In Matthew 24:1, we are told that as Jesus departed from the temple:
"His disciples came to shew Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them; See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down."
The disciples, like most of the Jews, were tremendously impressed by the size, splendor and beauty of the temple. It seems to be a common failing among men to be more impressed by the house of God than by the God of the house. This tendency is illustrated by Jacob's experience at Bethel:
"And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set upon the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending
As a result of this vision, he named the place Bethel, which means house of God. It seems that he was
more impressed by the place than by the God of the place. However, several years later, by which time his experiences with God had been of a more
intimate nature, he returned to Bethel and built another altar. But this time he named it El-Bethel - The God of the
house of God. See Genesis 35:7. This time he seemingly was more impressed by the God of the place than by the place itself.
continued at top of next column
We are approaching our subject from the negative point of view for the reason that before we can have a clear understanding of what is true worship, we must first point out decisively what is not. Certainly that brand of worship which attaches more value to the place of worship than it does to the God who is worshipped there, is not worship in spirit and in truth. When the Samaritan woman raised the question of the proper place of worship, Jesus pointed out that the Person who is worshipped is more important than the place where He is worshipped, and that being overly concerned about the place of worship was not worshiping in spirit and in truth.
Jesus saith unto her, Woman believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. But the
hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a
Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
John 4:21, 23-24.
It is ironic that just before the disciples sought for Jesus to share their admiration of the temple, He had pronounced it to be desolate or empty. See
Matthew 23:38. And left desolate it was, indeed, for there is no record that the Son of God returned to it after He left it on this occasion. We may be sure
that God does not honor any building, or place, which is honored above Him.
Another negative example of worshipping in spirit and truth is the case of Israel's dealings with the brazen serpent. Now, the brazen serpent had been made by Moses at God's command, as a remedy for the poisonous bites of the fiery serpents encountered in the wilderness. See Numbers 21:5-8. The brazen serpent was lifted up on a pole, and anyone who had been bitten could be healed simply by looking (in faith) at the serpent. There was, of course, no magic virtue in the brazen serpent itself. It was merely the means by which God healed the people, serving also as a type of Christ lifted up as the remedy for the serpent-bite of sin. Ever since that incident, however, there were Israelites who held it in superstitious awe and burned incense to it. In Hezekiah's time the idolatry had become widespread, and he destroyed the brazen serpent, contemptuously calling it Nehushtan which might well be rendered a piece of brass.
Still another example of what is not worship in spirit and in truth is found in the fourth chapter of I Samuel. We are told that when Israel went out to battle against the Philistines, they "pitched beside (literally upon) Ebenezer". Ebenezer means stone of help and when we recall that there is a close affinity in Hebrew between eben, stone, and ben, son due to the fact that both are derived from the same Hebrew verb banah, to build up, it requires no great stretch of the imagination to see in the stone of help the son of help. But although Israel was pitched directly upon the stone (or son) of help, they seemed oblivious to the fact. They apparently left God out of their battle plans entirely, and were consequently routed before the Philistines. Overcome in the battle their lament was:
"Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us ...?" I Sam. 4:3a.
Though unwilling to give God credit for any victory, they were perfectly willing to put all the blame for defeat on Him. Proverbs 19:3 is an acid comment on such folly:
"The foolishness of man perverteth his way: and his heart fretteth against the LORD."
The Israelites then proposed to carry the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD into battle. However, their words reveal that they believed it to have some magical power which would give them victory over the Philistines for they said:
"Let us fetch the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us that when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our
I Samuel 4:3b.
This religious behavior is on a par with wearing a cross as a good luck charm, making the sign of the cross or sprinkling holy water to ward off
They were again overcome in battle and their good luck charm was taken from them. How sad it is when people put their trust in that which can be taken away from them. In the battle both of Eli's sons, Phinehas and Hophni, were slain and this news reached the wife of Phinehas just as she was giving birth to a son. She died in childbirth after naming the child Ichabod (no glory) for she said:
"The glory is departed from Israel."
I Sam. 4:22.
How true! The glory had indeed departed from Israel.
Even today there are many who substitute the symbol for the substance; who honor the instrument above the one who wields it. This state of affairs has come about partly because we have neglected to hold fast the form of sound words, with the result that having used the improper phraseology for so long, we come to accept it as though it were inspired of God. For example, the reader, if he is a Christian, will probably be offended by the three following statements:
1. The cross of Christ does not save
2. The gospel of Christ does not save
3. The death of Christ does not save
Yet, all of these statements are demonstrably true. When we say that the cross, or the gospel, or the death of Christ saves those who believe, we are
giving to the means, the credit which should go to the agent, of salvation. Only God, in the person of Jesus Christ can save. The cross is
the symbol of His death which gave Him the power to save. The gospel is the good news of His death and what it means to us, and is therefore the power
of God unto salvation. By way of illustration, consider the common statement, "Money will buy everything." The truth is money cannot buy anything. Only
a person can buy. Money gives him the power to buy. If this seems to be splitting hairs, read again the fourth chapter of I Samuel, especially
verse 3, - and note that the Israelites were ascribing to the ark the power to save, which properly belongs only to God!
John H Mattox