The Main Thing - A Sermon by Dr. Neil Chadwick
Scripture Reading: Psalms 95:1-10
There are some messages which need to be repeated. For example, a Pastor who, when he arrived at his new church, preached same sermon on the second Sunday as he had preached on the first. The members of the congregation thought it was strange, but didn't say anything. But when he preached the same sermon the third Sunday in a row, the Deacons asked to see him after the service. They said, "Now Pastor, it was a good sermon you preached, but we have now heard it for the third time. Is this the only sermon you have?" "No," the Pastor responded, "but when you begin to act on this one, then I'll preach another."
This story reminds me of another, this time a true story. A number of years ago I listened to Juan Carols Ortiz tell what happened in his church in Argentina one Sunday morning. He got up to preach and said, "The message for today is, 'Love One Another'", and then he sat down. Everyone just sat there waiting for what would happen next - I guess they weren't accustomed to such a short sermon! So the Pastor got up again and said, "The message for today is, 'Love One Another'", and then again sat down. The third time he went to the pulpit he said, "The message for today is, 'Love One Another', and until we begin doing that, there won't be any more messages."
Slowly, a rather strange thing happened. People began turning to one another, talking with each other, praying for each other, and even opening their wallets and giving money to those near them who were going through difficult times financially. Eventually, they did hear other messages from the Pastor, but they did learn that important messages bear repeating.
Not too long ago I heard someone say, "The Main Thing is to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing!"
Of course the question is, "What is the Main thing"? With out a doubt, for the church of Jesus Christ, the "Main Thing" is "Worship".
Yes, Education is important - but what are we going to teach? We need to teach people the revealed truth about God so that when they worship Him, they know who they are worshipping, and they are given right reasons to worship Him.
Yes, Fellowship and Caring are important - but what is it that binds us together and provides the necessary love to cause us to lay down our lives for our brethren? It is our common and collective experience of coming into the presence of God in worship.
Several times in Scripture, we are given exhortations to worship God.
And Psalms 99:5 says, "Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy."
But Jesus also speaks directly about worship when He answers the temptation put to Him by Satan in the wilderness. "Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: `Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" (Matthew 4:10)
When Jesus stood up to Satan, refusing to bow down to him, He quoted from Deuteronomy 6:13. But it may surprise you to notice that the word "worship" is not found in that verse.
Although the word "worship" is found 20 times in Deuteronomy, it always is used in a negative warning against worshipping other gods. Then also, in one place there is an exhortation not to worship the Lord like the heathen. Moses said, "You must not worship the LORD your God in their way." (Deuteronomy 12:4) That brings up an interesting question, what does it mean to worship God "their way"?
Well, it could mean that the Israelites were not to raise up idols to worship, or worse yet, to sacrifice their children like the religions around them demanded.
In one Old Testament story we are given a little insight as to how the "others" worshipped. It is with story of Elijah and his confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. The story is well known, Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to set up an altar, and then pray for their gods to light the fire. In this account we get a glimpse as to how they prayed: they shouted, they danced around the altar; they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. (I Kings 18:26-28)
When it comes to the part about cutting themselves, it seems obvious that that's not the way to worship. But what's wrong with "shouting" and "dancing around the altar"? The Israelites shouted in their worship, and David danced before the Lord.
Look at all the places where reference is made to shouting.
Ezra 3:11 And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
Psalms 5:11 But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee.
Psalms 32:11 Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.
Psalms 35:27 Let them shout for joy, and be glad, that favour my righteous cause: yea, let them say continually, Let the LORD be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant.
Psalms 47:1 O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.
Psalms 132:9 Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness; and let thy saints shout for joy.
Isaiah 12:6 Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee.
Jeremiah 31:7 For thus saith the LORD; Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations: publish ye, praise ye, and say, O LORD, save thy people, the remnant of Israel.
Zephaniah 3:14 Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.
Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
And today in our worship, we may do the same. We shout, and we dance. Oh yes, dancing is in the Bible too!
Psalms 149:3 Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.
Psalms 150:4 Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
Ecclesiastes 3:4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
Jeremiah 31:13 Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.
2 Samuel 6:14 And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. vPsalms 30:11 Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness;
Luke 15:25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.
So what's the problem with the way the prophets of Baal worshipped? First, of course, they were not worshipping God! But beyond that, they were going through their antics, trying to get their gods' attention. You see, "shouting" and "dancing" are appropriate as responses to what God has done, but they are not activities we engage in to get God to do something. A simple, heartfelt prayer is all that's needed.
Let's go back to what Jesus said, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only." In this reply to the temptation thrown at Him by Satan, Jesus was obviously quoting from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. No, the translation there doesn't use the word "worship". We understand that Jesus' use of this word sums up two other words which are used in Deuteronomy, Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (verse 5), and Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name (verse 13).
So when Jesus said "worship" He meant "love" and "fear".
But we must press it a little farther. What do these terms mean?
In America we have adopted this way of thinking which attempts to place everyone on an equal plane. No one is better than anyone else, and thus no one has authority over anyone else - everyone has an equal say. We are opposed to hierarchy of any kind. It's interesting to me that many people want to be the boss, but few want to obey the boss.
Ultimately, we even bring God down to our level. Inscribed on our great American buildings is the saying, "The voice of the People is the voice of God." That may sound like an expression of a wonderful Democratic idea, but it is nearly blasphemy. However, we haven't only put our voices in place of God's, but we have come to the place where we think we have power over God - prayer has turned around to become our telling God what we expect Him to do for us, instead of listening to what He expects from us. Not long ago I once again heard someone suggest that a certain person was being healed by God because "hundreds of people were praying" - as though the more people you can get to pray, the more likely it will be for Him to answer! We're getting it backwards. When we worship God, we do not approach with demands - we approach with fear, with reverence, and with awe.
But there's also the "love" part of worship. This provides balance, because while God wants our reverence, he also desires our relationship. Unfortunately, the word "love" has been used of too many things. We might be heard saying, "I love apple pie", or "I love baseball", or "I love my truck". We ought only to use the word love when it has to do with relationships - "I love my wife", "I love my children", "I love God".