Monday, July 17, 2017

The Blessing of True Worship --- Proverbs 15:8

Proverbs 15:8 
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
    but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.

The parallel between "sacrifice" and "prayer" is worth pondering.  Worship at the sanctuary or temple in the Old Testament was costly.  One came to worship with a sacrificial animal as a sacrifice to the Lord.  When David was offered oxen for sacrifices free of charge in 2 Samuel 24:24, his response was, "I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing."  The literal expense of sacrifice pointed metaphorically to the costly offering of ourselves.

Prayer, on the other hand, recognizes our inability to offer the Lord anything.  Prayer recognizes that all blessings flow from him.  Prayer recognizes our poverty and dependence before him.  Prayer recognizes that our Father is the Giver, and we are merely the recipients of his bounty. The Heidelberg Catechism says that the reason Christians need to pray is "Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us.  And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them" (Q&A 116).

So, while sacrifice points to the costly offering of ourselves to the Lord, prayer points to our poverty and the petitionary nature of prayer, as well as our thanks upon receiving his blessings.

In our worship, we are to offer to our Lord both prayers and sacrifice.  Romans 12:1 beautifully summarizes both aspects of our worship:

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."

Our salvation comes to us as a sheer gift of God's grace and mercy.  In order to receive this salvation, we call upon the Lord in repentance and faith, asking for his mercy.  The Lord promises his forgiveness and mercy to all who will confess their sins and turn to him to live in a new way:

            Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
                 but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy" (Proverbs 28:13).

The order of Romans 12:1 is vital.  First, is the gift of grace, mercy, and salvation.  Then, comes the offering of ourselves as a living sacrifice.  The usual order of Christian worship services throughout Christian history have followed this pattern.[1]  Early in the service we confess our sins and our need of the Lord, and gradually we move to the offering of ourselves which takes place after the sermon and supper.  In our services, there ought to be a theology of the cross, which is characterized by the humility of petition, confession, and thanksgiving; not a theology of glory, which sings of our own piety, congratulating ourselves that we are not like other sinners (cf. the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 8:9-14).  No, we enter into the Lord's presence as humble supplicants and needy children, who are prone to wander.  We come asking the Lord Jesus to instruct us and pour out his Spirit on us, so that we might once again offer our bodies to him as a living sacrifice.

The wicked in our proverb neither pray nor offer themselves as living sacrifices.  The wicked in today's proverb do not intend to leave their idols.  Nor do they seek the Lord's mercy through repentance.  Because the wicked are unwilling to seek the Lord's salvation or offer themselves to the Father, going through the motions of a worship service will do them no good.  Nor will their large offerings to the church or to the poor change their status before the Lord.  The lack of true prayer and sacrifice means that the wicked remain wicked, and an abomination to the Lord. Their empty worship, devoid of heart, becomes just a further provocation of the Lord. 

When we come to church, our desire should be to meet with our Lord Jesus Christ, who promises that he will be present in the midst of those who gather in his name.  We come to meet with him.  We come to hear him speak to us in the written Word and the preached Word.  We respond to his Word to us with petitions, prayers, and thanks that is sometimes accompanied by music.  We also come to receive his life and assurance through the Spirit as he speaks and gives his life to us through the visible signs of his broken body and shed blood.  And, then, in response to his grace, mercy, and salvation, we offer ourselves to him as a spiritual sacrifice.  When we worship this way, we have the assurance that we are "acceptable" in his sight, and what a blessing that is!


[1] The pattern is described as a covenant renewal service, one example of which can be found in Joshua 24.  For a book that thoroughly discusses the covenant renewal service, see Jeffrey J Meyers, The Lord's Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship.

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