Summary: What are some ways we try to make worship better? The answer is closer than you think! (15th Sunday after Pentecost)
A BETTER WAY TO WORSHIP (Romans 12:1-8)
Introduction: We have been discussing, as we work our way through Romans, how in the past the people of God had consisted of only one nation: the nation of Israel. Now, because Jesus’ life-saving work of redemption applies to all people, God’s promised forgiveness, life, and salvation are a free gift to everyone who believes. The new people of God includes believers from all over the world!
Next, we heard Paul’s own wonderful expression of praise: “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever.” This beautiful doxology was inspired by the wonderful revelations he was receiving from God as he wrote the book of Romans, particularly about the mercy of God in sending His Son to be the Savior of the world.
In Romans 12, the thought expands to our worship life. Because of Jesus, worship now includes our entire life, which is lived as a grateful response to God’s tender compassion in Jesus our Lord!
I. The contrast between the worship of the Old Israel and the New Israel.
A. The worship life of the Old Israel:
1. It was law-centered. There were certain requirements that had to be met: what, where, when, and how sacrifices were to be offered.
2. It was an imposed form of worship. Obedience to the requirements of the law was based on threat of possible consequences, or even punishment.
3. It was an external, symbolic kind of worship. It involved the performance of certain rituals according to prescribed rules and regulations.
4. It was an incomplete kind of worship; nevertheless, the rituals were beneficial in the sense that they pointed to, or foreshadowed certain aspects of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world. Just think—what would it take for all of the daily animal sacrifices that the people of Israel offered generation after generation to be replaced by one supreme, perfect, all-encompassing sacrifice? Only God could do such a thing. But through Jesus, that’s exactly what He did!
B. The worship life of the New Israel:
1. It is founded on the mercy of God—his tender compassion. One person described compassion this way: “your pain in my heart.” Jesus came to take our pain—the pain of our sin, guilt, and death, upon himself. This understanding of God is truly unique to the Christian faith. Illustration: According to an old legend, a man became lost in his travels and wandered into a bed of quicksand. Confucious saw the man’s predicament and said, “It is evident that men should stay out of places such as this.” Next, Buddha observed the situation and said, “Let that man’s plight be a lesson to the rest of the world.” Then Mohammed came by and said to the sinking man, “Alas, it is the will of God.” Finally, Jesus appeared. “Take my hand,” He said, “and I will save you.”
2. It is an inspired form of worship. Since Jesus has already kept and fulfilled the law perfectly on our behalf, we don’t worship God to as an attempt to impress him. Instead, our worship is an expression of thanks and praise to God for what he has done and still does for us through Jesus, His Son. Actually, God is the one who has made an impression on us—like an old-fashioned wax seal, all those made new in Christ now carry His image. We show our gratitude to God by reflecting that image—not just with our lips, but with our whole lives. The transformation God has produced on the inside—in our mind, our attititude, our thoughts—gradually works its way through to the outside and is seen in our actions.
3. Now, there is still some degree of ritual and tradition in the worship of New Testament Christians today. This can be a good thing, as long as it is accompanied with a living, fruitful, productive faith. Tradition is the faith of Christians who, though they are now (physically) dead, is still alive in us today; traditionalism, however, is the dead faith of Christians who are still (physically) alive!
4. It is a complete form of worship. In Word and Sacrament, we receive through faith the full benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection: the forgiveness, life and salvation that he won for us! No further death is needed. In a sense, we do die to our old, sinful nature, but this is something that God himself works in us by His Spirit through our Baptism. The point is that God no longer requires a death to make up for our sins. Instead, he has much more use for Christians with a living faith, who are very much alive to thank, praise, serve and obey him. That is why Paul writes, “Offer your bodies as living sacrifces.” When we do this, we often find—by God’s merciful grace—that He has much more in store for us than we could ever offer him.