Archive for June 2012
Continuing my previous post’s theme of worship, I want to suggest complementary perspectives on corporate singing.
James Jordan points out that God’s glory cloud is symbolic of the society of men and angels gathered around God’s throne. What we see as a cloud in Exodus 19, 24 and Ezekiel 1 is myriads of angels in Daniel 7 and Revelation 5. He suggests that the cloud might have even consisted of angels, which you could not distinguish from a distance. In any case, there are suggestive parallels between God’s glory-cloud, his tabernacle and temple, and the true “house” of God, his people.
There are strong connections between singing and going to, becoming, the house of God (e.g., Ps. 22:3, 42:4, 84:4). Likewise, the angels that surround God’s throne create a glorious noise of voices and trumpets and waters and winds (e.g., Exodus 19, Ezek. 1).
Thus, in the church’s corporate singing, through Jesus our sacrifice and by the Holy Spirit, we are brought up and incorporated into the glory cloud, where we gather together with angels and with believers of all ages. We become part of God’s glorious covering as his bride, and through our singing we participate in the mighty sound of God’s presence. We announce and display his greatness and glory to all men and even to the “cosmic powers” (Eph. 6).
More than that, as a host of people and angels gathered around God’s throne, we are also an army gathered around our commander. It is no stretch to say that the church’s singing and shouting is one of the ways that we do real battle against everything that is opposed to Jesus and his church (e.g., Joshua 6; Psalm 8:2 with Matt 21:16; Acts 16:25-26).
Earlier this year I wrote an essay on worship as ascension.
The main idea is that our Lord’s-day corporate gathering is, symbolically, going up together to meet with Jesus in a special way. In one sense, he is with us at all times. But we are in his presence in a special way when we draw near to him in corporate worship.
What is the cash value of this? Three things stand out in my mind:
First, it magnifies the importance of the church gathering. We are gathering to meet with, receive from, and give to our king, and it is both a privilege and a refreshing delight to make this the highest priority of our week. We ourselves become the very house of God, he inhabits us as his house, and we meet him there in a special way. The Psalms, in particular, train us to think this way about corporate worship.
Second, it opens our eyes of faith to the greatness of what we experience in the church gathering. Perhaps you find yourself longing for the physical power and glory of Old Testament worship experiences. Why can’t we experience the same physical manifestation of God’s power and presence today? But the fulfillment is always greater than the type, and Levitical worship and temple worship were only a type of what we experience now. Formerly, only one man could approach God’s earthly throne, only once a year; and believers traveled far to eat fellowship meals in the courtyard of God’s house — but only if they were ceremonially clean. Now we are all priests, all cleansed once and for all. We all approach God’s heavenly throne weekly (in one sense), and we eat and drink regularly with Jesus at his own table inside his house. Understanding details of how our experience builds on the Old Testament types and shadows helps us to see and rejoice in how much better our experience is. This is part of the church’s maturing from guardianship to sonship. As Peter Leithart writes, the “move that the New Testament announces is not from ritual to non-ritual. . . . The movement instead is from rituals and signs of distance and exclusion . . . to signs and rituals of inclusion and incorporation.” Hebrews, in particular, trains us to think this way about corporate worship today.
Third, the weekly rhythm of going up to meet with Jesus and being sent back out into the world trains us instinctively in the Christian pattern of life. God’s forgiveness, grace, justification, acceptance, rest, and the work of the Spirit are the wellspring out of which flow our works and obedience. God has fresh mercy for us every day and every week. We receive his assurance, grace, rest and power, and are commissioned to go out into the world in his strength and power. We go out in his authority, not to earn acceptance, grace or rest, but moving out of the acceptance, grace and rest that we have already received, and with great confidence that God will continually refresh and equip us every day and every week. We receive more life, are sent out to die, and come back for more life so we can do it again and again.
It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
— (Isaiah 2:2-4 ESV)
Cain would not bring a blood sacrifice to make atonement with God. Ironically, Cain required blood to appease himself.
Thus he elevated himself to the place of God, following in the footsteps of his father. But Cain’s sin was a step beyond his father’s sin; Adam prematurely seized the mantle of judgment (which God later gives to Noah in Genesis 9:6), but Cain exercised that mantle sinfully.
Perhaps Adam was even reaping from his own sin in this. Adam’s sin resulted in the death of a son (compare Genesis 22; Leviticus 1:5, literally “son of the herd;” 2 Samuel 12; Jesus).