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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:The Way of Holy Worship
Text:LD 35 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 95:1,3                                                                                        

Hy 5:1,2,3,4  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Deuteronomy 12:1-14; Romans 11:33-12:3

Ps 50:3,7,11

Sermon – Lord’s Day 35

Ps 134:1,2,3

Hy 84:1,2,3,4

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

Beloved in Christ, how do relationships thrive? What’s the best way to maintain and deepen a bond with someone you love? It’s communication that does these things! Any couple, young or old, will know that once you stop talking, trouble looms. But if you open up, if you listen and you’re listened to, you’ll probably go in the right direction. 

Today we consider a relationship of a different sort than our human connections. For the covenant of grace is also a relationship. The covenant is the living bond between the LORD and us, his people. He’s called us his own, his beloved bride. So we call God our joy and delight, our husband. And in this covenant, communication is essential! To keep our relationship with the LORD strong, we need to talk. We need to listen. We need to engage in holy conversation with our God.

And that’s exactly what worship is! When we worship—as individuals, as families—and particularly as church, we are meeting together with the holy God. With him, worship is a time of receiving and responding. And so God calls us to this most important activity of drawing near to him in Spirit and in truth. I preach God’s Word to you as it is summarized in Lord’s Day 35,

            God calls his covenant people to present holy worship:

                        1) not in the way of the nations

                        2) but in the place the LORD chooses

                        3) with offerings and sacrifices

                        4) and with great rejoicing


1) not in the way of the nations: We read earlier from Deuteronomy 12. The setting of Deuteronomy is important, for the people of Israel are now ready to exit the wilderness and enter the land. Chapter 12:1 speaks of the good and spacious land in front of Israel—“the land that the LORD God of your fathers is giving you to possess.”

And when you get there, Moses says, you need to follow God’s decrees and laws! “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree” (v 2). It is striking that one of the first items on Israel’s “to-do list” is to clear the land of all bits and pieces of Canaanite religion! Again in the next verse, “Destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, burn their wooden images” (v 3).

When they cross the Jordan, the Israelites will come face-to-face with all the ugliness of pagan worship. For Canaan’s religion featured an array of gods and goddesses. Some were symbolized with “sacred stones” or pillars, as Moses says—large and unique rocks, stood on end, kind of like the menhirs that Obelix always carries around. Other gods in Canaan, like the goddess Asherah, were symbolized by trees or wooden poles.

The altars to these gods were always set up in places that had religious importance: on high mountains, on imposing hills, and under stately trees. You went to such sacred places with your offerings, in the hope of winning the favour of the gods.

For the Canaanites, worship was all about the worshipers. What did you stand to gain? What did you get out of the sacrifices and prayers? The Canaanites wanted what people want still today: plentiful wealth, good health, and people to love; and success in earthly pursuits, whether going to war or building a city. And so when they visited the shrines, the Canaanites would try to get their gods to respond to them.

One way to convince a god was by showing what you wanted. For example, if you desired an abundant harvest, you might go to a high place, and do things that spoke of fertility. You might pour out on the altar a bag of the finest barley, or you might “spread your seed” with the local priestess. Maybe the god would take notice and give a good harvest.

Another way to get the gods’ attention was by giving gifts. The whole idea was that the gods are a lot like us. Like us, the gods enjoy nice things, so they can be bribed and buttered up. Bring a good sacrifice, and you just might get what you want! Of course, the more valuable the offering, the better your chances were. This is why Moses mentions that some pagans would even burn their sons and daughters in the fire (12:31). In that perverse way to thinking, no god could ignore such a previous gift! They’d surely answer with blessing.

Moses is direct about God’s view of such things: in worshiping their gods, the Caananites do all kinds of detestable things “which He hates” (12:31). This worship was morally corrupted and socially harmful. And it was all a fraud anyway, because these gods were nothing. God wanted all signs of them to be wiped from the land, so they’d never be called on again.

Because here was the real danger: that God’s people might let their own worship be profaned. It was a two-headed monster of a temptation. First, Israel might see the other gods and what they had to offer, and then abandon the worship of the LORD. In fact, that had already happened. At Baal Peor, the Moabites had invited the men of Israel to join in their worshiping of Baal—an invitation which proved very hard to resist, as it would throughout Israel’s history.

But there was the second danger: that God’s people would still worship the LORD, but in entirely the wrong way. And this too, had already happened—even at Mt. Sinai. There the Israelites made a golden calf, an image, saying that this was the LORD. They felt better, because now they could see him and touch him, just like the nations could see their gods.

For us, both of these temptations are still very real. We might scoff at false religions, for we’re not tempted by Baal or by Buddha, and we don’t put up stones and wooden poles. Yet many other idols can keep us from a right relationship with God. We might be drawn to worship at the shrines of money or success or technology or fitness or whatever else.

And then we’re also tempted to worship the true God in the wrong way. This is what the second commandment focuses on. As the Catechism teaches in Q&A 96, “We are not to make an image of God in any way, nor to worship him in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word.” So how do we sometimes stray from what God has commanded for our worship?

Some people might wonder whether physically going to church twice every Sunday is really so important—you can always worship God on your own, at home, or even out in creation. It suits us better, so we do it.

Or because of how entertainment is such a constant presence in our life, we like to say that church needs to be more exciting and interesting, or it should be more visually-oriented, like the things we watch all week.

Besides this, we live in a time of endless varieties of Christian worship. So there can be a lot of discussion about the nature of worship: about the songs we sing, our styles of liturgy, the content of sermons, and so on. We don’t have shy away from discussing why we worship the way we do. We can even discuss how our worship can be improved. It’s the most important thing we do together as church, so we should strive to get it right!

But there is something to soundly reject, and that is the worship that is self-determined and human-centred. It’s what Deuteronomy calls “the way of the nations!” For the Canaanites, we said, it was always about what they got out of it. Did worship bring them pleasure? Did the gods send good crops and healthy families? Did they go home from the high places “on a high?”

As a basic human inclination, you will see that this hasn’t changed. For we might still approach the Lord’s day in a selfish spirit. We ask: “Did the worship benefit me? Do I like all the songs? How do I feel after the service? Am I comfortable sitting in church?” But we’re not here for us. Listen to how Paul tells us plainly, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world” (Rom 12:2). We should never worship on the world’s terms, or on our own terms, but we worship in obedience to God’s command.

Compare the worship service to a birthday party—at least in one sense! Because when you organize a birthday party for someone you care about, you take into account the things that person likes. You invite the people he loves. You serve his favourite foods. You play the kind of music he enjoys. If a party is truly going to be in his honour, you have to consider his wishes. So it is with holy worship! We’re here in his honour, so what does God want from this time? What brings him delight?


2) in the place God chooses: Like most of the commandments, the second commandment explicitly tells us what not to do: “Do not make an image of God.” But implied in that is positive instruction also. How does God want us to worship him?

This is something we see in Deuteronomy 12: “You shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put his Name there for his dwelling place” (v 5). When the Israelites entered the land, things would change in a big way. Previously, their worship had not been completely organized. The years in the wilderness meant worship had to be adapted to their unsettled situation.

But now God says, “You shall not at all do as we are doing here today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes” (v 8). Once they got into the land, the LORD would choose one place. And in this place, God says, He’ll set “his Name.” They would no longer be a wandering people in tents, nor a pagan people with hundreds of shrines for worship, God’s people would be given one principal place to commune with their LORD.

And there, God’s “Name” will dwell! When God speaks of his Name, it has great significance, for it stands for the LORD in all his majesty and glory. Like the Israelites sang at the Red Sea, “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation…the LORD is his name” (Exod 15:2-3).

And God’s Name stands far apart. The gods of the nations were useless and cheap, but the true God is the God of glory. So what a marvel it was that He would cause his Name to dwell on earth, that He’d make a home in the tabernacle! Wherever God chose to dwell, the proof was right there, that God himself was near.

For this reason the tabernacle was also called “the tent of meeting.” At the tabernacle, that chosen place, the people could meet with God. He was the most holy God, they were sinful mortals, yet here they could fellowship. They could communicate, even across the great divide between heaven and earth. They could call on God’s Name, and present offerings to him—while for their part they could hear God’s life-giving Word, and receive his blessing.

That is still the essence of worship today. We don’t call this modest building the “tent of meeting,” but here we meet with our God in a special way. For the sake of Christ, and in the power of his Spirit, we can commune with God in all openness and love. Here God gives us his greeting of grace, and He pronounces his powerful blessing. Here God speaks to us with the wisdom of his law, and He proclaims his gospel in Christ. Here, says the Catechism, we can be taught “by the living preaching of his Word” (Q&A 98).  

What a gift this is! For the reality is that we come to church today in all kinds of different conditions. Some are feeling guilty for things they’ve done wrong, some are stressed and worried, others content, and perhaps a few are living in a perilous state of indifference. There is all manner of burdens that God’s people carry on the Lord’s day.

But we can be here with confidence. For we seek the Name which is worthy of all good expectation. We confess that He is “the Maker of heaven and earth.” Our great God has created all things, and He has redeemed his people through Christ—what then, is impossible for him?

Through worship we are encouraged, also when we call on his Name together. Once they entered the land and spread out in every direction, the Israelites committed to gathering annually at the place God chose. They would rejoice to meet with one another, and to meet with the Lord.

Still today, in this place, worship is meant to be communal; it is something we do together. We need each other. For God knows how the fellowship of the saints can strengthen our faith. It is good to see one another in church, and to unite our voices in song. It’s an encouragement to pray together, to learn together and be blessed together.

Through Jesus Christ, we may approach together the LORD God in all the splendour of his majesty. This is place of his choosing. Today, this is where God wants us to be!


3) with offerings and sacrifices: So what is the main activity of worship? Going back to Deuteronomy 12, it says about the place God chooses: “There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks” (v 6).

We should understand these sacrifices rightly. The pagan idea of bringing gifts to the gods was that these were essentially bribes, ways to appease a god’s wrath, ways to change his mind about you. But the LORD wanted his people to worship with a grateful heart. The whole reason Israel could bring sacrifices and offerings was because of the LORD and his kindness. It was his land. It was his produce. It was his blessing.

So all these sacrifices they brought—from the finest cow to the best oil—it all flowed from his bounty of blessing, from the gifts He entrusted to his people. To bring any offering to the LORD is to acknowledge God’s goodness! It is from him, and it is for him.

Because of Christ, we don’t bring that kind of sacrifice anymore, yet in worship we’re still presenting things to him. We present our voices to God in song and confession. We present our thoughts to God when we meditate on his Word, pray our petitions, and reflect on God’s goodness. We present our bodies to God by committing to being here, though we could be doing many other things on a Sunday morning or afternoon. In worship, we present our money to God in the offertory, and through giving our tithes.

All these things that you bring can be dedicated with gratitude to the Giver. For He has given us today. He’s given us bodies, and minds, and voices, and material things. In Jesus Christ, He has given every reason to be in church on the Lord’s day with a thankful spirit!

And the truth is, we’re not called to give a one-time present to God. We’re not called to give just one day per week to God. Worship isn’t just something you do when you walk through the door of this church and you find a pew. We are called to offer ourselves to God in heart, soul, mind, and strength! We lay our life before God, because He has redeemed it.

So we don’t hold back. As we heard in Romans 12, “I beseech you therefore…by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (v 1). Notice what Paul says. Do all this, “in view of God’s mercy.” We must build our worship on the finished sacrifice of Christ. For He has merited God’s favour, taken away holy anger, and won back his love. In Christ, we have nothing left to do but to give ourselves fully to his praise.


4) and with great rejoicing: In Deuteronomy 12, you might’ve been struck by the eating and drinking that’s going on. Eating meat, drinking wine at the tabernacle—what does that have to do with worship of God? Some of Israel’s sacrifices were meant completely for God, but other sacrifices were shared with the priests. Some offerings were even given back to the worshipers who’d brought them.

So around the central sanctuary there’d be a lot of feasting. Moses writes, “There you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand” (v 7). God wants us to acknowledge him, to give back to him with the best portions of all we have. But God also desires that we celebrate his generosity. So Israel would feast on the wealth of his good gifts.

And that’s still what we’re allowed to do in public worship. We feast on God’s gifts! In the sacraments, for example, we taste and see that the LORD is good. In the preaching, we receive big portions of spiritual food, and our souls are nourished and refreshed by his grace.

Fed with the gospel, we rejoice in Lord. God never intended worship to be a dreary affair, tedious and boring. That offends God and his greatness. No, Scripture speaks highly of worship and its pleasure and delight, like in Psalm 84: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere!” (v 10). Or Psalm 122, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go up to the house of the LORD’” (v 1).

Most of us are pretty reserved. Our worship could even be described as sombre—heavy in tone, and serious. So where is the joy and festivity in God’s courts? Where is the celebration? I think you can often hear it in the congregational singing, when Psalms and hymns are sung with passion and power. God is lifted up by our praise! You also see the joy in the fact that many members are devoted to being here, as often as possible—worship is important to us. We want to be in God’s house, and we delight to hear his Word.

But of course, our joy in worship can also fade. It fades when we take this gift for granted, or when we complain that church isn’t quite how we like it. Our joy in worship fades when all week we live far from God. So let us keep finding our pleasure in being here with God’s people. Let’s keep growing in our delight in knowing the Lord and hearing his gospel. Let’s prevent anything from hindering our joy in worship.

When you keep your worship centered on God and his Word, you’ll always find great reason to rejoice. For you’ll see what a God we worship. You’ll see and you’ll hear how God has saved us in Christ.

And then his glory will inspire praise not only for today, but for the week ahead. For our Triune God is so worthy to be praised—not just for two hours on a Sunday, but with the worship that lasts a lifetime. To God be all our worship and thanksgiving!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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