It is always worth our time to listen to what people say about just about any topic. But it is especially worthwhile to listen to what people say about worship to God. The Bible uses several different words that are translated into English as “Worship.” The one most often used has the basic meaning of “To bow before or kiss toward.” Typically the word applies to an action rather than just some feeling that a person has. Think of all the times during Jesus’ ministry when he performed some miracle, such as healing one of some grave illness when the next verse says, “And they bowed before him and worshiped him.” One thing that demonstrates the deity of Jesus as much as almost anything else is that while angels and men both objected to anyone worshiping them, Jesus never said to anyone when they bowed to worship him, “Get up, I’m a man like you.” When John bowed before the angel of the Lord to worship, the angel told him to get up and to “Worship God.” When Cornelius bowed to worship Peter, Peter told him to get up he was just a man like him. But Jesus accepted worship. Either he was a egotistical maniac to allow people to worship him or he is God among us as he claimed.
In Hebrews 12:28-29 it says, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” The word here used for “worship” isn’t the most common word used. For example, this is a different word than the one used by Jesus in John 4:23-24 when he declared that “God is Spirit and we must worship him in spirit and in truth.” The word used here in Hebrews 12 is the same word as was used by Paul in Romans 12:1-2. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” In both these texts he makes the point that what we do in worship must be “acceptable to God.” This word isn’t typically used for the kind of worship we would think of taking place on Sunday morning when a church comes together to sing, pray, give, commune and hear God’s word preached. This word normally has more to do with actions of service done for God than about people gathering to worship him. That is the reason many translations use the word “service” in Romans 12:1 rather than “worship.”
Notice the verses start with “Therefore” indicating it is built on things that have just been discussed. In the verses just previous he talked about how we aren’t coming back to Mt. Sinai and the giving of the Old Testament law. This isn’t about what was with Israel as God’s chosen ones. Instead we are coming to the New Covenant, the New sacrifice of the blood of Jesus and to the new kingdom that has been promised down through the ages and is now here, and still coming at the same time. We are “Receiving” this kingdom that cannot be shaken or destroyed. All through the ages with Israel, they were strong, good and true to God for a while and tremendously blessed. But it was never long before generations arose that didn’t know about what God had done for them in the ages past and turned away from Him to go in their own ways or to follow the ways of the nations around them. But now we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. This is the kingdom that John the Baptist said was “At hand” or “Near.” It is the kingdom Jesus sent the twelve out to preach, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” It is also the kingdom that he said to the twelve that some of you standing here today won’t taste of death until you see the kingdom come with power (Mark 9:1). It is the kingdom that he talked about when he told tons of stories beginning with the phrase, “The kingdom is like.” We are now receiving that kingdom and it cannot be shaken or destroyed ever again.
What did he mean by “receiving?” It is here and was launched when Jesus was raised from the dead, ascended back to the Father and sent His Holy Spirit to overwhelm the apostles so that on the Day of Pentecost there was a noise like a huge wind blowing, tongues of fire sat on each of the twelve and they began to speak in languages they had never learned before so that people from all different nations who were there could hear them speak and praise God in their own native languages. That day, as recorded in Acts 2, the kingdom came into being. Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were from this world my servants would fight, but it isn’t from here.” It is a spiritual kingdom made up of people who allow Christ to reign as king over their life. Jesus told Nicodemus the Pharisee, “Unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God.” When he was confused and asked what that meant Jesus explained, “Unless you are born of the water and the Spirit you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Our participation in the kingdom begins with our being born again of the water and the Spirit. Paul told the Colossians that we are “transferred out of the reign of darkness into the kingdom of the Son He loves.” (Colossians 1:13)
It is here. We are receiving it. But the fullness of the kingdom is still future. One of these days, Jesus, our king will come again, the dead will be raised and we will reign with him in the fullness of the kingdom forevermore.
Since we are receiving this kingdom that cannot be shaken or destroyed, our challenge is to be thankful that we can be part of such a kingdom and to worship God in a way that is acceptable to him, with reverence and awe. With gratitude to our God we must be about work and service to him all the time. Think of this reality. Many things in life that really seem good to us, may not be pleasing to the Lord at all. In our worship and service to God, the challenge isn’t about everything being acceptable to us, but that it be acceptable to God. It seems that everywhere you turn someone is telling what it takes to be acceptable to this group or that group of people. If you don’t do this thing the millennials won’t be happy. If you do this other thing the boomers won’t like it. If you don’t have this the busters won’t come. Here is the real challenge. What is acceptable to God? If the whole world likes what we are doing, but the God whom we are supposed to be worshiping and serving doesn’t see it as acceptable, it is a lost cause. What is acceptable to God?
Obviously, for it to be acceptable to God we must be thankful. It is Jesus who is king and whose kingdom it really is. So worship him with gratitude. Also, to be acceptable to God it must we with reverence and awe. Notice that it isn’t about God worshiping us and making certain everything that he does pleases us. I’m afraid that at times we get so carried away with what some group thinks that we just imagine God sitting in glory trying to think of ways he can make worship and service to him be satisfying to the millennials. It is vitally important that we grasp the reality that all of us have sinned, whether we are young, old or somewhere in between. We are sinners and lost without God. Our God made us and loves us so deeply that he willingly offered his one and only Son as a sacrifice on the cross for us and our sins, so we can be forgiven of all our sins. Our place is to worship God acceptably, and not try to turn it around, to try and make ourselves God and the Almighty our worshiper.
Why should we worship and serve him with reverence and awe? Because our God is a consuming fire! I hear people talk about the God of the Old Testament in comparison to the God of the New Testament. There aren’t two different God’s. God is God! He is eternal. He is the same God who was so fearful on the mountain that the Israelites pleaded with him not to speak to them again but to talk with Moses so he could speak to them. Our God still is a consuming fire. He isn’t a nice grandpa, doing whatever we please to try to make us happy. He is Yahweh the great “I Am.” When you come near him, remember it is holy ground.