Posted by Chris Jack on 10 June 2014

In studying the practices and principles of Christian worship in the New Testament, the right starting point is surely the life and teaching of Jesus. The first significant thing to note is that Jesus Himself was a worshipper. Indeed, He is the one true worshipper. Yet, as David Peterson reminds us, He is more than just a model, or example:


‘Jesus offers the perfect pattern or model of acceptable worship in his obedient lifestyle. Yet Jesus’ life is more than an example of sacrificial service. His obedience proves to be the means by which the messianic salvation is achieved.’


As we study the theme of Jesus as a worshipper, there is a crucial fact of which we must remind ourselves — one that can all too easily be forgotten or ignored. Jesus was a Jew. Moreover, as the Gospel records amply demonstrate, He was a good Jew. This is nowhere more clearly reflected than in His approach to worship.


How did Jesus worship? What were His worship patterns? What did worship involve for Him? Jesus worshipped according to the established Jewish patterns and practices of His day. Let’s review the main evidence:

  • Jesus was circumcised, and presented to the Lord in the Temple (see Luke 2:21ff.).
  • Jesus went to the Temple, as a boy, with His family (see Luke 2:41-42).
  • Jesus regularly attended synagogues and taught there (see Matt. 4:23 [cf. Mark 1:39; Luke 4:15]; 9:35; 12:9ff. [cf. Mark 3:1ff.; Luke 6:6ff.]; 13:54ff. [cf. Mark 6:2ff.; Luke 4:16ff.]; Mark 1:21ff.; Luke 4:44; 13:10ff.; John 6:59; 18:20).
  • Jesus prayed, and taught others to do so (see Luke 11:1ff.).
  • Jesus fasted and taught others to do so (see Matt. 4:1-2; 6:16-18).
  • Jesus blessed God for food (see Matt. 14:19 [cf. Mark 6:41; Luke 9:16]; Mark 8:7; Matt. 26:26 [cf. Mark 14:22; Luke 24:30]).
  • Jesus taught others to observe the ceremonial requirements of the Law (Matt. 8:4 [cf. Mark 1:44; Luke 5:14]).
  • Jesus referred to the Temple as “my Father’s house” (Luke 2:49).
  • Jesus was concerned for the purity of the Temple (see John 2:13-17; cf. Matt. 21:1213; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46).
  • Jesus was willing to pay the Temple tax, albeit to avoid giving unnecessary offence (see Matt. 17:24-27).
  • Jesus celebrated the main Jewish festivals: Passover (see John 2:13ff.; Luke 2:7ff. [cf. Matt. 26:17ff.; Mark 14:12ff.); Tabernacles (see John 7:2ff.); Dedication (see John 10:22ff.).
  • Jesus lived a life of perfect submission and obedience to the Father (see Matt. 26:39 [cf. Mark 14:35-36; Luke 22:42]; John 4:34; 5:19, 30; 17:4).

Ralph Martin rightly speaks of Jesus as “One who honoured all that was best in the tradition of the ancestral faith and forms of worship”. Arthur Patzia comes to a similar conclusion: “For the most part, Jesus honoured the traditions of his faith and participated in religious life with his family and disciples.”
While Jesus, as a good Jew, upheld the Law and its requirements, not least in the area of worship, and while He Himself was a model worshipper, He followed in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, in the form of stinging attacks against hypocrisy and formalism. There is no room here for mere ritualism, for religious observance devoid of heart reality (see Matt. 6:1-6,16-18; Mark 7:1-23 [see also Matt. 15:1-20; cf. Luke 11:37-41]; Matt. 23:1ff. (see also Mark 12:38-40; Luke 20:45-47).


Furthermore, although Jesus kept the Law He was at times radical in His interpretation of it. See, for example, the Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 5—7). This radical approach is further evidenced in His attitude toward the Sabbath (see Matt. 12:1-8 [cf. Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5]; Matt. 12:9-14 [cf. Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11]; Luke 13:10-17; 14:1-6; John 5:1-18, cf. 7:21-23; 9:1-16). This issue lay at the heart of many of the disputes Jesus engaged in with the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. In all of this, Jesus consistently displayed a concern for the heart of worship as the right response to God and His commands—not merely the legalistic observance of external forms or rituals.


Did Jesus ever offer Temple sacrifice? That is an interesting question, the answer to which can be no more than speculation. While there is certainly no explicit statement in the Gospels to the effect that He did, neither is there any assertion that He did not. A case can be made either way. As it is, nothing hangs on it. And we simply don’t know. What is clear is that Jesus finally rendered the whole sacrificial system obsolete by the once-for-all offering of Himself as the perfect sacrifice. This is, of course, one of the central themes of the book of Hebrews (see Heb. 10:1-18).


In Jesus, the Temple and its worship are superseded. This truth is reflected in Jesus’ own teaching: in His assertion of being greater than the Temple (see Matt. 12:6) and in His comment about rebuilding the Temple (see John 2:19-22). Jesus actually fulfills the hopes and expectations of the Old Testament. All that the Jews of His day anticipated in the messianic era finds its true embodiment in Jesus.


Jesus did not come to destroy Judaism, but to bring it to its destined end in the worship of the new age.


It is evident that although Jesus lived and worshipped within His Jewish context, he was not bound by it. For He pointed beyond it. Through Him, something new was about to happen. Yet this new thing was continuous with the old and sprang directly out of it. Jesus was and is the bridge between the old and the new. He fulfills the old by His perfect obedience to it, and in doing so, ushers in the new. Here, then, is the sense in which Jesus is more than just a model worshipper. As the ultimate sacrifice for sin (see Heb. 9:26,28; cf. Mark 10:45), Jesus becomes the means of worship, the One through whom worship is to be offered (see Heb. 10:19-22; cf. John 14:6). Jesus not only worships truly; He also makes true worship possible.


Taken from "Inside Out Worship"

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