Take your Bible and open it to Psalm 120.
Do you notice a little subheading just below the chapter number? Do you see “A Song of Ascents” (NKJV) or “A Song of Degrees” (KJV)?
These fifteen beautiful psalms of ascents were sung by Jewish travelers (which at one point, included a twelve-year-old Jesus and His family) on their uphill journey to Jerusalem. Hence, the word ascents.
After reaching Jerusalem, the travelers then climbed the fifteen steps leading into the temple courts, singing one psalm per step. When they reached the top step, they walked through the Huldah Gates into the temple of the Lord. That had to be a powerful experience!
My wife, Cindy, and I take tour groups to Israel every summer. When we do, we climb these same fifteen steps, reciting these same fifteen psalms, in the great tradition of all the Yahweh-worshippers who have gone before us.
However, unlike Yahweh-worshippers of the past, we will never be able to enter into the temple in Jerusalem because it was destroyed in AD 70. We will never be able to stand in the temple courts, to hear the Levites sing, to watch the priests enter into the Holy Place.
The truth is worshiping the Lord today isn’t anything like worshiping the Lord in AD 18.
It’s way better!
Solomon’s temple was glorious, and many traveled far to see it. But only one person on the planet—and only one day each year, the Day of Atonement—was allowed access into the presence of the Lord Himself. Everyone else was forbidden to enter the Holy of Holies.
Then something dramatic happened.
One Friday afternoon in around AD 31, the entire system of temple access was set aside. A few hundred yards from the temple, in a rock quarry, a thirty-three-year-old man cried out, “It is finished!”—more literally, “Paid in full!” And when He did, the temple curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the world was torn from top to bottom!
For the first time, ordinary people—anybody standing nearby—could peer directly into the Holy of Holies.
What was happening? A new High Priest was taking over, breaking down the barrier between God and humanity, because this man was both God and human.
Forty days later, this same High Priest, Jesus Christ, returned to “the true tabernacle” in heaven (Heb. 8:2 NKJV), presenting Himself both the High Priest and as a lamb freshly slain (Rev. 5:6 NKJV). Christ then unleashed His Spirit throughout the entire earth, filling His followers with spiritual gifts, languages, and the realization that they were now “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9 KJV) serving their High Priest, Jesus Christ.
One of those who realized the enormity of what had happened would later write a letter to Hebrew readers. The book of Hebrews was, perhaps, directed to former priests who needed assurance that they were doing the right thing in turning to a new priesthood and a High Priest who never changes. This dramatic change can be summed up in this:
“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:19–22).
In the high priesthood of Jesus Christ, you are also a priest. You have direct access to God the Father through the veil of the flesh of His Son. And you are called to do a priestly work in Christ, bringing others into the glorious presence of Yahweh.
Andy Nash is an author, professor, and pastor who leads summer study tours to Israel.
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The apostle Peter offers a profound summary of our identity in Christ in 1 Peter 2:9-10. In the process, he uncovers a wellspring of hope for everyone who follows Christ.
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
In the first place, no one can appreciate the light like those who have been in darkness. The apostle Paul encourages to forget “those things which are behind” (Philippians 3:13). But sometimes a backward glance can help us appreciate just how far we’ve come.
How has your life changed since you gave it to Christ? What differences do you see in yourself? What differences do other people notice? By taking measure of what God already has done in your life, you can light the spark of hope as to what your future holds.
In the second place, Peter was writing to a church that was being persecuted. They had little obvious reason to hope. Yet Peter is firm in his assurance that God will fully equip His own to face opposition and challenges. When our strength and endurance falters, God will renew us. He will re-energize us. He will give us what we need to stand strong and thrive.
In the third place, our very calling is hopeful in nature. According to Peter, our job is to “proclaim the praises” of God—to worship Him with everything we’ve got. In order to do that, however, we need to understand God, to get a sense of who He is and what He’s done.
We need to take a fresh look at His creation, the wonders and intricacies of His loving design. We need to immerse ourselves in the stories and passages of the Bible that reveal aspects of God’s nature and detail His awe-inspiring works. We need to talk to others about God’s work in their lives. We need to read the words of the psalmists and others who committed themselves to worship—men and women who were inspired to write words like this:
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
The more we learn about what God has done, the more we understand about what He’s capable of. How He brings ultimate good from even the worst circumstances. The more we immerse ourselves in the business of worship, the more hope we will ultimately find.
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Worship has existed since … well, since humankind has existed. Adam and Eve lived in a paradise. They experienced God’s creation before the Fall, in all of its unimaginable splendor. They walked with God Himself in the cool of the evening. You think they weren’t bursting with expressions of worship and gratitude?
Something that connects us to our Creator in the same way our first ancestors were connected to Him.
Out of our own head is a very good place to be. In a culture where selfies are everything, it’s easy to become the center of our own universe. To pursue accolades and fish for compliments. To promote the brand of Me. To embrace the people, opportunities, and things that benefit us and dismiss the rest.
Genuine worship, on the other hand, requires a 180-degree turn. There may be an “I” in worship, but it’s strictly phonetic. Worship compels us to focus on God and His works alone.
If you go out of your way to do something extraordinary for someone else, at the very least you’d probably like the person to notice what you did. Receiving a heartfelt thank you from the person would probably be even better. And perhaps the best-case scenario would be to receive (a) a detailed expression of appreciation for your gesture that demonstrates a deep understanding of its value, as well as everything that went into it, and (b) a heartfelt tribute to your kindness, generosity, and skill-set.
Worship gives us the opportunity to offer such an expression and tribute to God. In order to do that, however, we must be aware of what it is He’s done. We need to pay close attention to His work in our lives, in the lives of others, and throughout creation. We need to learn to spot God’s handiwork in big things and small.
Many of the psalms in the Bible were intended to be sung. (David, the chief psalmist, was a musician before he became king of Israel.) In most churches, music features prominently in the worship service.
Music also works as a mood-setter for worship. If the busyness or distractions of daily life make it difficult for you get into a worship mindset, listen to your favorite worship songs. Listen in your car during your morning commute. Listen while you work out. Listen as part of your quiet time. Wherever music can be played, you can prepare for worship.
Passages such as Psalm 95 (NKJV) suggest that worship is part of our job description as created beings of God.
Oh 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.
Worship is in our blood; it’s why God created us as He did. When we fully embrace genuine worship, we experience a sense of fulfillment and purpose that can’t be experienced in any other way.
For additional reading, check out the article Five Ingredients for a Game-Changing Worship Experience.
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If you’re looking to add variety to your commemoration of Good Friday or your celebration of Easter Sunday, here are a few places to start.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.
But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate
Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen
Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing
Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty
Christ is Risen indeed from the dead,
the first of the sleepers,
Glory and power are his forever and ever
1 Alleluia, alleluia!
Hearts to heaven and voices raise.
Sing to God a hymn of gladness,
sing to God a hymn of praise.
He who on the cross a victim
for the world’s salvation bled,
Jesus Christ, the king of glory,
now is risen from the dead.
2 Alleluia, Christ is risen!
Death at last has met defeat.
See the ancient powers of evil
in confusion and retreat.
Once he died and once was buried;
now he lives forevermore—
Jesus Christ, the world’s Redeemer,
whom we worship and adore.
3 Christ is risen, Christ and first fruits
of the holy harvest field,
which will all its full abundance
at his second coming yield.
Then the golden ears of harvest
will their heads before him wave,
ripened by his glorious sunshine
from the furrows of the grave.
4 Alleluia, alleluia!
Glory be to God on high;
alleluia! to the Savior,
who has won the victory;
alleluia! to the Spirit,
fount of love and sanctity:
to the triune Majesty.
How blessed is this day, when earth and heaven are joined and humankind is reconciled to God! May the light of Jesus shine continually to drive away all darkness. May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting, find his light ever burning in our hearts—he who gives his light to all creation, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
Almighty God, who hast given thine only Son
to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin,
and also an ensample of godly life;
Give us grace that we may always
most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit,
and also daily endeavor ourselves
to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples
with the sight of the risen Lord:
Give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened
and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
your Son made himself known to his disciples
in the breaking of bread.
Open the eyes of our faith,
that we may see him in all his redeeming work;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
you have given your only Son to die for our sins
and to rise again for our justification:
grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness
that we may always serve you
in pureness of living and truth;
through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Lord God our Father,
through our Saviour Jesus Christ
you have assured your children of eternal life
and in baptism have made us one with him:
deliver us from the death of sin
and raise us to new life in your love,
in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
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