True Worship: The Cultivation of Life

“But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the Lord our God,’ is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?'” (2 Kings 18.22) These were the words of the Rabshakeh, part of the court of Syria, to Eliakim, Shebnah, and Joah. The Rabshakeh was challenging Judah on their trust in God because Hezekiah was calling Judah to worship God at the altar in the temple in Jerusalem.

The implication of statement by the Rabshakeh is that Judah (and all the nations at that time) believed there was one, and only one, way to worship their God, or gods. In Judah, you had to the temple in Jerusalem. There was only one site you could worship God. You could only present certain offerings or sacrifices for thanksgiving, peace, purification, cleansing, or atonement at the temple in Jerusalem. The book of Leviticus is all about the rules and regulations of worshiping God in one specific way.

In other religions, there may be rules about how to pray – certain positions, certain directions, certain times, certain words that need to be repeated. Others require specific activities or specific foods to be eaten on specific days. So, for every religion, including Christianity, there is only one way to worship to God.

Is that true?

Is there only one way to worship God?

Are these religious practices and rites even truly worship?

For most Christians, worship is simply singing songs to God, particularly slower songs. If you asked, I’m sure most Christians would disagree with that, but their words betray. Worship leaders lead people in song. Only the singing part of a service is referred to as worship. Or, “The worship was really good today” is said in response to the singing used good songs or had an electric quality to it. But, in truth, singing songs has nothing to do with worship.

True worship is the cultivation of life.

In John 4, the woman at the well said to Jesus, “Sir I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” The woman, who was a Samaritan, believed that there was one mountain in Samaria where God could be worshiped. However, she also knew that those who lived in Judah said you could only worship God in Jerusalem. Worship as tied to specific places with specific practices.

But, Jesus responded, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on 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 the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Jesus told the woman worship wasn’t about a specific place. This also meant that worship wasn’t about a specific practice or rite because that’s what the specific places were for. Worship could be done anywhere. But, it had to be in spirit and truth because God is spirit.

Jesus wasn’t saying that if we sing in the Spirit we are worshiping God in the spirit.

God is spirit.

In John 6.63, Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

Romans 8.10-11 says, “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness, If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

God is spirit means that God is life. The Spirit gives life.

This is why Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12.49-50) Everything Jesus said and did was about bringing forth the life of God.

Have you ever noticed how little the gospels focus on Jesus practicing the Jewish religion? How little time is spent telling us about the religious practices of Jesus?

But, the gospels continually tell us about Jesus bringing life to people – all people. Jesus brought life everywhere he went. Jesus worshiped everywhere in every situation to everyone because he did the one commandment his Father gave him and he knew that one commandment is eternal life.

To worship God in spirit is to worship God in life. We think of worship as singing or specific religious practices, but the Greek word for worship (proskyneo) means falling down, giving reverence, prostrating oneself before. Jesus isn’t talking about our physical position. However, he is talking about the attitude of our hearts. To worship is to lay down our own lives, to lose our own lives, so that we can give life to another.

True worship is creating the conditions for life in others.

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4.11-12, “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” Paul is saying he has lost his own life, laid it down. He carries about the death of Jesus in him in order that others may have life. Paul’s whole life, once he had turned away from breathing murder, was about cultivating life in others.

True worship is the cultivation of life.

Jesus is the image of God. He was the true Adam, the fulfillment of man. But, how was the first man, the first Adam, supposed to worship God?

There were no instructions about a temple, sacrifices, or any other religious practices. But, God did give mankind a command. In Genesis 1.26, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God is not saying that man should rule, plunder, rape, and pillage the earth for his own benefit. No, man should have dominion over the earth in God’s likeness and image.

But, what have we come to know about God’s image and likeness in the creation?

He creates and brings life – to everything. The entire chapter is about creating life, expanding life, cultivating life. This is the command that God gave mankind, who was created in the image of God. So, it is no surprise that it lines up with the command the Father gave Jesus, who is the image of God.

Or, consider Genesis 2. Verse 8 says, “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.” Verse 15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Again, there are no commands about temples and religious practices – things we consider worship. But, the job God gave man was to work and to keep a garden – to cultivate life. The words work and keep are the same Hebrew words that are used about priests and their activities in the temple. To work and keep the garden – to cultivate life – was to worship God.

Perhaps this is why Paul said, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3.5-6) The imagery is of gardening. The Lord assigns who plants and waters, who works and who keeps the garden. The Lord assigns the tasks of cultivation. God brings the growth. God brings the life.

Are these tasks of working and keeping only “religious” in nature? Are they things having only to do with temples and churches, preaching and leading “worship?”

Colossians 3.23 says, “”Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” How do we work for the Lord? We cultivate life. So, whatever we do, do it to cultivate life. Everything we do is worship if we are doing it to bring life in others.

Therefore, Jesus said that apart from him we can do nothing. In other words, apart from Jesus we cannot bring life to anything. But, with Jesus we have the Spirit flowing in us and through us. And, the Spirit gives life.

How do we know what we are doing is worshipful? How we do know what we are doing is cultivating life?

We just need to ask ourselves one thing. Is what I am doing producing the producing the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? If the answer is yes, then we are cultivating life and worshiping God.

Worship is not religious practices.

Worship is not singing songs in church.

Worship is a kind word to someone.

Worship is gentle hand of help to someone in need.

Worship is art that inspires love in the hearts of mankind.

Worship is work that meets the needs of other.

Worship is bringing peace to a stressful situation.

As Jesus said, “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'” (Matthew 25.34-40)

Who Caused the Plagues? What Are the Plagues About?

Today’s Reading: Exodus 8-10

Exodus 8-10 covers 8 of the 10 plagues that occurred in Egypt. I think what I would call the traditional, standard, or conventional reading of this passage is that God caused these plagues to fall on Egypt because Pharaoh would not let Israel go due to his pride and hard heart. The traditional view is that each of the ten plagues

  • water turned into blood so that all the fish died
  • frogs over the whole country of Egypt
  • gnats in all the land of Egypt
  • swarms of flies on Pharaoh, his servants, and all his people
  • a severe plague on the livestock in the field
  • soot from the kiln that becomes fine dust and causes boils over all Egypt
  • heavy hail that killed every man and beast in the field
  • locusts that covered all the land of Egypt
  • darkness that could be felt over the land of Egypt
  • the death of all the firstborn in a household that was not under the blood

were done by God to Pharaoh and Egypt.

But, is this God?

Is this how God acts?

Is this how God leads people to know him?

Is this how God leads people to repent?

Growing in my relationship with Jesus has forced me to change the way I read the Bible. Jesus causes me to read passages like Exodus 8-10 in a different way.

What do I mean?

Colossians 1:15 says, “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God.”

Hebrews 1:3 says, “He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”

John 12:45 says, “And whoever sees me [Jesus] sees him [God the Father] who sent me.

John 14:6-7 says, “I [Jesus] am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

John 14:9 says, “Whoever has seen me [Jesus] has seen the Father.”

John 10:30 says, “I [Jesus] and the Father are one.”

Jesus is the clearest picture of who God really is, what God is really like. We only see God, we only know who God is, when we see Jesus.

There was a veil in the tabernacle and the temple that separated the holy place from the most holy place. Israel couldn’t go into the holy place. The priests could go into the holy place. But, no one, except the high priest once a year, could go into the most holy place. There was a veil that kept them from seeing God clearly.

2 Corinthians 3:12-16 says, “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.”

Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

There is a veil over the Old Testament. It’s hard to read it clearly and understand what God was really doing and saying. But, there is someone that removes the veil. Jesus!

How did Jesus remove the veil? Jesus died on the cross and the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. For those who would come to him, those who would enter into the temple, they would see God clearly through Jesus. But, not just see Jesus in any old way. We could see God clearly through the crucified Christ that died for the sins of the world yet cried out from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

1 John 4:8 and 16 both say, “God is love.” How do we know love? 1 John 4:9-10 says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” We know love, we only know love, because God loved us and sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. God manifested his love in Jesus. God made his love a real, tangible thing that we could see, touch, and smell through Jesus.

Paul lists 16 attributes of love in 1 Corinthians 13. Just look at the last five. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Therefore, given that Jesus is the image of God, God is love, we can only know love through Jesus’ death on the cross, and it is that death on the cross that removes the veil to read Moses clearly, how can I can possibly read the ten plagues as something God was doing to Pharaoh and Egypt? How can I possibly reconcile that with all that I have come to know about Jesus’ death on the cross so that I could be free from Satan, sin, and death?

Further, in Exodus 8-10, Moses continually writes that God was acting so that Pharaoh and everyone else would know that he is Lord. In order to know the Lord, we must turn to Jesus. We must repent. God was calling Pharaoh to repentance. What leads to repentance? Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” God smiting Pharaoh and Egypt with ten plagues was God’s kindness leading him to repentance? Really? I don’t think so.

If not God, then who caused the ten plagues?

Have you ever noticed what happens to the person doing evil or wickedness in scripture? Goliath’s head was cut off by his own sword. Haman was hanged on his own gallows. Satan, who had the power of death, was defeated by Jesus’ death on the cross. The one acting wickedly is always done in by his own wickedness.

Proverbs 26:27 says, “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.” The following list of scriptures says exactly the same thing.

  • Job 4:8
  • Psalm 7:15
  • Psalm 35:8
  • Psalm 141:10
  • Proverbs 28:10
  • Proverbs 29:6
  • Daniel 6:24
  • Matthew 26:52

And, there are many, many more.

But, I want to call out one other scripture in particular. Psalm 7:16 says, “His mischief returns upon his own, and on his own skull his violence descends.” The evil one does violence, and his violence returns on his own skull.

Where was Jesus crucified? Golgotha, the place of the skull. We did violence to Jesus, the image of God, and that violence returned to our own skull. God was kind to forgive us of that. Seeing that kindness, leads us to repentance.

So, who caused the plagues in Egypt? God, who is love, such love that can only be known through the death of Jesus on the cross and his forgiveness from the cross? Or Pharaoh, whose own violence, whose own evil and wicked acts, was coming back on to him?

What was the wickedness that Pharaoh did? First, he had enslaved Israel in his own pride. Second, he worshiped everything but God. Each of the ten plagues is related to an act of worship of something that Pharaoh and Egypt held to be a god. Each plague was the wicked idolatry of Egypt coming back onto itself.

The plagues were an issue of worship. Egypt worshiped false gods to their own destruction. Yet, God was calling people out of Egypt, the culture, the belief system, the education system, etc., to worship him. God was calling people to go on a three day journey into the wilderness to worship him. Three days is the period from death to life. God was calling people to die to Egypt, the world, and come to him for life. God was even calling Pharaoh, if he would but listen. God was moving in the midst of that, trying to get Pharaoh to know him, trying to turn Pharaoh towards him.

The whole issue was about what, rather who, was being worshiped.

We must always remember that the cross, the crucified Christ, changes everything. It is the central pivot point in all of history. It changes, or it should change, the way we read the Old Testament. Jesus’ death removes the veil so that we can see God clearly in the Old Testament.

But, we must remember that even now “we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Let us turn to Jesus, through the teaching of the Holy Spirit, so that we can see the Father clearly in all the scripture.

Jesus, Believers, and the World: The True Exodus, A Story of Worship

Today’s Reading: Exodus 5-7

Exodus is the account of Moses leading Israel out of the land of Egypt. But, this story foreshadows another exodus, a greater exodus, the true exodus.

In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen.” Moses’ prophecy is fulfilled by Jesus. According to Luke 9:35, while Jesus was on the mount of transfiguration with Peter, John, and James, a voice called out from heaven, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”

In Exodus, Moses is a type of Jesus.

Israel is the people of God. In Genesis 46, we see that Israel was made of the 70 people that came into Egypt with Jacob. These 70 were the descendants of Abraham. They are connected to the 70 nations dispersed from the sons of Noah and represented the nations of the world that would be blessed through the promised offspring, who Paul says was really Jesus, not Isaac.

In Romans 9:6-7, Paul says, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.'” Just because you descend from Abraham by flesh and blood does not mean that you are a child of Abraham. Well, then, who is a child of Abraham? Paul says in Galatians 3:7, 29, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham…And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” The true people of God, the people of the promise, are those that believe the gospel just as Abraham did.

In Exodus, Israel is a type of the believer.

What Egypt is is not as explicitly stated in the Bible, but we can infer what it represents from the whole of scripture. In Matthew 2, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to take Jesus and his mother to Egypt. Matthew 2:15 says, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.'” Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world. These are just a few points that help us understand what Egypt is.

In Exodus, Egypt is a type of the world.

Therefore the true exodus is Jesus leading all those that believe in him out so that they are no longer of the world and can worship in spirit and truth.

That was a rather lengthy, but I believe necessary introduction, to what the Holy Spirit immediately laid on my heart this morning as I read Exodus 5.

Moses and Aaron had gathered the elders of Israel. They spoke all the things God told them to speak and did the signs God gave them to do in front of all the people. And, the people believed and bowed their heads in worship.

At the start of Exodus 5, Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh. They tell Pharaoh that God said, “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.” God spoke to the ruler of the world and basically said let my people go so they can worship me. “But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.”

The Holy Spirit immediately brought to my mind Jesus’ conversation with Pilate just before he was crucified. Shortly before that conversation, the people proclaimed hosanna to Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. They believed he was king and worshiped him like the Israelites believed and bowed their heads to worship at the end of Exodus 4.. But, Jesus is arrested and led before Pilate, who symbolized the ruler of this world.

Jesus had been gathering people, people of Israel, to himself to worship God in spirit and in truth. When Jesus was brought before Pilate by the chief priest and elders, Pilate asked who he was and what he had done. In John 18:36, Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Jesus is saying, “Let my people go.”

Pilate says, “So you are a king?” Like Pharaoh, Pilate is thinking strictly in earthly terms. He’s thinking that Jesus is a king like him, or Caesar, and he wants an earthly kingdom. In John 18:37, Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” I think many read Jesus’ statement as if he was saying “I was born king.” But, I don’t think that’s what he is saying here. Jesus says to Pilate, “You say that I am king.” That’s what you say, but not what I’m saying. Jesus then tells Pilate why he was born – to bear witness to the truth. In fact, Jesus is truth and everyone who is of the truth listens to his voice. Jesus is talking about worship. He is saying, “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.”

But, Pilate said to Jesus, “What is truth?” Pilate said exactly what Pharaoh said. “I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.”

Pilate sends Jesus to be flogged. Pilate meets with the Jews. The Jews say that Jesus declared himself to be the Son of God. Now, Pilate was afraid. So, he asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But, Jesus didn’t answer. Clearly this angered Pilate. Pilate said, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” What does Pilate mean by this? I think he was telling Jesus that he has authority to take his life so Jesus better worship him. But, in John 19:11, Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” Jesus was saying I will not worship you, but I will worship the one in heaven who has authority over you.

Most of the rest of Exodus 5 is about Pharaoh trying to get the worship that belongs to God and how the Israelites struggled under the burdens of Pharaoh could not believe and worship as they did at the end of Exodus 4. How so?

God wanted his people to go into the wilderness a three days’ journey to have a feast before him. Three days is the time between death and life, the period of time between Jesus’ death and resurrection. God was calling his people to a new life to worship him, to believe who he is. Jesus was asked what people must do to be doing the works of God. In John 6:29, Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

However, Pharaoh told Moses that by going out into the wilderness to worship he was taking the people away from their work. Moses was just trying to get them our of their burdens. Pharaoh told Moses and Israel to get back to work. Their work was to make bricks. And, Pharaoh was determined to make their work, their brick making, as difficult as he could.

So, Moses was talking about worship, believing, which is the work of God. And, Pharaoh was talking about making bricks, work, burdens. Did you know making bricks is a type of self-worship or the worship of man by man? Genesis 11:3-4 says, “Come, let us make bricks…Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Mankind wants to get worship by building his own city, his own temple, so that man can gather together to themselves.

But, I left something out of Genesis 11:3, “And they had brick for stone.” Man builds with brick. God builds with stone.

Genesis 28:18-19 says, “So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel.” Jacob had seen a vision of a ladder with angels ascending and descending. He saw a vision of heaven and earth connected. So, he set up a stone and poured oil on it – a living stone. And, Jacob called that place Bethel – the house of God. Jacob recognized that God builds his temple, his place of worship, with stones not bricks. Man can make bricks, but he can’t make stones. Only God can make stones. And, only God can make stones live.

Jesus was the cornerstone, the chief stone, the stone that the builder’s rejected. Listen to what Peter says when we come to Jesus to worship, when we go out into the wilderness three days’ journey for a feast, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” God builds his city, his temple, with living stones, men and women who believe, not bricks.

Therefore, Pharaoh wanted to build his own temple through the work of man with bricks. He wanted man’s worship. Of course, Pharaoh is a type of Satan here.

But, God, Jesus, Moses, wants a different kind of work, a work that is believing God. God does this work with living stones. I think Hebrews 11:8-10 sums it all up, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”

Let my people go. Let them go out. Into the wilderness. Three days. From death to life. They won’t know where they are going. But, by faith. By faith dwelling in the land of promise. A foreign land. As strangers. Not of this world. Living in tents. Sojourners passing through. Looking for the city, the temple, built by God. This is what a lifestyle of worship looks like.