Experience God's presence in your wilderness

Dec 15, 2021

A Christmas gift | Centering on Christ: The Tabernacle, a special reading

Episode 126 - Stephanie wrote this episode to invite you one last time to experience God in your wilderness, by centering on Christ through the Tabernacle. She invites you to walk with her in the wilderness campsite and make your way into the presence of God.

We hope it will be as special to you as it is to us!

This special episode is a great way to introduce Gospel Spice and our Centering on Christ study to newcomers. It is also our final conclusion on the series. We hope you have been enjoying our special Christmas guests, and we promise we have exciting new ones coming this week!

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You and I are slipping on our wilderness desert sandals as we get ready to make our way into the presence of God today.

As we trek our way from wherever our tent is pitched in this 2-million strong campsite, let me remind you how we got here.

What a journey this has been! Just 14 months ago, we left Egypt, laden with unexpected riches—and most of all, with our newfound, God-given freedom. We saw God completely crush the selfish, cruel deities of the noble, haughty Egyptian people.

We crossed the Red Sea. We tasted the manna. We saw the fire and heard the thunder from Mount Sinai. We’ve followed the pillar of cloud and fire. Our shoes have not worn off, our clothing has not faded. We can’t deny the obvious—our God has been taking good tender care of us.

It’s gone off without a glitch—well, except maybe for the time when that golden calf jumped out of the fire when we randomly threw in our earrings.

Can I be honest a moment? It’s been hard to learn to rely on a God we can’t see or touch or hear. We know without a doubt that He is the only true God, but those Egyptian gods were so much easier to understand. They are so much like us—fickle, selfish, and assuredly insecure.

That’s one lesson we’ve learned in the wilderness, much as we hate to admit it. We are a stiff-necked, insecure people. And our God is not like us—something we are learning to appreciate!

In His goodness, He has given us the unthinkable: a place to meet with Him. We call it the Tabernacle. It means, “dwelling place.” It is the place where God has decided to dwell among us. You see, Egyptian gods lived in temples and had to be appeased by sacrifices. Our God lives among us—in a tent, just like us—and is teaching us how we are supposed to approach Him.

He is not playing hide and seek like the Egyptian gods. He is telling us exactly where and how to meet Him. Who has ever heard of such a kind and gracious God?

He is teaching us the most baffling experience: He wants us to TRUST Him. No one has ever heard of trusting any one of the many gods. Fear? yes. Appease? yes. They only seek their own interest, and will suck life out of you to appease their own lusts. Egyptian gods have names; 21st century western gods have names too: money, fame, success, comfort, to name a few. They too come short of satisfying our deepest longings.

And here, on this wilderness of a desert, we are learning to trust the one real God. The problem with trust is that it requires unpleasant circumstances. No one needs to trust God when all is well. But here, now, when we depend on Him for our every meal, our every drink, our very survival against beasts and barbarians—now here we need to learn to trust.

God teaches us to trust Him by inviting us in His presence. In the Tabernacle, where He dwells.

We focused this past year on building the Tabernacle that God gave Moses on the mountain. And what a year it has been! You will find the whole story in Exodus 25-40, so you don’t need me to remind you. God gave Moses such specific blueprints, it was both very easy and extremely daunting to build it. Kinda like a large Ikea construction guide—you need to follow every step and it will go well. But miss a step, or reverse the order, and you are in for a headache. God gave many craftsmen a wide array of talents to accomplish the task before them. He even said He gave them His very Spirit to help them build the Tabernacle exactly as He wanted it! Who has ever heard of God letting His Spirit dwell inside His people? What a privilege. Such profound stewardship required of such set-apart people. The Hebrew word for “set-apart” is the same as “holy.” When God places His Spirit inside of you, you are set apart. Only a handful of people have ever experienced such honor among us, the Israelites in the wilderness.

We all contributed our gifts to the Tabernacle. It required much gold, silver, fine linen, leather, and wood. We had so carelessly thrown our gold into the fire; we gave to the Tabernacle construction with much care, a sacred privilege we respectfully honored. Who ever heard of a God who would dwell among His people, asking THEM to build Him His temple with THEIR own contributions? Unspeakable honor to place our gifts and talents in His service.

Moses oversaw the construction. Bezalel and Oholieb assembled a team of crasftsmen under them. The women threaded and sowed, collected and mixed the spices, and the men cut the acacia wood timber, and hammered the gold and the silver and the bronze.

And after just one year, the Tabernacle was consecrated. You remember, we were there when the fire came down from heaven to light the altar of sacrifices. We saw the cloud of glory move into the Tabernacle tent, hovering above the Ark of the covenant and the mercy seat, hidden deep within the most sacred space.

And now we get to meet God whenever we want. On His terms. Can you imagine? We actually know what it takes to please our God enough that He allows us in His presence. No Egyptian god has ever delivered that kind of self-disclosure. Our God seeks intimacy with us. What unthinkable grace.

 

Here we are. The white linen wall of the outer court is in sight. We are reminded that it is a portable structure—God moves with us. And it is a temporary structure—it will become a glorious temple under King Solomon, in just about 500 years. You and I don’t know it yet, but here what is coming:

God will dwell in the Temple like He does in the Tabernacle. That temple will be much more glorious, and yet Ezekiel teaches us that God’s glory will leave the temple just before 586BC, 400 years or so after Solomon completed it. That’s why King Neb and his armies will be able to invade Jerusalem and take us all into captivity. When we come back, 70 years later, we will attempt to rebuild the temple, under Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah, but God’s glory will never return to it. God’s glory is absent.

Until one glorious night, described in Luke 2:9 – An angel of the Lord appeared to shepherd in the fields, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

The glory has returned, and it will never again leave Planet Earth.

John 1:14. Jesus walked among us, full of grace and truth, and we have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only.

Jesus left on Ascension, and gave us the gift above all gifts—the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. HE made temples of flesh out of the believers. That’s the New Testament glory.

But back to the white linen outer walls of our initial Tabernacle.

We make our way around the white linen walls, dodging the campfires and the tents of the Levites who are camped right outside of the walls. The outer wall is quite small, measuring right at 75 feet to 150 feet. It’s the size of an Olympic swimming pool, in case you are wondering. Quite small. And so we swiftly make our way to the entrance, passing by the Tribe of Judah camped in front of the east-facing entrance of God’s meeting place.

Let me tell you about the Tribe of Judah, this tribe favored among all. You see, our Messiah will come from the tribe of Judah. And so it is only fitting that they should camp by the gate to the Tabernacle.

The entrance to the Tabernacle is facing East, just like the entrance to the garden of Eden, the very first place where God met with us. But now the entrance to Eden is closed off, with angels guarding the way with their fiery swords.

The entrance to the Tabernacle has a curtain of scarlet and blue and purple, symbolizing blood and God and royalty, but it does not have fiery cherubim guarding the way. You see, anyone can enter, using the only entrance, facing east.

There is only one way to enter in God’s presence. One narrow way. It is available to anyone who wishes, but under God’s terms. He is God, and we are not.

 

Now, I hope you didn’t forget the animal you are planning to sacrifice. That’s the reason we are here.

Once we walk in, we are cut off from the rest of the camp.

The white walls of the outer court surround us.

The priests, officiating all around us, are dressed in the same white linen. Their sash of scarlet, purple and blue matches the open curtain-gate that we just walked through.

Our eyes are drawn to the imposing structure before us, our destination: the bronze altar. At 4.5 feet high, it is roughly at eye level for us. It is a square, 7.5 feet aside. It’s basically a gigantic fire pit, with a grate inside it to roast animals, and 4 horns on its 4 corners to tie the ropes that keep the animals down as they get slaughtered. You see, that’s the problem with living sacrifices like you and me. We tend to crawl off the altar.

The bronze altar points to the cross of our Messiah. He voluntarily tied Himself down. Like the innocent animals, He carried our iniquities. He didn’t deserve to die. Animals are not asked their opinion, which is partly why their blood can only cover our sin, not erase it.

Death is necessary to erase sin, because death is the opposite of life, and sin is the opposite of God. The only way for the living Spirit of God to dwell inside of sinful humans is for them to die to sin so they may be raised to eternal life. And that is what our Messiah has come to do for us, pinning Himself on the bronze altar so the smoke of His sacrifice might raise to heaven and reach God, appeasing His wrath.

You see, when the animal dies, the smoke of sin meets the wrath of God to appease it. The smoke and the wrath are the same thing, and they mingle upwards towards heaven—towards Christ. Christ came down to face the wrath of God on the bronze altar on our behalf.

You have met the wrath of God, and it has not destroyed you because you hid behind the One who met it for you. The bronze altar is your salvation experience, when you meet Christ as your Savior. The bronze altar points to the cross of Christ.

There is no wrath left for you as you proceed deeper into the Tabernacle complex. From now on, you will meet water, and light, and bread, and incense—but no wrath.

The wrath was met at the cross, so that grace is the fullness of the experience of God in Christ.

Let’s proceed past the bronze altar, to the next element: the washbasin.

Oh, but wait. Only members of the priesthood are allowed to experience deeper fellowship with God. Levites are the only tribe allowed past the bronze altar. This is an exclusive experience for the select chosen few.

Do you qualify? Are you a member of the priesthood? 1 Peter 2:9 says that in Christ we are the royal priesthood, the holy nation.

Yes, if you are a follower of Christ, having embraced His bronze altar sacrifice on the Cross on your behalf, then you are a member of the priesthood.

You are beckoned to experience the washbasin.

Made of the bronze from the mirrors of the women who officiate at the entrance of the Tabernacle, it reflects your face as you approach. You see, self-knowledge is indispensable for God-knowledge. Just like we thought those Egyptian gods resembled us so much, we realize that Yahweh is very much NOT like us. And that is increasingly a source of relief and joy.

God gave precise instructions and dimensions to build every piece of the Tabernacle—down to the size of the nails to ground the posts holding the walls up. But He didn’t give the size of the washbasin—because there will always be a limitless supply of water to cleanse you. More than you will ever need.

We are called to wash our feet and hands in the washbasin.

Why not the whole body? Exodus 29 describes the complete washing that takes place when someone becomes a member of the priesthood. They are washed thoroughly once.

But then they need washing of their hands and feet whenever they enter their daily service to God.

We have been washed entirely at salvation, and now we are clean. We only need the occasional daily spot-cleaning of our hands and feet. Ask Peter when Jesus washed his feet.

The washbasin symbolizes the Christian walk, starting with the public declaration of baptism and followed with daily repentance and growing surrender, in increasing awareness of our sinful selves and most importantly, of our gracious God.

Once our hands and feet are clean, we can enter the tent of the Tabernacle proper.

The curtain that we reverently draw back repeats the same pattern of scarlet and blue and purple, with no guarding cherubim. Access is limited, but not restricted.

When you enter, darkness envelops you as you adjust to the one source of light—the golden lampstand to your left. Its soft light casts hues of gold all around you—an easy task, since the walls are literally gold-plated. The ceiling, high above your head at 15 feet, glimmers with the gold of the cherubim embroidered in the trifold colors. They remind you of heaven above you.

In humble worship, you kneel, only to feel the rough gravel of the dirt ground beneath you. Yes, the floor is dirt. This is the only element that is not built. We are dust, and as dustlings, our very presence is intimated in the dust floor of this holy place. From dust to heave—from floor to ceiling—the story of God with us. The contrast of our humanity to His deity is embodied in Christ, fully God and fully Man—the Holy Place echoes His identity in intricate detail.

The golden lampstand, made of solid, hammered gold, speaks of His deity, and His bruising for us. An oil lamp, not candles, point us to the olive press of Gethsemane and the anointing oil of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The 7 branches speak of the sevenfold spirit of the Lord (Isaiah 11:1-2), and seven is the fullness of the perfection of Christ. He is the light of the world; His Spirit gives us light and understanding as we approach every aspect of our relationship with God.

In the same way, the lampstand brings light to help us see the other elements in the room. Across the lampstand, to your right, stands the Table of Presence, made of gold and wood—deity and humanity dwelling together, again. It holds 12 loaves of bread, and a pitcher of wine offering. The Lord’s supper, when we remember what Christ has done for us by His body and His blood, ushers us into the presence of God. The loaves are a gift from each of the 12 tribes, a sacrifice of praise to acknowledge that we draw everything we need for life from God. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, literally, the village of the house of bread. He broke the bread so we could have fellowship. He is our manna in the desert, He is the Bread of Life. No one can enter the Presence of God except through the sacrifice of the bread and wine.

The Altar of Incense beckons us on the far side of the room, tucked against the famous Veil separating us from the Holy of Holies, the innermost room of the Tabernacle complex.

The Altar of Incense is the last and most important piece, besides the Ark behind the veil. It echoes the first piece we encountered outside, the bronze altar. It takes from its coals to light the incense daily. The fire from the Lord at the cross fuels the incense of our prayers to Him. This is the place of intimacy, of encounter, of silent reverence amidst the spices of frankincense and myrrh. Prayer is a posture of privilege and reverence.

 

After a moment of silent devotion, you lift your eyes to the glorious curtain before you. It was torn when Christ exhaled His last breath, the last time His lips worshipped the Name of His Father, Yahweh. And so, you hold your breath for a second. This veil separates you from the fullness of the presence of God, the weight of the glory that would literally crush your body under too much glory. Moses was denied access, because it was too dangerous. Here, the Great High Priest is allowed once a year, under drastic measures, to offer a sacrifice.

Christ is our great High priest, and He has opened the way through His body, that we may enter the Holy of Holies with the utmost reverence and awe. The cherubim have guarded the way with fiery sword ever since the garden of Eden was marred by our sin, but Christ took away the fiery wrath, and the angels step aside for those who enter in His Name.

You gently lift the veil, knowing more deeply than ever that you are kept from instant incineration under the holy lightning of His glory because His hands took that blow on your behalf.

The darkness would be total, were it not for the gentle glimmer that you cant quite pinpoint, right there above the angels wings atop the golden Ark of the covenant standing before you.

You are inside the Throne Room of God Himself.

Instinctively, you kneel. In worshipful awe, you take in the gold chest, and the mercy seat on top—where the 2 angels stretch their wings towards one another in a posture of adoration.

The Ark of the covenant is the chest beneath the Angels. It contains the 10C, and, during some portions of history, a pot of manna, and Aaron’s bud that blossomed to confirm his calling. The Hebrew word for this particular ark means “coffin.” Yes, coffin.

The Law of Moses, the leadership of Aaron, the manna of the people—all buried in the coffin that makes access to God possible. The Tomb is the dwelling place of the glory.

The Mercy seat, which sits atop the coffin, is where the glory of God actually dwells. It is His throne—well, more accurately, it is the footstool of His throne.

When God looks down from His Throne, He does not see the Law of Moses, and how miserably we have failed to uphold it. You see, the High Priest comes in once a year on Yom Kippour to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice from the bronze altar onto the Ark. God does not see the law, He sees the blood. And that is why you can enter.

When God looks down from His Throne, He sees the Mercy seat and the angels in adoration—one at the foot of the coffin, the other at the head. Remember the two angels who guarded Jesus’ body in the Tomb?

I will leave you here, to commune with your God from the overflow of your heart. Behold, my friend, the glory of the One who crossed the universe to come dwell within you. His Name is Christ, and you belong to Him.

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