Our Father, we by now understand that a worship service is merely a slice in time and not divorce from the rest of our life, not separated from what we do the rest of the week, just a culmination of worship as a group, something that should be going on all the time. And we give you our praise, not only in song, but now in listening. And giving you our attention and learning and then applying what we believe your Spirit speaks to us. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Well, the title of this message is "Hand Up, Face Down." A simple word picture to paint a picture of worship. Anticipation and expectation with the hands up, humility with the face down. Picture an Old Testament worshipper in the temple, that would be a typical position that one would assume. But this morning what I'd like you to do is to think about what worship means to you personally, but that's just the first level. And then, think what worship means to Jesus Christ personally. You see, that's often where we don't go. Often we just think about what worship means to me, I like the worship, I enjoyed the worship. But what I want you to think about is what worship means to Jesus Christ.
I was given this some time back, an unknown author penned something called "Visiting Day." It goes like this: "He had been looking forward to this moment all day long. After six days of labor and it finally arrived: visiting day. The man with the keys arrived to swing open the large heavy doors. The cold gray hall sprang to life in the warm glow of light. He could hardly control his emotions. The families began to arrive. He peers from the corner of the room longing for the first glimpse of his loved ones. He lives for the weekends. He lives for these visits. As the cars arrive, he watches intently. Then finally they arrive for whom he would do anything. They embrace, eat a light lunch and reminisce how things used to be. At one point they break into singing, with interruptions of laughter and applause. But all too soon it is over. A tear comes to his eye as they depart. Then the men with the keys close the heavy doors. He hears the key turn in the lock marking the end of a special day. There he stands alone again. He knows that most of his visitors will not contact him again until next week. As the last car pulls away from the parking lot, Jesus retreats into loneliness as he waits til next Sunday, visiting day."
Well, to a lot of churchgoers, that's what Sunday is. It's a time we pack everybody up and we go visit Jesus for an hour. But it is certainly more than visiting day, we could call it victory day. It's the day we culminate all of our private praise during the week and anticipate further episodes of worship and praise for the days ahead as we experience God's faithfulness.
Now today what we're going to do is consider the worship of the early church as well as the worship of the eternal church. We're going to take just again a quick snapshot of the church on earth in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. Then, fast forward to the eternal church in heaven far from now. So here we are sandwiched in between those two realities. The reality of past history and the reality of future prophecy. Church on earth, church in heaven and we're in between. We're far removed from the Jerusalem church of two thousand years ago but we want to see again their priority list, fast forward to heaven, because it ought to be one continual anthem of praise. So let's look at Acts chapter 2 to begin with and I'm going to give to you six observations about worship, and because there are six today, I am not going to spend an enormous amount of time on any one of them, we want to go through them quickly.
Number one, worship is fundamental. It is absolutely basic to who we are and what we do as Christians. And I'd like you to look at Acts chapter 2, the very last verse, something we've looked at before in this series, verse 47. Notice the first two words, Praising God. "Praising God and having favor with all the people, and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." Now you remember, do you not, that this last paragraph of chapter 2 in Acts, around verse 40 or 41, down to verse 47, is a synopsis of the life of the early church. It's what they valued, what they prioritized, what they practiced. And verse 47 is the summary statement of the paragraph, dividing if you will, all of their activity into a vertical axis and a horizontal axis. Vertically they were praising God, horizontally they were having favor with all the people. So that is the summary statement. And it shows us that one of the most important things that defined them, all of the other activities can be summed up by it, is they were praising or worshipping God. Why? Because worship is fundamental, it's basic. Remember Jesus said to the woman at the well of Samaria? "The Father is seeking those who will worship Him in spirita nd in truth." Well guess what? He found them. Here, in the early church at Jerusalem, the very thing that Jesus said the Father wanted, the Father has found in a group that is praising God or worshipping God.
Now let's fast forward to Revelation chapter 4 and look at the eternal church. And we'll spend the bulk of our time here. Now I take you to chapter 4 of Revelation. I'm going to sum up several things and take you into verse 8. John is in heaven, he sees a throne, God is on the throne. There's a sea of glass; there are four crazy-looking creatures, living creatures. And there are twenty-four elders representative of the church. In verse 8, "The four living creatures each having six wings were full of eyes around and within and they do not rest day or night saying, 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.' Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. And cast their crowns before the throne saying, 'You are worthy, O lord.' (By the way, worthy is the word we get worship from. The original word was worth-ship. Worths-0hip. The idea is to ascribe worth ro value to someone.) You are worthy O Lord to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things and by your will they exist and were created." So, it's a pretty straightforward story. God is on the throne, he is the center of everyone's attention. John is immediately truck with God, that's the one everybody notices. He is the central being of interest, not somebody's relatives or pets or angels or saints, but God. There's no mention of Peter being there with a clipboard letting people in after you answer four questions. It's just: Boom! Heaven. God. And He is worshipped.
Now I show you this to point out that worship is the one activity the church does on earth that we'll do forever in heaven. That's the one worship we do now that we will do forever. Because there's a lot of activities we do now, we will not do in heaven. You will never evangelize anyone in heaven. You will never share the gospel or give out a tract in heaven. You will not pray in heaven, there will be no need to have prayer as we know it now. There will be no need for discipleship in heaven. But you worship here and you will worship there. It's the one activity that follows us. In fact, you could sort of look as now being a time if practice, This is where we practice for heaven, this is where we practice for eternity. So worship is fundamental. The second thing I want you notice is that worship is intellectual. And let me explain that, worship is based upon who God is and what God has done, we see that clearly here. In verse 8, they worship him for who he is: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come. So who is God? He's holy, he's almighty, he's eternal. But we also worship God and they worship God based on not just his character but his conduct. Not just his attributes but his activity, what he does. So verse 11, "You are worthy O Lord to receive glory, honor, and power for (or because) you created all things." God is worthy of our praise, our worship because he did what nobody else can ever do: he created everything. And he deserves worship based on that. But there's more. Look at chapter 5, verse 9, "They sang a new song saying, 'You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals,' (taking the title deed of the earth, full redemption is in view) for (or because) you were slain and have redeemed us to God by your blood.'" So he created us, he redeemed us. That's what he did. So God is worshipped for who he is and therefore we have to know who he is because we respond; and for what he has done. Therefore we have to know what he has done so we can respond. The point of this all is that worship is an intelligent response to God that involves the mind. WE think about who he is, we think about what he has done. Worship is not working ourselves up into some emotional outburst or frenzy and once we get into the mood we go, "Now that is worship." It involves the mind, Jesus said, "The Father is looking for those who worship in spirit and in truth" (or according to truth).
I found an author that wrote something that I thought was very helpful on a daily basis for ya'll. "At times throughout the day, as I work in my office, I find myself on my knees thanking God for his goodness." When I eat a meal with my wife or talk with a friend or take my dog out for a walk, I worship God for his goodness. The world is full of praise prompters and heaven will overflow with them." I like that phrase, praise prompters. What the point of it is is that God's action prompts my reaction of praise. The problem is we don't always see the praise prompters. We can have our head so low, so beat down, that we fail to realize all of the things God has done and who he is to us and render him praise. Well Jesus said we are to love the Lord our God "with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength." So it involves the intellect, it involves the mind, it involves knowing. Remember what Jesus said to that Samaritan woman? "You don't know what you worship. We know what we worship." And the apostle Paul rebuked those who have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge. So worship should engage the mind as we dwell on the greatness of God. Let me just add one footnote before we move on. And I'll say this just from personal experience: there never is a time in a person's life or an experience where God can't be worshipped. There is no valley, there is no depth, there is no darkness where God is not worthy of all praise and all glory. I read the writings of Job or David in the Psalms or Paul in prison and discover that sometimes their praise was the sweetest and most genuine in those dark times. God is worthy to praised for who he is and what he has done.
Third, worship is physical. Worship is physical. Now look with me at chapter 4, verse 10. Notice this, "The twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever and cast their crowns before his throne." There's a lot of physical activity in that verse. Chapter 5, verse 8, "When he, the Lamb, had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb." What is going on? I'll tell you what is going on: they are awestruck. They understand what redemption means, they understand what the title deed to the earth means, when the Lamb takes the scroll and opens and peels those seals off and they are so awestruck being in the presence of the Lamb and the Father God upon the throne that they are grateful and respond, treating God as if anybody on earth would treat royalty; by bowing. By bowing.
Now if you've ever read through the Old Testament this is pretty common. Whenever royalty, a king, a prince, would enter the room or a province, that's how people treated them, they would bow. And did you know, that of all of the Old Testament words used for worship, the most common word (used ninety-seven times in the Old Testament translated into English worship) is the Hebrew word shac-hah which means literally to bow down, to incline, to do obescence to. Psalm 95, verse 6, "oh come, let us worship and bow down." That's respect, that's honor and they show that to God. So that is a physical form. You can, should you choose, and maybe I should use the Christianized form of that, feel led, to bow before the Lord, even in a time of worship like this. I know space is limited but if you've got the space around you to do it, it's perfectly biblical to do so. Just don't draw attention to yourself, all the attention is drawn to him. That's one form of worship, there are other forms the Bible speaks about. The raising up of the hands, like we sang just a moment ago. In I Timothy chapter 2 verse 8, Paul writes, "Whenever you assemble I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God."
I remember the first time I saw somebody do this, honestly I thought, "That's goofy. I can never see myself doing that. I'm just not that kind of person." That's what I said. And I often tried to figure out what that was about. And maybe you're even thinking, "Skip, help me out on this. What's the deal with the raising of the hands?" Here it is. First of all, raising up of hands is a sign of welcome. What does a little child do when his or her parents enter the room, they haven't seen them for a few hours? They do that, reaching up to embrace them. What do adults do when they first meet somebody? They put out their hand to welcome them. We do that with people. It's also a sign of surrender, when your hands are up. "Come out with your hands up." You're surrendered, your hands are visible, because when your hands are up, you can't do anything else. You can't text a friend, you can't talk to somebody next to you, it's very difficult to do that when your hands are sort of covering that availability. So it's a sign of welcome, it's a sign of surrender. And Paul said I want men and women to do it.
Also, the bible speaks about kneeling down. Psalm 95, "Come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord." Like bowing, it's a sign of humility. It simply says, "I am preoccupied with God. I'm not thinking about school or work or problems or finances. I'm preoccupied with God."
Here's another form the Bible speaks about, will raise a few eyebrows, dancing. Dancing is a form of worship. Psalm 149 verse 3, "let them praise his name with the dance." They did that, did they not, at some of the great festivals of the Jews. They would gather together, they still do it by the way, as a form of worship they dance. Now this isn't the hip hop. This is a holy worshipful dance. Picture Exodus chapter 15, when they crossed through the Red Sea and Miriam took a tambourine out and they got a few gals and they, in a worshipful manner, did a dance expressing their joy for the victory God had given them.
Standing is also mentioned in the Bible as a form of worship with the body. Psalm 135, "Praise Him, oh you servants of the Lord who stand in the house of the Lord." Just like again, royalty, you would stand up when God enters the room.
Now I think you see where I'm going with all this. In the West, we're the West, in the Western culture we have so guarded ourselves against any type of physical expression in worship except for one, sitting. That we say "Is acceptable, that I can do." Because it's most comfortable to us. But all of these other forms are acceptable and biblical. Also, the lifting of the eyes is another one. Psalm 123, "Unto you I lift up my eyes, oh you who dwell in the heavens." Guess what? Closing your eyes and folding your hands? Not in the Bible. Sorry to share that with you, it doesn't mean it's bad, it just didn't make God's top five. People do it and it's fine, it's really a matter of the heart. But the body can correspond with the heart. And here in heaven, it was perfectly acceptable, in fact it was right for them to cast their crowns and bow before the Lord.
Worship is fundamental, it is intellectual, it is physical, an number four worship is musical. It's musical. Look at chapter 5, verse 8, "Now when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp." A harp, that's a musical instrument. I'll be honest with you, when I read through this or when I first read through this, this did not excite me, I did not get all jazzed about playing a harp in heaven. In fact, for me that whole idea that I tried to get away from of spending a gazillion years with a white robe on a cloud playing a harp never really stoked me and I was really trying to get away from that. But here it says they had a harp. But I did a little research and discovered a harp according to a bible dictionary is a trapezoidal instrument with strings that are plucked or strummed. So I thought, "You know that just sounds in modern terms a lot like a guitar." In fact, the Greek word is kethara which even sounds like a guitar. And The Amplified Bible, I hope you don't think I'm stretching this too far here, but the The Amplified Bible renders this, "Each one having a harp, in parenthesis, a lute or a guitar. So I read that and I thought, "Okay, heaven's sounding way cooler right about now."
Here's the point I want to make on this particular point: Musical instruments have always been a part of the worship of God in the Old Testament and here culminating in the New Testament expression of heaven. It was used when they moved the Ark, it was used when they held festivals, it was used in the temple, it was used during sacrifices. And here in heaven, musical instruments are employed. Here's Psalm 150, "Praise him with the sound of the trumpet. Praise him with stringed instruments and flutes. Praise him with loud cymbals." So next time you here at and you go, "Oof," now you know what that's about. "And praise Him with clashing cymbals."
Martin Luther wrote, Next to theology, I give to music the highest place and honor. If any man despises music as all fanatics do, for him I have no liking. For music is a gift and the grace of God, not the invention of men."
And I will say that I've changed my whole perspective on the harp thing, I should throw this in, this week in the hospital there's been a harpist. It's the greatest thing, I've never seen it in a hospital, but a gal who's very skilled and proficient at the harp would go and play in front of rooms. And it's so soothing. And I asked the nurse's station about it, she said, "Oh yes, we have discovered that not only does this help the family but it significantly lowers the blood pressure of the patients." Beautiful, a beautiful expression.
So, worship is musical, there are musical instruments. Now I know that some churches are against the use of musical instruments. All I can say is that they're going to be very surprised in heaven. And the only way to get around this is to so misinterpret and allegorize the text that it makes no sense whatsoever. Music is a part of worship.
Fifth, worship is vocal. Worship is vocal. Look at verse 9 of chapter 5, "And they sang a new song saying.." Notice it was a song and that they sang it, they all sang it. The four living creatures sang it, the twenty-four elders sang it. And in a few minutes, "All the angels of heaven will bear the anthem." They sang. It doesn't say, "And they watched others sing." They sang, they all joined into it. Now as much as I love a good choir, I love a good choir, I love it, I love when beautiful voices blend together; you ought to know that Calvary of Albuquerque has a choir, I'm looking at them right now, you're the choir. All of you are the choir. And sometimes the statement a choir can makes is, "We will select the best voices out of the congregation, put them up here and you will watch them and listen to them." That's not the way it's supposed to be. The way it's supposed to be is all of us are the choir, all of us join in, "They sang a song." And something else, please notice in a our verse, what kind of a song they sang. It was a new song, the Greek word Kinos. It's a song they had never sung before, it was brand new, and the lyrics are even written. Now, the whole concept of a new song, singing a new song, appears nine times in the Bible, where we exhorted throughout the scripture, "Sing a new song to the Lord. Sing a new song to the Lord." I've discovered a lot of people refuse to do this and they will say, "Well the old songs are better. The old hymns are better." And I agree, there's a depth of theology in our spiritual roots that are unmatched by many of those songs. But if you refuse to learn and sing new songs and you will hearken back to the old songs, you're making a very indicting statement against the church. What you are saying is, "God used to move, six hundred years ago, but he has stopped since those hymns were written, he's not moving any more, he's not working any more, there's really nothing that we could ever add to that." Oh, and by the way, when those hymns were written, four hundred, six hundred, two hundred years ago? They were considered contemporary worship songs in that generation. They weren't new, they were edgy. In fact, many throughout history have sensed the need to bring in new styles. Did you know that in 1524 Martin Luther decided to take bar songs, drinking melodies, and put Christian lyrics to them. You go, "Oh, I can't believe it." Sure you can, they're classics now. One of those songs is "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." Another song, "Away in a Manger." They're classics now but they were considered really on the edge back then. Martin Luther said, this, "How has it happened that in the secular field there are so many fine poems and so many beautiful songs while in the religious field we have such rotten lifeless stuff." Tell us how you really feel, Martin Luther. He sensed the need, "Let's just kind of update this thing." Then in the year 1690 a young boy by the name of Isaac in coming home from a church service complained to his father saying, "Dad, you know the songs at church are really boring." His dad got mad at him and said, "If you think you can do any better, then you write some." And so, young Isaac Watts did write some. And Isaac Watts wrote, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," and "Joy to the World." Then there was William Booth who wanted to reach people out on the streets with the Salvation Army, and he wanted the Salvation Army band to not have a church organ but trumpets and drums and so he did. They created something new. But can you guess what the church called that kind of music at that time? Devil music. That's what they called it, "That's devil music." Then there was Dwight Lymon Moody from Chicago who did crusades and his worship leader was one by the name of Ira Sanke who took contemporary songs, like Luther, what was contemporary then was the waltz, and add Christian songs or lyrics to them. He took his music over to Scotland. The church of Scotland was appalled, all they were used to singing were the Psalms of David and they resisted any new expression at all calling Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sanke's music "Steam kettle music," just makes a lot of noise, God's not in it. They did not want to sing anything new. But in heaven, it is a song and it is a new song.
So, worship is fundamental, it is intellectual, it is physical, it is vocal and finally and I close with this: worship is emotional. Maybe I should have chosen a better word because of what that term conjures up, maybe I should just say it's passionate. Real worship is passionate. I want you just to follow me with a few verses. Verse 11 of chapter 5, "Then I looked and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands saying with a loud voice (just please notice that as we read, phone megalee, a mega voice, a loud voice) 'Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.' And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and as such as are in the sea and all that are in them, I heard saying, 'Blessing and honor and glory and power be to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.' And the four living creatures said, 'Amen.' And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshipped him who lives forever and ever." Now as I read this, the picture that I get is this ever-crescendoing cycle of praise, where more and more join in this eternal anthem. And it sounds to me like it's pretty loud. And I can only infer from the biblical text itself here and in other places that God is into volume. Maybe I'm wrong. But I'll tell you, I don't think God is into this (slowly, quietly) "Shout to he lord all the earth…" (snoring) I don't think he's into that. And you could say, "Well I'm just not a good singer." Get over it. That's all I can say. That's not the issue. It's really not about us. I had a camp counselor who said, "God gave you a bad voice, give it back to him." I've always followed that. And your voice given to you by God is an adequate instrument to worship him. "Sing unto the Lord," the Bible says that. It also says, "Make a joyful noise." Anybody can do that, I've watched kids do that and they can't carry a tune but they are so happy. Maybe people around them aren't but it is a joyful noise to them. But here's the idea: there's emotion, there's passion. Again Jesus said, "You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." Put yourself into it, when you sing, sing like you mean it. Now I know people are wired differently. I now that people will say, I've talked to people, I used to even say this, "Well I'm not an emotional person." I beg to differ. You might not be an emotional person singing worship, but you're an emotional person. When you got that birdie on the golfcourse three weeks ago, you didn't go, "Well that was nice." You jumped up, you shouted. When the Lobos scored or the Isotopes scored, you stood up and you shouted. When your kids received that award, you were emotional. I guess it all depends what you were excited about. Why is it that Christians think that enthusiasm for the most worthy thing in all of the universe must somehow be carefully contained? You think God would be pleased? You think God looks at us when we hold it all in and he goes, "Way to keep it all inside, buddy. Way to do it man. Way to show nobody that you love me. Way to go. Way to worship." I think anyone loves it when we have any emoting or passionate at all in our love for them and so does God.
I know we're all different, I know we're all wired different, I know that some are more expressive than others, I'm just saying whoever you are and whatever your makeup is, please give your all to God. And if you are flatline and catatonic by nature, then give all of that to God. But give him your all, give him your all. And don't let your worship be confined to visiting day. Let it be the ongoing expression of your life. It's one of the things that marked the early church and it will mark the eternal church and thus it should mark our church.
I read something, I've never seen the marker myself, but in England, you know that there's church cemeteries that churches for years, even the early part of this country, had a churchyard with graves in it. In Fairford Shire there is a churchyard with a monument to a cat. A monument, a gravestone, a monument to a cat. And if you ask the townspeople about it, they will say, "Well you know whenever this church was open for worship services, the cat would often wander in." In fact, the townspeople will say, "We notice that this cat attended worship services more than anyone in our town." So they built a monument to the Worshipping Cat." So I read that and I said, "I will not be outdone by any cat." Amen? None of us should ever be outdone by a cat. God is worthy of all of our worship, God is good all of the time. And all of these praise prompters that are constantly around us should grab our attention. And our worship should be the natural flow to a God who is most worthy.
Let's pray. Heavenly Father, you are worthy, that is the word that we so often read in this text. Worthy is the Lamb and worthy is the one who sits on the throne. And as being the worthy one we give you our worth-ship, our worship, our praise. It is not determined by how we are feeling but who you are. It is not determined by what is going on inside of us or around us but what you have done and are doing. And whether we can see it or not, even as Job said, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord." And we declare that to you today as your people because you are worthy. In Jesus' name.