Worship (2): Desired
The record of the encounter of the Lord Jesus with the woman of Samaria in John 4 is a particularly moving portion of Gods Word. In it we see the Creator of the world sitting weary on the well. We see His love and grace displayed to a woman who was an open and notorious sinner. We learn something of the perfectly balanced humanity and deity of Christ in her invitation to her neighbours to "Come, see a man...is not this the Christ?" (Jn 4.29). Strikingly, it is in this context and to this woman that the Lord Jesus reveals fundamental truth about the nature of worship and its importance. Refusing to be distracted by a debate about historical and theological disputes, He cuts right to the heart of true worship in the dispensation of grace. True worship is no longer limited by location or ethnicity, but it must be offered "in spirit and in truth" (v.24). And, speaking of true worshippers, He adds, "
the Father seeketh such to worship him" (v.23).
God has always desired the worship of His creatures. He seeks, and receives it, from angels. Isaiah and John, among others, record for us the reality of angelic worship. Hebrews 1.6 records His desire concerning His Son: "And let all the angels of God worship him". It could hardly be otherwise. Dwelling in the light of His presence and privileged to witness the outworkings of His purposes, they could scarcely fail to respond with worship to the greatness of God.
But, as the Saviour revealed to the Samaritan woman, God also seeks the worship of humanity. Indeed, this is part of His design for mankind. Romans 1 makes it clear that God has implanted in humanity the capacity to worship, to recognise and respond to that which is greater than we are. The revelation of Gods greatness and goodness furnished to us in the splendours of His creation was designed as a prompt and stimulus for that innate and God-given capacity. But, as with all that was good in man, the Fall has fundamentally compromised our capacity for worship. It has been abased, no longer directed at the Creator God, but at creation. Man no longer worships that which is higher than himself. At best, worship has become merely horizontal the acclamation and adoration of some man or woman. All too often it has been directed down - to the lower parts of creation, to the beasts, and to inanimate and corrupting possessions. Its natural bent is no longer upwards. But for all this, Gods desire has not altered, and still He seeks true worshippers to worship Him.
From the Jews, too, God sought worship. The Tabernacle and the Temple were both the prompt and the place of worship. Designed in every detail to represent the person of Christ they demonstrated, in a tangible way, the intensity of divine holiness and the splendour of divine glory. And, while the offerings that were made there addressed the guilt of sin and expressed the thankfulness of the blessed, they made provision too, and in greater part, for the worship of God. These offerings, unlike the sacrifices offered to pagan gods, were not offered to curry divine favour or to avert divine disfavour. Rather, the offerer approached with his offering as an indication, concrete and costly, of his appreciation of the ineffable greatness of the God who sought and savoured the worship of His chosen people.
Once again, man failed to give to God the worship that He desires and deserves. Even in the earliest days of the nations history the Israelites engaged in defective worship. It was mistaken in its object at Sinai as they worshiped the golden calf. It was rebellious in its disobedience as Nadab and Abihu offered "strange fire" (Lev 10). And, in the book of Malachi, it was defective in its value, and the prophet had to upbraid the nation for their robbery of God and for what this counterfeit of worship revealed about their false understanding of the character of Jehovah. In each of these instances, it is solemn to note that the consequences of defective worship were serious. God did not take lightly mans failure correctly to worship Him, and He views such failure no less seriously today.
The Father still seeks worshippers. But the worship that He desires is not haphazard. It finds neither its form nor its content in the human imagination. The requirement to worship in Jerusalem is no longer in force. In the dispensation of grace we can worship wherever we wish. But we cannot worship however we wish. God desires worship in spirit and in truth.
The importance and the seriousness of worship is a reality of which we too often lose sight. We must ever guard against offering to God the strange fire of innovation that, in the world of contemporary evangelicalism, has transformed worship into elaborately produced, flesh-directed, egocentric emotionalism. It should be our constant exercise to ensure that we worship in truth in accordance with the precept and pattern of the New Testament. It is equally vital to ensure that we worship in spirit. In Malachis day the form of worship was impeccably correct. No complaint could have been made regarding the place of sacrifice or the mode of its offering. For all that, it was offensive to God because it was only second best. How often do we, too, fail here, offering to God the dregs of our life, the corners of our mind, the tatters of our time?
If we fail in this way, we fail for precisely the same reason as the Israelites did. They lost sight of the greatness of God. When we, like them, allow the world and its materialism to strangle and stunt our knowledge of God and our communion with Him, it becomes easy, even routine, to offer to Him the lame, the blemished, and the mediocre.
The day is coming when the knowledge of God will be universal (Hab 2.14). Consequently, all creation will be united in the worship of God (Zech 14.16; Is 66.23). From every valley and hill, from every cranny of creation, true worship will resound, fuller and freer than ever before. Until then the Father seeks worshippers. Let us, by His grace, resolve that in our life, at least, He will not seek in vain.
To be continued.