January 17, 2021
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 16:20 in the audio file.
Or, A Pattern for the Assembly’s Blessing
Series: Our Worship #3
We are studying and hopefully stimulating our own corporate worship. Things happen when the corpus, the body, gathers in His presence that do not happen in isolation. We are His people, His temple, His dwelling place. We are a priesthood, enjoying direct access to Him. We are His sacrifices, offering our lives to Him in Christ. Through the church, God batters down unbelief and rebellion and death. The church is His propaganda, His point to heavenly rulers (Ephesians 3:10) and His battering ram against the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18).
As I emphasized last Lord’s day, worship is the work of the assembly. Some men may lead the assembly, but the corpus, the united members, meets with God.
When we assemble, what are we to do for worship? Are there particular components that are required? Elements that are allowable? Practices that are prohibited? Once we know the components, do they follow a particular pattern?
A few qualifications before I answer some of these questions.
First, God has not revealed His one-and-only order of service anywhere in Scripture. We won’t find the ultimate inspired bulletin for Israel’s worship at the temple, let alone for a local church’s Lord’s day gatherings. There is, therefore, a measure of freedom in what we do and in what order we do it.
Second, God has revealed some explicit priorities for corporate meetings, not only in the example of the early church but also in His 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 “sacred writings” (2 Timothy 3:15) but he did not say it all had to be a sermon.
Third, we always say something by what we do and how we do it. This is the liturgical opportunity. It’s not whether but which. It’s not whether there will be a form and format, but which format it will be.
Most of us have learned that learning is the point of corporate gatherings, not only because that’s what we’ve been told, but also because that’s what we’ve sat through. Singing prepares our hearts in order to learn. Praying asks God to make our hearts ready to learn. The Scripture reading is often what we’re going to learn about that day. And then the sermon takes center stage as the main lesson. Preachers work overtime to say that sermon listening is worship because we devote so much time to it. The message is the bus that takes us to the learning destination, and everything else is just trying to get everyone on the bus.
Without doubt, elders should be apt to teach (1 Timothy 3:2) and always ready to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2). The pastors and teachers equip the saints just as they themselves are fully equipped by the inspired Scriptures (see 2 Timothy 3:17). But more happens when we assemble than information transfer. As we examine its place in corporate worship, we’ll see why the Word is so important and that it’s more active than a data dump.
So, because we have liturgical freedom and priorities and opportunities, this is more of a “get to” than a “have to” discussion. We don’t “have to” eat steak, but wouldn’t you if you could?
Having considered some of the effects of our corporate worship and emphasized the people as worshippers, we’re going to consider the patterns of worship. This morning we’ll consider the pattern of Israel’s worship as a pattern for the assembly’s blessing.
In the Old Testament, under the Old (and in particular Mosaic) Covenant, the Lord gave His people specific 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 as a reason to be thankful that we don’t need to go through all 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.
Of course, the reason we give thanks for Christ 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 regular offerings can be summarized under three main categories:
What also stands out is that when these sacrifices were performed together they usually follow the same sequence. In other words, there is a predictable order of offerings as His assembled people draw near.
All three categories are found in Leviticus 9. Aaron, his sons, and the elders inaugurated worship at the tabernacle, starting with these 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). 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 God (verse 7), to “meet” with (verse 23) Him. The point was so that “the glory of the Lord may appear to you” (verse 6). Before men can approach God their sin must be addressed (see verses 8-11, 15).
God’s offer of forgiveness always required a die-er, and sacrifices were substitutes. Priests slaughtered animals and spread blood on the altar to show that death had occurred. This was part of the covenant. God expected confession and repentance from sinners as well as a substitute sacrifice represented in the guilt offering. The sin offering was crucial so that men could draw near to God.
“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 reason Christ’s offering is so significant is that He did not need to offer for Himself before the people because He was perfect. He had no sin that needed forgiveness, we have all sinned.
Once atonement was made for sin, another sacrifice was cut up, placed on top of the altar by the priest and then burned in its entirety as a sign of total consecration.
> 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 aromas from the burnt offering pleasing the Lord (for example, Exodus 29:18; Leviticus 1:9). The meat was being cooked and consumed by the fire.
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 main sacrifice in the liturgical sequence was the peace offering. Another animal was 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 surrender to God, the peace offering represented the worshipper’s communion with God. It was a shared meal, a feast, between parties now at peace.
Verse 22 summarizes the whole service and the three categories of offerings.
> 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)
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.
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 do all that anymore, 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, right? The shadows showed what was necessary for forgiveness, what it looked like to be wholly devoted to God, and gave a taste of how to share communion with God. The realities are about drawing near to meet God in Christ.
> [the law system] can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. (Hebrews 10:1b)
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.’” > (Hebrews 10:4–7 ESV)
> 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.
After our confession, most of our time is spent in consecration. We sing to Him. We hear His Word. We offer our supplications because we depend on Him completely. We come before His Word. We give our offerings in recognition of His provision.
Addressing the sermon part specifically, look back at Hebrews 4.
> For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12–13)
The word “exposed” (ESV) (verse 13), “laid bare” (NAS), “opened” (KJV) comes from the verb τραχηλίζω (trachelizo), “to lay bare (the throat)” for slicing as a sacrifice. God’s Word is a “two-edged sword” (verse 12) that cuts us up and rearranges us so that we would be acceptable offerings to God.
A sermon instructs, yes. It equips, no doubt. But the reading and preaching of God’s Word lets it out of the sheath and we come “under the knife,” made into acceptable sacrifices like the burnt offering that was consumed before God. That’s why the sermon is an essential component of corporate worship and how the entire corpus worships through this offering.
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.
Maybe it seems like that takes it too far, but that’s exactly the step Paul took.
> The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel:are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? (1 Corinthians 10:16–18)
Paul connects the shared meal of bread and wine with the peace offering shared by the Israelites around the altar.
God established different sacrifices and He set them in a specific sequence as He drew His people near to Him in their meetings. The grain and the animal offerings represented the worshippers. The grain and animals were also shadows of Christ and His once and done sacrifice. In Him we draw near to God.
Our liturgy doesn’t repeat Israel’s sacrificial system. We aren’t going back to shadows. We are living in the realities won by Christ for us. Not surprisingly, those realities have a similar shape to the shadows.
In our liturgy we draw near as:
As I said at the beginning, this is a “get to” pattern of worship, and it results in divinely given blessings on the assembly.
You have gone under the knife of God’s Word. He has reminded you that He is the one with whom you have to do, and He has reminded you that you may draw near to the throne of grace in the time of need with confidence. He has reminded you of the peace from which which you work. So praise Him, and do good, which pleases Him.
> Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21, ESV)