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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:True Worship Requires the True Word
Text:LD 35 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 2nd Commandment (No images)
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-01-06
Updated:2019-01-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 92:1,6,7                                                                             

Ps 91:1,5  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Hosea 4:1-10; Matthew 7:13-29

Ps 12:1,2,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 35

Ps 25:2,4

Hy 37:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Brothers and sisters, today we gather to worship the LORD. That’s our purpose in being in this building, at this time, on this day: to worship. And so we should. The first commandment says that we must worship God, and none other. By being here we’re saying to all the other gods—the gods invented by the nations, the gods fashioned by our hearts—we’re saying, “My worship and devotion are reserved for the true and living God alone.”

God asks for our exclusive trust, our complete submission, our quiet expectation, our love, fear and honour. God wants our commitment, and He wants it shown by words and deeds—He wants our love expressed in the act of worship.

But according to the Bible, love is always shaped by rules. So also for our expressions of love for God in public worship: it must be obedient worship. Says the writer to the Hebrews, “Let us… worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (12:28). When we gather for worship, we should always be concerned with what’s acceptable to God. In what we do here, what will please him, and what will bother him? What is fitting for the awesome God, and what will be irreverent in his eyes and ears?

True worship of God submits to the will of God. The Catechism puts it this way when it explains that our worship must be according to the “manner that He has commanded in his Word” (Q&A 96). And what is that manner? Let’s listen to God’s Word as summarized in Lord’s Day 35 under this theme,

True worship requires the true Word:

  1. watch out for false prophets
  2. listen to the truth
  3. put the truth into practice

 

1) watching out for false prophets: In its lesson on this commandment, the Catechism begins negatively: “We are not to make an image of God in any way” (Q&A 96). From the rest of the Lord’s Day, it’s clear that the Catechism has in its sights the Roman Catholic practices of worship. For when the Catechism was first written, the Roman church used images of Jesus in order to teach the people and to focus their worship. To some extent, that’s still their practice.

And the problem with an image of God is that it is false. Whenever you make a picture of the Lord, you’re claiming something about him: “This is what God is like.” Now, with an image it’s possible that you still get something right, picking up on one of the many metaphors for God in Scripture, and picturing God as a warrior, or as a father, or a judge. But God is far too great and glorious to be captured in one image.

In fact, God can’t be pictured since He is invisible. This is what Paul told the image-loving people of Athens, “We should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill” (Acts 17:29). So if you make an image to represent him, you’ve lost God as He really is. Any image of God conveys a falsehood.

But making images isn’t the only variety of false worship. That’s clear from Jesus’ words in Matthew 7. “Watch out for false prophets,” He warns, “they come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (v 15). That warning probably shocks us more than it shocked Jesus’ audience, for the Jews knew all about false prophets. In the Old Testament God often warns against those who claimed to be speaking for him when they were really only speaking for themselves. For instance, this is what Zephaniah says in 3:4, “Israel’s prophets are arrogant; they are treacherous men.”

Jesus says that there’s still such people around. He says they’re even like wolves in sheep’s clothing. We might understand that by picturing a sly wolf putting on a sheepskin costume—something along the lines of Little Red Hood. Now, the wolf thinks, he can infiltrate the local herd of sheep and score some lamb chops for supper. He’s a predator in disguise! And that’s what a false prophet is too.

But a better way to understand that verse is through the stories of the Old Testament, where prophets of the LORD often wore a hairy cloak. Think of Elijah, who was dressed in what’s called “a garment of hair” (2 Kgs 1:8). He wasn’t the only one either. This became something like a uniform for the prophets: a robe made of animal skins.

And because it was so recognizable, an outfit like this could lead people astray. There were men who wore a prophet’s garment, who spoke what seemed to be a prophet’s words, but who were not in fact prophets of God. In Zechariah 13, God speaks about those who “put on a prophet’s garment of hair in order to deceive” (v 4). These were wolves in sheep’s clothing who  plundered God’s flock and brought destruction through their lies.

Let’s understand what this means. A false prophet might look outwardly acceptable, and use all the right language and terminology, but he’s really a deceiver. Christ knows that after his time, many heretics will appear and corrupt the true things He’d said. In fact, the history of the early church is full of teachers who led people astray. It’s one of the reasons we have our three ecumenical creeds; these were statements of the true faith over against those who were denying the clear teaching of Scripture.

As we said, this message about false prophets resonated with Jesus’ audience. What about us? As we worship God, must we still look for false teachers and watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing? We should! Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says that one of the signs of these last days before He returns will be the rise of false prophets. Along with wars and disasters and persecution, some will try to persuade God’s people to give up the true faith.

Notice that Jesus isn’t telling us to watch out for mean and nasty people, belligerent teachers who are really obvious in their attacks on the truth. Rather, we should expect people who look like genuine prophets, who even appear to be one of us. They will probably sound outwardly acceptable, using the right language and seeming to value the same things that we do.

Today, many people claim to be teachers and explainers of God’s Word. You come across their YouTube channels, or you hear them on the radio. You might read their best-selling books, or visit their blogs. Their smiling profile picture looks nice, wearing stylish clothes and accessories. They say they just want to tell us God’s will. But Jesus’ point is that we should be careful about who we listen to, and who we read. The teaching of God’s Word is far too important to receive from any random source.

So how do we know what’s true and what’s false? The most obvious thing is to look for heresy. Do the teachings in this book agree with the Word of God? Does the content of this website agree with the good and reliable summary of God’s Word in the Reformed confessions? Now, sometimes an old truth put in a new way sounds wrong, but it’s actually right. And sometimes an old heresy put in a new way sounds right, but it’s still completely wrong. Discerning the truth means developing a well-tuned ear. It means having a sensitive theological radar, when we can detect things that go contrary to the Word.

Perhaps most common today is when false teachers are ready to compromise the clear teaching of Scripture on moral issues. We live in a time when there is a lot of pressure to be politically correct. People who go by the name of Christian are rushing to affirm that God’s will has changed with the culture on things like homosexuality or gender or marriage.

And false teaching will always have an effect—Jesus says that we’ll know it by its fruit. What are the consequences of this teaching for the church and the Christian life? Now, we don’t always see the fruit at once, but in time it becomes obvious.

For instance, say a church has dismissed the Bible’s teaching on some key moral issues, or they’ve tried to harmonize creation and evolution. In the short term, everything is fine—the sky doesn’t fall in. people still come to church. But there will be bad fruit. If a church rejects the authority of God’s Word in some select areas, then in time the entire faith becomes uncertain. For how can you accept anything of what Scripture says? Sever the root, and the tree will die.

The way that a church worships is often very revealing too. How does a church treat the holiness of God? Is a casual attitude taken toward the LORD? Are the worshipers more important than the One who is worshiped? Has attending the worship services become optional? Is the Bible left closed, and the mind turned off? These are more bad fruits growing from bad doctrine. But at the heart of true worship is true preaching.

 

2) listening to the truth: So what’s the alternative? What can we say about the true worship of the Lord? God says that holy worship must be according to his Word, and that we should be taught not by images. A picture is not always worth a thousand words, for when we worship God says, “You don’t see me, but you can hear me.”

For instance, consider the passage we read from Hosea. In that time, the Israelites were once again embracing other gods. And what does Hosea say the whole problem is? Why were they doing this? It’s because they let go of God’s truth—they weren’t listening anymore.

“My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge,” God complains in chapter 4:6. What had God promised them, as their faithful husband? What were their obligations, as God’s cherished bride? Who really knows? They had forgotten their vows, so they had wandered far from God’s household. And there, away from his loving protection, they felt his tremendous wrath against their sin. They were “destroyed from lack of knowledge.”

All the people had their share in the blame, but especially the priests were responsible. This was their job; God had commanded the priests to teach the people, to explain the law, to unfold the truths of God’s Word. But the priests in Hosea’s time didn’t do it. They were too busy, or too lazy, or too misguided. In a way, they were like the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ time, who so often missed the point of God’s Word when they explained it. They thought God’s Word was all about obedience to outward regulation, when it’s really all about knowing Christ.

We can make a similar mistake, and miss the point of Scripture and think that it’s all about us. So we need instruction in the Word, help to understand God’s revelation. If the church is destroyed from lack of knowledge, think of what our condition will be when we have much knowledge, when we have the knowledge of right and holy things! We’ll be richly blessed.

That’s a strong emphasis of the second commandment. The Catechism explains it this way, “God wants his people to be taught… by the living preaching of His Word” (Q&A 98). So the Word must be the principal ingredient for our worship. The church is blessed when preachers bring the Word like God has commanded.

That of course, raises a really big question about the preaching. What makes it true? How do we know what is the “living preaching” of the Word? There’s so much we could say about this, but let’s take our cue from the Lord Jesus, for Jesus was also a preacher. During his ministry, He delivered many sermons to God’s people. So let’s consider how He approached the task of preaching. Take the Sermon on the Mount which we read from, for example: What can we learn from his style and content in these three chapters, Matthew 5-7?

Now, as a first comment, I think that any minister will be quick to insist that he could never preach like Christ. It’s with good reason that Christ is called our “chief Prophet and Teacher” (Q&A 31). He stands alone. He’ll never be matched. His was flawless preaching.

Yet there is still value in reflecting on what made the Sermon on the Mount so powerful. When you look at it, there’s a number of striking characteristics. In the first place, see how his sermon was very God-centered. Throughout it, Jesus displays the overwhelming majesty and holiness and grace of God. In Jesus’ sermon, the LORD always has the place of priority. For example, remember his theme, “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness” (6:33). True preaching must point us again and again to the glory of our God.

Besides being God-centered, Christ’s sermon was also deeply Scriptural. These chapters are Scripture, of course, but Christ’s sermon was also firmly rooted in the Old Testament. He would begin with the law of God, or the Psalms, or the prophets, and then He would explain and expand. In this way it was clear He was speaking with the authority of God, like every preacher should: those who listen to true preaching must be able to see that these words are God’s words.

Christ’s sermon was also immensely practical. When you read these chapters, you see that He gave his listeners plenty of work to do, and much guidance for their daily lives. We can think about his words in these chapters about how to pray, how to give to the needy, how to be sexually pure, how to show neighbour love, how to worship sincerely. These were all words his audience could go home and put to use!

This was because Christ approached his hearers as a covenant people. God had made promises to them, but they also had obligations. This provided the basic content of his sermon: promise and obligation. And that too, is a needed pattern for preaching. A sermon isn’t a lecture, a theoretical explanation of obscure academic points far-removed from daily life. A sermon is meant to instruct God’s covenant people with wisdom for living.

What’s more, Christ’s sermon offered encouragement and comfort. Instead of beating them up for their failures and making them feel worthless, his preaching lifted God’s people up. For Christ recognized his listeners for who they really were. As He proclaims, “You are God’s children. You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. You’re more valuable than the birds of the air—you’re citizens of God Kingdom!” True preaching must encourage.

In his sermon, it’s true that Christ doesn’t mention himself a whole lot. Obviously, there had been no cross yet, no resurrection. Yet Jesus drops hints at his own importance. Think of his words in Matthew 7 about the small gate and the narrow road that leads to everlasting life. That should remind us about the one who called himself the Door, who said He was the only way to the Father. The Sermon on the Mount also teaches us that living preaching must be centered on Christ, who is the very heart of our faith.

These are just a few of the qualities of Christ’s sermon, yet they’re a fitting model for Christian preachers today. When we listen to the living preaching of God’s Word on Sundays, we should be hearing sermons that are resolutely focused on the Triune God. They should be richly Scriptural. They should be practical and relevant for daily life, and they should covenantal, explaining promise and obligation. Living preaching must encourage and comfort and exhort. And sermons should, above all, preach Christ and him crucified!

Preachers are all faced with their own shortcomings, Sunday after Sunday. I think every minister is familiar with an unpleasant condition that is sometimes called the “Monday morning blues.” A minister going back to his study on Monday can feel mildly depressed, for he is mulling over how he should’ve said so many things better, how he forgot this or that point, how the congregation wasn’t really listening—in short, thinking that he’s just not up to the task.

Yet by God’s grace, faithful preaching has a powerful effect. Think of how the people responded to his sermon, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (vv 28-29). Though we’re not perfect like Christ, through the Spirit’s working this is still the effect of faithful preaching. Is the message based on God’s Word? Does it present that true gospel message of Christ? Then it has an undeniable power, a life-changing power. Then the preacher can declare, “This the Word of the Lord.”

What does that mean for those who sit in church on Sundays? We must listen carefully. What we’re hearing isn’t merely the minister’s finely-formed opinions, something to which we retort, “Well, that’s just your interpretation.” It’s not just another advertisement that we can tune out or fast-forward. It’s a divine Word, one that demands that we listen and believe and do.

Think of how Paul commends the Thessalonians for their reaction to his preaching, “When you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God” (1 Thess 12:13). The preaching needs to be tested, of course—Jesus’ words about false prophets require it. Every sermon, even from a trusted and qualified minister, needs to be evaluated by the standard of Scripture and the confessions.

But then if it is true preaching, we need to receive it humbly and eagerly. True preaching should even be received with amazement—it should amaze us, not because of a preacher’s skill in speaking or because of a sermon’s beautiful structure, but because of the glorious gospel being presented. Every Sunday, we have the opportunity to stand in awe together: this is our God! This is what He’s done for us in Christ! This is the glorious privilege that He gives us, the privilege of serving him and living for him!

 

3) putting the truth into practice: Now, whenever we come together for worship, there’s a danger. It’s the danger of making a separation between what happens here, and what happens in the rest of the week. Everything can be proper about our Lord’s day worship, and the sermon can be spot-on and Scriptural, yet there’s no change once it’s over. The Word we heard has no connection to the way we do business on Monday, the way that we treat our family and neighbors all week, or what we do next weekend.

Yet this is not how a true believer lives. If you’re really a follower of Christ, your entire way of life will be different. This is the point Jesus saves for the end of his sermon. He says to the crowds, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21). Christ knows that anyone can be impressed by the Word. In fact, He knew the crowds will be amazed once He’s done talking, and they’ll keep following, hoping to hear more. But they must do more than listen: they must put these words into practice!

So for us. We’re not done with worship once we’ve put in our time on Sunday. We’re not done with the Word once the minister finally says “Amen.” For having heard the Word, now you have to do the Word. You’ve been amazed by the gospel—that’s good. Now get busy with the gospel.

That’s why we need to come to church, every Sunday. And that’s why the Word must be spread out over seven days. The Word of God is far too important to be saved for just a couple hours per week. It needs to speak to us, day in and day out. It gives us sinners the needed reminders of God’s mercy. It keeps warning us against the ever-present temptation. It keeps teaching us how we can glorify the Lord our God.

Jesus warns us not to be a people who listen to the Word but who fail to apply it. Then we’re like the man who builds his house on the sand, whose house (and whose life) will come crashing down in times of trouble. But build on God’s truth, Christ says: Remember the Word which you hear, take it home and put it into practice. Such a life is well-founded and it will never fall, because we have our foundation on the Rock.

Brothers and sisters, that’s what we’re busy with every Sunday again. As we worship, we’re getting lessons in how to build on our one foundation. These words have power—power both to save and to destroy. So whatever you do, don’t do nothing. But be wise and go to Christ, hear his words, and do them!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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