gathered to the name of this Lord Jesus Christ, and we have come with the same endeavour as these wise men of the east, we come laden with the question 'Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him'. Our Father, help us to worship through the word of God, and help us by Thy Spirit to be drawn in adoration of Him who came into the world to save sinners. Amen.
'Worshipping with the Wise Men'. I wonder if I was to ask you today what would you say the primary activity and application of a Christian ought to be, what would your answer be? Is it to preach the gospel? Is it to serve the Lord in some capacity, whether every day in your workplace or on the mission field? Or is it to do good works, try to obey the Scriptures and the teachings of the Lord Jesus - after salvation of course? What is the primary occupation and activity of a Christian? Well, I think if we had to narrow it down to one specific activity, the Holy Spirit would guide us to John chapter 4 and verse 23 where we read these words: "The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him".
The Father, the Holy Spirit tells us, seeks worshippers. Surely as we scour right throughout the whole Scriptures we must find that, primarily, worship is the primary activity and occupation of the child of God here. In fact, it will also be our primary occupation, I believe, in heaven. If you think about it, we will probably not pray in heaven because we will be in the presence of the Lord Jesus. Probably we will not read the Scriptures, or not be given the privilege again of studying them in any depth, because we will be with the Word of God incarnate in glory. There will be no need to preach the gospel because all those there will have believed the gospel and will have entered into that true eternal life in all of its glorious realisation. We will not need to go to the mission field because everyone there will be a child of God, and will worship at the feet of the slain Lamb who has died for their sins.
Many things, we would have to say, that the church of Jesus Christ on the earth at present engages itself in down here will of necessity cease when we are translated to glory into eternity in heaven. But one thing that will remain is worship. If you like, down here now we are in an apprenticeship school, learning and practising what it will be to worship around the Throne - eventually, if you like, to graduate around the Throne of God and say with a loud voice: 'Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing', and what a day that will be! So worship, then, is not part of the Christian life, it is the Christian life.
So how do we fare? How do we measure up with regards to worship? What condition is our worship in? In fact, we would have to ask the question: what is worship? Is worship the singing of a hymn? Is worship singing choruses for an hour before we get a five-minute or ten-minute epilogue of the word of God? Is worship coming to a Sunday morning church family service like this? Is worship meeting around the Lord's Table and remembering Him in His death? Well, I would say that none of those things are worship. True, they can be done worshipfully, but they can also be done without worship - and therefore they are not the definition of worship, but things that you do perhaps when you are worshipping.
Perhaps the reason true worship is scarce in the church today is because we have mistaken it for these expressions of worship. People think that to worship is to sing: 'Let us worship together', and then they begin to sing - that is not worship. The preaching of the word of God is not worship. Meeting around the Lord's Table, intrinsically, of itself, does not equate with worship. Could it be that we have substituted outward rituals for what God says is an inward reality and expression called worship? We have to ask today, as we sing these carols, as we pray, as we praise God through the choirs and through the readings and in so many ways: how is our worship? Have we lost worship among all the trappings of expressions of worship? If we have lost her, where is she to be found? Would we recognise her if we saw her again? Perhaps it's that long since we met her that we have accepted a poor substitute for her without realising it?
What is worship, true meaningful worship? I looked it up in the Oxford English Dictionary, and it falls short. It defines it as this: 'Worship is homage or reverence paid to a deity, especially in a formal service. To attend public worship'. Now it does go on to say that it is an expression of adoration and devotion, which is a little bit nearer - but worship is much much more than a formal service, it is more than to attend public worship. This bad definition of the Oxford English Dictionary is probably because dictionaries tend to change in their connotation when words change. When the definition of words change, the dictionary has to change also. If I give you an example: your Authorised Version of the Scripture uses often the word 'conversation', now we in our day and age in the 21st century understand 'conversation' to only mean a verbal expression, a communication. If you look it up in the dictionary it will clearly state that it is only understood as a verbal expression, but yet in the Authorised Version of the Scriptures it describes a manner of life, your way of life. But that has ceased to be the meaning of the word, so the dictionary has changed in its meaning; the connotation of the word, the definition of the word has changed - and I would put forward to you today that the definition of the word 'worship' has changed in the Oxford English Dictionary because the church of Jesus Christ has lost what it is to worship.
It's hard to find her, worship has changed. True worship is hard to find. A W. Tozer, who wrote a very famous book called 'Whatever Happened to Worship?', says this: 'I say that the greatest tragedy in the world today is that God has made man in His image and made him to worship Him, made him to play the harp of worship before the face of God day and night, but he has failed God and dropped his harp. It lies voiceless at man's feet'. Worship is hard to define simply because it is a spiritual thing, you can't draw worship, you can't describe it with language, it cannot be analysed by the human eye or mind. It is hard to describe, and therefore the antithesis of that is: counterfeits are therefore very easily taken for the real thing.
If I was to define, or try to define, worship, I would say that it is adoration of God from our spirit. The body is sense conscious, it is what we communicate with the outward world with. We touch things, we feel things, and sense, smell, and look, and hear. The soul is your personality, if you like, it is the seat of your affections, made up of mind, emotion, and will - and that is where you are self-conscious, you know who you are and what you are. But the spirit is God-conscious, the spirit is that part of us that communicates with God and was created to communicate with Him in His likeness, for God is spirit. That is the part of you that is dead, cut off from God, severed from God by sin if you're outside of Christ, and that is the part of you that God's Holy Spirit has quickened and has brought to life in Christ - 'Ye who were dead in your trespasses and in your sins are made alive in the Spirit'.
It is to adore God from your spirit, the part that relates to God. A brilliant definition of it is given by Thomas Carlisle, he says: 'Worship is transcendent wonder'. Being caught up - 'transcendent' means 'above us, beyond us' - being caught up in wonder of someone that is beyond our capacity to understand and to grasp, to be taken up with the glory of God. Worship, my friend, that which we can do from redeemed hearts and from quickened spirits, is the highest occupation and function and activity known to man. The best, the most divine and holiest spiritual thing that you and I can do is to be worshipping God, overwhelmed by God, the thought of God, the greatness of God, the attributes of God - to be saturated in God is to worship God!
But yet words and definitions fail, and for that reason God gives us many pictures within the Scriptures of what true worship is, and one of the best I feel is found in the Nativity story that we've read together - these wise men from the east. There are three things that I want to leave with you today that teach us, lessons if you like, from the wise men on how to worship our Lord Jesus Christ. The first thing is this: the distance of worship. What I mean by the distance of worship is: there is a long journey from knowledge to worship. A long journey - some would say it's a very short journey, perhaps only 18 inches, from the mind to the heart - but really, you will know if you're saved that it's sometimes very difficult to get along that long journey from the mind to the heart. Therefore we have to say right away that worship is not knowledge. Worship cannot be knowledge. I'm sure that knowledge helps worship, I'm very sure that it aids in worship because the more we know and find out about God the more our hearts will be filled with adoration of His revelation to ourselves - but there is a long journey from knowledge to worship. There's a big distance, indeed a big difference.
Now, we know from Matthew chapter 2 that these wise men travelled from the east, but we know very little about them. We know this much: they must have known about the promise of a Saviour from heaven, they must have known that. They must have known that the King of the Jews was expected. If you look at verse 2, the first part, they said: "Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him". They had some type of knowledge, biblical knowledge perhaps of the Old Testament, of a promise of One who would come and deliver His ancient people Israel. So they had biblical knowledge. The second part of the verse tells us: "We have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him". They had astronomical knowledge, they were astronomers probably, and they knew by the constellations in the sky for that time of year that there was a promised King coming. They knew when they saw His star in the east that this spoke of a great deliverer, and indeed the King of the Jews, the Messiah of Israel. They recognised that particular star from the east.
But do you see, it wasn't enough? The knowledge wasn't enough, the biblical knowledge wasn't enough, the astronomical knowledge couldn't satisfy. It wasn't enough for them to know about it, or to know about Him. I'm sure, very sure, that when they saw that star they were thrilled, they were excited - and then when their mind rationally worked out that that star spoke of the fulfilment of biblical prophecies, they were so enthused and excited and overwhelmed! But that wasn't enough. These wise men wanted - yes, needed - to go further. They had to come to where He was, they had to see Him, they couldn't stay out of His presence any longer!
We're blessed today in the church of Jesus Christ with an abundance of biblical wealth. We know more about Christ and the Bible today than any previous generation, and perhaps even the generation of Christ Himself, we perhaps know more than even it. Yet, my friend, where is worship to be found in its truest sense? That knowledge is vital, and I do not decry it, but it is not worship. Your vast knowledge of the Scriptures brings no joy to the heart of God, no joy! John the apostle could tell us in his third epistle, chapter 1 and verse 4, he said with the Spirit of God inspiring him: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth". Knowing the truth is good, but what will bring true joy to the heart of Almighty God is when His own children, knowing the truth, walk in the truth - and the truth of God is this: God seeks worshippers.
That knowledge can give you a buzz, and I know all about that when I study day-by-day, and you know about it too. It can even lead you to an intellectual appreciation of God in some capacity of His great sovereign purposes and His economy in time, but please mark: that is not worship. Worship has to go the distance to be with Christ, to fall at Christ's feet, to adore Him in person. Their knowledge led them to the Saviour, I feel at times our knowledge has the potential of keeping us from the Saviour.
'Beyond the sacred page,
I seek Thee Lord.
My spirit longs for Thee,
Thou Living Word'.
You notice they weren't taken up with the biblical prophecies. They weren't titillated by the miraculous star in the skies, by the supernatural, but they wanted to worship. Now here's our question today: do we stop at the knowledge, or do we go on to the house of the child and worship? The distance of worship, there is a long journey from knowledge to worship.
The second thing that we learn from these wise men is the cost of worship. Simply that worship must be precious, in fact worship is costly. If you look at verse 11 you read there: "When they were come into the house", and you notice the difference between the account of the shepherds, because the shepherds came to the stable and the child was in a manger, but now two years - probably - have expired. The child is a little toddler, they are living in Joseph's house, not like the Nativity story that you know and see on the television and at schools today - this child was two years of age. They came to a house, not a stable. But as they come they fall at the Saviour's feet, and verse 11 says: "They presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh". What I believe the Holy Spirit is saying to us today is that the worship of the wise men was something that cost them. Worship costs you.
I think it's a common rule, and I think you would all agree with me when I say that which does not cost you anything is worth nothing to you. If it doesn't cost you anything it's not worth anything. But this worship of the wise men, it cost them, it was precious to them. The spirit of David can be seen here, I believe, when he said: 'I will not offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing'. I want you to picture this in your mind, these men are from the east - they weren't from down the road a few doors in Bethlehem. They had seen the star in the east, they had said to their wives perhaps: 'I've seen the star, I must go and worship the King of the Jews'. They perhaps kissed their children goodbye. After packing their bags, and getting on their camels, and journeying for two years perhaps, long days, long nights - and that cost them.
But that wasn't all, for worship is not just costly because you have to leave something, but worship is costly because you have to bring something to the Lord that costs you. It's not just leaving something, but bringing something. The wise men came to the Lord, but they brought a gift, a precious gift, a costly gift - and this, in the truest sense, is worshipping and ministering unto the Lord. Like Mary, as she breaks that spikenard and anoints the Lord's feet, and dries His feet with her hair - it is worship, ministering, serving the Lord. Can I ask you: do you bring something for the Lord with you when you come to worship? Do you give to the Lord that which costs you nothing? And, just a moment, I'm not speaking of money. Do we think we're doing God a favour by coming to church on a Sunday morning, or coming twice on the Lord's Day and singing the hymns, and listening to the sermon? My friend, worship is much more than that.
Imagine, if I asked you entering today in through the front door, or coming down from the Breaking of Bread: 'Now, what have you brought for the Lord today? What have you brought in your heart for the Lord Jesus Christ that is precious to you, that is a thought that He has given to you that is precious and that will well up your heart in worship?'. You might protest and say: 'Well, how can I give anything to the Lord? How can I possibly add in any way to the Almighty who is rich, the one who owns everything? He cannot be given anything He has not already, he cannot be added on to!'. Do you think the wise men, when they brought the gold and frankincense and myrrh, were bringing it to make the One who is infinitely rich even richer? Do you think that's why they were bringing it? Were they bringing the frankincense and the incense to make Christ an even sweeter savour to the nostrils of His heavenly Father? He could not be, so why where they bringing these gifts? They were bringing gifts that were suitable for a King!
Isaiah says: "The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD". That's why they brought them, because they were gifts worthy of Him, they were to show forth the praises of the Lord. Here's the key of worship: our worship and our praise to God doesn't add anything to God who is the recipient, but what it does is it shows forth the greatness of who He is! That is our chief occupation: to worship God, to praise God for who He is and what He is, that He will be precious to us - that will be precious to us, and it will be precious to Him.
Can I say to you: it will cost you. It will cost you time, it'll cost you energy, it'll cost emotion, it'll cost you feeling, it'll cost you tears and sorrow, it may even cost you pain - in fact, it will cost you your life, it will cost you everything! "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service", or as another translation says "which is your expected spiritual worship". It costs us everything, but it brings great joy to the heart of God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The distance of worship, the cost of worship and then finally: the focus of worship. In verse 11, at the very tail end of the verse it says: "and they fell down and worshipped him". When they saw, coming into the house they saw the young child - mark that - and then they saw Mary His mother, but they fell down and they worshipped Him. They saw Mary, the blessed mother of Christ, and she was the blessed virgin Mary - but they didn't worship her! They fell down and they worshipped Him. Oh, we can be so taken up with doctrines, with methods and mechanisms, and diagrams and all sorts of theological toys. Programmes of worship, programmes of all sorts, projects, building or building the church physically bigger - the people within it - we can be taken up with evangelism, we can be taken up the children's work, we can be taken up with singing and choirs and all sorts of things - but they came, they fell, and they worshipped Him! Peripherals and incidentals were pushed out where they ought to be, and they worshipped Christ. Mary's conception was miraculous, unique, unsurpassed, but it was nothing to the One whom she gave birth to - they worshipped Him.
Why did they worship Him? For as the ancient law said: 'Thou shalt worship no other god, for the Lord whose name is Jealous is a jealous God'. If this was a mere man they would have been rebuked as John was, as we've already heard today, as he fell before the angel in the book of Revelation, and the angel said: 'See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus' - that's the One to worship! You remember Paul and Barnabas as they went to Lystra, and they were preaching and they healed a man, and all of a sudden these Gentile pagans came and they started to bow down - they called Barnabas 'Jupiter' and Paul 'Mercury'. Then the high priest of Jupiter was going to come and make a sacrifice, and Paul and Barnabas rent their clothes, and said: 'We are but men of like passion with you, worship God!'. Worship God, adore. Worship is to adore and focus all our energies upon Christ, and the best way that we can worship God is to focus our spirits on the One whom God the Father has declared the Saviour, the One who being the brightness of His glory, the express image of His person and upholding all things by the word of His power - worship Him!
Are all our services centred on Him? Are all our daily lives lived for Him? Are all my sermons - God forgive me - focused upon Him? Is the crescendo of our song Him and Him alone? Does our life send out an incense, drawing all the glorious names of wisdom, love and power that ever mortals knew, that angels ever bore - all are too mean to speak its worth, too mean to set my Saviour forth. What do you think God sees when He looks down here today? As He sees into your heart, does He see worship as He did in the hearts of the wise men? There ought to be more than knowledge, there ought to be a pure, precious, costly savour ascending to heaven as we focus our sight and our spirit upon Christ, the Son of God, and Christ alone.
J.H. Baumberger (sp?) told the story of a man who was carried in a dream into a church. In his vision he saw the organist vigorously playing the organ, but no sound was heard in the vision. He saw the choir and the congregation beginning to sing, but their voices were not heard. Then the Minister began energetically to pray, but no tones came from his lips. The man then turned in wonder to his angel guide, and the angel said: 'You hear nothing because there is nothing to hear. These people are not engaged in worship, their hearts are not touched, and this silence is the silence that is yet unbroken in the presence of God. But listen now...', and listening the man heard a child's voice clear and distinct in all that silence. While the Minister seemed to pray, and these people seemed to join and sing and pray too, only the child's voice could be heard because only the child's heart was touched. 'That', said the guide, 'is the only true worship in all this great church today. All the others are concerned with are but the appearance of worship'.
We sang Martin Luther's carol 'Away in a Manger, No Crib for a Bed'. History tells us that Martin Luther, during the Reformation period, had prayer meetings and he would only admit children into them. How many worshippers will God find here today? How many worshippers in spirit and in truth will God find in our homes this Christmas time? We have worshipped Him today, I hope. I hope we will come tonight and worship Him again, and the rest of this year, and the rest of our lives - remember: the Father seeketh such to worship Him.
Our Father, we pray that Thou wilt make us worshippers who worship in spirit and in truth, and that when we come together and when we shut the door upon our closet in the home, that we will come like the wise men saying through the Holy Spirit: 'Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have come to worship Him'. Lord, we thank Thee for the prospect that we are learning down here for a day that is yet to come in a heavenly country bright, where there need be no created light, for Thou art its light, its joy, its crown, Thou its sun which goes not down - and there forever may we sing 'Hallelujah' to our King. We thank Thee for the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly, Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "What Is Worship?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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