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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
Preached At:
Title:What God Accepts and Requires in Worship
Text:LD 35 John 4:1-30 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

Psalter 268 - Thanksgiving and Praise
TH 106 - Father, Father of All Things
TH 663 - O God Eternal, You Are My God!
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

What God Accepts and Requires in Worship

HC LD 35, John 4:1-30

When we talk about acceptable worship in a Reformed church, there are the usual pet topics. Should I speak on the Regulative Principle of Worship? Should I create controversy by defending inclusive or exclusive psalmody? Should I congratulate ourselves that we don’t sing shallow Contemporary Christian Music? Or should I rock the boat by pointing out how old hymns and old tunes and were once new? Then I thought - we do that in the pastoral voice and there are Adult CI classes on it. And while these matters are not unimportant, I wanted to focus on the broader principles found in our text and the Heidelberg. 

In speaking about Christian worship from our text, there are 4 requirements or conditions from God — firstly, God requires a worship that exalts him; secondly, God only accepts worship from holy people; thirdly, God only accepts Scriptural worship; and fourthly, God requires worship to be spiritual and truthful. 

Before we see these conditions, let’s see the context. In John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus that God loved even such a wicked world, and not just the Jews. Salvation was for all kinds of sinners. In John 4, Jesus proved it by going through Samaria. There, he spoke to a Samaritan woman. He revealed her sins — that she was married 5 times; and her current partner was not her husband. Only a man of God could do this and she recognized that. Verse 19, “Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.”And that’s why her attention shifted to worship. The Samaritans were half-Jews; a product of intermarriage with unbelievers years ago. Their race, language, and their religion were mixed. They only believed the Pentateuch not the whole Bible, so they rejected Jerusalem and the Temple as places of sacrifice and forgiveness. Instead, they worshipped and sacrificed on Mount Gerizim. She may have raised this in response. Jesus, you say I’m a sinner - but I’m forgiven - I worship on this mountain near Shechem, where God appeared before Abraham. This well was dug by Jacob. The covenant blessings were preached from here. She said in verse 20 - “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; but you Jews say that men should worship in Jerusalem.” What kind of worship from what kind of people does God accept?

So firstly, God requires a worship that exalts him. Our most important activity is worship. We were created to worship. And while evangelism is necessary here; in heaven, it’s not. But worship continues. God has saved us to worship. It’s the final goal of our salvation. Jesus told the Samaritan woman in verse 23 that the Father seeks true worshipers - “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.”

God seeks worshipers. The word “seek” means desire. The same word is used of Herod when he wanted to kill Jesus. An angel told Joseph to take his family into Egypt, because Herod “will seek the young child to destroy him.” It’s a strong word of desire. Jesus used this word in Matthew 6:33 - “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” It’s of first priority. God’s principal desire is this - he seeks worshipers. But whom do they worship? God —“He seeketh such to worship him.” 

In other words, worship is not about us. We don’t go to church to find comfort - even though we receive comfort. We don’t worship God to feel blessed - even though we are when we worship; we don’t sing to feel good - even though we will; but worship is primarily for God. God seeks worshipers to worship him. In the second commandment, God prohibited the worship of idols - images of created things. Worship must only be for the creator. And this is why we don’t create worship for ourselves. This is the problem with many churches. We worship praise and praise worship, rather than worshiping and praising God. We worship our feelings and tastes, rather than worship and praise God. We worship methodology to create a worship we desire, rather than worship God. Mind you, we can even worship the theology of Reformed worship, rather than worship and praise God. Therefore the goal in worship must be to honor God. He’s the focus of our worship.

The word “worship” used by Jesus was the Greek word - proskuneo. It gives the picture of a dog coming to lick its master’s hand. It means kissing and adoration while bowing. This is how worship was frequently done in the ancient world. Even the English word comes from the words - worth and shape. We shape our behavior according to the worth of what we worship. And if we bow, that means God is higher - lifted up. So the idea of worship is to exalt God. Now, of course, we can’t make God higher - God is already the Most High - a title given by Melchizedek and Moses. So he can’t be made higher. But when we have the right attitude of worship in our hearts, by what we do and not do, we exalt God in our hearts. God requires worship that exalts him. But who can worship him?

Secondly, God only accepts worship from holy people. In verse 21, Jesus said, “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.” This is significant. The woman was trying to point out to Jesus that she worshiped in Gerizim where the Samaritans had a temple and sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins. She also pointed out the difference with the Jews who had their temple at Jerusalem, their place of atonement. But Jesus told them that the true source of forgiveness was him.

If you recall, the temple taught the people the way to God - it showed what people had to do to be fit to worship God. Before the Levites could sing and the priests could enter the temple, they had to offer a sacrifice at the bronze altar and wash themselves at wash basin outside. Only then could they enter to fellowship around the table of shewbread, pray at the golden altar, which was all lit by the golden lamp stand. And only once a year the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies, to stand before God’s throne - the ark of the covenant - and sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on it. The ark was a chest containing the 10 commandments, the rod of Aaron, and the pot of manna. This chest was covered by the mercy seat - a cover decorated with 2 golden angels. It was called the mercy seat because it covered God’s judgment against his people. The people disobeyed the 10 commandments, they were ungrateful for the manna, they refused to follow God’s priest Aaron. If God did not cover the ark with his throne of mercy, he would judge them. But the sacrifices and priests were imperfect. They had to be offered again and again - whether in Gerizim or in Jerusalem. The message was clear - nothing they did could completely forgive sin. But Jesus said, neither on Gerizim or in Jerusalem will we worship the Father. These were imperfect places of atonement.

But the hour cometh. There’d be a time when there was something better. Jesus often used this phrase “the hour” or “my hour cometh” to talk about his own death and resurrection. He said it twice in John 4 to the Samaritan woman, and also in John 5 to his mother who asked him to reveal himself - to turn water into wine at the wedding. Jesus said to her - “woman, my hour has not come yet.” But when it was time - after the last supper, on the road to Gethsemane, Jesus knelt down and prayed - “Father, the hour is come.” It was the hour where he made the final sacrifice - one to fulfill all sacrifices; where he shed his blood and water to wash his people. He was the bread of life, the light of the world, the Great High Priest who would pray for his people, and he bring his blood by the veil of his broken body to heaven where he would sit at the right hand the throne of God surrounded by angels. Jesus is the temple - destroy this temple and I will raise it up in 3 days. That’s why, if anyone goes to him - they can be saved. He said he was the way, the truth, and the life - no one could go to God except by him. Only Jesus can make us holy so that we can worship. This is why we exalt him too. 

And this tells us an important lesson. We don’t dumb down our worship. Worship is meant for God, mediated by Christ. It’s something given to God by saved people. We don’t dumb down worship for unbelievers. Worship is not an evangelistic tool. Hymns and psalms are not primarily evangelistic. Evangelism - yes - we preach the gospel simply and plainly like Christ and the apostles. But worship - prayer, praise, fellowship can only be done by saved people - we don’t change worship to make it seeker sensitive. We give God the worship he wants, through Christ, knowing that only believers can worship God.

But not any worship will do. It has to be a Scriptural worship. That’s the only kind of worship God accepts. That’s the third condition. There is a right way to worship that is revealed. Jesus said in John 4:22 - “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” God revealed in the Scriptures how to worship. Jesus said we know what we worship. The Jews had the full revelation given to them. God told his people in Deuteronomy 5 when the 10 commandments were repeated - you shall observe to do as God has commanded you, you shall not turn to the right or left - you shall walk in all the ways which God has commanded you. God commanded a worship according to his word. 

And if there’s a right way, there’s a wrong way prohibited. Jesus said that the Samaritans didn’t know how to worship. The Samaritans tried to be faithful to what they knew — but they didn’t know enough. Jesus said they were wrong. So there’s a wrong way. God said no idols or images. How can God be represented by idols? To do what God prohibited in worship was wrong. When Uzzah touched the ark when he was prohibited, he was struck down dead. When Israel made and worshiped idols, he judged them. But to do what was not commanded, as question 96 says, is also wrong. We don’t do what God has forbidden; neither do we do what he has not commanded. When Nadab and Abihu offered fire not from the bronze altar as was commanded, but took fire from another source - even though it was not prohibited, they sinned and God struck them with fire.  Scriptural worship is required by God.

And this is why the Jews were warned to be separate from Canaanites. If not, they would adopt their ways of worship. The Samaritans intermarried - their worship was perverted. And that’s often why our worship is often perverted today. We bring idolatry into our worship. Idolatry is not only what is forbidden, it’s what’s not commanded. Jesus has fulfilled the temple. There’s no need for ceremony - no smoke, sacrifices, priests’ outfits. It’s not about the outward. The temple was fancy - it had many instruments. When Christ has fulfilled the temple, there’s no need for these things. In the New Testament, worship is simple. When you take all the ceremony away, you have the simple reading, hearing, preaching, praying, and singing of God’s Word; we express our love and unity by giving; we come together to celebrate our oneness in Christ and each other by breaking bread - by seeing the gospel in the Lord’s Supper. 

But we do bring our version of idolatry into worship. Many world religions have rituals and mysticism. Some would like incense, smoke, and vestments in their worship - others do the same when they put on a light show and blow smoke. Some insist on organs with bourdon flute pipes and reed pipes as necessary for worship while others believe guitars and drums would improve worship. But instruments are only there to assist in keeping tune and tempo. The only thing that can worship is the worshiper. Worship cannot be improved on by the outward. Christ is the only one who makes us fit to worship. And when we are clean, and our hearts prepared, we can worship God. And that’s why our worship is word-based; hearing based; not feeling or seeing based. But this is not to say they are unimportant. When we know God, and worship God according to his Word, our hearts will be affected. 

That’s the last principle — God requires a heartfelt worship. This is a worship that pleases God. Not just one that is directed to God, one that is done by his holy people alone, and according to the Scriptures; but one that is heartfelt.

In John 4:23-24, Jesus said, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” God seeks true worshipers to worship him in spirit and in truth. Because this is the worship that God seeks, it’s this worship that pleases God. The Pharisees were famous for trying to get their worship exact - according to what was revealed in the Word of God. However, their hearts, their spirit were not involved. Jesus said in Mark 7:6, “He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” In other words, the worship God seeks must be heartfelt too. Hearts which are close to God. 

This is why worship must be in spirit and in truth. There must be heat in our worship. It must be passionate. But it must also be bright - informed by the truth of God. This is why to the Samaritan woman, Jesus said - the hour is coming, and is now, that God seeks true worshipers. For us, that hour has come - Jesus died to save sinners - he so loved the world - not just the Jews - but us wicked sinners, to open up the way of salvation to us. To be our sacrifice, to cleanse us with his blood, to satisfy us with spiritual nourishment, to shine his light on us, to pray for us as our Great High Priest, because he has gone to heaven and sits at God’s right hand upon his throne of grace surrounded by his angels. So that we who have been forgiven, are given this privilege to worship God without hindrance. Where once we could not be worshipers for God would not accept our worship - now he does. And as imperfect as our worship may be, he accepts it because of Christ. 

So fueled with his light and truth found in his Word and the Scriptural psalms and hymns of all ages, let us sing with delight; pray earnestly, love our fellow believers, and remember what Jesus has done. And while we may not be able to sing in this congregation at this time, we can certainly sing frequently at home. We can gather together with God’s people to praise God together. Let us find satisfaction in God alone. 

What are some practical applications apart from what I have given? Perhaps applications specific to our congregation, as I know and understand you more, are these. Firstly, let us appreciate our historic, confessional, and biblical worship that adheres to these principles. To worship with heartfelt gratitude as we are informed by the Word. Secondly, let us take care as we can frequently develop idols in our hearts. Many things can become an idol. We can make Reformed worship an idol, the music or instrument an idol, the method an idol. Let us focus on worshiping God. For if we think that these other things can improve our worship, our worship can never improve. Thirdly, let us sing together. Jesus saves us to be a body. To those who are less inclined to sing human composed hymns, would you think more upon the unity of this body - even as the priests were cleansed to fellowship together - perhaps giving your heart to that may help you modulate your practice. And to those who may prefer a more lyrical or poetic worship, let us focus on and sing the robust words of the Psalms. Fourthly, let us be grateful to God. He seeks true worshipers. Worship him with gladness and rejoice in your salvation.

Sermon Outline:

1. God Requires a Worship that Exalts Him

    A. God seeks worshipers to worship him

    B. To worship is to exalt

2. God Only Accepts Worship from Holy People

    A. Imperfect places of atonement

    B. Only Jesus makes sinners holy

3. God Only Accepts Scriptural Worship

    A. There is a right way revealed

    B. There is a wrong way prohibited

4. God Requires Heartfelt Worship

    A. There is a worship that pleases God

    B. This worship is hot and bright

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

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