Why and How to Worship
Why is worship important? What are you doing when you worship God?
The writer of Hebrews urges us to ‘worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for your “God is a consuming fire”’ (Hebrews 12:28–29).
The common theme in all three passages for today is Mount Zion (Psalm 126:1), ‘the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God’ (Hebrews 12:22), ‘the holy mount of God’ (Ezekiel 28:14,16). This is the place of the presence of God, where God is worshipped both in the old and new covenant. However, there is a difference between the two.
You no longer have to go to a specific physical place to experience the presence of God. Because of Jesus, the ‘mediator of a new covenant’ (Hebrews 12:24a), you can worship anywhere. Jesus is the one who has made this new relationship with God possible through his death on the cross for you and me.
Your ‘holy mountain’, where you can worship Jesus, is the whole earth, and this anticipates the ‘heavenly Jerusalem’ we read about in our passage from Hebrews, and which is described in Revelation 21 – the new heaven and new earth.
As you draw close to Jesus in worship there are, as C.H. Spurgeon pointed out, ‘three results of nearness to Jesus’ – happiness, holiness and humility.
A song of ascents.
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
4 Restore our fortunes,Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
Children laugh, on average, 150 times a day. Adults laugh, on average, only six times a day. Jesus tells us to be more like children.
The Christian faith uniquely combines laughter and tears, joy and solemnity. ‘We laughed, we sang... God was wonderful to us; we are one happy people’ (vv.2–3, MSG). This psalm celebrates the return to Zion of the people who had been taken in captivity. They are so happy: ‘When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like those who dreamed’ (v.1).
They had returned to the holy mountain – Mount Zion. This was the place of the temple of God. This earthly salvation foreshadows the even greater salvation that you experience through Jesus.
Like them, your response should be one of worship: ‘Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy’ (vv.2–3).
There are plenty of tears in the Christian life. If life is tough for you at the moment, pray that God will restore your fortunes. If you are sowing in tears right now, there will come a time when you will begin to reap with songs of joy (vv.5–6).
Warning and Encouragement
14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.
The Mountain of Fear and the Mountain of Joy
18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken —that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”
‘More spiritual progress can be made in one short moment of speechless silence in the awesome presence of God than in years of mere study,’ wrote A.W. Tozer.
Worship is coming into ‘the awesome presence’ of a holy God on his holy mountain. Our God is ‘a consuming fire’ (v.29). You are called to be like him: ‘Make every effort… to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord’ (v.14). Holiness involves effort. As Mother Teresa said, ‘Our progress in holiness depends on God and ourselves – on God’s grace and on our will to be holy.’ You can decide to let Jesus make you holy.
Relationships really matter: ‘Make every effort to live in peace with everyone’ (v.14a). Don’t do anything that could cause you to miss out on the grace of God (to miss out on his holy presence). ‘Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time’ (v.15, MSG). Pull out the roots of bitterness as soon as you detect them.
We have a responsibility for ourselves and for each other: ‘see that no-one is sexually immoral’ or ‘godless like Esau’, who, in a moment of madness, threw away so much for instant gratification: ‘trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite’ (v.16, MSG).
Look at the contrast between the physical mountain where the Law was given in the Old Testament, and the heavenly Mount Zion where you now come to worship God. Think about the extraordinary display of God’s holiness, which accompanied the giving of the law and which left even Moses terrified (vv.18–21).
Every time you worship, you are surrounded by thousands upon thousands of angels (v.22b) and the very presence of the living God (v.23b). All those who have died in Christ join in the heavenly worship (v.23c). You join with billions of Christians alive now and those in heaven.
Supremely, every time you worship ‘you’ve come to Jesus’ (v.23, MSG) who makes all this possible (v.24b). ‘The murder of Jesus, unlike Abel’s – a homicide that cried out for vengeance – became a proclamation of grace’ (v.24, MSG). The blood of Christ brings a message of cleansing, forgiveness and peace with God to all who place their faith in him.
As you come to worship Jesus, ‘do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God’ (v.28, MSG).
A Prophecy Against the King of Tyre
28 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man , say to the ruler of Tyre, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“‘In the pride of your heart
you say, “I am a god;
I sit on the throne of a god
in the heart of the seas.”
But you are a mere mortal and not a god,
though you think you are as wise as a god.
3 Are you wiser than Daniel?
Is no secret hidden from you?
4 By your wisdom and understanding
you have gained wealth for yourself
and amassed gold and silver
in your treasuries.
5 By your great skill in trading
you have increased your wealth,
and because of your wealth
your heart has grown proud.
6 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“‘Because you think you are wise,
as wise as a god,
7 I am going to bring foreigners against you,
the most ruthless of nations;
they will draw their swords against your beauty and wisdom
and pierce your shining splendour.
8 They will bring you down to the pit,
and you will die a violent death
in the heart of the seas.
9 Will you then say, “I am a god,”
in the presence of those who kill you?
You will be but a mortal, not a god,
in the hands of those who slay you.
10 You will die the death of the uncircumcised
at the hands of foreigners.
I have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”
11 The word of the Lord came to me: 12 “Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“‘You were the seal of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden,
the garden of God;
every precious stone adorned you:
carnelian, chrysolite and emerald,
topaz, onyx and jasper,
lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.
Your settings and mountings were made of gold;
on the day you were created they were prepared.
14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.
15 You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you.
16 Through your widespread trade
you were filled with violence,
and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
from among the fiery stones.
17 Your heart became proud
on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom
because of your splendour.
So I threw you to the earth;
I made a spectacle of you before kings.
18 By your many sins and dishonest trade
you have desecrated your sanctuaries.
So I made a fire come out from you,
and it consumed you,
and I reduced you to ashes on the ground
in the sight of all who were watching.
19 All the nations who knew you
are appalled at you;
you have come to a horrible end
and will be no more. ’”
A Prophecy Against Sidon
20 The word of the Lord came to me: 21 “Son of man, set your face against Sidon; prophesy against her 22 and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“‘I am against you, Sidon,
and among you I will display my glory.
You will know that I am the Lord,
when I inflict punishment on you
and within you am proved to be holy.
23 I will send a plague upon you
and make blood flow in your streets.
The slain will fall within you,
with the sword against you on every side.
Then you will know that I am the Lord.
24 “‘No longer will the people of Israel have malicious neighbours who are painful briers and sharp thorns. Then they will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.
25 “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When I gather the people of Israel from the nations where they have been scattered, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of the nations. Then they will live in their own land, which I gave to my servant Jacob. 26 They will live there in safety and will build houses and plant vineyards; they will live in safety when I inflict punishment on all their neighbours who maligned them. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God. ’”
A Prophecy Against Egypt
Judgment on Pharaoh
29 In the tenth year, in the tenth month on the twelfth day, the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt and prophesy against him and against all Egypt. 3 Speak to him and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“‘I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt,
you great monster lying among your streams.
You say, “The Nile belongs to me;
I made it for myself.”
4 But I will put hooks in your jaws
and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales.
I will pull you out from among your streams,
with all the fish sticking to your scales.
5 I will leave you in the desert,
you and all the fish of your streams.
You will fall on the open field
and not be gathered or picked up.
I will give you as food
to the beasts of the earth and the birds of the sky.
6 Then all who live in Egypt will know that I am the Lord.
“‘You have been a staff of reed for the people of Israel. 7 When they grasped you with their hands, you splintered and you tore open their shoulders; when they leaned on you, you broke and their backs were wrenched.
8 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will bring a sword against you and kill both man and beast. 9 Egypt will become a desolate wasteland. Then they will know that I am the Lord.
“‘Because you said, “The Nile is mine; I made it, ” 10 therefore I am against you and against your streams, and I will make the land of Egypt a ruin and a desolate waste from Migdol to Aswan, as far as the border of Cush. 11 The foot of neither man nor beast will pass through it; no one will live there for forty years. 12 I will make the land of Egypt desolate among devastated lands, and her cities will lie desolate forty years among ruined cities. And I will disperse the Egyptians among the nations and scatter them through the countries.
13 “‘Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says: At the end of forty years I will gather the Egyptians from the nations where they were scattered. 14 I will bring them back from captivity and return them to Upper Egypt, the land of their ancestry. There they will be a lowly kingdom. 15 It will be the lowliest of kingdoms and will never again exalt itself above the other nations. I will make it so weak that it will never again rule over the nations. 16 Egypt will no longer be a source of confidence for the people of Israel but will be a reminder of their sin in turning to her for help. Then they will know that I am the Sovereign Lord. ’”
17 In the twenty-seventh year, in the first month on the first day, the word of the Lord came to me: 18 “Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon drove his army in a hard campaign against Tyre; every head was rubbed bare and every shoulder made raw. Yet he and his army got no reward from the campaign he led against Tyre. 19 Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to give Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will carry off its wealth. He will loot and plunder the land as pay for his army. 20 I have given him Egypt as a reward for his efforts because he and his army did it for me, declares the Sovereign Lord.
21 “On that day I will make a horn grow for the Israelites, and I will open your mouth among them. Then they will know that I am the Lord. ”
Holiness and humility are inextricably linked. Jesus showed us that at the heart of holiness is humility. On the other hand, pride is at the root of all sin. It was pride that led to Satan’s downfall.
According to the biblical world-view, behind the evil in the world there lies the devil. The Greek word for devil, diabolos, translates the Hebrew word satan. We are not told very much about the origins of Satan in the Bible. But this passage is one of the few that might give some hint of the origin of Satan.
Although the original context is the fall of the King of Tyre, it seems that Satan, the ruler of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), was behind the ruler of Tyre.
Read alongside Isaiah 14:12–23 and Revelation 12, it appears that both humans and Satan were created good: ‘You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God’ (Ezekiel 28:12–13). It appears that Satan was an angel: ‘You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God’ (v.14). Satan had access to the throne of grace and to the presence of the Lord. He was blameless in his ways (v.15).
Instead of worshipping God on the mountain of God ‘his heart became proud, going around saying, “I’m a god. I sit on God’s divine throne, ruling the sea”’ (v.2, MSG). He was ‘trying to be a god’ (v.2, MSG). ‘By your great skill in trading you have increased your wealth, and because of your wealth your heart has grown proud’ (v.5).
Just as great skills and wealth can lead to pride, so can good looks: ‘Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendour’ (v.17).
This is a description of self-worship, which happens when we put our success down to our own wisdom, skill and abilities (v.4), without realising that these things come from God and that we should worship him alone. Instead of worshipping the Sovereign Lord, the temptation is to worship success, wealth and beauty – the gods of our culture – they are ‘god-pretentions’ (v.7, MSG).
God brings down the proud and exalts the humble. As a result of his pride and sin, Satan was expelled from the presence of God: ‘you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you’ (v.16), ‘So I threw you to the earth’ (v.17; see Isaiah 14:12; Luke 10:18). Satan’s final destruction is assured (Ezekiel 28:18b–19). Jesus defeated Satan by his death and resurrection.
The attitude of Jesus is the complete opposite to that of Satan. He took the opposite path: ‘Who, being in very nature God... made himself nothing... he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2:6–11).
Worship Jesus today. As you draw close to him throughout your lifetime you will experience these benefits – happiness, holiness and humility.
Hebrews 12:14 says, ‘Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.’
We have to work at ‘living at peace with everyone’. Insecurities, misunderstandings and failures often get in the way. And as for being holy: well there’s a bit of a challenge!
Verse of the Day
‘Make every effort to live in peace with everyone…’
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C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening Daily Readings, *‘*Morning reading 12 May’ (Wilder Publications, 2009).
A. W. Tozer, (Compiled by Marilynne E. Foster), Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 365-Day Devotional (Wingspread: Reissue edition), p.337.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.