************ Sermon on Exodus 26 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 3, 2014
Exodus 25:1-9; Exodus 26
Do you remember what all happened on Mt. Sinai? While on Mt. Sinai, Moses received the Ten Commandments (Ex 19:1-20:21), various other regulations (Ex 20:22-23:19), and some instructions for the invasion of Canaan (Ex 23:20-33). He was also given the blueprint for the tabernacle (Ex 24:15-30:38). Telling us what? Telling us that the tabernacle and worship was important to God. How important? So important that God left nothing to the imagination and ingenuity of man. So important that God spelled out all the details of where and how He was to be worshiped. There the minds of the people of God were directed to the glories of God's covenant relationship with them, and they could say, "Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love" (Ps 48:9).
We begin a series of sermon on the tabernacle and its furnishings. You might wonder what this has to do with us today. Hebrews 9 tells us that just about every detail of this portable sanctuary and the priesthood is fulfilled in Christ. So, yes, in Christ the tabernacle certainly applies to us today. It even applies to how we design our church buildings today.
I The First Tabernacle
A Our Scripture reading records the plans God revealed to Moses for the tabernacle.
Our son Joshua works for a company that designed and is building the new World Trade Center in New York City. He has shown us some of his work. Ruth and I went and looked at the new tire place in Goshen right along the freeway – our Josh designed the building.
We were amazed at all the details. Something as simple as a corner or the pitch of the roof can impact the wiring, plumbing, networking, and fire control system. Everything needs to fit together or the building cannot be built.
Similarly, God designed every detail of the tabernacle and, later, of the temple. But He didn't start from scratch. He already had a master plan. As we look at the tabernacle we need to keep in mind what is said in Hebrews:
(Heb 8:5) They [the high priests] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain."Did you catch that? The tabernacle and temple are but copies, shadows, of the Almighty's heavenly throne room. The ark of the covenant sat within the most Holy Place as the Lord's footstool, and the cherubim woven into the curtains of the tabernacle were depictions of the heavenly host that glorify God day and night in heaven (Ex 26:1).
As an aside, the inclusion of the cherubim tell us something important about the second commandment. There are those – including some here – who tell me the second commandment forbids all pictures and art in worship or in the place of worship. Not true. Because then God, in His design of the tabernacle, is breaking His own commandment. If all art were banned in the worship setting, the Lord certainly would not have ordered Israel to include figures of the cherubim in the tabernacle.
According to Exodus 26, the tabernacle complex was made in the shape of a rectangle with a flat roof, and it had three sections: an exterior courtyard surrounded by curtains of goat hair and ram skins stretched over a wooden frame (Ex 26:7-25), the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place. The last two sections were made of beautifully woven curtains (Ex 26:1-6, 31-33).
The stress on curtains and coverings was a clear sign that there is separation between our holy God and sinners. Entering His presence is no small matter, and His worship must be carefully guarded lest His name be profaned.
B In order to understand the importance of the tabernacle, we need to go all the way back to the beginning of Genesis. We read there that God used to walk with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden "in the cool of the day" (Gen 3:8). In the beginning there was close, intimate fellowship between the first man and woman and the Almighty Creator.
You know what happened next. Adam and Eve fell into sin. They were banished from the Garden and the immediate presence of our holy God (Gen 3:22-24). But God made a promise that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent. The end result is the restoration of face-to-face communion between the Lord and His people.
Throughout our study of Genesis we have been seeing the working out of this promise. Abraham had more than one encounter with the Almighty and is called the friend of God (James 2:23). God promised to be with Isaac (Gen 26:24). God told Jacob "I am with you and will watch over you" (Gen 28:15). As for Moses, he met with God at the top of Mount Sinai.
For the nation of Israel, however, the presence of God was to be found in the tabernacle. The tabernacle was a place of communion with God. The setup, the architecture, the furniture, the sacrifices all have one main purpose: to remind the people of God's presence and to promote communion with Him. Similarly, our places of worship today are to be places of communion with God. The setup, the architecture, the furniture, the technology all have one main purpose: to remind us of God's presence and to promote communion with Him.
As a place of communion with God, the tabernacle was indeed a special place. At the time Moses wrote down the words of Exodus the people of Israel were traveling through the wilderness; they were on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. At that time they lived in tents. In fact, there were thousands of tents. And, at the center of their camp was the Tent of Meeting, the tabernacle. What was so special about this tent? What set the Tent of Meeting apart from every other tent was the glory of God. We read that when the tabernacle and its furnishings were finished, "Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (Ex 40:34). The King of heaven and earth came down, so to speak, to live in the tent made according to His specifications. From that point on, the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels (cf Ex 40:38). Because it was constructed like a portable tent, the tabernacle could travel with the people into the Promised Land (Num 1:47-53). During their journey through the wilderness, the tabernacle would be erected in the center of the nation's camp and the people would see that the Lord lived among them (Num 2:2). The Lord, I would have you see, was just like His people. Just as the Israelites lived in booths or tents during their time in the wilderness (Lev 23:42-43), so God "lived" in a tent as He traveled with them.
C Yet even though the tabernacle was a step forward for God's people towards face-to-face communion, it still did not go far enough. Let me explain this by asking a question: Who could go into the tabernacle? Who could enter the tabernacle to meet with God? The answer: Only the Levites could enter the tabernacle and carry the tabernacle and care for the tabernacle. As for the holy place, only a select few could enter through the curtains and enjoy the Lord's glorious presence (Num 1:51-53). And, only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies and he could do so only once a year on the Day of Atonement.
The curtains and the restricted access to God's presence is a message that there is a wide chasm between God and His people. As you all know, that chasm was bridged by Christ, Who now gives free access to the Father. Because of the work of Jesus, we experience an intimacy with God that Israel never did.
II A More Permanent Tabernacle
A As I mentioned, the tabernacle God instructed Moses to build was a portable tent, something that could be taken down and carried with the people as they journeyed to Canaan (Num 1:50-51). Now, this tells us two things. First, the tabernacle was important. It was always there in the sight of the people reminding them of the Lord's gracious presence. Second, the tabernacle was temporary; it was not meant to be a permanent sanctuary. It was a tent, a Tent of Meeting, something temporary, something portable.
Do you remember the homeless community set up on the other side of the St. John's River during the housing crisis? Many of the homeless lived in tents or huts made of sticks and leaves and pieces of plastic. Tents and huts are meant to be temporary, not permanent structures. They are way-stations on the way to something better and more enduring.
To drive home this point, do you remember what was a permanent part of the ark during the wilderness years? According to the command of God, the poles were to remain in the rings of the ark; they were not to be removed (Ex 25:15). The poles were used to carry the ark from place to place. As Uzzah found out, the ark was not to be carried any other way (2 Sam 6). Now, why couldn't the poles be removed? To remind the people that the ark and the tabernacle and all the furnishings were moveable, temporary.
B So, the Lord foretold a day when the people would have a central, immovable sanctuary in the Promised Land. The Lord foretold a more permanent structure than a tabernacle. I am talking about the temple that Solomon constructed in Jerusalem based on the model of the portable tabernacle, including all its curtains and furniture (2 Chron 2-5).
As with the tabernacle, the glory of the Lord descended and filled the place (2 Chron 5:13). We are told that fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord (2 Chron 7:1-3).
The temple was better than the tabernacle. Not only was it an imposing building, but there now was room for the ordinary people – besides a court for priests, there was also a court for men, a court for women, and a court for Gentiles. So, more than the Levites could enter in. Yet even the temple was lacking as a place of communion between God and His people.
Do you remember what Jesus had to do during His time of ministry on earth? Jesus blazed through the temple courts, whip in hand, fueled by a holy jealousy, consumed with zeal for God's house (Ps 69:9; cf Jn 2:17). He drove money-changers and merchants out. He was demolishing the abuses of God's house. He was refining and purifying. He was clearing the way for worship and offerings that would be pleasing to the Lord because what happened in the temple was lacking.
We also see the deficiency of the temple as a place of communion between God and His people when we look again at the ark of the covenant. Guess what was in the rings of the ark when it sat in the temple? The poles. The poles remained in the ark even in the temple (1 Kings 8:7-8; 2 Chron 5:8-9). We know the poles were so long they got in the way of the other furniture. Yet, they had to remain in the ark. Why? Israel was no longer on the move. She was established in the Promised Land. The Holy of Holies was the Ark's final resting place. It would never need to be carried by the priests again. Yet the poles had to remain. Why?
The poles remained because that was the command of God (Ex 25:15). For all time, for ever and ever, regardless of where Israel found herself, regardless of how well established she was, the poles were to remain in the ark. And the reason is simple: for all time, even in the Promised Land, Israel was to know even the temple and the ark were not permanent. God had something better in mind in terms of the when and where and how of meeting with Him. The poles tell us the temple, like the tabernacle, is not a permanent meeting place between God and His people.
C But the poles also tell us something else. The poles tells us God was and is not absolutely bound to the temple and the ark. Remember, this was the sin and the mistake of the sons of Eli. They carried the ark of the covenant into battle against the Philistines because they wrongly believed God – His power, His honor, His glory – was bound to the ark. They thought that with the ark going into battle with them there was no way Israel could lose. What happened? Israel was defeated. The ark of the covenant was captured. The sons of Eli were killed. And Eli died (1 Sam 4). The power, honor, and glory of God are not bound to the ark and temple. That is to say, God reserved the right to reject the ark and the temple and allow foreigners to destroy them if His people do not repent (2 Chron 7:19-22). Yes, the tabernacle and the temple was the place where the people of God met with God, but God would take away that privilege if Israel abandoned Him (Ezek 10).
How many times don't we make the same mistake as the sons of Eli? How many times don't we wrongly think the power, honor, and glory of God are bound to causes, organizations, issues, and persons that are dear to our heart. For instance, we wonder about the providence of God when we or a loved one become seriously ill. Or, we doubt God's might when enrollment goes down at the Christian School. Or, we question God's ways when abortion and homosexual marriage continue to be the law of the land. God is not bound to our causes, our organizations, and our issues.
What I am saying is the promise of face-to-face communion between the Lord and His people was not exhausted once Solomon constructed a house filled with the glory of God (1 Kings 8:10-11). The promise awaited a deeper and greater fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ.
III The True Tabernacle
A We should never look at the tabernacle and temple without looking at Jesus, the true Tabernacle or Temple of God.
Let's start with the opening to the Gospel of John. John writes, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" Jn 1:14). Actually, the Greek says "The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us." "The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us." In Christ, the eternal God pitched His tent among men. Jesus is God's Tabernacle.
God's Tabernacle used to be the Tent of Meeting, it used to be the temple, but in these last days God's Tabernacle is Jesus.
"The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us" (Jn 1:14). So how does God live among His people? Not in a tent but in Jesus. How and where do God's people meet with God? Not in a tent but through Jesus. Our communion with God is in and through Jesus. Jesus is God's Tabernacle.
B One chapter later in John, right after Jesus cleared the temple of the merchants and money-changers, the Jews demanded to know by what authority Jesus did this? "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" (Jn 2:18). Do you remember Jesus' response? He answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days" (Jn 1:19). The Jews didn't understand that the temple Jesus had spoken of was His body (Jn 1:21).
I repeat, Jesus is God's Tabernacle.
C I already mentioned the glory of God that descended upon both the tabernacle and temple (Ex 40:34; 2 Chron 5:13). Other words that come to mind are majesty, awesomeness, weightiness, purity, and brilliance. Jesus is God's tabernacle. So it should not surprise us what John says about Jesus.
(Jn 1:14) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Meaning what? Meaning that when we look at Jesus we see the glory of God, the majesty of God, the awesomeness of God, the weightiness of God, the purity of God, and the brilliance of God. Everything the tabernacle and temple associated with God we see in Jesus, the true tabernacle of God.
D Try to imagine what it must have been like to be one of the ancient Israelites. You could only stand outside of the sanctuary. You could never enter into the presence of God.
But, thanks be to God in Christ, we now have direct access to God. We can come into the very presence of the Almighty. The tabernacle has been torn down. The temple has been destroyed. There no longer is any barrier between us and the Father, for by His blood Jesus has opened a new and living way for us.
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