Summary: Isaiah’s worship experience demonstrates to us four actions that should comprise the essence of our worship.
EXPERIENCING THE ESSENCE OF WORSHIP
It was to be a special Sunday morning – my brother-in-law was being ordained to the ministry at his home church. I was preaching and my wife would give special music. The auditorium in the church is long and narrow, with a platform, which has five steps to go up. We had the platform set up that morning with no pulpit and with the communion table at the back of the platform. The service opened with congregational singing, would continue with my wife bringing special music, my preaching, the ordination, and the service would close with communion.
My wife got up to sing, standing up on the platform. The song went well. Then, as she stepped down off the platform, she caught a shoe on one of the steps and fell, landing on her knees on the floor in front of the entire congregation. She was okay, so I proceeded to walk up the steps to the platform to preach, reached for a microphone and immediately dropped it as I prepared to speak. Despite the opening miscue, the sermon went fine, and we moved through the ordination to communion time.
The communion servers formed a semicircle around the communion table on the platform and began to pass each other the communion trays. One of the elders did a Frisbee-throw motion as he passed one of the bread trays down the line, and the communion bread landed on the floor. The recovered without many people knowing what had happened, served communion, and the service came to its conclusion.
I have sometimes wondered if my brother-in-law’s ordination was valid after those miscues. Should we have redone the service and got it right? What is the essence of worship?
We have a whole variety of worship experiences, some good and some bad, some go smoothly and some do not. How do we determine what is the essence of worship?
A.P. Gibbs, in his book Worship, discusses this in asking the question, “Is Christian worship simply Christianity Judaism?”
“Much of the so-called ’public worship’ in Christendom is merely a form of Christianized Judaism, and, in some cases, thinly veiled paganism.... In Judaism there was a separate priestly caste who alone could conduct the worship of Israel. In Christendom a man-made priesthood, called the ’clergy,’ is essential to its worship, in spite of the plain teaching of the New Testament that all believers are priests. These priests of Judaism wore a distinctive dress, as also does the clergy. Judaism emphasized an earthly sanctuary, or building. In like manner, Christendom makes much of its consecrated ’places of worship,’ and miscalls the edifice...’the house of God.’ Jewish priests had an altar on which were offered sacrifices to God. Christendom has erected ’altars’ in these ornate buildings, before which candles burn and incense is offered and, in many cases, on which a wafer is kept, which is looked upon as the body of Christ! It is hardly necessary to say that all this copying of Judaism is absolutely foreign to the teaching of the New Testament.
“Thus Christendom has initiated its own specially educated and ordained priesthood, whose presence is indispensable to ’administer the sacraments.’ These men, robed in gorgeous vestments, from within a roped off ’sanctuary’ stand before a bloodless ’altar,’ with a background of burning candles, crosses and smoking incense, and ’conduct the worship’ for the laity. With the use of an elaborate prepared ritual, with stereotyped prayers, and responses from the audience, the whole service proceeds smoothly and with mechanical precision. It is a marvel of human invention and ingenuity, with an undoubted appeal to the esthetic; but a tragic and sorry substitute for the spiritual worship which our Lord declared that His Father sought from his redeemed children.”
Isaiah 6 is a classic study in showing us the essence of worship through the experience of Isaiah. Uzziah had been king in Judah for 52 years. Although he was superficially effective and had secured the country from its enemies, built a very formidable army, tightened up its defenses, created economic productivity, and brought great external security, the nation was corrupt, defiled, wretched, and superficially worshiping God.
Socially, the government had brought prosperity to the land, but there was a rich class and a poor class that were deeply divided. Abuses and profiteering took place, along with extortion.
Politically, Judah was threatened by the Assyrians who were rising as a potent world power. Part of Judah wanted to make an alliance with Assyria; another part wanted to ally themselves with Egypt in opposition to Assyria. Isaiah called for them to trust God.
Religiously, the Jews had imported the religions of Palestine, and the prophets were too busy with strong drink to show any concern. They had lost all hope that the Messiah would ever come to deliver them as God had promised.