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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:The Second Commandment Directs the Proper Worship of God
Text:LD 35 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 2nd Commandment (No images)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 59
Hymn 1A
Psalm 96:1,2,5
Psalm 29
Psalm 113 (after offering)
Hymn 6

Readings:  1 Kings 12:25-33, John 2:13-21

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

Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,


He was an important and influential leader in the church.  Jerry was basically an elder.  In fact, we would say that he was the chairman of the consistory.  When Jerry spoke, people listened and they followed his lead.  As he looked around at the ecclesiastical scene, it became apparent that there was competition.  There was another church down the road where most of Jerry’s people used to go.  Some of them would likely go back if given half a chance.  He had to do something to keep the people and also to preserve his power and influence.  Jerry had specific instructions on how the church was to be run and how God was to be worshipped.  But Jerry set all of that aside.  He decided to do things his own way.  He decided to make things easier for the people.  Rather than follow God’s instructions, Jerry decided that the church could worship the way he wanted it to.


That story could be taking place in any number of churches in North America today.  But it’s actually an old story that took place nearly 3000 years ago.  Jeroboam did not become the king of the northern tribes by accident.  Because of his idolatry, Solomon was judged and told that one of his servants would rule most of the tribes in the coming generation.  Solomon’s son Rehoboam was left with the tribes of Benjamin and Judah and Jeroboam became king of the remainder.  God promised Jeroboam that he would be the king and he would be blessed if he would follow God’s ways.  However, when Jeroboam finally became king, all of that was forgotten. 


Even though God had commanded that his people worship at the temple, Jeroboam decided that the ten tribes had to be kept away from Jerusalem.  So, he set up centers for worship at Dan and Bethel.  He knew that people like visual helps in worship, so he made two golden calves to represent God, one for Dan and one for Bethel.  He set up shrines on high places – mixing the worship of God with the worship of idols.  He introduced priests who were not from the tribe of Levi.  Then he set aside all the dates and times that God had commanded and introduced his own.  Jeroboam created his own way of worshipping God.


Note that Jeroboam didn’t abandon God.  He had not started worshipping Molech or Baal instead of Yahweh, the true God.  Yahweh was still to be worshipped.  In other words, this was not a sin against the first commandment.  The first commandment tells us that we are to only worship the one true God.  But the second commandment is about how he is to be worshipped.  That’s where Jeroboam went off the rails.  He didn’t want to worship God in God’s way, the way described in the Bible.  Instead, he followed the way of self-willed worship.  He did what was right in his own eyes.  Rather than God-willed worship, he chose self-willed worship.


That’s what the second commandment is addressing.  The second commandment guides our worship and tells us that we are to worship God only in the way that he has commanded in his Word.  We call that the regulative principle of worship.  We are to worship God only as he has commanded in his Word, not adding or taking away anything.  This regulative principle of worship is what we find in Lord’s Day 35, a faithful summary of what the Bible says about worship in God’s way.  So, this afternoon we are going to consider how the second commandment directs the proper worship of God.  We’ll look at the:


1.      Perfect obedience to this commandment

2.      Perfect reasons for this commandment

3.      Perfect end of this commandment


Going back to Jeroboam for a moment, we see a depressing picture of failure.  A king who decided to go his own way when it came to God’s worship.  That failure was only perpetuated through the generations.  In fact, to this very day, believers often continue to fail to worship God only in the manner commanded in his Word.  Believers sometimes want to have visual helps for worshipping God.  Sure, God has given us visual helps in the sacraments.  They are a sort of visual preaching of the gospel.  But many are not content with that and so want to introduce other visual elements. 


But we don’t do that, do we?  Not so quick.  Before we get prideful, we need to remember that it’s not just the external things that God is interested in.  We could have all the Biblical elements of worship in place and still be breaking the second commandment.  The second commandment addresses not only our outward actions, but also our hearts.  As we worship him each Sunday, how many of us are not often distracted, thinking about other things rather than God who has come to meet us?  As we gather each Sunday, it’s just too easy to sing the Psalms and Hymns mechanically without worshipping God from the heart.  Or take the offerings.  How many of us are really worshipping God at that moment?  The offering too is part of our worship, but many treat it as an opportunity for a few moments of conversation.  And then there’s prayer.  Corporate prayer is difficult, there’s no doubt about it.  It’s hard to pray along with the minister and not have your mind drift down all kinds of rabbit trails.  We have human weakness, we have sinful hearts, we do not worship God perfectly.  Not even close.  So when we talk about perfect obedience to the second commandment, we can’t look at ourselves.  Jeroboam didn’t have perfect obedience to this commandment and we certainly don’t either. 


But why do I bring this up?  To make us down and depressed?  No, not at all.  Rather, whenever we think about the law of God, we should humbly recognize our deep need and then immediately go to Christ.  We should immediately flee to the gospel, to Jesus.  We look to him for his perfect satisfaction.  We look to Christ as the one who has paid for all our sins.  Every single sin is covered by his suffering and death, including our sins against the second commandment.  But we also look to his perfect obedience to the law of God.  He also did that for us and in our place.


Consider what we read from John 2.  In the first place, notice that the Lord Jesus went up to Jerusalem for the Passover.  God’s law commanded that his people were to do this.  God said it and Jesus did it.  When the Lord Jesus worshipped, he worshipped God in exactly the way that God had commanded in his Word.  Now that’s not just an interesting piece of trivia.  The Bible teaches in passages like Romans 5:19 that all of Christ’s obedience is imputed to us, credited to our account.  The Belgic Confession summarizes this Biblical teaching when it says in article 23, “His obedience is ours when we believe in him.”  Christ was obedient to the second commandment for us and this is part of the gospel. 


Now keep that in mind as we look further at what happens in John 2.  God had said clearly in the Old Testament that he was to be worshipped in a holy manner.  It was said in places like Psalm 96 which we sang a few moments ago.  Drawing on the Old Testament, the author of Hebrews reminds us that God is to be worshipped “acceptably with reverence and awe.”  Everything in public worship, everything connected with public worship has to conform with that teaching.  There can be no casualness, no flippancy, no worldliness introduced into divine worship. 


Yet that’s exactly what had happened in the temple in Jesus’ day.  The temple courts had been turned into a market place.  Sure, everything that was for sale and all the business taking place was related to the worship of God.  They could have rationalized it and said that their commercial enterprise was really a ministry.  “We’re providing a necessary service!”  But the fact was that the Jews had profaned the worship of God by introducing business to the temple.  They had made the house of God into a shopping mall.  They were not worshipping God in the manner commanded in his Word. 


Then the Son of God visits the temple.  This is not gentle Jesus meek and mild.  He gets upset with the desecration of his Father’s house.  He makes a whip and starts chasing people out of the temple.  He turns the tables over sending money flying everywhere.  He gets mad and shouts, “Get these out of here!  How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” 


Here too loved ones, look to Jesus and stand in awe.  Here is the Son of God, the obedient Son who cleans up his Father’s house.  His Father’s house had been trashed and cheapened.  The worship of his Father had been polluted by these business men.  And he does the right thing about it.  He is zealous for God’s house and for the proper worship of God.  Remember again that this is not trivia, this is something that he also did for you and me.  We should be the ones to be so zealous for God’s worship.  But so often we’re not.  But fix your eyes on Christ and see a Saviour who has paid for all your sins and also lived the perfect life for you.  What a wonderful gospel!  What a wonderful Saviour! 


But don’t stop there.  We have union with this Saviour through faith and the Holy Spirit.  We are joined to him.  He is the vine and we are the branches that are to bear fruit.  Thankfulness is to be the fruit.  Love for the Saviour, for the God who has redeemed us, that has to be the fruit.  That thankfulness and love manifests itself in a willing eagerness to follow God’s Word.  Because we are in Christ, because we love Christ, because we love not only the Son, but also the Father and the Spirit, because we are thankful, we want to worship God with precision.  We want to worship him carefully in no other manner than what he’s commanded in his Word.

So that means first of all that we endeavour to worship God from the heart, fixing our attention on him as we worship each Sunday.  It means participating.  For the younger brothers and sisters, for the boys and girls, that means opening the Book of Praise to sing along if you know how to read.  For all of us, it means being engaged with what we’re singing, reading and praying.  Thinking about these things, worshipping God together through them.  Though it’s sometimes difficult, we have to resist the temptation to go on worship autopilot when we come here on Sundays.  Resisting that temptation and fighting complacency and laziness in worship would be a fruit of our being in Christ.    


Of course, our union with Christ also means that we would never dream of introducing something into our public worship services that has not been commanded by God.  For instance, God has commanded the preaching of his Word.  According to Scripture, preaching is an authoritative proclamation of the Word of God by a man ordained by God.  We would never even consider substituting a dramatic movie for preaching.  We would never consider adding some kind of video presentation as a supplement to preaching.  After all, as the Catechism rightly says, God does not want his people to be taught through images, but through the living preaching of his Word.  We take that seriously.  We don’t add or take away from that. 


It also means that we would keep everything out of our worship which would cheapen it and make us lose the proper Biblical sense of God’s transcendence and majesty.  Whether in our music, in our dress and deportment, or in our church architecture – in everything we want to make it clear that we worship God with reverence and awe.  We take his majesty seriously.  We are not casual and flippant about God and our relationship to him.  He is our Father and he is near to us and he does love us dearly, but as his children we still respect and honour him and that respect and honour have to be clearly expressed in everything connected with our worship.  All of that is a fruit of our redemption, fruit of our union with Christ through faith. 


Now let’s also briefly consider a couple of the perfect reasons for the second commandment.  God abhors all self-willed worship and wants to be worshipped his way.  Why?  First of all, we’re speaking about the worship of God.  Worship has to do with relationship.  We have a relationship with God.  This is something that happens within the covenant of grace.  It’s important to remember who is who in the covenant.  God initiates the covenant of grace, God sustains the covenant of grace, and God fulfills the covenant of grace.  In our relationship with him, God sets the agenda.  God alone knows what is pleasing and suitable to him.  God alone knows how he wants to be worshipped and he’s outlined that for us in his Word.


Second, think of what happens when people don’t pay attention to God’s Word and what it says about worship.  Think of what happens when people think that if the Bible doesn’t say anything against it, we can go ahead and do it.  Let me say it bluntly:  there is a lot of silliness that happens out there in North American Christianity and it’s all because the second commandment is ignored when it comes to worship.  All kinds of examples are readily at hand, but I don’t think it would be profitable for us to spend any time going through them.  Let’s just be aware that the second commandment gives congregations a much-needed protection against human innovations and creativity.  We don’t need innovations and creativity in worship – we need faithfulness to the Word of God.  We can be thankful for our Catechism which gives us clear Scriptural teaching on this point. 


Finally, brothers and sisters, let’s consider the perfect end of the second commandment.  By “end,” I mean the design or purpose of this commandment.  And first and foremost has to be the glory of God.  God knows what is best pleasing to himself and what is best pleasing to God will also be the most glorifying to God.  When we worship God in his way, not turning to the right or to the left, not adding or subtracting, he receives the honour and praise he deserves. 


We can also think here of what we confess in Lord’s Day 32.  There we confess that our sanctification is Christ’s work in us.  As Christ works in us with his Word and Spirit, as we live out of our union with him, there are three things that result.  The first one is basically what I just mentioned:  thankfulness to God and praise for him.  God is made much of. 


The second is that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits.  As I mentioned earlier, true faith unites us to Christ.  As we see ourselves wanting to worship God in his way, in the way taught in the Bible, we are assured that we truly are God’s children.  God’s children love their Father and want to obey him. 

Last of all, there is an evangelistic end:  that through our godly walk of life we may win our neighbours for Christ.  Now this is an interesting point because so much of what is done in worship today in North America supposedly has the same aim.  Many churches have seeker-sensitive philosophies guiding what they do in worship.  They want to make seekers feel at home and they want to win people for Christ.  They make compromises and get rid of things that might be offensive to unchurched people.  So, for instance, definitely no reading of the law of God and no difficult songs and probably no offerings.  But, loved ones, compromise and accommodation is not the Biblical way to win our neighbours for Christ.


We confess that we win our neighbours for Christ through good works.  And good works are those which are done out of true faith and in accordance with the law of God.  That includes the second commandment.  When we seek to conform our worship to the Word of God, that is a good work which God will use to win our neighbours for Christ. 


When our neighbours see us zealous to worship God in the manner commanded in his Word, they get a clear sense that we love God, we respect him and that we put his Word above everything else.  That will undoubtedly make unbelievers uncomfortable, that may also make non-Reformed Christians uncomfortable.  But it’s not about how comfortable we are in the presence of God in worship.   That’s not what’s important here.  Rather, it’s about God and his Word, following him because our Lord Jesus followed him and we are thankful for that and we love God for that.  God will use that to draw his own to himself.  We can’t expect unbelievers to be impressed with people who put God first in everything.  But the Holy Spirit works miracles.  He softens hardened hearts.  He opens blind eyes.  Through his sovereign work, the elect hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and come.  Results belong to him – our calling is simply to follow his path, follow his Word. 


Loved ones, worship is a crucially important part of our lives.  Because it is so important, God has given one of the ten commandments to tell us who we are to worship.  And he’s also given another one of the ten commandments to teach us how to worship.  By his grace, let’s take those commandments seriously and so honour the God of our salvation. 


Let us pray:


Heavenly Father,


We thank you for the covenant of grace.  We thank you that through this covenant we have a wonderful relationship with you.   In this relationship, we joyfully confess that you are everything.  Help us with your Spirit and Word to love you, thank you and worship you only in the manner commanded in your Word.  For the sake of Christ, please forgive us all our failures and weaknesses in this regard.  Please impute to us all of his perfect righteousness and holiness, all of his merits.  Lord Jesus, we thank and praise you for perfectly keeping this commandment for us.  Help us with your Spirit to live out of our union with you.  Help us, Lord God, to please and honour you with our worship.  You are truly worthy of all adoration now and forevermore.  We pray in Christ, AMEN.      

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

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