Some people think that the worship service is all about evangelism. Everything you do during the worship service needs to be geared towards reaching the unbeliever. Church becomes a rock concert filled with secular music. Other churches think that the worship service is only for the believer. Church turns into a bunch of self-righteous do-gooders patting themselves on the back while being completely closed off to the outside. Other churches believe that the worship service is all about the sermon. They have taken it so far as to install chairs with folding desks attached to them so the people can take notes. The sermon turns into an hour long lecture instead of the Word of God being preached. Some churches place so much emphasis on the liturgy or the music that the sermon and scripture become an add-on. The Word of God read and preached is relegated to a 10-15 minute slot (and God forbid the sermon go long and someone ends up waiting at the end of the line in Cracker Barrel). These different conceptions (or misconceptions) about the worship service beg the question: “What does God say about His worship?” It would make sense that the person being worshipped would set the rules for worship and not the other way round. So what does God’s Word teach us about worship?
Over the next several newsletters we will unpack God’s idea of worship. But let me say up front, the foundation for everything we do in worship centers on the Word of God. We read scripture, we preach scripture and we sing scripture. We even look at scripture to tell us how to worship and how not to worship. So in short, in order for us to know how to worship God we must turn to God’s self proclaimed revelation to find out how God wants us to worship Him.
And it all starts with the Sabbath. “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done…So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” Genesis 2:2-3. God did two things that are significant to our understanding the Sabbath: He rested and He made it holy. From the very beginning we see that the Sabbath was set apart (made ‘holy’) and was created for rest. Then later on when God gives the Israelite nation the 10 Commandments, the Sabbath makes the cut. Can you imagine that out of everything God could have chosen to put into the 10 Commandments he thought the Sabbath was important enough and foundational enough to His worship and the life of His people that it made it into the top ten. He wrote it in stone. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God” Exodus 20:8. God’s desire for the Sabbath is so clear and so strong that He even says, “Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death” Exodus 31:14. I would say that the Sabbath is fairly important. But not only does God give warnings concerning the Sabbath in Israel, He also gives us blessings in observing it, “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” Isaiah 58:13-14.
It’s important to understand that the Sabbath points to something bigger than just physical rest. Yes, we should rest from our daily routines and the things of this world that take us away from God, but it’s bigger than physical rest. The physical rest points us to an eternal truth. Did you notice that when the fourth commandment is given in Deuteronomy 5 and in Exodus 20 the reasons for the commandment are different. In Deuteronomy 5 the reason for the Sabbath is rooted in creation and in Exodus 20 the reason is rooted in God freeing the Israelites from Egypt. In essence one reason that God gives us the Sabbath is redemption. The physical rest that we observe on the Sabbath points to a deeper spiritual rest that is only found in Christ and the redemption that He provides. The Sabbath is pointing us to the spiritual rest that we need in Christ. This is one reason worship on the Sabbath is so important. It reminds us of the rest we have in Christ and it allows us to turn to God in worship for that rest.
At this point some would say, wrongly but with good intentions, that the Sabbath day is no longer important because we have found rest in Christ (because we are redeemed we don’t need to observe the Sabbath). To this I would say that we have found rest in Christ, AMEN, and yet the rest is not complete. “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest” Hebrews 4:9-11. In fact, that rest will not be complete until we have entered into the Promised Land, into eternal rest with our Savior in Glory. Until that happens and our rest is fully realized, the Sabbath is important for us both physically and spiritually. God calls us to rest on the Sabbath and to worship Him in that rest. May God continue to give us rest, both physically and spiritual, as we gather together on the Sabbath to worship our Savior who alone can provide true and lasting rest