The Sacrifice of Praise (1): Worshiping the Living God

Today, liturgy and the question of how to worship are receiving a great deal of attention. It is of the utmost importance that we receive and follow the proper guidelines for this. In this issue, Rev. Jerome M. Julien, pastor of the First Christian Reformed Church of Pella, Iowa, begins a series of eight articles on the topic; The Sacrifice of Praise.

With Divine rhythm Sunday comes. Every seven days we come to that day called Sunday a day for the child of God which is very special. Ifs a special day from the other six during which we are engaged in various tasks. But its life is other than “business as usual.” It’s special not just because you have a day off from yom daily labor. Nor is it special because the air is filled with the sounds of delicate chimes playing bells boldly announcing the hours of worship. Sunday is a special day because it is the Lord’s Day. It‘s the day in the rhythm of life that God has set aside for Himself.

Because Sunday is the Lord‘s Day, we gather together for worship. But the question is: What are we doing when we meet for worship? What is worship? What is the meaning of the various parts of the worship service? Why is the votum spoken? Why is the salutation given and why does the benediction conclude the service? Why do we sing—just because we like pretty melodies? Why do we bring our offering? Why is the Word preached? Why is the Law read and why do we profess our faith in the words of one of the famous creeds? What does it all mean? Is it just meaningless ritual? Are many parts of the service just “preliminaries” to the sermon? What is worship all about?

What is worship? This is a much discussed question today. Because of a lack of understanding of the nature of worship “experimentation” is very popular. Novelty has become the key to exciting worship. And we cant blame our young people for this trend, either. Nevertheless, they are, all too often. In reality, adults ought not point their finger anywhere else but at themselves. Young people ask what worship is all about because, sad to say, often mother and dad aren‘t really sure what worship is all about. Though they know that they are to be very faithful in the hearing of the Word and worshiping as the people of God twice on the Lord’s Day and during the week when the services are called, the tragedy is that they come out of habit. A tradition, of sorts, has developed, and the meaning of our worship activity we are not sure about. And this situation reflects a deeper problem: there is something artificial in church life.

Instead of asking what we can do to make worship more exciting, we ought to be asking what worship is all about. We ought to be seeking to know the Biblical principles of worship.

Of course, in saying this we arc not saying that we ought to oppose every change just because it is a change. If that change in the pattern of worship brings us closer to the exercise of the Biblical principles for worship, if that change brings us closer to what God says in His Word about worship, then we ought not to oppose it. The changes that we ought to oppose are those that do not grow out of the Biblical principles of worship. But the question is: What are the Biblical principles that underlie worship?

The passage that we have before us tells us about these Biblical principles of worship. The passage is a part of that very beautiful and enlightening Book of Hebrews that points out how the New Covenant is the better Covenant. After an explanation of the superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ and the New Covenant, there comes something of a practical application. As you know, most of the New Testament epistles are written that way. They often begin with their doctrinal discussion and then at the end of the book you get the practical application.

Well, as we get to the middle of the tenth chapter of Hebrews we come to the applicatory part. Because there is the New Covenant in which Jesus Christ has done all necessary for our salvation, therefore there is a way that we are to live. One of the applications speaks to us about the principles of worship. That is the passage that we have before us. It tells us that as we come to worship, as New Covenant people, as people who know the Lord Jesus Christ, we are to remember that we worship the Holy God. That must always be the underlying principle for all our worship. That’s the foundation on which all the rest of worship is built.


What are we doing when we gather together on the Lord‘s Day? We are gathered to worship the Living God. Hebrews 12 explains this for us. In worship we are:

  1. Assembled before the Living God,
  2. Listening to the Living God, and
  3. Praising the Living God.

1. Now, with these principles before us, let’s consider what worship is. The fi rst principle before us is that worship is assembly before the Living God, Hebrews 12 compares New Testament worship with the assembly of Old Testament Israel before Mount Sinai. The emphasis here in this passage is on corporate worship, the worship of the people of God together.

This is quite an instructive comparison. In only a few words the readers are taken to both Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. We are bcing reminded of that day when Israel was gathered at Mount Sinai, when the Law was to be given. Of this day we read in Exodus 19:16–20, “And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, there were thunders and lightning . . . . and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a trumpet exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the tent to meet God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And Mount Sinai, the whole of it, smoked because Jehovah descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice. And Jehovah came down upon Mount Sinai to the top of the mount . . . .”

God was at Mount Sinai. From the holiness of His presence God spoke all these words saying, “I am Jehovah, thy God.” The “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments have echoed ever since from Mount Sinai.

In chapter 20 we continue reading,and all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off(v. 19). Try to visualize what took place there. God was there. And Israel, the people of God, were gathered there at the foot of the mountain. They felt the earth shake; they saw the lightning; they heard the thunder; they saw the earth trembling, and they trembled, too. So charged with holines was the mountain that we read in Hebrews: “If even a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned.” It was an awesome situation. So awesome was it that Moses said, “I exceedingly fear and quake.” They were in the presence of a Holy God!

This experience at Mount Sinai is compared with the experience of God’s people at another mountain, Mount Zion. For Israel, Mount Zion became not only David‘s dwelling place, but also the earthly dwelling place of God. It was there that the tribes of God’s people were to gather together for worship. As they were gathered together at Mount Zion they were in the presence of that very same Holy God who caused Mount Sinai to tremble at His presence.

Why is this comparison made? It is here to remind us that worship is always before a Holy God. Sad to say, some are not very impressed with this truth. And the reason is: they are not impressed with the holiness of God. They haven‘t stood at Mount Sinai, and they haven’t felt the earth tremble beneath them. They haven’t heard the roaring thunderous voice of God as He speaks His Law and His Word. They do not see themselves to be in conflict with the holiness of God because they do not see themselves as miserable sinners. But then, neither was Israel very concerned. They trembled; but then, you remember, they made the golden calf and they made a mockery of Jehovah.

This passage shakes us to our senses and reminds us that worship is a holy audience before a Holy God. The emphasis in this passage is not on a place; the emphasis is on the act of worship. “For ye are not come unto a mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire” (Heb. 12:18). It‘s not that we have come to a place where we can touch and feel and say that we are in a holy place, “but ye are come unto Mount Zion, unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (12:22). We have come as the people of God in the act of worship, as it were, before the throne of God. Worship, then, means bowing before God, not just with the knee, but with the heart—with our whole being in assembly as the people of God.

When the people of God gather together to worship the Lord in Spirit and Truth they are assembled together before the God who makes the mountains to tremble. Brother and sister in Christ, this is an awesome assembly. We are not before a great man or an earthly potentate. We are creatures before the God who made us.

Nevertheless, it is a precious assembly because as children of our Heavenly Father we are before Him in Jesus Christ who is our Righteousness. Because of Christ’s precious blood we need not fear the holiness of God. Through the Lord Jesus Christ we know covenantal fellowship with God.

2. Another principle of worship shown here is that worship is listening to that Living God. God’s people are assembled together before the Holy God to listen to Him.

In spite of what many are saying today, listening is at the very center of worship. Oh, to be sure, there are many who will disagree with this. They contend that we need more participation in worship. “We don’t do anything,” they complain, “all we do is listen. We should be doing something.” Discussion, forced participation through some form of ritual and even entertainment would satisfy them. They seek for an “exciting worship” which is fostered by various novel additions to the service. There is clamor for the hour of worship to take on a new atmosphere of freedom.

However, they are terribly behind times. Many who for years have tried all kinds of additions and changes—changes that range all the way from intense ritual to a religious vaudeville, so to speak—are finding them to be without significance and, therefore, without spiritual benefit. Sad to say, orthodox, creedal churches, long firm as solid rocks, are now just beginning with these meaningless additions and changes.

Notice what we read in the 25th verse: “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not when they refused him that warned them on earth, much more shall not we escape, who turn away from him that warneth from heaven.”See that ye refuse not him that speaketh.” That’s what the Scripture says. Worship is primarily listening as God speaks, and theres nothing unspiritual about listening! In worship, the Covenant God is speaking to His people. Down from heavenly Zion comes the voice of God.

God is speaking. What does He say? He speaks and I receive a Spiritual education. I need to know about Him. The more I learn, the more I sense His greatness and I learn to trust in Him more. 1 need to know God’s stipulations for life as a Covenant person. I am weak and easily tempted. He must speak. Then, I repent.

He speaks and I receive comfort. He turns my eye of faith to Jesus, the Spotless Lamb of God. He is my hope. He tells me that He is faithful to His covenant. He never fails. He speaks and I know peace.

God speaks; and covenantally He speaks in worship in several ways. Worship begins with God speaking; and it ends there, too. All of our everyday struggles, problems, worries, are met with God’s speaking—even our “little faith.” We hear the Votum: “Our help is in the name of Jehovah who made heaven and earth.” God in a parliamentary way is calling us to order saying, “Bring all your cares to me. The door is open to My presence. Bring them to the mercy seat and know the blessedness of fellowship with Me.”

Then we hear “Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Later, when we come to the end of the service, we hear the Benediction. In both the Salutation and Benediction God is speaking peace to us. He’s saying, “There is grace for My people.” Then in the midst of worship, He also speaks. We hear the Law of God, and we find ourselves standing with Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai.

We hear the Word read in the Scripture reading. Then, we hear the Word being explained and applied in the sermon. God speaks, and by His Spirit, He takes that Word home to us applying it to our hearts and lives. Worship is listening to a Holy God.

3. However, this is not alL Worship has more to it. Theres another principle of worship. Worship is listening, hut it is also praising the Living God. Of course, the common cry today is that we should be doing more in worship. Many talk this way, pointing out that the word “liturgy” simply means “work of the people.” And so they tell liS that we have to have more congregational participation. We need to read prayers and responsive readings, we are told. Because of the emphasis on self-expression today, they seek a new freedom of expression within worship.

What these people don’t realize is that already there is ample opportunity for “doing” in the hour of worship. Worship by definition is ascribing worth to something—in this case God. It is an act saying, “God alone is supreme. He alone has value.” This is taught here in Hebrews 12, also. After we read that there shall be another time when all creation trembles, that is, the hour of judgment, then we read, “Wherefore, receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and with awe: for our God is a consuming fire.” In other words, we are reading something like this: “Let’s be thankful that the kingdom which we receive is unshakable: and in that spirit of thankfulness, let us then offer acceptable worship to God.”

Now, what we do in this spirit of thankfulness we must always do as a body for we are the Body of Christ met together to worship God. That does not mean that we do “our own thing.” That does not mean that we do what we think is nice. Nor does that allow worship to become a “free for all,” like the Corinthian Church had in its worship services. God reminded Corinth through Paul that He is a God of order. It does mean that when we are met for worship we arc before Gods holy throne in order to heM Him and to respond.

How do we respond in praise? We hear God speak, and that in itself, of course, is praise. You know, if you really respect somebody, you will listen to that earthly voice, won’t you? Have you ever stood outside a schoolroom door and observed a teacher speaking to her class as the class listens with rapt attention? They sit there with their eyes glued on that teacher as she speaks. Why? There’s respect; there’s praise for that teacher, as it were. In listening, there is praise. In listening to God as He speaks there is praise. And listening is work. It‘s not easy to worship. There are all kinds of things that trouble those who come to worship. Events of yesterday and events of tomorrow trouble us. So do the events of that Sunday. All these things are in our minds pulling our attention away from the Word. It‘s not easy to worship. It’s work.

But to praise God is to listen as God speaks to you through His Word. Then you respond in prayer and in song. Why is it that we dont have a “free for all” in singing or praying so that each worshiper does as he pleases? Not only because it would be utterly foolish, but because when were met together as the people of God, we’re met as a unit, as one. We are worshiping as the Body of Christ together before God.

You see, when we really worship, we are busy “doing.” What are we “doing”? We are expressing our trust in the Holy God. Conscious of our needs and our weaknesses as we come in worship, we say “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” We say, “In Thee, O Lord, I put my trust.” We are expressing our trust as we gather together to worship before the throne of God.

What are we “doing”? We are saying our “amens.” Maybe no one ever says “amen” out loud. If they did it would not be the worst thing as some seem to think. But in our hearts we are saying “amen.” We express our “amens” as we sing and as we pray. In so doing we are saying, “God is our God.” We are overwhelmed by God‘s mercy, grace and love.

And as we are there before that mountain, we’re remembering that we are in the presence of God. What we say we mean. We sing. But we don’t just sing words with a tune that has caught our fancy. We are singing words; and we mean what we sing. Were praying, but we are not just bowing our heads, waiting for prayer to be done. We mean what we are praying. Every word said, every deed done is part of this sacrifice of praise to God. “For our God is a consuming fire.”

When we realize this, then we almost want to say, “Ssshhh, we’re in the presence of a Holy God. We must listen. We must hear what God is saying. “Then our hearts will overflow with praise.”

Ah, worship is serious business. Is it for you?

Worship is work Is it for you?

Worship is so blessed. Brother and sister in Jesus Christ, is it blessed for you?