Exodus 25-31: Who lives in a house like this? - 16th November 2014 - Dave Walker

Bible Reading: Revelation 21:9-17                                                     

Click here to listen to the talk

You discover an awful lot about a person when you actually live with them. Anyone who has ever shared a house or a flat with someone knows that. You discover so much, don’t you? Now we tend to think of that quite negatively – people’s nasty habits and so on – but it’s also true positively, though, isn’t it? When you live with someone of real integrity, that has a big impact, because you see so much more of what that means in practice. I remember a number of years ago living with an Irish guy called David for about a year; and living in the same house as him made a massive impact on me. He lived in such a simple but profound way. His room was amazingly free of clutter, and so was his life. He cared about people – you could tell that by the way he was with us, his housemates. He knew and loved the LORD – you could tell that by the daily routines he had – the way he read his Bible and prayed each day; you could tell it by the way he talked about Jesus in private when his guard was down, and not just by what he said in public.

All that is doubly true when a couple get married. They might well get to know quite a lot about each other when they’re engaged; and they make some wonderful promises to each other on their wedding day. But it’s only when they start living together that the rubber hits the road. The aim of getting married is for a couple to live together for the rest of their lives. It’s not just about making the vows; it’s about living it out in practice. Day after day, year after year. It’d be pretty strange if, at the end of the wedding, having made all those promises, the couple went off and lived in separate houses. The relationship wouldn’t be a real marriage at all.

Well that’s also true with the LORD, as we see in today’s section of the book of Exodus. Today is all about actually living with the LORD. If you remember where we got up to a couple of weeks ago, the LORD had rescued his people out slavery in Egypt, he’d brought them to himself and he’d met with them at Mount Sinai. He’d declared their marriage vows, those Ten Words, the Ten Commandments, and the other laws that explained what it would mean for them to be God’s people in practice. They had eaten a wedding feast together, the people in God’s presence, on the mountain, eating with him, seeing him in his glory.

And now, after the wedding ceremony is over, he draws up the plans for the house. So that they can actually live together. And, just like it is with anyone else, there is much to discover about the LORD from seeing the way that he lives with them. Lots that is relevant to us now as 21st Century Christians. So let’s have a look.

Exodus 25:1-22 (p.83) The LORD said to Moses,  2 "Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give.  3 These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze;  4 blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair;  5 ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows; acacia wood;  6 olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense;  7 and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.  8 "Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.  9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.  10 "Have them make a chest of acacia wood--two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.  11 Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold moulding around it.  12 Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other.  13 Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.  14 Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the chest to carry it.  15 The poles are to remain in the rings of this ark; they are not to be removed.  16 Then put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you.  17 "Make an atonement cover of pure gold--two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide.  18 And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover.  19 Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends.  20 The cherubim are to have their wings spread upwards, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking towards the cover.  21 Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you.  22 There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet you and give all my commands for the Israelites.”

And the LORD goes on to describe all the features of this meeting place; the tabernacle; literally the tent of meeting. In fact the majority of the rest of the book of Exodus is devoted to this, give or take a three chapter digression in the middle. In all thirteen chapters of this book describe this tabernacle in painstaking detail. That’s as many chapters as it takes to tell the whole story of the Israelites rescue from Egypt, up to and including the crossing of the red sea. And as you read these tabernacle chapters, well, it’s not exactly an action packed story. It’s more like looking over the blueprints at a town planning consultation. Some people find that sort of thing exciting, but for the rest of us it’s pretty hard work. But clearly it’s important, if so much time is spent on it. Because, a bit like the town planning consultation, the blueprints may not excite you, but the way they get put into practice will transform everything in the town. This tabernacle is world changing truth. It’s the blueprints for a new and better world. In three big ways:

1. The LORD lives with his people – this is life as it should be

The tabernacle is all about God setting up home with his people. Look at verse 8 of the reading we had: “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” Or at the end of verse 22 that we read: “I will meet with you and give all my commands for the Israelites.” Or flick on to the end of chapter 29 on page 88 and see what the LORD says will happen when the tabernacle is up and running. Verse 44: “So I will consecrate the Tent of Meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. Then I will dwell among the Israelites and will be their God. They will know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.” That’s what the tabernacle is for. The details matter because of the magnitude of what’s going on here: God is dwelling with his people. Not just in a general “God is everywhere” sense. In the sense of setting up home together. It’s happening.

Now, to understand why that’s such a big deal, we have to get our thinking caps on and think back in the Bible, to the start. The Bible begins with God dwelling with his people, doesn’t it? God made the world so that he could live with his people. That’s what the Garden of Eden was – the special place where God dwelt with his people. And it was perfect. It was humans were meant to live. With the LORD. We were made for relationship with God and with each other. In his place. The problems with the world began when people turned against him and that happy state was broken up. That was when evil and death and the rest came in. Eden was life as it was meant to be.

Now here in the tabernacle instructions we find all sorts of echoes of Eden. It’s everywhere in the details. So for instance, look at that phrase at the start of chapter 25. Do you see it? “The LORD said to Moses.” That crops up seven times in these chapters 25-31, and each time it’s a creative command; a command which describes how an aspect of the tabernacle should be made. Except for the last time in chapter 31 verse 12 – have a quick glance at that; it’s page 90. There it says “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths.’”” Six creative commands followed by Sabbath. This is more than just architecture, this is new creation. Or the details of the tabernacle itself. There is masses of gold, there are gemstones, just like we read of in the garden of Eden. The entrance faces east, just like Eden.  There in the holy place is a lampstand - you can see on the diagram on your sheets – and this lampstand is designed to look like a tree; like the tree of life in the garden of Eden. And in the middle, at the heart of it all is the ark itself.

Now when you think of the ark of the covenant, don’t think of Indiana Jones and the magic box full of scary ghosts and melting Nazis and the rest. Think of Eden again. The ark is a box with something in it – look at 25 verse 16 - the two stone tablets with God’s words on them. The ten words – the ten commandments. Just like in Eden where we see God speaking to Adam. His words with his people. And on the top of the box, on the gold cover, are… well have a look in verse 18: two chrerubim. Angelic figures. Now where in the Bible have we met Cherubim before? The previous occasion is where Adam and Eve are thrown out of the garden of Eden in Genesis chapter 3. The two cherubim are stationed at the entrance with a flashing sword. Like bouncers, barring the way. There is no way for fallen people to get back into God’s presence. That’s what the cherubim communicate: no way back. But here the cherubim are there not as a big no entry sign but, verse 22 – as a meeting place.

Now why is it worth spending this time noticing the similarities here? Well because of this: in all of it God is painting a picture of the world as it should be. Life as it should be. The tabernacle is a blueprint for a new creation. This is heaven on earth. God with his people. Right at the centre of their world. A picture promise of a world of worship.

Now, when we think of God restoring creation so that it becomes all about worship, we might not find that all that inspiring. I think that’s mostly because we misunderstand the word “worship”. We think it just refers to the time of singing in church, or the church service itself. And we think “well, that’s all very well, but for ever? Doesn’t sound like a perfect world.” No, no. Worship is so much more than that. Worship is not a chore. Worship is life as it should be. It is life orientated around God. Life orientated around anyone or anything else is a disaster – we talk about self-centeredness, don’t we, and we know it’s a bad thing. But life orientated around God is the world as it was meant to be. Everything pulling together in the same direction, instead of the wars which characterise the world as it is, as we continually pull in different directions. A life of worshipping the LORD is everything and everyone in all satisfying relationship with the God who is love, instead of the loneliness and relationship breakdown of the world as it is. Life centred on God is everything and everyone basking in the glory of the creator, the one who is ultimate life, like a lizard basks in the sun on a hot day, enjoying it’s warmth, soaking in its life, instead of decaying and disappearing into the ultimate death of a world without God. It’s life with a consuming purpose to everything, instead of randomness, disorder and chaos.

That’s what the tabernacle teaches us. It says that when God brings heaven to earth he brings that sort of transformation. God with his people is a truly wonderful thing to appreciate. And, even more wonderfully, the tabernacle shows us God being with his people wherever they go. Because everything has rings and poles and is designed to be packed away and moved. This is a portable sanctuary; wherever the people go they can look out of their tents, and there before them is the continual reminder. The tabernacle. God is with them here too. The LORD is with his people wherever they go.

Now, for us as Christians, as opposed to the Israelites back then, as ever the thing to remember is that what we have if we are in Jesus is not less than they had, it’s more. If the tabernacle was a blueprint, a picture promise, we already share in the reality. Not finished yet, but real enough. What did the angel say to Joseph when he announced the coming birth of Jesus? “You shall call him Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us’”. What did Jesus promise his disciples before he went to heaven? “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Believers in Jesus are given God’s Holy Spirit. God with us wherever we go. That’s true for us when we’re together in his name. It’s also true for us when we’re apart.

We don’t have to go on a pilgrimage to somewhere special to meet with God. God hasn’t given us a special holy building to go to. Or a shrine. He’s given us his Holy Spirit and he’s given us each other. The LORD is with his people wherever we go – much more so now. We don’t have to carry God’s word around with us in a special golden box now. We who believe in Jesus have his word in the Bible and his Spirit writes that word into our hearts. The LORD is with his people, wherever we go. Don’t take that for granted. That’s the most amazing privilege. The people of Israel would have longed for what we have as Christians. This is something to mediate on and pray over and enjoy. It’s something to start each day with, isn’t it? There was a song by the Boo Radleys that said “if I were much wiser, maybe I’d realise that it’s not where you are, it’s who you’re with.” Where are we today? In North Finchley. Who are we with? The LORD of heaven and earth has come to us. It’s nothing less than a taste of heaven on earth.

And as we see that, we need to appreciate, don’t we, that having God with you is not the same as having a guard dog with you to protect you, or a personal carer to look after, or even a human friend to keep you company. Again, we can grow numb to that. We can say things like “The Lord be with you” or, “God is with me” and we fail to see the privilege and also the fearfulness of that. This is God we’re talking about; infinitely greater than you or me.

2. The LORD can only be approached on his own terms

This is something that gets underlined repeatedly for the Israelites in the tabernacle instructions. God dictates the terms. Have a look again at chapter 25 verse 8 and you can see that: “Exodus 25:8-9  "Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.  9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” Make a sanctuary; literally a place of holiness; somewhere distinct different, set apart, and do it exactly as I tell you. In case we’re in any doubt God says this over and over again. Forty times in this section he emphasizes the holiness of the tabernacle. An again and again he underlines how it has to be done exactly as he says.

This is not an opportunity for them to try out their interior design skills, or to come up with some new religious art. They’re not told to invent here; they’re called to follow the instructions to the letter.

In fact this is where the repetitiveness of this makes sense. Some things we learn really quickly, don’t we? But most things take time. Most of the important things anyway take time and effort to learn. As the Israelites put this tabernacle together oh so carefully, they’re learning something really important about their God. If you’re going to relate to him, it has to be on his terms. You wouldn’t begrudge going through some health and safety training if you were going to be working in a nuclear reactor. It would be essential, wouldn’t it? Dealing with the infinitely pure, glorious creator of the universe as one of his creatures who has rebelled against him is not a small thing. Getting it wrong could be deadly.

You see if God is this holy, his people need to play really close attention with his dwelling place. It has to be how he wants it.

It’s obvious isn’t it? Wherever God dwells is a pretty special place. Now that has to apply to us too. Not regarding buildings – it’s not that we have to overlay our buildings in gold or anything like that. I’ve been to cathedrals where they have literally done that; they’ve plastered everything in gold. So what they think about God is pretty clear – they think he lives in that building. That’s why they make it look like that.

Nowhere in the Bible are we told anything like that. The Tabernacle is a one off, in that sense, as a building where God dwells. No, remember; now we’re told that God dwells among his people, among followers of Jesus, by his Holy Spirit.

So we need to pay really close attention not so much to our buildings as to our lives. One of those famous Bible verses that most people have heard quoted or misquoted is when Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 says “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” Now normally when we hear that quoted it’s by someone talking about their diet or exercise routine. But the picture Paul has in mind is like the tabernacle here. If God dwells there, you need to take great care to be holy. It matters what you do with your body, if God lives there.

Likewise we need to take good care of each other, because being the dwelling place of God’s Spirit is not just an individual thing as Christians, it’s something that we are together. Again, as Paul says in Ephesians, “you are being built together into a temple in which God dwells by his spirit.” Christians need to look after one another. Not just by helping to carry each other’s burdens, caring for one another when in need, that sort of thing, although of course that is important if we’re really a family in Christ. But more than that we need to take care of one another’s holiness. We need to encourage each other to live as Christians, to live for Jesus. To be friends enough to ask one another the tricky questions. To pray for one another. Even to challenge one another. Not because we’re busybodies; because we love each other and we love the LORD enough to want the best for each other. We want each other to be the new people that God has made us to be, a dwelling place for the LORD, for his glory, and for our good.

But one last thing to say:

3. Only Jesus can enable us to live with the LORD

Us being concerned about our holiness, and one another’s holiness, can’t just mean turning over a new leaf and trying to be good. It means helping one another to depend on Jesus, the only one who can actually make us fit to live with the LORD.

At the heart of the tabernacle is the system of priests and sacrifices. The people could only live with God at all because God had given them sacrifices to take away their sins, and priests to go into God’s presence on their behalf. And the priests would literally have the names of the people on their heart as they stood before the LORD. As we finish let’s read through a few verses in chapter 28 on page 86. And as we read it, think about Jesus. Verse 15: "Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions--the work of a skilled craftsman. Make it like the ephod: of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen.  16 It is to be square--a span long and a span wide--and folded double.  17 Then mount four rows of precious stones on it. In the first row there shall be a ruby, a topaz and a beryl;  18 in the second row a turquoise, a sapphire and an emerald;  19 in the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst;  20 in the fourth row a chrysolite, an onyx and a jasper. Mount them in gold filigree settings.  21 There are to be twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes.  Verse 29: “Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision, as a continuing memorial before the LORD.”.

Jesus is our sacrifice, he sacrificed himself to take away our sins. Jesus is our priest, who has gone into the presence of God himself, into heaven, and he stands there now, carrying our names on his heart. Where are we? As it happens we’re here in North Finchley, although tomorrow you may well be somewhere different. But who are we with? If we’re followers of Jesus then we are with the LORD of heaven and earth. Wherever we are.