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We are continuing to talk about worship and today I want to show you –

A fundamental principle of worship

It comes from Exodus 34:20, talking about proper protocol for Israelite worship. This principle is this “no one shall appear before me empty-handed.”

I mentioned two weeks ago that in an ancient near eastern cultural context when you come into a king’s presence (or anyone of great rank) you were to offer up a gift that is fitting to honor them. We talked about giving praise and compliments.

Well, God is seen as the King, the great one  in the Scriptures, and so we should definitely bring gifts when we come before God

And this is the background context of Exodus 34:20, when the Lord says, “no one shall appear before me empty-handed.”

Another text that talks about this is Psalm 96:8. It says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts!” We are to bring a gift. This is connected to giving God the glory due his name. Bringing a gift is a way of honoring God; of ascribing worth to the Lord, which is the meaning of the English word “worship” – to ascribe worth.

We’re not completely unfamiliar with this practice of giving gifts to honor someone.

  • Have you ever been to a party and you thought you weren’t supposed to give a gift?
  • Have you ever seen a child who didn’t bring a gift to a birthday party?

Well in the same way, magnified greatly – we don’t want to come before God without a gift to offer to honor God. We don’t want to come empty-handed!

But . . .

What shall we bring?

In the Mosaic Temple system what you brought were things like burnt offerings, various other sacrifices, grain offerings and the like.

But as the prophets saw people were bringing these gifts before God but they were just going through the motions. The gifts were meant to be an expression of much deeper and greater gifts of the heart. But often their hearts weren’t in it. It was insincere.

Psalm 50:8-13 says, “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me. I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?”

In 1 Samuel 15:22 Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” God looks for sincere, heartfelt offerings.

Now we don’t live under the Mosaic Temple system, but as Peter tells us, we are a new temple. 1 Peter 2:4-5 – “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 (we are a temple), to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (our sacrifices).”  We are to give spiritual sacrifices and offerings to God.

Let’s get specific and look at –

Four acceptable sacrifices or gifts we can give to God

1. Our praise and thanksgiving (we talked about his two weeks ago)

We read from Psalm 50 that God doesn’t need or want insincere animal sacrifices. Instead it says:

  • “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving” –  Psalm 50:14
  • And, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me” – Psalm 50:23

Hebrews 13:15 says it this way, “Through him (Jesus) then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”

When we come before God, we give our praise and thanksgiving as a gift to honor God.

2. Our generosity. Giving of our resources to others in need is seen as a sacrifice to God in the Scriptures.

Hebrews 13:16 says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

In Philippians 4:18 Paul speaks of having received a gift from others to support his ministry. “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”

When we give of our resources to the needy, this is a pleasing sacrifice and gift to God.

  • We can do this by bringing offering as a part of a worship service
  • Or by simply giving to those in need

When we come before God we offer these up, as it were, as a gift, a sacrifice that honors God. “Father, we have done this to honor you.”

3. Our obedience. There is a lot of material here.

We already saw how in 1 Samuel 15:22 it says, “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.”

Psalm 40:6-8 says, “Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.’”

Specifically, such offerings of obedience have to do with how we treat our neighbor. Here are three examples focused on treating others with fairness and justice:

  • Isaiah 1:12-13; 17 – “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings . . . learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”
  • Amos 5:21-24 – “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
  • Micah 6:6-8 – “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Our obedience and righteousness is a pleasing sacrifice to God. When we come before God, instead of going through insincere rituals, these texts are saying we offer up our obedience – what you have done, by God’s grace as a gift to God.

But not only that,  in the words of Paul, we bring our bodies and present them as instruments to do God’s will in the future.

He says, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” – Romans 12:1.

4. Our humble repentance

We don’t always do God’s will; we often fail. But we can bring our sincere repentance as a gift to God.

Isaiah 1:11; 16 says, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats . . . Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil . . .”

David’s repentance is an example of this. “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 51:16-17.

When we come before God and we have failed, we should humble ourselves in repentance as a gift to God. And God will receive us.

These four things are the gifts that God desires and they are all gifts that we can bring. So let us not be empty-handed as we come before God. But bring an abundance of that which pleases and honors God, our great King.

William Higgins

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