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The End in Sight

Or, Where the Assembly's Worship Is Going

Scripture: Selected Scripture

Date: March 11, 2012

Speaker: Sean Higgins

The Particulars of Worship (Part 5)

As we finish our series on worship this morning, the end is in sight. But we really need to understand what the “end of worship” is, specifically, what God aims for in the assembly’s corporate service.

We will struggle to see the proper end of worship if we do not remember its beginning. The beginning of worship goes back before the creation of the world in the eternal, triune life of God. The love shared between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the intimate fellowship they enjoyed spilled over as a gushing fountain into the life of men. The world revolves around and by the power of Triune love. The nature of man is defined by Triune relationship. God created men to bear His image and share His life. God created men to enjoy His own love and joy, to know Him and fellowship with Him.

It wasn’t long until Adam sinned and the fellowship was broken. Even this, however, works for our ultimate good in God’s revelation. The story of redemption shows that God’s love is of such a kind that it overcomes our weakness and enmity. All three Persons serve to reconcile us. This is the gospel. Sinners may receive forgiveness, the separated may be restored to fellowship. The dead can be made alive, the mortal can share eternal life. In Christ, we can worship and our worship is even deeper because we know more about His righteousness, His patience, His grace, His sacrifice, and His love. In Christ, God is for us. In Christ, we are brought to the Father.

God’s eternal end is to share His life of loving, joyful fellowship with His people. Each Lord’s day, He gives us a taste as He meets with us.

This gets back to some of the questions we asked at the beginning of the series. Why come to church? Why all this stuff/liturgy? Why all this work? We come as an assembly to meet with God, our service should reflect and enable that meeting, and relationship always takes effort.

Little wonder that so many Christians leave Sunday services hungry, discouraged, and doubtful. Too many services are God-less. Meeting Him isn’t the expectation at all. Christians take a smorgasbord approach, filling their plates with spoonfuls of religious behavior: sing a song here, get some theological knowledge nuggets here, give an offering check there, and yet they are not satisfied. That’s because the end of worship is supposed to be the blessing of being in God’s presence.

We all need to personalize (not individualize) worship, to grab the handle with our name on it. That requires everyone in the assembly knowing the purpose of assembling as well as then knowing and doing their part.

God draws His people near in worship. He does not isolate Himself or keep His benefits for a selected few. He calls, cleanses, consecrates, and communes with us before sending us out as image-bearing ambassadors. The Old Testament sacrifices set the pattern that Christ established in the gospel. Our liturgy is ordered to reflect the end, to recognize God’s desire to share Himself and His life with us.

The final two liturgical divisions of our Lord’s Day Worship are aimed in a different direction than most church services. The end of our series and of our service shows where the assembly is going.

Communion Meditation

The peace offering in the Old Testament was regularly the final sacrifice. After the sacrifices for sin and the sanctification of the worshipper, another animal, and often grain and wine, was put on the altar. Unlike the other sacrifices, though, this sacrifice was not consumed. It was cooked and then taken off and passed around and eaten. It was a meal of peace, a shared meal between God and men, a meal of blessing and fellowship. Our meal at the Lord’s Table similarly shares this communion of peace.

Jesus established the communion meal with His disciples on the night He was betrayed. His sacrifice fulfilled the imagery of all the OT sacrifices, including the meal of peace.

Earlier in His ministry, He taught that eating and drinking meant full identification with Him. Those who ate flesh and drank blood had life, they shared His life.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. … Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. (John 6:51, 53–58)

The communion meal directs the service. This is the aim of God for our worship: table fellowship enabled through the sacrifice of His Son. Though every preceding element doesn’t need to have direct connection with the Supper, neither should the preceding elements lead away from the Supper. We are identifying and abiding by faith in Christ.

When Jesus instituted the Supper He clarified the new covenant significance.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28)

The key to note is that this is not a meal of condemnation, it is a meal that reminds us that Jesus bore our condemnation. We don’t eat here because we’re afraid for our lives, but because Jesus died and rose so that we could share His life!

A couple practical things about our observance of this ordinance. It seems as if the early church celebrated (and it was celebration, not commiseration) the supper regularly.

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread,… (Acts 20:7)

The connection is obvious. The day is the Lord’s day, it is the weekly anniversary of the Lord’s resurrection, so commemorating His death and resurrection in the Lord’s supper makes sense. Of course, while some churches may not do it weekly for practical reasons, more avoid it on principle. Who wants to go through commiseration every week?

One argument against doing it every week is that it may become commonplace. Our hearts are easily dulled. But we can become dull in our inactivity. Neglect breeds contempt, too. If we feed on the true food and drink true drink (John 6:55), I don’t think it will become stale. Do we really not need His confirmation of grace to us? We don’t need the fellowship with Him? Our faith doing just fine, needs no strengthening?

To help ourselves, though, we have a brief meditation each week. We remember what is set before us and we stir up thanks. Thanks is a powerful weapon against contempt, the two can’t co-exist.

Communion Meal

Because we always say something by what we do, there are a few things we’re trying to “say” by how we practice this ordinance.

Because we eat one loaf, because we are united in one body in Christ, because Jesus and His disciples sat at one table, we endeavor to have one table. The unity of the assembly should be reflected in our partaking.

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. (1 Corinthians 10:16–17)

We could pass it out from one table rather than invite people to the table, but we like that it brings us all together. While there are other hindrances to doing it “buffet” style, so to speak, we are in it together.

We also wait for each other and partake together. It is a shared meal. It has more solemnity than Tuesday dinner, but it also shouldn’t be untouchable. Our heads are up and our eyes are open because we are a communion-ity.

The meal represents our being fed by the bread of Christ’s body. So we slice our bread at least a little bigger than tiny crackers. You have to chew it; it’s more substantial which should remind us that Christ is substantial.

We have also bought cups that are a little bigger. We’ve considered even larger cups, but haven’t been able to do it yet.

Perhaps most importantly is our attitude at the meal. We have been conditioned to take the Lord’s table in a joyless way, as if we were thinking, “If I can just get through this without God killing me, I’ll be fine.” We can be happy later (when He isn’t looking). But God is not testing us at the Table. He’s already tested His Son. He’s not looking for a way to condemn us, He already has poured out condemnation on Christ. He’s not inviting us near so that He can kill us, with guilt or with a permanent sleeping disease (though He will judge those who come without trusting Christ and confessing their sin, see 1 Corinthians 11:29-30). We don’t clean ourselves up to eat, we eat because we believe that in Christ we’re clean. The wrath was taken by Jesus so that we could have peace. That is something to celebrate!

It may be the first time you’ve heard the history, but grape juice was created by Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch, Methodist minister who feared the abuse of communion by believers. In 1869, Dr. Welch used the pasteurization techniques developed by Louis Pasteur just four years earlier. He soon perfected a process for preserving grape juice and began marketing it with the label “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine.” He produced it with the thought of providing churches with an alternative to alcoholic wine. His son Charles said that the company was born,” out of a passion to serve God by helping His church to give communion [as] ‘the fruit of the vine’ instead of ‘the cup of devils’.”

Without going into all the OT background, when Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:1-11) it was a significant gift because wine was a celebratory beverage. I understand issues of fermentation, refrigeration, sanitation, and developing technology. But God isn’t afraid of giving His people dangerous things for them to enjoy. See here for more thoughts on wine from John 2.

We don’t know how to party/celebrate very well because we don’t know how to worship. We don’t know how to worship because we’re not as mature as we need to be, or because we’re afraid it’s going to get out of control. We learned to fear from liturgy. We learned to fear and nibble on tasteless crumbs in life because we think that’s what God wants. We learned to think that the Christian life is about thinking, not eating and drinking and glorifying God in whatever we do (see 1 Corinthians 10:31), not just glorifying God in Bible studies.

Wine is a mature weapon, but a powerful one because it is given by God as a blessing and makes our hearts glad.

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
(Psalm 104:14-15)

I grew up being told, in words and in not so many words, that we get to be glad in heaven and probably not much until then. I was told, by catechesis and narrative and lifestyle, that alcohol was the devil’s juice. Our enemy has certainly abused it, as he has sex and many other good things. But he himself will be drunk with the wine of God’s wrath someday.

Because of its history, grape juice misses the point of the Table; grape juice represents fear. Because of its blessing, wine better fits with the Table. At the same time, because of our long-informed consciences and cultural baggage, most of us are probably not comfortable with wine, and certainly not at church. Because of our rental agreement, we may not be permitted to use wine, even if we wanted.

I bring it up as a practical issue, one that the assembly needs to consider. We are making a point no matter what. One of the points we’re not going to make is to break Table fellowship over the way we fellowship at the Table. We’re not wanting to crush tender consciences with the way we celebrate a conscience cleansing ordinance. We also don’t want to miss the point while we consider the particulars. So we will continue to think, study, pray, and work to grow up. And for what it’s worth, in heaven at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, He’s probably going to serve something stronger than grape juice.

The last part of our communion liturgy includes inviting the young men clean up the cups. We’re enculturating them as part of the assembly. While there are ways to include the ladies, the young guys need to be given extra responsibilities to serve. They seem to love it.


The final liturgical division is the Commissioning and it has two elements. First is the charge.

The charge is a brief summary, encouragement, and/or exhortation from the assembly’s worship. It often emphasizes a key point from throughout the whole service though many times it applies something specific from the sermon. Of course, the sermon should be tied to the rest of the service.

Most of the charge focuses on the responsibility of God’s people to go and live as worshippers in dispersion-mode. We assemble as disciples to meet with God together and then we go to make disciples (per Matthew 28:19-20). We’ve drawn near to God, now we disperse, having been changed in His presence.

Note that the end of the service is not a call for people to believe as much as it is a call to go and live by faith. There may be unbelievers who visit or regular attenders who are hypocrites. In other words, there will be those without faith, whether that’s confessed or concealed, who are present. But worship of the assembly is God’s people. He dwells among believers.

So many services aim to get Christians reconfirmed in salvation rather than encouraged for sanctification. We have a charge, not an invitation. The invitation comes in God’s call to worship.

One of the objections to liturgy, and to some extent focusing on believers, is that visitors (especially unbelievers) may not feel comfortable. Perhaps the most often quoted passage that proves that unbelievers should be considered is 1 Corinthians 14. But note how Paul expected them to respond:

if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Corinthians 14:24–25 ESV)

We want unbelievers to see the God who comforts Christians, not Christians who are comfortable.

It should happen that God draws non-Christians to Christ as they watch us worship. The gospel is not only spoken, it is represented through all five Cs. God demands our worship. We can’t because of sin, but He makes forgiveness and cleansing possible if we confess our sin and confess Christ as Lord. God changes us and shares fellowship with us. Then God sends us out to live out. But unbelievers won’t have worship to watch if the aim is getting everyone converted, or through a guilt-gauntlet that affirms their conversion.


The final part is God’s blessing (from the Latin benedictio, “to well-say”) on His people. He loves to commission and then strengthen His people for success, even if the “success” isn’t how we might have defined it. We go out with a reminder that God is for us, He has a plan to finish what He started. He is committed to us, and goes with us into our work week.

After Jesus commissioned His disciples as witnesses to all nations (Luke 24:44-48), He blessed them.

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. (Luke 24:50 ESV)

The benediction isn’t a prayer per se but rather a proclamation of His purposes for His people.


What would happen if, week by week, we emphasized faith and sought to strengthen faith rather than ? Abuses, yes (Romans 6) and transformation!

With the end of this series in sight, we must always see that the goal of worship in God’s sight is meeting with the assembly. Once He enjoys fellowship with us, He gets us going to serve Him when we depart. Our worship, in practice and purpose, is the ultimate anti idolatry campaign. Boom!

See more sermons from the Boom series.