Photo by Sebbi Strauch on Unsplash
Audio: iTunes | Spotify | Download
“The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think that he is offering worship to his god.”
᛭ INI ᛭
Alleluia! Jesus Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
What a verse to meditate on this last Sunday of the Easter Season! It drives to the comfort of Jesus’ empty tomb. It drives us to what’s necessary in life—the necessity of worship and the work of the Holy Spirit “who bears witness about [Jesus].” Jesus says this so we’re ready for the time when hatred, persecution, and death will come “for the name of Christ.” It’s not an “if” but a “when”—“the hour is coming,” declares the LORD.
With such an hour coming, indeed it’s already here, Jesus makes a promise, “I will send the Holy Spirit who will bear witness about Me.” We need Jesus to keep this promise, and this, again, drives us to the work of the Holy Spirit. It drives us to worship, true worship. Rather than what’s coming at us—the false worship of whoever would kill you, for he thinks “he’s offering worship to his god.”
(3. True worship is receiving not doing.)
So, what is “worship”? It’s “the acknowledgement of worth,” to give God praise, to magnify Him. The word describes an action on our part, something we do for God. Worship is given to someone who is worth the effort, worthy of praise. The worshipfulness is apparent.
This all makes sense to us naturally. Humans appear hardwired to worship. (“Natural knowledge of God,” Rom 1) This then is also Old Adam’s game. Your flesh loves the worship game, gives it something to do. Do something for its god and get something in return. Our sinful hearts are idol factories, after all. Cain played that game against his brother Abel in Genesis 4. So did the Pharisee with the Tax Collector in Jesus’ parable (Lk 18).
Worship in the Scriptures is not pointed in this direction. Worship in the Bible is directed from the Triune God toward mankind, who then responds with praise and thanksgiving. This is why worship here is of a different character. (Your forefathers knew what they were doing.) The altar dominates the worship space. Baptismal font is large and placed in prominent places. Not just elevated but beautifully designed pulpit and lectern. It’s also why the Pastor does the readings, as Paul directs young Pastor Timothy, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture.” (1 Tim 4) In fact, the majority of our services are just saying back to God His own Word! Worship for the saints of God is first and foremost from Him to and for you.
(2. The world’s worship is working for its god.)
The world’s worship is not that way. Human designed worship is always doing something for its god. That’s the primary focus. Doing him or her or it a solid. Doing a favor for the deity to earn favor from the deity. We scratch the gods back, so that he will scratch ours. Bless him so he blesses us.
This god can have many names. It can be the god of a religion: like Allah of Islam or Vishnu of Hindu or the Great Spirit of the native Americans. But it doesn’t have to be deities that you can make statues of or make writings about. It can be the god of society, the state (the government), progress, or whatever ideology is popular.
We’re on the receiving end of the world’s worship, Jesus says. “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think that he is offering worship to his god.” Many Christians have “shared in Christ’s sufferings” through the ages. More recently there were the Coptic Christians who were killed 2015 by ISIS, or the Covenant School victims from March. Old Adam will go to untold lengths to please its god. (Even so, Cain killed Abel.) According to sinful hearts, worship is working for your god, doing something for him. Persecuting and even killing your fellow man can be done all for the good of society, the benefits of progress, in the name of your god.
Now it’s true that we “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Rom 12:1) We “fervently love one another.” (1 Pet 4) But this is not giving to God as the primary thing. This is rather the result of God giving you gifts, working on you, working through you. He makes you alive, and then, well, you live! “Those who live no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Cor 5) How does He make you alive? Well, this gets us back to worship, true worship, and the work of the Spirit for you.
(1. True worship is the work of the Spirit for you.)
True worship is receiving.
“Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise.
Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God.*
“Saying back to Him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is His name, which He put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are His. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service. Where His name is, there is He. Before Him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim Him as our great and gracious God as we apply to ourselves the Words he has used to make Him known to us.
“The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessing moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition.” (Lutheran Worship, 1982)
All this is from the Spirit. He delivers “the testimony about Jesus.” He testifies that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, and causes you to believe it. He bears witness in the water and the blood (1 Jn 5). Here the Spirit enlivens us, comes anew to us, that He might again make us Christ’s, and His alone. He testifies at the Font and the Supper of Jesus’ body and blood. The Spirit has borne witness concerning Christ today. He has testified today that He has died and risen for Lolamae Charlotte, even as He delivered to her His death and resurrection at the Font, as well as the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Baptism has done this for you all. “Baptism now saves you.”
The testimony of the Spirit is delivering to you what Jesus has done for you. He bears witness not about Himself or how awesome you are. He speaks and delivers Jesus. He points to Him and Him alone to create and sustain faith within you so that you would be saved. So that you would know Jesus, and become and remain as His Sheep. Even in the midst of the world whose worship is designed to destroy faith in Jesus and kill those who actually believe.
“The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think that he is offering worship to his god.” Jesus says today. But no matter! That false worship won’t destroy you. “Fear not him who can only destroy the body.” (Mt 8) If you take up false worship, it will destroy you because it’s heading the wrong way on the path of salvation.
True worship isn’t about doing for God, but receiving from Him. Or in terms of Jesus’ Word today:
TRUE WORSHIP IS RECEIVING THE SPIRIT’S TESTIMONY ABOUT JESUS.
That’s the way of faith. The way of hearing and receiving that Jesus died and rose for you. The Spirit testifies that Jesus is yours and you are His. At the Font, in the preaching, in the Supper. We need this testimony, for in it Jesus saves us, preserves us in the faith, even steeling us against the false worship of the world and our own flesh.
TRUE WORSHIP IS RECEIVING THE SPIRIT’S TESTIMONY ABOUT JESUS.
“He who endures to the end will be saved.” “He who calls you is faithful He will surely do it” for you.