Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Covenantal Corporate Worship: Part 4

New Testament Worship

Since covenant was such an integral component to God’s redemptive activity in the Old Testament, it is no surprise that it continues to be central to his plans and purposes in the New Testament. Just as the Exodus from Egypt established the Old Covenant with the nation of Israel, the Second Exodus of Christ’s death and resurrection established the New Covenant with the new Israel.

The covenant theme is embedded in Jesus’ central message of the Kingdom of God. In fact, the gospel is essentially the “good news” that God, the great King, re-established his royal, holy presence and rule in a new and unparalleled way through the ministry and person of Jesus Christ. This was accomplished through the atoning, substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. The redemptive significance of Jesus’ death is powerfully demonstrated in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper by the New Covenant community. Richard C. Leonard summarizes it well:

With respect to Christian worship, the most obvious reference to covenant in the New Testament is Jesus' institution of the Lord's Supper, when he declares, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" (Mark 14:24). The death of Christ is the sacrifice that enacts the new covenant, which now embraces not only the faithful Jew but the believing Gentile also — as, indeed, the covenant with Israel originally included any worshiper of Yahweh, regardless of ethnicity. The continued observance of the Lord's Supper is a re-presentation of the death of Christ (1 Cor. 11:26) which has created the people of the new covenant.[1]

The blood Moses sprinkled on the Israelites at the foot of Sinai to ratify the Old Covenant prefigured Jesus’ death whereby his blood on the cross secured forgiveness for his chosen people, thus ratifying the New Covenant. More than that, Jesus’ sacrificial death did what the entire sacrificial system was incapable of accomplishing and only pointed to (Heb 10:4ff)—taking away the sins of the world. Through the person and ministry of Jesus, redemptive history crescendoed as God once again personally dwelt in the midst of his people. The veil that separated God and humanity, to preserve his holiness, was torn apart (Mar 15:58; Heb 10:20) and the Temple thus became obsolete through the atoning death and life-giving resurrection of Jesus, who being God-with us, is in fact with us until the consummation of the age (Mat 28:20; cf. 1:23)! What Old Testament worship typologically prefigured in the shadows of ritual (Heb 8:5) Jesus Christ fulfilled; he replaces all of Israel’s provisions for engaging with God: He is the Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7); the Great High Priest who offered the final sacrifice for sins (Heb 10:12); the Prophet like Moses (John 4:24); the Mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim 2:5); and even the true “Temple” (Mat 12:12).

Because there is a heightened emphasis on worship-as-a-life-orientation in the NT, Jesus' words to the Samaritan woman—“An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23)—are often interpreted as meaning internal/“spirit” and cerebral/“truth.” However, this is to miss the most important development that accounts for the continuities, as well as the discontinuities, between Old and New Covenant worship. As David Peterson puts it, “New-covenant worship is essentially the engagement with God that he has made possible through the revelation of himself in Jesus Christ and the life he has made available through the Holy Spirit.”[2] Therefore, worship “in spirit and truth” must be God-centered, made possible by the gift of the Holy Spirit, grounded in the knowledge of and conformity to God’s Word made flesh, Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. For this reason, Jesus proclaimed that the geographical location of worship was a no longer a requirement of true, acceptable worship.

[1] Leonard, “The Biblical Covenant and Christian Worship.”

[2] Peterson, 100. D.A., Carson, ed., Worship by the Book (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 37, adds, “Moreover, in [the gospel of John]—in which Jesus appears as the true vine, the true manna, the true Shepherd, the true temple, the true Son—to worship God “in spirit and in truth” is first and foremost a way of saying that we must worship God by means of Christ.


Josh said...

No modern translation I know does this but the best way to translate-interpret "spirit and truth" is really "S/spirit and truth." It's awkward, but accurate. The new "spirit" that Jesus says is required to worship God correctly is only brought about by the Holy "Spirit". To worship in "S/spirit and truth" is synonymous with being "born again" (John 3:3): i.e. "being born of water and the Spirit" (John 3:5).

John even prepared us for this double entendre (which is a common feature in this gospel!). Check out 3:6 "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." You cannot have one without the other.

We have got to stop using this passage as a motivator to be more internalized (non-ritual) in our corporate worship as opposed to external (ritual).

Josh said...

Sadly we the church are as ignorant as Nicodemus about what Jesus meant by being "born again" (i.e."being born of water and the Spirit").

Jesus was refering to the new way of relating to God under the New Covenant, that he would make possible through his death and resurrection and the outpouring and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is contrary to the old way, meaning the Old Covenant.

Nicodemus (and we) must have forgotten the word of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a NEW COVENANT with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I WILL PUT MY LAW WITHING THEM AND ON THEIR HEART I WILL WRITE IT; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 "They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."

Ezekiel 36:24-27 "For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. 25 "THEN I WILL SPRINKLE CLEAN WATER ON YOU, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 "Moreover, I WILL GIVE YOU A NEW HEART AND PUT A NEW SPIRIT WITHIN YOU; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 "I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT WITHIN YOU and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

I am convinced that Jesus had these texts in mind (at least!) when he was talking with both Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. In fact I think they are both to be read and understood in contrast and comparison with one another.

Josh said...

Bono captures the newness of life that only God's Spirit brings in U2's song "Yahweh."

Take these shoes
Click clacking down some dead end street
Take these shoes
And make them fit
Take this shirt
Polyester white trash made in nowhere
Take this shirt
And make it clean, clean
Take this soul
Stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul
And make it sing

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I'm waiting for the dawn...


jason said...

Thanks Josh,

"Yahweh" is probably one of my favorite U2 songs right now. I love the next parts of the the song
"Take these hands
Teach them what to carry
Take these hands
Don’t make a fist
Take this mouth
So quick to criticise
Take this mouth
Give it a kiss"

I love the transfromation of our actions that is possible because it is grounded in this new convenant relationship based on Jesus and the indwelling of Holy Spirit. This newness of life I think is tied inimately with our creation as imagebearers. In Jesus and with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we are able to rightly image God are becoming clearer reflections of him. I think that by keeping our creation role as imagers of God the things we do are important.

Josh said...

Right on!
This is why theology matters. Spirit-enabled transformation is the only means by which we can truly reflect the image of God. It is what restores what was lost in the fall and guarantees the full transformation at our resurrection/Jesus' return. Anything less than the work of the Spirit becomes mere moralism. And moralism slips into self-righteousness because it does not have God's glory as its goal and it depends on a lesser enabling..ourselves.

I'm reminded of Galatians 5:16-17...
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.