God is absolutely jealous for His people. He isn’t jealous like a little boy is jealous for his favorite book. God is jealous for His people and their affection and adoration, as a faithful husband is jealous for the affections of His wife. In John 4:21-24, Jesus spells out rather clearly the sort of worship God is jealous for, the very worship God demands. The people of His time had debated, for far too long, about where God ought to be worshiped. Rather than address this particular issue, Jesus pulled back and pointed to a greater issue at hand. Namely, that God is immensely concerned for the manner in which His people worship Him.
The Jews under the Mosaic covenant (also known as the Old Covenant), were obligated to worship God in a particular manner, and in a particular place. However, what was often missed was the temporary arrangement of the aforementioned covenant. The Apostle Paul tells us in the epistle to the Galatians, “The law was our guardian until Christ came” (Gal. 3:24 ESV) Indeed, the covenant was handed down by God with an expiration date.
When the author of Hebrews contrasts the covenant of Moses with the New Covenant of Christ he says this, “In speaking of a new covenant, [Christ] makes the first [covenant of Moses] obsolete.” (Heb. 9:13 ESV) The ethnic centered dynamics of the first covenant, its “shadows” and “types,” were useful until the substance of that covenant came. In other words, all the worship of the old covenant, from the priesthood and Temple to the very sacrifices all pointed to the person and work of Christ Jesus our Lord. It was no longer necessary once Christ came and inaugurated the new covenant by His broken body and shed blood. What must also be highlighted is that under the new covenant God’s promises were no longer focused upon a single ethnic group (the Jews), but expanded to include people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
As we survey the words of Christ, it is important to note that He is not saying, “Worship God as your heart desires!” Quite the contrary, as our great High Priest, Jesus obeys all the Law perfectly in our place and suffers the penalty due for our disobedience. When we peruse the Old Testament what we find as a sad norm is the failure of the Old Testament church to honor God in their worship.
One example comes to us in 2 Kings 17:15-16 where we read, “They [being Israel] went after false idols and became false . . . . And they abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God” (ESV). As you finish that passage you find that Israel was killed as a nation for worshiping as they saw fit. They were not celebrated for their creativity in worship. It led them ultimately into exile. The objects of their worship were false (Asherah, Baal, and other false gods), and the manner of their worship was false (two golden calves, statues, child sacrifices, divination, occult practices, cult prostitutes, foreign methods which God never commanded) and so they too “became false.” To sum it all up, any worship not commanded by God is by necessity false worship, which God does not delight in.
However, having the appropriate forms of worship without the heart behind them is equally egregious. Jesus tells us in v. 24, “those who worship God must [worship Him] in spirit and truth.” (ESV) The worship God desires is spiritual, meaning that it must come from the depths of your heart, from your very being.
In the Old Testament, Israel’s formalism became an offensive odor to God. Even today we may be plagued by this by reciting thoughtless prayers, singing thoughtless hymns, and even approaching public worship with an air of indifference. God has never celebrated form for the sake of form. When our public worship is without substance (without our hearts) it is nothing other than a facade. We must amend this, even now.
What will you give to God this Advent season? Will you call out to Him begging for His Holy Spirit to transform you? Will you consider how you worship and if it is actually pleasing in God’s sight; that is, rooted in God’s Word? Ask God to change your heart so that your worship would not be empty, and that you would not exist as a spiritual imposter. You need not pursue this. You need simply to take up your sinful, duplicitous hearts to the Lord and He will not turn you away. He’s in the business of straightening out crooked hearts, and He does so with joy. Let us take up God’s Word to see what He desires of us, and lift up our hearts with all that are and love the Lord our King in spirit and in truth.
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