Restoring True Worship

INTRODUCTION

Genesis through to Revelation contains the blueprint for true worship. With the precision of a mathematician, God describes the sort of relationship He requires with us. Simply put, He is the most high, living, awesome God and we are to worship Him in spirit and in truth.


However, a relationship began supernaturally at the dawn of time that God planned to endure into eternity, is not simple. Involved in this intricacy is the infinite God, Who taxes all the resources of man's finite mind and speech when we try to find the truth about Him. God's people and buildings in which they worship comprise the next element of the intricacy. Finally we have the rituals that leave the fainthearted nauseous, the faithless in bondage and the meaning of which leave the righteous jubilating.


Extracting these intricacies separately is not possible in an on-line product and I will focus on essential content only. A brief background on the relationship between God and man is however required for a complete perspective.


GOD IS HOLY AND GLORIOUS

Various derivations of the word holy imply separate, set apart, pure, clean, hallow, good, morally blameless, the object of awe, right by divine character and free from sin. Greek, Hebrew and various English bible translations summarize the word glory as honour, power, majestic, magnificent, excellent, beautiful, rich, splendour, ideal quality, dignity, fame, radiant and of ultimate value. The Old Testament and especially books of Exodus, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel abound with descriptions of God's holiness and glory. It is this awesome God Who wishes to dwell with us and to have us know His reality and splendour.


Man's Separation from God

The original sin of Adam & Eve and the progressive evils committed by man caused God however, to withdraw His manifest presence. People built temples at first to house the glory of God and before which priests could make atonement for the sins of the people. However, the dispersion of Israel, destruction of the temple and the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus the Son of God had ended all this. Since then, some have clung to the Old Testament way of having others intercede to God for them with or without the use of rituals. Others have accepted the New Testament gospel of Jesus but somehow still hold on to the law. Others again have accepted the latest outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Obedience and righteousness have led most believers in these last churches to have personal experiences with God again. Such experiences are possible only if we consider God's stunning quality of holiness and set out in faith and obedience to let His character be manifested in us.


Restoring Relationships with God

The first step in restoring our relationship with God, is to accept Jesus as Saviour, resurrected Son of God and to accept, understand and trust His redemptive work for us. He fulfilled the role of the sacrificial lamb to wash away our sins and He replaced the work of the priests to be our righteousness and intercede for us. The second step is to receive, accept and be obedient to the Holy Spirit. Knowing God is the last step in returning to Him. When we know Him, not just intellectually, but when we sit in His presence, talk to Him, sing to Him, love Him and wait for Him to talk to us and love us in return; only then true worship becomes possible. However, no "Three Easy Steps to Intimacy with God" exist. Consider the following highlights from a wealth of detail available in the scriptures that attest to God's glory, holiness and expectations.


Life and Work of the Priests

The clothes and apparel that God instructed the high priest to wear for temple ceremonies were truly noble in appearance and value. They had to use colours traditionally associated with royalty such as gold, blue, purple and scarlet. Material was fine embroidered linen. For example, a breastplate had four rows of precious gemstones mounted in gold and had braided chains of pure gold; they attached a plate of pure gold to the turban. God required that they use material items of high human value. This does not just point to God's theocracy but also that entering His presence costs us something we value. This is not necessarily monetary cost but entering His presence at the cost of worldly issues.


Priests had to be consecrated, holy, without blemish and physical defects, undefiled and clean. God is perfect in every way and He expects us to be perfect. We can be like Him in only one way: to live as He does and be perfect in our character, intentions and moral lives. Without this perfection (i.e. righteousness), we cannot minister to Him. Attaining such perfect righteousness is not quite possible for fallible humans to attain. However, Jesus is our High Priest now and through Him, we have His righteousness and perfection.


Sacrifices are, among others, evidence of God's justice that requires that we pay for our sins. At Mt Sinai God defined the nature of sacrifice and the various kinds of sacrifices He required. They offered sacrifices for sin, guilt, grain, fellowship and burnt offerings. Grain and fellowship offerings expressed gratitude and thankfulness to God for his provision. Burnt offerings expressed devotion and wholehearted dedication to God. For sin and guilt, God required that they sacrifice a perfect and spotless animal. These sacrifices cost the offerers dearly and provided a way for God to forgive the sin as the animal died as a substitute. The animal's shed blood (death) meant life for the offerer. This pointed towards the death of Jesus Who would be sacrificed to bring forgiveness and salvation to all who accept Him.


In any sacrifice or offering, a person would feel the cost of something he had to sacrifice. Even after accepting the gospel of Jesus, we still have to feel the cost if we want a personal relationship with Him. We have to give up anything, no matter how much we value it, if it prevents us from fellowship with God. We have many sacrifices to make, but I need to mention one here: the sacrifice of praise. God uses our high praises against evil in the spiritual realm. Praise releases the joy of the Lord in us that is one of our weapons against the thieving devil. Yes, praise is a sacrifice because God usually requires it when we do not feel like it; those times we would rather hold on to our depression, self-pity or anger.

The life and work of the priests therefore point to the upright character God requires from us and to the sacrificial work of Jesus. It also attests to the sacrifice of self and things we value before entering God's presence.


Witness of the Tabernacle and Temples

A vast portion of the bible is dedicated to the description, plans, building, life around, destruction and restoration of the tabernacle and three temples. It was the largest single subject covered in the Old Testament. Scholars have studied and debated these scriptures endlessly. Even today no agreement exists about the purpose of the vision of a temple God gave Ezekiel. Scholars accept that it could mean three things, i.e. it could be the temple rebuilt by Zerubbabel, that it will be built in the millennium, or that the vision only has spiritual relevance.


The tabernacle was a special tent constructed under Moses' leadership. It was done according to precise measurements, materials and instructions given directly by God to Moses. As with the clothes of the priests, it comprised materials of high human value. The tent was portable and they moved it wherever the people went. God gave specific instructions around the handling and worship in the tabernacle. They finally pitched the tabernacle on Mt Zion and it remained the focal point of worship until they built Solomon's temple. It was here, at the tabernacle, that Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings to God and after which he asked for and received his legendary wisdom. Surely, this suggests the seriousness, sincerity and commitment with which we have to approach God.


The temple Solomon built was just as legendary as his wisdom. King David received the plans for the temple "by the Spirit" (1Chron 28:12). He passed these plans on to Solomon because God did not allow David to build the temple, as he was "a man of war". The temple was exceptionally beautiful with its trimmings of wood, inlaid with gold and precious stones. David and the people of Israel gave the material voluntarily. At a ceremony, held before work on the temple started, they sacrificed a thousand bulls, a thousand rams, and a thousand lambs.


After completion of the temple, the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Holy of Holies. King Solomon and the congregation of Israel gathered for the dedication of the new temple. Singers and musicians, dressed in fine white linen stood at the east end of the altar. With them were 120 priests with trumpets:


"Indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the LORD, saying: "For He is good, for His mercy endures forever," that the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God". (2 Chron 5: 13, 14) (NKJ).


Afterwards Solomon prayed and when he finished, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices. The glory of God filled the temple. When the people saw the fire and God's glory, they bowed to the ground, worshipped and praised God. They offered sacrifices: 22 000 bulls and 120 000 sheep.


To what do such extravagant costs of the building and huge number of sacrificed animals, witness? What about the magnificent choir and band who were busy praising God when He chose to manifest His glory? What about the fire that came from heaven and God's glory that filled the temple? This mighty God expects everything from us. We have to give ourselves to Him totally and when we praise and worship Him with all our strength and all our heart, He will reveal Himself.

Progressive sins led to the dispersion of the nation, the destruction of the temple and to God withdrawing His glory. During this sorrowful period in Israel's history God gave Ezekiel a vision of a magnificent temple - a time when Israel sorely needed a promise of restoration. He placed great emphasis on exact specifications for its construction although the temple was never constructed. We can attach symbolic meaning to most of the temple's details. Most import of all is however that they emphasise a renewed focus on righteousness and worship. The temple's perfect symmetry and beauty witness to the perfection of God's plan for his people. It demonstrates God's holiness, that He will again dwell among His people and that He will use it as a centre for His divine government. The healing, life-giving water that flowed from the temple shows it to be a place of regeneration and victory over sin. Whether this temple has been, or will ever be built, is not important. The importance of this vision is that the right place to be is the presence of God.


A group of people returning from exile immediately rebuilt the altar and re-established worship. They started rebuilding the temple but experienced tremendous opposition from their enemies. It eventually took a decree from king Darius II (a king from a foreign nation ruling Jerusalem then) that construction of the temple may not be hindered. He also decreed that the cost of the reconstruction and for all the sacrifices had to be paid from his taxes collected from the area. The temple was completed twenty-one years after Israel's return to Jerusalem. Throughout the years, the prophets encouraged the people to continue work.

Zerubbabel's temple and its dedication were not as spectacular as Solomon's was. Nor was there such an awe-inspiring manifestation of God's glory. However, it points to God's authority over nations, historical events, all hostile forces and individuals. Surely, the reestablishment and continuance of worship caused God to exercise this authority. History of Zerubbabel's temple shows further that God's enemies will oppose His work and that His Spirit will overcome opposition, through our trust and worship.


A foreign king also (re)built the last temple at his own cost. He however did not rebuild it out of fear for God as the former one. Herod was a tireless builder and it was natural that he should wish to show his own grandeur by replacing the modest restoration temple with a complex and more beautiful one. He also wanted to win over the Jews who disliked him. Herod went to great lengths not to interfere with the ritual observances and rebuilt the old structure piecemeal. The temple area consisted of four different walled courts, one more exclusive than the one outside it. The purpose of the courts was to separate Gentiles from Jews, priests from lay members and men from women. All spoke of the grandeur of the building, which was of white marble, its eastern front covered with plates of gold that reflected the rays of the rising sun.


Merchants traded in this temple  and it was the seat of those who despised Jesus. Few people of that era recognised the glory of God when He sent it as Jesus. Many also overlooked the significance of God tearing the veil in front of the Holy of Holies when Jesus died on the cross. The temple was finally destroyed, as predicted by Jesus, when Jerusalem fell to the Roman armies. Cessation of the temple rituals, destruction of the temple and its barriers to God attest to Jesus being the Redeemer and Gateway into God's presence.


WORSHIP IN THE CURRENT AGE

In the Old Testament, God dwelt with us, in the New Testament, it was Jesus and today it is Holy Spirit. The church (corporately) and reborn Christians (individually) are where Holy Spirit dwells today. Thinking about this too much merely boggles the mind: the awesome, life giving, regenerating presence of God is even more accessible today than in the past. God no longer requires personal sacrifices of enormous monetary value to build and maintain beautiful temple buildings. Neither does He require the slaughter of animals nor any other rituals.


God requires different sacrifices from us today, i.e. to cease from thinking and acting according to the ways of the world, trusting in our own ability and to crucify our own "id". (Read Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Mat 5 - 7) for more steps to a higher spiritual life and the fundamental truths of the Kingdom of God.) These sacrifices are not expensive or bloody. They are however, utterly impossible if we do not deliberately and consciously focus our mind, body and soul on God with the self-discipline and sacrifice of Jesus Himself. It would be even more improbable without knowing God personally and most assuredly hopeless without the indwelling guidance and wisdom of Holy Spirit.


Why should we bother? If we succeed, we offer God the true worship that He expects from us. Worship is an attitude - an attitude that does not need specific actions, set times or rituals. True worship is to ensure that God is the centre of our lives, to put him first, and to love and obey Him.


CONCLUSION

You will now understand why a relationship began supernaturally at the dawn of time, which God planned to endure into eternity, is not simple. Throughout history, God had different expectations for our relationship with Him. Each era brought different emphases and those who did not adjust to them spiritually were left behind, bound by ritual and religion. We have entered a new era with new emphases. Those who do not adjust to the emphases of true worship and intimacy could become bogged down by carnal wisdom and worldly issues. It could result in missing the best God has to offer: Himself.

The book, You Can Know God, takes a deeper look at a relationship with God and what worshipping in spirit and truth means.


The book is now available in both print and e-book format. Order the print book from the Contact page. Order the e-book directly from Rakuten kobo