Our text for this morning again is John chapter 4, and I would like to read verses 20 to 24, a wonderful conversation between the woman of Samaria and our Lord involving the subject of worship. She speaks in verse 20.
“Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
Now, as we have noted in our past studies of the theme of worship, this passage opens up to us perhaps the greatest New Testament teaching on the subject. In one form or another the term “worship” appears ten times in those brief verses. And it is very essential to understand the nuances, the interpretations, the meanings of its uses in this passage. Not only because it is in the Word of God, which should be enough reason; not only because it is spoken by our Lord, which also should be enough; but because I think it focuses on a very serious problem in the church today.
As I’ve tried to point out to you and to others recently as I’ve traveled around, I really believe that in the church of Jesus Christ today there is a very lack of centrality given to the matter of worship. The church does not focus itself on worship as such in so many, many cases. And Tozer of a past generation said, “Worship is the missing jewel in the evangelical church.”
And if that was true in his time, it is equally or even more true in our time. As I’ve shared the thought that we do not know how to worship in the 20th century church in America with others with whom I’ve spent time in the last couple of weeks, it’s been wonderfully confirming to hear their affirmation that they agree, as well.
And so we are calling our church and calling the people of God to a proper commitment to worship. In so doing, we’ve chosen this as a basic text, but if you remember where we began our study, we went all through the Scripture to try to point out how very commonly worship is spoken of in God’s Word.
It can be all summed up, I think, by the words of our Lord Jesus in Matthew 4:10 where He says, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.” Jesus Christ calls for man to worship. We saw in Romans chapter 1 that the basic definition of a non-believer, of a pagan, of an unregenerate person, of a godless person is he is one who refuses to worship God. We also saw in Philippians 3:3 that the basic definition of a Christian is one who worships God. So, worship is the issue.
We live in a world of people who will not worship God. And we who know Jesus Christ are the “true worshipers.” And it says in verse 23, “It is such that the Father seeks.” So that worship, in reality, is the goal of redemption. Worship is not some kind of a sidelight. It is the very purpose of God’s redemptive act in Christ. God was bringing men from being non-worshipers to being true worshipers. And if then, we who are redeemed are the true worshipers, how true should be our worship? And yet we have missed so much of the meaning of real worship. And that’s why we’ve been sharing these days on the subject.
Now the first point that we wanted to look at he text is the importance of worship, the importance of worship. And we saw that from verse 23. “The Father seeks true worshipers.” That makes it important. That makes it the most important thing in human existence, to worship God. And we went through all kinds of biblical information in order to get a clear perception of how really important worship is. It is commanded of us. We saw that. It is the theme of redemptive history from eternity to eternity. The destiny of every human being is related to worship. Scripture is loaded with references to worship. And we are convinced of its absolute importance.
In fact, if you read Isaiah 66:23 that closes out that great prophecy, you will find that everything resolves itself in a worshiping community. It says there in the new heaven and the new earth, “all will worship God.” And that’s where history is going. It started that way when God created man to worship Him. Man fell, and the recovery process is on to gain a remnant out of human society who will for all eternity with the holy angels, worship God.
And we, read in Hebrews 10, of course, that the Lord Jesus Christ has redeemed us, and in so redeeming us has opened up a way of access whereby we may enter into the presence of God to worship Him. We are to come nigh, boldly, and worship. Who is
Who is it that we worship? Worship, you see, itself is not enough. As important as it is, it is not enough to just worship. The object of worship must be very clearly understood. There are people across the world, and have been through all of human history, who worship. They do not, however, worship the right object. And as we looked at these verses, we were very clearly instructed that there’s only one object of worship. Repeatedly it says, “Worship the Father, worship the Father, worship the Father. Worship Him.” And then it says in verse 24, “God is a Spirit.”
The one we are to worship, then, is defined to us in two terms: Spirit and Father. “Spirit” speaks of His essential nature. He is a Spirit as to His essential nature. “Father” speaks of His essential relationship. And we’ll get into that at a later time. But this morning I want to talk a little more about worshiping God as Spirit.
The Shorter Catechism - some of you will remember if you had catechism when you were young - says, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being.” And the Bible teaches us that “God is a Spirit.” God is not a person in the sense of being a person like we are, confined to a place, or confined to a form. God is without a form as we know it, a corporeal, human, physical, limiting form. God is an eternal omnipresent Spirit. He is not confined to any place or any time.
So that all the gods of the nations in which they represent deity as a rock, or a carved image, or something out of silver, or gold, or a tree, or a river, or a mountain, or a star, or the moon, or the sun is not God, because God is not limited or confined to any of His created elements. God is Spirit. And, beloved, that is the basis of all understanding of worship.
What it tells us is that if God is a Spirit and is everywhere at all times, then we must worship Him at every place and every time. Do you understand that? We cannot allow ourselves to perceive of God as a being who dwells in a building to whom we come to worship on Sunday, and Sunday alone. God is a Spirit being. He is not to be confined or conformed to any imagery.
In fact, that was the first commandment we saw, wasn’t it? No graven image. No likeness of God. He is to be perceived as Spirit. Now, you say, “Well, John, what about the temple? And what about the holy of holies where the Shekinah glory dwelt between the wings of the cherubim? Isn’t that saying that God lived in the temple, and God lived in the tabernacle, and wasn’t it called the house of God?” Well, in a very unique sense, God’s presence was there. That is true. But not in a limiting sense.
He was everywhere as well as He was there, but He was there uniquely, and I’ll show you why. The temple, and the tabernacle, and the holy place, and the holy of holies, and all of those things are symbols. The whole ceremonial system is symbolic. It was a symbol to speak of a greater reality. It was there in order that men might perceive God in the symbol, not as the ending, but the beginning of their perception.
For example, we come to the Lord’s Table, and we say the Lord is present with His people at His Table, and we say that as we partake of the cup, it is the blood of Christ with which we commune; as we partake of the bread, it is the flesh of Christ with which we commune. And there’s a real sense in which those symbols are elements which draw us to worship. But their purpose is not to be the beginning and the ending of worship, but to be the stimulation of a life of worship. So that we see beyond the symbol to the reality of the living God.
Perhaps we can illustrate this clearly from Acts chapter 7. Stephen is preaching a great sermon here in which he recites much of the history of the people of God. And he comes in verse 46 to a discussion of the house that was built for God, and he says in verse 47, “Solomon built God a house.” Now the fact that Solomon built God a great temple did not mean that God was therefore confined to that temple as you and I might be confined to a house.
Because verse 48 says just because there was a temple, and as marvelous and wonderful as it was, “the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” In fact, in verse 49 the prophet says, “Heaven is His throne, and earth is His footstool: and what house could you build to contain that kind of God?” Where can you put a place for that kind of God to sit down and rest? He is too vast, too infinite to be contained in any house. In fact, He made everything and He fills everything.
Now only an ignorant Jew would have perceived that God was limited to the temple. An understanding Jew knew that was only a symbol in the midst of the people as a reminder of the eternal presence of the eternal omnipresent God. In fact, they knew from the very beginning, didn’t they, in Deuteronomy 6 when they were told that most basic truth of all their religion, “The Lord our God is one God.” And then God said to them, “You say that and you speak about that when you sit down, stand up, lie down and walk in the way.” In other words, no matter where you are or what you do, you be cognizant and aware of the eternal living one holy God.
The temple was only a reminder. The sacrificial system, the ceremonial system was only a prodder of the conscience, to cause them to turn their heart toward the living and the true God so that from that symbol there might come a reality of life commitment in worshiping God. It was never intended to be the end, but only the means.
In Acts 17:24 as Paul speaks to the philosophers in Athens, he says, “God who made the world and all things in it, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshiped with men’s hands.” In other words, you can’t confine Him. You can’t limit Him. He is Spirit, the God, who extends through all of time, and all of space, and all of infinity, and all of eternity. And therefore is to be worshiped at all times and all places by all people.
The Assyrians called the God of Israel “the God of the hills.” And it reflected their own idolatrous perspective, because their gods were the gods of the valleys. They had built groves for their gods in the valleys, and they felt their gods were confined to those groves, and so their gods were the gods of the valleys, and the gods of Israel, were the gods - or the God of the hills. But that reflects a pagan perspective. And it may have been that even the Samaritans were a little confused about that because they had isolated their worship to Mount Gerizim, thinking that maybe that’s where God was. But God is a Spirit and He always wanted to be worshiped in the fullness of His spiritual presence.
In Jeremiah 7, as Jeremiah speaks to that sinful people, the Lord gives him a message, and it’s in 7:21. “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Put your burnt offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat flesh. For I spoke not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.” In other words, He says, “Put that away. That wasn’t what I was after. That was only a symbol of the reality. “This is what I commanded, Obey My voice, and I’ll be your God, and you shall be My people: walk in all the ways that I’ve commanded you, that it may be well with you.” God says, “It wasn’t that in and of itself. That was only a symbol to make you remember My presence, a visible reminder.”
But in the new covenant, in the maturing of the new covenant, even that is set aside. And we find in John 4:21 the Lord Jesus saying something very important. He says, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming, when you shall neither in this mountain, or at Jerusalem, worship the Father.” In the new covenant, it was the end of the ceremonial symbols. It was the end of the temple symbol. It was the end of that physical identification. And the new temple became the believer in whom the living Spirit of God dwelt. And that Spirit of God became the prodder of true worship. No longer an outward symbol, but an inward reality.
And we of the new covenant possessing the Spirit of God, and being together the living temple in which dwells the Spirit of God find internally the prompting to true worship that they found externally as they camped about the tabernacle. And so God is to be worshiped as a living Spirit: anywhere, and everywhere, at all times and all places, by all people.
And so, when we say that the basic feature of Christian living is a worshiping life, that’s exactly what we mean. Worship is the bottom line. “We are those who worship God,” says Paul. And rejoice in Christ, and have no confidence in the flesh. We are the true worshipers.
Now, if we are to worship God as Spirit - and I want to dwell on this just in one other aspect - if we are to worship God as Spirit, then we must define His nature to begin with. We could say, “Well, I worship God, and I think God is – well, let’s see – I think He’s sort of a nice guy up there, and He is just like this or that.” And somebody else might say, “Well, no, I think He’s sort of a benign philosopher.” Somebody else might say, “Well, no. I think He’s this sort of God.” And you could all invent what ever form you wanted.
So it’s important for us to worship the God who is Spirit in terms of how He is revealed in Scripture. And I think we can sum it up in one word - in one word - and I think that is the word which most sums up the nature of God: He is holy. He is holy. And God to be worshiped must be worshiped as holy. That is His unique otherness. That is His unlikeness to the human creature. He is holy, flawless, without error, without sin, without mistake, fully righteous, utterly holy.
And, beloved, let me just suggest to you that that’s the basic comprehension for true worship, that God is holy. And there’s a lot of, I think, well meaning effort today, and a lot of supposed worship going on which does not really regard God as holy, and thus falls short. A lot of nice songs being sung, and nice feelings being felt, and nice thoughts being thought, and nice emotions being expressed, but not in terms of God as holy. And so it may be little more than an emotional exercise that makes you feel good. God must be regarded as holy.
Now, that can best, I think, be summed up in the words of Psalm 96, one of the great Psalms that calls us to worship. And it is, in many ways, very parallel to 1 Chronicles chapter 16. But it says that we are to “sing unto the Lord.” We are to “bless His name.” We are to “show forth His salvation.” We are to “declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among the people. He is great, greatly to be praised: He is to be feared above all gods. Honour and majesty are before Him: strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.” And then verse 7, “Give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give Him glory: bring an offering, come into His courts.” It’s all worship.
Then a come to this very key statement in verse 9, and here we qualify the attitude or perspective of worship. “O worship the Lord in the beauty of - ” what? “ - holiness.” And then is tacked on, “Fear before Him.” You can never perceive holiness apart from fear. Because if you perceive God as utterly holy, the consequence is you will see yourself as utterly unholy, and there will be a sense of fear. Because a holy God has a right to a holy reaction against a unholy creation. So that the true spirit of worship is an overwhelming sense of unholiness in the presence of a holy God.
Now, I want to reinforce this in your thinking by taking you back through some familiar ground, but I cannot teach this series and leave this out, so look at Isaiah chapter 6. The concept of worshiping God with holiness and fear is what we’re after. It’s not just Old Testament. Hebrews 12:28 says worship God “acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.” So, it’s New Testament, as well.
But in Isaiah 6, Isaiah goes to worship the Lord, and he goes into the temple. King Uzziah has died after 52 years on the throne. It’s about 740 B.C., just a few years before the northern kingdom is going into captivity as a judgment for their sin. He sees the demise of his people. He senses the problem in his nation, and he rushes into the presence of God to worship.
And he has a vision of God in verse 1 in which God is majestically lifted up, surrounded by seraphim, who are the guardians of the holiness of God. Two of their wings are used for service, and four of them are used for worship, giving us an insight into the priority of worship. Even they worship God. They cry back and forth, and this is what they say. “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.”
And there we find again that most magnificent definition of God’s otherness, God’s uniqueness. He is holy. He is holy. And as Isaiah is worshiping God, he perceives holiness. And that is the right perspective; that God has a holiness that causes Him to react against sin.
And what is Isaiah’s response? Verse 5, “Then said I, Woe is me! I am disintegrating; - ” I am falling apart, I am going to pieces. And the word “woe” means “curse.” “Curse me.” He is overwhelmed with his sinfulness. He says, “I am a man with a dirty mouth, and I dwell in the midst of a people with dirty mouths.” All he can see is his sin, and he has the best mouth of all of them, but he cannot see any goodness in himself in comparison with God. And the reason it’s so stark is the end of verse 5, because he has “seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Now, you may not have a vision like this, nor may I. But nonetheless, the lesson is true that when we enter into the presence of God, if we truly see God, we see Him as “holy, holy, holy.” And so, we are then faced with a sense of our utter unholiness.
If you have never worshiped God with a broken and a contrite spirit, then you’ve really never worshiped God. Because that is the right response to entering the presence of holy God. Holiness inspires fear. He was afraid. Why was he afraid? Because he knew that a holy God had every right to react against an unholy sinner. He knew that God had every right to judge him. God had every right to take his life on the spot.
And I guess my heart is concerned that there’s a lot of flippancy in entering into the presence of God in our society today, that God has become so casual in our thinking. God has become so human, so buddy-buddy that we don’t understand the whole perspective of God’s utter holiness, that He is a consuming fire, that He has a holy indignance against sin. And if we flippantly rush into His presence with lives unattended to by repentance, and confession, and cleansing by the Spirit, then we are vulnerable to that holy reaction. It is only by His grace that we breathe another breath, is it not? For He has every reason to take our life, for the wages of sin is death.
And so Isaiah has the only reaction that a true worshiper could ever have in true worship: and that is humble, broken, contrition. He sees himself as a sinner. And in the midst of his repentance, in the midst of his confession, the angel comes with a coal, purges him, and God says, “You’re the one I’ll send in My place.” And there is a marvelous communion. There is a marvelous camaraderie. There’s a marvelous union between God and the true worshiper through the confession of sin and the purging of his lips. And so, that’s really the spirit of true worship. You see the holiness of God, are overwhelmed with your own unholiness.
Now look with me for a moment at one passage that I think has been sort of lost in the shuffle, 2 Timothy 2:22. Paul is writing to Timothy and, of course, he’s instructing him about being a godly man, a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. And he tells him all the things that are necessary to guard his life for usefulness, and talks to him about being “a vessel unto honour, sanctified, fit for the Master’s use, prepared unto every good work,” in 2 Timothy 2:21.
And then in 2 Timothy 2:22 he says, “Flee youthful lusts: and follow righteousness, faith, love, peace - ” and then this statement “ - with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” There is a marvelous insight into true worship. It is calling upon the Lord out of a pure heart. And it is not that our heart is pure by our own design, or by our own device, it is that our heart is pure in the confession and the repentance that Isaiah experienced in facing a holy God.
So a true worshiper is primarily aware of his unholiness. And if you go through the Old Testament as we did earlier in Matthew, I’ll just jog your memory. Whenever the people of God encountered God, there was a terrifying reaction. They felt afraid. They felt intimidated. They felt their life was in danger because they knew they were sinners in the presence of a holy God.
And Job, who thought he knew God, who probably thought he worshiped God the way God wanted to be worshiped, when he had gone through that amazing pilgrimage and came to the end of it and really saw God as the sovereign holy Lord of the universe, he said, “Now, I see Thee with mine eye, and I repent in dust and ashes.” Again, overwhelmed with sinfulness. Manoah the father of Samson, in Judges 13:22 cries out, “We shall surely die,” because he had seen the holiness of God.
There was Habakkuk, who when really discerning God’s presence, began to shake so that his legs smashed against each other. And there was the restored remnant, who when they heard the holy word of God spoken by Haggai, came to terror in their hearts.
Look with me for just another illustration, at the ninth chapter of Ezra. And Ezra comes before the Lord, and you see the spirit of a broken contrite heart, which is the spirit of a true worshiper. Verse 5, “And at the evening sacrifice - ” so it’s time for worship. It’s the official time for worship. It’s time to come before God in the evening sacrifice. “And he rose up - ” he says “ - from his heaviness; and tore his garment and tore his cloak, and fell on his knees, and spread out his hands to the Lord.”
Now here is a man of God in an act of worship: prostrate, tearing his garments, burdened; and here is the attitude of his worship. “I said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my fact to Thee, my God.” That’s reminiscent, isn’t it, of the publican who beat on his breast and would not lift up his eyes so much as to heaven? “For our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens.” We know that it reaches You. We know that You know we are sinful.
And then he goes on to describe the sin. And then he talks about God’s grace. Verse 8 he says, “For a little moment, grace has been shown from the Lord our God, and You’ve given us a tent-peg.” You’ve given us life. You’ve given us a place to put up a tent. You’ve let us survive in spite of what we’ve done.
And the end, in verse 15, “O Lord God of Israel, Thou art righteous: for we remain yet escaped, as it is this day: behold, we are before Thee in our trespasses: for we cannot stand before Thee because of this.” He just is broken over sin. And he prays in verse 1 of 10, and confessed, and wept, and cast himself down before the house of God. And the people came around him and they poured out their tears of penitence.
Now, that is the heart of a true worshiper. Coming in the presence of God afraid. Coming in the presence of God knowing that God has a right to take your life, even if you have been His child, even if you have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, there’s a sense in which God still has the right to punish for sin. And He says in the New Testament to those who are His own, every son He chastens, and scourges.
When our Lord walked on the earth people were afraid of Him. I always think of the disciples, who were terrified when they knew He was God in their boat. You know, He calmed the storm in Mark 4, and it says “they were exceedingly terrified.” It’s far worse to have God in your boat then to have a storm outside your boat because you have to face the holiness of God displayed in the power that had been displayed. And they said, “What kind of man is this, that the wind and the waves obey His voice?”
And when Jesus sent the demons into the herd of pigs and they went into the lake and drowned, the people ran out and pleaded with Him to leave their country. He terrified them. He panicked them. They were afraid.
And Peter, when in Luke 5 was fishing and couldn’t catch anything and the Lord said, “Now let your nets down, and they’ll be there.” And he did, and they were all there, and Peter looked at the Lord and said, “Go away; - ” leave “ - for I am a sinful man.” All he could see was his own sinfulness when confronted with the reality of a holy God.
Jesus had that affect on people. He traumatized people. He scared people. I believe the Pharisees were so afraid of Him that’s really why they killed Him. They were astonished, the Bible says, at what He taught. They were astonished at what He did. They panicked when they saw His power and they heard His wisdom. Jesus traumatized people. He let them know that God was in their midst, and they immediately were confronted with the evil of their hearts.
Now the true worshiper, then, is going to come in that vein, is going to come in that spirit. He is going to be broken over his sinfulness. And that’s the attitude that you use when you come to God who is the eternal Spirit, who is the omnipresent Spirit. If I’m going to have a true worshiping life, then it is a life of brokenness. It is a life of contrition. It is a life which sees sin and confesses continually. That’s a worshiping life. You can’t just sin and sin and sin and then enter into the church on Sunday and think you’re going to worship the Lord.
I talked to a man on this trip, came to see me. And he said, “You know, I listen to your tapes. I get them all. I study with you and I really love I, and you’re my teacher, and I'd love to have you as my friend,” and so forth. And we got to talking and spent a couple of hours with him - Patricia and I did.
And he said, “You know,” he said, “I have a situation in my life which is very sinful.” And he went on to describe a horrifying thing. And he said, “And I just stay in this sin all the time.” And I said, “Well, doesn’t it bother you?” And he said, “Yeah, it bothers me. But not enough to quit.” And then you study the Word of God all along with it, at the same time, and you probably think you’re worshiping God, well you’re not. And I said, “I can’t fellowship with you. I can’t be your friend. I have to separate myself.” And he said, “Well, I would die if I couldn’t think you were my friend.” “Well,” I said, “I can’t be. Because that life doesn’t honor God.”
You can’t do that. If God is a Spirit and is everywhere at all times, He is to be worshiped that way, and if He is holy as Spirit, then He is to be worshiped in the beauty of holiness. And that means you live your life with a sense of fear because you know that God has every right to chasten your unholiness.
At the same time, to keep the balance, you live a life of thanksgiving, don’t you? Because He doesn’t give you what you deserve. He has not rendered unto us according to our sins. But you know, even that, in a sense, causes a problem. As we saw in Romans, remember when we studied the second chapter of Romans? Where it says, “The goodness of God is meant to bring you to repentance?” But what happens is we get so used to sinning and getting away with it, sinning and being forgiven, that we just keep sinning. You see, this guy was so used to doing the sin and God hadn’t done anything yet, that he just kept doing it.
And we’re all like that. You know, we are so used to mercy, we are so used to grace, we are so use to God forgiving us that we just trade on that, we abuse it. And God is gracious. You know, a holy God, if He really wanted to enforce His holiness, said in the Bible, “The wages of sin is death.” Said to Adam, “The day you sin, you die.” Anytime we sin we’d be dead. And that would be true to His holy character. But God is so merciful, every sin was a capital offense in the beginning. The day you sin you die. It didn’t say what sin, you just - you know, really you can just - I’ve only given you one deal. You do it and you die. And then as time when on God, of course, didn’t even take Adam and Eve’s life. He spared them by grace.
And then as you come down to the Mosaic covenant, there are about 35 sins that have a capital punishment assigned to them, but even that God acted graciously toward, and there were many times - for example, just take David, he committed the sins that had been given the death penalty over and over and over and over and God was gracious and merciful and forgave him. There were consequences, but not death. God was gracious.
And so God has shown Himself gracious, but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about your sin. That doesn’t mean you can run into God’s presence with sin in your life. That doesn’t mean you can abuse that mercy, because the day may come when He acts in righteous indignation against you, and He has every right to do that, and me as well. You see, we get so used to mercy - as we pointed out in our study in Romans - we get so use to mercy that when God does what is just, we think He is unjust.
Somebody dies. Well, how could God let that happen? Well, how can the Lord allow all these problems? Listen, how can He not allow those to come when we are sinful? You see, we look at it backwards. People look at the Old Testament and say, “What kind of a God is it that lets forty little boys yell, ‘Baldy, baldy,’ and the prophet and a bear comes out and rips him into shreds? What kind of God lets that happen? What kind of God slays two young men, Nadab and Abihu, on the day of their ordination just because they got a little drunk and fooled around with the incense in the temple and God slew them?
“What kind of God slays a man that touches the ark to try to keep it from falling off a cart? What kind of man gives a man leprosy and makes him a victim of leprosy when he’s been a faithful king for 52 years, just because he got a little proud? Why does God do it? And why this guy and not that guy? And why so much mercy, and then wham? And why did Ananias and Sapphira die? After all, they gave a gift to the Lord. It just wasn’t what they’d said they give? I mean, why did they have to die for that?”
That’s not the question. The question is why when you did that, and promised the Lord something and didn’t do it, why did you live? That’s the question. You see? The question isn’t why did God take the life of an adulterer over there? The question is when you committed adultery why didn’t God take your life? It is never a question of God being unjust, it’s only an issue of God being merciful. And sometimes when He does do what is just, He does it as an illustration.
You see, you’ve got to have a signpost somewhere along the line. And that’s what 1 Corinthians 10 says. These things have happened as examples to us. And as you look through Scripture and you see the times when God acted in a holy way against unholiness, that’s to show you that God will do that. And the question is not how can God be unjust? The question is how can God be merciful when His holiness is violated? That’s the issue.
People say, “Isn’t it awful in Corinth? Some people actually died because they were coming to the Lord’s Table sinful?” That isn’t the issue. The issue is how come we’re alive and we’ve come that way so many times? It’s just God’s grace. It’s His grace. People say, “How could He turn Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt?” That isn’t the question. The question is why didn’t He turn us into pillars of salt when we acted in a worldly fashion as she did and lusted after the things of the flesh? “How could He swallow up Korah, Dathan and Abiram in the ground for being disobedient?” No, that isn’t the question. How could He not swallow us up when we were disobedient?
You see, you have to see things from the side of God’s holiness. And that’s so important. God is gracious, but He’s holy, and don’t let His grace sell short His holiness.
You see, what I’m trying to say is we must worship God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, for our God is a consuming fire. And you must worship God in the beauty of holiness. You must understand that He is a Spirit. He is everywhere at all times, to be worshiped everywhere at all times, and in the beauty of holiness.
And what this says, beloved, is so important. This says that when I live my life, I am to live a holy life before God. I am to live a life where I confess, repent, turn from my sin, so that my worship to God is that which pleases God. And I do not want to go rushing into His presence in an act of worship with unholiness, lest I receive my just desserts at His hand.
And so, while we are thankful for His grace, and we understand His love, we have somehow in our 20th century Christianity missed His holiness. And that’s the heart of our worship. God is a living, eternal, glorious, holy, merciful Spirit, the object of our worship. And we must come in the contrition, and the humility, and the brokenness of sinners, who see ourselves against the backdrop of His utter holiness.
F.W. Faber, who has written so many very, very beautiful words wrote this. Listen carefully. It is a hymn of praise.
“My God, how wonderful Thou art, Thy majesty how bright! How beautiful Thy mercy-seat in depths of burning light! How dread are Thine eternal years, O everlasting Lord! By prostrate spirits, day and night, incessantly adored. How wonderful, how beautiful the sight of Thee must be, Thine endless wisdom, boundless power and awful purity!”
Listen to this. “And how I fear Thee, living God, with deepest, tenderest fears; And worship Thee with trembling heart, and penitential tears! Yet I may love Thee, too, O Lord, Almighty as Thou art; For Thou hast stooped to ask of me the love of my poor heart! No earthly father loves like Thee; no mother e'er so mild, Bears and forbears as Thou hast done with me, Thy sinful child.” Let’s bow in prayer.
Our Lord, we come to worship this morning the God who is Spirit, who is not confined to temples made with hands, who is not bound by the images of men, the God who is infinite, eternal, everywhere, everyplace at all times. And we have come to worship the God who is holy, who can only be worshiped in the beauty of holiness, in the reverence and godly fear that a sinner must have who enters into such holy presence.
And so, Lord God, may we see as the men of old saw Your holiness, and like Isaiah may we cry, “Woe is me. I am undone.” And in that confession, may we be touched with the coal from off the altar, our lips purged, and may we be acceptable.
We thank You that Jesus Christ has made the provision for that, that He has made the way possible, that He has opened up unto us access whereby we can rush into Your presence, come boldly there, without fear, knowing that we stand in Christ’s place, a place of honor and acceptability.
But Lord may we, too, be aware that as we come into Your presence in the blood of Christ, as we come having been washed from head to feet, we do gather the dust of the earth, and we need that daily preparation of heart, that daily confession and cleansing that is so basic to a worshiping life.
We pray, too, Lord, for those who may be here who do not know Jesus Christ as Savior, in whom there is no fear of God before their eyes, who with the godless world will not worship You. We pray that today Your Spirit would break through the wall of resistance and open the heart as a flower to the dawning sun, and may Jesus Christ come and turn that person into a true worshiper.
And for those who love you, Lord, for those who are Your children, may our worship be acceptable, that of a broken and a contrite heart, that in which there is the beauty of true holiness. Not that we in ourselves can be holy, but that we in repentance are made so by the cleansing of Christ.
We thank You that You’ve given us the positional holiness. You’ve given us the reality of eternal holiness in Christ. Now help us in our practice, in our daily walk, to walk the walk that fits the calling to which we’re called. May we truly worship, Lord, and out of the flow of a worshiping life and a responding God know the tremendous blessing and usefulness that Isaiah knew, that Your kingdom might be advanced in this day. And we’ll thank You in Christ’s name. Amen.
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