A sermon from June 1, 2014
1 Corinthians :6-8, 1 Peter 2:24, 1 Peter 2:9, A precise God, Acts 2:36, All Hail the Power of Jesus Name, Colossians 3:5, covetousness, Crown Him With Many Crowns, Ephesians 2:3-6, Eugene Peterson, fear of the Lord, Hebrews 1, Hebrews 1:5, Hebrews 4:12-13, I-Me-Songs, idolatry, Isaiah 66:1-2, Jesus Is My Boyfriend, John 14:6, John 17:5, Luke 2:14, Malachi 1:8, Matthew 1:38-39, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, Praise, Prayer, Psalm, Revelation 5:9-10, Richard Rogers, Romans 3:10-12, Romans1:4, Shia Linne, Songs, Thomas Brooks, Thomas Watson, Vapid Songs, Worship, Wrong Songs
Notes for a sermon on Hebrews 1:5a
Hebrews 1:1–6 (ESV)
1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
5 For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”?
“I will be to him a father,
and he shall be to me a son”?
6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
Look down at verses 5-6. These contain three quotations from the Old Testament. Each quotation tells us that (1) Jesus is King, and (2) all creation must worship Jesus as King. There is a wonderful hymn which teaches this doctrine plainly and memorably:
All hail the power of Jesus name
Let angels prostrate fall.
Bring forth the royal diadem [diadem is word which means “crown for a king”]
And crown him Lord of all.
Here is one you should recognize, because we just sang it:
Crown him with many crowns
The Lamb upon his throne
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns
All music but its own.
Awake my soul and sing
Of him who died for thee
And hail him as thy matchless king
Through all eternity.
The words are a little old fashioned with thees and matchless, but that only reminds us that the church, the people of God came long before us. Look at those hymnals in front you. The first hundred and some pages are songs written by men and women over hundreds of years who all repeated in verses what I am going to tell you today. If you don’t know the two songs I have quoted this morning, you would do well to go learn those songs. If you took just a little of the time you devoted to football or Facebook or politics or video games and gave that time to learning a useful hymn or two, your soul would profit.
This morning, we are going to look at the first half of Hebrews 1 verse 5
You are my Son, Today I have begotten you.
From that text we are going to learn one thing:
Jesus is King.
And we will have one point of application:
We must worship Jesus as King.
Jesus is King:
Look down at verse 5, look at those words
You are my Son, today I have begotten you.
Those words come from Psalm 2. By quoting those words, the writer of Hebrews means to prove something important about Jesus. Now, you will not understand what those words mean in Hebrews unless you know what those words mean in Psalm 2—so please turn with me to Psalm 2.
Psalm 2 has a very simple structure: there are four parts, and each person of the Trinity takes a turn speaking. The first part concerns the people on earth. The Holy Spirit, speaking through the Psalmist, tells us that human beings have gathered together to kill Christ.
Look down at verse 1:
Why the nations rage
And the peoples plot in vain?
The Psalmist, perhaps King David, looks out over the world and sees the nations in rebellion. Look at the words at the end of verse one: “plot in vain”. If you have an NASB it reads, “devising a vain thing.” I just want you to consider this: The insanity of the people is that they are consumed with something empty, something vain.
Do I really need to prove this to you? Just look out at the world. Listen to the news. Isn’t this world in a raging, vicious mess? And why is the world in such a fury?
Look at verse 2:
Psalm 2:2 (ESV)
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed,
This Psalm is a prophecy about Jesus. The kings and the rulers mentioned in this Psalm are Pilate and Herod and the priests and the leaders of the Jewish people.
Everyone got together to rebel against God: They are meditating day and night on how to free themselves from the Lord and from the Lord’s Anointed. Anointed is another way of saying Messiah – or the word we usually use, “Christ”. In verse 3 we see that they look upon God’s majesty and control as chains, as bonds and fetters and cords.
Nothing has changed – the rebellion is the same. And since they hated Jesus, they will certainly hate those who love Jesus. Do not be surprised.
The next section, verses 4-6, turns to God the Father. In verse 4 we see that God sits in the heavens, that means God sits enthroned with transcendent majesty: God is above and beyond his creation. When looks down on the rebellion he can do nothing but mock.
It has always been this way with humanity. The first sin was an attempt to free ourselves from God. The Serpent’s promise was that we no longer need God because we would become like God. Yet, rather than rising we fell into death and disgrace. Ever since, human rebellion and sin has been the foolish, vain attempt to cast off God.
With the coming of Jesus, we thought we could do so with one final attack upon the Lord’ Anointed:
This is the heir. Come let us kill him and have his inheritance. And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Matthew 21:38-39
The rebels think they have destroyed God’s efforts. But they do not understand what God has done. There is a secret in this world. In 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 Paul explained the secret:
Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of the God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (ESV).
Christ did not merely die upon the cross. Those present saw Jesus for the charge of being “King of the Jews”. It is how Jesus came into the world. In Luke 2, an angel appears to the shepherds of Bethlehem and tells them that a Savior has been born in Bethlehem and this Savior is Christ the Lord. Then angels appear, the sky bristles with light, and they sing
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased. Luke 2:14.
Matthew 2 we read of the Magi who came to worship the King of the Jews. But the wicked ruler Herod the Great seethed when he heard these words. He did not go to worship, but rather he sent soldiers in the vain hope that by murdering little boys he could destroy the Lord’s Christ.
No. None of the rulers of this age understood what happened. Look at verse 6 of Psalm 2.
Psalm 2:6 (ESV)
6 “As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
Rebellion double crossed the rebellious: The wicked thought they could overthrow Christ. But in the moment when they thought that they had slipped the demands of God, they found themselves captured. They thought they had killed Jesus upon the Cross. But God looked down and saw a king conquering his enemies.
The third section turns to the Son. If you are thinking of this as a story, the first paragraph is the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. The second paragraph records the anger of God at the murder of His Son. The third paragraph turns to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus to be king over all creation. We will now listen to what Jesus has to say, read with me verses 7-9:
Psalm 2:7–9 (ESV)
7 I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
The language we read in verse 7, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” Obviously the words cannot mean that Jesus was born on that day. The Psalm is referring to the crucifixion of Jesus. The Psalms also cannot be referring to the Son of God being created or any such nonsense. Rather, this is referring to Jesus being made Lord and Christ. Peter says this in Acts 2:36:
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Acts 2:36 (ESV)
Paul explains the same thing in Romans 1:4:
4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, Romans 1:4 (ESV)
You see, by raising Jesus from the dead, God declared Jesus to be free of sin. God also declared Jesus to be the rightful king of the entire creation. By defeating sin and death and the devil, Jesus became king by conquest. When it says that God said to Jesus, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” it means that on the day God publicly declared Jesus to be King.
Give praise to King Jesus, the blessed Son
Victorious, glorious resurrected One
To Him belongs power, glory and honor
Ascended where he sits at the right hand of the Father
At the Cross he made atonement—His people he saved
After three days He was raised in defeat of the grave
By faith the elect behold Him, His scepter is golden
–Jesus is Alive.
So, when our writer in the book of Hebrews quotes Psalm 2 verse 7, he is referring back to this idea that the Son became a man, was crucified and then rose again to ascend to the right hand of majesty on high. He is saying, Jesus is king because he destroyed his enemies and because God has appointed him.
That is the first point of our sermon: Jesus has become King.
Now, the point of theology is never just so we can know something. The point of theology is to know something so that we can be and do something. The last paragraph answers the “what does this mean” question. If Jesus is King, what does that mean for mean?
Point Two: Since Jesus is King, we must worship him.
Let’s read the final paragraph, beginning in Psalm 2 verse 10:
Psalm 2:10–12 (ESV)
10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
The passage contains a command and a warning. First, the command, we will see that in verse 11:
Serve the LORD with fear
And rejoice with trembling.
That is a command to worship. In the beginning of verse 12 we see more detail on this command is to be fulfilled: Kiss the Son. If you have an NASB it reads “Do homage to the Son.” Kissing the Son would be to show him homage, worshipful respect as King, both convey the same idea: We worship God by giving glory to the Son.
You see, we have no access to God around or apart from the Son. Jesus said in John 14:6:
John 14:6 (ESV)
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
When Jesus rose from the dead, God affirmed that Jesus was the only way through this world, past the gates of death and into the kingdom of light and life. Try as you may, there is no way around Jesus. He is the supreme and absolute ruler, he is lord of lords and king of kings. Therefore, we must worship him:
Let this, therefore, be held as a settled point, that all who do not submit themselves to the authority of Christ make war against God. Since it seems good to God to rule us by the hand of his own Son, those who refuse to obey Christ himself deny the authority of God, and it is in vain for them to profess otherwise. For it is a true saying,
“He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father which hath sent him,” (John 5:22.)
And it is of great importance to hold fast this inseparable connection, that as the majesty of God hath shone forth in his only begotten Son, so the Father will not be feared and worshipped but in his person.
John Calvin, Psalms, electronic ed., Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998).
This is a theme which runs from the beginning to the end of the Bible. It runs throughout the Psalms, the Gospels, the Epistles. It is especially clear in Revelation which calls Jesus the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Revelation 5:9-10 records the scene:
Worthy are you to take the scroll
And to open its seals
For you were slain, by your blood you ransomed for God
From every tribe and language and people and nation
And you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God
And they shall reign on the earth. Revelation 5:9-10.
Christ in his death bought his people from the land of death and rescued his people from sin and shame. Hebrews 4:12-13 says of Jesus
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
You see, Jesus came into this world filled with rebels. We do not love him or respect him or worship him by nature.
None is righteous, no not one;
No one understands;
No one seeks God.
All have turned aside;
Together they have become worthless;
No one does good,
Not even one. Romans 3:10-12
That is us, you and me. No, not me, someone may say. Yes, you.
Let me show: Do you love God with all your heart soul mind and strength? Do worship God and God alone? Do you love your neighbor as yourself? Do you see that God’s law probes far deeper than merely your actions? God’s word concerns your words and actions, but he seeks something far more profound: God does not merely desire the sounds which come from your mouth – he seeks your heart.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account. Hebrews 4:12-13.
God does not play. Jesus is not nice. He will call all the rulers of the earth and all the peoples of the world before on the great day of judgment – and you will stand condemned.
Cause sin’s problem is much greater than human hurts
You owe a debt to the Creator of the universe
And trust me son, He’ll do much more than dial your number
The Lord is gonna track you down like a bounty hunter.
That is why the good news is so very good. You see, when Jesus died upon the cross, God hung our sins upon Christ. Christ, knowingly and personally bore the sins of those he came to save:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. 1 Peter 2:24.
Jesus died upon the cross to save the rebellious and wicked world from its rebellion. You see, if we come to him as King and worship him as King, if we confess our sins, repent and believe, he will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If you repent and believe, you will be among those stand about the throne and worship the lamb who was slain.
But if you refuse him who calls, then you must beware. In that passage of Revelation 5 we read that Jesus was worthy to open the seals on the scroll. The scroll contains the judgment of God. There will only be those who worship and those who are destroyed. Do you remember the warning of Psalm 2:12,
Kiss the Son lest he be angry and your perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Do not provoke the Son, do not test his patience. He has every right now to slay us in our steps. It is only his mercy and patience which hold back judgment.
And believers, my brothers and sisters, we should consider seriously our salvation.
We were children of wrath like the rest of mankind. But God being rich in mercy because of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead in our trespasses made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:3b-6.
We too lightly value our salvation; we lightly esteem God. What we call “worship” or “praise” is often shallow, timid and dull.
If we would take our souls to the brink of Hell and stare into the pit of eternal misery, of darkness and sorrow without end; if we were to take to heart how truly we deserve hell, and then to truly realize the depth of mercy, the blood of Christ which in love rescued our souls from judgment we deserve; then we would serve with fear and rejoice with trembling. But we soon forget the wrath from which we were saved; we put a light price upon an eternal glory and sing and pray as if we received only what we had earned.
Look in Psalm 2. Look down at verse 11 and see there directions for true worship. There are two lines to consider. They both refer to the same thing, but they will give us slightly different views – sort of like taking a look room from one direction and then crossing the floor and taking a look again from a different angle.
Serve the LORD with fear.
By “serve” the Psalmist does not mean go do some work for God. God obviously does not need our efforts. By “serve”, the Psalmist means to worship God. It means that we must bend our entire life in visible demonstration that Jesus Christ is Lord.
The Psalmist does not merely say that we must worship God. He goes to state that we must worship the LORD with fear. Christians sometimes say we should have no fear. It is true that we must not fear men, and we should not fear death; but we must fear the Lord.
To fear the Lord does not mean we live in abject terror of the Lord. Thomas Watson explains a godly fear like this:
The fear meant in the text is a divine fear, which is the reverencing and adoring of God’s holiness, and the setting of ourselves always under his sacred inspection. The infinite distance between God and us causes this fear….God is so great that the Christian is afraid of displeasing him, and so good that he is afraid of losing him. The Great Gain of Godliness, 13.
It is a fear which is mixed with love, faith and hope. It is a fear which eyes both the judgment of God and God’s kindness and thus draws us onto to repentance. It is a fear which comes from being a child of God and no longer being an enemy of God.
When we think of God’s holiness, justice, love and mercy shown together in the Cross of Christ we should experience fear and love; we should respond immediately with the worship. The reason we do not worship the Lord we fear is because we do not rightly understand what God has done in Jesus Christ. Perhaps we know some words and have a faint idea of what the Gospel means – but if we rightly understood it, we love and fear.
Let me give you a picture of what love and fear mixed would mean in one’s life. Nearly 1,000 years ago, someone wrote a poem which we know as O Sacred Head Now Wounded. That poem considers Christ being killed in our place. As the poet thinks of the wonder and beauty of Christ’s love, he is overcome with the terrified thought that perhaps I could lose my King and dearest friend:
What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.
That is worship mixed with fear. Now, consider the second half of Psalm 2:11
Rejoice with trembling.
We must obey in fear, but we do not merely serve – we rejoice. Our service is a fearful obedience of joy – a joy so profound that we tremble as we sing. This matter of trembling in our service is no light matter. For it is only a trembling Christian who can live with the Lord:
Isaiah 66:1–2 (ESV)
66 Thus says the Lord:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
2 All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.
God is high and mighty. He stands above and beyond the world he has created. And the Lord will take pleasing notice of human beings who are so small and frail. The proud will be destroyed, but the humble, contrite, the one who trembles at the word of God – that one God will see and with him he will be pleased.
So this matter of trembling is no small thing. But again, it is not a servile trembling; it is a trembling of joy. What a strange matter that is. We do not normally take together tremble and joy, but our Psalmist has said that one who knows Christ is King must rejoice with trembling.
If our worship is to be true, it must be a trembling worship, a fearful worship or it is no worship. What Thomas Brooks wrote of prayer applies to all worship:
As a painted fire is no fire, a dead man no man, so a cold prayer is no prayer. In a painted fire there is no heat; in a dead man there is no life; so in a cold prayer there is no omnipotency, no devotion, no blessing. It is not cold but working prayer that can lock up heaven three years, and open heaven’s gate at pleasure, and bring down the sweetest blessings upon our heads, and the choicest favours into our hearts. Cold prayers are as arrows without heads, as swords without edges, as birds without wings: they pierce not, they cut not, they fly not up to heaven. Cold prayers do always freeze before they reach to heaven.
Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 2 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 493.
Such worship is the reason we exist; it is the reason we have been saved:
1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
So while we cannot do any service for God, as if God needs anything, we can give the service of worship –which must include our praise of God. However, when we look at the content of our praise, it is often shallow, silly, or plain wrong.
I am going to use songs to illustrate the point, because they are easy to understand and you know many of them. Songs help to demonstrate the content and understanding of our worship. And since songs are powerful means of teaching and lodging information in our memory, songs have a great effect upon our theology. I will often use songs as a means of teaching someone in counseling. I will give them the assignment of memorizing a song to help focus their heart and life.
I also want to make a quick point, most of the negative examples will be contemporary songs, but that is not because new is bad and old is good. Rather, it is because weak and lame songs tend to get lost over the course of time. People simply don’t keep second rate material around – it is sort of like purging your closet and the attic. You only have so much room and so that shirt you don’t quite like will have to go.
I want to affirm that there are some great contemporary songs. I’ve quoted Shia Linne this morning. Men like Shia Linne and Lacrae and others in the Reformed Rap world have written some remarkable songs which extoll the glory of God. Keith and Kristyn Getty have written some beautiful songs. Enfield has recorded and updated hymns, so that the songs no longer sound old fashioned and needlessly distant. By no means does “old” mean “good.” There are wretched old songs; fortunately, because they are both bad and old no one knows them anymore.
I also want to make an apology before go into these examples. We’re going to look at songs that many of you may know or even love. I am not bringing these examples to humble you or embarrass you. I am not trying to make you unhappy. I am trying to protect you and help you to know and love God more deeply.
You see, that we come to know and understand God with the most power and joy and fear when we know God in our worship. As we have seen, the only proper response to the kingship of Jesus Christ is worship. That worship must be reverent, fearful and filled with joy.
But if our worship is slight or weak, our love for God will suffer. Our knowledge of God cannot exceed what we know of God and our taught of God. So, if we are taught poorly, we will not a clear vision of God. I want to help you think through Christian music. At the end of this, you might find that you could clear out some space; a sort of spring cleaning. I remember cleaning out my wife’s grandmother’s house and finding vaccination records for a dog that had been dead for over 20 years. Sometimes some-things have to go.
Consider this one of those reality show interventions. I am going to look at four types of songs that have to go: I-me-songs, Jesus is my boyfriend songs, Vapid songs, Wrong Songs.
Let’s think of what our service entails: Our worship is to praise God for what God has done. However, we fail to do this when we sing songs which are more about us than about God. Let’s call these “I-me-songs”.
I do not mean that a song is a failure because it speaks of “I” or “me”. The importance here does not lie with the speaker but with the subject. For example, in Psalm 18 David speaks at length of what God is to him and what God has done for him. Yet, David never takes the focus from God. David is centered always upon God, even though David discusses the how God has intervened in David’s life.
It’s not wrong for a song to use the word “I” or “me”. However, a song which leans on the words “I” and “me” should be scrutinized carefully. If the focus of the song is more on you and what you’re going to do; if you find yourself saying “I, I, I” the focus is probably in the wrong place. I remember some years ago when I was a musician in a praise band. I was alphabetizing my music and realized most of the songs began with the word “I”.
When you were taught to write in school, your teacher may have told you not to use the word “I” in an essay. The reason for the rule is not that the word “I” is evil. The reason is that when you say “I” it is very easy to lose focus from your subject and to start talking about yourself.
At heart, idolatry is all about me. As Paul writes in Colossians 3:5, covetousness–a passionate desire for what is not mine–is idolatry. Our culture in some ways has made idolatry a great good: we are taught a thousand times a day that we want is what we deserve. In fact, it is “hateful” to ever say or think that perhaps some-things we want may be wrong or bad.
Such self-centeredness lies at the heart of sin. And therefore we must be very careful of it. Yet sin is so powerful that has figured out how to take good things, work, family, prudence, money, intimacy –even songs of apparent worship and to make these things wicked and self-centered.
Because it sounds good, we don’t notice that all our singing about I will this and I will that –aren’t you lucky God that I’m around– subtly draw our heart after idols, just like the idolators in Amos.
Eugene Peterson explained this in a 2005 interview with Christianity Today. He explained how much of our worship is no better than Baal worship:
Do we realize how almost exactly the Baal culture of Canaan is reproduced in American church culture? Baal religion is about what makes you feel good. Baal worship is a total immersion in what I can get out of it. And of course, it was incredibly successful. The Baal priests could gather crowds that outnumbered followers of Yahweh 20 to 1. There was sex, there was excitement, there was music, there was ecstasy, there was dance. “We got girls over here, friends. We got statues, girls, and festivals.” This was great stuff. And what did the Hebrews have to offer in response? The Word. What’s the Word? Well, Hebrews had festivals, at least!
Still, the one big hook or benefit to Christian faith is salvation, no? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Is this not something we can use to legitimately attract listeners?
It’s the biggest word we have—salvation, being saved. We are saved from a way of life in which there was no resurrection. And we’re being saved from ourselves. One way to define spiritual life is getting so tired and fed up with yourself you go on to something better, which is following Jesus.
But the minute we start advertising the faith in terms of benefits, we’re just exacerbating the self problem. “With Christ, you’re better, stronger, more likeable, you enjoy some ecstasy.” But it’s just more self. Instead, we want to get people bored with themselves so they can start looking at Jesus.
We’ve all met a certain type of spiritual person. She’s a wonderful person. She loves the Lord. She prays and reads the Bible all the time. But all she thinks about is herself. She’s not a selfish person. But she’s always at the center of everything she’s doing. “How can I witness better? How can I do this better? How can I take care of this person’s problem better?” It’s me, me, me disguised in a way that is difficult to see because her spiritual talk disarms us.
Thus, these songs which speak about me and what I will do are songs that play directly into our temptation to worship anything other than God. The more exalt ourselves, the less worship, the less fear, the less joy, the less trembling, the less Jesus.
Jesus is My Boyfriend:
Second, there are “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs. Here is how you pick out these songs. Listen to the words. If you can take out Jesus and put in the name of some other human being, it’s not worship – usually it’s just creepy.
Christian “praise music” is filled with such songs. I once saw a singer saw how wonderful it was that her song could be about a boy – or could be about Jesus. In this category John MacArthur singled out “I Come to the Garden Alone”. Take the lyrics of your favorite Christian songs and ask hard questions.
Third, there are plain vapid, shallow, confused songs. Typically these songs pile Christian words and phrases, sometimes Christianese, sometimes parts of Bible verses. At first glance they look like they might mean something, but they are in the end just a bunch of noise. The words do not tell a story or make an argument.
Again, I remember my time on the praise band. The guitar player looked at me and asked me what the song we were practicing meant. We didn’t know. While we could make sense individual phrases, we couldn’t put together a cohesive sense. It was a very popular Christian song.
Compared to life in this world, the Christian faith is complex. We drink in the spirit of our age, but we need to persistently come to understand life through the lens of scripture. Think of it, any thoughtless rouge can blurt out a song about the desire to have a sexual relationship with some person he doesn’t even know. Anger, covetousness, deceit, violence, intoxication really don’t take much effort to explain or understand. No one become more mature in the things of sin; any child can be an expert in selfishness.
But the things of Christ require maturity. To understand doctrine and to be able to explain it in a clear manner takes years of training and effort
Songs at their best teach us lessons in a manner which is easy to understand and easy to carry about with us.
This is where it may become more difficult to discern the difference, because we are not speaking of things which are completely wrong; but rather we are concerned with songs which have little information and do little to lead us to greater maturity.
I am going to compare the opening lines of two songs which cover the same basic idea and ask, which song demonstrates greater Christian maturity?
Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow Thee;
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou, from hence, my all shalt be.
Perish every fond ambition,
All I’ve sought, and hoped, and known;
Yet how rich is my condition,
God and Christ are still my own!
Where you go, I’ll go
Where you stay, I’ll stay
When you move, I’ll move
I will follow…
All your ways are good
All your ways are sure
I will trust in you alone
Higher than my side
High above my life
I will trust in you alone
The second song is not heresy, but it lack the depth of wisdom and maturity found in the first. If our goal is to worship The Lord in fear and rejoice with trembling, which song will bring you closer to the goal?
Here’s a test: Don’t sing the song. Read the words out loud, including all the “yeahs” and “whoas” and weird insertions of the word “Hallelujah”. Does it make sense?
Here’s a second test: Imagine that you have just received brutally difficult news or are in a painful situation. Let us say you are standing at the bedside of a dying child: could you sing this song for joy and hope and solace at your moment of greatest pain? I remember singing Rock of Ages with my father while he died. I have cried in the midst of It is Well.
Here’s a third test: Does the song encourage you to fear God?
The Devil is the enemy of logic and beauty. The Bible is filled with magnificent poetry. Jesus used sharp and powerful logic. It was the Devil who started confusion and nonsense when he tempted Eve. The Devil is the father of stupid, dull, boring stories. The Devil is the one who turned martial union into pornography, courage into bullying, kingship into oppression.
Why, why, why would we stoop to stupid, childish songs when we can sing something magnificent? I want you to think of all the Christian contemporary songs you have ever heard, including the one where the guitar play starts with, Listen to these words, because man they’re really awesome.
Vapid, weak songs will breed vapid, weak Christians. What would you think of a parent who raised his kids on candy corn and called it a vegetable? Could the parent plead with the dentist who was filling another cavity in the sickly child, I know it was candy, but it was candy corn!
Can Christians be surprised to find themselves forever immature when they never hear mature sermons nor sing songs written with true theological merit?
Fourth, there are songs which are plain wrong. These are songs which contain lines which simply misstate the doctrine. While the songs may otherwise have merit , there is simply no reason to accept a little glass in the candy. A small hole can sink a large ship. A small error in doctrine can lead to a catastrophe.
Just after 300 A.D. the Christian Church was met by an exceedingly subtle attack which nearly destroyed the church over the next 100 years. A man named Arius simply said, The Son is like the Father. It doesn’t sound that bad. And yet, it means that the Father created the Son. It means the Son is very great and powerful and important and glorious – he’s just not God. It was a small sounding error which tore a great whole in the Church.
Most of the goofy and wrong points of Christian theology have sprung from small errors – usually a small error which crept in through a song or a written prayer.
Let me give you a few quick examples of songs – and I know that many of you may like these songs, so please forgive me:
You took the fall and thought of me above all
No, according to Jesus , he was concerned with his own glory:
And now Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. John 17:5.
Your Great Name:
All condemned; feel no shame, at the sound of your great name
Every fear; has no place; at the sound of your great name
Again, false. While some who are condemned will be redeemed, many will be judged. Only those in Christ Jesus will be beyond condemnation. The door to reconciliation is the blood of Christ. To say otherwise is an ancient heresy called “universalism”. The name of Jesus will be the sound of judgment for many human beings.
Second, as we have been saying “fear” is a necessary thing for a Christian. Now many Christians would like a feel-good Jesus, but that is the real Jesus.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Proverbs 9:10.
Behold Our God
God eternal humbled to the grave.
Now it is very problematic to say that God has died, because God cannot died. It is true that Jesus is God incarnate and that Jesus did die. But God, himself, could not die. The real trouble here is the statement that God was humbled. God was not humbled. Jesus expressly stated that
No one takes my life from me, I lay it down of my own accord. John 17:18.
By Our Love
Children, you’re our hope for justice.
That is so wrong and weird, I hardly know how to respond.
These are just some songs. Someone here will complain that I am just being nitpicky. Let’s say I am being very precise: how is that wrog?
The content of our worship must accurately correspond to God’s self-revelation. We know nothing about God except what God has told us of himself. When we sing, the content of our praise can only mirror back what God has disclosed to us of himself. Our worship will never be true, reverent or change causing unless and until it is precise.
J.I. Packer wrote:
Richard Rogers, the Puritan pastor of Wethersfield, Essex, at the turn of the sixteenth century, was riding one day with the local lord of the manor, who, after twitting him for some time about his “precisian” ways, asked him what it was that made him so precise. “O sir,” replied Rogers, “I serve a precise God.”
Pastor Kevin DeYoung commented on this passage:
If ever there were a Christianity that cut against the grain, this is it. Those who embrace “precisian” ways will always be in a different spiritual universe from those who find the Bible to be unclear, theological exactness to be a distraction, and the norms of Scripture to be far from normative.
If we are going to rightly worship God, then our worship must be true, accurate and clear.
Let’s think about you: would you be pleased with a paycheck which put the decimal point in the wrong place? It’s just a little mistake–a matter of millimeters, and yet the difference it makes. Or say a surgeon who only missed by a couple of millimeters, would you still be happy?
Would you accept a love letter from your spouse that misspelled your name or better yet a love letter that talked about a date you never had or a movie you never saw together. If I called my wife Julie instead of Kelley, I would have some explaining to do:
Malachi 1:8 (ESV)
8 When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts.
Let us test ourselves: Do we rightly consider that Jesus is King? Do we take that to heart, or do we just play church and play Christianity? Do we measure music by entertainment and taste and style or by depth and power and maturity? We will never grow in maturity, unless we grow in maturity of worship. And we will never grow in maturity of worship until to take to heart the fact that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, is seated at the right hand of majesty on high and will return to judge the living and the dead.
Luther bids us observe how consolatory this truth is to the militant Church. For the rage of our enemies is not aimed at us, but at the Lord and His Christ. They can only reach us through Him.
J. J. Stewart Perowne, The Book of Psalms; A New Translation, with Introductions and Notes, Explanatory and Critical, vol. 1, Fifth Edition, Revised. (London; Cambridge: George Bell and Sons; Deighton Bell and Co., 1883), 116.
A twofold consolation may be drawn from this passage:— First, as often as the world rages, in order to disturb and put an end to the prosperity of Christ’s kingdom, we have only to remember that, in all this there is just a fulfillment of what was long ago predicted, and no changes that can happen will greatly disquiet us.
John Calvin, Psalms, electronic ed., Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998).
The expression, “I this day have begotten thee,” can only mean, This day have I declared and manifested thee to be my Son, by investing thee with thy kingly dignity, and placing thee on thy throne. St. Paul teaches us to see the fulfilment of these words in Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It was by that that He was declared to be (marked out as, in a distinct and peculiar sense, ὁρισθέντος) the Son of God. (Rom. 1:4; cf. Acts 13:33.) The day of Christ’s coronation was the day of His resurrection. From thenceforth He sits at the right hand of the Father, waiting till His enemies be made His footstool.
J. J. Stewart Perowne, The Book of Psalms; A New Translation, with Introductions and Notes, Explanatory and Critical, vol. 1, Fifth Edition, Revised. (London; Cambridge: George Bell and Sons; Deighton Bell and Co., 1883), 118.
4. It is no disparagement to the greatest monarchs (but a mean for them to eschew the wrath of God) to be subject to Christ Jesus, to stand in awe of him, to submit themselves to him, and promote his service to their power; for the command to all, and to them in special, is serve the Lord in fear. 5. As there is matter of fear to Christ’s subjects, lest they provoke him; for there is matter of rejoicing for them to be under his government, and these two affections may well consist in his service: rejoice in trembling: yea there is no right rejoicing in any thing without some mixture of fear to offend him. 6. Because Christ Jesus the Son of God, is a lovely king, bringing righteousness and eternal life to all his true subjects, he should be submitted unto, and embraced (when he offereth grace) very heartily: to this end, kiss the Son, or do him homage, is added; for to kiss is a sign of religious adoration, Hos. 13:2, and a sign of homage and hearty subjection, 1 Sam. 10:1. 7. Where grace offered by Christ Jesus is refused, the refusing of mercy shall procure more anger than all former sins; kiss the Son lest he be angry. 8. When Christ taketh a refusal off a man, to whom grace is offered, wrath will follow, to the cutting off of the refuser from all means of happiness, both temporal, which he hunteth after; and eternal, which is offered in Christ unto him, and to the bringing upon him utter perdition; for it is said, kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way of all possible salvation. 9. Unspeakable must the wrath of God be, when it is kindled fully, since perdition may come upon the kindling of it but a little. 10. Remission of sin, delivery from wrath, communion with God, and life everlasting, are the fruits of embracing Christ, of closing in covenant with Christ, and resting on Christ; for blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
David Dickson, A Brief Explication of the Psalms, vol. 1 (Glasgow; Edinburgh; London: John Dow; Waugh and Innes; R. Ogle; James Darling; Richard Baynes, 1834), 9–10.
Filial fear, as children fear to offend their dear parents; and thus the godly do so fear God, that they do also love him, and obey him, and cleave to him, and this preserveth us in our duty: Jer. 32:40, ‘I will put my fear in their hearts, and they shall not depart from me.’ This is a necessary frame of heart for all those that would observe and obey God. This fear is twofold:—
(1.) The fear of reverence.
(2.) The fear of caution.
(1.) The fear of reverence, when the soul is deeply possessed with a sense of God’s majesty and goodness, that it dareth not offend him. His greatness and majesty hath an influence upon this fear. ‘Fear ye not me? saith the Lord: will ye not tremble at my presence, who have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it?’ Jer. 5:22. His goodness and mercy: Hosea 3:5, ‘They shall fear the Lord, and his goodness;’ Jer. 10:6, 7, ‘There is none like unto thee, O Lord; thou art great, and thy name is great in might: who would not fear thee, O king of nations?’ Both together engage us to live always as in his eye and presence, and in the obedience of his holy will, studying to please him in all things.
(2.) The fear of caution is also called the fear of God, when we carry on the business of salvation with all possible solicitude and care. For it is no easy thing to please God and save our souls: Phil. 2:12, ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.’ In the time of our sojourning here we meet with many temptations; baits without are many, and the flesh within us is importunate to be pleased, and our account at the end of the journey is very exact: 1 Peter 1:17, ‘And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.’ A false heart is apt to betray us, and the entertainments of sense to entice and corrupt us, and we are assaulted on every side, and salvation and eternal happiness is the thing in chase and pursuit; if we come short of it we are undone for ever: Heb. 4:1, ‘Having a promise of rest left with us, let us fear lest we come short of it.’ There is no mending errors in the other world; there we shall be convinced of our mistakes to our confusion, but not to our conversion and salvation.
Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 7 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 172–173.
Our great end and scope must be to please God. They are true servants that make it their business to please their master: Isa. 56:6, ‘They choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;’ John 8:29, ‘The Father hath not left me alone, for I do always the things that please him;’ 1 Thes. 4:1, ‘I exhort you all by the Lord Jesus Christ, that as you have received of us how to walk and please God, so ye would abound more and more;’ and 1 John 3:22. ‘And whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do the things which please him.’ So Heb. 11:5, ‘Enoch had this testimony, that he pleased God.’ The property of a servant is not to please himself. They that set themselves to please God observe his will in all things. There is a great pleasing in the world, but few make it their business to please God. All inferiors please their superiors on whom they depend; and shall not we please God, who is infinitely greater than man, and on whom we depend every moment for all that we enjoy?
Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 8 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 293.