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How do we "worship God acceptably" (Hebrews 12:28)? What are the dangers of indifference, and how do they affect our worship?
What a blessing to have our youth worship team leading us and worship this morning. Don't you agree? And I am so glad to be back with you. I have a son who is a missionary in Alaska and he was home for a brief couple of days at our home in New York. So I flew back there to get a little time with him before he spends the next six months up there in Alaska. We are in the subject all this month of worship. And let me just frame that for you again so you you have a feel, especially if you are new, what we're doing. We as church leadership, we have worked through how do we even begin to measure and therefore encourage someone in their growth as a follower of Jesus Christ? And we've come up with some definition of a maturing follower of Jesus is growing in certain core beliefs - that's head - and certain core virtues - that's hearts - and certain core practices - that's hands. Two months ago we we took one of the beliefs and we worked through it all that month. Last month we worked through one of the virtues. This month, April, we are working through one of the practices and that particular practice is worship. We began that on Easter Sunday with that glorious scene in Revelation 5, the worship around the throne. Last week Josh picked that up, speaking about what it means to worship in spirit and in truth. And today we're going to look at another text of worship that comes near the end of Hebrews: Hebrews 12:28. Let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe. What does it mean to offer to God acceptable worship? Now, if you look at that verse in isolation all by itself, what is acceptable worship? You probably naturally, like I do, start to answer the question, what is acceptable worship? You answer it from the framework of your upbringing, what kind of church experience, if any, that you've had in your past. You answer it from your culture because culture here in the United States and how that affects worship is very different than other places in the world. You answer it even to a certain extent by your personal preferences, the kinds of music you like and don't like, the kinds of of service elements that you like and don't like. We all do that. We all bring our own definitions to what makes worship acceptable. The issue is if we look at this verse in isolation and we begin to do that, we really miss; it's a swing and a miss because you may be aware of the old maxim, a text without the context is a pretext. To take this text without understanding the bigger context of the letter to the Hebrews. And why this verse appears where it does is to make a pretext out of acceptable worship. And I've seen too many people do that. I've been guilty of it, of myself Using this verse to justify certain kinds of dress, certain kinds of musical styles, certain elements and practices and worship service. So in order not to make that mistake of making a text without a context into a pretext, we want to look at the bigger context of the letter to the Hebrews. Why does this verse appear as it does near the very end of the letter to the Hebrews? To understand this, we need to understand. first of all, this verse appears in the final warning of five warnings that are given throughout the letter to the Hebrews. Hebrews, if you're not familiar with that book, Hebrews was written to those who came from Hebraic Judaism. They were genuine believers. These are first century men and women who'd embraced Jesus Christ as savior and Lord. But they were Jewish. They came out of Judaism into following Jesus. And in that time, in those those situations, that was not an easy thing to do. There was a lot of pressure to go back into Judaism. There was a lot of pressure on these early believers to resume temple worship. And so it rose even to the level of outright persecution for you to be somebody of Jewish heritage who now followed Jesus and had given up temple worship and given up the sacrificial system. And even though the circumstances are very different then than they are today, I think in many ways there are similarities to what we face today. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you know Christ as savior and Lord, you live in the midst of a culture - I don't even really have to tell you this - that is becoming increasingly hostile to you faithfully following Jesus Christ. It's becoming increasingly hostile to saying that there is absolute truth given to us in the word of God, the Bible, and that we are actually to pattern our lives according to what the Lord speaks to us in his word. It is tempting for us like these early Hebrew Christians. It is tempting for us to compromise. It is tempting for us to just let go of some of the things that our culture says. Things are going to get harder for you if you hold on to those things. So in some ways, we know the tension that the Hebrew believers were facing here. And in that way, this letter by the Holy Spirit speaks to us. Now, a couple things that you just really need to understand. This letter was written to genuine believers. There are people out there who think that that this is written in some cases to spurious believers, people who who proclaim faith but were not really believers. I don't have time to go into it now, but the language used throughout the letter indicates these people are genuine believers who are under persecution and temptation to return to Judaism, What the writer does under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, speaking to those first century Jewish believers, speaking to us today, the writer encourages them and us to faithfully persevere, even to press on to greater spiritual maturity. And he shows them what's at the core of why they would want to do this. He shows them how Christ, how the gospel, they are superior to Judaism, how the whole Old Testament actually points to Jesus, points and prepares us for the revelation of Jesus Christ. And in doing this throughout the letter, he punctuates his argument in five different places with warnings. He gives a warning five different times based upon what he has just said. And I'm going to give you just a brief overview of the warnings - the actual text today comes in the middle of the fifth warning. That's where we're going to spend our time. But I want to give you just the bigger picture very briefly. Now, what are the warnings about? These are not warnings, as I study and understand this, these are nNot warnings about the danger that you can lose your salvation. He's writing to genuine believers who who God has promised will cause to persevere in their faith. But the warnings are about what can happen, how we can actually face God's chastening in this life if we don't heed the warnings, We can even, probably more serious - there is a possible loss of rewards at the judgment seat of Christ, rewards in the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ if we don't heed these warnings. R.T. Kendall has said it this way, R.T. Kendall, British evangelist, I've quoted him before, about a century before us. Here's what he said. See if this applies to you. The devil wants to get Christians to think that all that matters is being saved or lost. You hear that the devil would like you to think that you made that decision to follow Christ at some point in the past, you're done, you're good. It doesn't matter how you live now, you've got your insurance. Kendel goes on to say, though, the devil doesn't want you to know or to think about the truth that there is reward or loss to be meted out at the judgment seat of Christ. That being saved and you're not going to lose that salvation, how you live now, how you follow Christ directly impacts whether you will receive reward or whether you will experience grief when you stand before Christ at the judgment seat of Christ. That's what these warnings are all about. Let me just briefly go through the first four and then we'll spend the remainder of our time on the fifth one. The first warning that we see appearing at the beginning of Chapter two is about the danger of drifting, the danger of slowly drifting away from the truth and drifting away from the truth of the gospel. But in the context of this letter, specifically drifting away from the truth of the reality of Christ's kingdom, the reality of what we actually live for, of our inheritance. And how how we live now impacts that drifting away from it, he warns us. The second warning we find starting in Chapter three and extending into Chapter four. This is the danger of disbelieving. This is this is the danger of our hearts actually becoming callous to this truth, of of hardening to this truth of Christ's future reign, of Christ's future Kingdom, of letting all the times that we hear about that and read about that in scripture just to go in one ear and out the other of becoming callous to it. The third warning we find beginning in Chapter five and extending into Chapter six, the danger of degenerating, In other words, in the context in which he writes here in Chapter five and chapter Chapter six, he says that there are opportunities for you and I as believers that we can actually lose if we don't faithfully follow Christ. There are blessings, particularly future kingdom blessings, that we actually forfeit if we don't press on to maturity. You know the temptation of that, don't you? I certainly feel it. That temptation just to coast. I know I'm saved, you know, I know I'm going to be with Christ in heaven. It's kind of hard to live faithfully for Christ. So I'll just go along with the flow. I'll just coast because I'm good, right? I've got my salvation. You know, that temptation to coast. This is exactly what he's warning against. He's saying you're not going to lose your salvation by coasting. But there are opportunities. There are our future rewards that you will forfeit, that you may forfeit just by living a life in this time, in this earthly life, of coasting. The fourth warning we find in Chapter ten near the end of Chapter Ten, it is the warning about the danger of willful sin. What is willful sin? That is when we do something, knowing, you know, that that is not what God wants. And in the context the writer is talking about, when we know the truth about the reality of Christ's coming kingdom and how we are to be faithful servants now, found ready and waiting and faithfully serving when the master returns, when we know that. But instead we make choices. We make life choices to be comfortable. We make life choices to be accepted by the culture. We make choices that feed our desires, our fleshly desires. And in so doing, we willfully sin against the knowledge that God has given us of the future coming kingdom of Christ. Well, those are the first four warnings. Don't have time to go into those. They've been incredibly convicting to me as I've studied this over the last couple of weeks. But now we get to the fifth warning where our text for today, really our whole subject of worship today comes from. We find this fifth warning in Chapter twelve. It starts roughly at verse fifteen and continues through verse twenty nine. It is the warning about the danger of indifference, the danger of indifference. It is a warning against carelessly neglecting the truth that we hear about the kingdom, about our future inheritance. What do you think of when you hear the word indifference? You know, I don't care much for modern dictionaries, They seem to change all the time and add new words that I really have issues with. But I go back to the very first dictionaries by Daniel Webster, a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, And he started publishing his dictionaries in the early eighteen hundreds. My favorite is the eighteen twenty eight edition of Webster's Dictionary. He brings in scripture in his definitions. They're so meaty and pithy. And here's how in the 1828 Webster's Dictionary, he defines indifference. Indifference he says is unconcernedness. I had to practice saying that word unconcernedness being unconcerned. Indifference, he says, is a state of the mind when it feels no anxiety, no interest in what is presented to it. Think about that definition when you think about worship, indifference into worship is being unconcerned, maybe you're here on a Sunday morning, but you're really unconcerned about what's happening. You're really unconcerned about whether your heart is prepared to worship. Indifference to worship is that state of mind where we really were here maybe, but we have no interest really in what is being presented and what is happening as we come together to worship the savior together. That is the kind of indifference that we are warned against that this phrase offer acceptable worship appears in and that we need to understand it in. Here's maybe another way to think about it. You may or may not know who this is. Elie Wiesel survived the Nazi extermination camps. Auschwitz and Buchenwald, I believe, went on to to write and speak extensively throughout the world since since he survived the camps. And he said this, quote, maybe you've heard it. It's well known. "The opposite of love is not hate. It's indifference." I'm not speaking about love today, but I want to apply that same logic to worship, I would borrow his words and I would say this as we think about worship, the opposite of worship is not blasphemy. it's indifference. The opposite of worship is being indifferent to it. And it's this that this final warning and Hebrews 12 speaks to as it explains how you and I can become indifferent to worship, even if we're here, even if we're we're participating in the service, how our hearts and our minds can become indifferent. Let me take you briefly through the high points of this warning in Chapter 12. In verse 16 of Chapter 12, we are warned about the indifference that is seen, that is in the example of Esau. Esau, if you if you remember, if you've read through Genesis before. In Genesis 25, what does he do? He is the oldest son, has the birthright he's going to inherit from his father, but he really doesn't care. And in a moment where his physical desires, in this case, his hunger motivates him more than than anything that he can't touch yet because it's in the future. He trades away, well, what the scripture says he sells his birthright in exchange for one meal. He trades it to his brother for a bowl of soup. Basically, what's going on there? Esau in his worldliness, he sees no value in this birthright, this future thing, this inheritance that he can't yet touch and put his hands on. He doesn't recognize the significance of the privileges that he was forfeiting until it was too late. And after he trades it away, even though he realizes that later and he wants it back and he wants his father to rectify the situation, it's too late. It's gone because of his indifference, because of his thoughtlessness. And so the writer to the letter of the letter to Hebrews, he raises this as an example so that we are warned not to become indifferent to the coming kingdom that there is if you follow Christ, there is an inheritance. There is an opportunity to rule and reign with Jesus Christ and his millennial kingdom. and yet we can't see that yet because it's in the future. But we are warned not to become like Esau and to trade that away to forfeit that because in our worldliness, we're more concerned about what is going to meet our needs and our desires and make us comfortable in the present life. Don't become indifferent to the coming kingdom the writer of the letter to Hebrews is saying. In verse twenty two he goes on, and this time he uses, as part of his warning, the symbols of Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. and those are actual literal places, but he's using them symbolically here. Mount Zion, the place and in Exodus, where God appears to the Israelites and wants to speak to them, But they are fearful of him. They are fearful because of the lightning and the clouds and the thunder and the warning not to touch the mountain. And so they tell Moses, we don't want to hear from God directly. Moses, you go and you hear from God and then you come and you speak it to us. So Mt. Sinai, that that old covenant of fear and terror, we can approach God. But the writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us that if we are in Christ, if we know Christ as savior and Lord, we don't go to Mount Zion symbolically or Mount Mount Sinai symbolically anymore, we come to Mount Zion. Mount Zion was where Jerusalem is, where specifically where the temple was. And again, he's using this symbolically, but we see it here. We come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and the countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. We have access to God. We don't have to go through an intermediary of Moses anymore in the law. We had this incredible privilege of access to God and yet it is so easy for us to treat that great privilege casually, indifferently, to become indifferent to our access to God. He warns us again against becoming indifferent to the access to God that we have through Christ. In verse 25, he goes on and he warns us further. We're warned by what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness in Exodus 19 and 20. Remember, that is God has rescued them from Egypt and is taking them through the wilderness. But they grumble. Why? Because their desires are not being met. They grumble because life is not comfortable and secure as they would like it to be. And so in grumbling, what does God do? God doesn't wipe them out as the nation of Israel, but all those in that generation who grumble, they don't see the promised land. They forfeit their ability to have that privilege of entering the promised land. Well, think about that as it applies to us. God, who spoke to them through Moses, he now speaks to us directly through Christ, his son. And so we're warned as the writer to the letter to the Hebrews says here, be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the one who is speaking. Is that, it's a temptation I feel, is that a temptation that you feel? That you know, when we come to worship, you know we can become indifferent to hearing God speak. Oh, we got to do that responsive reading again. Why are they picking such a long text to read? Do you have thoughts like that? The word spoken, the word read, the word preached is God speaking through Christ and his word to us. And we are warned, don't become indifferent to that. Don't be like the Israelites grumbling in the wilderness. Verse 26, the warning goes on, verse 26, connects the earthquake that shook Mount Sinai there in the wilderness and Exodus 19. It connects it with the prophecy that God speaks through Hagai in Hagai 2:6, that there is coming a day when God will shake not only the Earth, but also the heavens. What's being discussed there? This is the great physical judgments of the Earth that the Earth will experience when Christ returns, when Christ returns in the glory of his father with all his heavenly angels. And the writer warns us not to be indifferent to that because it is so easy for us to just live like, you know, today is what really matters. Lunch is what really matters. What I'm going to do this afternoon or next week or this coming week is what really matters. It is so easy to become indifferent to the return of Christ to live - Yeah, we know that, but to live not in watchfulness, not not seeking to be faithful servants, awaiting the return of our master, but just those who live for today. Verse twenty nine. Kind of the culmination of these warnings reminds us of the holy character of God that requires the need for judgment. Our God is a consuming fire. And what is the reality here that in Christ, yes, God has has showered us with his grace, God has shown mercy to us, we have access to God and know his loving kindness and his faithfulness. But that doesn't eradicate his holiness. There's nothing contradictory between God's grace and God's holiness. And so the warning here is if we trust in Christ that we don't need to be filled with terror at God's coming judgment, But we should have a healthy respect for it. We should know that God calls us in his grace, with his Spirit in us. He calls us to to live holy lives, to be holy as he is holy. And so the warning here is in our worship and in all of our lives, not to become indifferent to the holiness of God. I really have thought about doing a whole series at some point and Hebrews, because as I've gone through these warnings these last two weeks, they're incredibly convicting to me. They caused me to check my heart. They caused me to really examine how I think and how that impacts my life and my worship. They're a wake up call. They're a wake up call to all of us. And that brings us back to what is acceptable worship in view of these warnings, particularly this last warning about the ways that our hearts can so easily become indifferent. What is it to worship acceptably? What is acceptable worship? What is what is worship that is the opposite of indifference. Well, that's what the writer of Hebrews now shares with us in the last couple verses of Chapter 12. Verse twenty eight: therefore, let us be grateful. Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken and that kingdom that cannot be shaken. That's not one that we can't see yet. It is the coming millennial reign of Christ. It is the coming kingdom that we are heirs of. But you know what it's like to be an heir. You've got that inheritance, but you can't put your hands on it yet. So sometimes it's hard to believe that it's there, that it's coming. But this kingdom, unlike our present life, cannot be shaken. It is eternal. It is firm. It will not pass away, whereas this life will be shaken and everything will pass away. What does he say for us to do? He's saying that this glorious privilege of our of our coming inheritance of the future kingdom, this glorious privilege that as followers of Christ, we may rule and reign with Christ. That is that is so incredible that our minds cannot even fully conceive it. I know mine can't. And he's saying that should overwhelm us with gratefulness. The opposite of indifference in worship is gratefulness, is being overwhelmed by what awaits us, overwhelmed by the privileges that we have, overwhelmed by the possibility that we may reign as a companion of Christ in his kingdom. And that gratefulness leads us - here's where it brings it into context - to offer acceptable worship. The acceptable worship, if you've heard those two terms before, they appear in Romans 12:1 Be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is good and acceptable and perfect in your service of worship. It's the same idea. It's viewing worship as as bigger than what we do here on a Sunday morning. It is viewing worship as how I offer my life to God in every sphere of my life, how we live at home and at work and in our neighborhoods. It is bringing worship into its true sense. In fact, the word here used for worship, latreuōmen, means worshipful service. The opposite of indifference and worship is worship of service, it is viewing every area of our lives as believers, as an expression of worship. It is seeing everything that we do and speak and choose and even think as a potential. Some offering to God and worship. The opposite of indifference is worshipful service. And our grateful worship must always be offered with reverence and awe. Reverence speaks of an appropriate demeanor, It speaks of how we how we how we view coming before God in worship. Awe speaks of having a godly fear, an awareness of his holiness that gives us circumspection, even caution. And reverence and awe together, it is the natural response to seeing God as he really is. If you've ever read through Isaiah, perhaps you've been caught like I have. And in Isaiah chapter six, where Isaiah is given a vision of the Lord Almighty. And what is it? What is seeing God as he really is and all of his holiness? What's the response that's naturally evoked in Isaiah? He falls down on his face in fear and reverence. It is the natural response to seeing God as he really is. Think of the three core disciples of Jesus in Matthew 17 on the Mountain of Transfiguration, when they see Jesus in all of His transfigured glory, what is their response? They fall on their faces because they see God as he really is in the person of Jesus Christ. The opposite of indifference in worship is reverent awe. So how do we bring these together, even especially when we think about a worship service at Calvary and what we do at Calvary, all the ways that we worship at Calvary, how do we bring together that that sense of of gratefulness, that sense of reverence, that sense of awe, that sense of all of our lives are to be lived as worship for service. I appreciate how Ligon Duncan puts it. We ought to aspire to congregational worship that is characterized by true heart worship of the living God according to his word, that is reverent, substantial and joyful. Yeah, that's what I want, that's what we desire, True heart worship like Josh preached last week, what it means to worship in spirit and in truth, True heart worship; worship, that is, according to his word, not cultural preferences, not even our own personal preferences, but according to his word worship. That is reverent worship, that is substantial, not fluffy worship. That is joyful. Joyfulness and reverence are not contradictory. True worship brings those together. Where is your heart this morning as you worship. We have an opportunity even going forward into the service. We're going to sing some more. How will your heart offer your singing as an expression of worship? We're going to come to the table. How will coming to the table and celebrating the Lord's Supper, how will your heart use that as an offering of worship? Let's pray. We thank you, father. We thank you for all of your word. Lord, it is easy to love the parts of your word that are comforting to us, especially comforting to us where we're hurting, where we're lonely. Oh, Lord, we thank you. Even though it doesn't come naturally, we thank you for the parts of your word that are warnings to us as well. And Lord, we want to hear, we want to be impacted, we want to be really given a wake up call about this warning of indifference, Lord, we don't want our worship to be indifferent. We want our worship to be in response to seeing you in all of your glory, we want our worship to be Lord certainly filled with gratefulness and reverence and awe and even joy. We need your spirit, Lord, to do that continued heart transformation in us so that we can worship like this. We ask you now, Lord, even as we continue to worship, singing and worship at the Lord's table, that your spirit will move among us and produce worshipful response that lifts up the name of Jesus Christ And brings you glory. Amen.