January 7, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 16:30 in the audio file.
Or, Liturgy That Embodies All That Christ Fulfilled
Except for the very first Sunday that we worshipped together as a church, we have followed the same pattern of liturgy every Lord’s Day morning service. The only thing that we did not do the first Sunday was celebrate communion. Otherwise, every morning service, whether in our living room, at the Lakewood facility, here in the MSDA building, and even the one Sunday out on the Weinbergs’ old basketball court, we’ve used the same liturgy.
That’s not to say that we have a complex liturgy, it’s not to say that there’s nothing that could be added or edited or tweaked, it’s not to say that it’s “high” (or “low”), but it is at least intentional and we’ve been consistent in it. It is also different than most of us were used to.
Most of us are from “the sermon is the most important part of the service” churches. Even these Sermon Saints are a diminishing group in our day. You can usually find them with their noses in a book with unpleasant typography, and probably not wading through the potpourri and Precious Moments figurines at the local Bible bookstore. These are mostly our kind of people. Yet the longer we’ve been worshipping with a liturgy that includes a sermon but does not worship the sermon, the more I’m thankful.
Sermon-as-dominating-liturgy teaches, without needing to say it (though many preachers will), that information is the most important thing about worship. The sermon is for venerating truth not for ventilating affections. Ironically, the way most liturgies prepare people’s “hearts” to listen for the truth is by…singing. But the Really Serious Christians, RSCs for short, recognize that songs are mostly filler, and probably heretical. If church is about truth, then get to it, man. Melody? Harmony? Multiple voices? What’s that all about? Preach the word.
Of course there are the love people, often teetering on the edge of the opposite ditch from the truth people. They have affection for affections, and what kills affection, they often argue, more than an information dump? If worship is about the heart, then of course we need to sing, and if the lights are off that’s probably better. These are also RSCs for short, Really Sing-y Christians. For them, sermons can’t help but be boring. Exegesis? Outlines? One voice announcing things to the group? Don’t quench the Spirit.
These are extremes, but they are not exaggerations. They also miss the point of worship, which does demand love for God and is based on His truth but is aimed at our fellowship with the Father by the Spirit in the Son. Our liturgy should be true to that form.
What is that form? And where do we learn about it? The place to start is not actually in the New Testament, though we’ll consider that next Lord’s day. We start in the Old Testament with the sacrificial system of various offerings that God gave to His people so that they, by faith, could be in covenant relationship. God forgives and transforms and provides, they believe and obey and receive.
Before we consider how the sacrifices provide a pattern for our liturgy, remember that God has not revealed a one-and-only order of service anywhere in the Bible. While we appreciate what can be learned in the history of the church it is the Bible we are most concerned about, and the Bible is not strict about service sequence. There is, therefore, a measure of freedom for what local churches do and in what order they do it. The only bulletin inserts in our Bibles are ones we put in there, not ones that God did.
Also remember that God has revealed some explicit priorities for corporate meetings, not only in the example of the early church but also in His explicit instructions to church leaders such as Timothy and Titus. In particular, there is a heavy emphasis on the Word. Timothy was to be devoted to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13). Timothy was to “preach the Word, in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). Paul required attention on the instruction components, though he did not say that they alone should receive attention. The presence of the book of Psalms argues that praising God in song is also fitting.
Third, we always say something by what we do and how we do it. This is the liturgical opportunity, or more, the liturgical inevitability. It’s not whether but which. It’s not whether there will be liturgy, but which liturgy it will be. We can either be purposeful about our liturgy, or pretend that we aren’t. Again, we want our liturgy to be true to form. Our liturgy should embody all that Christ fulfilled for us.
In the Old Testament the Lord gave His people instructions for their corporate worship. He provided an order for their sacrifices intended to draw them near to Him in fellowship.
We have little appreciation for their sacrifices, except maybe as a reason to be thankful that we don’t need to go through all of that anymore. Leviticus is a killer, not of animals as much as of our Bible reading motivation. Who can keep track of all the sacrifices, all the blood, all the mess? We thank God for Christ.
The reason we give thanks for Christ, though, is because He fulfilled what the OT sacrifices symbolized. That doesn’t make them unimportant, that makes them paradigmatic. They are the pattern that Christ’s offering fit perfectly.
Though we read about many different types of sacrifices under the Old Covenant, the main offerings can be summarized under three categories:
These sacrifices were sometimes offered by themselves, but when offered together they usually follow the same sequence. In other words, there is a predictable order of offerings as His assembled people drew near in worship.
All three categories are found in Leviticus 9. Aaron, his sons, and the elders inaugurated worship at the tabernacle, starting with these daily sacrifices. Moses instructed Aaron to offer sacrifices for his own sin first, and then for the people.
On the eighth day Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel, and he said to Aaron, “Take for yourself a bull calf for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without blemish, and offer them before the LORD. And say to the people of Israel, ‘Take a male goat for a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both a year old without blemish, for a burnt offering, and an ox and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before the LORD, and a grain offering mixed with oil, for today the LORD will appear to you.’” (Leviticus 9:1–4)
Notice the sin offering, burnt offering, and peace offering (the grain offering is mentioned, but connected with the peace offering). Aaron offered the sin and burnt offerings for himself and his sons (verses 8-14) and then “he presented the people’s offering” (verses 15-24).
The point of worship was to “draw near” to (Leviticus 9:7), to “meet” with (verse 23) God so that “the glory of the Lord may appear to you” (verse 6). But something stands in the way of that fellowship: sin.
When God covenants with men He deals with their sin. The penalty for sin is death, and priests slaughtered animals and threw blood on the altar to show that death had occurred. God called for confession and repentance from sinners as well as a substitute sacrifice represented in the guilt offering. The animal died instead of the sinner, and the sinner died symbolically in the animal.
“Aaron drew near to the altar and killed the calf of the of the sin offering, which was for himself” (verse 8) and then “he presented the people’s offering and took the goat of the sin offering that was for the people and killed it and offered it as a sin offering, like the first one” (verse 15).
One of the reasons that Christ’s offering is so significant is that He did not need to offer for Himself first and then for the people because He was perfect. He had no sin that needed forgiveness; all the rest of us do.
Once sin was covered, the sacrifice was cut up, or a second animal was killed and cut up, placed on top of the altar by the priest, and then burned in its entirety as a sign of total dedication.
Then he killed the burnt offering, and Aaron’s sons handed him the blood, and he threw it against the sides of the altar. And they handed the burnt offering to him, piece by piece, and the head, and he burned them on the altar. And he washed the entrails and the legs and burned them with the burnt offering on the altar. (Leviticus 9:12–14)
The fire burned the entire sacrifice and represented the complete consummation of the worshipper. The symbol was total consecration, whole devotion to the Lord. The smoke from the fire drifted up into the Lord’s presence and this is why we read about some aromas pleasing the Lord. The meat was being cooked and consumed.
Just as the animal represented the guilty worshipper in the sin offering, so the animal represented the consecrated worshipper in the burnt offering.
Connected with the burnt offering was the grain (or Tribute) offering.
And he presented the burnt offering and offered it according to the rule. And he presented the grain offering, took a handful of it, and burned it on the altar, besides the burnt offering of the morning. (Leviticus 9:15–17)
The grain offering was a consecration of the fruit of one’s work, a recognition of the Lord’s provision. It was placed on top of the burning animal and connected with the consecration of the worshipper.
The third sacrifice in the liturgical sequence was the peace offering. Another animal was (or animals were) killed and then cooked on top of the altar, on top of the burnt offering.
Then he killed the ox and the ram, the sacrifice of peace offerings for the people. And Aaron’s sons handed him the blood, and he threw it against the sides of the altar. But the fat pieces of the ox and of the ram, the fat tail and that which covers the entrails and the kidneys and the long lobe of the liver— they put the fat pieces on the breasts, and he burned the fat pieces on the altar, but the breasts and the right thigh Aaron waved for a wave offering before the LORD, as Moses commanded. (Leviticus 9:18–21)
The difference between the burnt offering and the peace offering was the the burnt offering was consumed in flame, the peace offering was consumed as food. The burnt offering represented the worshipper’s entire devotion to God, the peace offering represented the worshipper’s communion with God. It was a shared meal, a sacrificial feast, between parties now at peace.
Verse 22 summarizes the whole service.
Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. (Leviticus 9:22)
There are the three categories of offerings. Then observe what happened.
And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. (Leviticus 9:23–24)
The worship brought God and His people together in meeting. The meeting brought God’s blessing and they saw His glory revealed. As His people saw His glory they responded with more worship and honor of God.
Yes, the offerings in Leviticus 9 were for Israel’s worship before Christ came. Christ has come and He fulfilled the whole sacrificial system. We don’t have to go through those ceremonies, and that is completely true.
But knowing more about the OT sacrifices helps us know what Christ fulfilled. “The law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities” (Hebrews 10:1a). The “shadow” still outlines the shape. The shadows showed how to be forgiven, how to be wholly devoted to God, how to share communion with God. The realities are about drawing near to meet God in Christ.
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. (Hebrews 10:1)
Christ makes all those things reality for those who worship God through Him.
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
In His sacrifice, we are forgiven, our sin and guilt are taken away (verses 4, 18). In His sacrifice, we are sanctified, our lives are consecrated for His service (“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified,” verse 14). In His sacrifice, we are drawn near to share peace and fellowship with Him.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19–22)
In our liturgy, after the call to worship, we confess our sins and remember His covenant to forgive those who confess because of Christ’s sacrifice. Christ was crucified once, but each week we take hold of His sin offering by faith.
After our confession, most of our time is spent in consecration. We sing to Him. We hear His Word which exposes our necks to the knife (Hebrews 4:12-13). We offer our supplications because we depend on Him completely. We come before His Word. And we give our offerings in recognition of His provision. We ourselves are the offerings to God in His Son.
The next part of our liturgy is a meal of peace. We commune with God through the peace offering of Christ. We are forgiven by Him, devoted to Him, so now we fellowship with Him. This is a sacrifice of worship. Paul connects the shared meal of bread and wine with the peace offering shared by the Israelites around the altar (1 Corinthians 10:16-18).
Our worship isn’t intended to repeat Israel’s sacrificial system. We aren’t going back to live in the shadows. We are living in the realities won by Christ for us, and the pattern of our liturgy embodies all that Christ fulfilled for us. Not surprisingly, those realities have a similar shape to the shadows.
What do you do with this? What is your application? It is at least so that you will know what blessings to seek from God when we assemble for worship. Understanding truth is a blessing, it is not the end. Love for God is an end, but love must be understood in the context of relationship with God not just individualized feelings about Him. He is our Savior, our Master, our Father. The sermon and the singing have a place, but in order to be true to form of our relationship with God, we must come seeking the blessings of cleansing in Christ, consecration in Christ, and communion in Christ. We’re called to these blessings in worship and then charged to go with His blessings back to our work. The progression of our liturgy is not the only acceptable one, but it is a good one, and a potent one in Christ.
Jesus laid down His life so that you would be obedient. His blood sets you apart, not just as one who has received pardon from Him but as one who gives praise to Him. Praising Him, acknowledging His blessings, is a pleasing sacrifice to Him. So is is the sacrifice of obediently laying your life down for others. Go please God by telling others where you got your stuff, then giving them some of it.
So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:12–16)