When people gather together to worship God, heaven and hell are at war. There is no doubt about it. When people gather together Satan is on the prowl to devour and to confuse and to cause division. SO much of what we see in gatherings around the world is the reality that we do not wage war against flesh and blood. It is no coincidence that right after the Apostle Paul wrote about relationships between husbands and wives, children and parents, and bondservants and masters he wrote:
11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Too many people discount the spiritual war that is going on around us all the time. We see broken relationships as simply mean people or right and wrong. Instead of seeing cosmic powers, we think it’s a misunderstanding over the color of the carpet.
One of the distinguishing marks of our church is a commitment to the Core Value of Liturgy. In saying this, we don’t think that we are distinct from other churches in that we have a liturgy. In fact, every single church has a liturgy. An order of service. Whereas it is implicitly learned when you go to a church—two fast, two slow, a sermon, and another song—we want to explicitly talk about it…though only being a Core Value and not the Core Value.
What we mean when we say we talk about liturgy is that this is a service of the people by the people for God. We have chosen to be explicit about our commitment to a clear (though not rigid) liturgy because we want you to know what we are doing in our Order of Service. Quite plainly. We want to Sunday after Sunday be a people who are shaped by the Story of the Bible. The overarching story is Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation. You see those pieces in our Order of Service because we want to be a people shaped by the Bible’s Story on a macro level as well as on the micro level.
We want praise for God’s Power and Might and Creation to be readily on your lips. We want Contrition and Brokenness over our Sin ever in our hearts. We want Exultation and Joy and Gratitude for Redemption ever lifting our Eyes. And we want the Power and Influence and Purpose of God ever strengthening our Feet as we go out into the World hastening and Waiting for the Coming of the Dawn.
From our text today, I want to draw out four truths. Four truths we celebrate when we gather together, roughly follow the movements of our liturgy.
(1) Heaven and Hell Engaged in War
The synagogue was the center for worship and teaching if you could not go to the Temple in Jerusalem. And Jesus goes into the town of Capernaum, which is on the northernmost point of the Sea of Galilee—about 80 miles away from Jerusalem.
We see that Jesus entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and started teaching. This was nothing new for the folks that frequented the synagogue because a Rabbi would get up to explain the Scriptures every Sabbath. // But something extraordinary happens on this Sabbath. And I can’t help but think people showed up like they did every Sabbath and expected there to be a good message but were more excited for what they were going to eat afterward. They probably were bored and going through the motions of worship.
As I have often said and prayed, I want so desperately for us to see the spiritual realities that are taking place when we worship God. Satan does not want us to worship our Creator. He wants to busy our minds with arguments on the way to church. He wants to cloud our hearts with self-protection of not opening ourselves up to one another. He wants to influence our thinking that someone in the church gets on your nerves or is judging you or being stand-offish. He wants to divide and conquer and distract.
How do we fight this distraction? We pray at the beginning (and why we have a moment of silence to calm our fidgeting minds)…”give me a grander vision of this moment.” As Thomas Brooks wrote: “A man would be afraid of playing with a feather, when he is speaking with a king… There is nothing that will contribute so much to the keeping out of vain thoughts, as to look upon God as an omniscient God, an omnipresent God, an omnipotent God, a God full of all glorious perfections, a God whose majesty, purity, and glory will not allow him to behold the least iniquity.’”
I imagine people were yawning as Jesus was teaching. But then there was no mistaking it. Hell in all its battling tumult had shown up. This unclean spirit knew that Jesus was the Holy One of God. v.24 And like we saw last week, knowledge alone means nothing. But a genuine life-altering conversion is what is called of each of us.
As the Hymn “Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult” (waves that toss us around in life):
Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
of our life’s wild restless sea;
day by day his voice still calls us
saying, ‘Christian, follow me.’
Heaven and Hell are at odds when we worship. // The world offers us a liturgy every day for how we should conduct ourselves. What is most valuable and what we ought to spend our lives running after. Our time together is a transcendent liturgy. An other-world offering to taste and see.
But notice also the teaching and authority present when Jesus shows up.
(2) The Word of God Shapes the World
It was common in Jesus’ day for the teachers of the day to have a litany of rabbis they would quote saying, “As rabbi Hillel says quoting Rabbi Yehuda…” and they had no authority other than a man-made teaching that sounded pious. You can see this tradition in what is called the Babylonian Talmud. But when Jesus shows up, he v. 22 teaches “as one who had authority”. Remember in Luke 4 when Jesus opens a scroll and says the reading from Isaiah was fulfilled in their hearing. The Word cuts through the noise of popular opinion…
In essence Jesus is not pointing to a way, but is pointing to himself as the Way.
As I have conversations with people who visit our church or watch online, one of the things they notice the most about our church is how much Scripture is read. And not simply read, but explained and celebrated. This is how we must engage with the spiritual battle. That based upon Jesus’ authority we silence the demons of oppression and abuse and depression and misuse. A misuse of a life gifted by God and squandered. And by reading and teaching God’s Word we are seeking to show people another and greater and more resplendent reality. That God authored your life. He planned your steps. He orders your way. And it is being shaped by God’s Word Sunday after Sunday that we begin to believe that he, indeed is kind and powerful and fights for you and sings over you!
(3) The Transcendent One Draws Near
Sunday after Sunday we come to worship the Transcendent One. The One who stands over all. As Mark Galli, in his pithy book on liturgy (Beyond Smells and Bells), writes: “The liturgy puts a brake on narcissism right up front. When we are forcefully reminded that we are not worshiping an idealized form of the self, but a God “in heaven,” a “holy” God, a genuine Other” (p43). When we gather together, the story is not primarily about us. We are included in the Story…but we are merely supporting actors and actresses. The Main Actor is God himself in Glory and Might…
But this utterly Amazing and Totally Other draws near to us. And we celebrate this in that the Totally Other is Entirely Near to us. As Galli goes on to write:
“[Once we have a brake put on our narcissism] At that very moment, intimacy with God becomes possible. The possibility of mistaking God for the self has been taken off the table. Now a human self and the Divine Self—utterly unlike each other—begin to relate to each other. Union can come of these two.
We habitually point to the Incarnation as the event that signals the possibility of this union” (p43). We celebrate this intimacy with the High and Exalted One when we come to the Lord’s Table week after week. In need of his strength and nourishment.
(4) Missionary Zeal Restores Our Purpose
Unfortunately, many worship services remain within the four walls of a Sanctuary. We hear a great story of uplift and purpose…but then we go about our busy-lives distracted by the cares of this world. Because Jesus still calls us to worship him in the everyday of life. The hymn I quoted earlier goes on to say:
Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world’s golden store,
from each idol that would keep us,
saying, ‘Christian, love me more.’
Once this spiritual battle took place in the synagogue, what happened? v. 28. If we have encountered the one with Authority and Power, we will be sent out to be his emissaries in the world. Pointing the better Object of Worship. We look forward to the Consummation of All Things in Heaven and on Earth and Under the Earth…And so when we end our worship together every Sunday we have a commissioning to remind us of our part in this Grand Story. That we are called to point to the One who has Authority to free captives and give sight to the blind.