MSG: Drawing Near to God in Music

This message was presented on April 21, 2013 as the third part of four message on music and worship.

Drawing Near to God in Music
Hebrews 10:19-25 

What is at the heart of music in worship?  There are authors on all ends of the music spectrum.  Some say because Scripture is not clear in regard to music, it doesn’t matter what we do.  Others are far more rigid and say that we must choose from within a small spectrum of music to be holy before God. What is the answer? Worship is, after all, not about us, but all for God. Worship is about God.  Let me give an example.

When God called Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt, God called them to worship on that mountain where Moses was. Moses questioned God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them? God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Ex. 3:13-14) Worship is all about God, who was, is and will be.  Then we read in 1 Peter 1:15,16, “He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:15-16)  God is the eternally existent One, the holy One, and we are to be holy, i.e. set aside, for Him.  How then should you worship?

1)      Enter boldly to worship God Heb. 10:19-21 

19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,
 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,
 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, (Heb. 10:19-21)

We note in Hebrews 10:19 that we have access to God and we are to enter boldly into His presence.  But how do we enter boldly, when we are sinful? That boldness is based on His work on the cross, not anything we can do or become.

In Israel’s time, the outer tent kept people away from the Holy of Holies.  God is holy and people must approach Him in a reverent, holy way.  People were not to approach God casually. There was one access to get into the tabernacle complex and then the Holy place where the Menorah or Golden Lampstand sustained burning oil for light, the Table of Shewbread and the altar of incense.  Through the veil was the Holy of Holies, where the high priest entered only once each year to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat.  When Solomon constructed the temple, the layout was similar, only more permanent. 

No Jew would consider entering into the Holy of Holies, the presence of God, except for the high priest annually. Why?  They remembered what happened to Uzzah. Do you remember Uzzah? David was anointed king and had defeated the Philistines, so he sought to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.  They went to Abinadab’s house where it was kept and they placed it on a new cart. Unfortunately, when the oxen stumbled on the road, the Ark began to fall from the cart and Uzzah reached out to steady the ark.  Note God’s action,

3 So they set the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart.
 4 And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill, accompanying the ark of God; and Ahio went before the ark.
 5 Then David and all the house of Israel played music before the LORD on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals.
 6 And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled.
 7 Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God.
 8 And David became angry because of the LORD’S outbreak against Uzzah; and he called the name of the place Perez Uzzah1 to this day. (2 Sam. 6:3-8)

Uzzah did what he thought was right, but Israel had violated God’s directions on moving the Ark (Ex. 25:14).   God directed the Ark to be carried, not riding on an cart.  God’s word must be treated holy and obeyed.  Why? God is holy.  Israel gained a fear of the presence of God.  Too often today, many Christians have little fear of the presence of God.

In Hebrews 10:20, the word “new” is prosphatos, which means “lately slaughtered,” or “freshly killed.”  Christ’s sacrifice was 40 years before, but it was recent in their memories. Christ’s sacrifice was a totally new type of sacrifice that removed the veil between God and man.  We can approach God, because of what Jesus had done.  Before, men trembled before God and kept their distance.  Now God invites believers to enter boldly.  It’s almost incomprehensible how fantastic what Jesus had done!

In Hebrews 10:21, Jesus is that high priest who made the way possible for us all.  In the Old Testament, only the high priest could draw near to God and enter only once each year.  It was an anxious moment, because no one knew if the high priest would come out of the Holy of Holies. The new access is through Jesus.  The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Heb. 7:25)

That leaves us several questions. Are we to pattern our worship services for believers or unbelievers?  Worship is about God.  Worship is not about unbelievers, it’s about God.  We need to have an evangelistic appeal, but is that the priority in worship?  Have we made everything so casual to help unbelievers fit in so that we have lost awareness of the holy?  The worship service is not a show, but a drawing near to God, the holy One. It is not entertainment, but a drawing near to the sovereign One. It is not a pay for view, but our expression to God.

We should not only enter boldly to worship God, but we should also draw near with full assurance of faith.  

2)      Draw near with full assurance of faith Heb. 10:22 

22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb. 10:22) 

The writer beckons us, “Let us draw near,” not to a physical location, but to a spiritual connection with God through the spiritual presence of Jesus Christ by faith.  The specific verb “draw near” in Hebrews 10:22, is also found in Hebrews 4:16; 7:25; 10:1, 22; 11:6; 12:22, and translated, “let us come” or “draw near.” Will you today?  Will you accept what God has done for you?  What does it mean to draw near?

One of the concepts of “draw near” means we’ll sing, “Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing.” (Ps. 100:2). It is not a “casual walk by.”  Note the transition from the tangible form of worship to the spiritual emphasis in Hebrews 12,

18 For you have not come to the mountain that  may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest,
 19 and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore.
 20 (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned  or shot with an arrow.”
 21 And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)
 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, (Heb. 12:18-22)

Note that the emphasis is not on the physical senses of touching or  hearing.  God wants us to relate with Him in Spirit and Truth. And the writer continues in Hebrews 12:25,

25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven,
 26 whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake  not only the earth, but also heaven.”
 27 Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.
 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.
 29 For our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:25-29)

God calls us to draw near, but we don’t go to God on our own initiative or our own way. We must put on a “true” heart.  The word “true” here means “real,” “genuine,” or “sincere.” When I served in the military, the commander determined the uniform.  Even in the field, he determined if it was garrison cap or Kevlar helmet for headgear.  We wore what he directed.  We didn’t have any other options to incorporate our own ideas, like, purple bandanas. God calls us near.  We draw near with a true heart.  Why?

I can’t draw near because of my sin.  I have no right to draw near.  God cannot look upon sin. Habakkuk declared, “You cannot look upon wickedness.”(Hab. 1:13)  Isaiah recognized his unworthiness before holy God when he saw the Lord in heaven. “5 So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts.” (Is. 6:5)

How do you draw near to God with a true heart, in Spirit and Truth, when we are physical beings? We want something tangible, something our senses can “sense,” especially something we can feel. Then we can say, “That’s worship.”  And if we don’t feel “worship,” sometimes we begin to question if we have really drawn near in worship?  If I don’t have a certain kind of stimulating music, will I begin to question my experience by means of my physical senses? 

Certainly experience and feelings are good. Certainly I will experience and have some kinds of emotions in worship. The question is, “Are they the measure of worship?”  Paul said to the Philippians that the carnal types, those who relied on the flesh, those who were not filled with the Spirit, worshiped their belly, “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly” (Phil. 3:19). In the ancient world, they called the belly the seat of emotions.

We can move emotions from the outside in.  For example, it is similar to a tickling stimulation, where laughter results from an outside influence. When I was a boy, my dad could let out a terrific roar when we were in the dark and scared us half to death.  That was an outside stimulus. 

Certain church movements have stretched the limits bycreating music that stimulates the emotions, and people often think that this is “worship.”  They teach that the external, physical signs accompany “true, spiritual” experiences.  So they stimulate through music to create that “physical sense of worship.”  Hence the church often has a longing or temptation to create worship that people can feel, experience and touch.  That is natural for people, who live by their senses.  However, it does not indicate true worship. It may be like what Cain offered and was not accepted by God. God also did not accept the worship of the Samaritans, because they had their own ideas about worship.  If we engage in music that stimulates physical responses, we expect that kind of experience from all music in worship and may get disappointed if we don’t get it.  We begin to depend on the physical experience rather than a spiritual relationship with God.

The writer exhorts that we draw near in “assurance” or certainty of being sprinkled pure by the blood of Jesus by faith.  The writer to Hebrews wrote, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1)  Faith is what you cannot see, feel, taste, touch or hear. There is no material basis for faith. There is no physical evidence, no experience and no feeling that tells you worship is pure.  It is by faith, or dependence upon God’s character of holiness and mercy.

Note that emphasis in Hebrews 12:18-19 that is no longer on the physical or tangible,

18 For you have not come to the mountain that  may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness2 and tempest,
 19 and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (Heb. 12:18-19)

Old Testament worship was tangible. They could see the gold, fine linen garments and sacrifices.  They could touch the animal before its throat was slit, hear the silence when the sacrifice was killed and smell the sacrifice as it was offered.  Everything was physical and tangible.

When I was in boot camp, I was away from my wife for seven weeks.  I did have a picture of her, but I couldn’t touch her hand, smell her fragrance, hear her voice, taste her good food, or look at her beauty, but I had full assurance of her faithfulness.  I enjoyed a relationship with her because of all the letters she wrote, steamy as they were!

Finally, the writer insists that the assurance is by “faith.” There is everything right with experience and feelings.  However, to require them in order to describe worship, you cross what God has defined as worship and practice legalism, or as Paul said, “God is their belly.”  We worship by faith, not by sight or senses or feelings.  In fact, true worship is demeaned, or cheapened, when it is moved by manipulative music.  Should you be afraid of moving or clapping?  Not at all.  That may be a godly response of worship, but that does not measure worship.  David danced before the Lord, but that does not measure worship.  We worship by drawing near to Jesus Christ with full assurance by faith.

Let us summarize the tension of worship with two illustrations.  First, this illustration of Noah’s Ark:

[The picture would not transfer. It is a picture of Noah’s Ark for pre-school with two animals of each kind sitting on the Ark.]



What does this picture communicate?  There was an Ark and there were two of each kind of animal on the Ark.  That explains how God repopulated the earth after the flood.  Everything is nice, clean, fun and it explains an aspect of the Genesis narrative, especially for children. 

However, does it really explain the flood in Genesis?  What is the emphasis with the flood? Consider this picture.


[The picture would not transfer.  It is a picture of people clinging to a rock surrounded by a storm and waves crashing against them with the Ark in the distance]


This also has the Ark, but no animals.  What it does portray is the destruction of the people, because of the judgment of God.  Which is more realistic?  Should not our worship be true to who God is rather than what we want?  Do we want to have worship focused on us and be like children or focus it on God?

How should we worship?  We should enter with boldness to worship Him and draw near with full assurance by faith.  We should also emphasize the last part of this passage and the emphasis of this passage. 

3)      Let Us draw near to God Heb. 10:22-25 

This last portion of the passage helps us understand that worship is about the body of Christ worshiping together, not as individuals,

22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,
 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:22-25)

The writer may have been a a gardener, for twelve times in Hebrews we have “Let us” exhortations (cf. Heb. 4:1,11,14,16; 6:1; 10:22,23,24; 12:1, 28; 13:13,15. The exhortations admonish us to draw together as one body.  Worship is about the corporate body, not the individual.  The writer exhorts us to draw near, hold fast and consider one another.  We’ve looked at the exhortation to draw near. There are two additional exhortations.

We are to hold fast our confession.  Our confession is Jesus Christ is Lord (Rom. 10:9-10).  Jesus will draw us together in unity of purpose in relationship with the Godhead (John 17:20-23). Additionally, we are to consider one another to stir up love and good works.  As the spiritual forces seek to divide, isolate and conquer Christians, we must “consider one another,” which phrase means to “concentrate on one another” to determine how best to “stir up” or provoke to love and good works.  The word “love” refers to thinking more highly of others than self and the word “good” refers to the intrinsic value of the works, which can only be accomplished by the filling of the Holy Spirit.  When the Holy Spirit does the work through the individual, then it has intrinsic value and is “good.” (1 Cor. 3:12)

As the body considers others more important than self, then worship will be about God rather than self.  When worship is about God, then there will be a crescendo of singing!

Draw Near to Jesus and you’ll worship God in music!




Message Based Discussion Questions

1)      What kind of music did your church (home) have when you were growing up?

Digging Deeper:

2)      Read Isaiah 6:1-8. What does Isaiah see? ___________________  How does his response teach us how we should approach God in worship?  How do you relate Hebrews 10:10-25 to Isaiah 6:1-8?

3)      What are six attributes of God? ________________; ______________; ________________; __________________; _________________; ________________   How does that relate to how we relate to God according to Phil. 2:9-11?

4)      Who is the main subject of Romans 11:33-36?  ___________________  How does your understanding of this passage affect how you should worship God?

Making application of the message to life:

5)      What can you do to prepare during the week to draw near to God on the weekend service?

6)      How can you help others draw near to God and experience His presence?

7)      What kind of assurance should people have when they leave a worship service at Grace?

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