warning sign large            Three times God visibly demonstrates that He cares how we worship Him. At the beginning of each age He meted out extreme punishment to those who would worship him as they please and not as He instructs. Sam Bates, in a powerful sermon yesterday morning, covered the last two of those times. Jack Powers preached another great sermon last night on the first of those times.

            The writer of the book of Hebrews begins his treatise by dividing human history into three periods based upon the way God has communicated with us (Hebrews 1.1-2). God spoke to the “fathers,” “through the prophets,” and “through His Son.” Each method of communication is appropriate to its time. Early on, when humans were without written language, before the Phonecians had invented the alphabet, God spoke to the “fathers” – the heads of households. Adam, Abraham, Noah and the others knew what God wanted because He spoke to them directly. Later God gave his people written texts. The 10 Commandments were written on stone by God Himself. The Law, the Writings, and the Prophets were recorded on scrolls. His people didn’t have to wait for a voice from heaven to know what to do. They could consult the text. In the fullness of time God sent His Son. Now we know God by knowing Jesus. We are disciples – we are a family of followers, not of rules-keepers. We are saved by Grace, not by Law. The text is still primary because the text reveals Jesus.

            In each age the worship God seeks is appropriate to the time as well. In the age of the “fathers” there seems to be no structured system – people of faith sacrificed their best to express their devotion. Jack Powers pointed out in his sermon that when Cain and Abel came to sacrifice Abel brought his best, while Cain just brought something (Genesis 4.1-16). God does not accept Cain’s offering, and explains clearly what Cain needs to do. Cain sulks, kills his brother, and is cursed by God. On Mount Sinai God gave the Israelites a rigidly structured system of sacrifices and observances. At the beginning of the Mosaic age Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu offered strange incense to God and He consumed them with fire (Leviticus 10.1-3). After Pentecost this rigid and elaborate system of sacrifices and observances was obsolete. After the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 it became extinct. Christian worship is simple and sincere. In the earliest days of Christianity God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead after they lied about their offering (Acts 5.1-11). Sam compared Leviticus 10 with Acts 5 and concluded that God demands to be worshipped the way He wants, not in ways that suit us.

            Of course God’s way of worshipping does suit us – all of us together. We sing, we pray, we preach, we share a common meal, we give. These items of worship are suitable to the entire human population. They transcend century, culture, and continent.  The Romans, almost overnight, made it impossible to worship as an Old Testament Jew. No one can keep us from worshipping as New Testament Christians. Every culture prays, sings, shares meals, shares abundance, shares words. We do not need temples, orchestras, altars, or a genetically pure priesthood. God has jettisoned all but the universal.  The Gospel is for all – so also is Christian worship.

            When we add things: temples, orchestras, altars, a separate priesthood et cetera - we exclude people who do not have these things. Paul in Romans 14 is clear - in our private devotions we have been given wide latitude. As long as our devotion is sincere, God accepts our personal acts of worship in the spirit we offer them. But when we come together we should not expect our corporate worship to be customized to our personal tastes. Christian worship is designed to include everyone. Its purpose is to bring God glory – not to please or entertain an audience. God has specified in His Word how we do this.  We should take this all very seriously, as our two preachers reminded us yesterday.

God has clearly demonstrated that He takes it seriously.

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