The Story of God’s Glory: Celebrating Christmas Year Round

gloryIn a few days, our family will take down all our Christmas decorations. I am sure you will do the same. There is a sadness that comes with the end of Christmas season. Thankfully, for those who know Christ as the Incarnate Lord, Christmas as a holiday on the calendar is trumped by Christmas as a yearlong testimony to the everlasting incarnation of God the Son.

Therefore, while it is right to take down the tinsel and wreaths, we can continue to celebrate and rejoice in the fact that God became a man. Immanuel. God is with us. And with that never ending reality in mind, I share a Christmas thought that I shared with our church a few weeks ago.

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Christmas songs tell the wonderful story of Christ’s glorious birth. Think of how many speak of Jesus’s coming in terms of his glory. (Hymn numbers taken from The Baptist Hymnal [1991]).

Hark, the herald angels, “Glory to the newborn King.” (“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” 88)

Angels, from the realms of glory, Wing your flight o’er all the earth; Ye who sang creation’s story, Now proclaim Messiah’s birth. (“Angels, from the Realms of Glory,” 94)

Son of God, of humble birth, Beautiful the story;
Praise His name in all the earth, Hail the King of glory. (“Gentle Mary Laid Her Child,” 101)

See, to us a Child is born—Glory breaks on Christmas morn!
Now to us a Son is giv’n—Praise to God in highest heav’n! (“See, to Us a Child is Born,” 104)

Add to these lines the choruses praising God’s light breaking into the darkness and his splendor coming to earth, and we come to understand why our Christmas hymnody is some of the most sublime in all our hymnals.

But what is the glory of God? And what does it mean to give God glory? Continue reading

From Eden to Zion: A Temple Story

What is the best way to describe the Bible?

Is it a collection of verses that supply promises and warnings for the Christian life?  Is it a collection of books that each point to Jesus Christ?  Or is it an epic story of Paradise Created, Paradise Lost, Paradise Promised, and Paradise Made New in Christ?

Perhaps, the best answer is all the above.  While each of these three answers are correct, I think the last is the most difficult to see in Scripture.  In the last month, we have given attention on Sunday mornings to the tabernacle in Exodus and how it fits into God’s plan of redemption.  Because of that, I want to give you a biblical roadmap that traces God’s “tabernacles,” I think by seeing this line of dwelling places, it will give you greater ground for hope in God.  Let’s see. Continue reading

The Exodus-to-Temple Pattern

Jeffrey J. Niehaus argues convincingly in his Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology that a regular and repeating pattern of salvation occurs in the Ancient Near East (ANE).  He writes, “The basic structure of the idea is this:”

A god works through a man (a royal or prophetic figure, often styled a shepherd) to wage war against the god’s enemies and thereby advance his kingdom.  The royal or prophetic protagonist is in a covenant with the god, as are the god’s people.  The god establishes a temple among his people, either before or after the warfare, because he wants to dwell among them.  This can mean the founding (or choice) of a city, as well as a temple location.  The ultimate purpose is to bring into the god’s kingdom those who are not part of it (Jeffrey J. Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008], 30).

Developing this basic schema, Niehaus demonstrates how the Old Testament and New Testament recapitulate this eschatological temple-building motif.   This pattern can be witnessed in the life of Moses, when YHWH calls the reluctant shepherd to defeat Pharaoh and liberate Israel, with the ultimate goal of tabernacle worship with God’s covenant people.  Moreover, in the life of David, YHWH summons a shepherd to crush the head of the enemy, to free the people of Israel, and to establish his covenant people in the land—a land where YHWH has set his name.  The culminating act of temple-building in 1 Kings is the high point of the OT, and sets the stage for a greater Spirit-anointed, Divine warrior/savior, who will construct the final dwelling place for God in the NT.

The same kind of pattern can be found in a variety of New Testament passages. Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7, Paul’s preaching in Acts 13, 17, and passages like Ephesians 2:11-22, and the whole book of Revelation show the exodus-to-temple pattern outlined by Niehaus.  In fact, in regards to the work of Christ, Niehaus writes,

God wages war through his Son and prophet, the Good Shepherd, Jesus, against the powers of darkness.  He liberates people from those powers and establishes them as his people by a new covenant.  He establishes a temple presence, not only among them but in them (the church and individually its members) (ibid., 31).

They look forward to a heavenly city (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 11:10; Rev. 21:2).  Theologically, it is important to remember that these people were God’s enemies…until he waged warfare, set them free from their vassaldom to sin, and established his covenant with them, making them his own vassals…Christ is also Creator or Co-creator.  He creates a “new heaven and a new earth,” with a temple presence that recalls Eden with its river and tree of life” (ibid, 31-32).

Reading the Bible along these lines, it is becomes apparent that the God of the Bible works in a regular and repeating way throughout redemptive history, and that the NT writers were conscious of these biblical-theological structures and interweaved them into the very fabric of their thinking, preaching, and writing.

For a short list of resources that observe this phenomenon, see See David Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002); Rikki Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997);  the articles found in Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theologyed. T. Desmond Alexander and Simon J. Gathercole (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2004).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

A Temple Story: Tracing God’s Presence Through Scripture

A Temple Story

What is the best way to describe the Bible?  Is it a collection of verses that supply promises and warnings for the Christian life?  Is it a collection of books that each point to Jesus Christ?  Or is it an epic story of Paradise Created, Paradise Lost, Paradise Promised, and Paradise Made New in Christ?

Perhaps, the best answer is all the above.  While each of these three answers are correct, I think the last is the most difficult to see in Scripture.  In the last month at our church, we have given attention on Sunday mornings to the tabernacle in Exodus and how it fits into God’s plan of redemption.  Because of that, I want to give you a biblical roadmap that traces God’s “tabernacles.”  I think by seeing this line of dwelling places, it will give you and I a greater ground for hope in God.  Call it a temple story.

Garden of Eden.  This is God’s first dwelling place on earth. In Genesis 3, it describes God walking in the Garden in the cool of the day.  This garden has many features of the later sanctuaries of God—gold, bountiful trees, flowing rivers, priestly guardians, and more.  Thus, from the beginning, God sets a pattern for the kind of place he will inhabit with his people.

Exodus 25-40. On Mount Sinai God gives Moses a vision of his throne room, which becomes the pattern for the tabernacle and all future sanctuaries.  Interestingly, as we have seen this tabernacle points back to Eden and ahead to a New Eden.  The tabernacle given in Exodus is a portable Sinai where God’s people—through the priest—can climb the rungs of Jacob’s ladder and come into God’s presence.

1 Kings 8.  After Israel is settled and resting in the land, 1 Kings records how God gives Solomon wisdom to build a temple in Jerusalem.  This temple replaced God’s nomadic tent and became a permanent fixture in Israel.  It’s size and beauty surpassed that of the first tabernacle, showing that as time goes by, God’s temple increases in glory and beauty.

Ezekiel 40-47.  During the Exile, after God’s spirit had abandoned the temple, Ezekiel describes a future temple that overflows with streams of living water.  This water will cleanse the earth, and God’s presence will once again dwell with his people.  Significantly, when Jesus comes, John uses imagery from Ezekiel to describe Christ’s cleansing ministry (see John 7:37-39).

Jesus.  Perhaps most amazing of all, Jesus Christ is described as God’s dwelling place.  He is God with us, Immanuel.  John 1:14 says that the Word became flesh and “tabernacled” among us.  In truth, Christ is the meeting place between God and man.  In him the fullness of God dwelt bodily (Col 2:9), and in him we have access into the very throne room of God (Heb 10:19-25).  Therefore, we ought to come regularly into his presence with thanksgiving and supplication.

The Church.  Today, God dwells in heaven, but by his Spirit, he also dwells in his church. Paul says, “We are the temple of living God” (2 Cor 6:16), and that our bodies are the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19).  Likewise, 1 Peter 2:5 describes believers as living stones “being built up as a spiritual house.”  In this way, the church is the spiritual house of God (Eph 2:19-22).

Revelation.  Finally, there is the promise at the end of the age that God will dwell with his people on earth.  In fact, Revelation 21 speaks of a New Jerusalem that will come down out of heaven adorned as a bride. It says there won’t be a temple, for the lamb will be the temple of God.  This is our hope. At the end of the age, all the cosmos will experience the glory of God’s holiness, and will be as sacred as innermost chamber of the temple.

This temple theme is a source of great wonder and hope.  When the world around us seems to be crumbling, the ever-steady rise of God’s dwelling place in our world is a gospel reminder that even if our flesh and funds may fail, God is bringing us into his dwelling place.

Remember what Jesus promised.  He said, “In this world, we would have tribulation, but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  Such a promise is good news, but its goodness grounded in another promise: “Let not your hearts not be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

I am praying that this month God will give you and me a greater vision of his heavenly tabernacle, and that such a vision will purify our daily desires, and motivate us to live more radically for Christ.  God’s temple story gives us hope for tomorrow, no matter what is transpiring today.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Sermon Notes: The Sweet-Smelling Aroma of Prayer (OT)

TEST CASE # 2 :: The Altar of Incense (Exodus 30:1-10; 34-38)

For the last two days, we have looked at Exodus 29 and the consecration of the priesthood, today we will move to a section of the tabernacle furniture that is a little more obscure: The Altar of Incense.  How should we understand this instrument in the law, in the prophets, in relationship to Christ, in the way it points to the gospel, and in our own lives?  To answer such a question we must begin in the OT and work our way to the NT.

Again, following the five-fold model (Law, Prophets 1 &2, Christ, Gospel, Christian Application) presented here, our aim today is to better understand the “good news” of the altar of incense and how the Old Testament prepares us for Christ’s fulfillment of this golden altar.

1. God commands Moses to build an altar of incense.  In brief, notice three things in verses 1-10—(1) the construction (v. 1-5); (2) the location (v. 6); (3) the function (v. 7-10).

Construction. Like everything else inside the holy place, the altar of incense was made of acacia wood, and covered with gold (v. 1, 3).  It was to be about 18 inches across and 18 inches in depth, and it stood 3 feet tall (v. 2).  Like the altar in the courtyard, it had horns on all four-sides.  And like everything else in the holy place, it was made to be portable.  Thus, it had rings of gold so that poles could be used to carry it.  These two were made of acacia wood and covered in gold (v. 5).

Location.  Also important is the location.  In verse 6, Moses records, “And you shall put it in front of the veil that is above the ark of testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is avoe the testimony, where I will meet with you.”  The location is important because it was the last piece of furniture the priest would pass before entering behind the veil; likewise, when the priests offered incense they were coming near to God.  Leviticus 16:18 describes the location in these terms: “Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it.”

So on the Day of Atonement, the priest applied the blood to the altar of incense after applying blood the mercy seat, and significantly the altar of incense sat in front of the veil.

Function.  Verses 7-10 explain the function of the altar. Verse 7 says Aaron would burn incense on it.  Morning and evening, fresh incense would rise for this little golden altar.

What was this incense?  Verses 34-38 supply the answer:

The LORD said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you. And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the LORD. Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.”

 Clearly, there was God-ordained way to make the incense for the altar.  We cannot reproduce it because we do not quite know what the substance are, or what the proportion were.  But it was clear “You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it” (v. 9).  Moreover, it was only to be used for incense and not a burnt offering, a grain offering, or a drink offering (v. 9b).  And finally, like all the other elements of the tabernacle, it needed to be cleansed by the blood of the yearly sin offering (v. 10).

What does it symbolize?  Location hints at its purpose, as does the imagery of the smoke rising to God.  In fact, while some scholars have said that the incense served the purpose of covering the odor of the priests and their work; it is better to see that the smoke did not simply remain in the Holy Place.  It went behind the veil.  While Israel’s high priest could not enter behind the veil, but once a year.  The incense was constantly wafting into the presence of God.

And it is no wonder that altar of incense became synonymous with prayer in Old Testament and the New Testament.

Psalm 141:1-2 makes this clear: “A Psalm of David. O LORD, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you! Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!

Luke 1:8-11 is also helpful.  While this passage is in the New Testament, it must be remembered that it is still an Old Covenant age: Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

So clearly, there is a connection between the altar of incense and prayer.  But there is also a connection between this altar and the bronze altar that stands outside the holy place.  Philip Ryken helps us relate the two:

[B]y calling it an altar, God was making a connection between what happened on the great bronze altar out in the courtyard and what happened on the little golden altar inside the tabernacle.  Both altars were square, and both had horns rising up on their corners.  So there was something similar about their shape.  Also, they were both used at the same time of day.  Remember that the priests offered incense at dawn and at dusk.  Something else important was happening at the same time, both morning and evening: Priests were out in the courtyard offering a sacrificial lamb.  These daily religious rituals were synchronized.  Thus there was a close connection between the two altars, in both their design and their function… The connection between the two altars served as a daily reminder that the life of prayer depends on having a sacrifice for sin.  What secures a place for us before the throne of God’s grace is the atoning blood that was shed for our sins.  This is why God hears our prayers (Exodus:Saved for God’s Glory927).

Now for the question: How did Israel do at keeping this law?

2A. Nadab and Abihu, sons mentioned in Exodus, burn unauthorized fire in Leviticus 10, and are struck dead because of their willful—and perhaps drunken—disobedience.

Leviticus 10:1-3. Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace.

2B. Uzziah, King of Judah, overcome with pride attempts to offer incense on the altar without prayer and without a priest.  The result?

2 Chron 26:16-21. But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the LORD who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God.” Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the LORD had struck him. And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king’s household, governing the people of the land.

In addition to these historical (and prophetic) accounts, if you look at Ezekiel 8, you will find the prophet touring the temple and seeing false worship in all corridors, thus contaminating any sort of prayer life or altar of incense. The question is: Are there any hopeful prophesies for a better altar of incense?

3. Malachi, in the midst of God’s judgment, looks to a day when incense will rise before God from all over the earth—perhaps indicating a day when the temple is larger than a mountain in Jerusalem.

Malachi 1:11. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incese will be offered to my name, and a pure offering.  For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.

What about in the New Testament?  Do we have evidence that Christ fulfills this? We do, and we will check it out tomorrow.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


What Does the Tabernacle Symbolize?

Justin Taylor has a helpful post on the meaning of the tabernacle on his blog today.  As we have seen in our study of Exodus, the tabernacle is filled with imagery that helps us better understand our own relationship with God.

Here is the ESV Study Bible note that he begins with on Exodus 25:1-31:17:

First, the tabernacle is seen as a tented palace for Israel’s divine king. He is enthroned on the ark of the covenant in the innermost Holy of Holies (the Most Holy Place). His royalty is symbolized by the purple of the curtains and his divinity by the blue. The closer items are to the Holy of Holies, the more valuable are the metals (bronze→silver→gold) of which they are made.

The other symbolic dimension is Eden. The tabernacle, like the garden of Eden, is where God dwells, and various details of the tabernacle suggest it is a mini-Eden. These parallels include the east-facing entrance guarded by cherubim, the gold, the tree of life (lampstand), and the tree of knowledge (the law). Thus God’s dwelling in the tabernacle was a step toward the restoration of paradise, which is to be completed in the new heaven and earth (Revelation 21-22).

The explanation continues here with a full-color picture of the tabernacle.

For further reflections on the tabernacle see:

The Tabernacle as Typological Model

The Tabernacle as Holy Abode

The Tabernacle as God’s Meeting Place

The Tabernacle as a Royal Victory Palace

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Sermon Notes: The Tabernacle as a Royal Victory Palace

A Royal Palace

Finally, the tabernacle is a royal palace, built with the materials plundered from the defeated Egyptians (Exod 12:35-36; 25:3-7).  In this way, the tabernacle is a memorial to the King of Israel’s victory over the king of Egypt.  Like the Arc D’Triumph that marked Napoleon’s greatest victory over his enemies, or like the way victorious coaches have their names assigned to gymnasiums and stadiums, so the tabernacle (later temple) served as a marker for the way the God of Israel defeated the surrounding nations. We see this aspect in a handful of ways.

Materials

First, notice that the materials that are collected are costly, beautiful, and fitting for a king.

25:3-7. This is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, & stones for setting, for the ephod &  for the breastpiece.

It is easy to miss just how expensive these materials are: First, the amount of gold, silver, and bronze is amazing. According to [Exodus] 38:21-31 approximately one ton of gold, four tons of silver, and two-and-a-half tons of bronze were used to make the tabernacle and its furnishings” (T.D. Alexander, From Paradise to Promised Land, 195).

Next, the dyed materials—blue, purple, scarlet—were not only the garments of royalty, they too were very rare and costly.  From where the priests served, the house was absolutely breathtaking.  It was meant to be.  The God of creation who is a master-builder and magnicifient artist, has called Israel to construct a house for him that is worthy of his glory.

Ark of the Testimony  

Not only are the materials royal.  The furniture is too.  In the Holy of Holies, sits the ark of testimony.  Overlaid with gold, this is God’s throne.  This is where he sits and rules over his people.  In fact, Exodus 25:16 records, “And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.”  The covenant laid out in Exodus 20-23 was stored in the tabernacle, affirming God’s kingship in Israel and Israel’s absolute promise to obey all God’s commands. (For an in-depth discussion of the relationship between the covenant and the house of God, see Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority).  Interestingly then, when Israel later rebelled against God, one of the greatest signs of his judgment was the destruction of the temple.

Moreover, in the New Testament, when the temple veil was torn, this was not only a picture of the access that New Testament believers have (Heb 10:19-25), it was a picture of God’s royal judgment upon Israel for their failure to keep covenant.

A Hint from ANE

Last, the pagan world surrounding Israel gives an interpretive context (by common grace) for understanding what the building of a temple signifies.  Jeffrey Niehaus makes this point very well in his book, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical TheologyIn the Ancient Near East, like with Napoleon’s arch, temples were built at the end of military campaigns.  Niehaus records the words of one particular Egyptian leader,

[Ra] begat me to do that which he did, to execute that which he command me to do… I will make a work, namely, a great house [a temple], For my father Atum [Pharaoh].  He will make it broad, according as he has caused me to conquer (90).

We find this same pattern is in Scripture. In Exodus, God saves Israel out of Egypt, and has them build a victory palace.  In Samuel and Kings, God gives David the victory over the enemies of God, and he desires to build a house for God.  While God does not permit David to build God a house, his son Solomon does with the pattern revealed to David (1 Chronicles 28).  Then in the New Testament, Jesus comes promising to build a house for the name of the Lord one that the gates of hell cannot defeat (Matt 16:18).  What is he doing?  He is building a victory temple.  Consider Paul’s flow of thought in Ephesians 2, where he concludes,

Ephesians 2:19-22. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (See my exegetical paper on Ephesians 2 for a more thorough explanation).

This is the message of Scripture: God who created a cosmic temple in which to dwell, set man in Eden in order to expand all over the earth.  Man sinned, and ruined that plan.  But God has sent a Second Adam to come and finish what Adam failed to do.

He has redeemed a people and he is now building a place.  And the question we must ask ourselves is this: Is that our story and our hope? Are you a living stone affixed in his temple, or are you trying to build your own–a house for your own name?  Are you worshiping the hero of God’s epic story who is building his victory memorial, or are you trying to create your own epic?  Rest assured, if you are looking to win the victory for yourself, you will lose out in the end.

Rather than finding joy in our own earthly successes, we must find joy in the promise of dwelling forever with the God of heaven.  We must cry with the Psalmist,

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! (Ps 84)

May that such longing for God’s dwelling place rule our hearts and govern our hopes!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Sermon Notes: The Tabernacle as God’s Meeting Place

A Tent of Meeting

The holiness of God in his sanctuary is matched by the plan for God to meet with his people at the tabernacle.  Now to avoid confusion, it should be said that later, in Exodus 33:7-11 to be exact, there will be a tent constructed that is called the “tent of meeting.”  This is not the same thing as the tabernacle.  This is a temporary meeting place where Moses met with God, but this was only to last until the tabernacle was constructed.  Still, the purpose was the same—to meet with God.

In Exodus 25, there are two verses that make this meeting place explicit.

25:8. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.

25:22. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

While the meeting place plays a significant role in the life of Israel, it also helps Christians today to understand the kind of relationship that we have with God in and through Jesus Christ.  Let us notice three ways that the tabernacle in Exodus foreshadows Christ–the true tent of meeting.

Jesus is the True Tabernacle

That God instructs Moses to build this tabernacle foreshadows God’s loving desire to meet with rebellious humanity.  In this way, the tabernacle is an incredible source of encouragement.  God who dwells in heaven, has moved heaven and earth to reach down to us.  When we could not get up to him; he climbed down the ladder to get to us.

John sees this tabernacling impulse of God in Jesus Christ.  John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… full of grace and truth.”  The word for “dwelt” is literally “tabernacled.”  In Jesus, we have a greater tabernacle, one made without human hands, in which the fullness of God dwells bodily (Col 2:9). Likewise, John says that Jesus is full of grace and truth, which also references Exodus, for in chapter 34, God “appears” to Moses and describes himself as a God as “abounding in steadfast love (grace) and faithfulness (truth).” 

When we read about the tabernacle, we cannot comprehend fully its significance without seeing that it is the shadow of the substance of Jesus Christ.  Yet, in the tabernacle, we don’t just have a general connection between the tabernacle and Christ, it also gets more specific.

The Incarnation

In Exodus 25, there are three kinds of furniture.  In verses 25:10-22, Moses receives directions for constructing the ark of the covenant.  In verses 23-30, a blueprint for the table for the bread of the presence is given; and in verses 31-40, the golden lampstand, otherwise known as a Menora is given.  Each are covered with gold and placed inside the residence of God.  Now while the gold speaks of the value and worth of the deity who inhabits this home, the three pieces of furniture—a seat, a table, and a light—were the common furnishing of the ancient Israelite.

When God comes to dwell with Israel, he assumes the same humble residence as those in the wilderness.  Though not incarnation in the New Testament sense of the term, this is a kind of incarnation that prepares the way for the true Immanuel.  His gracious condescension meets us where we are, and he becomes just like us.  He is not just a God transcendent.  He is a God close, personal, and as near as the hearing of his word.

We see the incarnation in another way as well.  On the inside of the tabernacle are beautiful colors—scarlet, blue, and purple.  Everything is covered in gold.  It shines forth the glory of God.  Yet, from the outside, the temple is drab.  The beautiful garments on the inside are covered by the black curtains of goats hair.  While the light burns eternal inside the tabernacle, all outside is dark.

Again this teaches us much about the life and ministry of Christ.  When he came to the earth, he did not come in power, glory, or beauty.  Rather, he became a common carpenter.  If you saw him in a crowd, he would not have had a radiant glow or a halo over his head.  He was plain and common.  He was human.  So common was his appearance that Isaiah can say, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should rejoice him” (53:2).

This is the antithesis of our culture and the world at large.  In our world, image really is everything.  Have you ever see an ugly person on the news?  What about on the cover of a magazine?  On TV?  We are a culture who has confused glamour for beauty.  I would go so far as to say that we know little of  what true beauty is.  The tabernacle is a corrective for this.  God’s dwelling with humanity is beautiful.  Yet, from an earthly point of view it is unimpressive.  Such is the wisdom of God.

Atonement  

Not only does the tabernacle point us to Christ’s incarnation, it also foreshadows and explains his atonement.  We see this in the altar and the mercyseat.

The Bronze Altar.  Standing in the center of the courtyard, the priests could not enter the tabernacle without passing this giant altar.  As T.D. Alexander describes it, “this altar dominated the area in front of the tabernacle; it was half the width of the tabernacle (2.5 metres) and over 4 feet high” (T.D. Alexander, From Paradise to Promised Land200). It was constantly burning with sacrifices, and as Hebrews picks it up, it teaches us how much more valuable Christ’s New Covenant sacrifice was than all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant.

We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood (Heb 13:10-12).

The Mercy Seat.  In addition to the altar that stands outside the tabernacle, there is the mercy seat that rests inside God’s inner chamber.  It was here that God dwelled, and significantly it was a place where mercy might be found.  Though a series of purification rituals were needed for the priest to come into the most holy place once a year on the day of atonement, it was nonetheless a place of mercy and grace in time of need (cf. Heb 4:14-16).

Significantly, the name “mercy seat” is translated in Greek by the word, hilasterion, which is the word translated in English as “expiation,” “propitiation,” or “atoning sacrifice” (see Graham Cole for an up to date, careful, and evangelical reading of hilasterion in the New Testament in his God the Peacemaker).  That the the mercy seat is the place where God’s wrath is removed and replaced with his favor is significant; more significant however, is the way in which that propitiation is procured.  It is by the blood of the lamb that is sprinkled on the throne of God.  In the Old Covenant, this atoning sacrifice permitted God’s people to dwell in his presence.  It protected Israel in the flesh from God’s anger breaking out on those in the camp.  However, in the New Covenant, Christ’s sacrifice does not merely atone for the flesh; it purifies the conscience as well.  Moreover, it is not applied to a shadowy tabernacle on earth; iti is applied to the heavenly altar in the throne room of God.  Thus, his sacrifice is far superior and finally efficacious.

Thus we conclude today with the statement in Hebrews 9:12-14, that depends heavily on sacrificial system established in Exodus.

[Christ] entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh,how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Sermon Notes: The Tabernacle as a Holy Abode

Yesterday, we considered how the tabernacle served as a typological model meant to instruct Israel and us about God’s world, God’s plans for salvation, and what it means for the Creator to dwell with his redeemed creation.  Today, we will look at the way  God’s house is a holy abode.

In Exodus 25:8, Moses records God’s statement, “Let them make me a sanctuary…”  The word here means holy place.  Everything about the house of God is intended to stress his holiness.  From the arrangement of the curtains to the selection of the building materials, everything about the tabernacle shows how closer proximity to the holy of holies demands increased purity and holiness.

Holy of Holies, Holy Place, and Courtyard

The first thing that shows the holiness of God is the floor plan of the tabernacle, along with the series of curtains that separated Israel from God.  Exodus 26 explains these dimensions. So that looking down on the tabernacle, you can see a courtyard 150 feet long, 75 feet wide.  This courtyard was surrounded by a fence (7.5 feet high).  The gate was on the East (like the garden of Eden), and upon entering the courtyard, the Levites would be confronted with a massive bronze altar (7.5 ft wide, 4.5 feet high) and a bronze basin for washings.  Describing this holy space, T.D. Alexander writes,

Separated from the rest of the Israelite encampment, the courtyard was set apart as a holy area; only the tabernacle, in which God dwelt, was considered to be more sacred… Just as Moses set a boundary around Mount Sinai to prevent the people from coming into the divine presence (19:12-13, 21-24), so the courtyard fence prevented them from approaching God inadvertently… Without the courtyard buffer zone, it would have been impossible for [Israel] to dwell in safety close to the Lord (T.D. Alexander, From Paradise to Promised Land197).

So at the first-level, God’s holiness is seen in the separation between the priests and the people.  Next we come to the tabernacle, itself. At the end of the courtyard was the house of God.  In it were two sections—the holy place and the most holy place.  Again these correspond to the pattern on the mountain, and the pattern of access typified in Exodus 24.  When Moses met with Israel, the people remained in the camp, the priests came half-way up the mountain, and Moses alone entered the cloud (24:1-2).  

The Screen and the Veil

Next, we see how the screen and the veil add to the idea that God’s presence is separate from man.  Exodus 26:31-37 reports,

 Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain. “And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it. And you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases of silver. And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy. You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place. And you shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand on the south side of the tabernacle opposite the table, and you shall put the table on the north side. You shall make a screen for the entrance of the tent, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, embroidered with needlework. And you shall make for the screen 5 pillars of acacia, and overlay them with gold. Their hooks shall be of gold, you shall cast 5 bases of bronze for them.

When we unpack this passage, the holiness of God’s dwelling space is stressed by the screen that separates the courtyard from the Holy place in verse 36, as well as, the veil that separates the holy of holies from the holy place.  On the veil that protects the most holy place, there are cherubim—angelic beings who live to praise God around his throne.  These are not on the screen.  The difference between the veil and the screen is one more evidence, that approach to God’s throne room should not be taken lightly.

Gold, Silver, and Bronze

Likewise, as you move towards God’s dwelling place, the value of the materials changes.  Notice, the fence at the outside has silver hooks (on top) and brass bases; the screen has gold hooks and brass bases, and the veil has gold hooks and silver bases.  It is also worth nothing that because of these bases, the curtains of the  tabernacle don’t really touch the ground—again this stresses the holiness of God’s dwelling place, and by extension, the holiness of God. 

What might we learn from all this?

It is worth asking at this point, what are the implications of this holy space.  Let me suggest two things.

First, God dwells in unapproachable holiness, and we as covenant-breaking sinners  do not have natural access to him.  Truthfully, I wish someone would have told this to me when I was 17.  Wrongly, I had the impression that because God was a loving father, he was pleased with me and happy for me to come to him.  The tabernacle says otherwise.  God is pleased with absolute holiness.  This doesn’t change in the New Testament, either.  Jesus says that we must be perfect (Matt 5:48); Hebrews declares, without holiness, no one will see the Lord (12:14).

God’s unapproachable holiness has points of access.  At the same time that God’s dwelling place shouts “Holy, Holy, Holy!” It also promises gracious access.  Notice that in the fence there is gate.  In the screen there is an opening.  And in veil there is a way to enter.  What does this teach us about God?  Simply this: We cannot come to him on our own terms or in our own names, but through priestly mediation and a system of sacrifice, God has made a way to come behind the veil.

More specifically, from the people of Israel, there is a chosen people—the Levites—who can enter the courtyard.  In the courtyard, there is an altar to make burnt offerings, sin offerings, and peace offerings; as well as, a basin for cleansing.  These make possible access into the holy place.

Moreover, there is Exodus 28-29 a designated high priest  who will go before the LORD once a year in order to make atonement for Israel (Leviticus 16).  In all this, God reveals that he does not relax his holy standards, but neither does he leave his people to perish under the weight of his law.  He is terrifyingly pure but also unfathomably tender.

Bringing this forward, the tabernacle prepares the way for Jesus Christ, our superior access.  He is the the way, the gate, the door to the Father.  Jesus who is as pure and holy as the inner chamber of the tabernacle comes outside of the courtyard, into the polluted world, and makes clean not only the Levites.  He comes and makes clean people from every tongue, tribe, language, and nation, such that Revelation 5:9-10, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Praise God for his perfect provision of a way into his inner chamber.  May his tabernacle–in shadow and substance–teach us afresh of God’s sublime holiness and boundless grace.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Sermon Notes: The Tabernacle as a Typological Model

When we think about the tabernacle, the first thing to realize is that it is more than meets the eye.  In other words, the tabernacle is built to show off theological, cosmological, and Christological truths–just to name a few.  Today, lets consider a couple of these things. 

1. A Portable Mountain of God

First up, the tabernacle’s three sections—the courtyard where the people would bring sacrifices, the holy place (the first section in the tabernacle) where the priests would work, and the holy of holies where the high priest would enter once a year on the Day of Atonement, all correspond to the pattern that Moses saw on the mountain.  A few verses prove this:

25:8-9.  And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.  Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.

25:40.  And see that you make them [Mercy Seat, Table, Golden Lampstand] after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.

 26:30. Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain. (cf. The Bronze Altar, 27:8)

 God gives Moses a vision and instruction of this tabernacle, so that Israel can see beyond it to the throne room of God—remember, most of the people never went inside, so this information has a curb appeal because of the mysterious of God’s tent.

2. The Cosmos

Second, in general and in detial, the tabernacle which is God’s earthly dwelling place with Israel is simultaneously constructed in a way that represents all creation.  Gregory Beale has proven this thesis in his book, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God.  More succinctly, T. D. Alexander has followed Beale with his more popular treatment, From Eden to New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical TheologyFor our consideration, let me mention a couple verses. 

Ps 78:69.  He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever.  Clearly, this proves in a single verse the connection between the tabernacle and the construction of the universe. However, you will also find in Scripture those places where Scripture describes the reverse–the universe is God’s macrocosmic temple.

Psalm 104:1-6.  Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire. He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.

 The significance of this microcosmic-macrocosmic temple is simply that what God does in Israel has cosmic significance.  God’s goal is much larger than a singular sanctuary in the Middle East; it prepares the way for Christ and the garden-temple that is revealed in Revelation 21-22.

3. Eden

Not only is Moses given a vision of God’s mountain throne and the cosmos which he upholds, what we learn in the construction of this tabernacle is the way it points back to Eden.  Notice a couple of connections.

  1. Gold in the tabernacle goes back to the gold that existed in Eden (Gen 2:11-12; Exodus 25:7, 11, 17, 31; cf. 1 Kings 6:30)
  2. The Menorah points back to tree of life (Gen 2:9; 3:22; Exod 25:31-35); the bread of God’s presence corresponds to the food provided by God in the garden (Gen 2:17).
  3. Angels embroidered on the Veil reflects the angel who dwelt outside Eden (Gen 3:24).
  4. That God would dwell and even walk in the midst of Israel is Eden-like (Gen 3:8; 26:12).

Significance

Now the question arises: Why does this matter?  Let me suggest two reasons.

Typology.  Each of its elements is meant to represent something else—it is like a giant object lesson for Israel and for us.  In fact, verse 40, which is quoted in Hebrews 8:5, actually uses the word “type” (typon, LXX). Thus, to understand the furniture of Exodus 25 and the tabernacle itself (26), courtyard (27), we must appreciate its symbolism and typology. (We will explore this more in the days ahead.

Telos.  Since the purpose of the tabernacle is typological, it is also eschatological.  It does point back to Eden, but even more it points ahead to a permanent rest in the land.  This is prefigured in Israel’s entrance into Canaan, but even more it foreshadows the work of Christ and the dwelling he promises in the age to come.

Thus, if you know the Bible well, you know Rev 21:22 says that in the end there will be no temple in the city, but that doesn’t deny an eternal cosmic temple.  What is a temple, but the dwelling place of God.  And what Revelation teaches is that at the end of the age the God who dwells in heaven, will again dwell with man on earth; and not just in one box-shaped tabernacle.  All creation will be his dwelling place.  The glory of God will cover the earth.

Revelation 21:16 makes this so clear in the light of Exodus 25-40.  John records that the city of God that comes down from heaven is 12,000 stadia (1380 miles) in length, width, and height.  It is a perfect cube–just like the holy of holies.

So to understand Revelation 21, we must read it with Exodus 26, and what we see is that at the end of the age, the whole earth will be as holy as the holy of holies.  So the goal of God is not a 15x15x15 golden box in Israel.  His goal is a perfect, purified world where he dwells with his redeemed.  This is what Exodus teaches us.

It beckons for a temple not made with human hands, even as it is given to Moses for the construction with human hands.  Exodus points beyond itself and leads us to see that Jesus is the builder of this better tabernacle, and if we care at all about what God has done in Christ and/or is doing, we must see look carefully at the details of the tabernacle.

May God give us eyes to see his design in this ancient tabernacle and hearts that long for the temple that is to come!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss