Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas, Malachi 1, and the nature of true worship

In Malachi 1:6-14, the LORD our God rebukes the priests and the people for offering polluted worship. Let's take a look at what proper worship is by first looking at what proper worship isn't, from the mouth of the LORD. Here is His rebuke in full:

"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts."

"Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations."

He said that the priests bring the people's sick and the lame animals for the altar, not even the Governor would accept these blemished offerings. Yet they bring them to Him, the Holy God of Israel. They sneer at the weight of having to sacrifice, saying it's a burden. They give no thought to the Lord's table nor revere Him as King. They don't even honor Him as Father.

In this day and age, we have come to believe the lie that just because we show up to church, mumble a few prayers, half-heartedly sing a few theology-less songs, and sit through a sermon that's interfering with the timing of the crock pot, that we have blessed God.

God has standards for everything, including worship. He calls those who bring less than their best a "cheat". He says that they "pollute" his temple. He refuses to accept their sacrifices. And He says they still expect Him to show them favor. And it shouldn't be a duty nor a burden, because as He says, "I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations."

What if God were to expose our worship today? What if He spoke a word from through a person as He did Malachi, saying that we are evil, polluters of His sanctuary, and are not worthy of favor? That we might as well all just leave and close the church doors behind us? That He has no pleasure in us? (Reminiscent of the condemnations in the letters in Revelation 2-3). The church as it is today would probably reject Him! They'd say He is being too mean, not being tolerant or inclusive, and after all, they are doing the best they can and He should just be happy with that. (Revelation 3:20)

Worship is important, but it doesn't stop at the church doors when we enter in. Showing up isn't worship. We need to worship in the right way.

Superficial worship, shallow worship, wrong worship cripples, debilitates, robs God of what is rightfully His, limits your usefulness, denigrates your whole Christian experience. We need to worship in the right way, to give God what He is due and to put ourselves in a position of being most useful to God. (source)

I am thinking about true worship on the almost eve of the celebration we offer to God for sending His Son into the world, in flesh. Jesus' birth is a monumental moment in history, one that culminated with His death and resurrection. Man and God reconciled. Do we offer pure, and good worship to Him? This week of all weeks is a week to worship! What are a few of the positive templates of worship we see in the New Testament?
Adoration of the Shepherds (The Holy Night)
Correggio 1530

I think of the Shepherds to whom the angels appeared with the glad tidings on that night in Bethlehem so long ago.

"When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them." (Luke 2:15-18)

The shepherds truly worshiped! First, they listened to the angels. They did not run away and they did not sneer or mock or say "what weariness is this?" They listened with all their heart and souls. We know this from Luke 2:9 when the shepherds feared the glory of the Lord.

Then, they obeyed. They were instructed to get up and go, seek the babe, and they did. "In haste"!! They heard the message and they obeyed it as fast as their feet could carry them. Inertia didn't keep them on their bedrolls. Weariness from a long day shepherding didn't stop them. Fear didn't paralyze them. Resentment at being marginalized from the worship structure of the day didn't hinder them. They got up, gathered together and they searched for the babe, in haste. This shows us that nothing else was as important to them at that moment. The shepherds worshiped by obeying the word they had heard from on high.

Third, when they saw the sign of the babe in swaddling clothed confirmed, the shepherds went out and told the news. "They made known." They must have told a lot of people if the angels' message had become known. They didn't stop at one or two people, they made it known. This also is worship- to proclaim Him.

Byzantine art usually depicts the Magi in Persian
clothing which includes breeches, capes, and Phrygian caps.
Mosaic, ca. 565. Ravenna, Italy
How about the Kings from the East? "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. ... " And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh." (Matthew 2:1-2; 11).

These kings had come from a distance of what was probably at least 800-900 miles away. In any case, distance was of no matter to them, they set their eyes on the west and walked until they found Him. Would you walk the distance from Atlanta to Oklahoma City because you had heard Jesus was there?

They brought Him their best, best offering. They did not bring a blind lamb and a broken-winged dove! Their worship was that they had known He was coming, and had watched for His appearing. Then they put action to their worship by seeking Him. And do you see the manner of their worship? Unlike those in Malachi, the kings brought best offerings they had. And they fell down.

"Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him". (Psalm 72:11)

As the Christian Courier delves into the discussion between Jesus and the woman at the well, the article discusses true worship:

"In drawing the contrast between Samaritan worship and Hebrew worship, Christ emphasized that true worship is more than emotion; it is grounded in knowledge. ... Away goes the contention that the format of worship is immaterial, so long as one is sincere." (John 4:22-23, source)

To properly worship, we must know Who we are worshiping and we must do it in the proper mode. I'm not talking about a list of legalistic rules, but only referring to the templates of worthless worship and proper worship presented to us in His word. It is a heart condition. We no longer have sacrifices to bring, but do we worship sacrificially, with all our heart, mind, and soul? Or do we vow a large tithe but switch it for lesser at the last minute?

Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished... (Malachi 1:14)

Do we acknowledge not only the babe in the manger, but the glorious risen KING of Kings and LORD of Lords who is to come?

For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering...(Malachi 1:11)

Do we know who we are worshiping and why? Do we love Him?

Who among the gods is like you, LORD? Who is like you-- majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? (Exodus 15:11)

Spurgeon speaks of true spiritual worship.

Christ comes to tell us that now his worship is to be wholly spiritual, even the altar which belongs to antediluvian times is gone, for we have an altar of another kind; even the sacrifice which belonged to the early period has departed like a shadow, because we have the sacrifice of Christ in which to trust. ... At any rate, my dear hearers, if you have not with your whole hearts loved and worshipped God, repent over it, and pray the Holy Ghost to make you spiritual. Go to Christ’s cross, and trust in him; then, and not till then, will you be capable of adoring the most High God in a style in which he can accept your worship. God grant that this may be impressed upon the hearts of all of us, that we may worship God in spirit and in truth.

3 comments:

  1. The Gospels claim that shortly after the wise men gave Jesus the gifts Joseph took his family to Egypt. Now, imagine the motivation of Mary during these several years of Jesus' youth given that she was responsible for the Son of God. Jesus must have been like the brightest of toddlers and children, and Mary the most patient and loving of Mothers.

    I think that Mary took some of the gold and exchanged it for silver, typically it was a 100-150 ratio of gold pieces to silver pieces, and then used the silver to bribe the wise men of the most famous library in the world to personally tutor Jesus. Bribing is not considered immoral outside of the USA/Britain. The Library of Alexandria presumably held documents all the way back to Solomon, which would have been captured by the Babylonians, then the Medes/Persians, and finally Greeks, when Alexander the Great founded the library of his name and placed there the ancient wisdom in the 330BC era.

    When Jesus was twelve, he confounded the priests in the temple of Jerusalem. Yes, there is a supernatural element to all of this, but Jesus also had been exposed to more wisdom than these wise men of Judea. Imagine Jesus reading the scrolls that Solomon himself had written in the afternoon glow of Egypt. Oh, and sometimes the best way to convey information is through graphs, pictures, and metaphors. Even on a scroll, Solomon could have drawn a diagram to explain, say, the nature of God to humans using some sort of dimensional analysis.

    Mary took Jesus' little hand and they walked through the vast hallways of the Library of Alexandria, with the courtesans smiling and chatting about the bright child who was also so friendly and eager to learn. For two hours each morning before a leisurely lunch back home with his earthly father, Jesus chatted and discussed many concepts with his tutor, paid in silver, converted from the gold of the wise men.

    When Jesus was about seven, he wandered the halls of the library alone in the afternoon and walked to the back of the lecture halls listening to the "college age" students engage in the socratic method with their master. He would sit on his haunches, thinking about the words and the concepts and then ask his tutor the next morning.

    Jesus had the best education money could buy because he lived in Egypt and because of the gold that the Wise Men gave Mary on his behalf. Unfortunately, the Library of Alexandria was completely destroyed along with its ancient knowledge in 391 AD, and we do not have written records of this Solomon wisdom. Jesus had access, he learned, and it became the foundation for his dream to save the world.

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    Replies
    1. I write a beautiful essay about true worship of the One True God, and you responded with egregious speculations like Mary bribed the Magi and blasphemies like Jesus was smart because he had a tutor, and offer fables and extra-biblical conjectures. I think you missed the point...

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  2. Oh, wonderful!
    Want the pastor to read.

    ReplyDelete

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