Made to Worship

A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on April 5, 2020.

And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:36–40).[1]

During this pandemic, I have enjoyed a bit of varied pleasure reading. I just finished a biography of England during WWII and was particularly fascinated at how London continued to function despite the devastation of ceaseless bombings. I enjoyed reading Martin Luther’s essay, “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague,” written at the peak of the bubonic plague, or “black death,” a short read for timely perspective.

I’ve also read a little fiction, such as Albert Camus’s The Plague, which I found remarkably clairvoyant. I have even enjoyed the guilty pleasure of apocalyptic fiction, such as, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, in which a flu pandemic wipes out 99% of the world’s population. (Happy reading times at the Clayton house!) There are some redeeming themes in what I’m reading, and some less so, but one of the recurring themes that fascinates me is that there is more to life than mere survival. In Mandel’s novel, for example, the promise is that the arts survive even after an apocalyptic event: “Survival is insufficient.”

Culturally, I’m hearing that some are hopeful that as the pace of life has slowed, we will grow to appreciate the simple things of life more. I certainly hope so. But I also hope that it will force us to deal with the hard questions of life: Who made me? Why was I made? What is my purpose here? What is next, after I am finished here? What will it be like, and what will I be doing?

For the Christian, each of these questions is answered with certainty in God’s Word. We were made by God, in his image, and very good. We were made to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Once God has completed his purpose in this world, all who have savingly believed on the Lord Jesus Christ will live with God forever on a new or redeemed earth. And, we will be freed to glorify and enjoy God perfectly forever. We were not made merely to survive; we were made for more.

If we were made to glorify God and enjoy him forever now and for eternity, what is a key aspect of this glorifying and enjoying? I think the answer to this lurks behind the human desire to do more than just survive. To answer this, let us look inside the throne room of heaven through the eyes of Isaiah:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke (Isaiah 6:1–4).

Peeking into the heavenly realm, Isaiah beholds these glorious angelic beings whose purpose is to cry out this repeated truth: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Similarly, the Apostle John in Revelation is summoned to walk through a doorway, and then describes what he saw:

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind . . .  

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:4–6, 8-11).

What John beheld was glorious but also telling.

At just a cursory reading, this point is clear: God is worthy of worship, and he is worshiped and will be worshiped by his creatures for his creation. Those who come into his presence in both of these heavenly scenes, from Isaiah and Revelation, do worship him. Both accounts reference God’s glory revealed in his creation and both accounts include his creatures, both angels and elders, in glorious worship of God.

The summary theme that I want to draw to your attention in this is that God created all things for his glory. Therefore, if we were made to glorify God and graciously given the pleasure to enjoy him forever, then as the angels and elders reveal, we were made to worship.

Made to Worship

Psalm 19 begins,

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat (Psalm 19:1–6).

What you and I often take for granted in a sunrise, the seraphim celebrate to God’s glory. What we often miss in the repetitive consistency of daylight and dark, the heavenly elders have observed and rejoice to God’s glory.

Just as God created the heavens and the earth for his glory, so also he created us, “in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). We are icons, so to speak, of God, created to reflect his glory. Worship then is part of what it means to be human. While the heavens declare the glory of God in their very created essence, we were created with the unique capacity to not only declare God’s glory but to actively reflect it as his image bearers. We are innately worshippers.

This gets to the heart of Jesus’s response to the Pharisees in our passage today. He who is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3a), is worthy of worship. Rightly do his disciples rejoice and praise God. Rightly do they spread their cloaks on the road; rightly did they “cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road” (Matt. 21:8b). We were made to worship: to glorify and enjoy God in doing it.

So when the Pharisees, refusing to worship the king of creation, demand that Jesus admonish his disciples for their worship, Jesus points them to creation: “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Who makes this kind of statement? Only he who was in the beginning, and was with God, and is God (John 1:1). Only he through whom all things were made (John 1:3), the agent of creation, “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.”[2]

Jesus’s confrontational, words are not intended to exalt an inanimate rock in the road but to reveal the necessity of true worship by creature and creation of the one, true God in Christ. The Pharisees demand of the disciples something they cannot demand of the stones. And while Jesus is likely using hyperbole, the fact is that the stones do precisely what they were created to do, like all of creation declaring the glory of God. Whether a stone in the path, a pebble in a stream, or a boulder on a mountainside, creation declares the glory of God. It is the Pharisees, not the stones, who reveal the sinful heart of fallen human rebellion. Indeed, all of humankind is fallen in sin and will not, cannot, truly worship God apart from his grace.

Fallen from Worship

In this sense, we have fallen in our sin from the purpose for which we were made. But this does not keep us from worshiping. Rather, we who were made to worship continue to worship, but we worship anything other than God.

Because our hearts are, as Calvin referred to them, perpetual idol factories, apart from God’s redeeming, and sustaining grace, we worship idols of our making. The Apostle Paul explains that apart from God’s grace man actually “suppresses the truth” of God (Rom. 1:18). From the stones to the trees to mountains to the sky to the stars, we deny God’s “invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature” (Rom. 1:20) revealed in creation. Denying the very evidence for which the seraphim praise God, and the elders cast their crowns, humankind instead exchanges “the glory of the immortal God for images” (Rom. 1:23) of man or animal. Make no mistake about it: We were made to worship and so we do!

The degradation of fallen human worship is consistent since the Fall yet often difficult to see. The Pharisee’s demand was undoubtedly to keep the people from idolatry, worshiping a mortal man rather than the immortal God. This is a characteristic of most misplaced worship, actually. Elevating, or even protecting something good can lead to its worship.

I heard someone say once that the quickest way to find an idol is to look at New Year’s resolutions. Someone else said that we should look to the ways we work and entertain ourselves for idols. Work may have once been the great American idol; today it’s probably entertainment. Or, maybe we should look to how we behave in the midst of this pandemic. Perhaps the decline in the stock market, or the loss of sports, or the uncertainty of employment, or social restrictions are revealing previously unseen idols. Let me be clear: If you think you are the exception and free from the temptation of idolatry, then you are likely blinded by the idol that you worship.

Whatever the case, the fact is that we who were made to worship will do it. Therefore, we must look to the gospel to repent and turn to true worship. We who were dead in the trespasses and sins in which we once worshiped (Eph. 2:1), have by the atoning death and resurrection of Christ through faith been redeemed to worship.

Redeemed to Worship

The gospel is about worship. If we were made to worship God alone but inhibited by our fallen nature, then the good news is that we are now in Christ alone enabled to worship God as we were created. The stones declare but need not cry out, because we have been redeemed to worship our Lord.

Quoting from Psalm 118, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD” (118:26), Jesus’s disciples add that it is King Jesus who comes, and in his coming there is “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” The peace Christ brings is indeed a relational peace with God, but it is also a doxological peace. Redeemed to worship, our praise rises even to heaven, glorifying God in the highest.

In Christ we have peace with God; in Christ we are redeemed to worship; and, lest we miss what the Pharisees missed, in Christ we worship Christ the King of creation:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Col. 1:15–20).

Good News! He who is worthy of our worship has redeemed to us to do so.

Jesus told the Pharisees that if his disciples did not worship him, “the very stones would cry out.” Fittingly, I think, the Apostle Peter refers to us as “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5). And, as living stones, we glorify and enjoy God as we cry out in worship, for we were made to worship.

The world is searching for significance, and at this time for an affirmation that there is more to life than mere survival. Let us not point them to the idols of our culture but instead let us point them to Christ. For, only in Christ are we redeemed to do precisely what we were made to do: glorify and enjoy God forever.

[1] Unless referenced otherwise, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001).

[2] “The Nicene Creed,” in Trinity Hymnal (Suwanee: Great Commission Publications, 1990), 846.

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