God’s Third Command clearly demands that we worship Him corporately and privately. However, it is not the type of command that says, ‘Worship Me or else I will punish you!’ Rather, the urgency is more along the lines of, ‘Eat, or else you will starve to death.’ Those who separate themselves from worship are cutting themselves off from God’s Word and Sacraments. They’re missing out on His eternal gifts. In this sense, worship truly is a necessity.
BUT(!) at the same time, private and corporate worship are also a true joy as we rediscover Whom we are encountering face to face, where we encounter Him, amidst what company, and in what awesome realm, all while we gather around His Word and Sacraments. I believe if we declare both the necessity and joy of worship, many of our inactive members will rejoin us and many unbelievers will anxiously follow us into this heavenly realm.
The Wages of Sin is Death!
Worship is a necessity because through Word and Sacrament God is making dead people live. We are all conceived and born dead in our sins thanks to Adam. As soon as he ate the forbidden fruit, his spirit died, and later his body. His dead spirit began hating God and his dear wife, Eve. His words, “It’s that woman whom You gave me!” really mean: “Damn Eve for my sin … oh and God, you should also damn Yourself. A better God would not have made this incompetent woman!!!” Adam refused to take ownership of his guilt, but the fault was all his. So also our guilt is nobody’s fault but our own.
Paul declares all who inherit Adam’s sinful nature to be “dead in sin…” (Ephesians 2:1). Jesus describes this spiritual death: “For everyone practicing evil hates [Jesus] and does not come to [Jesus], lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:20). We are so dead in our sin that we can’t find God, choose God, or come to God!
Thanks be to God, the Second Adam Comes to our Rescue!
Romans 5 describes Jesus as the second Adam. Jesus, being true God, also became a human when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary. Later He was born a human when Mary’s water broke. Immediately Mary had to nurse Jesus to keep Him alive, and Mary and Joseph had to keep cleansing Him as well as teaching Him and protecting Him. These ‘facts of life’ bring us to the essence of worship.
In Worship, God Preaches us Into Life and Gives Birth to us in Water
Since we’re spiritually dead, our conversion is nothing less than the miracle of God creating life out of death. It comes first by speaking. That’s why the Holy Spirit preached Jesus into Mary’s womb through Gabriel, and why Paul declares, “Faith comes by hearing the Word of God” (Romans 10:12–17).
This miracle of creation happens every worship service. God speaks through His Word creating life out of dead things. This preaching of Jesus into our hearts parallels His conception in Mary. Therefore, as He was later born of Mary when her water broke, so we are born of God when the baptismal water breaks. Jesus says, “… unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
In Worship, God Keeps our Spirits Alive by Cleansing and Feeding us
Now that we are born of God, worship continues to be a necessity because, if we are to remain spiritually alive, it is essential that we be cleansed and fed by God. Therefore, God uses His Word to feed and cleanse us wherever we hear it—at home, at church, everywhere it’s proclaimed. Jesus said, “You are already clean because of the Word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). Jesus continually speaks you clean of your sin as you read and hear His Word!
Jesus adds, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). God’s Word is bread from heaven feeding those who are conceived and born of the Holy Spirit. Even if a baby or senile Christian does not understand His Word, they are still fed and cleansed by it, which is why they and all people need to abide in private and corporate worship throughout their lives (note: a baby need not understand enzymes to be nourished by milk).
And of course, on Maundy Thursday Jesus speaks of the Vine (i.e. grapes/wine) just after serving Communion to urge us to abide in Him through Communion (John 15). In Communion His pure, living flesh and blood flow to our sinful, mortal flesh and blood like sap from a vine, making us one flesh with Him in every way.
In Worship, God Teaches us His Ways and His Will
Note that, after His birth, Jesus grew in years and understanding. Luke writes, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature…” (Luke 2:52)! Just as young Jesus needed to be catechized about this world, so we need to keep learning about God’s world! Therefore, while the Word of God in corporate worship and family devotion is primarily life-giving, life-cleansing, and life-sustaining, it is also catechetical. It instructs us in the will and ways of God, our new Father.
In Worship, God Defends us From all Evil
When Michael the archangel defeated Lucifer in heaven, he used the Word of Jesus and the Blood of Jesus. “And they overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb [Jesus] and by the Word of their testimony…” (Revelation 12:11).
It is by no coincidence that the worship service is made up of two parts: The Service of the Word and the Service of the Supper. So worship remains a necessity throughout our lives, for during worship Jesus’ Word and Blood are driving all evil away from us.
In Worship, we Stand With Angels and Archangels and all of Heaven
While worship is clearly a necessity as the time when God creates and sustains eternal life in each of us through His Means of Grace, it is even more so a true joy! Isaiah 6:1–3 reveals that God’s throne is located in church! Flying above the throne are seraphim singing the Sanctus: Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God of Sabaoth. That’s why Hebrews 4:16 calls you to “come boldly to the throne of grace…”
Furthermore, Hebrews 12:22–25 says you worship on the unseen Mount Zion. The heavenly Jerusalem, God’s actual Holy City, is there. More angels than you can count are there. Christians who died and yet are very much alive are there. God, the Judge who judged His Son on the cross in your place, is there. Now, the words in verse 24 regarding Jesus, His Blood, and the New Covenant are very important, for they tell us where to find Mount Zion. It is wherever Communion is served!
So, as you gather in church before the altar, you are literally standing before God’s throne. Above your head fly seraphim singing the Sanctus. Before you stand archangels Michael and Gabriel beside God’s throne, on either side of the altar. All around God’s throne are cherubim guarding the Presence of God. Your loved ones who died in Christ are there. All of heaven is there, as God Himself speaks life into you. And this all happens where Communion is served, at the altar. To walk up to the altar is to walk into the Holy City of God. Does this mean God has thousands of thrones, one in every church? No, rather, each Christian altar is a window into His one heavenly throne. Still, is there anything more awesome, more exciting, or more joyful than standing face to face with God in Heaven before His throne amidst all the company of Heaven as He joins His Son’s human body to your human body, making you pure and filled with His everlasting life?
Worship and the Facts of Life
It helps to understand the necessity of worship when we notice the parallel between the Son of God becoming a human, and a human becoming a child of God through His Word and Sacraments! As Jesus was preached into Mary’s womb, so Jesus is preached into your heart (conceived by the Holy Spirit). As Jesus was “born of the Virgin Mary” when her water broke, so you are born of God when the baptismal water breaks. As Jesus needed to be fed and cleansed constantly by Mary and Joseph, so you need to be fed and cleansed regularly through God’s spoken and sung Word. As Jesus needed to grow in understanding of this world, so you must continually be catechized about God’s world. As Jesus needed to be protected by His parents, so you need daily and weekly to be protected from seen and unseen deadly forces. For all these reasons, worship is truly necessary, but even more so, worship is pure joy!
Photo courtesy of Elisa Schulz Photography