For the last several weeks, we have looked at the subject of ecclesiology, which is the study of the church. In October, we are going to be celebrating Heaven month. What is heaven month you ask? Heaven month is a month-long emphasis on evangelism. Some of you know that the emphasis in the Shenandoah District this year is evangelism. Each October for the last several years, The Wesleyan Church has held either a salvation Sunday or Heaven Sunday. Currently it is just a weeklong emphasis, but here at Preston Wesleyan Church, it will be the entire month of October. The theme of our Heaven Month is “Come to the Waters.” The sermons during the entire month will be focused on one of the purposes of the church and that is evangelism. Depending on whom you ask there are at least five purposes of the church. What are they? They are worship, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, ministry service, and I’ll add prayer. Everything we do revolves around these purposes. Most of what we looked at over the last six weeks revolved around those purposes. A church is effective in advancing the kingdom of God when it is performing all of its purposes in a balanced fashion. Most of us know what happens when a wheel becomes unbalanced. It makes for a difficult trip. Our church must be balanced in its approach to ministry. That being said, October is Heaven Month and I will be preaching Gospel messages. It will be an opportunity to bring friends and family to hear the gospel so that they can make a decision for Christ. I hope that you take advantage of this during the five weeks of October.
What I want to do today and next week is take an in depth look at another one of these purposes and that is worship. This morning we sit in a service called a worship service. In most churches the morning worship service is the pinnacle of the week. Most of you can probably remember a time when Sunday School was the best attended event of the week. I think it’s right that this time is the best attended service, we as believers in Christ are called to worship Him. What does it mean to worship?
The dictionary definition looks like this:
WORSHIP — reverent devotion and allegiance pledged to God; the rituals or ceremonies by which this reverence is expressed. The English word “worship” comes from the Old English word “worthship,” a word that denotes the worthiness of the one receiving the special honor or devotion.
It would probably come as no surprise that this idea of worship has become highly controversial. One of the reasons is because worship so many times today is equated with music. Why? Because music connects with our emotions. Remember a few weeks ago I made this statement, “They just don’t play good music anymore.” This is because most of us consider good music, the music we listened to as teenagers and young adults. But I think we make a great mistake when we consider music the only part of worship. I’ve heard this said when referring to the music portion of the service, “Wasn’t the worship wonderful today, and the preaching was good too.” I know that is an exaggeration, but those kind of statements are being made about worship. Last week I sang a song titled, “The Heart of Worship.” The song was written out of a personal experience of the writer. The musical style and worship band was taking the front seat, so the wise pastor said for the next few weeks, we will sing with only our voices, remember what true worship is really about. Eventually the church added back in the instruments, but it really brings home the point that worship is so much more than a song or singing. It is the heart of everything we do.
Let me share a brief excerpt from a book entitled, “The Wonder of Worship.”
“Teaching university students the subject of worship for a half-dozen years has brought me several realizations. First, I’ve learned how little the average person knows about our worship history—the roots of our current worship practices. Worship to many of my students (almost all of whom come from conservative evangelical churches) is a contemporary experience largely cut off from its roots. Many assume that the church has always worshiped in about the same way up to the 1980s and that recent innovations were the first time worship has ever shifted styles. To my delight, these same students light up when they discover the rich history of worship streams feeding into the present. Following a reading in class, one girl burst out in astonishment, “Why, they’ve always changed worship!” Knowing our roots of worship brings perspective and maturity to planning and leading worship.”
So worship has always changed and will probably continue to change until the Lord returns. What I want to take a look at today is what worship is. One of the most profound worship passages in the scriptures is in Isaiah 6.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”
And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.
So I said:
“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth with it, and said:
“Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.”
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:
“Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?”
As we can see here, worship has very little to do with singing. If we take a look at some of the great worship passages in the book of Revelation, we will see that while worship involves singing, many times in the scriptures it doesn’t.
In John 4:21-24, Jesus says to the woman at the well, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
What happened to the prophet Isaiah when he sensed the glory of God? First of all let’s take a look at what he experienced.
I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
This must have been a frightening sight in and of itself. But the angels starting crying out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.” You notice that the angels weren’t singing, they were crying out, they could have been shouting. But what did they shout? Holy, holy, holy. The Hebrew language does not have developed punctuation like our English language does. One of the ways that something was emphasized was by repetition. No other word in the entire Bible is repeated in this manner. Holy is the only word treated like this. God is holy, holy, holy. That is his character. We worship a holy, holy, holy God. No wonder Isaiah was struck with a sense of awe. This same sequence of words is repeated in the book of Revelation, which while it is known for its prophecy, I see it also as a great book of worship. I encourage you to look at some of the “hymn” fragments in the book of Revelation.
8 The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:
And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
10 And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.”
11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice:
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:
“Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
Are you capturing a sense of the awe of God this morning? We need to capture it just as the prophet Isaiah caught the awe of God. What happened after or while the heavenly host sang. And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. Let me tell you about the closest I’ve gotten to this on earth. While we lived in Indiana, my music professor invited us to attend their church’s Christmas musical. It was a spectacle beyond comprehension. The musical told the gospel story from the point of the angels. The choir was dressed up like angels and told the story of Jesus. In addition to this there were the visuals, a huge sound system, a fairly sophisticated lighting system for ten years ago in the church and fog machines. At the point of the crucifixion of Jesus, there was quite a bit of smoke, loud sub-woofer rumblings, and lots of flashing lights. I literally felt like I was Isaiah, with the building shaking and the building filled with fog. I was amazed. I’m sure Isaiah’s experience was even more terrifying when he met up with a holy, holy, holy God. He could barely speak. Again, I am not arguing for emotionalism that has to be rebuilt every week. I’m not talking about an emotional high that’s worked up by singing and prayer and all the other trappings. I’m simply talking about capturing a vision of the holy, holy, holy God and that will light up our worship world. First of all we will understand who we are. We are humans. We are God’s creation. We are not God. It puts it all in perspective. He made us; we didn’t make him.
The heart and wonder of worship is all about God. As we leave here this morning I want you to think about this. What is your view of God? Is He simply someone who created this whole world and then left us to fend for ourselves? Is He watching us, to quote Bette Midler, from a distance, not caring who we are? He is God. He is Almighty. He is the Mighty King. He is the Lord of Creation. He is worthy of worship. He is worthy of giving Him worth. He is worthy of assigning Him some value. When we capture this, it makes it easy to worship God. When we capture this, words may sometimes fail us; we may say as Isaiah said, “I am unworthy, cleanse me, Oh God.” God is God, he is worthy of our worship. As we are going to take a look next week, there are many ways to worship God. We often concentrate just on the singing, but I want to look at practical ways that we can worship God in spirit and in truth. Will you make it your desire this week to discover who God is and truly worship Him? Read through the Psalms; capture the heart of those who wrote the Psalms (they are the Hebrews songbook) Take a look at the book of Revelation, especially chapters 4-7; capture the essence of the worship of heaven. See if it matches your worship. As we close this morning, let’s sing that great hymn of the church “Holy, holy, holy.”