Worship Then And Now
Donald P. Ames
Looking back into the Old Testament, one can see many appropriate lessons that are still needed today. We can see many things God did not like about the Jews that we are warned to beware of today (see 1 Cor. 10). We can also see some things that they did that pleased God - and we ought to take into consideration today. Such is the case as one looks at Numbers 9.
God Planned His Worship
God did not leave men free to select what pleased them in regards to worship. From the time of delivery from Egyptian bondage, God spelled out to the children of Israel exactly what he expected of them. The Passover was certainly a typical example. It was to be observed on the 14th day of the first month each year after their delivery. God did not want them to forget the great things he had done for them. He wanted them to show their appreciation. He also wanted them to observe certain rules and regulations in the observance of this feast. "You shall keep it at its appointed time. According to all its rites and ceremonies you shall keep it" (Num. 9:3).
Today, God has not left us free to select whatever form of worship we might choose to engage in either. True, we are not under the Old Testament (Rom. 7:14; Col. 2:14; etc.); but God has still let his will be known. He has selected the time (i.e., the first day of the week - Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:1-2), and specified details (the Lord's Supper, singing, freewill contributions, etc.). If he was so specific in the O.T. for that which was a mere "shadow of things to come" (Heb. 10:1), should we expect him to be unconcerned and non-specific for the actual body in the N.T.?
But Some Could Not
Reading on in Numbers 9, we find some men were unable to keep the Passover. They had been defiled by the dead body of man (9:8). These men were upset, and came to Moses to request a hearing. They wanted to know why they could not be allowed to keep the Passover also. To Moses' credit, he did not take the action upon himself, but inquired of the Lord. God then made arrangements for these men to be able to partake of the Passover upon the 14th day of the second month, "according to all the ordinances of the Passover they shall keep it" (9:12).
Somehow we have lost that zeal and devotion to the Lord in many areas today. Wouldn't it be wonderful if people actually got upset because they were traveling, had the wrong address, and really felt bad because they arrived to find the assembly had dissolved and everyone had gone home? Do you suppose they would call someone up and protest that they had tried, and still want to worship - though late? If the weather hindered some, would they insist worship start over so they could get the full benefit? Would they protest being unable to lay by in store, as God had prospered them? Would they even be too upset about coming in late? Or missing class study?
Fortunately, like those in Numbers 9, frequently we do have another opportunity to worship if we are unable to make the AM (or PM) services. But that is not the point I am making. The same points could be made for the PM services. If we were traveling, made the AM worship, but due to a misunderstanding, missed PM services, would we be upset, or write it off as, "Oh well, at least we got to go this morning"?
These men were upset. True, they had a valid reason for not being able to be present. But that is not what concerned them. They wanted to observe the Passover. They could not avoid being "unclean" but that did not mean that they didn't care. Like those of Macedonia, they "first gave themselves to the Lord" (2 Cor. 8:5). That worship meant something to them! When we really reflect on all God has given us and the encouragement worship is designed to provide (Heb. 10:24), we ought to want to be there. Children should be taught that they "get to" worship, not just that they "have" to. We have indeed lost sight of an important principle here.
Some Did Not Care
Perhaps the third group mentioned here in Numbers 9 can help us understand more how God feels about his worship. Some of the Jews absent from the Passover worship were absent because they just did not care. They didn't want to be bothered, had other things to do, preferred to sleep in or "go fishing" instead. Maybe they didn't want to have to get the sacrifices ready ("too much bother"), or even were too greedy to be willing to give up a lamb for sacrifice. Maybe they felt "God is too good to punish us" or that the memorial was now obsolete. For whatever reason, they failed to put their presence. What did God think of it? "But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and ceases to keep the Passover, that same person shall be cut off from among his people, because he did not bring the offering of the Lord at its appointed time" (9:13).
How do you think God views such indifference today? When he sent his only begotten Son to die on the cross for our sins, shed his blood that he might purchase us (Acts 20:28), set up the Lord's Supper as a memorial of his sacrifice - and we don't even care enough to observe it? When he has richly blessed us all week, yet we are often so greedy with our possessions we resent having to give a portion of it back to the Lord? When we refuse to gather together to raise our voices in praise to God in song for all his majesty and loving care? When we are so jealous of "our time" that we just can not afford to take a minute portion of it out on the Lord's day to attend worship? When we could care less if others who are weak might be in need of our great "strength" and "wisdom"? Or when we decide the N.T. instructions don't even apply to us and therefore we don't have to be "bothered" with them, or doing them as frequently as the N.T. says? Do you think he will ignore the same attitude by those on vacation or traveling who think their "time schedules" are more important than the memorial of his Son (remember: frequently in the O.T., not only was the day, but the place was also specified, requiring many to travel several days to get there for the annual worship days)?
In the Old Testament, God said, "Cut them off" from among the people. That was only for a physical deliverance one time from the bondage in Egypt, but Christ shed his blood that we could be delivered from eternal bondage, and is ever interceding before God's throne in our behalf! I wonder just how much God really cares about our attitudes? How disappointed does he get with us? What do you think he'll say about it in the Judgment?
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 4, pp. 115, 119-120