Theology Thursday | Worship Through a New Covenant

Jesus Demonstrates Perfect Worship

While most of what will be examined from New Testament scripture will be drawn from the book of Hebrews, it is first necessary to look at the example of Jesus’ life as we approach the application of worship for today through the life of the One who facilitates our worship presently. David Peterson in his study on worship in the New Testament, also in Worship: Adoration and Action mentions that the life of Jesus is the “expression of perfect worship” (8). While this is not a difficult concept to grasp, it is also too easy to take for granted the sheer certainty that Jesus, God incarnate, lived a fully human life on earth. Through being tempted by the devil in the wilderness, and successfully rebuking evil, and giving devotion to the Father, and using the scripture from Deuteronomy 6:13: “You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name (NASB).” His refusal to succumb to evil and His proclamation scripture shows perfect obedience to God, obedience which is reflective of the Israelites pursuit of holiness. By being perfectly obedient to the Father, and His command to serve Him only, Jesus demonstrates perfect worship. Noel Due, in Created for Worship also places the theme of worship as central to Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Due claims not only is worship at the core of this account but also serves as the very core of Jesus’ entire life. “All of Jesus’ life was an expression of his worship to God his Father as he served him in thought, word, and deed, and ultimately as he set the captives free from Satan’s power through his sacrificial death” (Due, 55). There is much to comment on in terms of the implications on the scope of worship, which will be addressed at greater length when we look at a more practical theology. However, in understanding Due’s interpretation of this account it is evident that he views Christ’s entire life as an act of obedience to the Father. Thus, he goes on to claim that by quoting scripture to rebuke Satan, he was not ‘using the text as ammunition’ rather being actively obedient to the word. Through this account, we come to observe and understand the life of Christ as the perfect example of a life of worship; a life of active obedience to God.

Worship in Spirit and in Truth 

In John 4, Jesus dialogues with a Samaritan woman whom is concerned about the location of proper worship. Peterson comments that Jesus turns the question around, claiming the question that needs to be addressed is how to worship God in an acceptable manner.12 John gives account of this story in his Gospel, where Jesus responds:

Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”                  John 4:20-4 (NASB)

Jesus brings about the words in which worship is frequently defined today. Worship is acceptable when done so “in spirit and in truth.” To acknowledge Jesus as the truth (ref. John 14:6) also means we need to receive the Sprit who is available to those who believe in him, making Jesus the means in which God honoring worship exists in the new covenant. To worship in spirit and in truth is the very essence of human life and the way in which to come to truly know God. If Jesus is now the means in which we approach God in our worship, how does that relate to the God established regulations of the temple and the priesthood as their relation to the worship of the people?

Worship in the Epistle to the Hebrews                                                                                                                                       The Old Fulfilled in the New 

The temple, priesthood, and sacrificial system, are fulfilled through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The book of Hebrews gives account to Christian worship that is now possible through God sending His son to the earth as the new temple, the ultimate atoning sacrifice for sin, high priest, and mediator between God and man. The first notion of Jesus as the temple, or meeting place is a result of John 2 during the cleansing of the temple, when Jesus declared that if you destroy this temple, it will rise again in three days (v. 19). Jesus at this moment is referring to his body as the temple (This ‘prophecy’ is fulfilled in the resurrection). Hebrews 9 discusses the structure and regulations of the tabernacle that echo back to Exodus 25 as well as the Day of Atonement and the sacrificial system of atonement that was instituted in Leviticus 16.15 In verses 11-12, the tone shifts to signify Jesus’ fulfillment of the sacrificial system, the temple, and high priest.

“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption (NASB).”

These two verses acknowledge that a blood sacrifice was made for the atonement of sin; the important distinction lies in the fact that Christ did not offer a sacrifice of an animal. Instead, He offers up His own blood, His own life so that all may receive eternal redemption. Chapter 10 further expounds on Jesus being the perfect sacrifice in verse four due to fact that in the old system the animals had no choice in the matter of being offered as sacrifices, however Jesus willingly offers himself in accordance to God’s redemptive plan. Along with Jesus being the atoning sacrifice, He becomes mediator between God and man through His death on the cross.

The tearing of the veil that separated the holy of holies from the holy place as described in chapter twenty-seven in the gospel of Matthew opens up the holiest place for all who declare Christ as Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ fulfills the regulations of worship that were originally ordained by God in the old covenant. Sacrifice is no longer needed to atone for our sin, Jesus’ death on the cross brings an end to the sacrificial system. A high priest is no longer needed to mediate between God and man. The veil being torn has provided man the ability to draw near to God through Christ Jesus, allowing us to look forward to end of the ages, when Christ returns and the new Heaven, and the earth are formed. Due focuses a great amount of his examination of Hebrews on the core theme of worship; he coins it as the core theme of the epistle due to the high Christology found within the text. Due spends much of his analysis of worship in Hebrews in this understanding that Christ has indeed brought about a new covenant specifically a covenant that had been foreseen in the writings of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 31).

In Hebrews a whole cluster of concepts are inextricably related. Covenant, law, worship, priesthood, tabernacle and resting place all belong together, and in maintaining the integral cohesion of this constellation of ideas the writer is entirely at one with the Old Testament. One cannot have a change of covenant without a change in the system of worship. The new covenant, while fulfilling the old covenant, came about from the same ordination of the same God. We are now able to approach and draw near to God through Jesus, because God the Father sent his Son.

Worship of the Father is now facilitated by the Spirit, through the Son, and once more God provides the means in which we are able to worship Him, in Spirit and in truth. David Peterson adds to this argument by stating:

“Acceptable worship is something that God makes possible for us, through Christ: it does not depend on our own initiative, creativity, skill or worthiness.” There is no acceptable form of worship outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Because the new covenant in Christ has fulfilled the old, our worship is demonstrated differently from the time when sacrifice and high priest was a necessary component of worship. Hebrews 13 gives the foundation of acceptable worship in the days of the new covenant. Peterson comments on the importance that this passage plays on the worship Christians should be giving to God in their everyday lives. Verses 1-7 express the importance of upholding love and faith as means of worship, while verses 15-16 read:

“Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased (NASB).”

Acceptable worship is therefore exemplified through reverence and awe. Doing good and sharing to all is not just limited to corporate worship. “In its widest sense, this sacrifice of praise will be rendered by those who confess Jesus ‘outside of the camp,’ in various forms of public testimony or evangelism.” Worship cannot simply be limited to our gatherings with fellow followers of Christ. Our fellowship with others needs to flow into our everyday lives; our fellowship must encourage obedience and a lifestyle that glorifies God.

Worship in the Revelation to John                                                                                                                                               An Eternity of Worship to Come 

The theme of worship culminates in the Revelation to John, where in Revelation 22, there is further instruction that worship of God requires living a godly life, where Peterson adds further claim to the definition of worship as obedience and expression of faith in everyday life. Revelation additionally provides the vision of a day where there is a world living in ceaseless worship. Revelation 4 and 5, envisions a city in which God dwells among his followers who give endless praise to God and the Lamb, with echoes of proclaiming the worthiness of both God and Lamb. ‘You are worthy, O Lord our God (Rev 4:8),’ and ‘Worthy is the Lamb (Rev 5:12).’ These verses and acclamations of praise give vision of endless worship in the life to come to both God the Father, and to the Son. God has provided a means for his followers to worship in the old and new covenants, and there will come a time where He will once again dwell among His followers, in a new city provided by Him, where all who have placed their trust in Christ will join in never ending worship.

Looking Ahead 

Next week, we’ll begin to think a bit more practically. How can what we’ve learned from scripture help us to think practically about our corporate worship gatherings. What does biblically faithful actually look like from week to week? I hope that this can work in more of a discussion type format, so in the weeks to come, feel free to post comments, ask questions, or simply respond to some of what has already been posted!

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