Costly worship?

COSTLY WORSHIP?

Have you ever started out on some project or endeavor, only to discover part ways in that it was actually going to be much more costly and time consuming than you had originally planned? I’ve had such an experience recently with my youngest daughter and Highland Dancing. We put her in assuming that once fees were paid we were set to go, only to discover quickly that special shoes, different outfits for each dance, and extra days of rehearsal were also included in the cost of this pursuit.

And when you encounter that moment of realization, it forces you to answer an important question, viz. “Is this pursuit important enough to me to warrant the cost?” And once you say, “yes” (buyer beware) you are – by default now – agreeing to pay whatever costs may be associated with the pursuit of this goal.

But here’s the problem: with pretty much any pursuit or goal we embark on in life, we understand right from the beginning that there will be cost involved.  And we pay that cost because we believe that the goal/prize is worth it. And this is our common belief and understanding in every area of our lives … except in our worship of God. Somehow and at some time or another, we got it into our heads and began to believe that our worship of God shouldn’t cost us anything; that it should be free. But in doing so, doesn’t that belief have a direct bearing on how much we value the thing – or in this case the Person – that we are pursuing?

An Advent case study

Enter the wise men, which we read about in the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. As we look through their story, I think we see four ways that our worship of God is actually incredibly costly.  And yet if we agree that the Goal of our worship is as valuable as we say He is, then really no cost could be too high. Right?

Time

Worship of God will cost us our time. If we accept the theory that the wise men were of Babylonian origin – being raised up over the centuries under the influence of the Hebrew slave Daniel who Nebuchadnezzar had placed, in his day, over all the wise men of the Babylonian kingdom – then the journey to Jerusalem by major trade routes would have been over 800 miles. That’s like walking or riding a camel from Vancouver to Edmonton! And yet these wise men were so sure of their interpretation of this star-sign they had seen in the east; so convinced of the value of what they were coming to see, that they willingly paid the cost of time to make the journey.

And yet, how many – if we were to ask someone who knew us well – would say that the way we use our time in a week shows how valuable Jesus is to us? That we intentionally set aside time for daily personal worship that is not simply about sermon writing, as well as for family worship and corporate worship? How much of your time is your worship of God really costing you?

Reputation

The arrival of these foreign travellers to Jerusalem would have been the talk of the town; Twitter feeds would have been going crazy with #wisemen tags. They were even granted an audience soon after their arrival with the then reigning king over Jerusalem, Herod the great. Their reputation, in once sense, preceded them. And yet – so valuable is the goal of their pursuit to them – that the wise men instantly toss aside any status or reputation they may have had, by asking the reigning king in Jerusalem where the true King of the Jews had been born so they could go and worship him! This would not be unlike walking into Kim Jong Un’s palace in North Korea and asking him where the real supreme leader of north Korea was that was going to replace him!

In our own lives, being unwilling to risk our reputation to be identified with Jesus can seriously impede our worship of Him. The obvious reason is because, in protecting our own reputations over God’s, we are showing what (and who) it is that we truly worship above all! Are you willing to risk people’s opinions and maybe even misconceptions of you, in order to identify yourself with the One you treasure above all? The apostle Peter faced this very same question standing outside Jesus’ trial by a charcoal fire, and showed – that night anyways – that he was unwilling to pay the cost of worshipping Jesus.

Patience

It’s not commonly looked at, but vss 9-10 of Matthew 1 could indicate that – at least for a period of time – the wise men lost sight of the star they were following. And it was only after the star reappeared over the place where Jesus was born, that they found it again and greatly rejoiced. Worship of Jesus in that moment required patient trust and hope – even in the midst of darkness – that their journey had not been for nothing.

And at various times in our own lives – when the sky seems to go dark, when God seems far off, and we’re wondering if maybe we made this journey for nothing – will we pay the cost in our worship of patient trust in the goodness of God? Will we hold tightly to what we know and keep pursuing Him, until He reveals Himself once again?

Treasure

Whether or not we attach theological significance to the gifts that the wise men brought in worship of Jesus, what we can say is that what they brought was important to them; that it was meaningful to them; that it was the best of what they had to offer.

If you know your OT well, you’ll remember king David’s words in 2 Samuel when Araunah seeks to sell him his threshing floor for nothing. He says, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.

And yet how often is that exactly what we do? How often do we drape our pocket-change and garage-sale throwaways in theological language to make it appear much more costly than it actually is; all the while clutching our true treasures closely to our chest? Is Jesus truly the most valuable of your pursuits? Is there truly anything that you have that He does not already have rightful ownership over anyways?

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Do you see it now? Our worship of God is actually more costly than any other pursuit we have in this life! But it is only more costly because this Goal of our worship is also more valuable than any other thing we could ever pursue in this life. May our worship demonstrate and declare just how valuable He truly is to us.

Peter’s conundrum: living between the mount of transfiguration and the empty tomb

 

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If you’ve ever had that moment of confusion and disillusionment like Peter Pan’s kids in the Disney movie “Hook”, where someone you love and trust is given the opportunity to rescue both you and themselves, and they can’t (or won’t), then you understand the apostle Peter very well.  If you’ve ever cried, “Why not here God?” or “Why not now?” or “For me?” or “This time?” then you understand the apostle Peter’s deep struggle within the story of Easter.

Speaking out of the unshakable assurance he has now in the strength of Christ, and seeking to corroborate that truth, Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:16-18 of his eyewitness experience of Jesus’ transfiguration. This was where Jesus, for all intents and purposes, ripped open His robe to reveal a big red “S” (or maybe a “J”) underneath, showing His inner circle of disciples that He was, in fact, God in the flesh.  This experience followed shortly after Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ; the Messiah, and it must have confirmed in his mind, without a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus truly was who Peter had said He was.

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But all of this probably only heightened and intensified what must have felt like a hard sucker-punch to the stomach not many days afterwards, as Peter stared into the eyes of armed men and guards led by Judas Iscariot in the garden of Gethsemane.  When we read in John 18 that Peter – likely recalling that very moment on the mount of transfiguration – boldly steps forward and attacks one of the guards, cutting off his ear, only to watch in shock and amazement the all powerful God-man Jesus, whose glory he had witnessed … do nothing; to tell him to put away his sword; to look now so … so, weak and helpless.

This alone must have utterly shattered all of Peter’s confidence and trust in what he thought he knew about Jesus.  But still we see, only a few verses later, Peter huddled by a fire of coals in the high priest’s courtyard, clinging to the vestiges of hope in what he had seen on the mountain, as well as all that he had seen Jesus do before this; surely hoping against hope that now Jesus will finally burst once again from his fleshly shell and blow outta that place.  But once again Peter’s hopes are disappointed.  And more than that, now people begin to press in on him; circling around him like sharks with blood in the water … and Jesus is nowhere to be seen.

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Peter is now swirling in a whirlwind of questions and doubts; fully mind-jacked and devastated at Jesus unwillingness to show His power now and rescue both of them, or worse … unable to save them?  The fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy about Peter’s three denials only throws more wood on the fire burning inside Peter’s heart and mind, and in bitter distress and consternation, Peter runs full out into the black of night; he’s already in pitch black internally, so he may as well be there externally as well.

And then we hear, or see, nothing of Peter until after Jesus’ death; huddling in a locked room and trying to figure out where they all are supposed to go now from here.  He is not present at Jesus’ crucifixion; the sight of this would likely send him into madness.

In sermons and counselling sessions and hard conversations, we always jump quickly to say how renewed and joyous Peter was at the news that Jesus was alive; that all his dashed hopes and dreams were still very much intact; that he had been right after all about who Jesus was, and he hand’t needed to be so afraid or so full of doubt.

But what we lose in getting too quickly to that good news is that, for many many people today, this side of eternity or Christ’s return, we still – like Peter in this moment – are living between the mount of transfiguration and the empty tomb.  And we can’t see the end.  And we can’t discern God’s hand.  And our fingers are slipping from the last branch of hope.

For of course, Peter was right about Jesus.  Peter was utterly safe in this moment of his disorientation and this winter of his discontent … but, he didn’t know that he was.

And whether it’s you, or someone you’re ministering to, we must always deal with people where they are, not where they should be.  In this place where Romans 8:22-23 piercingly reminds us,

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only creation, but we ourselves, groan inwardly as we wait for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.”

(I love how honest the Scriptures are about suffering and pain in this life!)

But then, in that difficult place, the hope we find, or offer, in this “middle-earth” is found in the very next verses of Romans.  In vss. 24-26 we read this,

“Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

and then

“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.”

Hebrews 11:1 adds that,

“faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Jesus tells Thomas as his own doubts are overcome,

“Have you believed because you have seen Me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.”

The most telling words, as it relates to all of this, are what Jesus tells Peter in John 13:7, before any of this confusion begins, and He surprises/offends Peter’s ideas of “what should be” again by the washing of his feet, and saying,

“What I do now you do not understand, but thou shalt know hereafter.”

The hope we can cling to, or extend to others, in the groaning; the doubts, and the pitch black, we can learn here from Peter: Jesus was no less in control of, or caring for, Peter in this moment, than He was before, or after, this crisis fell upon him.  But the experience of that hope is only found as a child, holding all the more tightly to the hand of their Father in the darkness, trusting that He will be faithful – even there – to lead them through.  The hope to be found (or offered) is in trusting His sovereign control of all things, even in the groaning, hard places.  For He is no less in control there, then He is when the path is smooth and easy.

“When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace.  In every high and stormy gale, my Anchor holds within the veil.”