Witten by Eld Reginald Tan
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?Psalm 137.4-6, ESV
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!
“How long?” – That persistent cry from the heart of the Psalmist to the heart of God. It was David’s cry when he felt trapped and taunted by his enemies. It was Asaph’s plea for God to avenge his own cause for the sake of his glory and his covenant, and it was the struggle of numerous faithful servants waiting in patience for God to rescue, to vindicate, to act.
In this pandemic season, we find ourselves to be largely powerless bystanders, forced to sit it out while events out of our control swirl around us. When will the tidal waves of fear and uncertainty start to recede? When will life and work and ministry get back to something resembling normalcy? When can we start to feel less tossed about and helpless? How long, O Lord, how long?
For the Psalmists, the answer to such unfathomable and honestly unanswerable questions was to be found in one place – the Sanctuary. In the faithful and conscious act of acknowledging the wisdom and power and eternity of God in worship, our search for answers is met with perspective, God’s perspective, which leads to quietness and rest for the seeker.
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, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.Hebrews 10.19-25, ESV
The epistle to the Hebrews was written to a church that was beset with severe persecutions in their past, in their present, and expecting more in their future.
At the start of the pastoral section of the epistle, beginning at verse 19 of Chapter 10, the writer exhorts his readers, despite their afflictions – and surely because of their sufferings – to draw near to God in worship, to hold fast to the profession of their faith, and not to neglect meeting together.
Our worship together is to be incarnational. We are urged to come with confidence to the holy places, the house of God, where our great priest Jesus awaits; his flesh and his blood minister to us the new covenant.
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. Our hearts and our bodies are made clean before him – not by a ritual rub with hand-sanitizer – but by the sanctifying work of the Spirit.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering. Our hope is anchored in the eternal promises of our faithful God. To inherit the promises, we need endurance to walk by faith and to not shrink back or withdraw (Hebrews 10.36-39).
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. Our motivation is love and good works as a witness of our faith in God. Our challenge is to consider how to find better ways to provoke one another to love and to do good in times of mandatory social distancing.
Our worship together is to be intentional. Laying aside our fear, forgetfulness, lethargy, and laziness, we are exhorted to meet together to love and encourage one another, and all the more frequently as we see the Day of the Lord approaching.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel…. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.Hebrews 12.18-29, ESV
At the end of Chapter 12, the writer returns to the subject of worship. For the original ‘congregation in the wilderness’, it was a terrifying and forbidding experience for the worship leader and worshippers! But for the reader, it is to be nothing less than a celebratory gathering in anticipation of the glorified church in the heavenly Zion, together with countless angels, and the great cloud of saints, past, present and future. In the here and now, and more so in times of affliction, the church on earth must gather to offer worship to the living God – to hear again and again his thundering voice, and to tremble in reverence and awe at the holy fire of his presence.