************ Sermon on Hebrews 12:28-29 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on October 1, 2017

Hebrews 12:28-29
"Worship God Acceptably"

What is acceptable worship? Abihu and Nadab thought they knew. They took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to His command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD (Lev 10:1-2).

What is acceptable worship? King Saul thought he knew. When he saw his soldiers begin to scatter before battle with the Philistines, he offered up the burnt offering and the fellowship offering instead of waiting for the arrival of Samuel. Samuel announced that the LORD God was taking the kingdom away from him (1 Sam 13).

What is acceptable worship? Ananias and Sapphira thought they knew. They pretended to be more generous than they really were. Both of them were struck down by the Lord (Acts 5).

These examples show us, as we read at the end of Hebrews 12, that "God is a consuming fire." My brothers and sisters, these examples show us that not all worship is acceptable to God. There is an assumption that God approves whatever we bring Him. But this is not at all the case. So, this evening I want you to ask whether your worship is acceptable to God.

I Unacceptable Worship
A I want to start by looking at unacceptable worship. According to Hebrews, what makes worship unacceptable?

Don't forget the original audience: Hebrew Christians. Some of them, remember, were thinking of leaving the Christian faith to return to the Jewish faith. Hebrews says they are leaving Mount Zion to go back to Mount Sinai. Do you remember the comparison of the two mountains? Mount Sinai was a mountain burning with fire; covered with darkness, gloom, and storm; there was lightning; a thick cloud covered the mountain; it was covered with smoke because the LORD descended on it in fire; there was a loud trumpet blast; God warned that people and animals could not touch the mountain or they would be killed; Mount Sinai was terrifying. By way of contrast, Mount Zion was where David brought the ark; it was the place of the mercy seat; it was where the atoning blood of the lamb was sprinkled; it was where man approached God and found forgiveness.

So what is Hebrews saying is unacceptable worship? Unacceptable worship is going back to Judaism. Unacceptable worship is going back to Mount Sinai.

B Unacceptable worship on the part of God's New Testament people is worship based upon fear. Remember, this was the response of the people to Mount Sinai. They begged that no further word be spoken to them. Even Moses was trembling with fear (cf Heb 12:18-21; Ex 20:18-19). The worship at Sinai was fear-based.

I have been in churches that use our Bible reading as a call to worship. The minister starts worship by emphasizing "God is a consuming fire."
(Heb 12:28-29) ... worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, (29) [the minister pauses for dramatic affect and then he intones] for our "God is a consuming fire."
When our Bible reading is used this way the message we hear is: "Worship God or else." Fear based religion. Fear based worship. Like the worship at Mount Sinai.

Fear-based worship is unacceptable. That's what Hebrews is saying to us tonight. Go back to verses 18 and 22: "For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire ... But you have come to Mount Zion" (Heb 12:18,22). You have not come to a fear-based worship.

Yes, God is scary. Yes, God is holy. Yes, God is a fire. But our Bible reading should never be used to call God's people to worship. We worship God because we love Him, not because we fear Him. We don't worship God or else. That's going back to Mount Sinai. "But you have not come to [this] mountain."

C What else can we say about unacceptable worship. Unacceptable worship on the part of God's New Testament people is worship filled with rules. Sinai was filled with rules. Tons and tons of rules. Rules about worship and the priesthood and the tabernacle. Rules about clean and unclean. Rules about what to eat and not eat. Rules about slaves, property, injury, feast days. Rules, rules, rules. God, and His angels, spoke all sorts of rules. Paul sums up these rules in his letter to the Colossians: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" (Col 2:21). Paul says these rules are all "destined to perish" (cf Col 2:22). There is no place for rules at Mount Zion.

I want to talk about rules-based religion, rules-based worship. I am sure you realize the Muslim faith is a rules-based religion. The Mormons, the JWs, and the old-style Seventh Day Adventists are the same way. To use the language of Hebrews, they have all come to Sinai. I hope and pray none of us have come to Sinai rather than Zion. I hope and pray none of us have a rules-based religion and worship.

Let me give a couple of examples of a rules-based religion in our circles. The Bible tells us to dress modestly in worship -- we don't display our sexuality nor do we show off our wealth -- but it doesn't say anything about dresses and suit jackets when we worship.

Another example: The Bible tells us that there is nothing holy about our building or this room. What is holy is God's people. So we don't get bent out of shape when our children are children and get rid of their energy after worship by running and playing. Those who come to Zion aren't rules-based.

Another example of a rules-based religion: The Bible makes clear our works do not save us. Yet, there are churches -- especially the Roman Catholic Church -- which believes we are saved by grace plus works. Put money in the offering, send your children to the Christian School, have devotions at home, and you contribute to your own salvation. That's a rules-based religion.

Hebrew Christians, worship God acceptably. Don't go back to Sinai. Don't go back to a fear-based religion. Don't go back to a rules-based religion.

II Acceptable Worship
A "Worship God acceptably." How do we do that? What does it look like? What is acceptable worship?

Acceptable worship is determined by God. What does God think? What does God say? Does He find the worship to be acceptable? I am saying acceptable worship is not determined by the worshiper. Acceptable worship is not something you or I determine. It is God Who says what is acceptable in worship. This, of course, is contrary to what we find among most North American Christians today. What do people look for when they go church-shopping? Today, most people don't ask if God finds the worship acceptable in the church they are visiting; instead, they ask about what they find to be acceptable. They want to know if there is a praise team or a choir. They want to know if there is an organ, piano, orchestra, or praise band. They want to know what kind of songs are sung. They want to know if there is children's church and a separate service for the youth. God regulates worship. It doesn't matter what you think. Acceptable worship is not determined by how I feel, by what I think, by what lifts me.

A couple of months ago someone let me know they didn't like the songs we were singing. I thought to myself, "So? Is our worship meant to please you or God?" Instead, I mentioned what someone said a couple of years ago: "I just realized the songs you pick tie in with the sermon." I don't pick out songs just because I like them but because they fit the preaching of the Word -- in other words, what is acceptable to God.

Acceptable worship is determined by God. This idea is emphasized by the word used for "worship." The original audience of Hebrews immediately recognized that it was the same word used to describe the work of the priests in the Old Testament. Now, everything about the work of the priests was prescribed by God: the when and where and how of the sacrifices, the preparation of the priest as he washed and cleansed and dressed himself, the incense, the fire, the lamp, setting up the tabernacle, carrying the tabernacle. Everything. Just like God prescribes the work of the priests in the Old Testament, so God prescribes the work of His priests in the New Testament. Keep in mind that in the New Testament we -- you and I and everyone who believes -- are the priests, a kingdom of priests (cf 1 Pet 2:9).

B So what is acceptable worship as determined by God? What does God say is acceptable worship? Notice how our Bible reading starts: "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken ..." This is another reference to the difference between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. At Sinai lots of shaking was taking place: the mountain was shaking, the people were shaking, Moses was shaking. But at Zion there is no shaking. After all, it is the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God (cf Heb 11:10).

Acceptable worship starts with Mount Zion. It starts with the atoning sacrifice. It starts with Jesus and His blood and the forgiveness that is ours in Christ. We come for worship as broken and contrite sinners who receive salvation only Only ONLY by the blood of the Lamb. That's the beginning point of acceptable worship. Acceptable worship is not possible apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ.

C In the Bible acceptable worship is always communal. I don't buy the argument of those who say they worship God by taking a walk through Yosemite or a drive through the countryside; that may be a personal act of worship but that is not what the Bible has in mind. From the beginning of the Bible to its end, on earth and in heaven, the Bible pictures worship as something done in community. Worship happens when we gather together with other believers to praise and glorify God and lift up His holy name.

Acceptable worship, then, means coming to church.

D Notice what else is part of acceptable worship: "let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably ..." Acceptable worship is filled with thanksgiving. Did you take note of our call to worship this evening:
(Ps 100:4) Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.
In line with this, after the sermon we are singing:
We bring the sacrifice of praise
into the house of the Lord ...
And we offer up to You
the sacrifices of thanksgiving;
And we off up to You
the sacrifices of joy.
Let me jump ahead to Hebrews 13:15:
(Heb 13:15) Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that confess his name.
Acceptable worship includes thanksgiving.

Do you prepare for worship? Do you prepare for worship by thinking of all the things for which you are thankful? Do you prepare for worship by having an attitude of gratitude? "Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise." Enter. Before the worship even begins. Something you do before you worship. This requires preparation on your part. Before you come for worship think of salvation -- that's the number one thing for which we need to be thankful as we come for worship. Think of the ministry of the church -- Biblical sermons, songs that are centered on God, Sunday School lessons, Bible studies, Catechism lessons, youth group, young adults -- and be thankful. Think of your church family, the communion of the saints -- brothers and sisters who care for you and pray for you and support and encourage you. Think of your spouse, your children, your grandchildren. Think of your jobs, homes, clothing, health. Think of our community and our country. Think of all of this and more before you come for worship. "Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise." Be thankful. No room for complainers in acceptable worship. No room for negative people in acceptable worship. No room for whiners and sour-faces in acceptable worship.

E Acceptable worship also includes "reverence and awe." One of the guys I cycle with always calls God the "big guy in the sky." He is way more than that. He is holy. He is awesome. He is almighty. What a friend we have in Jesus; but He is still God and we must never forget this.

F Worship God acceptably. The word for "worship," as I said, describes the work of the priests in the Old Testament. This work always involved the Word of God. So today in worship we read the Word, preach the Word, sing the Word, and pray the Word.

Worship God acceptably. The work of the priests also included ceremonies like Circumcision and the Passover. Similarly, acceptable worship today includes the two ceremonies God has given us: Baptism and the Lord's Supper.

G Worship God acceptably. This includes the idea of sacrificial giving for the good of the church and the lost. When we look ahead in Hebrews 13 we read this:
(Heb 13:15-16) Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that confess his name. [I read this verse earlier; but now note what is said next.] (16) And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
We see here that acceptable worship involves more than coming to church. It also involves charity. Listen to what the James says:
(James 1:27) Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress ...

This morning we read what the Catechism said about the fourth commandment. I didn't mention it this, but do you realize the Catechism describes acceptable worship?
on the festive day of rest,
I regularly attend the assembly of God's people
to learn what God's Word teaches,
to participate in the sacraments,
to pray to God publicly,
and to bring Christian offerings for the poor.

There are two ways to approach God in worship. We can come to Mount Sinai. Or, we can come to Mount Zion.

Let me tell you, the way of Mount Sinai is scary and terrifying. For our God is a consuming fire. For our efforts are never good enough. For worship that does not involve Jesus leads to hell's destruction.

But the way of Mount Zion is not scary. Yes, it is the same God. He remains holy and perfect and almighty and awesome. But He is the God Who loves us in Jesus Christ. He is the God Who saves us in Jesus Christ. So there is no reason to fear His fire. There is no reason to be shaking.

Do you worship God acceptably?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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