Respond in Worship
What comes to mind when you hear the word “worship”? Do you think about a regularly scheduled Sunday service? Do you turn up the volume on your Spotify playlist? Are you imagining David dancing and playing his harp, or Paul and Silas singing in prison? Do you remember your most recent quiet devotional time? Is worship all of the above?
In church we usually talk about worship as singing, but by the end of today you will have a deeper understanding of the meaning of true worship, regardless of what form it takes, and why it matters so much in our individual and corporate lives.
The main point I want you to remember today is this: Worship is your response to who God truly is, in a way that engages your whole being in adoration and in action.
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
We are going to use this passage to gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of true worship and why it matters so much in our individual and corporate lives.
Right away we learn that worship must be centred in the identity of Jesus and his saving death on the cross. In verse 1 Jesus tells his disciples, “You know that the Passover takes place after two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
By referring to himself as the Son of Man, Jesus is claiming a messianic title taken from Daniel 7 in which you read that one like a Son of Man enters God’s presence and is given authority, glory, and sovereign power. All nations and people of every language worship the Son of Man and he is given an everlasting Kingdom. Jesus claims this identity as His own and all that it entails, including death on the cross.
What kind of response do you feel rising up in yourself when you hear this truth about Jesus spoken out loud? Hold onto that thought or feeling for now.
The most well-known part of this story is what comes next in verse 6. Jesus and his disciples are at the home of a man named Simon, from Bethany. Plates of food are laid out on low tables and the men are gathered around, reclining on couches or cushions and visiting together. Can you imagine this woman walking into that room full of men, a place where she likely felt like an outsider?
She approaches Jesus and pulls out a stone jar with a long neck. She reaches for a knife on the table and strikes the neck of the jar to break it open. All conversation stops and all eyes are on this woman. A rich and earthy fragrance fills the room. With calm determination, she tips the jar and an amber-coloured oil pours out over Jesus’ head.
The woman anoints her Messiah with an unreserved act of worship, pouring perfume over him; perfume, that we learn in the gospel of John, that would be worth a year’s salary. Could you do that?
And what does Jesus do? He delights in her actions, doesn’t he? He holds her in such high esteem with his words “She has done a beautiful thing for me […] she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
In his commentary on Matthew, NT Wright says “When people start to be captivated by Jesus, and by his path to the cross, the love this produces is given to extravagance.” For me, this is a perfect description of the woman’s response to Jesus. When you are captivated by Jesus and what he accomplished on the cross, the love it produces in you will flow over in extravagance.
Remember I asked you to hold onto the thought or feeling that rose up in you as I spoke out loud the truth about Jesus, the Son of Man, Messiah, the One who has been given all authority, glory, and sovereign power? That response that rose up in you is the Holy Spirit captivating you and stirring up love within you; that is the beginning of true worship.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus teaches us that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”. (John 4:23-24). This verse is quite fascinating to me. It tells me that true worship is not about the songs we sing, the words we say, or the feelings we feel. The true worship that God desires from you and me depends on a correct understanding of the true nature of who God really is, not our own ideas about him. We worship God authentically when we know him truly.
I wonder if we sometimes get so focused on the quality of the music, the most accessible Scripture translation, and even the feelings we experience during worship, that we miss this beautiful exchange in which God seeks us out and reveals Himself to us, and we simply respond with adoration? True worship is like this, it responds to the truth of who God really is, and engages your whole being in adoration and in action.
Let’s look at the disciples’ response to the woman’s act of worship. They are very annoyed and see her actions as completely wasteful. They grumble and complain. Sure, we can understand their point about the value of the perfume and the importance of caring for the poor, but if you consider the significance of what was happening in this specific moment in history can you see how their attentions were wrongly directed to other priorities than Jesus’ person and presence? The disciples knew the same facts the woman knew but they did not respond in adoration or in action.
Why didn’t they? For the same reason all of us fail in our responses to God. Sin. Sin causes your affections, your love, to stray away from God and into worship of other things. In his book Counterfeit Gods Timothy Keller writes that the human heart is prone “to take good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turn them into ultimate things”.
You and I are always worshiping something, always ascribing ultimate value and highest good to something, but it is not always God. This is the real problem isn’t it? You cannot engage in true worship of God until you recognize where your worship has been misplaced and misdirected.
We worship in truth when we see and embrace the Truth, Jesus Christ.
We worship in spirit when our spirits are made alive because we have God’s Spirit within us.
This is worship that will change your life.
When the truth about Jesus strikes you in the very core of your being—strikes at your sin and your idolatry—it will change the way you think and feel and act. This is what I mean when I say that worship is your response to who God truly is, in a way that engages your whole being in adoration and in action.
Cheryl said something very powerful a few weeks ago: “When we don’t perceive the truth of God we create a false idea of who He is, which is a lie. When we don’t know God truthfully, it has big ramifications. Who we think God is influences our responses to Him, affects our worship, our obedience. How we think about God affects our actions.”
If you have been part of the Calvary community for a while now you will know that one priority tasked to the Interim Leadership Team was to review and update our doctrinal statements. Now, why am I connecting our focus on worship today to our doctrinal statements? Our church’s doctrinal statements may seem like a collection of theological terms, but they are so much more than that. They articulate what we believe about who God is and what He has done for us and they have big ramifications on how we gather to worship, to learn, to be in relationship and to serve and witness in our community.
This is why true worship matters so much to our church community.
I know many of you have struggled with “online worship”. You may have said or thought things like, “it doesn’t feel the same to sing along in my home” or “I am not as engaged in pre-recorded songs or teaching videos”. I get that, I really do. One of the deepest losses I have felt in the last year is the loss of singing together on Sunday mornings.
In his book Rhythms of Grace Mike Cosper writes about why gathering together as Christians is such a unique and important experience:
The Christ in me meets the Christ in you […]we build each other up and encourage each other, we sing to each other and declare truths of the gospel to each other […] your presence and your participation is not merely for the sake of your individual relationship with God […] but it’s also for your brothers and sisters sake. Your participation in the gathering is testimony and encouragement to them.
When we are able to begin meeting regularly in person again I think it will feel wonderful. Just seeing each other and interacting in person will mean so much. But, my friends, we are called to so much more than friendly fellowship. When we gather as a community we are called to remind each other about the Truth of who God is and what He has accomplished for us through His Son. We encourage and disciple each other in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We are called together to worship in spirit and truth, to respond to who God is in a way that energizes our community in adoration and action.
When I started today I promised you a deeper understanding of the meaning of true worship and why it matters so much in our individual and corporate lives. I would love to hear about any realizations or reflections you have had. Feel free to email me!
As I began to prepare this teaching, I struggled with how I was going to teach on worship after a year in which we haven’t been able to gather to worship together. Much of my initial thinking was focused on the activities that I defined as worship. But as I continued to study and realized that true worship is so much more than singing together on Sunday mornings I began to feel excited again, captivated by Jesus and wanting to respond with my whole being to who He is to me.
And so, to end today, I invite you to simply worship.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you always.