Summary: Why do we worship God? Deut.6.4-12 gives us some answers.
In the US there was a well known preacher called Henry Ward Beecher. His congregation was packed every week and many visitors came to hear him preach. One Sunday he was away from his home congregation and his brother was filling in for him. When his brother walked out to begin the service many people realising it wasn’t HW Beecher got up and left. This is what his brother said in response as they left: “Would all those who came to worship H W Beecher please leave. Would those who came to worship Almighty God please be seated.” We may find that humorous but you there is actually a great deal of truth contained in that story. Why do we come to worship each Sunday? What is it that draws us here week after week? When we come are we coming to worship Almighty God? Is that the priority of our hearts this morning? Why do we so easily skip worship? Is worship just the singing or is there more to it than that? Well this morning I am going to try and bring to you some biblical understanding of worship.
As we begin this morning let me give you a definition of the word ‘worship.’
Worship = attributing ultimate worth to something or someone. We make something the object of worship when we make the pursuit and enjoyment of it the overriding aim of our lives. Worship gives direct expression to the ultimate purpose for living.
Turn with me to Deuteronomy 6.4-12, page 185 of the church bible. Deuteronomy means ‘second law giving’ and is basically three sermons by Moses recalling the deliverance from Egypt and the journey in the wilderness to the borders of the Promised Land. It ends with Moses final words to the people of Israel and his death. It exhorts the people of Israel to obey the Law of God and not to forget God, nor their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, when they enter the Promised Land. Chapter 6 is part of the first sermon preached by Moses to the people of Israel on the banks of the Jordan as they looked over to the Promised Land.
Turn to verse 4 and the first sentence. The first word ‘Hear’ gives the Hebrew title to these verses – ‘Shema.’ This is one of the first things that Jewish children are taught at home. Moses calls them to listen to what he is about to tell them. This is like the sergeant major barking out ‘attention’ on the parade square – everyone jumps and no one speaks. Look at the first thing which Moses declares to them concerning God, read verse 4. The uniqueness of God is expressed and the unity of God is declared. Their attention is focused first on who God is – ‘the Lord our God.’ Here is the first thing we learn concerning worship – the focus of worship is God.
I want you to watch a video clip (It’s all about me video clip). Again we can find that humorous, it would make a good skit for a concert. I know it was a complete send up of worship songs and worship leaders but again there is a fundamental element of truth in it. When we come to worship Almighty God we need to ask ourselves ‘Who am I focusing on?’ Moses called the attention of the people first and foremost to God. When we come to worship our focus is on God – it is not on ourselves or those around us. Why is our focus to be on God first – because Exodus 20.5 tells us that God is a jealous God and He will not share His glory or honour with anyone or anything else. So let me ask you: “When you come to worship is God the primary focus of your heart and mind?” Israel was called to attention and their hearts, minds and gaze was directed towards God.
Verse 5 Moses then directs them to love the Lord God and this is actually central to an understanding of the book of Deuteronomy and also to worship. The rest of the book of Deuteronomy is actually a commentary on this command to love God. The injunction to love God is actually based on the precedent of God’s all encompassing love towards them, and us. Ultimately this love was seen in their deliverance from the slavery of Egypt and now the Promised Land. For us it is seen in the Cross of Christ where God’s love for a sinful world was revealed in the death of His only begotten Son that we might be delivered from the slavery of sin and brought to the Promised Land for all eternity. So our attention is focused on God and we are called to love God – but look how we are to love God. It is not a sentimental or emotional love but a love which encapsulates everything we are. The all embracing love of God is responded to by an all encompassing love for God in obedience. So when we come to worship God it is to be all encompassing. We are to worship God in the totality of our being. It is not that we section off a little part of our lives and leave it to one side we come to worship God. Worship should engage our intellect, our emotions and our souls. Hence in John 4 Jesus tells the Samaritan women that those who worship God must do so in ‘spirit and in truth.’ Worship engages our souls. Worship is not just a physical or emotional act but is at its very core ‘spiritual.’ Hence Mary could say in Luke 1.46-7 ‘that her soul magnified the Lord…’ Even though Moses calls them to love God with all that they are – genuine worship is not worked up within themselves. Genuine worship is always a response to the presence of God. Mary responded to God’s call on her life to be the mother of Christ. Let me read to you some verses from Hebrews 12.18-24. When we see God as He is then we respond to His presence. Genuine worship is the outpouring of our hearts in response to the realisation of who God is and of the experience of His presence. Let me read again some verses from Hebrews, this time Hebrews 10.19, 22. In the OT, under the old covenant access to the presence of God was limited and restricted to certain individuals at certain times. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and then only once a year. But Hebrews tells us that now access is no longer limited and no longer restricted and therefore in worship we enter directly through Christ into the presence of Almighty God. We enter directly into the holiest of holies through the blood of Christ and come into the presence of God. We draw near to God in worship. For the Hebrews who were listening to Moses they knew that access to God was limited and restricted. They knew that they could not enter the presence of God without the shedding of the blood of an animal and even then it was done for them by the high priest. Our high priest, Christ Jesus, shed his own blood for us so that we could have unlimited access to God. We enter the presence of God in worship, not on our own merit but through the blood of the eternal covenant of Christ Jesus. So remember that when you come to worship – you are drawing near to the presence of almighty God. Mindful of that we should not rush in. As the synagogue on Somerton Road has above the ark – ‘know whom before you stand.’