February 9, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 16:35 in the audio file.
Or, Tearing Down Hellish Fortresses Together
Last Lord’s Day I presented a case for a minister’s liturgical charge. A minister of the Word serves the assembly not mostly by unleashing the truth on them but by equipping them with the Word and unleashing them. The goal of a minister in the weekly worship of the flock is to glorify God by representing God’s interests to the flock so that the body grows in maturity and the minister becomes less and less needed. I told you that I pray not to be a bottleneck for you to be more like Jesus, for you to have more joy, and for you to become more jealous-able. This was one swing at explaining the charge of a minister.
The other role that is explicitly printed on the order of service is that of the assembly. This appellation is of no small significance. The assembly is all of the disciples considered and connected together. The assembly is all the parts of the body. The assembly is the entire flock worshipping not merely as individual sheep, but as one. There are seats for the assembly, but these are not spectator positions. Those who are not ministering the Word are receiving the Word, but not merely as an audience. Worship is not done by one for all to Christ, but by all as one in Christ. There are some liturgies, and I suppose some practicalities, that undermine the reality of the assembly in worship, but those ought to be fought against consciously and consistently.
As a minister has responsibility, a charge, throughout the liturgy, so does the assembly. Considered together we are charged to worship, and our worship is a charge. The assembly’s liturgical charge will be our focus for this morning.
Consider these three passages.
When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:13–18 ESV)
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13–18 ESV)
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds (fortresses, NAS). We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, (2 Corinthians 10:3–5 ESV)
None of these texts deals directly with the assembly together in worship, or with a specific liturgical pattern. But there is something that ties them together.
These passages share a perspective on the reality of two approaches of doing things. There are those who acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, who know wisdom from above, who take all their thoughts captive for Him, and there are those who do not receive Jesus as God’s Son, who are driven by hellish prejudices, who defend their position and set up their opinions against God and glory. Our confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, batters the gates of hell. Our obedience to Christ pulls down the lofty intellectual walls of Christ’s haters. It is not just wisdom that is from above, but worship from above that does this work.
So the assembly’s liturgical charge is to tear down hellish fortresses together. We do this battering of the gates corporately, not just one by one.
What are the gates that defend hell? This is not primarily a geographical but a metaphorical question. And how do recognize these hellish attributes and attitudes on earth, and how does our worship charge at them?
Hell is full of unbelief and rationalization, hostility and rebellion, ego and subjectivity, fury and conflict, and discontent and isolation. Not only is this wicked, it is miserable.
Heavenly worship is different, holy, and joyful. It is distinct. While I’m about to use more abstract terms, I’ll also try to give some concrete examples of how it fits in the assembly’s liturgical charge.
Think of the great fortresses you’ve read about, perhaps Jerusalem, or the Keep at Helm’s Deep. Imagine the siege-works built to scale the walls or blow them up or tear them down. What are ways that the assembly’s worship tears down these hellish fortresses?
Confession in the New Testament means to “say the same thing” (from the Greek word ὁμολογέω). In English we usually associate confession with an admission of guilt, and one of the pillars of our liturgy pokes this exact spot. God speaks, and part of what He says is that we have disobeyed Him. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).
The Greek word for confession does include admitting wrongdoing, but it is more often used as a commitment or a promise. It is to share a view, to be of the same mind. We also confess what we believe. A Confession of Faith is more than a personal testimony, it is a declaration that we say the same things that God says about everything that is true and real.
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged (ὁμολογέω) that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13)
Together we confess that this world is not our home, we are sojourners (see also 1 Peter 2:11).
In a different context, Paul said:
But this I confess (ὁμολογέω) to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. (Acts 24:14–15)
Hell refuses to hear the truth. Hell will decide for itself. Hell is doubt and unbelief. Hell doesn’t want to hear your repentance or your faith. Think 2 Kings 18:26-28, but in reverse; unbelief is guarding the walls and wishes you would not speak so clearly.
Hell also will do what it wants when it wants. This is not the way we’re called to worship. Hell is rebellion. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7). Worship, as the alternative, includes submission.
The assembly gets definition and direction from another. This is a key word: another. Someone else tells us who we are, and someone else tells us what to do. A minister is not that another. A minister represents the Another, and as close as a minister is to Scripture is as close as he is to authority. The pulpit does not have authority; no furniture has authority.
We volunteer, as is our duty. We worship willingly, because we’re commanded to. The church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:24). We obey, we do not rationalize or pose or protect ourselves. This is true of our behavior, this is true of our feelings.
After the paragraph about earthly, unspiritual, demonic jealousy and ambition, James turns over the rock to show where quarrels and fights come from: our hearts, our “passions are at war,” our feelings. So James reminds us: “‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:6–7).
Where do you get to practice doing what someone else says? Show up (on time, ha!), participate, kneel. Hell sees our hesitation, and is glad.
Let someone else define you, your identity. Let someone else refine you, who knows what where your dross is. Let someone else occupy your attention.
There is an honesty and humility required when we worship that hell hates. Hell wants to be served rather than serve, and to pull this off there must be great ego. Hell is full of ego, starting with the ancient serpent himself. He wanted more glory, but he did not understand that the great will be servants.
Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28)
When Jesus told the disciples that His hour of glory had come, it was before His death (John 12:20-26). He loved the disciples by washing their feet and then being pierced in His feet. He was not moved by conceit.
Hell loves to see us come with entitled attitudes. Instead, purpose to chase someone down before they leave in order to check in and/or give them an encouraging word. Sing your part so others can follow. Find a way to do something for someone else, even if they don’t see it immediately.
The way of hell is taking. The way of hell is wanting so much that it will murder and go to war (James 4). The way of hell is conflict.
The assembly worships in peace and in a way that establishes peace. Peace is given by God, peace is enabled by generosity, His and then ours to each other in imitation of Him. Hell loves consumers who don’t really care what they are consuming as long as they can get the most for the least amount. The assembly gets, but it gets by sacrifice.
The wisdom that is from above is full of mercy and good fruits. Those who sow peace, who make peace, have a harvest of righteousness and peace. Hell hates peace. Hell loves a stingy hand and a stinky eye. Hell does not want to see you sharing, or even giving the benefit of the doubt to a brother or sister. Hell loves for you to be the judge, and the higher standards you have the better. This is where the Woke are so useful to hellish fortresses. It is why Cancel Culture exists. Imagine the glorious wars among those who bless the Father and curse those made in the likeness of God (James 3:9-10). Hell loves it to be so; James said it ought not be so.
Yes, give your offering cheerfully, but there are a variety of ways to give yourself.
The way of hell is complaining, criticizing, and discontent. Hell is never satisfied. Hell cannot be grateful.
The assembly is filled with new eyes to see even more reasons for giving thanks to God, including giving thanks to God for His use of others.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, (Philippians 2:14–15)
Thankfulness sows unity, and ingratitude clears a room.
Confess, submit, serve, give, and give thanks, and do all of it together, as an assembly.
Our worship is an argument, our worship is a battering ram, our worship is a charge.
This is a mature assembly and Jesus-like, a joyful assembly, a jealous-able assembly.
Those who are broken, busy, or bullheaded need to worship. Rejoice in grace. Rejoice in forgiveness. Rejoice in submission. Rejoice in exposure/humility and honesty. Rejoice in community. Rejoice in all the things that hell hates.
Hell is (listening to) my feelings. Hell is me being God. Heaven is weeping no more because of the Lamb, standing as though slain, bringing His ransomed to the One sitting on the throne. Worship is our Amen to His honor and glory and blessing. Heaven is worship.
If you’re doing it right, by faith, at this point in the service you should feel really good about what has happened here. You have told the world, and the powers of hell, you are part of the resistance (1 Peter 5:9). You have honored the name and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and He says He will honor those who honor His name. Tearing down hellish fortresses together is good worship, and now we go to our responsibilities to live like we remember Who actually has the power in the world, the triune God.
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:11, 14, ESV)