This prepatory article for Sunday morning gathered worship, from Matt Papa, is so good I am posting it in its entirety.


The reason it feels like just another Sunday morning is because the stakes aren’t high enough.

It wasn’t just another day for the people of Israel in Numbers 21. Imagine: You’re there in the desert and the serpents appear. Three of your family members are bitten immediately. One comes slithering up and bites you on the shin. People are screaming. Fainting. Dying.

Hours pass. Suddenly you see in the distance a mob is forming. Around a pole. “I hear if you look at it you won’t die!”, one girl says to you with a measure of hope. Curious, consumed, determined, desperate — you jog, you run, you join the crowd, you stop, and . . .

. . . you check your iPhone.

No. You don’t do that. You fight through the crowds and you stare a hole through that bronze serpent. And time stands still as you feel with every passing second the healing flow through your veins as you had felt the poison flow before.


Poison in veins. Bronze serpent raised.

Do you imagine anyone was bored that day?

Whose Righteousness?

Most of us reading this won’t have snakes in our churches, but we will have been bitten by the curse this week.

But do we really get it?

Our creed says Jesus is our Savior, but oftentimes our worship says we’re okay.

We aren’t gazing. We aren’t on our knees.

Can you imagine the way those people in Numbers 21 looked toward that pole? It wasn’t a quick glance. They were transfixed. Studying with seriousness this peculiar, exalted cure. Were they concerned with what other people were wearing? With the style in which Moses held the pole?

This is worship — the serious study and celebration of God’s peculiar, exalted cure, the bloody, battered, Savior on the pole. When our worship has grown cold it doesn’t mean we need to change the music up, or that we need new styles — it means we are standing in our own righteousness.

Why So Urgent?

Wait, shouldn’t we balance this “life and death” talk about worship with an understanding of our security in Christ? Shouldn’t there be a more relaxed, peaceful way to think about it since we are forever held in the loving embrace of God?

Two responses.

To be a Christian doesn’t mean that at a certain point in life we throw all our hope on Jesus, and then later we go about our business. It means we become more broken, more desperate. Faith becomes — “looking” becomes — more intense.

This is how you know a man is advancing in holiness. While his sins in reality may be becoming fewer and fewer, to him they are appearing greater and greater. Why?

The more you approach the Light, the more you reproach the dirt.

Which leads to the second response:

Yes, we are safely held in the arms of God. And this doesn’t make our worship less intense, but more. Think: Who is in his loving embrace? We are. The people bitten. The wretches like us.

When we know simultaneously that we are worthy of condemnation but eternally embraced in his love, that is when worship explodes from our hearts.

And therefore, the call of the worship leader is not “stand and sing” — it is “look and live!”

All of us have been bitten by sin. All of us hear the hissing, hypnotizing allure of idolatry and pleasure.

There is one hope. Lift your eyes.

From one who bears the fang-shaped scar, I urge you this weekend to attend corporate worship not merely to sing or merely to listen, but to look — to gaze.

Look and live.

AuthorMatthew Molesky

From Jesus:

25 A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, 26 “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.

27 And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. 

28 “But don’t begin until you count the cost.

For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? 29 Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. 30 They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’ 

31 “Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? 32 And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away.

33 So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own. 

34 “Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? 35 Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown away.

Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” 

(Luke 14:25-35, New Living Translation)

From J.C. Ryle:

It costs something to be a true Christian. Let that never be forgotten. To be a mere nominal Christian [my note: which is to say, a non-Christian] and go to church is cheap and easy work. But to hear Christ's voice and follow Christ and believe in Christ and confess Christ requires much self-denial. It will cost us our sins and our self-righteousness and our ease and our worldliness.
All must be given up.
We must fight an enemy who comes against us with thousands of followers. We must build a tower in troublesome times. Our Lord Jesus Christ wants us to completely understand this. He tells us to count the cost.
Our Lord spoke as he did to prevent men from following him lightly and inconsiderately, from mere excitement, men who in time of temptation would fall away. He knew that nothing does such harm to religion as backsliding, and that nothing causes backsliding like enlisting disciples without telling them what discipleship will involve.


AuthorMatthew Molesky

Another great one from Douglas Wilson. May we all believe the truth contained here.


Once there was a Presbyterian minister who had made the whole topic of sola fide his special field of study. He had mastered the subject, as far as any mortal man can be said to have mastered anything. After a long and fruitful ministry, he eventually did what all Presbyterian ministers do, which is to say, he died.

As he approached the pearly gates, he was mildly surprised to see that St. Peter was there, just like in all the jokes. But he was, he thought, prepared to roll with it because, after all, he was going to Heaven.

Right next to St. Peter was a long wooden table, of the kind you see in examination rooms. A chair was pulled out for him, and on the table was a thick test, and a pencil next to it. As he walked up to St. Peter, he was greeted warmly and the set-up was explained to him.

“We have prepared a small fifty-page test for you,” Peter said. “Because we believe in grace, we decided to prepare a test for you that is right in your wheelhouse. This entire test is dedicated to the subject of sola fide, a subject you have been studying for forty years, I understand. If you get a perfect score, you may enter into joy.” With that pronouncement, Peter handed the pencil to the minister, and gestured to the waiting chair.

The minister held the pencil for a moment, thinking about it, and then quietly, without a word, he handed the pencil back.

A smile played around the corner of St. Peter’s mouth. “You pass,” he said.


AuthorMatthew Molesky
CategoriesGood News