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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
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:Worship
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-06-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 92:1,2                                                                                            

Hy 3:1,2  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Matthew 7:13-29

Ps 12:1,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 35

Ps 62:1,3,7

Hy 65:1,4

* 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, Sunday after Sunday, we gather here for public worship. Being such a regular occurrence, we may not think much about what goes into each church service. But there’s a host of details that need attention, every time again, and a lot of people involved: caretakes, greeters, accompanists, sound technicians, nursery workers, elders and deacons, people in the kitchen—and they all have a job to do.

Besides all that detail, there’s something else, more vital than any other. We need the Word of the LORD. For proper worship, that’s the one crucial element! Whenever God’s people gather for worship, God wants his Word opened: explained faithfully by one of his ministers, and listened to carefully by his congregation.

When the Catechism explains the second commandment, there’s a strong emphasis on the Word of God. It says, “God wants his people to be taught…by the living preaching of His Word” (Q&A 98). The Word is what we need, for the Word teaches us about our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and what He’s done. It’s the Word that teaches us who we are as God’s children, and what God expects of us.

This is the focus of the second commandment of God’s law: true worship. We 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) watch out for false prophets: In Lord’s Day 35, the Catechism warns against a couple of bad practices when it comes to public worship. In the first place, it mentions religious idols or images, since the LORD says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image.” So don’t make an “image of God in any way” (Q&A 96), not even if you’re going to use it for teaching about him (Q&A 98). That’s not how God wants his people to be instructed.

The Catechism gives a second warning too, that we are not “to worship [God] in any other manner than he has commanded in his word” (Q&A 96). That’s a more general warning, and it emphasizes the need that we always follow the direction of Scripture in our worship.

Now, some churches still make use of images in worship—just visit a Roman Catholic church to see this in practice. And there’s plenty of ways in which churches worship God in a manner contrary to his Word. It’s something that we always have to be aware of too, that our worship doesn’t become empty or ritualistic or man-centered.

But we want to focus on a different warning in relation to this commandment, one that comes up in Matthew 7, where Jesus warns against false prophets. For if true worship requires the true Word, we must be on guard against any twisting of that Word!

His opening words on this topic would not have shocked his audience. “Watch out for false prophets,” He warns; “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (7:15). This was no surprise, because the Jews knew all about false prophets. In the Old Testament, God often cautioned against those who claimed to be speaking for Him, when they were only speaking for themselves. As just one example, Zephaniah says this in 3:4 about Israel’s sinful teachers, “Her prophets are arrogant; they are treacherous men.”

Jesus says that such people are still around. He says they’re even like wolves in sheep’s clothing. We probably understand that image by way of the fairy tale or fable. Picture a sly wolf putting on a costume of sheepskin. Now he can easily infiltrate the local herd of sheep and score some lamb chops for supper. He’s an undercover predator.

But there’s probably a better way to understand the image of ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing.’ In the Old Testament, 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. A robe made of animal skins even became something of a uniform for the prophets, because it’s what they typically wore.

And because it was so recognizable, an outfit like this could lead people astray. A man might wear a prophet’s cloak, and speak what seemed to be a prophet’s words, but he was not a true prophet of God. Zechariah 13 speaks about those who “put on a prophet’s garment of hair in order to deceive” (v 4). They were in fact wolves who could cause a lot of harm and damage.

It means that a false prophet might be hard to spot. He looks presentable. He uses all the right language. But he might well be a deceiver. So watch out! Christ knew that after his ministry, many heretics would corrupt his message. Think of the teachings of Arius, Pelagius, Marcion, and many more. The history of the church is full of false prophets, and all the confusion they caused.

As we said, this message hit home with Jesus’s audience. What about us? Do we still have to look out for deceivers wearing fur coats? We do! Jesus says somewhere else that one of the signs of the end times will be the rise of false prophets and false christs. Along with wars and persecutions, there will be those who try to lead God’s people astray. So many of the New Testament letters echo this warning, telling us to be on guard against false teaching.

Christ says, “Beware of those who will harm you by their teaching. Beware of those who look and act and sound outwardly acceptable.” In other words, be careful of who you listen to. The Word of salvation is far too important to receive from any random source.

Today there are many who claim to be teachers and preachers and explainers of God’s Word. You see them on YouTube or TV. You might read their latest books, listen to their podcasts, or come across their articles on the web. As Jesus says, they look presentable: their smiling face is on the back cover of the book, they’re wearing nice clothes, and they say they just want to tell us God’s will.

We’ve probably never had better access to a huge range of Christian teachers and preachers. And this can be a very good thing. There’s a wealth of solid instruction that is freely available to anyone who looks. And we shouldn’t rush to judgment about these sources. Don’t shut them down just because you found them through Google.

But Jesus reminds us that they do all require testing, a careful sifting of whatever is said. Think about the Scriptures that back it up. Have a look at how it compares to the Reformed confessions. And this is always the case: whatever sermon we hear (even this one), or whatever author we read, and even whatever song we listen to on Spotify, we should be careful to uphold the doctrine of Scripture. Because we love God, we love his teaching!

The danger comes when we grow careless about doctrine, fuzzy around the edges. Now, after years of instruction, our young people have a solid knowledge of the truth. They’ve gone through the Catechism a couple times, the Canons of Dort, the Belgic Confession. But all this good knowledge can quickly fade. And why? Because after profession of faith, we might stop studying those key doctrines of the Bible. And the sharpness of our knowledge slowly gets blunted, and we lose a bit of our grip on it. But God calls us to contend for the faith, to hold fast to the true doctrine, and to beware of false prophets.       

One thing to look out for is how false teaching often leads to worshiping in a human-centered way. Jesus speaks about noticing the ‘fruit’ that comes from false teaching, and this is one of those essential fruits. The way a church worships says a lot about what they believe.

For instance, how does a church treat the holiness of God? Do people take a casual attitude? Looking at the service, does it seem that the worshipers (and their emotions) are more important than the glory of Him who is worshiped? Or, conversely, does a church’s public worship show a distinct lack of joy? That can happen when people have grown cold about doctrine, and a little tired of God.

These are the kind of bad fruits that spring from bad or careless doctrine. But it’s the true preaching of the Word that encourages true worship.

           

2) listen to the truth: So what’s the alternative? What can we say about the true worship of the Lord? There’s a passage from Hosea that I’m sure you’ve heard before. It was spoken in a time in which the Israelites were once again chasing after idols. Their worship was pathetically wrong, and why? It’s because they let go of the truth.

“My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge,” God mourns in Hosea 4:6. The Israelites had let go of what was most important. What had God promised them? And what was their obligation? Who knows? They’d forgotten their vows, so they broke fellowship with God.

Certainly all the people had their part in this. But Hosea says that especially the priests were responsible. For God had commanded the priests to teach the people, to explain the law, to unfold the truths of God’s Word. But the priests were too busy, too lazy, or misguided.

But then and now, God’s people need godly wisdom and holy instruction. If the church is destroyed from lack of knowledge, think of what will result when we have much knowledge and of the right and holy things! We’ll be richly blessed, especially when that knowledge resides not only in our head, but in our heart, and comes out in all of life.

As we said, that’s a big emphasis of the second commandment. The Catechism explains, “God wants his people to be taught…by the living preaching of His Word” (Q&A 98). The Word is what the church needs in order to thrive and grow and worship.

That of course, raises a big question about preaching. What makes it true? What’s the ‘living preaching’ of the Word? Or when the Belgic Confession talks about “the pure preaching of the gospel” (Art. 29) as one of the marks of the church, what is it that makes the preaching pure? Now, there is so much that you could say about good preaching. Hundreds of book have been written on this topic.

But to restrict ourselves a bit, let’s take our starting point from the Lord Jesus. He was also a preacher. So how did He approach the task? Take the Sermon on the Mount, for example, here in Matthew 5-7: What can we learn from his style and content? Now, any minister will insist he could never preach like Jesus did. 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. Yet there’s value in reflecting on what made Christ’s sermon in these three chapters so powerful.

In the first place, see how his sermon was very God-centered. Throughout it, Jesus confronts us with the overwhelming majesty and holiness and grace of God. In Jesus’ sermon, the LORD always had the place of priority, like in 6:33, “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness.” Faithful preaching is God-centered.

His sermon was also very Scriptural. These chapters are Scripture, of course, but Christ’s sermon is also closely based on the Old Testament. He said that He wouldn’t abolish or discard those old words. And He didn’t, but He explained them and filled them out. It was clear He was speaking on God’s authority. Faithful preaching is true to Scripture.

And Christ’s sermon was very practical. He gave his listeners work to do, guidance for daily living. He taught them how to pray, how to give to the needy, how to show love, how to worship. It wasn’t a lecture, but his audience could go home and put these words to work! He encouraged and admonished them. He warned and taught them. Faithful preaching is practical.

In his sermon, you’ll notice that Christ doesn’t mention himself a whole lot. You couldn’t really call the Sermon on the Mount a Christ-centered sermon. For there’d been no cross yet, no resurrection. Yet Christ still drops hints at his own importance. Think of his words in chapter 7 about the small gate and the narrow road that leads to everlasting life. This reminds us about how Jesus later called himself the Door, and said that He was the only way to the Father. In a subtle way, He teaches us that true preaching must be centered on Christ.

These are just a few of the qualities of Christ’s sermon, standing as a good model for Christian preachers today. And such preaching should have a powerful effect on the church. Think of how the people responded, “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). Whenever the Word is preached, authority fills the air. If the message is based on God’s Word, presents the true gospel message, then it has an undeniable power. Then the preacher can say, ‘This the Word of the Lord.’

And what does that mean for those sitting in church? We all have to listen carefully. What we’re hearing isn’t just the minister’s well-considered opinions. If we’re not interested, we’re not allowed to tune out, change the channel, scroll down, or hit pause like if we were listening to another podcast. It’s a divine Word, a Word that demands that we listen and respond.

Think of the way Paul praises the Thessalonians for how they responded 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 2:13). The preaching must be tested and weighed carefully, as we said earlier. And if it’s true preaching, we need to receive eagerly and humbly and attentively. 

Then preaching can even amaze people, as it did at the end of Christ’s sermon. It inspires wonder, because of the gospel that’s being unfolded. Every Sunday, we can stand amazed again: This is our Father and our God! This is what He’s done for us in Jesus Christ! This is the glorious privilege He gives us, the privilege of serving Him and living for Him.

 

3) put the truth into practice: Whenever we’re busy with Sunday worship, there’s a danger that we make a separation between what happens here, and what happens in the rest of the week. Everything can be very proper about our worship—we can dress nicely, sit quietly, sing loudly, listen carefully. Yet how does our Sunday faith and worship connect to the way we do business on Monday, the way we relate to our family and neighbors, and what we do next weekend? Think about this: how will we be living for Christ this time tomorrow?       

The Bible says that if you’re a follower of Jesus, your life changes. The way that you work is different. The way that you relax is different. How you deal with your children is different. If Christ is truly your Saviour, then He’ll also be your Lord, the one who tells you the better way to live. And you’ll strive to do whatever He says.

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” (v 21). Anyone can be impressed by the Word. In fact, the crowds are amazed once Jesus was done talking. Fine, but do more than listen! They should do more than simply say, “Lord, Lord, that was a great sermon. Very interesting.” No, let them also put these words into practice!

And that’s how it still must be today. Anyone can sit in church every Sunday, hear the Word, nod the head when the minister speaks, even pay him a nice compliment afterwards. But a real response to the preaching requires much more.

Jesus says that on the last day, He will declare to some of those who listened to his sermons and went to church every Sunday, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (vv 22-23). I once read that these are the most frightening words in Scripture: “I never knew you.” They’re frightening because they’re said not to Buddhists or Muslims or atheists. They’re spoken to those who always said they were Christians but who didn’t put the Word into practice.

Christ says, “Having heard the Word, you have to do the Word.” Which means we’re not quickly done with the sermon. We’re not done with worship once we’ve put in our two hours each Sunday. Sure, in the moment, we might agree with every word that’s spoken. But then we forget. We might go back to living like we used to. Maybe already in the foyer after the service, we show that we didn’t really listen.

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. For it gives us those needed reminders of God’s mercy. It keeps warning us against the fatal powers of temptation. It keeps teaching us what we must do to bring praise to God.

So Jesus finishes his sermon with this exhortation: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (v 24). Like in every land, home builders in Palestine had to think ahead. For in that land there were many valleys which in summer were sandy and pleasant. But in winter, that same valley could become a raging torrent of rushing water. So when a man goes looking for a spot for his new house, he might conclude he’s found a suitable location.

But if he wasn’t careful, he might well have built his house in the dried-up bed of a river. His house would stand for a while, but as soon as the flood waters came, his house would be ruined and destroyed. Jesus says, “Such are the people who don’t build on the Word.” These are people who listen on Sunday, but who don’t apply it to their lives from Monday to Saturday.

Beloved, God calls us to take God’s Word home today, and build on it. How will you be working with the Word this week? How will you be reading it, and staying busy with it? Be sure that it’s only by being rooted and grounded in the Word that we will stand firm. These are they who build on the Word they hear and put it into practice: “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (v 25).

Every Sunday again, we’re getting lessons in how to build on the Rock, on our one foundation. So as we hear the Word, let us meditate on it, remember it, consider it. As we hear the Word, let us put the Word into practice. In this way we will present God our Saviour not just with a day of worship, but a life of worship, pleasing to him!  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 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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