Warning to Worshipers
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, November 2, 1997
Copyright © 1997, P. G. Mathew
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken--that is, created things--so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire."
All human beings are created for one purpose. What is it? To worship the one true, living, and triune God--God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Yet because of sin, the vast majority of the people around the world do not worship the true God. Instead, they worship idols, whether they are the idols of ideas, the idols of things, the idols of power, the idols of money, or whatever. But that is not true worship.
What Is True Worship?
True worship, meaning worship which God accepts, is performed by a person who has been qualified to come into God's presence--the Most Holy Place, the heavenly Mount Zion--through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, through faith in his person and his work. It is Christ's blood alone that makes us perfect. Only the blood of Christ can cleanse our guilty consciences and qualify us to worship God.
A true worshiper, therefore, is one who partakes of the blessings of the new covenant. He has received a new heart, meaning he has been regenerated and his very nature changed. And because of this spiritual resurrection, such a person can now know and love God experientially. All his sins have been forgiven and he can enter into life, into God's kingdom, by faith.
In John 4:23-24 we are told that authentic worship is the worship of God, who is Spirit, in spirit and in truth. We are enabled to worship God in this way by the Holy Spirit. God does not want us to worship him according to human ideas. We are to worship according to God's own infallible revelation as found in the Bible. And as we gather together to worship in God's way, we are told in Hebrews 12:22-24 that we are worshiping with all elect angels and all God's saints, in the heavenly places and upon this earth. It is tremendous blessing to so worship God and, in turn, be richly edified and blessed!
Know Whom We Worship
In this portion of Scripture, Hebrews 12:25-29, we are given certain warnings to which we must now pay heed if we want to know how to worship God acceptably. The first thing we must consider is whom we are worshiping. When we come to worship God, we must be sober and know who he is. We must have an intelligent apprehension of the attributes of the God of the Scriptures. A good summary those attributes can be found in the Westminster Confession of Faith's description of God as found in chapter 2, section 1:
There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just, and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.
This is but a summary, but I recommend that you read the rest of chapter 2 as well. It will be a good exercise to do so before coming to worship so that you will know who is the God that we worship.
Do Not Refuse Him Who Speaks
In Hebrews 12:25 we read, "See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks." This is another warning. In other words, we are to pay complete attention to this great, glorious, transcendent, almighty, all holy, most absolute God who is speaking to us. This is our sacred duty as creatures of God and as the company of the redeemed.
Now, biblical history tells us that when they were in the wilderness, many Israelites failed to heed the voice of God. So in Hebrews 3:12 the writer tells us, "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God." And earlier in that chapter, in verse 7, we read, "So, as the Holy Spirit says: 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, "Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways." So I declared on oath in my anger, "They shall never enter my rest."'"
When God speaks to us, we must see to it that we do not refuse him. In Hebrews 1:1-2 we read, "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. . ." The revelation of God in its fullness and in its finality has come to us in his Son, Jesus Christ. And in Hebrews 2:2-3 we read, "For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" So not only is God speaking to us through his Son, but he is telling us of his great plan for our salvation.
In Hebrews 13:7 we read, "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you." The writer was speaking of the pastors of this church, men who had lived exemplary lives, declaring the gospel of salvation and living in accordance with that gospel. They had died, but the writer was saying, "Remember them!" In verse 17 he wrote, "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority." Why? Not only did God speak through his Son but today he is also speaking through his ministers. And what is he speaking about? His great plan of salvation. So we are warned: Do not refuse him who speaks! Do not reject him, turn your back on him, or turn away from him.
God speaks to us in many, many ways. He speaks to us when we read his word and he speaks to us during our times of private worship. God especially speaks to us through the preaching of the word as we are gathered together for our public worship. But God also speaks to us when we fellowship with the saints of God and when we come for counsel Did you know that? At those times it is God who is speaking, not just human beings. And in all these situations, every time he speaks, God is setting before us his great plan of salvation.
What, then, is the writer to the Hebrews telling us? Do not refuse him who speaks. Let me ask you: When you read or hear the word of the Lord, are you listening to God? Do you realize it is not just the preacher or some other human being speaking, but God himself? Can you discern God's voice? In Revelation 2 and 3 the resurrected Christ gave a message to seven churches and he concluded each message with the words, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
When we worship, we must always remember that we have come to God the judge of all and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant. We may speak to God when we worship but let us not forget that God also speaks to us. Let us listen with believing and loving hearts and great humility so that we may understand and do God's will.
Next, the writer to the Hebrews warns us that if we refuse to listen to God and turn away from him in apostasy, we shall not escape. "If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?" (Heb. 12:25).
In Luke 14 we read of God sending out invitations for a great banquet. Beginning with verse 15 we read, "When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, 'Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.'" This is the great eschatological hope of God's people--the enjoyment of God's great salvation and communion with God. There is no greater blessing than that.
But then Jesus told a parable: "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.' But they all alike began to make excuses." This is a refusal, and, in fact, the same word is used here as we find in Hebrews 12. What were the excuses? "The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.' Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.' Still another said, 'I have just got married, so I can't come.'"
These people were invited to God's great messianic banquet, meaning to come and participate in God's great salvation. But they refused the invitation. Why? They were not needy. These people were too busy to come. They had other things to attend to. But notice what Jesus states in verse 24: "I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet," meaning salvation. This is a serious warning and threat from the one who authored this salvation.
Let me ask you: Are you like these people who refused and turned away from this man because they didn't have a need? Why would we do that? Because we don't seem to perceive that we have a need. We are all busy and full.
I teach a class for young people. Recently I said, "If you don't come, even one time, without an authorized excuse, you will be out." One young man got up one day and said to himself, "What is the big deal?" and he didn't come.
What is the big deal about God's banquet? Who needs it? Aren't we all busy with lots of things to do? Aren't we all full and secure, in need of nothing? Let me assure you, if you say such things, you are a nothing but a fool--a blind fool. You cannot see your most severe need, which is the leprosy of your soul. But here Jesus warns us that those who refuse him will never taste his banquet.
The Fate of Those Who Refuse God
The writer to the Hebrews speaks of the fate of those who refused God when he spoke upon earth. Both God and his servant Moses spoke on Mount Sinai. What happened to those who did not listen? "Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Heb. 10:28-29). When we reject the gospel, we are trampling underfoot the blood which was provided by God to deal with our sins so we could come to his banquet. When we reject God's invitation, we are despising and treating with contempt the only Sovereign of the universe, the only Redeemer, King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ. When we reject one who speaks for God, we are rejecting the triune God--the Father, Son and Holy Spirit--who produced this salvation. So the writer continues, "For we know him who said, 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' and again, 'The Lord will judge his people.'" And then he concludes, "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:30-31). This is a serious warning.
In 1 Corinthians 10 we read about what happened to those who refused to listen to God in the wilderness. In verse 1 Paul begins, "For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and they all passed through the sea," and so on. And in verse 5 he says, "Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert."
Why did these things happen? "Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did" (v. 6). "These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come" (v. 11).
There Is Still Time to Listen
Today God is still speaking to us in his Son who is in heaven. What is he speaking about? His great salvation. From heaven God is telling us how to flee from his wrath by trusting in his one and only Son and by appropriating the shed blood of Jesus Christ who died in behalf of us on the cross. (PGM) He is telling us how to escape the floods of destruction by entering into the ark of safety. He is telling us to escape the flames of Sodom by fleeing to safety.
The message of God from heaven is that we must leave behind all the rituals of externalism and come to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith and eternal redemption. God's message is: Look unto Christ and be saved, all of you. His message is found again in Revelation 22:17: "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." This is the wonderful message from the lips of the one who speaks to us today from heaven.
Let me assure you, no one will escape God's judgment if we refuse him who speaks from heaven. Therefore, do not harden your hearts. Do not turn your backs to him in arrogance and stubbornness. When a minister of the gospel speaks to you in mercy and compassion and in the love of Christ, do not harden your heart or be arrogant. As a minister, when I see a person demonstrating hardness of heart, defiance, and arrogance, I see demons working in him. But when I see a person confessing, repenting, and humbling, I see the Spirit of God resting upon him. We must always remember that repentance, humility, and confession are of God--divine things--not something that we can manufacture ourselves.
Therefore, when you hear God's voice, run to him, pray to him, and trust in him. God will receive you with measureless love just as the father of the prodigal received his son. And then you will participate in the joys of the heavenly banquet, the blessings of God's kingdom.
The Great Shaking
Next, the writer of Hebrews warns us of a coming great shaking. Now, we have heard of shaking before. God shook Mount Sinai when he spoke from earth, and throughout history he has shaken the earth in judgment. In fact, we who live in California expect a big shake, meaning a big earthquake, at any time.
But in this passage God is warning us that the real big one will far exceed what anyone can imagine. It will be God's final shaking. And I must ask anyone who is challenging God with your finite mind and limited brilliance: Do you suppose that you will withstand this great shaking that God himself will bring about? No! You must realize that you are nothing and less than nothing. In fact, the Bible says whole nations are nothing! How, then, can you be arrogant and unrepentant enough to despise the Son of God and treat his blood with contempt? God will shake both the earth and the heavens, we are told in this text.
The Bible speaks about this big one. In Isaiah 2:19-21 we read, "Men will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from dread of the Lord, and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth. In that day men will throw away to the rodents and bats their idols of silver and idols of gold which they made to worship. They will flee to caverns in the rocks and to the overhanging crags from dread of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth." We read about it also in Haggai 2, Mark 13:31 and so on.
In 2 Peter 3, verse 7, the apostle tells us that this big shaking is in the program of God. "By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men." And in verse 10 he says, "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare."
Shaken and Exposed by God
When God brings about this final shaking, he will shake everyone out of their hiding places. He will uncover and expose them to face the kingdom of God in all its powerful sovereignty.
So in Isaiah 28:17 we read, "I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place. " All places of refuge will be blown away and everyone will be exposed to face him who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Isaiah continues, "Your covenant with death will be annulled; your agreement with the grave will not stand. When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by, you will be beaten down by it. As often as it comes it will carry you away; morning after morning, by day and by night, it will sweep through. The understanding of this message will bring sheer terror. The bed is too short to stretch out on, the blanket too narrow to wrap around you." And then Isaiah concludes, "The Lord will rise up as he did at Mount Perazim, he will rouse himself as in the Valley of Gibeon--to do his work," and then we are told something about that work--"his strange work, and perform his task, his alien task." What is God's strange work and alien task? Bringing judgment to people who refused him.
In Hebrews 12:26 we read, "At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, 'Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.'" This is God's decree, his decision, his promise. Now, the Greek word for promise in this text is found in the perfect tense, meaning God made a promise and he will keep it. On the day he shakes all things, God will perform his strange work, his alien work, of judging the arrogant, the impenitent, and the unbelieving.
What does this shaking consist of? We read about it in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:24-27 in the account of the wise and foolish builders. There will be torrential rain, rising rivers and violent storms. These are tests designed to knock down all refuges of lies and make manifest what they really are--lies.
What will happen then to those who trust in themselves or their philosophies? Let me tell you what will happen. In Daniel 2:44 we read, "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever." The stone that comes down from heaven, the kingdom from heaven, meaning Christ, will crush all other kingdoms but it "itself endure forever."
God's Lasting Kingdom
Another warning is given in Hebrews 12:27: Only God's kingdom shall remain. "Pay attention!" the writer is saying. Why? A day is coming in which all idols will be thrown away after they are shown to be useless and worthless. Only God's kingdom shall remain. And what is God's kingdom, the unshakable kingdom? The text says it is the sovereignty of God.
If you do not want to confess Jesus is Lord, if you do not want to pray, "Thy kingdom come," if you do not want to kiss the Son, if you do not want to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and serve him only all of your life, then be warned. You will be greatly disappointed when God shakes, destroys, and removes all that you trust in. You will be forced to confess the reality of God's abiding, divine sovereignty and experience the pain of judgment and death.
In Philippians 2 Paul says every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess this sovereignty of Jesus. All people will say "Jesus is Lord" to the glory of God the Father.
What, then, will remain? In Psalm 102:25-26 we read about the abiding nature of the kingdom of God. The psalmist says, "In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end."
God will shake and destroy and remove all things, meaning created things, the things in which people trusted instead of trusting in their Creator God who is blessed forevermore, and God alone will remain. All will be stripped naked to face the only ultimate reality which is the kingdom of God--God's rule, God's power, God's majesty, God's glory, God's law, and God's justice.
Therefore, the writer of Hebrews tells us, "Be sober! Take heed! Beware! Be warned! Pay more careful attention to the one who has spoken in the past and graciously still speaks." Why? God is still speaking words of mercy, love, comfort, and consolation. He is still setting forth his great plan of salvation.
All those who pay attention to God's voice and trust in Jesus Christ receive a kingdom that is unshakable and indestructible. And in a measure we already experience the blessings of this kingdom, which is eternal life. What are some of the blessings? They include the blessing of being admitted to God's presence by the blood of Christ and the blessing of engaging in the highest duty and privilege of worshiping God and enjoying him forever.
Thus, in a measure we already experience the blessings of God's kingdom, but for the fullness of that blessing we still await. And so the writer to the Hebrews gives us another warning: "Show gratitude." In verse 28 we read, "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful." That is a warning to people who are not very thankful.
Why should we be grateful? In God's great mercy and love he has given to us in Jesus Christ the gift of his abiding kingdom and all the spiritual blessings therein. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus. We do not earn or merit this kingdom. It is Christ's kingdom and he gives it as a gift to all who trust in him. Therefore, we must show gratitude--gratitude for a gift given and received.
Do you remember the story of how Jesus cleansed ten lepers? Nine of them went away and only one, a Samaritan, came back. Why did he come back? To give thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ who healed him. We must realize that unthankfulness is a curse, a disease. Wake up, and let us praise God for granting us an inheritance of this kingdom! A true recipient of God's abiding kingdom shall, therefore, show gratitude in worship.
In Luke 12:32 we read, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." And in Luke 22:29, Daniel 7:18 and Daniel 7:27 we are told that God is giving us a kingdom, which is the only the unshakable, permanent, abiding, ultimate reality. Therefore, our gratitude to God should be permanent.
Gratitude Results in Worship
What does gratitude result in? Worship. And just as our gratitude to God is permanent, our worship is not just for today. We will worship God forever. We are for the praise of his glorious grace. This eternal gratitude will express itself in terms of worship.
Now, true worship consists, first of all, of a certain heart attitude. We love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength--that is our inner attitude. But then that inner attitude will be expressed externally. First, it will be expressed in adoration of our God and we will unceasingly praise God for who he is and what he has done. Second, the love of our heart will manifest itself in acts of service.
So we are told in verse 28, "let us be thankful and through which"--that is what the Greek text says-- "so worship God acceptably." In other words, worship is an expression of thankfulness. The Greek word for worship in this section is latreuo, which is also found in Hebrews 9:14 where we are told we are saved for the purpose of worshiping God.
What does latreuo mean? It is a word used for worship but not the kind rendered by a group of Aaronic priests. This particular word refers to the worship of all God's people. Additionally, this word latreuo has the meaning of serving or worshiping God in all areas of our life. Worship is for all of life. There is no sacred and secular, no profane area. All of life is sacred for a Christian. So this verse speaks about honoring and worshiping God in our work life, in our family life, and in our church life. That is the purpose of redemption.
Therefore, we are to give thanks to God for his great salvation, for his abiding kingdom, by living all of life as service to God. We are to do this, not only just when we gather together for public worship, but every moment of every day. The most terrible mistake people make is thinking that worship means a Sunday morning get together for one hour from eleven to twelve. That is a false conception of the gospel.
Do Not Refuse God
In conclusion, see to it that you do not refuse him who speaks from heaven. See to it that you do not show arrogance or turn your back on him. See to it that you do not trample down the blood of Jesus Christ. Why? Because he who shook once will shake again. This time it will be cosmic, and every lie will come loose. You will be exposed to face the ultimate reality of the sovereignty of God in Jesus Christ. And at that time God will do his strange work, his alien work--something he doesn't like to do, apparently--of bringing judgment on people. The Bible tells us God wants all to be saved, but all are not going to be saved.
There are some people who are going to remain arrogant, thinking they know it all. There are some people who will never acknowledge anything or say, "I did it." Such people seem to have selective amnesia and it is an amazing thing to observe. But on that day when the final shake comes, they will all be exposed to the sovereignty of God and will be judged by him.
So I ask you again: Will you really bow before Jesus Christ with your heart? He speaks words of salvation now, but he will speak words of judgment then. Then he will speak in a voice that will shake all, but now his voice is gentle. Now he is inviting us, saying, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." May God help us to come to him, kiss the Son and rejoice with trembling. Amen.
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Copyright © 1997, P. G. Mathew
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