Worship Fit for a King

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What do you think?

A. W. Tozer was a 19th-century American pastor and theologian. In his thoughtful book, The Knowledge of the Holy, he writes the following:

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. 

Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most [significant] fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.

We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.

As individual believers—and as a church family—what we think of God is the bottleneck of the Christian life. It’s the foundation upon which the entire structure is built. A shifty foundation leads to an insecure, immature Christian life. 

Our view of God is directly related to, and seen in, our response to him. Show me a Christian who is passionate about reaching the lost and I’ll show you a Christian who deeply understands the mercy of God. Show me a church that is diligent in prayer and I’ll show you a church that is convinced of God’s power.

The opposite is also true. Show me a church-goer who is apathetic in their pursuit of holiness and I will show you a church-goer who doesn’t get the perfection and majesty of God. Show me a church that is generally unconcerned with the poor, hungry, widowed, and orphaned, and I will show you a church that doesn’t grasp God’s mercy and love.

As Tozer suggested: “the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.” And I would suggest that nowhere is this more evident than in how we worship. You want to know what the church thinks about God? Gather with them to worship. Our worship of God will never rise above the the high-water mark of our view of God. If we think little of him the worship we offer, no matter how sincere, will be pathetic. If we know little of him, the worship we offer, no matter how earnest, will be less than it could be.

I want to worship God well. And I’m sure you do also. And today, as we look at Psalm 24, I want us to take steps in the direction of honing our worship. In this short psalm we’re going to be reminded of three beautiful truths about our God and three ways in which those truths should effect the way we approach his worship. 

Stewards enjoying his goodness

How are we to worship God in light of who he is? The first is this: We worship as stewards enjoying God’s goodness in creation.

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
the world, and those who dwell in it.
For he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers (vv. 1–2).

David begins with the declaration that there is nothing in existence about which God does not claim absolute ownership. It’s all God’s.

From the atoms that make up each of the taste buds on your tongue to the stars comprising the Milky Way. From the wood used to build Noah’s ark to the wood used to build Christ’s cross. It’s all his. It’s not partial ownership. There are no time-shares. As God declares in Exodus 19:5, “all the earth is mine!”

And yet he’s good enough to share! He gave his property to humanity to manage and care for. We see this in Genesis 1: God creates everything and then, in verse 28, says to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.” In the context God is inviting humanity to utilize his creation. He wasn’t passing the deed to us, but he was entrusting it to us.

That’s a hard truth to accept for a people who like to own things. “That’s my phone, my house, my new car, my cottage, my family.” And the natural progression of thought is that if I own something, I can do with it what I please.

And this owner-mentality, if we’re not carful, can bleed into our worship. “This is my church, my spot in the sanctuary, my pastor, my program.” This can develop preferences for how church should be done that grow into frustrations if they’re not met. 

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains.” It’s a wide net! The reality is, we own nothing. When we understand this, we worship as stewards enjoying God’s goodness in creation.

What can a child offer a parent that is not the parent’s already other than affection, obedience, and love?

Maybe you’ve experienced this: Your child gives you a birthday gift one year and when you unwrap it you notice that, in their excitement, they forgot to remove the price tag from the gift. Isn’t it funny, the amount on that price tag matches exactly an amount that came out of your bank account about a month ago? Why? Because the child isn’t giving you anything that isn’t already yours.

In the same way, when we come to worship God, we come not as owners, but as stewards.

Think even about this moment: The vehicle sitting in your driveway or garage isn’t yours, it’s God’s. The family members you have that are in the other room as you read this are not yours, they’re God’s. The money in your bank account and in your wallet or purse actually belongs, not to you, but to God. That’s why, at least at the church where I’ve been called to serve, those in attendance on a Sunday will often here something like this immediately preceding the offertory: “Father in heaven we now give back to you a portion of what you’ve entrusted to us.” It’s his! Even the air in your lungs right now is on loan from the Almighty!

We’re not owners; we’re stewards. And we come to worship fully acknowledging that we’re enjoying God’s goodness in all he’s made and in all he’s allowed us to enjoy. That’s worship fit for a King. The King of kings.

Sinners experiencing his grace

Do you see how a right view of God shapes our response to him? As Psalm 24 continues we find another example: Not only are we to worship as stewards enjoying God’s goodness in creation, but we worship as sinners experiencing God’s grace in redemption.

This second section begins with a question (v. 3):

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
And who may stand in his holy place?

Given the type of God described in verses 1 and 2, Who can come into his presence? David answers in verse 4.

He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood
and has not sworn deceitfully.

Who can be in God’s presence? The one with “clean hands and a pure heart,” or, in other words, perfect actions and perfect attitudes. Someone as pure as God! 

What happens when this pure person ascends into the hill of the Lord? Verses 5 and 6 tell us.

He shall receive a blessing from the Lord
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is the generation of those who seek Him,
who seek Your face—even Jacob.

They get blessing, righteousness, salvation from God and they will be part of a generation of God-seekers.

That sounds great, doesn’t it!? I want blessing, righteousness, and salvation! All I have to do is be in the presence of the Lord! That’s it!

Oh-oh, wait a second, I can only do that if I’m pure—if I have clean hands and a pure heart. 

That’s a problem. I don’t. And you don’t.

The Bible testifies to what you and I already know in our hearts, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All of us have less than pure hearts and clean hands. And because of that, we can’t be in God’s presence.

But Someone did. Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in his holy place? Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He did and he can.

When [Jesus] had made purification of sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus ascended that hill and stood in God’s holy place. How could he? Because he had clean hands, pure heart! He was undefiled!

[Jesus] committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth (1 Peter 2:2).

The Bible says that, because of the Person and work of Jesus, when we trust him, we’re given the righteousness that David was talking about here so that, as Paul writes, “we might become the righteousness of God in him [Jesus]” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

And the salvation as well:

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17).

We are sinners saved by the grace of God. We are people, because of our impure hands and hearts, who are unable to ascend into the hill of the Lord and receive the blessings and righteousness and salvation. And yet, because of the grace of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus, we experience redemption.

“In [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7–8).

When we worship God, we worship as sinners experiencing God’s grace in redemption.

When I was in my third year of seminary, my wife and I came to a place of what I’ll call “financial instability.” We were broke. It came time to pay tuition and we had no money. While she, like the godly woman that she is, trusted God to provide, I, to my shame, had many doubts.

One day I went to my student mailbox to retrieve some old papers I had handed in and, instead, found a letter from the school. The note informed me that myself, along with one other student, had been selected by an alumnus to have our tuition paid for the next year. With thousands of students at this school, two of us had been chosen. There was no explanation as to why I’d been chosen. (I knew it wasn’t my grades, I could rule that out immediately.) All the letter said was that my tuition had been paid.

In addition to that news, there was an invitation to have lunch with the donor and his wife. Again, being broke, a free lunch sounded too good to pass up. So I went.

How do you suppose I presented myself at that lunch? Do you think I rolled out of bed and just showed up? Do you think I came right from the treadmill? How do you suppose I greeted that generous couple? Do you think I gave them high-fives? Tussled his hair and said, “Hey, moneybags!”

Of course not. I showered, dressed nicely to show respect, went up to him and shook his hand and said, “Thank you. You know not what this meant to my wife and I.”

How much more should this be the case when I come before a God who has paid for my sins and forgiven my trespasses and redeemed me as a rebel? Do I come before him with an attitude of frivolity, levity, thoughtlessness, and superficiality? 

I’m afraid that this is exactly what characterizes many church worship services nowadays. The whole thing is optional and casual and void of appropriate reverence and awe. 

Understanding the grace of God in our redemption should change the way we worship! When we pray as a church family, we’ll pray with humble thanksgiving. When we sing, we’ll sing as pardoned prisoners! When we participate in the Lord’s Supper, we’ll do so with hearts full of awe and gratitude. 

And so, I ask you now to take a self evaluation. How do you approach corporate worship? Do you come aware that you’re a sinner and, that, if you’re a Christian, are a walking trophy of God’s grace in redemption? When we do, that’s worship fit for a King. The King of kings.

Victors celebrating his glory

We’ve seen that we’re to worship as stewards enjoying God’s goodness in creation and as sinners experiencing God’s grace in redemption. There’s one more in Psalm 24: We worship as victors celebrating his glory in conquest.

Lift up your heads, O gates,
and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in (v. 7)!

The psalmist pictures the closed gates of Jerusalem as if they were bowed down, and he calls for them to opened because the King of glory is going to pass through. He’s on his way and the gates aren’t big enough for his majesty!

Who is the king of glory? he asks rhetorically in verse 8.

The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.

He’s Yahweh! And he’s the King of glory because he’s all-powerful and has won great victories over his enemies. He’s unbeatable! He’s a conquerer. The psalmist repeats himself in verses 9 and 10:

Lift up your heads, O gates,
and lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in!
Who is this King of glory?
the Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory.

It’s a victory cry! Long live the King!

Read what John writes in Revelation 19:11–16 and notice some similarities between it and David’s description in Psalm 24.

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name written on him which no one knows except himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called the Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following him on white horses.

From his mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it he may strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; and he treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.

And on his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”

David was anticipating the coming of the King of glory. The Apostle John, exiled on the island of Patmos was anticipating the coming of the King of glory. And we today join in that anticipation. 

There is a time yet future when the King of Glory, Jesus Christ, will return, he will defeat evil, and then, in a grand display of his glory, march into Jerusalem to set up his kingdom. And those of us who are in Christ, will share in the spoils of that win. 

When we come to worship God, we worship as victors celebrating God’s glory in conquest. When we come together we do so in joyful anticipation of our King’s march into Jerusalem when we, as believers, with him, will share in the victory. You could say that when we gather to worship, we’re practicing for that great day. 

For some reading this, life has been a grind. It’s been tough. What do we do without hope? Hope that one day he will right all those wrongs, evil will be defeated, and every tear wiped away. The future certainty of that happening is what we celebrate when we come together. So when we come together we worship as victors celebrating God’s glory in conquest.

“The most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.” Our view of God shapes our worship of God. And Psalm 24 reminds us of his goodness in creation, his grace in redemption, and his glory in conquest. 

And as we come to understand those truths, our worship will respond appropriately. We will enjoy him as stewards. We will experience him as sinners. And we will celebrate him as victors.