Worshipping According to Scripture - Hebrews 12:25-29
Who accuses you of not listening to them? Parents accuse kids, wives accuse husbands, and vice versa. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone, and at some point, you realize that you aren’t sure what the person is talking about because you stopped listening? We’re all guilty and we’re all been victims of tuning others out. We get distracted and our minds wander. We can be so focused on something that we don’t even hear the voice of someone speaking directly to us, or we hear the voice, but we’re so preoccupied with our own feelings or opinions that we don’t listen. Then, there are other times when we just don’t want to listen and we ignore what others say.
And we don’t just tune out the voices of other people. We naturally tune out God’s voice; only with God, the consequences are much greater. We tune him out to our own turmoil and destruction.
Yet, in his mercy and grace, God keeps speaking, and he enables us to hear him for our own salvation, encouragement, and blessing. We should listen to God. We need to hear from him clearly and often. But how do we hear from God? It’s clear from both Old Testament and New Testament that God’s audible voice is not his normal way of communication.
There are those to whom God spoke in that way, and some were his messengers, but the normal way is through Scripture, by the power of His Holy Spirit. And the primary place where the Spirit wields the sword of Scripture is congregational worship. This is why we see in the New Testament that those who preach and teach the Bible to the church are held to a higher standard by God because of their great responsibility and influence. Paul told his protégé Timothy to devote himself, as a pastor, “to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching,” a directive for all pastors.
You may think, “Ok, but what about personal Bible reading and prayer.” Those are certainly important, yet we know that in isolation all of us are prone to hearing only what we want to hear, and by ourselves, we’re also prone to misunderstanding. Congregational worship paves the way for sound personal Bible reading and prayer. Small group Bible studies and prayer groups are good as well, yet they are voluntary and without someone who has authority to which we submit ourselves, we can take or leave what we hear.
In fact, groups sometimes become a mixture of opinions with no definitive, agreed-upon conclusion of what God is saying. So, it makes sense that when we read about the apostles’ ministry and then we read their New Testament letters, we see that they started more and more local churches. God established both the membership and the leadership of the local church as the primary place where his people receive instruction, encouragement, and the shepherding of our souls.
It makes sense also that God has established weekly worship for his people, together on the Lord’s Day, as the place where we participate in submitting to and receiving from God, and in doing so, we visibly display the invisible reality of our union together with Jesus Christ. We are members together of the body of Christ and in corporate worship the body of Christ hears from the living God, through his Word by the power of his Spirit. All of Scripture builds this understanding and it is false to say
that salvation is primary in God’s plan but regular worship with the body of Christ is optional. Is the Bible full of God’s plan for salvation? Yes. But it is just as full of his plan for worship.
In John 4, Jesus says that the Father is seeking true worshippers. God is saving people that they may worship him. Yes, we worship him outside of our public gathering. But we gather each week as God’s people always have. The early New Testament church did it, and the Old Testament people of God did it before them in what eventually
became the synagogue worship in which Jesus participated each Sabbath day. Synagogue worship seems to have been born out of what Lev. 23 calls “a holy convocation.
In other words, “sacred assembly,” – a large formal gathering of people not exactly like, but similar to, what was taking place in the tabernacle, which was the only location where sacrifices were to be made. In Psalm 22, the psalmist said he would praise God “in the midst of the congregation” and urge all the people to praise and glorify God, and stand, together, in awe of Him.
Picture Old Testament Israel, as people spread farther and farther out geographically. They were not returning to the tabernacle each week. But they were worshipping together each Sabbath day. That was still going on at the time of Jesus. In this way God taught his people how to worship Him throughout their daily lives. This sermon begins a four-week look at the vision of Good Shepherd. Our vision statement is printed at the top of the inside page of the worship guide. First and foremost, worshipping according to Scripture is our vision.
To hear from God as we need to, we must worship Him the way he tells us to. In Hebrews 12:28, the preacher urges “acceptable” worship. Doesn’t that imply that there is such a thing as unacceptable worship? How else could we learn what “acceptable” means except from God himself? No Christian would argue with the belief that in Scripture, we receive God’s prescription for salvation. However, just as importantly, Scripture provides God’s prescription for worship. Perhaps here at Good Shepherd we do some things in worship that you’ve never seen. But we do these things because we are convinced that God has prescribed these things. Let me show you why worship according to Scripture is how we hear from God. Broadly speaking, it does what you see listed on page 6. Worship that is according to Scripture faithfully presents God’s whole message, which produces thankfulness for God’s unshakable kingdom, and reverence for God’s awesome name. We will look specifically at Hebrews 12:25-28.
We believe Hebrews to be a written sermon delivered to Jewish Christians who needed encouragement as they faced persecution, instruction as they received false teachings about Jesus, guidance as they came to understand worship as the New Testament church, and warnings not to abandon the faith or fall into sin. Earlier we read some verses in which the preacher compares Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. These are both places where God has spoken. At Mount Sinai, in the Old Testament, God revealed his majesty and power to the Israelites, giving them his law. The scene at Mt. Sinai was loud and frightening. The Old Covenant, made with Abraham, was extended and expanded at Mt. Sinai. On the other hand, Mount Zion is the place of redemption. The NC in Christ was made there.
On earth, Mt. Zion is the location of Jerusalem, but he has in mind the heavenly Jerusalem. It is permanent and eternally secure. The angels worship God there; the names of all of us who are born again are permanently written there; God is there, as well as those who have passed away and are now with God; and Jesus Christ is there, sitting at the Father’s right hand. All of it makes for a beautiful sight, not like the dreadful sight of Mount Sinai. Also, this preacher contrasts the mediators of God’s covenants: Moses and Jesus. And the writer of Hebrews makes this point: God has not approached you in the same fearful way that he did the Israelites, but he is still the same God. He still demands acceptable worship. However, these Hebrew Christians have a better mediator between God and themselves. Not Moses – a mere man – but Jesus Christ, the God-man, who has shed not the blood of animals to appease God’s wrath against sin, but his own blood, once and for all sins, for all time.
If you read through Hebrews, you see that the preacher is telling these people that even though sin lures them, and persecution is difficult, and life is hard, and some people are leaving the faith and giving up on meeting for worship, they must resist the temptation of not listening to God. Not that they have, but they could tune out God. So, the writer tells them, verse  See that you do not refuse Him who is speaking.
God is speaking to them, from heaven, as they listen, gathered together for this sermon. What is he saying? His whole message of redemption. This is the message that should be communicated in full each week in worship. We hear and answer God’s call to worship and praise him, we acknowledge his holiness and our sin, we hear and proclaim our belief in his truth – what he requires of us and what he has done for us in Jesus Christ; and we give thanks and receive his blessing as we go out each week into the world.
The Scriptures prescribe all of this as God teaches us to worship.
Ligon Duncan words it this way: we worship God by “reading the Bible, preaching the Bible, praying the Bible, singing the Bible, and seeing the Bible” in the visible words of the Lord’s Supper and baptism. The writer of Hebrews has the whole message in mind for his listeners. Yet worship is very simple – just ordinary things prescribed by God through which we listen to Him who speaks from Heaven and we respond to him. God warned his old covenant people not to reject his message of redemption.
And all that the writer of Hebrews says in his sermon contains this same message. He even points to the end of time. He quotes Haggai chapter 2 in the Old Testament, a prophecy of the Savior, in vs 26: “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The death and resurrection of Jesus literally shook the world,
and the preaching of the gospel and outpouring of the Holy Spirit shook the world in the first century. But there is a shaking still to come: the second coming of Jesus, and the creation of the new heavens and new earth, unshakable and eternal. The present heavens and earth will be removed, all the earthly kingdoms and governments will be removed, and the frailty and pains of this life will be removed – forever, as verse 27 says. This is final part of his message. Only the things of God will remain.
Our devotion to God’s whole message in worship is essential to understanding the vision of GS. As a church, we adhere to the interpretation of Scripture that was proclaimed during the Protestant Reformation as they studied the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament, the Greek texts of the New Testament, and the interpretation of those texts by the early church fathers – those who, in many cases, knew the apostles and followed them during their life time, or followed those who had followed the apostles themselves.
During the Reformation, one principle that was proclaimed was Scripture Alone – the view that the Bible stands by itself as the Word of God. Tradition and the interpretation of church leaders are not on equal ground alongside it. Nowadays, you may meet someone who says they are “reformed,” and often, what they mean is that they believe in the sovereignty of God, such that people cannot receive Christ unless that person is first born-again by the work of the Holy Spirit. The Reformed view is that being born again comes before faith. But while that is an aspect of the “reformed” or what I would call “Biblical” view of Scripture, that’s not all that “reformed” means.
To say you are “reformed” should mean that you believe that not only our salvation
but also the worship of God’s people in defined by Scripture Alone. This was the belief of the Reformers. They were not only concerned with people understanding the source from which we seek salvation. They were just as concerned with the right way to worship God. Why were they so concerned about worship? They had the same concern as the preacher of the book of Hebrews. The living God is concerned with worship. He delivers his whole message of redemption there. And so Reformed worship is worship according to Scripture.
Can you recognize when God’s whole message is not being delivered in worship? Do you miss the parts when they aren’t there? Some forms or ways of doing things will vary from congregation to congregation, even within our denomination, the PCA, but some forms must be the same. However, can you tell if the substance is there or not,
that the necessary content for your soul is included? And do you recognize your weekly need for God’s whole message delivered to you in worship to fuel and direct your personal worship and the worship of your family in your home?
Look at these two things that are produced when we worship according to Scripture.
Verse 28, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” When God redeemed Israel from Egypt, he set up his kingdom and he was their king. In Exodus 3 and 4, we learn that God redeems Israel out of bondage in Egypt so that they may worship him, not just individually, but together. And the Ten Commandments don’t begin with generals rules for living. They begin with rules for worship – rules for thinking about and approaching God the right way.
They learned that acceptable worship is based on God’s redemptive work and that because God is greater than humans could ever fully think or imagine, he must tell us how to worship him. But God was concerned about worship even before he redeemed Israel. For instance, in Genesis 4, God rejects Cain’s offering – his worship –
based on either the offering itself or Cain’s heart behind it. Cain, of course, killed his brother Abel. Why? Cain was jealous because Abel offered acceptable worship to God and Cain did not.
Hebrews 11 says that Abel still speaks by his blood. His blood testifies, in part, to the value of what God sees as acceptable worship offered in faith. We see case after case in the Old Testament where Israel’s worship is unacceptable and they violated God’s clearly expressed terms for their worship. Why would this matter to God? Because wrong worship leads to wrong thinking about the king and about life in his kingdom.
If they didn’t understand the king or kingdom, how could they be grateful for them?
Worship according to God’s prescription produces gratefulness for his kingdom. Today, Christians live all over the world, with various systems of government in their countries, but Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. It is a spiritual kingdom and it expands as people receive Jesus as king and submit their lives to him more and more each day. In Chengdu, China, for instance, the believers of Early Rain Cov. Church are being persecuted by their government, yet they are devoted to their King and grateful for his kingdom.
My dear cousin passed away this week. She was 42, a married mother of two. She fought, doctors labored, and we prayed, but she could not survive without life support. It was not the will of God for her. In both of my trips to the hospital this week, I was amazed at the unwavering faith of her family. I think of Psalm 62, “He (God) only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.” There is a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Death and tragedy cannot touch it. We receive the kingdom by faith, and we live by faith under Jesus’ rule. We trust him, and we are secure.
When we worship according to Scripture, God reminds us and we remind each other that his kingdom is unshakable. God produces kingdom faith and kingdom gratefulness.
But look at the rest of verse 28 and then 29, “and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” So that we may hear our King speak, so that we may be grateful to be citizens in his kingdom,
God commands acceptable worship will produce reverence and awe of Him.
The word “awesome” is very overused today. Anything from the Grand Canyon to the wings I ate this week can be described as “awesome.”
But in Hebrews 12, “awe” contains an element of fear of true greatness. Reverence refers to a godly fear of God and a recognition of his power. And “our God is a consuming fire” is a quote from Deut. 4 in the Old Testament. There we learn that God burns with jealousy for his own glory in our worship, He demands that we never give his glory to any other. Exodus 24 at Mount Sinai describes God this way:  “Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.” His wrath and judgment are in view as well. We must worship God in an acceptable way.
Think of it like this: acceptable worship directs all glory to God, not just in our words, but in our actions, our forms, our methods – and our hearts. Unacceptable worship, whether obviously or subtly, directs some portion of glory back to men, or shortcuts, in some way, God’s whole message of redemption. There are right ways and wrong ways. In the New Testament, Jesus participated in weekly Jewish worship in the synagogue, but he condemned the unacceptable worship that was taking place.
Many worship services today are not concerned with reverence and awe of God. The worship service is often re-engineered to appeal to non-believers at the expense of worshipping according to Scripture. People are more in awe of the band or the lights or the preacher’s clever props and stories. Or people are in awe of some other gimmick the church is using to attract and entertain people. Often, the authority of the Word is diminished, prayer is brief, but music is exalted. Worship is more than just music. All that we do – beginning with God’s scriptural call to worship and ending with God’s scriptural blessing in the benediction – is worship. With all due respect to my brother Tim, and he understands this: he is not the worship leader. I am. And one day I will answer to God for how I’ve done.
We close our worship this morning with this wonderful song, Speak O Lord. It articulates the vision of Good Shepherd as much as any song I’ve seen. Let’s pray and sing it together. Bow with me.