Oh Come, Let Us Worship the LORD
Scripture Readings: Psalm 95:1-11 (text); Exodus 17:1-7; Hebrews 3:7-11
* May 4, 2014 * Pasig and Trinity Covenant Reformed Church
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Beloved Congregation of Christ: For many evangelicals, liturgy is one of those Roman Catholic leftovers in a few liberal churches, while “led by the Spirit” is their pride. They argue that they have no liturgy because having a liturgy “quenches” the Spirit.
But can any church really have no liturgy? No, it is impossible, because man is naturally a creature of habit, created by God with a sense of order. So every Sunday when churches worship, whatever kind or denomination they are, they follow a certain pattern. For most, it’s “sing-a-little, pray-a-little, here comes the preacher!” Or it’s “praise and worship,” message, testimony, altar call, and “you’re dismissed.” The question is not whether they have liturgy, but what kind? Is it a formed Biblical liturgy like ours, or a formless liturgy without any content in evangelical churches?
Liturgy is not a Roman Catholic invention. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, the people of God always worshiped with a liturgy. Liturgy is derived from the Greek noun leitourgia, which was generally used for any “service to the community or state.” But it is the same word used for official acts of worship in the Septuagint (Ex 28:35, 43; 1Sm 2:11, 18, 3:1) and New Testament (Lk 1:23; Ac 13:2; 2Co 9:12; Php 2:30; Heb 9:21, 10:11).
Scripture commands that in worship everything must be done “decently and in order” (1Co 14:40), i.e., intelligible and edifying to the sheep, and not for the purpose of attracting and entertaining the goats. Did the Israelites copy Baal worship to attract the pagan Canaanite neighbors to their worship? Of course not! Because of this Scriptural teaching, we follow the historic Reformed liturgy in our public worship, which in turn follow the pattern and principles of both Old and New Testament worship.
At Mount Sinai, the worship service of the Israelites was described in Exodus 24. First, the LORD called them to worship (Ex 24:1-3). Then they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings (Ex 24:4-6). Moses then read the Book of the Covenant to the people (Ex 24:7), and the people responded with a vow of faith and obedience (Ex 24:7-8). Finally, Moses, Aaron and the 70 elders partook of the peace offerings in God’s presence (Ex 24:9-11).
This pattern is seen also in the dedication of the Temple by King Solomon (2 Chr 5-7) and in the service of the exiles who returned from Babylon (Neh 8-10). Even the Book of Revelation follows this pattern.[ref]Peter J. Wallace, “Worship: The Heavenly Pattern,” New Horizons, 2007.[/ref] God first calls his people to worship. Bloody sacrifices are then offered to God for the removal of sins before they can enter into his presence. God then speaks to his people through his Word, calling them to faith and obedience. The people then respond with vows of faith and obedience. Finally, the worship service concludes with a covenant meal””God’s people partake of the sacrifice””before they go forth in joy and peace.
Does this pattern sound familiar? Indeed, for this is the pattern of our worship service every Lord’s Day! It is the pattern of Biblical worship.
Today, we start on a tour of our own worship service on the LORD’s Day, “A Walk-Through Our Worship Liturgy.” Why do we do what we do, such as sing Psalms and doxologies, pray several short and long prayers, confess our sins together, read Creeds and Confessions, and listen to sermons that are too long and without jokes? “Why does the pastor wear a Roman Catholic robe?” These are good questions, especially for visitors. This is why we have a worship brochure and other booklets about worship for visitors.
In this tour, we will take you to the different parts of the worship service, beginning today with the “Call to Worship,” and ending about three months later in the “Amen!”
Our churches subscribe to some principles of worship. A few of these are, worship is God-focused, Christ-centered, Spirit-moved, Word-regulated, heartfelt, orderly, with joy and reverence, dialogical, progressing from law to gospel, and regular worship every LORD’s Day.
And our basis for entering into worship is that God calls us to worship him. This is where we begin our tour. Our text is Psalm 95, which we often read for our Call to Worship. It is a summons to worship the LORD as Creator and Redeemer. So, Christ’s Word for us today is on the theme, “Oh Come, Let Us Worship the LORD.” Why does the LORD call us to worship him? First, For He is Our God. Second, For We Must Hear His Voice.
For He is Our God
Psalm 95 is a psalm of praise to God because he is the Almighty and Sovereign Creator. It is also a historical psalm, warning the people not to imitate the rebellion and unbelief of the previous generations of Israelites in the wilderness. Rather, they are to hear God’s voice.
The psalm begins with a call to worship the LORD, “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” (verse 1). In verses 3-5 and 7a, the psalmist states the reasons why we are to sing and worship him, starting with the word, “For,” which means “Because.”
The first reason is that God is an Almighty and Sovereign God, “a great God, and a great King above all gods” (verse 3). He created the earth, the mountains, the seas, and the dry land, recalling Genesis 1. He has complete authority over it, “in his hand” (verse 4).
How are we to worship him? First, we are to sing and make a joyful noise unto him. How are we to sing? Not with disorder and din we see and hear in most churches today, but with thanksgiving and songs of praise. What songs of praise? God’s own songbook, the Psalms! Not trite, empty songs composed by Biblically-illiterate teens. The Psalms are the songs of God’s people. These are the songs that our Lord Jesus sang (Mt 26:30).
Notice that the singing is congregational: “let us” seven times. No special solo number. No special choir number. The choirs then taught and led the people in singing. No worship team, except priests who were ordained as singers and musicians. The people didn’t watch, they sang. And they sang with a loud voice! The LORD is not calling spectators; he calls us to worship him by singing praise and thanksgiving to God: “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” So it is contrary to ScripturesÂ to sing timidly, or not to sing at all in the worship service.
Notice the second call to worship in verse 6, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!” Worship is not only exuberant and joyful singing to the LORD, as in verse 1. But it is also bowing down and kneeling before the LORD. What does it mean to bow down and kneel before another, just as a man proposing to his beloved to marry him? It means he is humbling and submitting himself to another, even as a man submits himself to the decision of his beloved woman. But it also means revering and being in awe and wonder of that other person.
So when we worship God, we worship with joy in our hearts, but also with humble reverence and wonderment of his sovereign and mighty works. In today’s Call to Worship in Psalm 29:1-2””“ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness”””God calls us to worship together every LORD’s Day. It is a privilege to worship him as the infinitely glorious and holy Being with our whole being.
For We Must Hear His Voice
While the first part of Psalm 95 is a call to worship, the second starts withÂ a solemn warning: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (verses 7b-8). The psalmist reminds the congregation about their forefathers who grumbled and rebelled against God in the wilderness, in Massah and Meribah. In Exodus 17:1-7, the people grumbled because there was no water to drink. So God summoned the people to gather before a rock, and he will stand before the rock. He then commanded Moses to strike the rock, after which water flowed out of the rock. However, because of their rebellion and unbelief, none of these first-generation Israelites were allowed by the LORD to enter their Promised Land. They all died in the desert.
But this event did not actually lead to God’s judgment oath in verse 11, “Therefore I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” This oath comes in Numbers 14:21”“35, after the people had listened to the report of the 10 faithless spies and refused to enter the land to take it. They listened to powerless men instead of listening to the thundering, powerful voice of the LORD. So he swore, “But truly, as I live… none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness… shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers” (Nm 14:21-23). The rebellion at the waters of Massah and Meribah was only a foretaste of a bigger rebellion later when they were at the gates of the Promised Land.
Hebrews 3:7-4:7 use Psalm 95 to warn Christians not to “harden your hearts,” but to “hear his voice.” The Jewish converts to Christ were in a situation similar to the Israelites in the wilderness: if they forsook Christ, and return to the the obsolete Jewish religion, they would be rebelling like their forefathers in the wilderness.
And the warning is so serious and urgent that both the psalmist and the Hebrews writer warn them to heed God’s voice “today.” No putting off obedience: daily, every moment of our lives, we are to listen to and obey God’s Word. How can we hear God’s Word if we don’t read it, or if we don’t join the gathering of God’s people every LORD’s Day to listen to its preaching and exhortation?
Like the people in the wilderness and in the Temple, we hear God’s voice in the reading and preaching of the Scriptures. We are to take his Word to heart,””“Do not harden your hearts”””in faith, repentance and obedience, because Christ is our King. Do not harden your hearts to dullness and deadness to God by always reading and studying his Word and communing with him in prayer.
The LORD calls us to worship him because we must hear his voice as God’s people in the worship service. Why must we hear his voice? Because “he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (verse 7). He is our Great Shepherd who gives us rest, food and drink in the green pastures in this wilderness. He makes us hunger and thirst for righteousness. And finally, he will take us to our permanent dwelling-places in his house forever.
Dear friends in Christ: Our Lord Jesus Christ is the “voice of the LORD.” At his transfiguration together with Moses and Elijah, the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to him” (Mt 17:5).
He is our Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep by name. And we are his sheep who know his voice and follow him wherever he leads us.
Christ is also the “Rock of our salvation,” from which flows the waters that give eternal life. On the cross, he stood before us, shielding us from the Father’s wrath with his own body. So, instead of us, he was the One who was struck and crushed by his Father to save us from our rebellious, unbelieving, hardened hearts. This is why Paul writes, “For the [Israelites] drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” But even Paul warns us of the consequence of rejecting the Rock of our salvation, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1Co 10:4-5).
But Jesus does not merely warn us against unbelief and rebellion. He also invites us to come to the spiritual rest that he offers. Rest from our good works to gain God’s favor. Rest from our hardened hearts. Rest from our sufferings and afflictions:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Mt 11:28-30).
Our pilgrim wanderings in this wilderness are full of sufferings, afflictions, and temptations that choke our faithfulness to Christ. So the Spirit exhorts us to strive and persevere to the end:
“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Heb 4:11).