Matthew 21:12-17 How to Foster an OPEN Worship Experience
What were you thinking when you came into this building? What was on your mind when you entered this church? Who are you thinking about when you came in here?
Perhaps you thought of the argument you had with your husband or wife before you came. Perhaps you worried about your child’s health before you walked in here. Maybe you thought: “I wonder if someone will say hello to me today.” Or this: “I hope no one says hello to me. I know that no one loves me.”
There are a variety of thoughts that are in the minds of people here today. I want to tell you to relax. Take a deep breath. Free your mind of all your worries and think about God today.
I. Come with the proper PURPOSE of worship in mind (v.12-13).
Who do we think about when we come to worship? Do you think about this: “Oh, how great it will be for me today? I can escape from the problems and just sit here.” Or maybe this: “This Sunday is for me. I can sing and spend time in church and listen to a great message. I don’t have to think about God. It is good enough that I am in the church building.” Maybe this: “I look good. I feel good. I am dressed for worship with my suit. I look slick. Look at the clothes I am wearing. I just spent $500 on my new suit. Look at me, I look good!”
Well, if this is how you are thinking, watch out. You are slipping into SELFISH WORSHIP. Selfish worship is the act of thinking only of yourself and your concerns in worship. We do in two different directions: We demand that other people look at us. At the same time, we shun others.
This was the kind of worship that really got Jesus mad. When you look at the scene you find that when Jesus comes one morning, there are people selling animals in the temple. Why were they selling animals? Well, animals were part of the daily sacrifice. The problem was not the birds. The issue was the profit being taken. The temple servants (the scribes, the Levites, and the Pharisees) turned their act of service that was supposed to honor God, into a profit-making business. The PROPHETS of God were trying to make a PROFIT from the worshipers of God. This made Jesus angry. Behind the acts of business was a mindset of selfishness. The people came not to honor God, but to make money. Notice, the people he attacked: the buyers, the sellers, and the money-changers. Each of these people was making money. The buyers were buying the poor people’s animals that were not good for sacrifice at a cheap price. The sellers would sell the right kind of sacrifice at a high price. And if that was not bad enough, the people who were exchanging the money from regular shekels to temple money were charging too much money.
So if you were poor, you would come and sell your goat for $10. You could buy a temple goat for $20 and then exchange that money to give in the temple at a bad rate. The point was that the poor, who were already poor, got very poor when they sold their sacrifice, got extremely poor when they bought a sacrifice, and then too poor to even get in the temple. They could not afford to come and worship God.
This makes God really angry. How do I know this? He said it in His word. Here are some Scriptures to show this:
Proverbs 11:1 says “Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight.” Proverbs states this truth many more times, in Proverbs 16:11, 20:10, and 20:23.
This angered Jesus. It should anger you. He attacked them for it. Look at what He said. “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” Now Matthew stops here. But if you look at Isaiah 56:7, which Jesus quotes, it ends with “for all nations.” That means that God’s house was meant for everyone. It was not a rich-man’s house. It was not an exclusive sports club. It was meant for every person. We think the same way when we think only of ourselves. We are looking to make an emotional or spiritual profit in this house. You can’t, because this house is for everyone. “Red, yellow, brown, black, and white, all are precious in His sight.”
But Jesus did not stop there. He said “you have made it a ‘den of thieves’.” He basically called all of the religious people in the temple thieves and robbers. He is quoting Jeremiah 7:11. Go back later and look at that chapter. You find that God does not like it when we steal from Him and from other people. How we worship God affects how we relate to other people. The purpose of worship is to focus on God and to help other people get closer to God. Therefore, we need to also:
II. BE SENSITIVE to the needs of the people around me during worship. (v.14)
Notice the reason why Jesus was angry. In 21:14, the blind, the lame and other people came to Him in the temple. There He healed them. He was angry because the people who wanted to see God could not. They were being shunned.
When we have a selfish spirit, it leads to a bad mood, and then we shun people. These three parts of our character are related. When I think only about myself, my mind is on me. It can easily think badly about other people. Especially when their needs are being met and it collides with my selfishness. When I see that I am not getting the attention, I can get angry in worship. (This is what happened to the Pharisees. They were very angry at Jesus. The Pharisee’s intention to make a profit was destroyed. They were demanding: “He can’t help this guy. He needs to be paying attention to me.”) But Jesus went to the heart of the problem. The Pharisees were shunning the poor. Another word for “shun” is to “avoid.” How do we shun others in worship?
Four Ways We SHUN people in worship:
The first way we shun people in worship is S:
Show contempt for people not like me.
We literally turn our face away from other people. Everyone likes to be liked. Some people are not liked because of their skin color. Some are not liked because of their behavior. Some are not liked because of who they know. We have to learn to get over our prejudice and accept people in worship.
A second way we shun people in worship is H:
Hate the people around me.
We literally frown at other people. When you hate a person, you have something personal that has been hurt in the relationship with that person. That person may have hurt you in the past. That person may not like you. That person may have done you wrong. So, to get even, we begin to hate them. We learn not to smile at them.
A third way we shun people in worship is U:
Undervalue the importance of another person.
We literally look down at another person. We may not like what they do as a job. Perhaps we do not like the way they live. We may think that since our life is very important, someone else is not important. The root is still our own selfishness. But we display this selfishness by degrading the importance of another person.
A fourth way we shun people in worship is N:
Neglect the people who need God the most.
We completely turn away from another person. We avoid them. We do not say hello to them. We ignore them. We don’t make contact. We even make a deliberate attempt at trying not to contact them.
All of these actions are a result of our heart. We do not come to worship God and love people. We are selfish, and cold in our heart.
How do you prevent this problem?
III. MAINTAIN a proper focus and attitude in worship (v.15-16).
Our focus in worship should be Jesus. Our attitude should be as a little child. This is exactly what Jesus says we should have in 21:16. Jesus is pleased when we have the heart of a child. What is the difference? A child’s heart is very OPEN. (I SPREAD OUT MY ARMS TO SHOW OPENNESS.)
Children are open because they are innocent. Innocence is the opposite of selfishness. We are willing to focus on other people when we are open. We have a God-focused spirit, a pleasant mood, and we are also open to other people. Notice that these three characteristics are the exact opposite of the characteristics we have when we shun someone. Notice, when we shun someone we have a black heart. When we are open, we have a clean heart.
Here are four ways to be OPEN in worship:
The first way to be open in worship is O:
Open your mouth. (Talk to other people.)
You know, many people come to church and they don’t say a single word in church until they leave. You know, many people who are friends and family in this church get comfortable with only a small group of people. These are the people they know. These are the people they can trust. These may be the people that are safe. We sometimes do not talk to others because we are comfortable with familiarity. We know them, we see them, we talk to them; but not anyone else. So here is a test. Talk to another person today. Get up and go to another person today. Say hello. Introduce yourself.
A second way to be open in worship is P:
Praise other people. (Thank them for coming.)
We don’t talk to someone; much less thank them for coming. You know, for some people, church may be the only place they hear good news. How much of a shame would it be if that good news was not given by you? You could be the person who brightens up another person’s day or week. Let’s test this skill by turning to the person next to you and thanking them for coming today.
A third way to be open in worship is E:
Enjoy other people. (Show that you enjoy them. Hang out with them. Sit with them.)
Some people who come to church are very lonely. They don’t make contact with people. You can show you care for someone by offering to sit with someone. Ask: “Is it ok if I sit with you today?” “Is it ok if I worship with you today?” Then, after the service tell the person how much you enjoyed the experience. “Thank you for sitting with me today.”
A fourth way to be open in worship is N:
Nurse other people. (Help them when they cry, when they ask.)
Many people in church are hurting deep inside. They do not want to tell you their hurts. God may tell you to speak to the person next to you. If this is true, be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and offer. Sometimes, someone may ask for help. Offer to give it. This can also continue after we leave the church. You know, you can offer to visit someone before you leave today. You can tell someone: “Why don’t we get together sometime this week.” Plan a time to meet right there. You nurse other people when you spend time with them. You get to know their hopes, fears, joys, and hurts when you spend time with them. You have a limited time to spend here in the worship service. Yet, you can take the time to plan another time to get together.
And as always, this place of worship is a place where we can stand together and pray for one another. We can lift each other’s burdens and help with someone’s hurts.
So, open your heart to God. Open your arms to another person, and worship together in a spirit of love and acceptance.