For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him, as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is
to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a
sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that
acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share
what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Visible, corporate, Christ-exalting
worship contains the same tension and the same paradox as all of
Christian life on this fallen planet. The tension and the
paradox come from this fact: becoming a Christian makes a person
both at home and at odds with his own culture. This paradox affects
the way we live and the way we worship.
Let me try to illustrate how Christianity is both at home and at
odds with culture - every culture on the earth. The tension is
rooted in the very nature of the gospel - the good news that Christ
Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The tremendous truth
that God justifies us by faith alone apart from works of the law
(Romans 3:28) implies that "God accepts us as we are, on the ground
of Christ's work alone [through faith alone], not on the ground of
what we have become or are trying to become."1 This
means that, in every culture, being put right with God through
Christ - being justified - does not mean first or decisively or
fundamentally abandoning that culture to become a Christian. We
begin the Christian life accepted by God with all our cultural
The Gospel-Rooted Indigenous Principle
One of the scandals of Christianity in the New Testament was
that Gentiles did not culturally have to become Jews in order to
become Christians. Justification by faith alone means that anyone
from any culture, and in any culture, can become a Christian. The
way this truth expresses itself in missions is in the rightness of
planting indigenous churches. What we mean by "indigenous"
is that the churches should reflect the home culture rather than
being squeezed into a foreign mold. That's what I mean when I say,
Becoming a Christian makes a person at home with his culture. You
don't have to become American or Jewish or Amish to become a
Christian. Justification by faith alone on the basis of the
righteousness of Christ alone produces an indigenous principle in
Christian missions and in the Christian life.
The Gospel-Rooted Pilgrim Principle
But right along side this gospel-rooted indigenous principle
emerges another one immediately. Listen to how Andrew Walls, former
missionary to Sierra Leone, puts it:
Not only does God in Christ take people as they are: He takes
them in order to transform them into what He wants them to be
[the necessity of sanctification follows the gift of
justification]. Along with the indigenizing principle which
makes his faith a place to feel at home, the Christian inherits the
pilgrim principle, which whispers to him that he has no abiding
city and warns him that to be faithful to Christ will put him out
of step with his society; for that society never existed, in East
or West, ancient time or modern, which could absorb the word of
Christ painlessly into its system.2
So, rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ is the tension that we
are justified by faith alone on the ground of Christ's
righteousness alone, not on the ground of leaving our culture for
another; and yet immediately the Holy Spirit begins to sanctify us
and put us at odds with some of the elements in our culture - every
culture. So becoming a Christian makes us both at home and at odds
with our culture. The gospel has an indigenous impulse and
a pilgrim impulse. Or, to use last weeks, words, there is
the settler mindset and the sojourner mindset.
There is the impulse to make a home for the faith and settle down;
and there is an impulse to travel with the faith and take it to
places and peoples where it doesn't exist yet.
You can see this even before Christ in the Old Testament: there
was the solid, settled, immovable Temple in Jerusalem, and there
was the temporary, moveable, pilgrim tabernacle traveling through
the wilderness. Throughout church history, corporate Christian
worship has been expressed, on the one hand, by great, lasting,
settled cathedrals, and, on the other hand, by simple chapels and
homes and rented auditoriums. You can see the tension even in the
instruments of worship: the large, immovable, pipe organ and grand
piano, on the one hand, and the simple guitar or the keyboard, on
the other hand. The indigenous principle and the pilgrim principle
- the settler mindset and the sojourner mindset - have been in
tension from the very beginning of Christianity, in the way we live
and the way we worship.
God Calls Us to Be Sojourners and Exiles on Earth
Last week I said that Bethlehem's vision of Treasuring Christ
Together - growing by multiplication instead of centralization -
calls for a shift in our mindset from settler to sojourner. And now
you can see more clearly, I hope, that the point is not that the
settler mindset is bad in itself. In its best form, it grows right
out of the gospel - Christ means to be at home in every culture!
Nevertheless, I must say this to be faithful to the Scriptures: The
Bible calls us exiles and sojourners (1 Peter 2:11) who are laying
up treasures in heaven and not on the earth (Matthew 6:19). And if
the settler mindset dominates this church - or any church - we will
not reach our neighborhoods or networks of unbelievers, or the
nations of the world for Christ. It isn't just missionaries that
need a risk-taking, comfort-disturbing, semi-nomadic, pilgrim
mindset. We all do. Christ did not call us to settle in on this
earth. He called us to be exiles and sojourners on the earth.
Which brings us now directly to verse 14 in our text and the
issue of worship. "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek
the city that is to come." That is not a comment about
missionaries. It is a comment about Christians. The readers of this
book were drifting toward the passive, settler mentality. They were
too at home in the world. Everything was starting to feel too
natural and too comfortable. So the writer drove home over and over
in the last chapters:3 Here we have no lasting city.
This is not our home. We have a "better and abiding possession"
(Hebrews 10:34). We are pilgrims. We are aliens and exiles. Our
hearts are set on the City of God and on the joy of Christ's
And what we saw was that from this pilgrim mindset flows the
seamless sacrifice of worship as the fruit of lips (verse 15) and
the fruit of life (verse 16). So let's see how these verses tell us
to worship as pilgrims.
One thing is really clear: Style and form and genre are not high
on the list of essentials for pilgrim worship. What is? We can see
at least four pilgrim worship priorities in these two verses:
- Jesus Christ as the mediator of all worship.
- Praise to God as the continual expression of the lips.
- Practical proofs that your treasure is in heaven and is worth
more than everything here.
- Pleasing God.
Let's take these one at a time and make them part of our pilgrim
mindset in worship.
1. Jesus Christ as the Mediator of All Worship
Verse 15: "Through him then let us continually offer up
a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that
acknowledge his name." Our sacrifice of praise to God must go
"through him," that is, through Jesus Christ. He is our Go-between.
We are sinners, and God is infinitely holy and pure. If we drew
near to him without Christ, we would be consumed. Christ is the
asbestos righteousness that wraps us up in love so we can enjoy the
blazing heat of God's holiness and not be consumed by it.
Hebrews 7:25 puts it like this: "He is able to save to the
uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he
always lives to make intercession for them." And Hebrews 10:19ff
puts it like this: "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence
to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new
and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is,
through his flesh, . . . let us draw near with a true heart in full
assurance of faith." Every act of worship, every whisper of praise,
goes to God through Christ, or not at all. Never cease to think of
Christ as your moment-by-moment Mediator in worship.
There is an even more astonishing sense that we praise the
Father through Christ. In Hebrews 2:11-12 the writer says of
Christ, "He is not ashamed to call them [that is, us]
brothers, saying [now this is Christ speaking], 'I will tell of
your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I
will sing your praise.'" What that means is that the risen
Jesus is worshipping with us in our gathering. "In the midst of the
congregation I will sing your praise."
Have you ever imagined Jesus singing today? If you imagined it,
do you think he would be saying? I think he would be saying,
"Holy Father, I with my whole soul, and all those you have given me
and for whom I died, praise you and honor you and glorify your holy
name." So when we worship, let us never forget that we praise the
Father only because of the blood and righteousness of Christ, only
through Christ. And when we go through him, he goes with us. And
whenever we sing through him, and wherever we sing through him on
our pilgrim journey through life, he is singing with us. How can
the Father not listen and enjoy the songs of his Son and all the
2. Praise to God as the Continual Expression of the Lips
A second pilgrim worship priority in these verses is that our
lips should praise God and that this should be continual. Verse 15:
"Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice
of praise to God." There are at least three senses in which you can
take the word "continual."
One is over against stated Sabbaths and holy days. In other
words, don't praise God only on Sunday and Thanksgiving and
Christmas, but praise him continually. Let every day be a holy day
to the Lord. "This the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice
and be glad in it" - all my days (Psalm 118:24). For the Christian
pilgrim the holy day and the holy place is always present.
The second way to take the word "continual" is that every word
that comes out of our mouths should be rooted in the
praiseworthiness of God's grace and justice and wisdom and power.
And so every word, even if it's a conversation with a friend, a
business phone call, the teaching of math, the shouting at a high
school ball game, is an honor to God. God hears in it praises to
But the most important thing to say about the word "continual"
is that it means, praise God continually through good times and
bad times - wherever our pilgrim journey takes us. There are
not praise-God times and criticize-God times. There are only
praise-God times. That doesn't mean there are no tears. And it
doesn't mean there are no perplexities about the way God works. But
it does mean that through tears and unanswered questions we praise
the Lord. We speak well of him. We don't call him into question. We
submit to him as wise and powerful and good.
Matt and Beth Redman's new song, "Blessed Be Your Name,"
expresses what I mean. (We'll sing it one of these days.) It's
based on Job 1:21 where Job lost all his children and possessions
and said, "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be
the name of the LORD." This is praising God
continually.4 The song says:
Blessed be Your name when the sun's shining down on me
When the world's "all as it should be,"
Blessed be Your name.
And blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name.
You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name.
Which is a good example of the fruit of lips "that acknowledge
3. Practical Proofs That Your Treasure Is in Heaven and Is
Worth More Than Anything Here
The third pilgrim worship priority is practical proofs that your
treasure is in heaven. Verse 16: "Do not neglect to do good and
to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to
God." Here the sacrifices of worship are not worshipful sacrifices
of the lips in praise, but worshipful sacrifices of the hands in
doing good for others and sharing what you have.
The reason this is worship is that the way you handle your
possessions on earth is a declaration of whether your treasure is
in heaven, namely, whether God is your treasure. If you are lavish
and risky in your giving to the needy and to the cause of Christ,
keeping your life lean as on a wartime footing, then it will appear
that you are living for another world. It will appear that verse 14
has really taken root in your life: "Here we have no lasting city,
but we seek the city that is to come." The city where God himself
is the light and the joy.
Here we see the connection between worship and the pilgrim
mindset most clearly: Pilgrims travel light. If we have a great
inheritance just around the corner we do not quibble over treasures
4. Pleasing God
One last pilgrim worship priority: Pilgrim worship pleases God.
Verse 16: "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have,
for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." Why does it
please God, when we do good and share what we have because we seek
the city of God, and not the city of Man? The answer is obvious:
When we give things away and live more radically for Christ, we
make him look more valuable than things.
But notice how this writer says it in Hebrews 11:6, "Without
faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would
draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards
those who seek him." You can't please God if you don't come to him
empty handed and longing for the Reward - and he himself is the
final Reward. God is pleased when our worship reflects our need and
his bounty, our bankruptcy and his riches, our folly and his
wisdom, our weakness and his strength, our emptiness and his
fullness, our hunger and his rich food, our thirst and his fountain
of living water. God is pleased when the seamless sacrifice of
worship makes him look like our all-satisfying Treasure. Oh, that
we might be united in such pilgrim worship in Treasuring Christ
1. Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian
History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith (Maryknoll, New York:
Orbis Books, 1996), p. 7.
2. Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian
History, p. 8.
3. Hebrews 10:32-35; 11:9-10; 24-26; 12:1-2; 13:13-14.
4. Sarah Edwards's words to her oldest daughter about the death
of Sarah's husband, Jonathan, is a beautiful example of continual
praise in the midst of great loss and pain:
What shall I say: A holy- and good God has covered us with a
dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our
mouths! The Lord has done it, He has made me adore his goodness
that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O
what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left to us! We are
all given to God: and there I am and love to be.
Your ever affectionate mother,