Lord, How Shall We Worship You?
Text: Exodus 30:17-21
In Nomine Jesu!
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: "You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base also of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. And you shall put water in it, for Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet in water from it. When they go into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to the Lord, they shall wash with water, lest they die. So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die. And it shall be a statute forever to them—to him and his descendants throughout their generations.
In Christ Jesus, whose precious blood cleanses us of all our sins, dear fellow redeemed:
A young child comes into the house for lunch, washes his hands, and holding them up to his mother for inspection asks, "Good enough?" His mother shakes her head no and sends him back to the sink once again, adding the instructions, "Use soap this time!" An apprentice mechanic finishes sweeping up the garage floor at the end of the day, leans on his broom as he surveys the scene, and thinks to himself, "Good enough! It’s not like we’re going to eat on it." A surgeon puts on a fresh gown, his sterilized gloves, and enters the operating room trusting that everything has been sanitized to prevent infection from occurring after the operation.
Cleanliness—it’s a relative thing isn’t it? A little bit of dirt under your fingernails may be acceptable, but that same amount of dirt floating in a bottle of pure spring water on the store shelf is not. Cleanliness, however, is not only an external and physical issue. It is also an internal and spiritual issue. As we ask the question this Lenten Season—LORD, HOW SHALL I WORSHIP YOU?—let us not be satisfied with a spiritual cleanliness that is just "good enough," for God surely is not! Rather, let us recognize God’s demand for inward purity and rejoice in His gracious plan to purify us. Yes, LORD—HOW SHALL WE WORSHIP YOU? We worship you with the inward purity You provide!
We are studying the Old Testament Tabernacle and its furnishings this year in our midweek Lenten series. Each of those furnishings was highly symbolic, for through each the LORD God intended to provide spiritual instruction for His Old Testament people. This evening we want to consider the “laver”—a bronze basin filled with water and placed in the courtyard of the Tabernacle between the altar of burnt offering and the entrance to the Tabernacle itself. The original laver had an interesting history. It was crafted by the artisan, Bezalel, out of the bronze mirrors the women of Israel had brought with them out of Egypt. The mirrors, which had been used for the purpose of earthly adorning, were donated to the LORD as an offering so that the Israelites might properly adore God. The water stored in this basin was used by the priests to wash both their hands and their feet each time they were about to enter the Tabernacle itself. To enter the Tabernacle was to enter into the presence of God. To enter the presence of God requires absolute and total purity.
God is holy and perfect and His law demands holiness and perfection of us. Jesus restated this basic principle of the law, when in His Sermon on the Mount He stated, “You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). God’s law will not settle for any version of mankind’s view of "good enough." Even should we be able to achieve near perfection, our situation would be unacceptable in view of God’s demands. James reminds us of this truth in that familiar passage, “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (2:10). When we are confronted by this truth, we are forced to recognize that in and ourselves no one is worthy to enter into the presence of and stand before our holy God! The Psalmist implies just this with his rhetorical question, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (130:3)
Yet, God provided a means through the water contained in the laver whereby the priests could ceremonially be cleansed and so able to enter the Tabernacle and fulfill their roles in the Old Testament worship service. Consequently, the priests would wash their hands before entering the Tabernacle, symbolizing the necessary of washing away their sins before touching holy things, and they would wash their feet before setting foot in the Tabernacle, symbolizing the necessity of removing their sins before walking on holy ground in God’s presence. Were they not to do so, God specifically stated that they would die.
Did, however, the ceremonial washing of their hands and feet with water in reality cleanse the Old Testament priests? Did that washing truly cleanse their souls in the eyes of our omnipotent and omniscient God? Of course not! Mere water cannot cleanse men of their sins, even as the blood of mere animals used in Old Testament sacrifices failed to atone for sins. As the writer to the Hebrews states, “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (10:4). Rather, we are cleansed, the Bible says, by the blood of Christ. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin,” the apostle John writes (1 John 1:7).
Yet there is a water that purifies and cleanses us in New Testament times. Jesus spoke of that water when He explained to Nicodemus, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). That water of which Jesus speaks is baptism—that sacrament instituted by Jesus for the blessing of all. Jesus has commanded us, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The Spirit of God uses the water of baptism combined with the powerful promises of His word to bring blessing into our lives. The apostle Paul, while recounting his own conversion to the Christian faith, recalled at one point how the old Ananias urged him to “Arise and be baptized, and wash away yours sins” (Acts 22:16). Truly as Paul so boldly states to Titus, “When the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (3:4-5). When admonishing husbands concerning the love they owe their wives, Paul told the Ephesians, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word” (5:25-26). The apostle Peter joins Paul by explaining, “(Baptism) now saves us (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). My dear friends, God has made baptism, then, a means by which He does cleanse us, as the Spirit works faith and sustains faith in our hearts, leading us to repentance and moving us to embrace with joy God’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
What a joy it is to realize that while the laver of the Old Testament Tabernacle allowed the priests alone to cleanse themselves and enter the Lord's presence, the precious waters of baptism provide access for all. As the Scriptures so amply testify, every believing child of God is part of God’s “royal priesthood, a holy nation, (and) His own special people!” (1 Peter 2:9). We are privileged to enter the very presence of God in our worship—not because we are pure in and of ourselves, for we openly and often confess our many sins and overwhelming unworthiness. However, in connection with the atoning work of Jesus Christ and by means of His promises tied to baptism, we can worship with the inward purity He so graciously provides.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting