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The following quotations are from William P. Farley’s excellent book, Outrageous Mercy: Rediscover the Radical Nature of Christianity.

. . . all true worship is a response to God’s revelation. God initiates worship by speaking to us . . . Worship is not something that we fabricate or produce. God reveals some aspect of His moral beauty – His love, mercy, or holiness – and we respond with worship. In other words, to the degree that God communicates His proper nature to us we respond with worship. “Worship is dialogical,” notes Michael Horton. “God speaks and we respond.” (p. 166)

Where do we find the revelation that produces worship? The cross is the Bible’s greatest revelation of God’s goodness and mercy. In other words, the more we see God’s goodness and our bankruptcy at the cross, the greater our capacity for worship. God initiates worship by revealing Himself, and the cross is the pinnacle of all worship-inducing revelation. (p. 171)

Let us consider the worship of the Old Testament saints. For them, worship was not about sentimental singing, nor was it truth expressed in cold repetition. They certainly sang, and danced, and lifted their hands, and sometimes expressed extremes of jubilation rarely seen in modern America – except, perhaps, at sporting events. They also recited doctrine continuously (phylacteries, anyone?). But the central feature of Old Testament worship was sacrifice. Animals were slaughtered and burned (and also eaten) to the glory of God. Blood (innocent blood!) was everywhere. True believers understood that a living being was dying for their sins –  in their place, as it were. They recognized that their conduct, and their corrupted soul itself, was in violation of God’s moral perfections and His holy Law. Something had to be done to rescue them from His wrath; something bloody, and horrific, and terrifying. All of this pre-figured the cross. So, in it’s own way, even the Old Testament worship was cross-centered.

David recognized that all of this had to be more than mere outward observance when he said,

“For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
Psalm 51:16-17

Animal sacrifices by themselves don’t break the heart of  a sinner and humble his spirit. It is only in seeing the perfectly worthy, sovereignly ultimate, infinitely pure, totally righteous, relentlessly loving Son of God SUFFERING in our stead that we are reduced to silence, and awe, and appreciation, and fear, and ecstatic joy!  It here that our hearts are changed to the glory of God.

As the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were only a type and shadow of the cross, so our sacrifices of consecration, surrender and service are merely faulty (but necessary) imitations of Christ’s sinless self-sacrifice. There must be truth, and there should be exuberance, but there is NO worship of God apart from the cross. Whether it is quiet or loud, old-fashioned or contemporary, conventional or creative, all true worship is a heart-level response to the cross that points to the cross and is sanctified by the cross. Outside of this, there is nothing but “strange fire” on one side, and freezer-burned doctrine on the other.

Links to cross-centered music:

Sovereign Grace     http://www.sovereigngracemusic.org/

Indelible Grace        http://www.igracemusic.com/