Hebrews 12:25–29 (NKJV)
25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, 26 whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” 27 Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.
Today in this final Sunday of Advent we close our meditations upon Paul’s words to the Hebrews. Paul reminds us that as Christians we have received the unshakeable kingdom; that the temporary kingdom of the Jews has given way to the eternal kingdom of the Messiah. Therefore, as members of the Messianic kingdom, we are to approach God in corporate worship in a way that is acceptable, in a way that is pleasing to him. Note Paul’s words, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”
Last week we insisted that Paul’s use of the word “serve” in this passage is specifically addressing corporate worship. Latreuw means ‘to perform religious rites, to worship, to venerate.’ We also saw that Paul insists that there is a right and wrong way to worship God. He says that by grace we may worship God acceptably – implying, of course, that there is an unacceptable way of worshiping him. So what does it mean to worship God acceptably? Paul does not leave us to answer this question on our own – for he immediately qualifies his exhortation.
We are to worship God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire. Paul’s language leaves us in no doubt of his reference point. Ages ago when God appeared to Moses and called him to rescue Israel from Egypt, he appeared to Moses in the burning bush. And when Moses became curious and would have searched out the secrets of the burning bush God declared, “’Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals from off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground…I am the God of your father – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God” (Ex 3:5-6). Moses’ response to the awe-inspiring presence of the Lord in the burning bush is the paradigm that Paul uses to describe acceptable worship.
First, acceptable worship is reverent worship. The word that Paul uses here alludes to Moses hiding his face. It is the word used elsewhere to be ashamed, shame-faced, or embarrassed. By extension it means to bow one’s head with a self-conscious acknowledgment of inferiority or fault. When we come here week in and week out to worship, we come to meet with the high and holy one – the very one with whom Moses met on the mountain, the very one whose presence was transfigured on the mount such that Peter, James, and John couldn’t look upon him. So as we come, we are to come remembering that the One we worship is a consuming fire and so we are to be reverent.
Second, acceptable worship is fearful worship. When Moses was confronted by the living God, he was in awe, afraid to look upon him. Knowing that God is not to be trifled with, not to be treated lightly, we are to worship with this due sense of awe. And awe will manifest itself in obedience – when we hear the voice of the one we fear we listen attentively. God rebukes the Jews in Isaiah’s day for fearing men rather than fearing Him: “I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you should be afraid of a man who will die, and of the son of a man who will be made like grass? And you forget the Lord your Maker?” (Is 51:12) So when we come to worship we are to have godly fear.
So why do we do what we do? Why isn’t our worship hip and trendy? Why do we sing stodgy old psalms and hymns? Why don’t we dance and skip in the aisles? Why do we kneel? Why do we raise our hands together? Why do we recite creeds, pray sober prayers, greet one another with promises and even warnings? Because we are called to worship the Lord with reverence and godly fear.
And so, reminded that this is our calling, reminded that we come this morning into the presence of the same God before whom Moses quaked in fear, let us kneel and confess that we are unworthy in ourselves to be here and that we stand in great need of the sacrifice of Christ to cover our sins.