The Highest Form of Worship is Obedience
Zechariah Lesson 15, Chapter 7: 1-7 (continued)
“Now in the fourth year of King Darius it came to pass that the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, on the fourth day of the ninth month, Chislev, when the people sent Sherezer, with Regem-Melech and his men, to the house of God, to pray before the Lord, and to ask the priests who were in the house of the Lord of hosts, and the prophets, saying, ‘Should I weep in the fifth month and fast as I have done for so many years?’
‘Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying, ‘Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me—for Me? When you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves? Should you not have obeyed the words which the Lord proclaimed through the former prophets when Jerusalem and the cities around it were inhabited and prosperous, and the South and the Lowland were inhabited?’”
Jesus is the King of the Jews, the King of the Universe and the King of kings. These truths were clearly established in the previous chapter. Today we are going to build on the fact that Jesus is King.
We hear a lot about the word ‘worship’ in the modern church. We hear about worship services, and people say they are going to ‘Sunday worship.’ Many Christian concerts are billed as worship events. Some types of music are classified as worship music. We often hear the older folks lament that we don’t sign the old worship hymns, and the younger complain that we need more modern, upbeat worship songs.
Sadly, many people do not know what worship is. We get our idea of worship from the world. It is a kind of dreamy, almost entranced experience when we see our favorite rock star (Christian or not), when our favorite actor and actress comes close, or when we get posters of our favorite artist of the month, so to speak. We look up to them, dress like them, buy the products they buy, and identify with them.
If we were to look up the word ‘worship’ in a dictionary, we would find words like reverence, adoration, obeisance, and others like these. However, according to www.Theopidia.com, the root meaning of the word is to ‘depress or prostrate oneself.’ It can be translated as ‘bow down,’ ‘fall down,’ ‘make to stoop’ or ‘humbly beseech.’ Notice that these are all actions. They cannot be separated from the inner person.
I was once told that the act of a dog licking the master’s hand was the idea of worship. It was an acknowledgement that the master was just that—the master.
The Bible is not opposed to emotional responses; God gave us emotions and Jesus expressed emotions. He cried, He became angered, He sorrowed, and He was at times frustrated. These are the normal emotions of men and women. The problem, as I understand it, is that many of us do not get past the emotions; and once they fade, the idea of honest and truthful worship fades as well.
Being a Christian is awesome! It can emotionally charge you. You know, you get saved; the Holy Spirit moves in; and, man, it is just awesome! You are overrun with emotions. Some people cry, some laugh and smile, some get quiet, some can’t shut up, and on and on. But eventually the emotions subside, and the act of living the new life becomes mundane.
Like all babies, you have to learn to crawl, walk, fall, get back up; trip, and get back up. If you get hurt, you have to get back up, and on and on. In response to this a lot of people just settle for the cheap emotional rush. They go to a worship service and they sing a few songs. Don’t get me wrong; they sing heartily. They put their all into it: they smile, laugh, say amen a lot, get this glow on their faces, and fall in love with everybody. But then the music stops and they stop too.
Their worship has no effect on their lives; they just like the rush. It is like a drug, and churches are the suppliers. They don’t stay at churches long because they need a new rush often: new music, new sound; they are looking for something deeper, they would tell you.
These persons are not involved in the Lord’s work. They are takers, not givers. They are always receiving but there is never output. They never volunteer to serve, never speak of Jesus outside of the ‘worship’ on Sunday or Saturday night, or whenever they went. This idea of worship just becomes a habit; it is just something we do, but it is not who we are.
Rituals are Empty to God, verses 1-6
In the first six verses, we find a discussion about the ritual of weeping while in captivity in Babylon. In the fifth and seventh months, the people would send the priests to pray before the Lord and to weep before the Lord. Even after the return of the people to Jerusalem, they were still doing this ritual.
We see in verse 1 that it was the fourth year of Darius. The new Temple was built, and now the people were sending the priests to weep in the Temple and to pray before the Lord.
One of the men dares to ask the question, ‘Should we keep doing this?’ He had been accustomed to doing this for many years, and he wanted to know if he was to continue. God (His word through Zechariah) steps right up to the plate to offer an insight and to challenge the man and his Jewish brethren. The question was and is today, ‘For whom did you weep? Who were you weeping for all these years; seventy, we are told. You said it was for the Lord, but who was it really for?’
In the end of verse 6, God points out that they did everything for themselves. They were not sorry for their sins, and they were not sorry for their transgressions before a Holy and Righteous God. They felt sorry for themselves that they were in captivity. They were not sorry about why they were in captivity.
It is so easy for us to get this way; Woe is me! But we forget that we are the recipients of the rewards of our own sinfulness. We disobey God and are surprised that we get a discipline from God. We are like the teenagers that disobey their parents repeatedly and seem astonished that there is a consequence. They get mad that they got caught, not that they disobeyed their parents; and the broken trust often takes a long time to restore.
I was certainly this way; I know for sure that I broke my parent’s hearts often with my selfish and absolutely disrespectful behavior.
As a bit of an aside: Earlier this year the Lord helped me to teach through the verses in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 about love. The very first observation we get in verse 4 is this: ‘Love suffers long and is kind.’ Most of us can deal with the ‘suffering long,’ but it is having to be kind as well that hits deep and hard. We love to talk about our suffering; we wear it like a badge of honor, but we rarely talk about how we were kind to the ones that hurt us and caused us to suffer.
For seventy years, the people of the nation of Israel – not all of them obviously – but a vast majority of them lamented their state in life as captives in Babylon, but did not think that they had ‘hurt’ God.
They, like we do, had taken advantage of His grace, his kindness, His love, His mercy and His patience. They, like we do, put on a good show of remorse and repentance; but that is all it ever was—just a show. Yet, God, in His genuine love for the nation and the people, delivered them. He gave them protection and helped them return to their homeland. He helped them begin to flourish. He made the kings of the world supply their needs; and He showed them that, even as they made Him ‘suffer,’ He was still a kind and loving God.
God calls us to authenticity. If you claim to be a child of God and call Him Lord, then live this way. If not, then live that way, but stop walking on the fence. God can see through your façade, so you might as well live like He wants you to.
Obedience is the True Act of Worship, verse 7
God asks a simple question: If you are so sorrowful and find it so important to enter the Temple and weep, why not just obey me? It did not have to come to this; it did not have to come to death, destruction and captivity. All the nation had to do was to obey. All anyone has to do is to obey the Lord. Yes, we are sinners and we will fail. But what really began the journey down to captivity was idolatry.
The people of Israel simply refused to stay away from false gods. They followed after idols, killed their babies, and inter-married with pagan people. They turned their backs on God, called on other gods to save them, and assigned God’s victories to others. Eventually, God just became a bystander to their lives. All worship became a mere ritual with no meaning, just tradition.
We see this every day in a practical sense with the Queen of England:
She is the monarch legally. She lives in the palace. She wears the crown, and people do obeisance to her in the form of bowing or standing when she enters a room. But in reality she does not have any real control over them. She is, for all intents and purposes, just a really rich figurehead.
For a lot of Christians, that is all that God is, a really rich figurehead. He is ‘brought’ out for special occasions like Easter, weddings, funerals and Christmas, but then He is shelved away until we bring Him out again.
As we get back to the idea of what worship is, we can then truly understand what God expects. He expects us to be physically and spiritually humbled: bowed down, prostrate, face down before Him. He wants us to be truly sorry for our sins and truly repentant.
We are a dual-natured people, those of us that are saved. We have the old nature of sin and the new nature of righteousness fighting inside of us. We will fail; and yes, thank God that we will win as well. When we fail, God has asked that we confess our sin—that simply means to agree with God that we have sinned. We do not seek to excuse or justify our sin, but we humbly agree with God that we have sinned, and He will forgive us. This is true worship.
God asks that we obey Him. Jesus said, “If you love me keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
There is no ulterior motive here, just a plain explanation of what worship is—obey me.
There is no point in singing loud and long, no point to all the instruments and all the practice, no point of getting together if we have no intention of obeying God; if we have no intention of acknowledging that He is our King, and as such, has put certain rules, boundaries and precepts in place that are not up for negotiation or question. They are simply there to be obeyed. The Bible clearly lays these out and we need to be familiar with them.
Obedience requires submission; this is an act of worship. Obedience requires humility, another act of worship. Obedience requires deliberateness and knowledge of what we are obeying; these are also acts of worship.
You see, once we have these things in place, then we can sing worship songs. But if we sing without obedience we are fooling ourselves; we are obviously not fooling God. Come, let us determine, like Joshua and others to serve the Lord. Let us obey, let us submit, let us bow down, let us fall at His feet, and let us obey. Let us honor our Heavenly Father with obedience.
Deuteronomy 11:1 “Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always.”
John 15:14 “You are my friends if you do what I command.”
Luke 11:28 “He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
James 1:25 “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”
These are just a few of the verses that make it clear that obedience is what the Lord requires. I fail—man do I fail! I thank my God that He is merciful to me, a sinner. He will be merciful to you as well.