Tag Archive: worship


The Gospel in Psalm 130

July 19, 2015

 

Introduction

Psa. 130:1 A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD. 2 Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. 3 If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared. 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. 6 My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning. 7 O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption. 8 And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Based on the text of this Psalm, it seems appropriate to begin with some questions. How many transgressions of all the principles and commandments and precepts that are found in Scripture did you violate last week? What would the list look like if all of your sins, up to this moment in time, had been recorded? How would you like to appear before God and see such a list displayed before Him?

The truth is, you don’t know how many times you’ve violated the holiness of God just since you opened your eyes this morning. Even if we attempted to record all of our sinful thoughts and words and actions for just a day, we would miss most of them. We don’t go through life thinking in terms of cataloging our sins—and for good reason. We don’t have to live like that. But that shouldn’t stop us from considering how often we violate God’s standard and that shouldn’t stop us from meditating, at times, on all the ways in which we sin against God. Such times of reflection can be most beneficial, as we are about to see as we turn our attention to Psa. 130.

This obviously is a prayer offered by a worshiper of God; it is a prayer expressing anguish, to a degree, and relief as the writer acknowledges certain facts about God. These facts, as they are recalled, provide him with a much needed encouragement and corrected perspective on whatever it was that drove him to describe himself as being in the “depths.”

I would note that the first truth that stands out is this writer’s apparent conviction that the LORD establishes the standard by which we are judged, the standard by which our lives are measured. This critical truth comes after the writer’s introductory remarks in which he expresses his distress and his desire that the LORD would hear his supplications. In v. 3, the writer asks a question that carries such momentous implications that I fear we will not be able to grasp them all. The writer of this Psalm asks: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” Before I talk about the most sobering aspects of this question, I want you to notice that the writer automatically assumes that it is the LORD’s place to decide what is and what is not an iniquity; he assumes that the LORD is the One who sets the standard to which all are held.

The writer does not suggest that if the LORD were to be the One with the authority or right to mark iniquities, we might find ourselves in trouble; he assumes that the LORD is the One whose nature is such that He determines that which constitutes acceptable thinking, speaking, and conduct. This fact, in itself, declares to us something vital concerning God’s nature—His nature is the standard of morality. Whatever God is, that is what it means to be morally upright; whatever contradicts what God is, that is what it means to be morally corrupt and fallen.

With this tremendously important assumption operating, the writer asks his question: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” If God, whose nature is the standard of judgment in this universe, were to “mark iniquities,” no one would survive, the writer asserts. Let me define two words at this point before we continue. First, the word translated “mark” (shamar) means “to keep” as it to preserve something for an indefinite period of time. Second, the word “iniquities” (avon) means “perversity, depravity, sin.” Now, look again at the question: “If You, LORD, should keep or preserve a record of sins or acts of perversity or thoughts of depravity, O Lord, who could stand?”

I already noted that the writer operates with the assumption that the LORD has the authority to determine the standard by which we are judged. Another assumption, which is obviously held by this writer, is that we are a people characterized by that which qualifies as iniquity. He doesn’t speak as though iniquity is a rare thing; he speaks as though everyone on this earth is characterized by enough iniquity to render them worthy of destruction were the LORD ever to decide to call them to account. This Psalm tells us that God sets the standard and it tells us that He is not like us; we are different from God because we are characterized by various elements that are contrary to His nature; therefore, we deserve judgment—that is a clear message from this writer.

We deserve judgment because we commit violation after violation of God’s standard, and yet we do not perish. Why is this? It is because the LORD is pleased not to mark our iniquities, and He is pleased not to keep a list of our sins current right up to this present moment in time is a running count of accusations against us. He is pleased not to call us to account for our transgressions. Now the writer has revealed a truth about God that should leave us astounded —we are creatures of depravity, but the LORD chooses not to hold our sins against us. He chooses not to mark our iniquities. If we could simply comprehend this one primary point, we would have an understanding of the gospel that would change us forever; we would understand the power of the gospel, the beauty of the gospel, and the comfort of the gospel. The LORD does not mark our iniquities because “there is forgiveness with [Him], that [He] may be feared.” (v. 4)

Forgiveness—that is the explanation. We are characterized by iniquities, but the LORD doesn’t hold on to those transgressions and He doesn’t bring them against us time after time because He forgives us. It’s not that we learn to do better and it’s not that God cares less about His holy character as time goes by and it’s not that our offenses are any less offensive the tenth time we commit them as opposed to the first time. The answer is forgiveness. God forgives us, which means, as the writer’s word structure indicates, that forgiveness is the very opposite of marking iniquities. Knowing that God forgives, the writer states, leads us to fear Him. He uses a Hebrew term (yare) that refers to the deep reverence we have when we stand in awe of something. This word is used extensively in the Old Testament to describe a proper attitude toward God. This fear is not that He will harm us, the fear is reverence, respect, standing in all of the magnificent God of the Bible. To meditate on the forgiveness of God leads to this worshipful attitude; it is an attitude of humility and thanksgiving.

The only way for you to understand the richness of your salvation is to first grasp the enormity of your sin. This is the idea here in our text. The enormity of our sin is revealed when the writer says, in essence, that if we had to answer for our conduct, we would perish; the richness of our salvation is revealed when he says that, instead of being called to account for our sins, God forgives us—which explains, by the way, what forgiveness is; it is relating to the offending party without regard for his sins. Here I must make something absolutely clear; what I want to make absolutely clear is how this kind of situation can exist. I want to make clear how it is that God forgives the guilty.

If anyone ever had a doubt regarding the presence of the gospel in the Old Testament, here is a prime example of how the Old Testament reveals the nature of redemption without speaking as directly about Christ as is the case after the incarnation. We know why the LORD doesn’t mark our iniquities; it is because He forgives us. But we also know that God’s holy nature makes it impossible for Him simply to overlook transgressions. The kind of statement found in this Psalm would have led any pious mind to thoughts about what was taught in the Levitical system, namely, that sins are forgiven on the basis of a substitutionary atonement. If there is forgiveness with God, as this writer says, it is because something has been done about our sins—and that “something” is that God has provided Another to bear the consequences of our iniquities.

As I said before, we do not escape answering for our transgressions because God forgets about them or because He knows that we are “doing our best.” We escape because our Savior takes our place. That is the underlying truth of this portion of Psa. 130. Here is a brief, but truthful reminder of what God had been promising for ages; and the writer of this Psalm relates in a simple fashion the reality of redemption.

This Psalm tells us that God determines the standard to which we are held, that He does not count our transgressions against us even though we violate His standard, and that in the place of destruction God provides forgiveness. Consequently, as the writer goes on to teach, God becomes the focus of his hope (cf. v. 5). Because he knows what the LORD has done, because He knows that the LORD forgives and restores, the writer found great comfort for his soul as he faced hardships. We’ll see in a moment the manner in which he describes this hope, but for now the important point is that the way in which God treats His people makes Him the object of their trust and hope.

This Psalm is a wonderful assertion of some of the primary truths of the gospel. Sinners who are condemned and deserving of destruction are forgiven by the very God against whom they have committed innumerable acts of transgression. Imagine the God who would operate in this manner! Imagine His love and His mercy and His patience.

Clearly, as we’ve seen in many of the other Psalms in this current series, this Psalm tells us that these were people who quickly and confidently turned to the LORD in times of distress. Routinely, these Psalms have given testimony to the fact that the worshipers sought guidance, comfort and confidence from the LORD in the many adverse circumstances they encountered. In this case, the writer describes himself as crying to the LORD “out of the depths.” (v. 1) Whenever this word (“depths”) is used in the Old Testament, it normally refers to the deepest parts of the ocean. Figuratively, therefore, it is used to express a state of great anguish and despair.

Although the writer doesn’t provide specific details concerning his situation, we do have some indication of what was bothering him. After expressing such anguish, he begins speaking of iniquities. It is possible, therefore, that the writer was deeply troubled by his transgressions or those of the nation. For some reason, sin and forgiveness were on his mind when he wrote this song. Rightly, as I noted, he turns to the LORD and pours out his distress in those few words found in vv. 1 and 2. This writer is in a position where only the LORD can help him and it is to the LORD that he directs his cry for assistance.

Those who, along with this writer, worshiped the LORD at this point in history knew the fundamental truth that God is the one to whom we turn in times of distress, especially if that distress is caused by the contemplation of our sin. Where else can we turn to find relief for our troubled soul when, upon the contemplation of our depravity, we find ourselves near despair? The very act of meditating on one’s fallen state quickly leads to the conclusion that there is no help to be found in self—self is the problem! We are sinners and when sinners think soberly on their condition, they certainly do not conclude that deliverance from condemnation and the torment of guilt is to be found in their own devices. It is to the LORD and to Him only that we turn in such moments and it is that perspective that is recorded in this Psalm.

This apparent deliberation on his condition led this writer to a sobering conclusion: “If you, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (v. 2) Realizing, even to a slight degree, how unfit he was to stand before the LORD, this writer confesses the truth that if the LORD were to require an accounting from him for his transgressions, he would be doomed. And, in fact, the way he states the question makes it obvious that he held this same opinion about all of his countrymen. If the LORD were to keep track of our sins, he says, and then require a reckoning from us, we would be lost. We could not possibly stand before the LORD were He to produce a list of our sins.

Imagine knowing that the LORD was, in fact, marking iniquities, was keeping a record and would demand an accounting. This would be enough to unravel any pious person, or any person who truly wanted to walk before Jehovah in faith. But just as such disturbing thoughts occurred to this writer, he adds that astounding statement in v. 4: “But there is forgiveness with You…”

These worshipers were not free of sin and they were not free of guilt before the LORD, but He was not relating to them based on their sin because with Jehovah there is forgiveness. With Him, there is a remedy for sin—because there is forgiveness with the LORD. What a change of perspectives! If the LORD should mark iniquities, these worshipers knew that they could not endure before Him, but the LORD did not keep a record of their sin in order to bring it against them. Instead, He offered them forgiveness; instead, the LORD, the holy One, the offended One, made a provision for their deliverance.

It’s no wonder that the writer goes on to express how he eagerly waited for the LORD (vv. 5 and 6). As he considered his sin and the fact that the LORD forgave him, he wanted nothing more than to be with the LORD who loved him so. The truth of God’s forgiveness was the hope to which this man held as he made his way through life. It was communion with God that brought this man joy and comfort.

The word translated “wait” (qavah) is interesting (cf. v. 5). It’s a term that refers to remaining or abiding in a specific state as you anticipate something beneficial. When the writer says that he waited for the LORD, he doesn’t mean he was expecting the LORD to show up at some point. He means that he was resting in the LORD. And from that perspective, he was anticipating a time of communion with God, perhaps through worship or perhaps through his departure from this life into the presence of God.

In this frame of mind, the writer could urge his fellow-worshipers to “hope in the LORD.” (v. 7) He could assure them that they served a God who is known for His lovingkindness. In Him, the writer declares, there is “abundant redemption.” He presents a picture of the LORD that is completely uplifting and perfectly suited for those who were on their way to worship Jehovah.

At some point, this writer was made aware of his transgressions or something caused him to pause and think about the fact that he was a sinner and his sins were committed against a God of purity and holiness. And as he was going through this thought process, he realized that he deserved destruction. But there he was—alive and well and able to worship the LORD. The contemplation of his sin led, of course, to the contemplation of God’s forgiveness of his sin. Those two realities—his sin and God’s forgiveness of his sin—overwhelmed him and he had to exclaim praise for the LORD.

If God marked your iniquities, if He kept a record of your sins and called you to account, would you be able to stand? If God took note of your transgressions and preserved a list of them, would you be able to appear before Him with confidence? You know the answer to those questions. Our problem is that we don’t face these kinds of questions often enough. We rarely consider the implications of such a question as: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”

Meditation on such questions leads inevitably to the conclusion that God forgives—otherwise, we wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t have a life and we wouldn’t know the LORD. Meditation on what God has done for sinners is where God-honoring worship begins.

When the writer of this Psalm thought on such things, he was moved to fear the LORD. How about you? We don’t hear much talk about fearing the LORD these days. To fear the LORD means that you relate to Him as God, as a holy and righteous God. It means that we look to Him with thankful hearts realizing that He is the One who saves us and who watches over us. To fear the LORD is to stand in awe of Him.

These kinds of thoughts come much more easily when we keep before us the fact that God has forgiven us. It was that truth that caused the writer to find hope in spite of his sins. He knew that God had provided for his forgiveness. As I said before, the gospel is portrayed in Psa. 130. There is the undeniable teaching of atonement in this Psalm. There is recognition of sin and there is recognition of forgiveness—the two key elements in redemption.

Therefore, we cannot study this Psalm without being directed to Christ. There is no way to read this Psalm and even begin to have the slightest understanding of it without turning our eyes to Christ. It is impossible for us to think about our transgression and breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they have been forgiven without turning our minds to Christ. He is the explanation for sins forgiven. The Messiah is the explanation for this writer’s conclusion that, although he was a man of iniquity, there was forgiveness with the LORD. Amen.

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Psalm 148

A Meditation for the Lord’s Day

In the Book of Psalms, there is a category of Psalms known as the “Hallelujah Psalms.” This term comes from the use of the Hebrew word halel in each of these . This word means “praise, glory, most, celebrate, and shine.” In its various grammatical constructions, this word is rendered “to be praised, to be made praiseworthy, to be commended.”

The most well-known of these Hallelujah Psalms is the collection that ends the book of Psalms, that is, 146 through 150. Each of these five Psalms begins and ends with “Praise the LORD.” Writers have referred to this collection of Psalms as the “Hallalujah Chorus” to this book of praises, that is, the whole book of Psalms.

Let’s consider Psa. 148:

1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! 2 Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts! 3 Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light! 4 Praise Him, highest heavens, And the waters that are above the heavens! 5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, For He commanded and they were created. 6 He has also established them forever and ever; He has made a decree which will not pass away. 7 Praise the LORD from the earth, Sea monsters and all deeps; 8 Fire and hail, snow and clouds; Stormy wind, fulfilling His word; 9 Mountains and all hills; Fruit trees and all cedars; 10 Beasts and all cattle; Creeping things and winged fowl; 11 Kings of the earth and all peoples; Princes and all judges of the earth; 12 Both young men and virgins; Old men and children. 13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven. 14 And He has lifted up a horn for His people, Praise for all His godly ones; Even for the sons of Israel, a people near to Him. Praise the LORD!

The writer calls for praise for the LORD from the heavens and the heights, from His angels, from the sun and moon, and all stars of light. He commanded, and they were created. Further, God has established them forever by a decree that will not pass away. God’s making and sustaining of creation are to be the basis of praise from the very things made and sustained.

In verses 7-10, the writer provides another list of sources from which God should be praised. Praise should come from the earth, sea monsters, from fire and hail, snow and clouds, wind, mountains and hills, fruit trees and all cedars, from all beasts, creeping things and winged foul. Once again, all of creation is exhorted to praise its Creator in light of His power to make them and maintain them.

The writer concludes this Psalm of praise with reference to man. In verse 11, he calls upon the kings of the earth and all people to praise the LORD. Princes and all judges are included. With these references, the writer indicates that even those with great authority among men are obligated to recognize a greater authority, which is the LORD.

Mentioned next are young men and virgins, old men and children. At no stage of life, does the obligation to praise God cease. From the beginning of life to its end, we are to praise the LORD for His greatness. Children are to be instructed in the praise of God, both by word and deed. They learn about this universal beauty through the teaching and example of adults.

Young man and virgins, who have entered the most active part of life where the tendency is to think primarily of self and plans for the future, are reminded that before all else they have a responsibility to praise the LORD. All listed are exhorted to praise the name of the LORD because His name alone is exalted and, as has been stated previously, His glory is above earth and heaven. And He is to be praised, as well, for His rescue of His people.

As noted, this Psalm ends with that wonderful declaration “Praise the LORD.” Let us, therefore, enter His presence with gladness and humble thanksgiving so that we might join the ranks of those who have gathered to Praise the LORD.

 

Some Thoughts on the Divine Origin of the Church

Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. 5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs– we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”

The context of this passage is well known. Jesus has been crucified and He has appeared to His disciples following His resurrection from the dead. In the first chapter of this book, He explains to His disciples that they were going to become witnesses for Him beginning in Jerusalem, but eventually encompassing the whole world. When we look at the Gospels, we see that the same disciples were often confused about the things Jesus taught them and the things Jesus predicted. But at one point, Jesus promised a Helper who would come after Him to equip these disciples to carry out the commission given to them by the Savior.

The arrival of that Helper, who is the Holy Spirit, is recorded in the verses I just read. This happened on the day of Pentecost. This holy day occurred 50 days after Passover. Rabbinic scholars teach that Moses brought the law of God down from Mount Sinai 50 days after the observance of Passover. This particular day; therefore, came to have great significance for the Jews.

During the time of Christ, the Jews were somewhat scattered throughout the region. At this celebration, Jews would travel to Jerusalem from various locations throughout the empire. That is why so many areas were represented when this event took place (cf. vv. 9-11). The Spirit that comes on this day is the Spirit of Christ. He comes to prepare the disciples to take a new law to the world—the law of Christ or the law of liberty, as James calls it in his epistle. The law of God was given to make us aware of our sin and need for redemption. On this occasion, the One who kept the law of God perfectly for us so that we might be redeemed dispatches His Spirit to apply the victory He attained.

After this, the book of Acts records the phenomenal growth of the early Church. The disciples who were confused and timid become men of superior understanding and boldness. On this day, the transformation of the world began. And it is still going on in our day as the people of Christ speak, teach, and preach about Him throughout the world. The few thousand who were converted within days of this event have become millions upon millions over the centuries. This is the context for this passage of Scripture.

The disciples were gathered in an upper room that was used as living quarters. Based on the previous chapter, we know that they were devoting themselves to prayer and were probably discussing recent events. While contemplating their circumstances, “suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing when, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (v. 2) In addition, “there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.” (v. 3) This event had significance, not just for this particular day, but for the rest of their lives. And this event had significance, not just for the city of Jerusalem, but for the entire world. On this day, the subjection of the world to the King of Kings begins. Everything that grew out of this event, which includes the establishment and global progress of the Church of Christ, bears the mark of the supernatural. The Church is not a creation of man, it is a creation of God. The destiny of the Church is not in the hands of man, but in the hands of God.

What does all of this imply for the ministry of local congregations? I would mention first the matter of our mission. The mission of the Church is the conversion of sinners. The mission of the Church is the conversion of nations of sinners through the teaching and preaching of the words of Christ. In a local ministry, we must understand that our mission is to preach and apply the gospel. Only the gospel can bring about the salvation of a lost soul; therefore, the gospel must be the primary concern of the local church because we exist to save lost souls. Contemporary churches are often extremely confused when it comes to articulating their mission. As result, many churches have tried to become all things to all people, with the result that their primary mission, as assigned by the Savior, suffers from neglect.

In addition to bearing on the relationship between the local church and the surrounding community, the supernatural origin of the Church also relates to the nature of our worship. If the Church is of the divine origin, then it must reflect that truth in everything it does. And one of the most significant tasks in which the local church engages is the worship of God. The local church is obligated to make sure that the way in which God is approached on the Lord’s Day is acceptable to Him. It is God’s character that we need to consider when we decide what we are going to include or exclude from our service of worship.

Once again, we must admit that contemporary local churches are often severely misguided in this important area. It is common today for churches to structure themselves in order to attract visitors. This is exactly the wrong perspective. As a divine institution, the local church must reflect its divine origin. The Church is, once again, the creation of God through the Holy Spirit. This truth was made unmistakably clear on the day of Pentecost.

In our worship, it should be evident that we are offering our praise and our service to God, which in turn means that we are to worship Him according to what He has revealed to us. The worship of the local church is not the place for innovation, it is the place for tradition, tradition stretching all the way back to the giving of the Scriptures where we find what God says is appropriate. When it comes to worship, a disregard for tradition amounts to disobedience if that disregard causes us to introduce unbiblical elements into our worship. When I speak of disobedience to tradition, I am not referring to the tradition of man, but to the tradition of doctrine given to us by God. The Bible tells us what God accepts when it comes to His worship. That is our tradition.

The supernatural origin of the Church has implications for our mission and our organization, specifically our worship. I would add one more observation. This one concerns our expectation as local congregations. Based on what we know about the origin of the Church and the equipping of the Church by the Holy Spirit, should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the impact of the gospel in this world?

Let us acknowledge that the conflict between darkness and light has been decided. It was decided when Jesus rose from the dead, which is why the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ occupied such a prominent place in the preaching of the early Church. Since Peter stood before the people gathered in Jerusalem and preached, Christ has been applying His victory through the Church to the world. And we should expect that process to continue. The divine origin of the Church guarantees that history must unfold as an amazing application of the atonement.

We live in a dark day when it comes to the expectation of contemporary churches. The optimism that should accompany those who believe the gospel has been all but extinguished by the so-called “end times” eschatology. But understand that this is not the view that characterized the Church of Christ in the past; nor will it be the view that characterizes the Church in the future. But thanks be to God that eventually the Church will escape the clutches of this view that robs Christ of His glory and the Church of Her vision.

 

All Saints Weekly Devotional

Volume 2 Number 4

April 26, 2013

Joyful Noise

From Pastor Bordwine

 

O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. (Psalm 95:1)

Personally, I find that one of the most enjoyable and edifying elements of worship is the singing of hymns in praise of God. Early in my Christian life, I heard pastors and choir leaders emphasize the importance of paying attention to the words of our hymns. Eventually, I started following that advice and my perspective on hymnody in the worship of God was permanently changed.

Previously, like many believers, I imagine, I considered the sermon to be the most important part of public worship. While I continue to hold the sermon in extremely high regard, I also consider the singing of hymns to be a marvelous form of instructing the people of God and providing us with words of Biblical truth that amount to a common confession of belief concerning God and His works. Hymns provide the entire body an opportunity to declare the teaching of Scripture in reverent unison.

In the book of Psalms, there are several dozen verses that speak of singing praise to God as a proper and expected response to what God has revealed about Himself. As the verse quoted above indicates, the singing of praise to God is often found in the context of the joy and thankfulness the people of God experience when they contemplate His nature and works.

Hymnody was introduced into the worship of God by King David who was acting upon the explicit instructions of God Himself. God specified how the singing was to be done and even what attitude should be brought to this task. We know, therefore, that the corporate singing of the congregation is an activity that pleases God. With that in mind, we should engage in this activity to the best of our ability. We should sing with enthusiasm and with due consideration of the words we are proclaiming before God. While the level of competence may vary within the congregation, no Christian should be content to remain silent as the hymns are sung.

This Sunday, as you participate in worship, make it a point to meditate on the words of the hymns being sung. Take note of how God’s majesty, grace, kindness, love, patience, and faithfulness are extolled in those selections. And, to the best of your ability, make a joyful noise before our magnificent God.

For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by,

or as a watch in the night.

(Psalm 90:4)

Recently, I listened to a sermon by George Grant that was based on Genesis 8. In that chapter, we read about the end of Noah’s experience in the ark. For more than a year, Noah and his passengers endured all the trials and tribulations that you might imagine would arise in such a situation. Dr. Grant emphasizes, however, that when the day came for the door to be opened so that Noah could lead everyone out into the new world, his first inclination had nothing to do with himself. He did not think it was the time to walk around and relax, nor did Noah conclude that he had just accomplished some great feat; he did not heave a sigh of relief as if some tremendous burden had been lifted from his back. As soon as Noah left the ark, as Dr. Grant notes, he built an altar and offered sacrifices to God.

Noah’s initial concern was the recognition of God’s hand in that journey. The timing and extent of Noah’s ordeal are never mentioned as issues that troubled him. And this is in spite of the fact that God had not revealed His entire intention regarding the flood that covered the earth. Nothing was said about the duration of that adventure. When it was over, the primary thought in the heart of Noah was God’s worthiness to be worshiped.

As Dr. Grant stated in his sermon, this was such a fitting act given the circumstances. After that extended time of uncertainty, danger, and challenge, the worship of God was the most appropriate thing that could have been done. God had preserved Noah and all those with him in the ark. God had cleansed the earth of sin, as it were, and gave man a new beginning. Noah realized that he was part of a monumental work of God, the full implications of which were dawning on him, no doubt, as he stepped through the doorway and gazed upon the good earth.

Month after month, Noah remained faithful and carried out his duties waiting for God to accomplish His purposes. It was not a series of questions spoken by Noah that dominated those first moments after he stepped onto the dry land. Noah’s act of veneration captured the moment and Noah worshiped God because he believed that God had orchestrated all that had transpired. God had preserved all the occupants of the ark and had done so according to righteous purposes; and Noah was humbled and thankful to be involved in this display of God’s compassion and power.

How many times do we find ourselves passing through a challenging period during which we have little or no comprehension of what God is doing? And how many times are we tempted to think that no end is in sight? One of the most difficult obligations we face as Christians is accepting without question or alarm the timing of God. During challenging episodes, the weakness of our flesh and the limitations of our discernment can create barriers that prevent us from resting in God. But as the story of Noah teaches—and many other examples could be cited—God always has a purpose for whatever He ordains for us. Just because many days or weeks or even months pass, there is no reason to conclude that God has lost control or that He has been distracted. There is no justification for concluding that whatever it was that God planned to accomplish has been interrupted.

The key to confidence during our trials is trust in God’s promises as we fortify ourselves with the many wonderful examples of God’s merciful conduct that we find in the Bible and throughout history. We must remember that God’s timing is not subject to our perceptions. God only appoints and accomplishes that which is perfect. We will have no peace dwelling on the question of “how long?” Our peace will come from our conviction that all of our hours, days, years, and circumstances are held with tenderness and love in the hands of our heavenly Father for whom a thousand years is as a day.

Should churches “close” on Christmas Day? The fact that this question is seriously considered by churches across the country indicates the dismal state of the contemporary evangelical church. It indicates a faulty understanding of the Bible’s authority and a deplorable comprehension of the ministry of Jesus Christ. Most evangelicals, I would maintain, do not understand the nature of the Fourth Commandment, which has to do with keeping the Sabbath. Many assume that this law is no longer relevant because it refers to the so-called “Jewish Sabbath.” This is, however, not what the Bible teaches. This Commandment concerns the principle of Sabbath, not a particular day of the week.

The primary focus of the Sabbath is the temporary cessation of our ordinary routines so that a period of time may be designated for worship and rest. The term “Sabbath” (shabbath) refers to rest, but this rest is actually “work” of a another kind—the “work” of worship. Periodically, therefore, God requires His people to set aside their normal labors in order to concentrate on the tasks of worship and rest.

From the beginning, the Sabbath was intended to be a picture of the coming eternal state in which the people of God will have uninterrupted worship of God while being freed from all the implications and complications of sin. The Sabbath is tied to the issue of redemption, which means that it is joined to the work of Christ. The Bible teaches that it is in Christ that the sinner finds deliverance from sin and the ultimate consequence of sin, which is eternal condemnation. By offering Himself in our place, Jesus paid our penalty thus guaranteeing that we would have a place in the presence of God forever.

In the fourth chapter of Hebrews, the writer explains the relationship between the Sabbath principle and the work of Christ. He refers to the leadership of Joshua who successfully established the people of Israel in the land of promise (cf. Heb. 11:8-10). That land was a type of the uninterrupted peace that God has prepared for His people in eternity. The writer emphasizes, however, that Joshua did not provide the final rest for God’s people, but only a picture of it. He concludes: “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” (Heb. 4:9) The text makes plain that the continuing Sabbath obligation has to do with the work of Christ. Only in Him can true and lasting spiritual rest be found (cf. Matt. 11:28, 29; Rev. 14:13).

As already stated, the Sabbath doctrine has to do with our responsibility to set aside a portion of our time for the worship of God and related activities, and this is done in anticipation of the coming day of everlasting rest. This is the time when the redemption of the human race is finished and the Savior presents redeemed humanity to His Father (cf. 1 Cor. 15:25-28). Before the work of Christ was completed on Earth, the day of perfect and eternal rest (or Sabbath) was yet future. Therefore, God commanded that the people work for six days and rest on the seventh. This illustrated the truth that the rest of redemption had not yet been achieved. The Jews lived their lives in light of the promise of rest and they looked forward to the coming of the Messiah in whom they would find true and unending Sabbath.

With the completion of His work and return to heaven, those existing after the completion of Christ’s ministry live in a time of redemption accomplished. The labor of the Savior has forever secured our place in the eternal rest of God. Our Sabbath keeping is also symbolic, therefore. The nature of our week testifies that the promise has been fulfilled, redemption has been accomplished, and we may begin our labors with that certain knowledge. The change from a seventh day observance to a first day observance of the Sabbath was necessary in order to reflect properly the redemptive work of Christ. Rest was anticipated, but now it is realized.

All of this means that a weekly Sabbath is not an option, but an obligation, which is why you find a law regarding the Sabbath among the Ten Commandments. Just as we would not consider dispensing with the Commandments regarding murder, stealing, lying, etc., so we should not behave as if the law of Sabbath is no longer relevant.

Old Testament believers “preached” the gospel by working six days and resting on the seventh at the end of their week. As stated, this pattern taught that salvation and eternal rest were yet future in terms of having been secured by the Savior. New Testament believers also preach the gospel in the pattern of our work week by reflecting the fact that Christ has completed His mission. By observing the Sabbath on the first day of the week, we announce the finality of our redemption before we begin our earthly labors.

The Church is, of course, the primary representation of the Savior’s post-resurrection ministry to this world. In our weekly gatherings, we teach the gospel not only in our words, but also by the way we arrange our days and weeks. Due to the nature of Christ’s work, it would be inappropriate to continue observing the Sabbath rest on the last day of the week. It had to be changed in order to declare accurately the progress of God’s plan of redemption.

This makes the matter of Sunday worship an essential issue. If Christians do not meet for worship on Sunday, we misconstrue what has been accomplished by our Savior. The same thing must be said about those churches that substitute a Saturday night gathering for a Sunday gathering, which many churches do when Christmas happens to fall on a Sunday. The gathering of believers on the first day of the week is a testimony regarding the death and resurrection of Christ. The Old Testament seventh day Sabbath was in the grave, so to speak, with the crucified Christ. His resurrection from the dead on the first day of the week forever established the primacy of that day.

The question of whether churches should “close” on Christmas Day should never be entertained. We are commanded in the Bible to observe a weekly Sabbath; it is an imperative. This duty may not be set aside, therefore, for any other purpose—such as Mother’s day, Father’s day, or football. Following apostolic teaching, first century Christians continued the six plus one pattern of the Old Testament, but reoriented the relationship between the days. Sunday became the Lord’s Day (cf. Matt. 28:1 ff.; Rev. 1:10).

The answer to our question is “no.” Evangelical, Bible believing churches should never be “closed” this side of glory. In light of the above teaching of the Bible, the reasons put forward in favor of dispensing with Sabbath observance on Christmas Day are indeed pathetic. But as I said, the very fact that this question is being seriously contemplated illustrates the troubling status of contemporary believers when it comes to grasping and manifesting the glorious work of Jesus Christ, the Savior of our race.