Let Us Worship

O come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation.

Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us make a joyful noise to Him with psalms. 

For the LORD is the great God, And the great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the hills are His also. 

The sea is His, for He made it; And His hands formed the dry land. 

O come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. 

For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture, And the sheep of His hand. 

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; 

as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen. 

(Psalm 95)


God created our world perfect and in harmony with Himself and His holiness. All the earth was to serve man and glorify God, so "let everything that has breath praise the LORD" (Psalm 150:6). All God's creation from the beginning sings His praise and announces His glory, as He says in Job: "To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:6-7). "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11).

The history of Christian worship begins in the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve at first lived in perfect harmony and communion with God our Maker. Cain and Abel worshipped God with sacrifices of thanksgiving for His blessed promises; Cain in hypocrisy, Abel in true faith. In the days of Seth, Adam and Eve's third son, we are told: "Then men began to call on the name of the LORD" (Genesis 4:26), indicating what most people consider the beginning of public worship. Already the first human family was attending the Service of the Church and singing the Song of the Church, exhorting one another: "O come, let us worship!"


The word "worship" is used about 185 times in the Bible. The English word "worship" comes from worth-ship; in worship we proclaim God's worthiness to receive our praise and reverence. The English word "worship" in Scripture usually comes from Hebrew and Greek words [1]which mean to "bow down." When the Lord God appeared to His people in the Old Testament, they bowed before Him to show respect and reverence-whether He came in the strangers who visited Abraham, in the burning bush, the pillar of cloud and fire, as the Angel of the LORD who appeared at various times, or in the still small voice which spoke to Elijah.

God still comes to us today in the Divine Service, the "Worship Service", in His Word and Sacraments. We too worship God by bowing down. Most of our churches have the custom of kneeling to receive the Lord's Body and Blood in the Sacrament; some also have kneelers for the pastor during the Opening and Closing Prayers of the Service and during the Confession of Sin. Our liturgies use the expression: "Let us bow before the Lord and confess our sins." These acts of bowing and kneeling acknowledge our complete dependence upon God, our submission to the Almighty Lord, our utter unworthiness before the One who alone is worthy "to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!" (Revelation 5:12). But this is not a forced submission or a self-righteous obedience as one finds in other "religions"; with it we acknowledge God's glory, and we bow to receive God's Word in all its marvelous grace and undeserved forgiveness.

We bow our hearts, just as did the blessed Mother of Christ: "Let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). She was overwhelmed by God's grace, bowed herself in lowliness, and received its wonder with all humility, joy, and faith in the Savior promised to her and all sinners. The angel Gabriel had come to her in the service of God and proclaimed the wondrous message of the Gospel. When visiting her cousin Elizabeth, Mary responded to God's Word with a Song of the Church that the Lord inspired her to sing. We still sing that beautiful hymn, the Magnificat, thanking God for these promises and for His wondrous grace. She sang this song of praise first and foremost because she was filled with the Holy Spirit, but also because the word of Christ dwelt in her richly as she had learned so many of the hymns of the Church at her time, the Psalms. The Magnificat is filled with the words and images of the Psalter: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God, my Savior" (Luke 1:46-47). Mary's hymn, like the Psalms, invites us: "O come, let us worship!"



Worship in the Old Testament involved resting from work on the Sabbath day to hear God's Word. At first that Word was proclaimed by word of mouth with no written Scriptures. Adam taught Seth; Seth taught Enosh; Enosh taught Cainan; Cainan taught Mahalelel, and so on. The Word and promises of God were faithfully transmitted from generation to generation. Early Old Testament worship also included sacrifices or offerings to God: as thanksgiving for God's blessings, and as pictures of the one perfect sacrifice of Christ yet to come. "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks" (Hebrews 11:4). These sacrifices were offered not to appease an angry God, but to show the believers' faith and trust in God who forgives all sins through the Promised Savior who appeased God's wrath once for all. The patriarchs brought offerings and sacrifices to God in response to His words and promises; Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob built altars to God and worshipped Him. They bowed down before Him because He had redeemed them, had called, gathered, and enlightened them, and had given them His Word. God served them with the Bread of life; they responded with songs and prayers of praise and thanksgiving.

When Israel came out of Egypt as a great nation, God told them how they were to worship Him and how He would come to them. "In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you" (Exodus 20:24). Later the Lord commanded Solomon to build a temple for Him and promised to hear the prayers of His people wherever He put His name. At the dedication of the temple, Solomon prayed:


Yet regard the prayer of Your servant and his supplication, O LORD my God, and listen to the cry and the prayer which Your servant is praying before You today: that Your eyes may be open toward this temple night and day, toward the place of which You said, "My name shall be there", that You may hear the prayer which Your servant makes toward this place (1 Kings 8:28-29). 

The worship service, the divine service, of the Tabernacle in the wilderness and later the Temple in Jerusalem was a liturgy of sin and grace, confession and absolution, Law and Gospel. The sinner came before God and confessed his sins; the sacrifice was made and the blood sprinkled on the altar, and the priest pronounced God's forgiveness and grace to the believer. This is shown in how Moses instituted the first covenant: "For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, 'This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you'" (Hebrews 9:19-20). All these foreshadowed the one perfect sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world and the forgiveness which He gives to all who believe. So we say of all believers, Old and New Testament: "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). The liturgy of the Old Testament brought to the people the benefit of Christ's work centuries before it was done; the liturgy of the New Testament brings to us the benefit of Christ's forgiveness centuries after it was finished.


Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us (Hebrews 9:11-12,24).

Luther also comments on this:

We treat of the forgiveness of sins in two ways. First, how it is achieved and won. Second, how it is distributed and given to us. Christ has achieved it on the cross, it is true. But he has not distributed or given it on the cross. He has not won it in the supper or sacrament. There he has distributed and given it through the Word, as also in the gospel, where it is preached. He has won it once for all on the cross. But the distribution takes place continuously, before and after, from the beginning to the end of the world. For inasmuch as he had determined once to achieve it, it made no difference to him whether he distributed it before or after, through his Word, as can easily be proved from Scripture... If I now seek the forgiveness of sins, I do not run to the cross, for I will not find it given there. Nor must I hold to the suffering of Christ, as Dr. Karlstadt trifles, in knowledge or remembrance, for I will not find it there either. But I will find in the sacrament or gospel the word which distributes, presents, offers, and gives to me that forgiveness which was won on the cross. Therefore, Luther has rightly taught that whoever has a bad conscience from his sins should go to the sacrament and obtain comfort, not because of the bread and wine, not because of the body and blood of Christ, but because of the word which in the sacrament offers, presents, and gives the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for me.[2]

The services of the Temple were elaborate and detailed, beautiful and glorious, as our God is exalted and glorious. The most beautiful treasures of God's creation adorned His Temple: gold, silver, fine cloth, embroidered curtains and robes, and jewels on the robe of the high priest. Glorious sounds filled the Temple from trumpets and cymbals, psalteries and stringed instruments, flutes and other wind instruments. Skilled and trained choirs sang lovely settings of the psalms, the inspired hymns of the Church, some of them dating back to the time of Moses (Psalm 90). Memorable aromas ascended to God as a sweet-smelling savor from the offerings of incense and animals, the lighted lampstand, the anointing oil perfumed with myrrh, cinnamon and cassia (Exodus 30:23-25). Even the sense of taste was sanctified for holy use as parts of the sacrificial animals were eaten by the priests and sometimes by their families (Leviticus 5:13; 7:9; 21:22, Deuteronomy 18:3). The whole believing family ate the Passover meal of roasted lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs to remember that the Lord had miraculously delivered Israel from bitter slavery in Egypt, as He delivers us from bondage to sin for joyful service in His kingdom (Exodus 12).

God does not command us to use all of these things today, for the Old Testament sacrifices and festivals were "a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Colossians 2:17). Yet the heritage and precedent of using only the best in the service of the Church is clearly set forth in Scripture itself for the Church of all the ages. When the Israelites were to build the tabernacle and bring gifts for its construction, their giving of gold, silver, fine cloth, and precious stones so overwhelmed Moses that finally he had to tell them to stop: 


The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work which the LORD commanded us to do. So Moses gave a commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, "Let neither man nor woman do any more work for the offering of the sanctuary." And the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient for all the work to be done-indeed too much (Exodus 36:5-6). 


In the same way our churches and the services of God's House among us today are the very best that we are able to give. Not every church can be an ornate Gothic cathedral, but neither is it to be an ordinary house or a make-do building; it is a temple fit for our heavenly King, a memorial to the greatness of our God, a house consecrated for the preaching and singing and praying of the divine oracles of the King of heaven. The Divine Service of God's House transports us out of the sinful and corrupt world into the holy dwelling of God Most High. The church is not a lecture hall [3] or a meeting place, but a House of God, a Gate of heaven, for God Himself comes to us in the Divine Service of His House. "Surely the Lord is in this place How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" (Genesis 28:16-17). In God's House the gates of heaven are opened for us through the forgiveness of sins and the promise of everlasting life.

The means of grace are the powerful vehicles through which the Holy Spirit brings to us God's grace which Christ has won for us, vehicles through which He creates in us a new spirit and makes us a new creation. We are a valley of dry bones, but the Word of God makes us alive (Ezekiel 37). The Word of God, Holy Baptism, and the Sacrament of the Altar bring us into direct communion with God, our Maker, Redeemer, and Comforter. The Holy Spirit works in our hearts through His Word as it is read, preached, sung, and prayed in the Divine Service. All these elements of worship are a proclamation of the Word of God, the Gospel of Christ. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Colossians 3:16; also Ephesians 5:19). "O come, let us worship!"



New Testament believers built on the familiar foundation of worship in the Temple and synagogue. At first they still went to the Temple at the appointed hours of prayer (Acts 3:1). They continued to use the Psalms as their hymnbook, adding new Christian hymns as they were written and appropriate, the first of these naturally being the songs of the New Testament: Zacharias' Benedictus, Mary's Magnificat, and Simeon's Nunc Dimittis (Luke 1 and 2), and the Palm Sunday Hosanna (Matthew 21:9). Worship in the temple and synagogue consisted of Scripture lessons, singing the psalms and hymns, sermons on the lessons, and prayers. The early church continued the lessons, singing, sermons, and prayers-pointing to Jesus our Lord as the perfect and complete fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets and the Writings. And as the Apostles by inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote the books of the New Testament, they too found a place of honor in the liturgy of the churches. "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42); "Give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine Meditate on these things" (1 Timothy 4:13, 15). [4]