Before one Israelite settled in Canaan, God through Moses made two things abundantly clear about their sacrificial worship assemblies. Their sacrificial worship would be distinctly different from the idolatrous worship of the Canaanites. Their worship would be distinctly different because their God was distinctly different.

First, Israelites in Canaan would offer sacrificial worship at only one location, and God Himself would pick the location (Deuteronomy 12:5,11,13-14). They could not assembly just anywhere and offer sacrificial worship. They could not individually do their "own thing" and offer sacrificial worship at a place they individually preferred. Assemblies for sacrificial worship occurred at the place God selected, and only there.

Second, all the men of the nation were to assemble for sacrificial worship at this place three times a year (Deuteronomy 16:16). Those three times were the feast of unleaven bread or Passover; the feast of weeks also known as the feast of harvest or the feast of first fruits and much later Pentecost; and the feast of booths also known as the feast of tabernacles or feast of ingathering.

That says to me Israel was a very small country. Women and families were not excluded, just not commanded to make the pilgrimage. If every man had to make this pilgrimage to a single place on foot or donkey, it had to be a small area.

After Israel became established as a people in Canaan, the pilgrimages began. Thousands upon thousands of people walked to this place for a huge worship assembly. As Israel grew in numbers, the numbers of people who made the pilgrimage grew--tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and maybe even a few million by the time of the Jesus' life. Evidence strongly suggests that after Jerusalem became that designated place, singing became a part of the pilgrimage. As people neared Mount Zion and the Jerusalem temple, the hills and the valleys would echo the sound of thousands of people joyfully singing. One of their songs we know as Psalm 122.

Psalm 122:1-9 I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord." Our feet are standing Within your gates, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that is built As a city that is compact together; To which the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord--An ordinance for Israel--To give thanks to the name of the Lord. For there thrones were set for judgment, The thrones of the house of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: "May they prosper who love you. "May peace be within your walls, And prosperity within your palaces." For the sake of my brothers and my friends, I will now say, "May peace be within you." For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.

I wish I could hear the sound of thousands upon thousands of joyful voices singing as they approached Mount Zion. I know my reaction to that sound. The hairs on my head would strain to stand on end. Chills would run over my whole body. Tears would fill my eyes and flow down my cheeks. I know that would happen because that is what happens today when I hear Christians full of joy sing praise to God.

  1. When Jesus was crucified as God's sacrificial Lamb and resurrected to life again by God, an amazing transition occurred.
    1. The complex worship of God that involved a specific place with specific rituals and procedures conducted by specific people in the tiny nation of Israel became the worship of God among the nations with no emphasis on place or rituals or people in charge.
      1. In Israel worship involved joyful hearts filled with gratitude and thanksgiving.
        1. But it also involved a place,
        2. And, when the temple was built, a building,
        3. And, when animals were sacrificed, ritual procedures,
        4. And priests to conduct the rituals and supervise the procedures.
      2. When Jesus Christ was received as Lord by believers who were Jews and who were not Jews, worship still involved joyful hearts filled with gratitude.
        1. But a specific place was no longer essential.
        2. A specific building was no longer essential.
        3. Animal sacrifices were no longer essential.
        4. Rituals no longer played a key role.
        5. Priests no longer had to supervise.
        6. Worshipping God was simple and could occur anywhere among those who belong to Jesus Christ.
    2. The basic objective in worshipping God remained unchanged: worship declares we are God's people who exist to praise God and encourage each other.
      1. The complete concept of worship is not limited to set acts and procedures, or an assembly, or a group activity.
        1. If I had time, I could explain why the complete concept of worship was never limited.
        2. Even in Israel hundreds of years before Jesus was crucified and resurrected, both Moses and the prophets explained worship was an existence based on a heart and behavioral response to God.
        3. We collectively gather here this morning to honor and thank God for what He did and does for us in Jesus Christ.
          1. Our gathering also affirms our desire and will to be God's people.
          2. Not only do we seek to honor God, but we seek to encourage each other as we dedicate ourselves to being a community of God's people.
      2. But worship does not begin and end with an assembly in this building.
        1. We collectively gather to praise our God and honor our Savior.
        2. We collectively gather to reaffirm our commitment to each other as a community of God's people.
        3. But worship is equally about who we are everyday and how we live.
        4. When Paul made this statement in Romans 12:1,2,
          Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
          he was stating in terms they readily understood that every aspect of every day of life is a worshipful offering of self to God.
        5. It is impossible to worship God at an assembly on Sunday and willingly use your life and body for evil the rest of the week.
        6. While a definite expression of worship occurs in our assemblies, for the Christian all of life is involved in worship.

  2. I want to share two things that distress me spiritually about common concepts of worship styles.
    1. Concern #1: the tendency of some Christians to compartmentalize life.
      1. In this view, worship is strongly associated with a set procedure in an assembly of Christians on Sunday.
        1. Spiritual life is viewed primarily by what occurs in that assembly.
        2. That religious compartment is regarded as so unique that people are declared to be faithful or unfaithful on the basis of attendance and activities in that assembly.
      2. That religious compartment of life is absolutely essential, non-negotiable.
        1. No matter what else you do in your life, you must be in that assembly.
        2. You can do some horribly evil things with your life Monday through Saturday, but do not dare even consider missing that assembly.
      3. Thus worship is viewed primarily as the activity of an assembly on Sunday, and worship occurs in set procedures at a set time.
      4. BUT, family is a different compartment, work is a different compartment, real life is a different compartment, and fun is a different compartment.
      5. And there is a natural, significant separation between the church activity of worship and those other four compartments.
      6. Christianity is never viewed as a whole life existence [which is the common view of the New Testament].
    2. Concern # 2: the tension that exists between two basic worship concepts.
      1. Concept one: worship is a serious occasion to be approached with reverence [and there are specific definitions assigned to "serious" and "reverence"].
        1. Reverence demands that you be solemn, quiet, and reserved.
        2. Reverence is expressed by reserved actions and silence.
        3. The Bible statements that speak to these Christians are:
          1. Habakkuk 2:20 "But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him."
          2. Revelation 8:1 When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
        4. Christians who prefer this worship style think the nature of worship should be more like the solemness of a funeral.
        5. I personally have no doubt that if we actually saw God this very moment, there would be silence unlike anything you have ever heard.
      2. Concept two: worship is a joyful occasion to be approached with celebration.
        1. You feel God's grace, and you rejoice.
        2. You feel God's forgiveness, and you give thanks.
        3. You feel God's mercy, and you show your gratitude.
        4. You feel blessed, and you declare it.
        5. This conviction focuses praise on the wonder of God's glorious work in Jesus' cross and crucifixion, and Christians declare their gratitude.
        6. The Bible statements that speak to these Christians include:
          1. Psalm 5:11,12 But let all who take refuge in You be glad, Let them ever sing for joy; And may You shelter them, That those who love Your name may exult in You. For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O Lord, You surround him with favor as with a shield.
          2. Acts 2:46,47 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
          3. Christians who worship in this manner think of worship as being a celebration of God's glorious works.
          4. I personally have no doubt that if we in this audience heard God tell us, "Well done, faithful servants. Enter into the joy of your Lord" (Matthew 25:23), there would be rejoicing in this room unlike anything you have ever heard in your life.
      3. "And which worship style is right?"
        1. Neither and both.
        2. No matter which style a person uses, if his or her heart is not honoring God, it is not worship. And it does not matter if it is quiet as a tomb or a gigantic celebration.
        3. But, when hearts honor God, both styles are worship.
    3. Something is happening among Christians that makes Satan laugh and God grieve.
      1. "I believe that Jesus is the resurrected Lord and Christ. Do you?" "Yes, but I reject your worship!"
      2. "I have redirected my life and seek to belong only to Jesus. Do you?" "Yes, but your worship makes me sick!"
      3. "I have been baptized into Christ to let God destroy my sins and to place Jesus on the throne of my heart as my Lord. Have you?" "Yes, but your worship is ridiculous!"
      4. "I am trying to live a godly life and be a godly person. Are you?" "Yes, but your worship is disgusting!"
      5. And every time Christians hold those attitudes toward Christians, Satan laughs and God grieves.

In this room, we are different people who live in very different worlds. Some of you ladies never have been sexually propositioned. Some of you ladies are commonly sexual targets. Some of you men do not work with men who relish a sexual conquest. Some of you men hear men talk about sexual conquests frequently. Some of you would not know marijuana smoke if you smelled it. Some of you are tempted to smoke marijuana every week. Some of you never drank a beer. Some of you commonly must do business on occasions when everyone is drinking. Some of you have never been abused, or rejected, or neglected, or ridiculed. Some of you endure abuse, rejection, neglect, or ridicule every day of your life.

Right here right now there are teens, and men, and women whose lives are a war zone every single day. They struggle to place their trust in a merciful God full of grace. What they need and yearn for is to worship with fellow believers in a way that soothes their bruised hearts, encourages their wounded spirits, and energizes them for another week of war and temptation. They do not need harassment. They need the joy of salvation rekindled every week. They need the encouragement of worship.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 13 January 2002

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