Allow me to begin by calling to your attention two commonly held views regarding worship prior to Jesus' resurrection. These views are relatively "modern" views.

View one: worship prior to Jesus' resurrection could only be described as primitive acts by primitive people who were showing just how uneducated and uninformed they were. Their whole concept of priests, the slaughtering of animals, the blood rituals, the preparation of parts of the carcasses for burning, the following of different sacrificial rituals for different needs all scream out just how primitive they were. In Jesus Christ we moved away from such primitive, uneducated worship forms.

View two: worship as it exists under Jesus Christ as Lord and worship as it existed prior to Jesus' resurrection are totally different. Those two forms or expressions of worship could be compared to two parallel lines with a lot of distance between them. They have a lot of similarities. They are going in the same direction. Yet, basically, they are very distinct and quite independent of each other. While it is okay to look at their similarities, they should never be considered as connected or as a continuation of each other.

I want to begin our thinking with view two and then focus on view one.

  1. Should we who are Christians in the twenty-first century look at worship prior to Jesus resurrection as something totally different and never a continuation or extension of each other?
    1. Should we look at them as parallel lines with a wide distance between them?
      1. Should we see Jewish worship coming to an abrupt halt when people are converted to Jesus Christ?
      2. Should we see Jewish Christians deliberately separating themselves from Jewish communities because they were in total disagreement with them about everything including worship?
      3. I want to share some things with you this evening that I shared with you previously.
        1. I do not seek to get you to agree with me, but I do ask you to think.
        2. As you think, I want you to keep focused on scripture instead of what you always just accepted as fact.
    2. You are very familiar with the fact that people who were not Jews were not required to convert to Jewish practices and customs in order to become Christians.
      1. That is very obvious in scripture, and it is something that most Bible students have long understood.
        1. We were taught that understanding.
        2. Two sources of scripture that make this very obvious are Acts 15 and the letter of Galatians.
      2. We understand and accept this without question because most of us are gentiles.
    3. I call to your attention another fact from scripture that is just as obvious, but we either have been taught it is unimportant or taught to be blind to this fact: just as gentiles did not have to become Jews to be Christians, neither did Jews have to become gentiles to be Christians.
      1. A Jew did not have to abandon Jewish culture and Jewish rituals in order to become a Christian who accepted the resurrected Jesus as Lord.
      2. There is obvious documentation of this fact in scripture.
      3. After Acts 2 and the conversion of 3000 Jews and proselytes, the first incident Luke records in Acts is two apostles, Peter and John, going to the Jewish temple to pray.
        1. This is an infinitely Jewish act at an infinitely Jewish place that observed the Jewish time table for daily afternoon prayer in the temple area.
        2. Much of what occurs in Acts 4 and 5 has to do with this Jewish temple incident.
        3. The point made is (1) "Jesus is what God promised us and what we as Jews should focus on" not (2) "Judaism is an evil thing with which Christians can have no association."
      4. When the non-Christian Paul wanted to arrest Jews who as believers belonged to Jesus Christ, where did he go? Listen to Acts 9:1,2:
        Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
      5. When Paul began his work among the gentiles, the relationship between Jewish converts and gentile converts became a major religious issue, the "hot button" issue in the community of Christians.
        1. When he and Barnabas came back from their first mission trip to the first known, sizable gentile congregation [in Antioch], an enormous debate was in progress: must gentiles become Jews in religious practices/perspectives to be Christians? Must they be circumcised and follow the customs of Moses?
        2. The issue is not Jewish Christians abandoning Jewish ways; it is "must gentiles do things the way Jews do them."
        3. Note verse 19 says that gentiles who are turning to God should not be troubled with doing Jewish things Jewish ways.
        4. Also note what verse 21 reads:
          For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.
        5. This is Christian leadership among Jewish Christians affirming the work and purpose of Jewish synagogues in maintaining Jewish ways among the Jewish people--it is not a rejection of Jewish synagogues but an affirmation of them.
    4. When the Christian Paul went to a new city, where is the first place he went?
      1. He always went to the Jewish assemblies at the synagogue.
      2. Why?
        1. Early in my life I was taught these were the reasons:
          1. This is the place that people knew and studied scripture [that is true, but that is not the reason scripture gave].
          2. This is the place where people knew the living God [that is true, but that is not the reason scripture gave].
          3. If he convinced the Jews that Jesus was the Christ, there would be an immediate, great force of teachers [that is true, but that is not the reason scripture gave].
        2. Then what is the reason scripture gave?
          1. Consider the words of Paul himself:
            Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
            Acts 13:46 Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.
          2. Consider the words of Peter spoken to Jews in Acts 3:25,26:
            It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, 'And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.' For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways."
      3. In Acts 18:18, long after Paul became a Christian, long after he did mission work among the gentiles, we read this statement about Paul's actions:
        Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow.
        1. The Jewish Christian, Paul, who was a missionary to gentiles, did a very Jewish thing--he took a Jewish vow.
        2. The cutting of the hair was a key element in the Nazarite vow.
        3. Paul did not bind Jewish behavior on gentiles, but as a Jew he was free as a Christian to continue to follow Jewish behavior.
      4. In Acts 21 the Christian Paul gave a report on his work among the gentiles to the Jerusalem elders and leaders. Listen carefully to the reaction of the Jewish church leaders to a matter that concerned them.
        Acts 21:20-24 And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law.
        1. The Jewish church leaders were concerned because Paul was accused of teaching Jews to forsake circumcision and Jewish customs.
        2. That accusation was very serious. Thousands of Jewish Christians were zealous for the law.
        3. This was the Jewish leaders recommendation: be the sponsor of four Christian men who have taken a Jewish vow.
          1. Purify yourself with them [Jewish purification code], and pay their expenses to take the vow.
          2. Then everyone will know the accusation is false: though you teach gentiles about Jesus, you continue to be [personally] true to Jewish customs.
      5. Just the evidences in Acts confirm that Judaism and Christianity are to be seen as a "continuous" line, not "parallel" lines that are never connected.

  2. If you think that worship before Christ was at best primitive and uneducated, and that worship of the resurrected Jesus has nothing in common with Israel's primitive, uneducated worship, I would like you to consider some emphasizes from scripture.
    1. Just like Israel, we depend on a high priest.
      1. A high priest represented Israel to the holy God.
      2. A high priest represents us to the same holy God.
      3. Listen:
        Hebrews 2:14-18 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.
        Hebrews 4:14-16 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
        Hebrews 5:7-10 In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
        Hebrews 7:26-8:2 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever. Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.
    2. Just like Israel, we are dependent on God's tabernacle and a gift of blood.
      Hebrews 9:11,12 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
      Hebrews 9:24-26 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
    3. Just like Israel, we are dependent on a sacrifice.
      Hebrews 10:10-14,18 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 18 ... Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.
    4. Just like Israel, we have relationship with the holy God because of a sin offering.
      Hebrews 13:10-16 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Worship in Israel was never based on the primitive, but on an understanding of the holy God. Worship among Christians is based on the same understandings of the same holy God.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 14 March 2004
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