The worship of God by the saints on earth is one of the most important ways that the gospel is proclaimed and the kingdom of God made visible to the world.
And so Paul,
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:25)
Since Adam, what we eat, and who we eat with are a display of who and what we worship. Israel’s food laws served the same function – to mark out a people, consecrated to God (Leviticus 11:44-45).
Singing, Sabbath and sacrificial service are also public acts of worship. Worship that tells the world that God is in our midst.
When Israel crossed the Jordan River, the first thing Joshua did was have his soldiers circumscised (Joshua 5:3). This, in effect, wounded the entire army, preventing them from being able to mount any defence against an enemy (cf. Genesis 34:24-25).
From a strategic military perspective this was suicide and put the whole nation at risk of extinction. With the Jordan River behind them, preventing any retreat, and the open plains of Jericho before them, Israel had virtually no geographical defence.
Once the men of Israel had healed, the next order of business was to keep the Passover feast. Unable to trust in chariots and horses, they worshipped God and trusted in bread and wine. They trusted in God by participating in a worship feast. A lamb slain.
One of the first things Ezra had the Israelites do when they returned to the promised land after their exile was offer sacrifices on an altar – right in the middle of town where the if one used to be. A town now belonging to, and surrounded by, Israel’s enemies (Ezra 3:1-3).
Here were the Israelites, a poor and impoverished people: A pathetic and defeated nation with a laughable and inadequate army, standing in utter defiance of the gods of this world – and worshipping.
Picture that guy who stood alone with nothing but his shopping bags before China’s tanks in the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989.
Or picture a solitary Rangers supporter, dressed in full team colours, sitting on a loaded Celtic FC bus enroute to the game. (For the uninitiated, either incident carries about the same risk to one’s personal safety).
Having completed the sacrifices of the altar, Ezra and the people of Israel then celebrated the feast of booths. A feast which recalled Israel’s time in the wilderness. A time when their only defence was the strong arm of the Lord.
It wasn’t hubris. It was faith. Faith leaning on the one true God who was able to save them.
They were not waiting for the kingdom to come at the end of time in order to begin worshipping God. Like the church today, the kingdom of God was and is being revealed and celebrated as we worship. It is taking shape and taking ground in the midst of its enemies through faithful and obedient worship.
For from the rising of the sun to its setting My Name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to My Name, and a pure offering. For My Name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 1:11)
This was a gut punch to Israel’s enemies who understood that such acts of worship were a proclamation that the God of Israel was reclaiming sovereignty right under their noses.
Yahweh, a defeated god by the world’s terms, was alive. He had risen and was taking back the land.
The same thing is happening when we worship today.
Our battering rams are bread and wine. Our prayers are incense rising to the throne of Grace and the King of Kings. Our songs of praise are songs of war declaring the lordship of Jesus over heaven and earth. Not at some future point in history, but today. And advancing, day by day, and every day, that we continue to worship Him in spirit and in truth.
And this is why the world would rather that we did not practise the public proclamation of Christ in worship. They would rather that we didn’t sing and didn’t eat. They hate the sight of it, just as the enemies of Ezra did (Ezra 4).
But we will worship and we will eat and we will sing just the same. For our trust is not in the chariots of men but in the Lord our God who both conquers and saves us from our enemies.
For His kingdom is in our midst.