In 701 BC the Assyrian king Sennacherib came and threatened Jerusalem (the king at the time was Hezekiah). The field commander of the Assyrian army was talking to some of Israel’s senior officials to warn them of Assyria’s intended assault when he said:
“But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the Lord our God,’ is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and said to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’?” (2 Kings 18:22).
The point I want to make, this has actually nothing to do with the (failed) attack from Assyria, but what it tells us about the Israelites’ approach to worship. The commander’s comments show that the general understanding of everyone at that time was that the high places and false worship that God condemned was actually intended by the people of Israel to be of worship to Yahweh, the true God.
All those altars would have been dedicated to the name of Yahweh, the God of Israel, the same way that the golden calf of Aaron during the Exodus (Exodus 32) would have been made to represent Yahweh as well. So in both cases I suspect the items were set up with good intentions, but were considered by God to be sinful and rebellious because they didn’t take into account what he had actually told them about the worship he sought.
This is a sobering challenge for us today. It seems more and more that people’s worship of God is defined by their own desires and convenience, and they assume that as long as it’s all conducted in the name of Jesus, God will be pleased with it.
Never mind the fact that his Word is questioned and rejected in large measure.
Never mind that during the week a large proportion of those attending the church live like pagans.
Never mind that their key life decisions are all about their own welfare and happiness.
As long as someone is a nice person they must be doing OK with Jesus, right? I don’t want to be too cynical, but I am coming to realize that many times “nice” is just a brilliant disguise.
In our affluence it is so easy to confuse and therefore substitute the worship of ourselves with the worship of God – and I know I’m not immune either. But worship in the name of Jesus must be consistent with what He actually says, not who we or the world would like Him to be. If we focus on just presenting the “nice” bits of Jesus at the expense of the whole gospel we misrepresent him and are false worshippers just like those in the passages mentioned.
If our good desire to lead people to Christ causes us to distort the truth, not only does it attract the wrong people, but we are presenting a dangerous caricature of the true Lord Jesus, who is not Jesus at all but a product fabricated in our own image with no power to save. An image “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5) – an image more and more prevalent in these last days. I fear many pastors are building a kingdom, but the question needs to be asked: Whose kingdom are they building? Whose name is on the structure and whose glory is that organization promoting?
John the Baptist said it best, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). It’s about continued repentance and humility to take God at His Word.
Brothers and sisters, may our attitude be like this:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).
Amen, come Lord Jesus!