Yesterday, I wrote how the words God, Man, Christ, Response help us to understand and explain the gospel. These words also help us to understand how we worship God together at Seven Mile Road. The gospel impacts everything, including how our Sunday worship rolls. Our worship service is patterned after the gospel and is in a sense a dramatic rehearsal of the gospel.
God: It begins with God. The very first thing we do is behold God. Our service commences with a Call to Worship. We look to Him and hear Him call to us through His word. We come at His invitation and because of His initiative. We recognize that we are on holy ground, standing before Him. So our service begins by beholding God. We listen to a portion of Scripture that communicates the greatness and majesty, splendor and glory, beauty and worth of God. We stand in silence and seek to have our minds and hearts filled with the awe and reverence that comes from knowing that we are in the presence of the Almighty. Like one stands speechless at the edge of the Grand Canyon, so we stand “still and know that He is God.” We stand humbled as we consider how great He is. We stand expectant and happy because we know that He is for us. As we gather, we are not trying to pry open His stingy closed hands or overcome some kind of resistance towards us. Instead, we know that His face is shining on us. His heart is for us. His arms have been stretched wide and palms opened in Christ. We who should run and hide, stand in reverent joy before God.
Man: Seeing God rightly helps us to see ourselves rightly. Beholding God helps us to see that He is transcendent, other, separate, and distinct. He is above, we are below. He is great, we are small. He is infinite, we are finite. He is unlimited, strong, wise, perfect, and pure. We are limited, weak, foolish, imperfect, and stained. He is holy and we are sinful. This drives us to the second movement in our service, Confession. We confess our sins before the Lord. We acknowledge that we have done what He has told us not to do and left undone what He has told us to do. We have sinned in thought, word, and deed. We have failed to treasure God as we ought and have worshipped lesser gods. All who rightly see God are led to confess. The prophet Isaiah saw God and said, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.” The Apostle Peter saw God and said, “Depart from me for I am sinful man.” The sinful tax collector stood before God with his head down and said, “Have mercy on me a sinner.” Yet the Scriptures promise that all who confess are forgiven. So we confess with confidence that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9).” And so in our service, we are invited to confess and assured that all who do so with repentant faith are pardoned.
Christ: Having seen God and acknowledged our sin, we are ready to come to God’s cure for sin, Jesus Christ. Jesus – His person and work – is in full view as we come to Word and Sacrament in our service. The Bible calls Jesus the Word (John 1:1). The Apostle Paul sees Jesus and the gospel message as so united that for him to preach the gospel is to “preach Christ.” To preach the Word is to preach Jesus and to preach Jesus is to preach the Word. And so when we come to hear the Scriptures read and preached, we come to Jesus. After we receive Jesus through the preached Word, we receive Him in Communion. Every Sunday we move from Christ proclaimed in Word to Christ proclaimed in Sacrament. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor. 11:26).” We remember the work of Christ and receive the gracious benefits of His death and resurrection as we participate in Word and Sacrament by faith.
Response: Having seen God (Call to Worship), having acknowledged our need His mercy (Confession), having seen that need met in Jesus (Word & Sacrament), we respond in worship. When the people of Israel were set free from Egypt, when they had crossed the Red Sea and saw their enemies defeated, what was their first response? Exodus 15 tells us that they bust out their instruments and sing. We do the same. God has forgiven our sins, defeated our Enemy, accepted us completely, and promised us eternal life and joy. That kind of good news demands a response. And so we sing. Corporate singing is not us trying to manufacture closeness to God, but responding to the fact that we are close to Him! We sing because that’s what forgiven, accepted, triumphant, jubilant people do. And when the last song for the day is sung, we finish our service with a call to go on mission. We respond to the good news that we have heard and received by committing ourselves to spreading this good news to those whom the Lord our God has called us to. We do this for God because of what God has done for us.
Of course there are elements of all of this that bleed into one another. But next Sunday, see for yourself how these four words shape our corporate worship.