Beware! A Call to More Sincere Worship

On the last week of His incarnate life, Jesus spent a lot of time in the temple. On one occasion, He taught a bit about His identity. Who is the Messiah? Is He just a guy descended from David (Mk 12:35)? He quoted Psalm 110:1, then asked:

David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly (Mk 12:36-37).

Jesus wants to know, “who is this second Lord!?” After all, He’s got to be more than just David’s descendant, right? David calls him “lord,” which is a title of worship. In David’s psalm, this “lord” sits next to Yahweh, in the place of equal honor and status. He’s God’s King. He’s God’s priest; not even descended from Aaron. Together, this “lord” and Yahweh will fight and destroy all enemies one day.

Jesus wants people to stop and think, “the Messiah is more than just a man – He’s God, too! … He’s gotta to be more than a guy descended from David!” Jesus wants us to stop and think the same thing.

How should this reality impact the attitude we bring to worship; not just on Sunday, but every day?

Christians who are heirs and offspring of the Reformed(ish) Protestant tradition, like Regular Baptists, should have a “Big God” view of worship. They have a “Big God” view of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This means:

  1. complete humility about yourself
  2. complete submission to His Lordship
  3. complete service to His will

In his Gospel, Mark brings two accounts together immediately after this lesson so Jesus can show us contrasting heart attitudes about worship. This article will examine the first of them.

And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation,” (Mk 12:38-40).

What is it about the scribes, these teachers of the OT law, that Jesus warns us against? What does it have to do with you, today? What about their worship is troubling? What about their heart attitude is totally divorced from a “Big God” framework or reality?

Here it is:

Status (“long robes … greetings”)

Scribes wore distinctive clothing; long, flowing white robes. There’s inherently nothing with that. But, they liked the status they had. They wanted to be recognized. They wanted to be greeted, “hello, rabbi!” People stood to honor them as they walked by and revered them as the teachers and interpreters of the Scriptures.

Christian identity should be grounded in the Savior (“I’m a slave of Christ!”). But, many scribes found their identity in their status (“Look at who I am!”).

  • “I’m a teacher!”
  • “I’m an interpreter of God’s word!”
  • “You need me!”
  • “I’m very important”
  • “I’m very special!”

Privilege (“best seats”)

These seats were at the front, facing the congregation. Why did they like the seats? So they could be seen! They liked the perks their invented status gave them. They wanted to be seen, they wanted to be honored, they wanted to be flattered.

Vanity (“places of honor”)

They wanted the honored seats at feasts, for the same reasons. They liked it, they expected it, they wanted it, they probably became angry if they didn’t get them.

Greed (“widow’s houses”)

Scribes relied heavily on donations from members of the synagogue and community – they often had no other jobs. Some would latch onto gullible widows like leeches and suck them dry – take everything they had!

Hypocrisy (“pretense”)

They prayed long prayers so people would marvel about how spiritual they were. It wasn’t real; it was all a show to make people honor them more.

Jesus says “beware” of this example; beware of people like them, beware of worshipping God like they do. What’s their problem? If you had to distill the wrongness of their heart attitude down so you can do something with it today, how would you do it?

They’re self-absorbed.

Religion is just a convenient way for them to glorify themselves. It’s a tool; like a hammer or a tape measure – it helps them get what they want. They want to glorify themselves, and they want to lead people to glorify them, too. They think they’re special, so other people ought to think so too, right?

If you think this has nothing to do with you, then you’re wrong! If you claim to be a Christian, there are at least two ways to fall into this trap – and they both stem from never knowing or forgetting who God really is:

The casual Christian

This is unintentional narcissism. You’re self-absorbed, but you’re not doing it on purpose. Most of the time, you’ve sort of drifted into it. You don’t intend to drag Father, Son and Spirit off the throne in your heart and mind – you actually kind of like them!

You like singing the songs. You like the preaching as long as it stays generically moralistic, and you like the people in the congregation.

Your faith is like a nice app, or like your new set of wireless Bluetooth headphones – nice to have, convenient, helpful, but not really essential. If your app goes away, you’ll find a new one. You can ditch Netflix for Prime; Pandora for Spotify. If your Bluetooth headphones break, or don’t pair quickly enough anymore, or stop holding a charge, you’ll toss them away and buy new ones.

Your relationship with God is pleasant, nice, and comfortably distant - he’s like a friend at work. You’ll do lunch together, laugh, joke and spend lots of time together, but there’s always a distance, always a wall, always a separation from your home life. If one of you gets another job, you’ll say goodbye with no problems and stay FaceBook friends, and eventually unfollow one another in five years.

God is your acquaintance, not your Lord and King. Your real preoccupation is with yourself; with your dreams, your ambitions, your plans, your life. The God and King of Psalm 110 is nowhere to be found.

Jesus is more like Mr. Rogers with his red cardigan. He’s the friendly guy who lives down the street; the nicest guy in the world. A good guy. He’ll give you some advice if you ask Him. He’ll never put demands on your life. He’ll never put demands on your time. He’ll sit and wait patiently for you to notice Him, and He’s just fine with that. He’s a bit like a fat tabby cat sunning Himself on a windowsill – drowsy, sweet, ready to purr if you pet Him, but not really demanding anything from you. He’s just there if you need Him, and if not – that’s fine, too!

The deliberate hypocrite

This person is a deliberate narcissist. This describes most (not all) the scribes and Pharisees. A good number of them are charlatans who are interested in money, power and control. Religion is a vehicle that gets them what they want. In Matthew’s account, Jesus’ tirade against the scribes and Pharisees (Mt 23) immediately follows this event. This person is like Isildur with the One Ring. He doesn’t care what’s behind the Ring or what it stands for; he just likes what it can do for him. And we know how things worked out for Isildur …

The great sin here, in both instances, is to be self-absorbed – to think the life God gave you is about yourself.

  • if God is enthroned in the heavens,
  • and if Jesus has been installed right next to Him, since the resurrection, as the King of all creation (cp. Ps 2; Acts 13:32-33),
  • and if Jesus is gathering and forming His family from all corners of the world; from people of every color, culture, education, and background
  • and if the triune God (Father, Son and Spirit) is going to destroy all enemies one day, smashing them to bits like a rod of iron to pieces of pottery (cp. Ps 2:9)
  • and if God, in His mercy, reached out to you one day and gave you new life through the Gospel

then why would you ever think God is ok with you being self-absorbed; intentionally or unintentionally? The Christian life isn’t an exercise in narcissism or self-love; it’s a life of joyful submission to the Lord of all creation.  

The Christian has only one Master, and He does not share power. In the Christian life, there is only one person you need to be obsessed with – the Lord Jesus Christ!

Prayer

Dear Lord,

We ask you to fill your children’s hearts and minds with a true and better appreciation of who you are. We ask you to not allow our image of you to slip into something petty, something familiar, something ordinary. We ask you to move our spirits to see your Son as not just the Son of David, but the Son of God, too.

Help us to always remember that your Son was slain,1 and by His blood He ransomed people for you, from every tribe and language and people and nation, and He’s made us a kingdom of priests for you, and we shall reign on the new earth to come under your Son’s rule.

Help us to always see your Son as the Lord at your right hand, making all enemies His footstool, and lead us to worship Him in that light. Stir up our hearts to our covenant obligations, based on our unending gratitude for your mercy and grace towards us.

We also ask you to sweep away the narcissism, the self-love and the self-absorption that so easily creeps into our hearts and minds. Lead us to always serve you with pure motives, not in a casual, familiar and rote way – but in an honest way.

Help us to hear you, to walk in your ways, to love you, to serve you with all our heart and with all our soul, and to keep your commandments and statutes for our good2 – because we love you.

We ask this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Notes

1 Revelation 5:9-10. 

2 Deuteronomy 10:12-13.

921 reads

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.