Worship (edn 2)

   Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Matthew 4:10, NRSV)

Arabic and English here now
Preston - quite close to the site on the left

The first clause of the "written" in Matthew 4:10 Jesus apparently drew from Deuteronomy 6:13; the second probably from 1 Samuel 7 (i.e., from the Old Testament, OT). The verbs here, “worship” and “serve”, are connected in this context and will repay study. The word used for worship in Matthew (and Luke), has as central meaning "do obeisance". See also in Genesis 22, at end of this post. (In Deuteronomy 6:13 the Hebrew and Greek [LXX] word denotes "fear"; "revere".) In the first century the word worship would be readily associated with the Jerusalem Temple, an extravagant complex rebuilt by King Herod. Very little of that then famous landmark remains visible today - see picture at top (the other images are connected....). To attend Temple sacrifices would express fear of God; show reverence for God, in accordance with the Law.
Jesus on worship - what exactly do we know? This is my focus in this post.
“Worship” is (by some) a much used word, as both verb and noun. How adequate is a dictionary definition of “worship” (a feeling or expression of reverence or adoration) to describe what Jesus modelled or exhorted? Did the dictionary writer capture the meaning and significance of worship as Jesus portrayed it? What evidence is there? What did/does Jesus want of his followers?

As might be expected, Jesus presupposes involvement in the Jerusalem Temple rites and ceremonies, as per the culture and the OT. Jesus evokes OT predecessors in saying the external is secondary, and actually completely subsidiary to the higher demand.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23-24, NIV). First things first!

The OT includes special mention of the Temple as a place for prayer. People in that day went there to pray. Jesus used that in a story: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer[b]: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted”
(Luke 18: 10-14, NLT). Doubtless an example of hyperbole. The truth may seem obvious now but this must have been hard for the “religious practitioners” to hear. In the story - two apparently to pray, but one recognised no need to ask for mercy, nor anything else. That activity I name "religianity". It  is just sad and can not obtain justification in God's eyes. Salvation, forgiveness, mercy - these are in the gift of God. Just ask.

From his infancy, as was commonplace then, Jesus himself was involved in Jerusalem Temple events. As a pre-teen he even delayed there at least once “in the things of his Father(!)” so he could speak with the top teachers (see Luke 2:21-52 or, previous post, “Nativity”).

Note Jesus’ usual practice and his continuing attempts to have the people in the synagogues (worshippers?) to hear what God said. It did not always go well! One memorable visit in particular is reported by our three witnesses (not really hard to see why he was mobbed?): When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
    and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”
Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
Then he said, “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.
“Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. And many in Israel had leprosy in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.”
When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way.

Then Jesus went to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and taught there in the synagogue every Sabbath day. There, too, the people were amazed at his teaching, for he spoke with authority. (Luke 4:16-32, NLT). Some things were just too unpalatable for "worshippers" to tolerate. God's favour/grace going to outsiders? They were religious, but did they revere God?  Rejection did not deter Jesus from his mission though, perforce, the location sadly had to change from Nazareth.  (John records similar audience reactions but not the event.)

One time Jesus was speaking with a foreigner, a woman, when he said: But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him (John 4:23, NRSV). The woman (and contemporaries) had minds made up about what worship looked like and where it happened. Jesus sets that issue completely aside and instead talks about what may not be seen and is not tied to any place but is still real - the inward reality, informed by God, not by guess or tradition. Such worship was close to hand and would be new (in a new covenant) - but also would be old (in a covenant still). Not visible, not able to be handled, not "proprietary", nonetheless, the worship Jesus predicted.

“Official” Judaism (like its counterpart amongst the Samaritans), had majored on “sacred space” and meticulous observance (rites and ceremonies). That had not been the personal focus of the Old Testament. Agreed, there are many pages devoted to the “sacred space”, the vestments and the observances. On the other hand, one can read the accounts of Abr(ah)am, where there was no Temple, etc. Bear in mind also the ancient words, calling for love of the LORD from the heart, words endorsed by Jesus and also recognised by others (see below on this).

Consider Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” in which he speaks directly to the issue of religious practice in the synagogues: Firstly, about the collection for the poor. When you give to the poor, don’t blow a loud horn. That’s what show-offs do in the meeting places and on the street corners, because they are always looking for praise. I can assure you that they already have their reward. When you give to the poor, don’t let anyone know about it. Then your gift will be given in secret. Your Father knows what is done in secret, and he will reward you (Matthew 6: 2-3, CEV). These days not for the poor, as far as I know. Still, there is a principle...

In similar vein we have multiple warnings against copying fluent performers or earnest pagans:
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
- - - (Matthew 6:5-9, NRSV). Jesus evidently was unimpressed by some (most?) common "worship" that he saw.

As Isaiah (58) had done long before, Jesus discounted religious fasting as a means of worship or service of God: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:16-18, ESV). Jesus had more to say elsewhere on the topic of fasting.

What did Jesus expect of this followers? How were they to worship? The most extended teaching on that comes from Matthew, chapters 5-7 (the “Sermon on the Mount”; partially quoted above), much of the content unique to that Gospel. However, there is a step leading to becoming a follower, which is succinctly put this way:
This is the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[a] - - - After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee and told the good news that comes from God.[c] He said, “The time has come! God’s kingdom will soon be here.[d] Turn back to God and believe the good news!” (Mark 1: 1 & 14-15, CEV). Jesus is in fact the good news; he calls for repentance (give up rebellion against God) and trust in himself.

Having begun, the follower of Jesus becomes his representative to others, as servant. In his stead representing him to those others who are part of the follower’s life. Jesus interacts with people by his genuine followers living his way. Does this seem strange? Imagine you are a follower who has only Mark’s Gospel to study. What do you find there; what call does Jesus give you? From Matthew and Luke we can add Jesus’ expectation that his followers will serve by prayer. (Is it obvious to recall that Jesus spoke with people - anyone who would hear? So too, today, he will still speak .....)

The above strongly focuses on the individual. But, what would Jesus think of his followers forming a community? Matthew gives us a clear answer (although the translations include a problem - so excursus on "church" word): “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:15-20, ESV). It is clear from this that Jesus expected his followers to gather, similarly to the synagogue. Jesus does not think only of the individual in splendid isolation. There is meant to be the possibility of problem resolution by direct one-to-one negotiation, or by small group, or by the (somewhat) larger body. Furthermore, a special assurance applies to those "two or three" who gather together in the name of Jesus. Disciples can be mutually supportive.
Excursus re “church” word: Long before, in the Greek OT (LXX), the word was used of the Jews gathered, though hardly there to be translated into English as "church". The first NT use encountered is this from Jesus: So I will call you Peter, which means “a rock.” On this rock I will build my church, and death itself will not have any power over it. (Matthew 16:18, CEV.) “My church” - the textual evidence for this occurrence is unanimous. Nonetheless, it is necessary now to refuse to read back into what Jesus said today’s common usage of “church” (or Church). The word is most clearly used in its essential meaning in Acts 19: 32, 39, 41. It was adapted for the coming together of members of "synagogues of Jesus", like it had been for the community of the Law. Today “church” has become a kind of portmanteau term, like “society”, that, not very helpfully, covers many things. (A future post is indicated.) A few of the less common English translations helpfully render “church” by “congregation”, or “assembly”, or “gathering”, or “community”. For Matthew 18 (see above re the new community) I found that translation as marginal note in only one of the versions I use; as it is also in the ASV (1901).
In amongst dire warnings to his disciples Jesus foreshadowed developments: “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them (Mark 13:9, NIV). That seems to indicate an ongoing post-crucifixion connection to the synagogues where their punishment would occur! Indeed, it was some time before the break was complete.

Note the tantalisingly brief Gospel record of the upper room moment before Jesus’ arrest: He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19, NLT). They were assembled; this seems to be foreshadowing some kind of future corporate activity. (The wording is even stronger in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, which Paul attributes ultimately to Jesus.) I do not suggest that “church-ism” should or could validly be constructed from these foundations. The situation today is the product of a lot of history and any organisation’s connections to the source may be weak.  

Some Old Testament quotes

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart (Deuteronomy 6:4-6, ESV). Love is commanded.

Stop being angry and don’t try to take revenge. I am the Lord, and I command you to love others as much as you love yourself (Leviticus 19:18, CEV). Love is commanded.

The above two were endorsed by Jesus and are repeated in the NT a number of times.

Whilst remembering that the OT had prescribed the use of Temple and offerings and observances, see some strong words from Isaiah, by no means unique in this respect. The prophets deplored relig-ianity; there was no value to outward worship (compliance) cloaking personal indifference or disobedience to God's Law.

“When you come to appear before me,
    who has required of you
    this trampling of my courts?
Bring no more vain offerings;
    incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
    I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts
    my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow's cause.
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
    you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
    you shall be eaten by the sword;
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 1:12-20, ESV)

And so the Lord says,
    “These people say they are mine.
They honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
And their worship of me
    is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.
Because of this, I will once again astound these hypocrites
    with amazing wonders.
The wisdom of the wise will pass away,
    and the intelligence of the intelligent will disappear.” (Isaiah 29: 13-14, NLT)

The prophet speaks for God, saying that God hates the religion paraded in the Temple; any value in such worship comes after the worshipper lives a life worthy of God. Failure? Yes, but forgiveness is offered by the very same God who is offended by oppression, injustice and unconfessed wrongdoing combined with religious activity.

And I end this with an old "worship" event from the history of the "Hebrew" people; an account difficult to confront, which is subject to much speculation. It should be read in toto. (I am appending a few notes.) This was surely well-known in Jesus' community.

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the
Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

The angel of the
Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba (Genesis 22: 1-19, NRSV)

"God": Hebrew word very frequent (≅ elohiym); LXX Greek OT same word as Greek NT (≅ theos)
"only son Isaac": Abraham had an older son, Ishmael, by a "slave woman".
"offer him": Offering to(for?) the divine has a very long history; child sacrifice was a reality.
"We will worship": Sacrifice seen here as integral to worship; a lamb was expected
"we will come back": Did Abraham expect Isaac to also come back....
"worship": in verse 5, the central meaning of the word, Hebrew and Greek (LXX) is, "do obeisance"
"God himself will provide": It is easy to imagine this in relation to Jesus as Lamb of God
"Lord": Special OT name for God. See further in previous post, "Lord/LORD".
"angel of the Lord": the angel of the Lord, the voice of the Lord (audible?), recognised that Abraham feared God
"fear": revere, respect, obey - goes with commanded love!
"you have not withheld": A crisis moment had passed, perhaps as it passed for Jesus in the garden
"your only son": Also seems to evoke God giving his only Son that all who believe in him live
"this day": Which day? Many dates are speculated for the passage, et al.
"the mount of the LORD": Seems to evoke the Jerusalem Temple but there were earlier locations.
"as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand": We have vastly more stars! Should this creation persist for aeons yet, and even if counting all of the "household of faith", it is hard to imagine equalling the grains - a word-picture using hyperbole. How much of the total pericope is hyperbole..?

Scripture quotations marked (CEV) are from the Contemporary English Version Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.

Scripture quotations marked (CSB) are from the Christian Standard Bible. Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers, all rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission.
All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NRSV) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Note: I retain in the publishers' text where they occur the references to footnotes, but usually not the notes. You can check footnotes out by viewing the text on-line. Often they are replicated in different translations.

Bible passages accessed via BibleGateway.com
Images: Pixabay.com; author

AL 23/05/2024

No comments: