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You are God's temple: how to prepare for worship, like Hezekiah
1 Peter 2:9 says that we, the church, are a royal priesthood. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 says that the church is the temple. According to 1 Corinthians 6:19, even the body of an individual Christian is the temple of God. Both as priests and as congregants, we must prepare our heart for worship.
All of that can seem very abstract, but events in the Old Testament often illustrate New Testament principles. A milestone in the life of King Hezekiah provides just the picture we need. He wanted to hold a Passover and restore the proper worship of God, but first he had to restore the temple, as described in 2 Chronicles 29: 1-19.
Hezekiah, one of Judah's godly kings, was son of Ahaz, one of Judah's worst kings. Ahaz's fearful foreign policy had fatally weakened the kingdom and reduced it to a vassal of the Assyrian empire. Worse yet, he was a pagan who turned his back on the living God to participate in Canaanite religious practices that included self-torture, temple prostitutes, and child sacrifice.
The high priest of the Lord's temple, Urijah, should have stood up to Ahaz, or at least maintained the sanctity of the temple. Instead, he cooperated with Ahaz' sin. He made an altar for pagan worship and acquiesced to shutting the doors to the temple and removing holy implements.
The situation Hezekiah faced resembles our own day. Society, led not by a king and priest, but by a tide of secularism, political pressure groups, mass media, mass entertainment, and the notion that science somehow has all the answers and "religion" has none, has turned away from God.
We, too, see people torturing themselves with eating disorders, drugs, weapons, toxic relationships, etc. We, too, see casual sex and debauchery. Some argue that prostitution is a "victimless crime." We sacrifice too many of our children to abortion, child pornography, sexual abuse, and other outrages. And too often, people who call themselves Christian leaders not only fail to stand up to all this sin, but become involved in it themselves.
The priests in Hezekiah's day were not fit to cleanse the temple because they had participated in its desecration. Hezekiah ordered them to consecrate themselves, that is, dedicate themselves to the Lord's service and make themselves both ceremonially and morally clean. They probably washed their bodies in water and laundered their clothes. They may have fasted. They certainly needed to repent of their failures.
We, too, must cleanse ourselves as priests before we can cleanse the temple that is the church. Consecration is the difference between the next part of the work being a ministry or a chore.
Cleanse the temple: take out the trash
Cleansing the temple meant taking out the trash that had accumulated
during Ahaz' reign, especially including everything used for pagan
worship. 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, warns us to flee sexual immorality
because our bodies are temples of God. Statistically, the church today
is not much different from the world in terms of divorce, adultery,
abortion, pornography, and so on.
The context of these verses may be sexual immorality, but the application is much wider. Galatians 5:19-21 lists the works of the flesh. Sandwiched in between sexual sin and drunkenness, we find hatred, discord, envy, jealousy, rage, dissension, and divisiveness. Every one of us is guilty of something on this list.
Not only that, but the daily routine of life invites us to stop thinking about God in favor of the matter at hand It tempts us to become indifferent to the blessings of God instead of faithfully and gratefully remembering them.
When our routines crowd out
God, church-going becomes an empty ritual enacted from force of habit.
It becomes boring, not joyful. Instead to single-minded devotion to God,
sitting in church becomes much like sitting anywhere else, thinking the
same jumble of thoughts we think of the rest of the week. Attendance at
church becomes lifeless, and we have no shield of faith to protect us
All sin is deadly, but too much of the leadership of the church is like Urijah, leading people into sin, not out of it. We cannot truly worship God and continue in sin. We have to take the trash out. Get rid of the gross sin first, then dust in the corners, even if that means moving the furniture.
Replenish the temple: resore what's missing
The cleansing is not an end in itself. It prepares us for worship. Not only did the priests of Hezekiah's time have to remove the trash, they also had to find all the missing implements and utensils they needed for renewed worship. Perhaps they had to hunt through the same trash heap to find some of them.
So it is with us. Where did I put my prayer life? How can I find time for reading and studying the Bible? What happened to the joy? The praise? The assurance of God's love? Where are my spiritual glasses so I can see Jesus in my family, neighbors, coworkers, and friends? Where is my spiritual hearing aid so I can distinguish the voice of God amid all the other thoughts that clamor for my attention?
As odd as it may seem, we do not go to church in order to worship. We can, and ought to, worship by ourselves any time and anywhere. We go to church in order to worship in the presence of other believers. Private acts of worship on a regular basis help give meaning to our time together. They are, in fact, how we consecrate ourselves to take out the trash and restore our spiritual utensils.