“God’s Children Are Called to Worship In Spirit and In Truth”
By Richard Allen – July 24, 2023
As I wrap up our 16 week study of Hebrews, I can do no better than to cite the exhortations that the writer to the Hebrews gives to the Jewish Believers he had addressed. Remember, they were in danger of “going back” to an immature faith, by returning to their Jewish system of worship. At the time Hebrews was written, there was still a Temple standing in Jerusalem, with a fully functioning priesthood. But within a decade of writing this book, all of the trappings of their earthly religion would be permanently removed in favor of a LASTING WORSHIP, BASED ON AN ETERNAL COVENANT (Hebrews 13:20). There really was no going back. The days of “worship in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:24) which Jesus foretold the Samaritan Woman, had now arrived!
So, after 12 chapters of Instruction and Exhortation, the writer to the Hebrews gives several rapid fire exhortations in the first six verses to promote: godliness, love to others, perseverance and living a life of faithfulness to God:
“Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies. Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery. Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?’ “ (Hebrews 13:1-6).
Then in verse seven the writer to the Hebrews changes course a bit and he uses their Leaders as an example to compare Old Covenant worship of animal sacrifices to New Covenant “worship in Spirit and in Truth,”
“Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules about food, which don’t help those who follow them. We have an altar from which the priests in the Tabernacle have no right to eat. Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood. So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore. For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.” (Hebrews 13:7-17).
Twice in this exhortation, the writer to the Hebrews admonishes his readers to show concern and obedience to “their leaders.” To whom was he referring? The obvious answer was to the Pastors, Teachers and Elders in their local congregations. But he doesn’t stop there, no, he goes on to compare these humble congregational leaders to the Jewish High Priest and the entire priesthood who served the Temple in Jerusalem. His comparison couldn’t be more striking. To compare the “pomp and show” of an earthly priesthood with all of its “bells and whistles” to the simplicity of New Covenant worship in Spirit and Truth is a real contrast. To the naked eye, the latter looked pretty dull and void of any frills or show. As I’ve been arguing for the past 15 blogs, that Old Covenant worship was fulfilled and done away by the Advent of Jesus Christ the true High Priest, and His once for all sacrifice! There was “no going back” to the sacrificial system of worship in Jerusalem. And within a few short years of the writing of this Book to the Hebrews, the remaining vestiges of that defunct system would be razed to the ground! That’s why he once again admonishes them in verse 14 “For this world, with all its bling and sparkle is NOT OUR PERMANENT HOME!” So, let me admonish all of my brothers and sisters in Christ with the same truth. This world and its pretense of fleshly worship are NO LONGER ACCEPTED BY GOD, ONLY WORSHIP IN SPIRIT AND TRUTH IS ACCEPTABLE! (John 4:24).
The writer to the Hebrews has been describing and advocating “worship in Spirit and in Truth” to his readers, so they would “not go back,” but rather finish the race set before them. Let me be entirely honest, worship in Spirit and in Truth is not as flashy, and doesn’t seem as “hocus pocus spooky and metaphysical” as the smoke from incense, and priests chanting in procession with elaborate rituals and theatrics. As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, the Flesh likes the Idols, Lights and Sparkly Bling along with Beautiful Enchanting Music. IT MAKES US FEEL LIKE WE ARE REALLY IN COMMUNION WITH A GOD WHO IS SPIRIT! In contrast, think of these early Jewish Believers living outside Palestine. I’m certain their “flesh” had trouble seeing “Him who is invisible” to the mortal eye. Like the whole list of Jewish Ancestors, starting from the early apostates in the books of Joshua and Judges, Men and Women still in the Flesh wanting Fleshly worship with all its trappings: Location, Ornate Temples, Special Priesthood, Special Days, Special Convocations with Magical Words (Incantations?) to give them an air of “spirituality.” But nothing works more against Real Spiritual Worship than the Fleshly Appetites of Fallen Men and Women. WORSHIP IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH IS NOT EASY, NOR IS IT POPULAR. Elijah desperately needed to divorce his vision and perceptions from purely human senses. God was not in the powerful miracles He wrought in nature, no, He was in the still small voice:
“And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ “ (I Kings 19:11-13).
I’ve had the pleasure to visit a small Baptist Church in the town where I live from time to time. My old pastor, a dear brother in the Lord, ministers there. The church is the epitome of New Covenant Worship In Spirit and In Truth. No frills, just a simple building with a small congregation. Not much in the way of adorning architecture or great virtuoso performances by professional musicians. But the preaching is solid, and the word of God is honored in everything that’s done. My own church, which is much larger is also “spartan” by human standards. No bling, no great oratorios by professional musicians, but once again, the Word of God is honored, preached and believed. In both churches, the fellowship is sweet with those who have “like-minded-faith,” looking to the God of Scripture and the faithful ministry of the Word. I dare say, these Hebrew believers were still longing for the pomp and ceremony, as well as the mystery of the Temple and its Priestly rituals in Jerusalem. The simplicity of a New Covenant Church, with men and women in the same congregational setting, without the frills and grandeur of Herod’s Temple or the grandeur of a great cathedral, looks very simple and even dull. Like all of us, we like the lights and sounds of “high religion” that appeals to our flesh. Many of these Hebrews wanted “to go back.” While the sacrifices were incapable of cleansing the conscience, at least they made for a nice show, filled with mystery, incense and chanting. It certainly had the “pretense” of magic and awe!
The New Testament writers must have known our propensity to fleshly worship. Two of the gospel stories (Matthew and Luke) made sure to tell us that Jesus the Messiah was not born in a Palace, nor was He readily accepted in the Synagogues or Temple. And during His earthly ministry, though he was Immanuel, that is, “God with us,” He didn’t frequent the halls of wealthy patrons or the powerful, but rather “was sent to the poor and outcast.” During His earthly ministry, Jesus reflected: “And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ ” (Matthew 8:19-20). The call the writer gave to these Hebrew Believers was to: “go outside the camp.” The writer then reveals to them a “reversal of fortunes” that these Hebrews might never have believed: “We have an altar from which those who serve the Tabernacle have no right to eat” (Hebrews 13:10). Just think of it. The actual Levitical Priests, still ministering in Jerusalem, may have stood in Moses’ seat, but they offered imperfect and unacceptable sacrifices according to God’s New Law. AND THESE MEN WERE NOT ALLOWED TO SERVE IN THE REAL TABERNACLE, THE REAL DWELLING PLACE OF GOD AND MAN, THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST! The “stone that the builders had rejected, had now become the chief cornerstone of God’s real habitation, in the Spirit, indwelling His people” (Psalm 118:22, Acts 4:11, Ephesians 4:22).
The writer to the Hebrews has taken us on a long, but fruitful journey. God has spoken through His Son, who now sits at His right hand in Glory! And we will NOT ESCAPE if we reject this “so great a salvation” that has been ministered to us by His eye witnesses, the Apostles. And they have all proclaimed that Jesus’ priesthood and ministry are far greater than those of Angels who were just ministering spirits, or Moses who was just a “servant in God’s House,” whereas Jesus was God’s Own Son! His priesthood was far greater than that of human priests after the lineage of Aaron, it was founded on the Eternal Priesthood of Melchizedek. And those who reject His offering have NO SACRIFICE LEFT to return to! Jesus was giving a New Covenant, unlike the Old chiseled one in stone. Jesus’ Covenant would be written on the fleshly tables of the heart, and by God’s Spirit His children would be given the power to obey His Law. All the Old Testament Saints looked forward to these days, the days of God’s Son’s Ministry through His Holy Spirit.
It’s to this Jesus we are called to go outside the camp of Judaism and man-made religious rituals and sacrifices. Sure, there is reproach from those who are still trying to appease God by their fleshy show of works and sacrifices. They see NO VALUE WORSHIPING IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH, they would say: “It just can’t be that simple.” God must want a bit more show, a priest offering some great and serious sacrifice – even if he has to pretend he’s sacrificing Jesus again.God wants our hearts only, and to those of us who can hear His “still small voice,” God is bidding us welcome! And He is making an Eternal Covenant with us (Hebrews 13:20) that won’t get old or fade away. The glorious New Covenant of Jesus Christ is FOREVER AND EVER! To those whom the writer of Hebrews has called to “go outside the camp,” he closes with these words of encouragement:
“Now may the God of peace who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21).
Soli Deo Gloria!