Exodus 24:12 - 31:18 - The Meeting Place
November 9, 2014 Speaker: Series: Exodus
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Exodus 24:12–31:18
[Exodus 24:12 - 31:18 - "The Meeting Place"]
Where can people meet with God? Lots of people have lots of ideas about that. But in this passage God only provides one place. And in this Story of Redemption he makes a way for God and his people to be together forever.
[Our Prayer for Illumination this morning was written by King David centuries ago and is recorded in Psalm 25, verses 4 – 5. Let us pray:
“Make us to know your ways, O LORD; teach us your paths. Lead us in your truth, and teach us, for you are the God of our salvation; for you we wait all day long.” Amen.]
[Set context of Moses going up to receive the Law - Read Exodus 25:1-9]
What makes for a good meeting place? Well, I guess it depends on what kind of meeting you're having. I remember the swirling dust and roar of a monster truck rally my dad took us to when I was five. The crunching metal and smell of burning oil made the perfect environment for a dad and his boys to come together. But a monster truck rally would be a terrible place for a nursing child and mom to come together. Can you imagine the baby's tears and screams matching the volume of an open-exhaust truck flattening cars?
The meeting place needs to match the purpose. Nursing mothers want a quiet spot to come together with their babies. Intense counseling needs a safe, private environment. Coffee shops with tables for two are perfect for first dates. Because you can't really get to know someone sitting silent in a movie theater.
The meeting place needs to match the purpose. And last week we saw YHWH's intention is to be near his people. His relationship with Israel is confirmed as they're covered by the blood of the covenant. The elders of Israel saw God and ate and drank a covenant meal in his presence, picturing how close God wants to be to his people. But if God intends to be near his people, then they need the right place to meet. And for Israel at this time in the Story the place is the Tabernacle - the tent described in detail over these seven chapters. In the Tabernacle God provided the perfect place to meet with his people.
In Exodus 29:43-46 YHWH says of this tent, "There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am YHWH their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am YHWH their God."
This tent would be the place where YHWH would meet with his people for all of their time in the wilderness. And so, it needs to be a place fit for both of them. What would such a place be like?
If we think about a fitting place for this God - because of God's holiness, it must be a place set apart. Although he's the Creator of the universe he won't meet them in their back yard; his presence would consume them with the burning holiness Israel saw kindling Mount Sinai. His holiness must be recognized in the architecture of the place - even in its decoration. And because YHWH is glorious, it must be a place of beauty. Because YHWH is King, it must have a throne. Because YHWH is Law-giver, his law must be there. Because YHWH is merciful, it must have a place where his mercy is seen.
And if we think about a fitting place for Israel - because of their sin, it must be a place of sacrifice; a place of atonement. Because YHWH is calling them to be a kingdom of priests, it must be a place of service toward him. And because YHWH is calling them to be a kingdom of priests, it must be a place where YHWH cleanses his people for his service, especially the priests who will come closest to his presence. Because Israel needs YHWH to be with them, reminders and symbols of his presence must fill the place. And because YHWH has made them a redeemed people heading to a new home with him, the place must move with them in the wilderness.
And in the Tabernacle YHWH provides a place to meet all these needs. In the details of its construction and furniture; in the instructions for the priests (from the bells on the robe to the blood that sets them apart); in the lamp-stand and altar and ark - in all this we see YHWH providing the perfect place for God and his people to meet. Because in this meeting place God is revealing himself to his people. Here they will see his holiness and learn more about their need for holiness. Here they will see his justice on display and learn about their need for mercy. But here they will see YHWH's mercy toward them and learn what it means to be made set apart servants of the Living God. Every detail of the place overflows with meaning so that they can know their God and know themselves in the light of his holiness and grace.
Where do you meet with God? Where can you learn about who he is? Where can you learn about who you are and what you need him to do for you? We don't have a tent like this one - so holy, so awesome, so instructive, so beautiful, so glorious, so near to the people.
God hasn't given us a tent like this one. But we have a better place to meet God. And it's in Jesus the Christ.
The beauty of this passage is that the Tabernacle didn't hold meaning for Israel's day only. The details of the Tabernacle point toward what was coming. Because every detail is anticipating, pointing toward, picturing, and creating longing for the person and work of Jesus.
The Apostle John recognized Jesus as the fullness of Israel's Tabernacle; in Christ God is most fully and finally revealed to his people as the meeting place of God and men. John wrote that Jesus is "the Word" - God himself - who "became flesh and dwelt among us...." (John 1:14) To dwell is to take up residence. To dwell among people is to stake your tent with theirs'. So, quite literally, John is saying "the Word became flesh and tabernacled - tented - among us."
When God the Father provided the perfect place to bring us together with him he didn't give us a place at all. He gave us a person - Jesus. Jesus, who put on flesh and blood because you and I have flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14); Jesus, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 1:19). Jesus is the better Tabernacle. And the Father gave us Jesus to show us who he is, who we are, and how he will meet our every need.
And what do we need? Because we are unfaithful to God, we need to be forgiven. Because ordinary people are separated from a holy God, we need to be made holy. And because there is no life apart from God, we need him to be with us. Look with me at the Tabernacle and see how this God reveals himself and meets our need both then and now in Christ.
Now, we won't talk about all these details (even though they're worthy of time). But let's see a few so that we can better enjoy the person and work of Jesus. Let's look at the altar, the veil, and the breast piece worn by the high priest.
First, the altar. In the opening of chapter 27, God tells Moses the pattern for the altar made of sturdy wood overlaid with bronze. Placed in the outer courts - furthest away from the most holy place where the throne and presence of YHWH rested - the altar's location pictured for the people that until their sin was dealt with, they could never approach their God. But when their burnt offerings for sin were lit upon the altar, when the blood and body of the sacrifice made atonement for their failures and rebellion against YHWH, then the people could know for certain that YHWH forgave them.
The altar was YHWH's gracious provision for them. Because when God and his people meet together, his people always need grace. Israel had the commandments but that didn't mean they kept them. They would run from him time and time again. But in giving the altar - like all of the Tabernacle - we see YHWH isn't surprised by his people's sin. In fact, the altar assumes the unfaithfulness of Israel.
God is not surprised by our unfaithfulness. The very fact that God sent Jesus the Son assumes the unfaithfulness of his people. We, like Israel, have run away from God and what we deserve is his wrath. But when Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, was offered on the altar of the cross, God dealt once and for all with the sin that prevents his people from meeting with him. Through his death Jesus has forever secured forgiveness for us.
That's why Paul can write, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1) To believers in Christ like you the Scriptures say, "And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death...." (Colossians 1:21-22). Like when Israel laid their sin on the sacrifice on this altar, you who trust in Christ have had all your sin - past, present, and future - laid on the shoulders of Christ. He bore our sins upon his shoulders so that you will meet God with a clean conscience.
So, what do you need? Forgiveness? What do you need? Mercy? There is more abundant forgiveness in Christ than we will ever know. Because he alone knows how deep and dark sin goes in us. But still he bore it all in his body, still he poured out his blood and died to atone for all our sins. In his profound mercy Christ has opened for you the way to God.
But in the pattern of the Tabernacle we see more. Because once sin was removed there was still the issue of holiness. Forgiveness - the removal of guilt - is not enough. We must be positively pure, un-common, newly set apart, perfectly righteous in order to approach this God. And so, beyond the altar there were curtains, veils separating forgiven-yet-unholy people from the Holy One of Israel.
One veil was most important. It was the veil separating the holy place from the most holy place. The holy place was where the priests ministered daily on behalf of the people. But the most holy place was the place of God's presence with his people, the throne-room of God on earth where his Law and the mercy seat were joined in the ark. The veil separating these spaces physically illustrates a spiritual reality for us. The veil confronts us with the holiness of God. It pointed Israel - and now points us - to our need of holiness because without holiness "...no one will see the Lord." (Hebrews 12:14)
We hear the instructions for the veil in 26:31ff. The blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen had "cherubim skillfully worked into it," imaging the cherubim God set to guard the way back to the Tree of Life after humanity's Fall in Eden (Genesis 3:24). The effect of such a heavy, thick curtain is striking, especially in light of God's word about the space inside it. In Leviticus 16:2, "the LORD said to Moses, 'Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.'"
The veil was the final separation between God and men; between the thrice holy God and his unholy people; between the One Immortal King and his people who grew old and died because sin has wrecked this world. And the veils endured beyond the Tabernacle into the temples in Jerusalem - the first and second temples had veils like this. Still the veil remained, still no one could live in God's presence. Only once a year and only with the blood of a sacrifice could the high priest alone of all the people enter behind the veil into the presence of God. And his time there was not for himself. He went in to make atonement for the sins of the people. He went in to sprinkle with blood the ark containing the stone tablets of the Law - the very Law of God broken time and time again by God's people. And the sprinkled blood set Israel apart from the world, securing them as the holy people of God.
But then the high priest would have to retreat again outside the veil, away from the presence of God, waiting for the next year when the whole thing would need to be repeated. Because each year Israel faced a hard reality - no matter how much blood was shed their holiness didn't last.
But when Christ, the better Tabernacle, came; when Christ, our great high priest, offered up his own blood, we who trust in him are not made temporarily holy but eternally holy to God. The writer to the Hebrews recognized this - "We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the [veil], where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf...." (Hebrews 6:19-20) Again he says, "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the [veil], that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." (Hebrews 10:19-22)
What do you need? Holiness? By faith in Christ we are not merely forgiven. We are made holy, set apart from this world as those who are free to meet with God because Jesus, our faithful high priest, sets us apart with his own blood. What we can't do on our own is done for us by Christ. Because by faith in Christ we are sprinkled clean, eternally washed and counted as righteous so that we will see God. That confidence is not in ourselves; our confidence is in Christ who makes us holy. Because again the Scriptures say to those who trust in Christ, "he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him...." (Colossians 1:21-22)
That means when God looks at you repenting and resting in Christ, he doesn't see a rebel anymore. In Christ that isn't who you are. In Christ you are welcomed because in Christ you are a child of God. In Christ you are welcomed because in Christ you are holy. In Christ you are welcomed because in Christ you are blameless, washed clean by his blood. Because when Christ died, the veil separating God from humans was torn in two (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). In Christ, the way is open for you to enter the presence of God.
And that is a hope that isn't just a far-off, future hope. It certainly is our hope that in the age to come we will be with him and see him and live in his presence in perfect peace. But even today we know that with Christ as our high priest we are already in the presence of God. Because the high priest always carried the names of the people with him into the presence of God.
In chapter 28 we see the instructions for an ephod and a breast piece. On the shoulders and on the chest of the high priest, written on precious stones were the names of the twelve tribes. So, as the priest did his work, he brought the names of the children of Israel into the presence of YHWH. As their representative, the high priest would "bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the LORD regularly." (28:30) And YHWH would see the names of his people, remembering and acting in line with the covenant he made with them.
There would be many times in Israel's story that they were afraid YHWH had forgotten them. Because of their own rebellion or because of dark circumstances beyond their control Israel wondered sometimes if God remembered their names. But to them YHWH said, "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…." (Isaiah 49:15-16)
This is the God who sent Jesus to become our faithful high priest, to always bear our names upon his body, upon his nail-scarred hands, so that we are never forgotten, always remembered in the presence of God. Christ is our representative and we are united to him by faith, so that as he stands in the presence of God the Father we stand with him. He carries our names into the throne room of heaven so that we are always remembered before the Father.
He does not - he cannot - forget you.
What do you need? The presence of God? Remember this - and remind one another of this reality - whenever your circumstances tell you otherwise. When life says you are forgotten, when God's providence seems like the darkness of death, hold fast to the hope that your own name is known and loved by the Father because of the faithfulness of Jesus. He has called you by name. You are his! And nothing can separate you from his love for you in Christ - not suffering, not death, not sickness, not weakness, not failings - not anything in all creation (Romans 8:37-39). Because even when we are faithless, Jesus remains faithful. (2 Timothy 2:3) Even now he keeps you in the presence of your loving Father in heaven.
But that's not to say he is far off from you. Even now he is with you, Church. Because in his faithfulness he sent his Spirit to his church, to be with us always even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20) The significance of that was not lost on Jesus' disciples. Listen again to what Peter wrote to the Church, to all who repent and believe this good news of Jesus - "As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:4-5)
In the Tabernacle, YHWH lived with his people in the wilderness. And in the Temple in Jerusalem, YHWH lived with his people in a house of solid stone. The Tabernacle was with Israel only briefly. The Temple was theirs for hundreds of years. So, too, Christ tabernacled with us only briefly before his death and resurrection. But soon he will come again - not just briefly but eternally. Soon he will come and dwell with his people in an eternal age of peace and life. And when he comes you, Church, will be his home - his temple - even as you already are for his Spirit that lives within you.
That means you, Church, are now and forever will be the Temple of the Living God, the Holy One of Israel. That means you, Church, are now and forever will be priests in his service, his people welcomed into his presence by the blood of Christ, his worshippers who meet with him through Christ in a chorus of unending praise.
So, how ought we live today?
What gift would we withhold for the building up of his temple, the Church? In chapter 25, YHWH called for people to give from their heart - under no compulsion - to give what they had for the building of the Tabernacle. The reality is that these slaves had nothing but what YHWH provided for them from the spoiling of Egypt.
What has he given you for the building up of Christ's Church? To every one of you Christ has given a gift of the Spirit. Some preach and teach. Others care and share and show mercy. In hospitality and encouragement and generosity and zeal (Romans 12, 1 Cor. 12, etc.) we see the gifts of the Spirit building up the Body of Christ in beauty more glorious than the Tabernacle in the wilderness. Don't doubt that he has gifted you, Christian. Only ask how your gift might be used for the glory of the One who won it for you through his death and resurrection. Then rely on the Spirit, asking him to empower you to do what you were redeemed to do. That is what the Spirit does. In chapter 31, the Spirit empowered the people of Israel to create the Tabernacle according to YHWH’s design. And the Spirit of God inside you won’t fail to build you up as the Temple of God, even as he uses you to accomplish that task in others.
So, if you want to meet with God – and he wants to meet with you – then go to Christ. He is the meeting place between God and man. Because Christ’s sacrifice has won forgiveness for us. And his blood makes us eternally holy in the sight of God. His presence is with us now in the Spirit – and soon we will see him face to face.
[Pray – Father, who is a God like you, so near to his people? Who is a God like you, who does not ask his people to ascend up to him? The gods of this world demand we rise to them, but you came down to us in Jesus. The gods of this world demand we atone for our own sins, but you satisfied your justice yourself by putting Christ to death on the cross. The gods of this world demand we sacrifice everything to them, but you give us gifts from your Spirit so that we might have something to offer. Help us, Father, to take comfort in your forgiveness. Help us approach you with confidence in Christ and his holiness counted as ours. Empower us by your Spirit to do what you call your people to do – to bear witness to the faithfulness of Christ. In our families, in our neighborhoods, in the places where we work, help us to share the Good News of the God who wants to be with his people, who died so that we could be together forever. For the sake of Christ, for his honor and glory we pray. Amen.]
[Benediction – from Number 6]
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.