Several years ago, when the boys were small, Connie and I bought our first swing set. We went to the store and found just the right swing set — not too big and overbearing, not too small and childish, but one that was just right. We loaded the big box in the back of my truck and headed home. We got home, unloaded the box, and put all of the pieces in their proper place as we prepared to assemble what looked like the Eiffel Tower in pieces. Connie quickly grabbed the instructions and began to encourage me to read them thoroughly before I began trying to put the swing set together, an encouragement that was written in big, bold letters on the outside of the box. I, being Bob Villa and an avid viewer of HGTV and the Discovery Home Channel assured her that I didn’t need to read the instructions. After all, it was just a kid’s swing set. I began implementing my meticulous, well-thought-out process of assembling the swing set. I would pick up a bolt, grab a piece of the tubing, and then see if the bolt was long enough to make it to the other side. I did pretty well with the big pieces. There were only four eight foot pieces of tubing. I was gaining confidence.
I then began to assemble the glider. Any of you who have ever tried to assemble a glider knows that you must have an I.Q. equivalent to a NASA rocket scientist to get the thing right. I tightened bolts, and then untightened them. I searched though piles of tubing trying to find matching pieces that even resembled what I thought a glider would look like. It was warm outside and I felt the sweat pouring down my forehead. After a solid hour of frustration I decided I would move on to the slide and after it was assembled I would use the left over parts to construct a “custom made” glider. I knew the slide would be a piece of cake since it was just one solid piece. I needed four bolts that were about 1 1/2 inches long. I found tons of four inch bolts and half inch bolts, but I could not find the bolts I was looking for anywhere. Connie would come outside every now and then, read my face like a book, counsel me to consult the instructions, and then go back inside.
I have limited time to share God’s Word with us today or I would tell you, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story,” but it will suffice to simply let you know I finally finished the task I had taken on. After hours of frustration, avoiding the instruction manual like the plague, and almost being served “divorce papers” by my wife, I got the swing set put together. Praise God! Not only was I “man enough” to get the swing set put together, but when it was all said and done I had a big pile of nuts, bolts, rubber washers, and even a few pieces of tubing left over. I had done such a good job of putting the swing set together that I didn’t even have to use all of the parts the factory had included in the package.
The moral of the story…”if you want something to work right, the way it was designed to function, then read the instructions, talk to the person who designed it.” The principle that applies to assembling swing sets also applies when it comes to worship.
There is much going on today that is being passed off as worship, but it is something altogether different. We won’t bother with spending our time looking at counterfeits, it is too important for us to understand the genuine object.
The Canadian Mounties undergo rigorous training before they are granted their esteemed title as a Canadian Mounty. One of the training exercises the Mounties go through is developing an eye to spot counterfeit money. They spend many hours going through exhausting, arduous exercises so they learn how to spot the frauds. By the time a Mounty graduates he is able to spot a counterfeit bill in an instant, but not one time during his training does he ever observe a counterfeit bill. The Mounties training time is spent solely in close, disciplined, scrutinizing observation of the genuine article; studying every little detail, nuance, and characteristic. The Mounties know the real bill so well that anything less than the genuine article is quickly spotted and revealed for what it is — a fake.
That is my hope for us my friend. I want us to spend time in God’s Word studying worship, meditating on what God’s Word says is true and sincere worship, so that we will never be led into some deviant form of worship that will carry us away from our precious, holy God. God’s Word has much to say about how we are to approach God in expressing our worship, adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and praise.
To lay a foundation for our study of God’s recommendations for worship, I want us to go back to Leviticus 16 and take a look at the very detailed instructions God gave His people for the observation of their most holy day — the Day of Atonement. There were seven great feasts that were celebrated by the Israelites as holy days of worship, but the greatest day for all of Israel was the Day of Atonement. Take a look at Leviticus 16.
1The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD. 2The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover. 3“This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 6“Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 8He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. 9Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat. 11“Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die. 14He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover. 15“He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the Tent of Meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17No one is to be in the Tent of Meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel. 18“Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites. 20“When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert. 23“Then Aaron is to go into the Tent of Meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. 24He shall bathe himself with water in a holy place and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. 25He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar. 26“The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. 27The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and offal are to be burned up. 28The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. 29“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or an alien living among you—30because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. 31It is a sabbath of rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. 32The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments 33and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the people of the community. 34“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Leviticus 16 NIV)
God specifically pointed out what the Israelites and their priests were to do on the Day of Atonement. If you got lost or bogged down while we were reading the details prescribed for worship in this one chapter, don’t let it bother you, because to really understand the detail we have to take the time to study it thoroughly. It would be well worth our time to study the prescriptions of Leviticus 16 because it is so rich with meaning. God desires for His people to worship Him, but He also desires that we worship in the way He desires. It is for this reason that the vast majority of Exodus 25-Leviticus 27 is devoted to giving instruction to God’s people concerning their worship of Him.
Five very dominate themes rise to the top in Leviticus 16: God is holy, we must approach God on His terms, His presence is a consuming fire, our sin is taken very seriously by God, and God is willing to deal with our sin. These five themes still ring true today and I believe it will do us a great service to spend some time looking at each one before we go into the details of what our worship should entail.
When we come to worship God, to give Him the praise and honor that are due His glorious name, we must always be aware of God’s pure, untainted holiness. I know some of you may be thinking, “Here Mike goes again talking about God’s holiness.” My friend, you and I can never hear enough of God’s gloriously holy presence. It is God’s holiness that allows us to trust Him without reservation — His actions are pure, His love is perfect, and His presence is precious all because of His Holy character.
It is God’s holiness that brings us back to reality. We can live in a fantasy world where we compare and contrast ourselves with one another. I can pick and choose folks around me that make me look like a “good, upright, and moral” man, but when I can a glimpse of God’s holiness I must echo the words of Isaiah,
1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:1-5 NIV)
It wasn’t until Isaiah saw the Lord “high and lifted up” and heard the heavenly creatures cry out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord All-Powerful” that he realized that in the presence of the pure and holy God he would be destroyed because of his impure soul. We need a vision of God’s holiness!
The second theme that we see repeated over and over again in Scripture is that we must approach God on His terms. In Leviticus 16, the entire chapter is devoted to instructions so that Aaron could approach God, but only on God’s terms. God didn’t say, “Why don’t you get all the people together and come up with a agreable set of guidelines for you to come to Me. Find out what the people would like to see happen and then bring it back to Me and we’ll use the agreement you and the people have agreed upon as a basis for your fellowship with Me.” God never asked the Israelites if they had any suggestions on building the Tabernacle, presenting their sacrifices, or offerings. He gave them very detailed instructions on how unholy people might approach a holy and righteous God.
The third theme we see repeated over and over again throughout Leviticus is that God’s presence is a consuming fire that destroys everything that is impure. Aaron was warned in the beginning of Leviticus 16 not to go into the Most Holy Place whenever he wanted or he would die. There was only one day a year when Aaron was permitted to enter into the Most Holy Place, or the Holy of Holies, — on the Day of Atonement. The Israelites were never permitted to go into the presence of God, never. Only Aaron, the high priest, was allowed to enter into the Most Holy Place, but only after he had made sacrifices to cover his own sin, bathed, and put on sacred clothes. Even after Aaron had done all of the right things to purify himself, he could not truly enter into God’s presence because when he went in the Most Holy Place, the Ark of the Covenant, which symbolized God’s presence, the Ark was shrouded with a cloud of smoke. Leviticus 16:13 says, “He must put the incense on the fire before the LORD so that the cloud of incense will cover the lid on the Ark. Then when Aaron comes in, he will not die.”
Some of us might think, “Well, that’s not fair. Why shouldn’t everyone be allowed to go into the Holy of Holies, kick back, and say, ‘What’s up Lord?’” The people knew what many of us don’t yet realize — He is God! They didn’t want to go into the Holy of Holies because they knew they could not stand in the presence of the Righteous Judge with their sin stained souls.
George Vandeman shares the story of a young man who was making his first climb in the Alps. The young man was accompanied on the climb by two veterans who had made the climb up the majestic mountain on several occasions. It was a steep, hazardous ascent, but the young man felt secure with one guide ahead and one behind him as he climbed. For hours they made their climb up the side of the mountain. Finally, they were breathless as they reached those rocks protruding through the snow above them — the summit!
The lead guide wished to let the young stranger have the first glorious view of heaven and earth, and moved aside to let him go first. Forgetting the gales that would blow across those summit rocks, the young man leaped to his feet, but the lead guide quickly grabbed him and said, “On your knees, sir! You are never safe here except on your knees.” The people of Israel were well aware of the majestic, awesome presence of God. That is precisely why they said to Moses in Deuteronomy,
22These are the commandments the LORD proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me. 23When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire, all the leading men of your tribes and your elders came to me. 24And you said, “The LORD our God has shown us his glory and his majesty, and we have heard his voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a man can live even if God speaks with him. 25But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us, and we will die if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer. 26For what mortal man has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived? 27Go near and listen to all that the LORD our God says. Then tell us whatever the LORD our God tells you. We will listen and obey.” 28The LORD heard you when you spoke to me and the LORD said to me, “I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good. 29Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever! (Deuteronomy 5:22-29 NIV)
The fourth theme which we see repeated throughout God’s instructions is that He doesn’t take our sin lightly. God reinforces over and over again that our sin is a stench in His nostrils, that it will never be condoned as acceptable behavior by His righteous judgments. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of animals have been sacrificed throughout Israel’s history to cover the sins of the people.
God did not create sin, He spoke into creation the glory of the land, sea, and heavens. He set upon the earth people created in His image that we might reflect His nature to all, but we have chosen to pollute and destroy one another and His magnificent creation. God will never accept the destruction of what He created and deemed good. This is why He spoke through Isaiah these words,
6 Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.7 Because of this, all hands will go limp, every man’s heart will melt. 8 Terror will seize them, pain and anguish will grip them; they will writhe like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at each other, their faces aflame. 9 See, the day of the LORD is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. 10 The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. 11 I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless. 12 I will make man scarcer than pure gold, more rare than the gold of Ophir. 13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the LORD Almighty, in the day of his burning anger. (Isaiah 13:6-13 NIV)
The final theme we see rising to the forefront in Leviticus 16 and throughout the entire Word of God is that God is willing to deal with our sin in a reconciling way. The Day of Atonement was both a solemn observance and a great celebration as the Israelites were made aware of just how grievous their sin was in the sight of God and how glorious it was to have their sin covered. Behind the large, heavy curtain where the presence of God resided, Aaron was to put some of the bull’s blood on and in front of the Ark. He then cast lots to determine which goat would be sacrificed and which would be led away as a “scapegoat.” At the altar of burnt offering Aaron sacrificed the chosen goat, then he went back into the Holy of Holies where he sprinkled some of the blood on and in front of the atonement cover. Aaron, in front of the people, laid his hands on the head of the goat that was still alive as a symbol of transferring the sin and guilt of Israel to the head of the goat who was taken outside the camp where the people were. Over and over again we read that the sins of Israel would be covered if the people followed God’s prescription for dealing with their sin.
Praise God for His dealing with the sins of the people, something they could never do! When Aaron went behind the curtain after making sacrifices for his own sin, he was able to provide for the people by the offering of blood so that their sins could be covered. When Aaron came out from behind the heavy curtain that separated the people from their holy God, the people knew that Aaron had stood in their place before God, and God had dealt with their sin.
I share all of this with you to let you know that God desires a particular kind of worship. This is important to know as we begin looking at the instructions God gives us for worship. You do need to know that even though all of those observances were made with life being given for life, the sins of Israel were only covered. In the old days sin was covered, but a new day has dawned! As we gather for worship we gather with the knowledge that our sin has been washed away — it is no more! A perfect sacrifice was made on the altar called Calvary where the high priest, Jesus the Messiah, entered into the Holy of Holies and took with Him, not a goat, or a bull, or a ram to lie on the holy altar of God — He laid Himself on the altar as a perfect sacrifice for the people. Life for life, forgiveness through the shedding of His own blood!
The five themes that we see so prevalent in the book of Leviticus are still in operation today: God is holy — that will never change. We must approach God on His terms, never will God consult us on how we think we should be able to approach Him. God’s presence is a consuming fire, devouring sin and unrighteousness in its path. Our sin is taken very seriously by God, so seriously that sin can never come into His presence. God is willing to deal with our sin, and He has done so through providing for us a lasting sacrifice through Jesus our Savior.
When Jesus died upon Calvary’s cross the curtain separating the glorious presence of God from the rest of creation was torn down the middle opening the way for not only the priest, but every man, woman, boy, and girl who accepts Jesus’ sacrificial death to come to God with boldness! In the days of old only the high priest was able to enter into God’s presence, but today you and I can worship and adore our God in the midst of His very presence! Hallelujah!! The writer of Hebrews underscores this reality by saying,
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. (15)For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. (16)Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV)
I am just learning what a glorious opportunity it is to praise the name and holiness of our God. I have read the Bible since the day I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior more than 25 years ago. I have attended many worship services, but many of those opportunities to worship in spirit and truth have been missed because I was so worried about everything “going right in the service.” It is only in the past few years that God has revealed to me what He desires of me when I come into His presence — He desires that I enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise! No longer will I settle for merely stumbling through a worship bulletin, no longer will I simply move from one man-made ritual to the next, no longer will I worry if things go smoothly, no longer will I worry if the people gathered laugh and “get their moneys worth” from being at church — I will bless the Lord! I have come to this place because my soul cries out to bless His holy name, to bless His holiness, to bless His glory, to bless His majesty, to bless His provision for my sin-stained soul — I will bless the Lord!
I have come to the house of worship for another reason as well. I have come to bless the Lord, but I have also come to the house of worship to hear from heaven. I need to hear from God. I’ve heard from men, from teachers and so-called authorities until I am blue in the face, but I need to hear from God. Life is exacting, demanding, and oftentimes frustrating. The advice of the gurus of the world will not suffice — I must hear from God!
I don’t know why you came to church this morning. Maybe you woke up this morning and your soul longed to be among God’s people to extol His goodness, to bless His name, and to hear from heaven. On the other hand, maybe your alarm went off and you got up and got ready just like you’ve done for years and years. Like a robot, you put on your Sunday’s best and made your way to the house of the Lord with no emotion flowing in your veins, no expectation oozing from your soul, and no hopes of encountering Almighty God in your heart. Could be someone dragged you here. You feel so guilty that your children ask week-after-week, “Daddy, why don’t you go to church with us?” You love your kids and so you’ve finally come. My friend, your being here is no accident. God had a divine appointment with you this morning so that you might hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that you might know that you no longer have to go through a preacher or priest to fellowship with Almighty God, but that you might come to Him this morning with boldness and He will take away your sin. Whatever reason you have for coming here is important to you, but God had a different reason for bringing you and me to this place this morning. God brought us here to learn that He has provided a lasting, eternal sacrifice to deal with our sin once and for all! He wants us to know that we can worship Him in our own hearts, we can bless His holy name, and be assured that when we do we will hear from heaven.
If you’ve never accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior don’t let this opportunity pass you by. He has made a way for you and for me so that we might worship God in spirit and truth. Accept His gift today!