In 2 Samuel 24:18-25 we are given the record of one of King David’s more costly acts of worship. Convicted of his own sin, David personally purchased a parcel of land from Araunah the Jebusite in order to build an altar to the Lord for burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Though Araunah offered to give the king his threshing floor at no cost, David responded with his classic words, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (vs. 24).
Through the intercession and worship of David, God brought an end to a 3-day plague which fell on the people of God in response to David’s sin of “counting the fighting men.” When David chose to get a head count of his most able soldiers he was essentially saying to the Lord, “God, I’m not really sure you can and or that you will take care of our enemies apart from my help.” This was a clear act of unbelief and self-salvation.
We sabotage the intent of this text if we fail to look forward in the history of redemption to the day the true and greater King, Jesus, arrived and completed the most costly act of worship conceivable. Jesus didn’t simply purchase one small piece of property upon which to build an altar to intercede for one nation. He purchased—that is, redeemed and bought back—the entire cosmos and family from every single race, tribe and people group. But it was not for his sin, but ours, that the King of Kings served as both our high priest and the sacrifice for our sin. Jesus exhausted God’s judgment against our sin as he paid the full price of our redemption for all who trust in him.
This now means that though he will discipline us in love as the best Father imaginable, as a judge, God will never ever again deal with us according to our sin or reward us according to our iniquity; he dealt with Jesus according to our sin and rewarded Jesus according to our iniquity. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). This is the gospel and if anything less than or other than the gospel fuels the worship of God today it is simply unacceptable to God. King David is not our model to be followed. King Jesus is our Savior to be adored! It’s not David’s sacrifice, but Jesus’ sacrifice that makes worship acceptable.
What are the implications of this conversation for those of us called to serve as worship leaders in our churches, communities and culture? First and foremost, we simply cannot afford to lose a sense of gospel-astonishment in our own hearts. That is, when we primarily lead our teams, choirs and congregations as hard-working worship leaders, rather than as grateful and humble lead worshipers… God have mercy on us! We may be skilled at our craft, but dead in our hearts. I pray each of us knows the difference, for we will reproduce after our kind.
To be a gospel-driven worship leader is primarily an act of stewardship, not showmanship. We’re privileged and called to be stewards of the unsearchable riches of Christ freely given to us in the gospel of God’s grace. We aren’t showmen, pragmatically trying to earn our way or make a name for ourselves. We’re stewards, resting in the finished work of Christ, doing everything we can to reveal the sufficiency of his finished work and the glory of his name. The greatest gift you can offer as a worship leader is to keep your heart filled with the beauty, grace and glory of Jesus. Don’t count your “fighting men”—that is, don’t rely on the most gifted players or singers, or the newest technology and songs, or the most creative arrangements and worship accoutrements. Make great art from a heart filled with gospel-astonishment. Trust boldly in Christ! He can and will bring much glory to himself! What more could we possibly want?
Pastor, teacher, and author. Graduate of University of North Carolina (BA in religion); Westminster Theological Seminary (MAR) and Covenant Theological Seminary (DMin). Adjunct faculty for Covenant Seminary, Westminster (Philadelphia), Redeemer Seminary (Dallas), RTS in Orlando, and most recently, Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon.