Leviticus 17:1-9 – And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,  “Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel and say to them, This is the thing that the Lord has commanded.  If any one of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp,  and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it as a gift to the Lord in front of the tabernacle of the Lord, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people.  This is to the end that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they sacrifice in the open field, that they may bring them to the Lord, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the Lord.  And the priest shall throw the blood on the altar of the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting and burn the fat for a pleasing aroma to the Lord.  So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations. “And you shall say to them, Any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice  and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it to the Lord, that man shall be cut off from his people.
A believing man slaughters an animal for sacrifice. He knows he is a sinner. He knows that God has instituted the sacrifices as atonement for sin, when offered in faith. So he slaughters the animal and offers it as a sacrifice in his back yard. He means well. But God will not accept it. The problem is that this is what pagans do. They sacrifice their goats and offer them to their gods in their back yards and practise their religion without the strictures of the God of heaven setting down those unreasonable standards. God commands that sacrifice only be done by a qualified priest and only at the tabernacle. This is to prevent the people from being so similar to the pagan worship by which they are surrounded, that they will eventually start worshipping the false gods that the pagans worship (Leviticus 17:7). Sounds a lot like Romans 12:1 & 2 where we are told that presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God through transformed lives, not conformed to the world, is our spiritual act of worship. The point here is that how the Israelites worshipped was not a trivial matter.
No Israelite could claim that since his heart was right it just did not matter how he went about offering his sacrifices. And neither can we say that since our hearts are in the right place it simply does not matter how we worship. This opens up a gargantuan can of worms about the “how” of worship, the elements of worship and the essentials of worship. But we’re not going there. At least I don’t think we are.
We certainly do not look to the Levitical law to find out the elements of worship but we should remember that the Book of Leviticus has been preserved for us for a reason. The chief reason is Jesus Christ. The Law points to Christ, the need for Christ, the fulfilment work of Christ, the sacrifice of Christ, the priesthood of Christ.
God demands perfection in how we worship Him. He demands perfection in everything. We are not perfect and we are accepted now on the basis of Christ’s work on our behalf. But just as the free grace of Christ does not lead us to live a life of licentiousness neither should it lead us to shoddiness in our worship.
Leviticus tells us this ; it matters how we approach Him. 1 – We can only approach Him through sacrifice. The sacrifice is of Jesus Himself. 2 – Worship is a privilege purchased for us by Jesus at the cross. We need to remember that if our worship is acceptable to God it is not because of us. To recite the Lord’s Prayer in a church service with fellow believers is a privilege purchased for us by Jesus on the cross. To go to church, pray, sing, preach, and hear preaching, receive the cup and the bread; these are all things that Jesus has ensured are not a waste of time because of His death and resurrection. We can only come to God through sacrifice – His Son’s. 3 – The heart of a real believer will desire to come in a manner that pleases God. There is an incredibly wide variety of worship practises and it is not right to suggest that the essence of worship is in the forms, the order of service, or the liturgy. The way to please God in our worship is through Jesus Christ. Realizing that what enables me to worship is the humiliation and suffering of the eternal Son of God will have a powerful impact on those He is pleased to call brothers. 4 – Worship that God accepts starts with a broken and a contrite heart (Psalm 51:16-17). We do not waltz into the presence of God in our worship as if God is privileged to have us there. We come, in whatever way we come, with a heart that is broken, thankful, joyful, humble and eager to have God give to us in our worship more than we will ever give to Him. Because we come in such a way, we will not fall into thinking that how we approach Him just doesn’t matter. Our attitude will not be that any old thing will do. We will be so stunned that He accepts us at all that we will come with reverence and awe. 5 – We will be eager to know that if there is anything in our formal times of worship that really is a hindrance to true worship taking place we will excise it. 6 – Worship is received. It is not invented. We do not decide how to approach God in formal worship. In fact, worship is not us going to God. It is God coming into our presence. The Gospel is always about God coming to us.
Not all form is simply a matter of opinion or taste or feeling or culture. Some of it really is a matter of obedience. The New Testament is glaringly absent of rules about how to go about corporate worship in the public gathering of God’s people. But there are some hints about what needs to be included. 1 – Prayer. When Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer He was talking about a corporate prayer. It begins with “Our” and talks about our daily bread, our sins, and our temptations. 2 – The Word. Timothy is commanded to preach the Word. Peter reminds us that it was the Word that was preached to us (I Peter 1:25). 3- Singing. Paul tells us that we are to speak to each other in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual song (Ephesians 5:19), a mark of being filled with the Spirit (verse 18). 4 – The Lord’s Supper. The first church in Jerusalem was devoted to “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42) and Paul indicates that even though the Corinthians made a mockery of the Table, it was the Lord’s Supper they were attempting to observe when they met together (I Corinthians 11:20).
God does not set down rules about how these elements are to incorporated into worship and that is just so good. When the church around the world worships on any given Lord’s Day, there will be a worldwide demonstration of culture, taste, variety. There will be formal liturgical worship and free spirited formless gatherings. There will be bishops in rich regalia leading the people to the throne of grace and leaders in jeans leading their people to the same place. There will be prayers offered in cathedrals by the people of God and prayers offered in small rooms. There will be singing that will wake the neighbours and singing that must be kept from the neighbours for fear of the authorities. There will be prayers recited that were first written in the sixteenth century and prayers offered extemporaneously that have never been written and will never be uttered again. The Lord’s Table will be received by people who walk to the front of a church to have the elements placed in their hands by a church official and there will be a circle of believers sitting together and passing the elements to one another.
And this one thing will be common to all of those who really are worshipping. They come gladly to God through faith in Jesus Christ with broken and contrite hearts. Because that is what God requires and that is what God has enabled and that is what God receives with great joy.
Have a great weekend. And Sunday, rejoice that God allows you to join with others, attributing to Him His great worth.