Saturday, November 5, 2016

“DO NOT WORSHIP ME”

(I am currently writing a series on the last two chapters of the Bible. These chapters are the only two in the entire Bible that are dedicated exclusively to telling us what eternity will be like for the believers in Christ)*****************

Here are some words of John that he wrote near the end of the book of Revelation: 

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. But he said to me, “Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God!” (Revelation 22:8-9 NAS).

Throughout the entire book of Revelation, John had seen very many things that were actually quite impossible for him to understand. He had been given the task to write down and describe what he saw, which was also for him an almost impossible task since what he witnessed was in many ways beyond description. With all that he had been shown and with the job that he had been given to do, I am sure that John must have been in a constant state of wonderment and awe.

In the two verses that I have just quoted above, I think that when John is referring to the things that he had heard and had seen, he is speaking specifically about his vision of heaven and of the throne room of God. The glory of God that he had seen in that place must have filled him to overflowing with praise – so much so that he fell down to worship at the feet of the angel that had shown all of the things to him.

“Don’t do that!” The angel told him. “I am only a fellow servant just like you. Worship God!” 

Correction Number One

John, being in such a state of astonishment by what he had seen and heard, and with the angel, who himself had a rather other-worldly appearance, it was almost a natural response for John to bow down before him. The angel needed to help John direct his worship correctly.

This actually was not the first time that John had to be corrected in this manner. (To continue, please press the READ MORE button below)
 Back in the nineteenth chapter of Revelation, in a passage where John is describing the marriage supper of the Lamb, the angel who was his guide at that point told him, “Write these words, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ These are true words of God” (Revelation 19:9). It was also at this point that John “fell down at the feet” of the angel to worship him.

At this, just as in the instance that I first mentioned, the angel said to John, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brothers who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!” (Revelation 19:10 NAS). 

Peter Also Given Correction

You may remember from one of the gospel stories that Peter also had a difficulty with maintaining his priorities in worship. I have written in earlier chapters about an event that took place during the life of Jesus and of the disciples, and which took place on what we call “The Mount of Transfiguration.” It was up that mountain where one day Jesus took Peter, along with John and James, and it was there on the mountain where the three disciples saw Jesus physically transformed. In this state of transformation, the radiance of his being was allowed to become visible to the disciples present with him.

Along with Jesus, Moses and Elijah also appeared. When the three disciples where on the mountain and saw the transfiguration of Jesus, and when Peter saw that Moses and Elijah also appeared with Jesus, he blurted out, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

It was God himself that had to reprimand Peter. A voice came out of a bright cloud overhead and said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5).

At the sound of the voice of God, the three men fell down to the ground in terror. Jesus came to them, touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” When they lifted their eyes, Moses and Elijah were gone and only Jesus stood before them. 

Misdirected Worship

It is almost an irrational tendency that we have as believers to sometimes misdirect our devotion. When John was overwhelmed by all that he saw and heard in the throne room of God, when he saw all of the people and heavenly beings worshiping the Lord who sat on the throne, he also was overcome with the need to bow in reverence and worship.

I do not know why in this case John did not direct his worship instead to God, whom he saw sitting on the throne. I suspect it was because although he was shown the throne room and heard what was being said there, he was not actually and physically present there in the room. This was a vision. It was as if he was viewing it from some distance.

The one who was present with him was the angelic being. This was one whom he could touch, at least in a sense. If he could not touch him physically, at least he some sense of understanding who the angel was. He was within John’s own experience at that time.

The angel had to correct John. “Do not worship me. Worship God,” he said.

With Peter and James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, it was Peter who gave voice to the desire to build tabernacles, not only for Jesus but also for Moses and for Elijah. The meaning of the word tabernacle actually is a tent – a dwelling. However, in this context it is something that is connected with a sense of reverence, if not worship, just as was the Old Testament tabernacle in the wilderness.

It was Peter’s desire to place Moses and Elijah on a similar level with Jesus that seemed to anger God. Moses and Elijah were mere men. God himself had to correct their improper priorities. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” 

Worshiping the Calf

It puzzles me why we as men and women sometimes seem so willing to attribute excessive honor to someone or even something other than God. I think it is because we may sometimes feel that God is perhaps outside of our reach – inaccessible in some ways. This at least seems to be the case in the Old Testament incident of the golden calf.

This event occurred during the time when the children of Israel had been wandering in the wilderness. They actually ending up wandering in this condition for forty years. The incident of the golden calf took place quite early in that time. Moses, the man who had led the people out of Egypt by the power of God’s hand, was at the time when the golden calf was made, up on the Mountain of God,” as it was called.[1] His task on that mountain was to meet with God and receive from him the instructions for the conduct and the worship practices of the people.

When Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain,[2] the people began to become impatient. They came en masse to Aaron, the second in command and brother of Moses, and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exodus 32:1 NAS).

I find it interesting the way that they referred to Moses – “As for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt.” It was almost as if, after a few weeks of not seeing Moses, they had rather forgotten who he was. They thought that they needed someone or something tangible that they could identify as the object of their worship. Moses was gone, not that they should have worshiped him anyway, but God was even more remote.

“Make for us a god,” they told Aaron.

Much to my amazement, Aaron consented to do so. “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me,” he told the people.

Aaron took the jewelry, melted all the articles down into molten gold, made a form, and cast it all into a statue of a calf – a golden calf. When the people saw the calf, they said of it, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”

Instead of being shocked by the actions of the people in attributing the mighty acts of God to this golden statue, Aaron built an altar before it and made a proclamation. “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD,” he told them. 

Filling in the Blanks

I think that we need to back up a little in this story to try and understand all that had happened. As you might imagine, what we read in the text is a heavily redacted version of all that took place at the foot of the mountain. In trying to understand the actions of Aaron, it seems to me that he did not see this golden calf as a god, as did the people. Rather, he saw that calf as what he may have called “an aid to worship.” He saw the calf was something tangible that could direct the worship of the people to God himself. Notice that he proclaimed a feast day not to honor the calf, but a feast to the LORD.

The people did not view it in this way. They looked upon the calf as their god.

Nor did God see it as Aaron saw it. God told Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” (Exodus 32:7-8 NAS) 

Present Day Images

It is because of incidents like this and the experiences of Peter and John that I become a little concerned when I today see images of figures that are meant for aids to worship. I believe that God is also concerned, did he not tell the people not long before this event at the foot of Mount Sinai, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them?” (Exodus 20:4-5a ESV).

Likewise, I think that God gets concerned when we begin to do acts of worship to people rather than to God. He seemed displeased with Peter when Peter suggested making small tabernacles for the appearance of Moses and Elijah, as well as for Jesus. The angel corrected John when John bowed down the worship the angel instead of God. 

A Great Host of Witnesses

I am afraid that I may step on a few toes as I continue, but I personally am similarly concerning when it comes to the whole subject of praying to the saints and to Mary, the mother of Jesus. I understand and agree with the concept that, as is written in the book of Hebrews, “We are surrounded by a great host of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). The writer here was writing about individuals who had lived in great faith but had since died. Along with this writer, I agree that just because someone has died and we no longer can see them or touch them, it does not mean that they no longer have anything to do with our lives.

It is true that I do not know exactly what the writer of Hebrews means when he says that we are “surrounded by a great host witnesses.” There are only four other instances in the Bible where this term surrounded is used.[3] Although various English words are used in the translation of each of these verses, they all have the sense of something that is closely connected to the person or is even an integral part of the person.

When the writer of the book of Hebrews, after writing about some of the noteworthy believers who had lived sometime before then but had also long before died, says that we are surrounded by these witnesses, I think that he means it beyond the fact that these people serve as good examples for us to follow. There is a sense that the connection is closer than that.

The images in the Bible for who we are as the people of God are ones that connote connectedness. We are the family of God (alluded to in 1 Timothy 5:1-1), the sheep of his pasture (Psalm 100:3), and the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). In the Apostles’ Creed, this fellowship is called “the communion of the saints” (speaking in broad terms of the believers in Christ). 

Prayers to Those Other than God

Thus, those who offer prayers to Mary and to those whom the church has designated as a special class of exalted saints, they say that it is not much different than asking someone in the church to pray for us, just as we do in our church every Sunday as we pray for one another.

Ideally, I wish that this were true. However, like the intentions of Aaron at the foot of Mount Sinai, the reality is often far from what might be the ideal in praying to Mary or praying to the saints. 

Some Personal Experiences

During Holy Week throughout Latin America, it is a tradition to have great processions of worship through the streets of many towns. There are two types of images of Jesus that are carried through the streets. One is that of a dying Jesus on the cross, and the other is a dead Jesus lying in a glass coffin. Along with the statues of Jesus in these parades are also statues of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Jesus on the cross or in the coffin is a suffering, emaciated, and defeated. The one who radiates serene victory is Mary. She stands over the coffin of the pitiful and wasted body of her son with her arms spread out in peace and comfort. Mary illuminates the worshippers with her very presence.

One Good Friday afternoon, my wife and I walked along with one of these processions through our town where we once lived. We had simply been out for a stroll but had been caught in the crowd of hundreds of worshipers as they walked through the streets. Along with the crowd, we followed the radiant statue of Mary standing over the dead body of Jesus. I was already uncomfortable with this scenario, but added to this uneasiness was what was being said during the procession. As we walked along, at the head of the parade was a woman of the church who was leading the followers in worship. The woman, speaking over an amplifier, was listing all the things for which we were to be thankful.

“We thank Mary for the health that we have received this year… we thank her for our food and homes… we thank her for our families.” I listened as the woman continued to announce these things over a speaker, waiting to hear how far she would go in her praises to Mary. She finished her list of praises with that which I had hoped that she would not say. “And we thank Mary for the salvation through the church and the forgiveness of our sins.”

Where was Jesus in all of these adulations? He was dead, and lying in a coffin. 

One evening on the local television news from the nearby city from where we lived in South America, there was a report of a young boy who had had a vision of Mary. He reported that he was riding his bicycle along a mountain road, and Mary appeared to him in some lichen that was growing on a rock by the side of the road. The lichen, he said, had grown on the rock in the perfect shape of Mary.

I occasionally drove along that same mountain road and knew the area, so I decided to drive up there and see this image of Mary. By the time I got up there just a couple of days after the report, the rock was already surrounded by burning candles and people expressing devotion to it. There was an old woman with a child, whom I assumed to be her grandchild. She repeatedly touched the rock and then placed her hand on the head of the child, as if in a blessing. The lichen, but the way, physically did not look like a human figure at all.

As I drove past that spot in the following weeks, the rock had been eventually enclosed in a small chapel, complete with garlands and candles. There were always the candles, and they were always burning. 

My Worship

These have been some of my experiences (there have been others as well). Perhaps with this you can see why I become very uneasy when I see a shrine set up for a saint or for Mary the mother of Jesus. I cannot get past the words that God spoke to Peter on the mountain: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!”

I cannot get past the words of the angel to John: “Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God!”

At least for myself, this is how I intend to continue my walk with the Lord. Although I hold the saints and all those who have gone before me in very high esteem and understand that I have a connectedness with them, my devotion is to the Lord only. He will share it with no one.



[1] Perhaps Mount Sinai or Horeb – Exodus 3:1 (margin note)
[2] He was there a total of forty days – Exodus 24:18
[3] Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2 hung around the neck, Acts 28:20 wearing these chains; Hebrews 5:2 beset or encompassed. There are also other forms of the word found elsewhere in the New Testament, but they all have the same sense of being closely connected.

1 comment:

  1. I just read Do Not Worship Me. I really loved all the Bible examples here. And our personal ones.
    And I am glad you made this distinction very clear. You say it so well and get from point A to Point B very clearly.
    Your reasoning helps me in my life to not do this to people or things, Honey. Thank you.

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