[The morning assembly began with the audience standing and reading aloud together Psalm 96 from the overhead projection.]

What is worship? "David, that is a ridiculous question! Every adult and most children here this morning know what worship is!" Since that is such a ridiculous question and the answer is such common knowledge to the vast majority of those in this assembly, quietly answer that question to yourself. If you were to answer the question, "What is worship?" what would your answer be?

The New Testament does very little to either define or describe worship. In fact, the Old Testament does more to define and describe worship than does the New Testament. Jesus talked very little about worship. The book of Acts describes the beginning of Christianity, but does not describe Christian worship in detail. The epistles do not contain major sections on worship. The New Testament book that says more about worship than any other New Testament writing is the book of Revelation. It in symbolic terms makes several statements about worship in heaven.

  1. I ask you to do two things.
    1. The first thing I ask you to do is to call to mind your definition of worship.
      1. I am quite serious.
      2. Think about your definition of worship.
      3. I want you to consciously hold on to that definition.
    2. The second thing I want you to do is this:
      1. While you keep your definition of worship firmly in your awareness,
      2. I want you to read with me several worship scenes from the book of Revelation.
      3. So I want you to do two things at one time: stay constantly aware of your personal definition of worship and listen to what Revelation says about worship.
    3. Read with me.
        Revelation 4:8 And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come."
      Note the stress on God's holiness.
        Revelation 4:9-11 And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created."
      Note the stress on God's worthiness.
        Revelation 5:8-10 When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."
      Note the first two passages involved the worship of God, Who is the central figure in heaven. Note the shift in this passage: the worship of the resurrected Jesus, God's sacrificial Lamb. Note the emphasis is on the worthiness of Jesus because he accomplished God's basic objective.
        Revelation 5:11,12 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing."
      The Lamb is still the focus of worship here. Note again the stress is still on worthiness.
        Revelation 5:13,14 And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever." And the four living creatures kept saying, "Amen." And the elders fell down and worshipped.
      Now the focus is both on God and the Lamb. The stress is on their praise worthiness.
        Revelation 7:11,12 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying, "Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen."
      The focus of worship is now back on God. Again, note God is praised for His worthiness.
        Revelation 11:16-18 And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshipped God, saying, "We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth."
      The focus is still on God. Note the stress is on thanksgiving. There was an outpouring of gratitude because God has used His power to rescue them from all that tried to destroy them.
        Revelation 14:6,7 And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, "Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters."
      The focus is still on God. The stress is on reverencing (fear) God by giving Him glory as the source of judgment and creation.
        Revelation 15:2-4 And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty. Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before You, For Your righteous acts have been revealed."
      The focus in still on God. They sang. God's greatness and holiness is honored.
        Revelation 19:1-6 After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,"Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her." And a second time they said, "Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever." And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, "Amen. Hallelujah!" And a voice came from the throne, saying, "Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great." Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns."
      The focus is still on God. It is a scene of praise. Four times God's throne rings with the sound of creatures declaring, "Hallelujah!" [Literally, "Praise the Lord," a joyful expression of thanksgiving.] God won! He did what He intended to do! He defeated even the strongest centers of wickedness and evil, and He rescued all who would turn to Him! The result was an incredible outpouring of gratitude to Him.
    4. Do a little comparing.
      1. Do you still have your definition of worship clearly in your mind?
      2. How does your definition of worship compare to what happened in heaven in worship of God and of the Lamb (Jesus Christ)?
      3. Where in your definition of worship do these things fit in?
        1. The holiness of God.
        2. The worthiness of God.
        3. The praise worthiness of God and the Lamb.
        4. Reverencing God for His holiness.
        5. Glorifying God.
        6. Saying, "Amen," and declaring, "Hallelujah" with joy.

  2. Let me make some personal observations--you do not have to agree with me, but I surely hope that I challenge you to think.
    1. My first observation is that there is not a whole lot that occurs in our worship assemblies that prepares us for heavenly worship.
      1. There are not many "Amens."
      2. Too rarely is there this powerful sense of gratitude because our God of power has forgiven us and rescued us.
      3. Too rarely is there this powerful sense of joy that flows from the gratitude of what God has done.
      4. There are almost no hallelujahs, or obvious expressions and declarations of praise because of God's great worthiness and holiness.
      5. There is little evidence that we who belong to God feel compelled to fall before God.
    2. My second observation is that we have through the centuries changed worship.
      1. We have made worship assemblies primarily about education instead of primarily about praising God.
        1. We are so busy there is no time for spiritual education.
        2. There is not convenient time to study--individually or with a group.
        3. I wonder if for some of you the only time you seriously think about the Bible is when you come here on Sunday morning.
      2. The core of our worship focuses on the sermon, a human accomplishment, rather than the Lord's Supper, a divine accomplishment.
        1. If you are typical, you are more likely to react to your opinion of the sermon than your opinion of what God did in Jesus Christ.
        2. Your faith is more likely to be affected by what is said in a sermon than what God did in the death of Jesus.
    3. My third observation: one of the key reasons [not all the reasons, but one of the significant reasons] that we are losing so many people is this: we have made too much effort to convert people to the church and too little effort to convert people to Christ.
      1. We are the church--the church is not some institution that exists apart from us.
      2. If a man or a woman is in Christ, he or she by an act of God is part of God and Christ's church.
      3. The power of God and the glory of God will be seen in the church when the power of God and the glory of God is seen in our lives.

  3. The basic objective of worship is simple.
    1. First, worship should call all who are in Christ closer to God.
    2. Second, worship should fill those who belong to God through Christ with a sense of joy and gratitude.
    3. Third, worship should make every Christian feel closer to every other Christian because the one thing we all have in common, the unifying element, is that we are in Christ Jesus.

Question: how often to you leave a worship assembly without worshipping?

Question: how often do you leave a worship assembly feeling joy and gratitude because you feel much closer to God?

Question: have you felt joy and gratitude toward God this week? How did you express it?

Worship on earth should prepare us for worship in heaven! Because we have been a part of praising God on earth, praising God in heaven should be a natural joy.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 28 September 2003

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