A Love Like No Other

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends – John 15:13

Where Do We Start

Actually we are not going to start where you would think. Typically Easter messages pick up from where Good Friday, the death of Jesus left off, and speak of the good news of His resurrection. We are not starting there. We will get there at some point, but where we start is with a post that a friend of mine wrote on Facebook. In the post, she spoke of her current state of being, her anger at life, or at nothing or whatever… In the midst of this state of being, she gets a call from Ethiopia, one of those “I’ve been waiting for these” opportunities. While she was focused inward, focused on whatever was wrong and in a state of anger rather than submission and thankfulness, God shows up… I love her next statement, and this was the starting place on this journey for me: “God’s furious love just makes life unbearable sometimes. And the discrepancy about how we feel about Him and how He loves us can be so irritating.”

 

We are speaking about a love like no other…

 

Who Am I? Who Are You?

Jesus spent time with a bunch of guys that saw in him something different, something special, and something that they were willing to follow. It was clear many times however, that although they followed Him, they had no clue who he really was, what his motivation was, or what was to come next.

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” – John 13:3-6

During the time they followed Jesus, the disciples were trying to figure out the pecking order – who was “next in line”, the most important, the closest to Jesus… so much so that when it came to standard protocol, no one wanted to take on the role of the lowliest. It was the servant’s job to wash the feet of the master and the guests. For the disciples, since there was no servant, they chose to forego this portion of the evening meal. Jesus threw a whole case of monkey wrenches into their thought pattern that night when he got up and did what none of them would do. At the very least they should have offered to wash Jesus’ feet, but they were all looking at their position. Jesus cared more for the disciples than he did about his own position.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. – Philippians 2:5-7

King, servant, God, man… none of that was going to define Jesus, because he was more interested in what God was doing and wanted to do in others. Because of this, Jesus would often turn the tables on the expectation of his followers. He would act and respond in ways that defied logic and protocol, and he would bend, break and obliterate the rules in order to reach the ones he loves.

 

Logic would have said that my friend should have “surrendered her anger”, and “spent time with the Lord” and all such things before he opened the door to this opportunity. Logic would have said that she didn’t deserve an unqualified outpouring of His blessing in this way, at least not yet. However, here He was… seemingly ignoring her anger and outbursts, and barging into her life with something so fantastic, it could only be God.

 

Lord, are you going to wash my feet?

 

Peter had to be appalled at what he was seeing. Jesus was breaking all the rules. If anything, he should have asked (or rather commanded) someone to do this. For Peter, this was embarrassing, and obviously something that he would never do. For Jesus however, there was no reason to be embarrassed. Jesus’ heart of love was reaching out to the disciples, and even to Peter, to bring them closer to himself. Jesus had something to give, something to show, and nothing was going to get in the way of him doing just that.

The Why of the Resurrection

Easter presents us with the perfect opportunity to use language that sounds good but doesn’t really register to us. We celebrate the fact that Jesus “died for our sins”, that he was “our substitution”, that he rose from the dead so we can have life. All of this sounds good… good to our religious brain. What we don’t meditate on is why… Why would he do this in the first place?

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” – John 13:6-8

Peter was sure he knew what was going on. He knew who should be, and should not be doing this task. Peter knew what was important and could recite the reasons for doing this. He could see what Jesus was doing, but his interpretation of what Jesus was doing was off, because he failed to understand why he was doing it. Similarly with us, we get the rules and the mechanics around the death and resurrection of Jesus. We understand that without it we have no place in the kingdom of God that it is through this that our future in God’s eternal kingdom is secured. But is that all there is to it? Do we merely enter into a legal contract with God where we simply accept what He could only do, and thereby live for him in our efforts to stay away from sin, because, of course, “he died for them”? Did Jesus die, get buried, and ultimately raise from the dead, only to satisfy the justice of God, or was something deeper going on?

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:5-8

 

For God, what we call Easter was not clinical. It was not simply justice being met. It was not just a means of us escaping hell. For God this entire act was the demonstration of His love – a love that is larger and more powerful than our inability, our weakness, or our ungodliness.

The Depth of His Love

 

“God’s furious love just makes life unbearable sometimes…

 

I can guarantee that some people upon hearing this statement want to run away from it, plugging their ears as if they had just been slimed. The combination of the words “God”, “furious” and “unbearable” grates against our religious mind. God can be furious about our sin, and sin can make life unbearable… this makes logical religious sense to us, but God’s furious love?

 

“You will never wash my feet”

 

We run from such things because we don’t allow ourselves to fully understand how deep and far reaching His love is.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39

When we use religious terminology we miss the real message that God is trying to demonstrate to us. Paul’s declaration to the Romans shows that there is nothing on this earth that will stop God’s relentless love pursuit of us. Anything that would seem to get in the way or halt God showing us His love doesn’t stand a chance. God’s every response to every situation is “but I love you more”. When you see this, you can understand why Jesus was such a rebel, challenging every stated rule. It was because he loved so deeply.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” – Luke 15:1-7

How often have we read this and thought, “of course, that makes total sense for the shepherd to leave the 99 and go after the one”?

 

IT MAKES NO SENSE!

 

The sheep are in the open field. There is no fence, no guard, nothing to protect the sheep. The open field is where the predators live. Without the shepherd, the flock would be as good as gone. The shepherd would be ridiculed for his disregard of the flock. “Dude, this is your livelihood… your job… how you feed your family. Let the one go. There are 99 others.” This shepherd however risked livelihood, reputation, everything on the possibility of finding a lost sheep… there was no guarantee that the lost sheep would be found. But for this shepherd, the love of this one sheep was so deep that it was worth the risk… not only of losing the 99, but also of whatever would come against him. “…in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents…” God is willing to risk it all to be reunited with one person… with you.

 

The sheep was lost. Not just falling behind and the shepherd had to urge it to catch up… the sheep was lost – nowhere to be found. The shepherd had to make the decision to search for the sheep, not based on the sheep’s ability to respond. The shepherd was willing to risk it all, with the possibility of receiving nothing from it. His love was not based on the response of the sheep. Yes, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents, but the love that brings the sinner to repentance is not based on the repentance of the sinner.

…when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly

God’s love for us is so deep, life and death are not barriers or boundaries to it. Reputation and protocol cannot dictate it. Time cannot contain it and our response to it cannot make it happen or not happen. God’s love is furious.

 

Definition of fury from Merriam-Webster: “wild and dangerous force; extreme fierceness or violence”

 

God’s love simply cannot be stopped. This is the story of Easter… a story of a love for you that superseded even life and death.

Living In the Love of the Resurrection

 

So how do we respond to this act of love – this ever present, unrelenting, furious love that disregards everything so it can be demonstrated to us?

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. – John 15:12-14

Too often we take scripture apart and read it as separate statements, rather than the discourse that it is. We have looked at Jesus statement about the greater love and thought, “that is logical, for Jesus is saying it, and he laid down his life for us, and since he is God, his love is greater…” We isolate this statement and separate it from what was before it or after. This is all one stream of thought. Jesus commands us to love each other. How? In the same way that he loves us… ferociously, with abandon, without concern for our reputation or protocol, without barriers or boundaries. We are to love not because there is a response, but choose to love whether a response is possible or not. Love whether it is convenient or not. Love people back to life, to the fullness of their purpose, and to relationship with the Father.

Kenneth and Kids

Son of The Father

This weekend I attended the funeral for a friend’s father. His father was in many ways larger than life, as evidenced by all of the stories and accolades given by family and friends. While I had never met the man, I left feeling that I had a sense of what it was to grow up in his house, or to be mentored by him… he was someone that I would have appreciated meeting at some point in my life.

My friend actually performed the service. I admired him for taking that step – it’s hard enough to do a funeral, much harder to do when it is someone that close to you. Years ago I had to do the service of my sister, and I have to admit that it was one of the toughest things I have ever had to do. My friend did a great job, honoring his father with stories that made us laugh, cry, and reflect on our own relationships.

At the funeral many people came up to pay their respects to his father. People that worked with him, trained with him, or lived with him as family all stood and gave story after story of the effect he had on their lives. Many people talked about how their lives changed for the better. Out of all that was said, one thing stuck with me, and continues to ring in my head. My friend said, “I am honored to be the son of my father.” Hearing those words stilled me… even reflecting on them now, they still do. Wow… what a relationship they must have had that would cause him to declare that about his father.

I began to think about my own family relationships. I have two great sons (and a fantastic daughter :-) ). Ironically, my oldest son’s birthday was the same day as the funeral. Both of my sons have grown into strong men in their own right. I am proud of who they are and who they are becoming. Hearing my friend’s words, I thought of no better epitaph of my life, than at my funeral my sons would say the same thing about me. My mind spun with what I am or am not doing to earn that honor… do I spend enough time with them? Do they know how much I love them? Am I an asset to them or a liability? When they speak of me to their friends, is it with pride or shame… or do they speak of me at all? I thought that I don’t just want that epitaph at my funeral… I want it every day of my life.

It is a shame that it takes a funeral to bring about the best comments about a person. It’s like we hold the best until the end, taking all of the things we have felt over the years and pour it into the couple of hours we have with family and friends. It feels good to be able to recollect, to remember, and to give testimony to those around us of the person we love. As much as it is said at funerals to “not wait”, we find ourselves settling back into old habits once the funeral is over… we mean to give the compliment… we mean to have that lunch… we mean to make that call… we mean to say, “I love you”. As I write this, I am thinking of the last time I hugged my sons (thanks mom… you have made me into a hugger extraordinaire :-) )… while it hasn’t been “that long”, it has been too long.

As I thought of my sons (and daughter) during the funeral, I also thought of my relationship with my father. I have to admit that over the years our relationship has been strained for many reasons. He will always be my dad, but I have found myself pulling away, and putting up, not boundaries, but rather walls to protect myself. It just seemed easier than engaging him in conversation that could end up polarizing us again. Yet, when I think of him, I do remember the good times, the laughter, the talk of things we both love, the highly intelligent and charming man that he is…

I’ve been meaning to make that call…

I so want my sons to speak of me with honor… I have to believe that my father would want the same. However it’s hard to honor someone on the other side of a wall, especially one of your own making. The scary part in this is that I don’t know if tearing down my walls will bring about that honor. What would make me say, “I’m honored to be the son of my father?”

Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Maybe it is not trying to get to the end, so much as it is doing what can be done. I don’t have a lifetime, and don’t need one… I have today. I can’t change the past, but I can change how I react and respond to him (and to others) right now. I can make that call…

In addition, I can accept that honor now… the honor of being the son of my father, not because he has done anything specific for me, but because he is my dad. He has a lot of great qualities, and even though he may bug me sometimes ;-) , I know without a shadow of a doubt that he loves me. I think that is a great start.

So here’s to taking steps, making calls, having lunches, and giving hugs… lots of them.

Notable Notables

One of my favorite videos shows the power of a single step… Free Hugs for all :-)

The Things I Learn From Turbulence

I think I fly more than the average bear (for those of you too young to get the reference, go to YouTube and find Yogi Bear… it’ll be fun :-) ). Whether across the country for work or overseas for missions, I log a lot of miles in the sky. You would think I would get used to “a little light chop”… see, I can even talk the lingo. .. but no. Turbulence and I have a hate-hate relationship. As I sit here at 30 something thousand feet, white knuckling the armrest and seat in front of me, and knowing my blood pressure would probably make that lovely cuff they put on your arm explode into a million tiny fragments, I’m determined that it won’t get the best of me… I have to get something going from it… so, here are a few things:

– Turbulence is a great ice breaker: you can sit next to people you don’t know for hours and never say a word, but let a few “crash!” “Bang!” and “Booms! ” happen, and immediately you have something to talk about with your neighbor

– Turbulence let’s you know who is king of the jungle: whether you are in coach or first class, a baby or the president of a major corporation, Turbulence owns it’s domain. It is the great equalizer. We all become human at that point

– Turbulence is a great relationship builder: a little shaking can make you appreciate those you have at home a little more, and make you want to say “I love you” a little more than “why didn’t you clean the kitchen?”

– Turbulence builds trust in others. You might think know you can go it alone, but when that plane starts rocking you realize you are totally out out of control and have to trust your life to the pilots and flight attendants. Similarly, we trust ourselves to family,  friends, peers etc., who help us through the turbulence of life.

– Turbulence is not your enemy… it just “is”: There is not an evil wind beast lurking in the skies waiting for a plane to come by so it can mess with it. It is circumstantial… something we encounter.  I read a quote that said falling down was part of life… getting up is living. So it is with turbulence… we have to deal with it, but we get through it, get up and go on with life. I choose to get up, knowing I can trust the pilots (and of course, my Pilot) to get me through it and where I need to go.

I still hate it, but I will get something out of it every time.

Resurrection

Walking Through the Veil VII: One Story

 

to download a pdf copy of this message, click here:Seventh in the Walking Through the Veil Series

You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me. – John 5:39

More To The Story

Over the past few weeks we have been looking at the construction of the Tabernacle – the various elements of the Tabernacle itself, and the order in which it was laid out. Moses was told repeatedly to make the Tabernacle and its elements exactly as he saw when he was on the mountain with God. We can look at this and conclude that God, in his holiness, is just very meticulous and be satisfied with this. God however has a different reason for the things he does. Jesus speaking with the religious leaders challenged them on what they were expecting to get from pouring over the scriptures.  Try as they may, they were never able to find the answer to their question. Jesus told them that the answer they were looking for was right in front of them. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me. When we read scripture, when we see what God did, it all points to one thing – one person – one event. Why? Because God, as far as mankind is concerned, has one purpose: the redemption of those who would be his children.

Walking Through The Story

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. – Romans 1:20

The Tabernacle represents more than just a place to worship and focus on God. It represents God himself and his story to us:

 

God’s story In the Tabernacle
Genesis 1:1a – In the Beginning, God… Most Holy Place
Genesis 1:1b – God created the heavens and the earth The Veil
Genesis 2:8 – Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden and there he put the man he had formed The Holy Place
Genesis 3:23 – So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken The Courtyard
Genesis 3:24 – After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life The curtain to the tabernacle
Genesis 3:7, 11 – Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked, so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves… and he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The Laver – the place between God’s presence and the sacrifice where mankind (the priest) had to stop to look at himself
Genesis 3:21, Leviticus 16, II Corinthians 5:21 – The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them… God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God The Altar of Sacrifice – 2 goats, one sacrificed, one presented alive before the Lord. One presented alive had sins confessed over it / it bore the sins of the nation (Jesus is both)
Hebrews 9:11-12 –When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves, but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption The blood sprinkled on the atonement cover

 

From the very beginning, God has been focused on one thing: our redemption, and everything he did was done in a way to show us just how much he loves us and how much he desires relationship with us.

Skin to Skin

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. – Matthew 27:50-52

When Jesus died, there were a lot of miraculous events that occurred. Most could have been explained away through natural phenomena: darkened sky in the middle of the day; earthquake; rocks splitting. One event however was not so easily explained, that being the splitting of the veil. The veil at the time of Jesus’ death did not measure the same as of the original tabernacle. Tradition holds that it was about 4 inches thick, much bigger, and so heavy that it took 200-300 priests to manipulate it. The possibility of the veil being torn was inconceivable.

While the Scriptures do say that the veil was torn from top to bottom, they do not say that it was removed – only that it was torn. It was this tearing that gave access into the Most Holy Place. Hebrews tells us that this also refers to Jesus:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. – Hebrews 10:19-22

The veil had an opening, but was still situated where to get through it you would have to rub up against the veil. So, getting into the presence of God was still through contact with the veil… touching the sacrifice of Jesus

Adam and Eve sinned and tried to cover themselves. God approached them and saw that their attempt was not good enough – it would not satisfy the story that God wanted to tell them, and us. So, he covered them with skins. Where did the “skins” come from? Would it make sense that God, walking in the Garden in the cool of the day, would approach Adam and Eve, walking with a lamb, already prepared for what He knew was going to be needed? Imagine the first sacrifice: the cries of the animal as it was sacrificed, and God taking the skin from the lamb to cover Adam and Eve – the body and blood of the lamb in contact with the body of mankind. God was showing even in this what would happen to his son, for them and for us.

Freedom to Fully Alive

They came out of the tombs and after Jesus’ resurrection went in to the holy city and appeared to many people. – Matthew 27:53

When the high priest went into the temple to sprinkle the blood on the atonement cover, he wasn’t done. He had to complete the process: sprinkling the tabernacle, the altar, doing the sacrifices, sending the scapegoat away. It was then that Israel was brought into oneness (at-one-ment) with the Father and new life for that year could commence.

When Jesus rose from being our sacrifice, he was met by Mary Magdalene, weeping over the fact that the grave was empty.

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said, “Do no hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” – John 20:16-17

When Jesus died, the graves were opened, but life didn’t start for those in the grave until the work was completed. It was after His resurrection that the holy ones came out of the tombs. So for us, life, freedom, redemption, wholeness and oneness with God – the very thing that God had with Adam in the beginning – comes with the resurrection of Jesus.

One story. One message of love. One plan of redemption, shown in everything God does. See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.

Walking Through the Veil IV: Love Covers

 

to download a pdf copy of this message, click here:Sixth in the Walking Through the Veil Series

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. Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it… Then put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you. Make an atonement cover of pure gold two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover… Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you. There above the cover between the two Cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites. – Exodus 25:10-22 (10-11, 16-18, 21-22 printed)

 

What is Holy

The innermost section of the tabernacle is the Holy of Holies, or the Most Holy place. Remember, holy is not necessarily the focus on moral rightness, but it is the act of setting something apart. So the inner room was the place most set apart from everything else: all other activity, all other purposes, even all other people. The Most Holy place was created for one purpose: to fulfill what God wanted for mankind.

There above the cover between the two Cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites. – Exodus 25:22

To this end, there was only one item within the Most Holy Place: the Ark of the Testimony (Ark of the Covenant). In the order of things, the Ark was first and most important. With the Ark, only certain people had access to it. Outside of the times of moving it, no one except the high priest had access to the Ark, and that was only for one day a year. Handling the Ark was only to be done in a particular way, and those that did not heed God’s purpose with regard to the Ark paid a hefty price:

They moved the ark of God from Abinadab’s house on a new cart with Uzzah and Ahio guiding it. David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, cymbals and trumpets. When they came to the threshing floor of Kidon, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God. – I Chronicles 13:7-10

There were things that God was very serious about, and the place of importance of what the ark was to Israel was one thing that He refused to play with.

The Original Design

The Ark was one unit with three parts:

  • The Chest – the chest was made from Acacia wood, overlaid with gold, representing the place where God and man came together.  The Chest was made to originally contain the tablets of the Testimony – the Law, or the Ten Commandments. Over time, other things were added to the chest, but in the pattern given to Moses on the mountain, The Chest only contained God’s word for His people. Jesus effectively was the Chest, holding God’s word for his people
  • The Cover – While it seems strange to call out the cover to the chest, it had significance in what it hid, as well as in what it received. The cover hid all of the items that were contained within the Chest, as well as being the receiver of the blood of the sacrifice. Even though the items remained intact, they only existed behind the cover. They had no effect beyond the cover. While the Chest was wood and gold, the cover was pure gold. The cover kept what God had provided for his people intact, but also provided a shield or buffer for the tenets of the Law. Galatians 3:13 says Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Jesus, effectively is the cover for us
  • The Cherubim – Two cherubim, or celestial beings covered the chest and cover. They were specifically set to look toward the cover with their wings outstretched to shadow the area between the cover and their wings. The Cherubim were also made from pure gold. The Cherubim represent God’s commitment to His word for his people. Jeremiah 1:12 says, The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.

 

 

God told Moses that he would meet him between the cover and the Cherubim. God’s meeting with Moses was not so much a physical, logistical meeting, but a place of God’s purpose. To understand this, we must look at the second aspect of the purpose for the cover.

He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: he shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. – Leviticus 16:15-16a

The cover was the place that would receive and hold the blood of the sacrifice. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest had one job: offer sacrifices first for himself, then for the nation. He would take the blood from the sacrifice and sprinkle the blood on the cover as well as in front of it. God would “see” the blood and forgive the sins of Israel committed until that day. This was very similar to God’s command when Israel was about to leave Egypt:

Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs… The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. – Exodus 12: 7,13

When it came to the Ark, God could have focused on what was in the Chest to determine how to react and respond to Israel, but he chose (and chose ahead of time, mind you) to focus on the point of atonement and forgiveness. God would meet Moses “between his forgiveness and his intention to fulfill his word”.  This is also the place that God chooses to meet us:

What Was Placed in the Ark?

Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold covered Ark of the Covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. – Hebrews 9:3-4

Over time other things were added to the Ark of the Testimony. The items were not just keepsake items, but spoke to specific things God was doing in the lives of Israel, and what they did to prompt God’s action in these events

1)   Aaron’s Rod that Budded – After people were grumbling against Moses and Aaron in particular, the Lord wanted to demonstrate whom he had chosenThe staff belonging to the man I choose will sprout and I will rid myself of the constant grumbling against you by the Israelites… The Lord said to Moses, “Put back Aaron’s staff in front of the Testimony to be kept as a sign to the rebellious. This will put an end to their grumbling against me, so that they will not die.” – Numbers 17:5, 10

2)   Jar of Manna –the Israelites complained about having no food, to which God supernaturally supplied manna from heaven. Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the Lord to be kept for the generations to come.” As the Lord commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna in front of the Testimony that it might be kept. Exodus 16:33-34

3)   Tablets of the Law –Moses had received the law, written by God. Following this he was told about the people corrupting themselves. Moses intercedes for the people and God relents of his anger, but when Moses sees them, he gets angry himself and throws down the tablets breaking them in pieces

All of the items with the exception of the Law were initially placed before the Lord (before the Ark), but eventually made their way inside the ark. They could be seen as points of failure for Israel – their rejection of God, their grumbling against God, and them taking matters into their own hands. On the other hand, they can be seen as God watching over his word to perform it – His provision, his choosing, his word, none of which could be stopped by the actions of people. The Most Holy place, the place most separated was a place where God fully represented his intention and action on behalf of mankind.

Making Atonement

In the courtyard and in the Holy Place, there were activities happening all the time. In the Most Holy place, however, God signified only a certain time that any activity happened.

When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and the sins the people had committed in ignorance. – Hebrews 9:6-7

For God, his atonement, or making things right was not a daily ritual or a regular occurrence. God wanted to show the difference between the daily activities of his people, and his completed work:

When Christ came as a high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves, but he entered the Most Holy place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:11-12

For the high priest to make atonement, he had to dip his finger in the blood to sprinkle it on the ark cover.  In this, the high priest not only had to identify with the sin but also of the sacrifice that was given for him and for Israel. The high priest had to engage in the sacrifice – touching the sacrifice at the most intimate level.  Paul makes a statement about himself that is hard to understand, until you understand it from the standpoint of engaging in the sacrifice:

Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. – Colossians 1:24

This sounds like Paul is saying that the work of Christ is not complete enough to save, that it takes something of us to fulfill it. However, when seen in light of engaging in the sacrifice, you can see that Paul was wanting to fully touch the sacrifice of Jesus… to engage it to the point of knowing that “when the blood was sprinkled on the cover”, that forgiveness and making all things right would be done for those he was ministering to.  For the Colossian church, Paul wanted nothing more than the absolute complete work of Christ to be realized in them – for them to see nothing of his own human effort, but to see only the work that God did behind the veil. Our lives are to be the same for those in our lives: engaging the sacrifice of Jesus for them… touching the blood to sprinkle on the cover to declare them at one with God.

Introspection and Action

Who are you to go to the cover for? Think of, engage in the sacrifice that has been made for you, and with that understanding, approach the place where God meets you on behalf of others in your life. Seek “at-one-ment”, or the making things right on their behalf.

Walking Through the Veil V: Resting In the Mystery

 

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And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all of my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” – Exodus 33 (17-23 printed)

The Disappearing Deity

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.” – Exodus 32:7

While Moses was on the mountain with God resting in His glory and receiving both commandments and patterns that would become the tabernacle, the people got impatient. They were ok with ascribing their departure from Egypt to God, but the disappearance of Moses caused them to begin to doubt where, or even who this God was. Israel was used to the Egyptian culture where gods were everywhere, so if one disappeared, there was always another to take its place. The command of the god, then, was only as valid and relevant as the tangible presence of the god itself.

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” – Exodus 32:1

They had been given instruction to wait while Moses went into the cloud, but the efficacy of that command waned the longer Moses remained away. The people were ready to move, to get to the place they felt they were supposed to be, and the barrier, or restriction to wait was not something they were willing to continue doing. They knew where Moses went, but they did not know what was happening on the other side of the cloud.

Supporting Players

Inside the tabernacle, everything had a place. Typically when we look at the elements of anything, including the tabernacle, we focus on the main players: the captain of the team, the MVP, the “big shiny object”, the featured star or principal performer. The supporting players however play an important role: not only when they get their 15 minutes of fame, but also as they relate to the whole.

Set up the tabernacle according to the plan shown you on the mountain. Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman. Hang it with gold hooks on four posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold and standing on four silver bases. Hang the curtain from the clasps and place the Ark of the Testimony behind the curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. – Exodus 26:30-33

The curtain, or veil, was such a supporting player. It would get no love or notoriety until the time Jesus came, when at his crucifixion it was torn in two. It’s place in the tabernacle, and even the way in which it was constructed showed that in God there is no such thing as a supporting player – that everything he does has a specific purpose in bringing us back to himself and showing his character, his glory and his love.

Job of the Curtain

When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. – Hebrews 9:6-7

The Veil, or curtain’s job was simple: divide this from that. Within the confined space of the tabernacle, from Courtyard to Holy Place to Holy of Holies, there were certain places that were prescribed for only certain people. While all the congregation of Israel could gather in the courtyard for the purpose of sacrifice, only the priests were allowed in the Holy Place.  Similarly, only the High Priest was allowed behind the Veil.

They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”… Moses also said to Korah, “Now listen, you Levites! Isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the Lord’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them?” – Numbers 16:3, 8-9

Separation can be hard to accept. Korah was able to accept the separation that he operated in when it came to the rest of Israel, but felt that he deserved or desired what Aaron and Moses had, “had” being the operative word. For God, the place given to Aaron and Moses was not a badge of honor, but a place of communion where God came to do business on behalf of the entire community of Israel. Korah saw it differently, and therefore, in his attitude tried to force his way into the presence of God. Korah didn’t fully understand what was really happening on the other side of the curtain.

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. Deuteronomy 29:29

Korah tried to force the hand for the things God wanted to keep secret, and that resulted in his death. When we fail to accept God’s purpose in an action he is doing, it also results in us experiencing a kind of death – we fail to experience the full life that God has for us.

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” – Exodus 33:18

Moses’ request is a very interesting one. Interesting because he had just spent 40 days in the glory of God, and had experienced the glory of God on a regular basis – when the glory of the Lord would descend upon the Tent of Meeting, Moses would go meet with God. Furthermore, Moses was having a direct “face to face” conversation with the Lord. For whatever reason, this was not enough for Moses, so he made a request to fulfill something in himself. Philip made a similar request to Jesus:

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” – John 14:8

While both requests had merit and came from a sincere heart, they were not in line with what God was doing. God was at work behind the veil, and fulfilling those requests would have ended in death or separation from God’s purpose.

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, The LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” – Exodus 33:19-20

God was keeping certain things secret. The time was not yet for the revealing of His face.  The purpose of the veil then was very important: to keep the things God wanted as secret.

This is the work of the Kohathites in the Tent of Meeting: the care of the most holy things. When the camp is to move, Aaron and his sons are to go in and take down the shielding curtain and cover the ark of the Testimony with it.  – Numbers 4:4-5

When the ark was in the tabernacle it was fully hidden from everyone but the high priest, but from time to time Israel had to move, which meant disassembling the tabernacle. It was important to God for the ark of the Testimony to remain hidden, so the veil was used to keep the ark out of the site of Israel and of the surrounding communities.

The Making of the Veil

Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yard and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman. – Exodus 26:31

God’s design of the veil was very similar to the door to the tabernacle itself, the actual Tent of Meeting, and the door to the courtyard. All were made from 4 different colored fabrics: blue, purple, scarlet and linen. The Veil had one other characteristic the others did not: cherubim were woven into the actual fabric. Josephus, an historian during the early days of the church described the veil in Solomon’s temple this way:

before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. Nor was this mixture of colors without its mystical interpretation, but was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire, by the fine flax the earth, by the blue the air, and by the purple the sea; two of them having their colors the foundation of this resemblance; but the fine flax and the purple have their own origin for that foundation, the earth producing the one, and the sea the other. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens, excepting that of the [twelve] signs, representing living creatures. (Wars 5.5.4)

To Josephus, the veil was much more than just a shield, but it was a picture of creation itself. Not only the physical creation, but of all creation, terrestrial and celestial. Scripture gives us another description of what the veil represents:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. – Hebrews 10:19-22

If the veil was Jesus’ body, then for Moses, Aaron and the Israelites, they had to wait to see what God was really doing.  Not only did they have to wait for it, they had to rest in the place that God had them in, knowing that God was still working, even though they couldn’t see it. God kept his purposes hidden, reserved until the right time

But only the High Priest entered the inner room and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. – Hebrews 9:7-8

On the one hand, God was showing his plan to Israel; on the other, he would not reveal it until the right time.  The veil was both a declaration and a sign of God’s plan for Israel and the world, and a shield for the most intimate part of that sign: the part that God would play alone.

Walking Through the Veil III: Consumed, Cleansed and Connected

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Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God.’ “ – Hebrews 10:1-10 (5-7 printed)

The Day Trip

Giving an offering in the days of Jesus was not like it is now. In today’s economy, offerings are convenient, to the point that we don’t have to give much thought to it. Offerings are also relegated to “church upkeep and ministries”, so we “give” for the sake of maintaining the operation of the church. While this was in fact a part of offering, it was by no means the main function or reason for offering.

For many, offerings were far from convenient. People had to come from great distances to bring their offerings, and there was preparation that had to happen before the trip ever happened.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household… The animals you choose must be year old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. – Exodus 12:1-3,5-6

For Israel, the offering needed to not only have certain requirements met, but it also had to be “separated and cared for”. From the 10th day to the 14th day, the animal was to be brought close to the family, cared for and inspected. There was an intimate relationship between the person offering and the animal they were offering.

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written” he said to them, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.” – Matthew 21:12-13

Jesus took issue with those that tainted the intimacy of the offering, by selling “pre-examined, pre-approved” animals for sacrifice. Those selling made it possible for people to have little investment in the offering, and to just give what was required, but not have any connection to the act itself.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, we went away sad, because he had great wealth. – Matthew 19:21-22

Jesus had an encounter with a man looking to obtain eternal life. When confronted with the life that he was to live, he was quick to say that he had been doing that since he was a child (inferring that this was a ready habit, no personal connection was made – also, that he did not get any sense of connection to God and the life he offered through the practice he was keeping). What else is there? What am I missing? Jesus told him to touch the thing that he was most intimately connected with, offering that, effectively as a burnt offering to the Lord.

David said to him, “Let me haves the site of your threshing floor so I can build and altar to the Lord, that the plague on the people may be topped. Sell it to me at the full price.” Araunah said to David, “Take it! Let my lord the king do whatever pleases him. Look, I will give the oxen for the burnt offerings, the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for the grain offering. I will give all this.” But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.” – I Chronicles 21:22-24

 

David had sinned before the Lord, and as a result, a plague began to move through Israel. As David cried out to the Lord, he was instructed to build an altar on the threshing floor of a member of his kingdom. Araunah was more than happy to assist David by giving him everything that he needed, but David knew something about offering that Araunah didn’t think about: an offering is not an offering if there is not an intimate connection with it. For David, he could have ordered the land taken, or simply received it from Araunah, but if he had, it would have had no value to him. Especially in light of the reason for the offering, David had to display full commitment to the task – it cost him to give the offering.

The Significance of Offerings

There were a number of offerings that were brought to the altar in the courtyard of the tabernacle:

  •        Burnt offering
  •        Peace offering
  •        Drink offering
  •        Sin offering
  •        Meat/grain offering

Each of the offerings had special significance, and pointed to an aspect of life that God would address in the redemption that would come through Jesus.

Offering Symbolic of Scripture References
Sin Jesus taking on our sins, replacing us and wiping them away God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God – II Corinthians 5:21
Grain Worship for God’s goodness and provision This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever. – John 6:58
Drink Many times combined with the grain offering, often described as joy In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you. – Luke 22:20
Peace Reconciliation and restoration of relationship For He himself is our peace who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations – Ephesians 2:14-15
Burnt Offering Full and complete surrender to God Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done

 While each of the offerings were accepted by God they were only as effective as the one giving the offering:

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. – Hebrews 10:1-2

Endless, year after year, offering after offering… think of the level of commitment by those bringing their offering. The cost for each person, each family. The cost of livestock, food, time, and even intimate connection. Doing it once is costly and inconvenient, yet having to do it over and over again requires so much more. It requires a lifestyle of dedication:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seen times, but seventy-seven times (or seventy times seven) – Matthew 18:21-22

God required Israel to have a lifestyle of offering and sacrifice, but not because God was interested in constant sacrifice – in fact, God was not interested in the actual sacrifices themselves:

Therefore when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me. With burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God.” – Hebrews 10:5-7

The sacrifices pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus. Furthermore, seeing the cost, commitment and intimacy that people would go through for sacrifices that were temporary, if God’s sacrifice is that much more, that can actually take away sins, how much is his commitment and dedication to us?

The Laver

Make a bronze basin, with is bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and put water in it. Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. Whenever they enter the tent of Meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also when they approach the altar to minister by presenting an offering made to the Lord by fire, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. – Exodus 30:18-21a

Of all the elements specified for the tabernacle, the laver stands out for one reason: it is the only item that was not given specific measurements by God. Every other item not only had the material and exact construction specified, but the instructions were given down to the smallest measurement. Some reason can be seen in 1) its placement in the courtyard, and the activities associated with it.

Like Looking in a Mirror

The laver was to be used by the priests only to wash before performing their duties. The laver itself was made of polished bronze

They made the bronze basin and its bronze stand from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting – Exodus 38:8

These mirrors were combined to make a polished face that the priests would have to look at every time they came to wash. Washing was therefore more than symbolic: it was reflective. Whenever the priest went before the Lord, he had to 1) look at himself, and 2) wash the areas that were in contact with the world. Not only this, he would have to do the same when he was in a position to usher others before the Lord through burnt offerings.

Being clean before the Lord makes sense to us, but there was more than just ritual cleansing:

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, ands wrapped a towel around his waist. After that he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do you realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me… Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” – John 13:2-8,10

Coming to the tabernacle to present ourselves before the Lord, we would expect to pursue constant cleansing. Jesus connected this cleansing with something deeper than just purification. He associated it with relationship. Looking into the laver, recognizing our humanity in the presence of a Holy God any approach to God would have to be with reverence.

The priest also had to deal with the people – those that came to offer for their own sins, to sacrifice for thanksgiving or surrender or whatever, and before the priest could deal with the people, he had to deal with his own self:

Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as for the sins of the people. – Hebrews 5:1-3

The priest was constantly facing his own humanity in approaching God and in approaching others. Facing his own humanity made him able to accept and perform the sacrifice, for he could identify with the people who were bringing the sacrifice:

Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. – Hebrews 13:1-3

The priest did not clean at the laver to give him an advantage or better status. He did it to assist those who were approaching God.

 

Walking Through the Veil II: From Core to Courtyard

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This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up to the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored”, says the Lord. – Haggai 1:7-8

Living on Good Intentions

Israel had been in bondage in Babylon and Persia. By God’s hand, under the orders of Cyrus, King of Persia, Israel was allowed to go back to Israel:

This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them.” – Ezra 1:2-3

Israel went with this instruction, and began to build, but before they could get anywhere with it were pressured into stopping by external forces. The pressure was so strong that it would be 16 years before they got back to the work. In that time, Israelites continued to live in the land unhindered. They worked, raised families, and never had to go back to Persia. They were, in fact, free, but something was still missing. They were not experiencing the blessing they expected as the people of God. Why? Because their purpose for returning to Jerusalem had been left undone and untended: the temple had not been rebuilt.

Some Israelites were close enough to see it on a daily basis; others probably never had to see it at all. They knew what the regulations were for going to the temple and giving offerings, but for them, other things took precedence.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’” – Haggai 1:2

Israel had every intention of returning to the work, but those intentions never became tangible. Whether they were waiting for a change in government, new inspiration, or a word from the Lord, they felt justified in spending time and effort on their own life and lifestyle, while allowing the central figure of their nation to lie in waste.

Stop: What is one thing you have intended to do this year, but haven’t started, or haven’t been consistent in? Get out your calendar and schedule that event for the first available week, and do not take no for an answer. Place reminders in your calendar so you have no excuse. Do not schedule it too far out so you remain in intention-mode. Make sure your goal is short term and attainable. 

God’s Focus: What is Important To Him

Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin? Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: give careful thought to your ways.” Haggai 1:3-5

God was not saying that their paneled houses or their lifestyle was a problem per se. Rather, he was saying that their focus was an issue: When they should have been focusing on the place of God in their lives, they 1) neglected the place of God, and 2) placed their time, attention and resources into other things. God wanted to bring Israel back to their purpose in him, not just for ministry, but also for relationship. He was not looking for them to give up their houses, but to dedicate time, priority and resources to the place he was to have in their lives. Jesus, in speaking to the Pharisees and teachers of the law had this to say:

Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former. – Matthew 23:23

The religious leaders were so intent on external signs of righteousness that they would literally count out blades of dill or measure out grains of spice so people could see how dedicated they were to the tithe, all the while letting other areas of their lives go untended. Jesus told them that they needed to spend their time and effort, practicing the more important areas, while making sure the other areas were not neglected. It was all a matter of priority: First things needed to come first, and everything else would fall into place after that:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33

For God, this was of primary importance. So much so that he pushed other things aside for Israel to recognize where their focus was to be:

You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why? Declares the Lord Almighty. Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. – Haggai 1:9

God was serious about his house, and wanted Israel to be serious about it as well. As we consider the place of God’s house in our lives, we need to see God’s definition of his house under Jesus:

But Christ is faithful as the son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold on to our courage and the hope in which we boast. – Hebrews 3:6

We are God’s house – his dwelling place, and he takes great care to ensure that his dwelling place is a place that will bring him pleasure, and one in which he can glory.

Stop: Look at an area in which you do well. Why do you do well in that area? How detailed and dedicated are you to that area? Look at an area in which you are not doing well. While not neglecting the former, practice the area you need work in for a period of time to establish a new habit. Schedule this in your calendar with reminders.

Helpful tips on how to establish new habits: http://zenhabits.net/how-to-establish-new-habits-the-no-sweat-way/

 

How God Builds a House

Since we are God’s house, we can see the construction of the temple as an example of the methods and priority God uses in building our lives – and that we should take in constructing our lives before God.

The Order

Element Scripture Reference
Ark of the Covenant / Mercy Seat Exodus 25:10-22
Table with Bread of Presence Exodus 25:23-30
Lampstand / Lamps Exodus 25:31-40
Tabernacle Exodus 26:1-30
Veil (separating most holy from holy) Exodus 26:31-35
Tent Entrance (separating holy from common) Exodus 26:36-37
Altar Exodus 27:1-8
Courtyard Exodus 27:9-18

Notice that God started from the inside and worked his way out:

Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. – Matthew 12:33

Instead of focusing on fixing the externals, God wanted to work on the core first. Everything else was dependent upon the core being established. The courtyard and altar would have no meaning if there was no mercy seat for the blood of redemption to be sprinkled upon. Stars operate under a delicate balance of fusion at the core that pushes energy out, and gravity surrounding the star that pushes energy in. If the core “runs out of fuel”, it stops pushing energy out, and as a result the star begins to implode.  Israel was in the process of implosion before God, which is why he was so drastic in his measures to get them back to the core – to building from the inside out.

The Structure

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. – John 14:1-3

God’s structure in building is:

Gods_Structure

He established the building first (Exodus 25:1 – 27:18. Then he put people (the priests) into that building  (Exodus 28:1 – 29:30). Then he established the practices (ministry) for the people (Exodus 29:31 – 30:37). Note, that, first, the place has to be established before those serving or taking part can inhabit it. So it is with us – God wants to establish us before he establishes other’s place in our lives. In addition, the “practice” or what we would refer to as “ministry” could not take the place of or precede the establishment of the building.

Stop: Take note of how much time you spend in “service” to the Lord, vs. how much time you spend “building His dwelling place “ (aka, You). What comes first? In the areas where external things, or service comes first, purposely reverse it for one week. 

What God Emphasizes

Moses spent time with God on the mountain – 40 days to be exact. In that time, God showed him the pattern of the heavenly tabernacle. When he came down from the mountain, not only did he have a vision of what to build, God continued to give him explicit instruction on how to build it, to ensure that it was to God’s exact specification. God didn’t stop there though – He repeated one thing to Moses, so that Moses would not forget his direction: make this according to the pattern you saw in the mount. As God was giving Moses instructions over the various parts of the tabernacle, he threw in the reminder:

–       Exodus 25:9 – Make this tabernacle and all its furnishing exactly like the pattern I will show you.

–       Exodus 25:40 – See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.

–       Exodus 26:30 – Set up the tabernacle according to the plan shown you on the mountain.

–       Exodus 27:8 – Make the altar hollow, out of boards. It is to be made just as you were shown on the mountain.

God did not want Moses to just be “inspired to build” and then go off on his own to build what he thought would be acceptable to God. God wanted Moses to stay in tune with him, building a dwelling place that God could take pleasure in, so he had to keep him reminded of his instruction.

We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. – Hebrews 2:1

Stop: Take one word/direction you have received from the Lord. Repeat it to yourself daily for one week as a reminder of what you are to do. Place it as a reminder in your calendar so that you see it and repeat it daily. What is the result after one week? How solid is that word in your mind and heart? 

Other ways to solidify his word: get flashcards and carry one with you every day. Schedule time to look at it, repeat it, pray over it and practice it. Do this until you are ready for the next one. Also look in your App Store for memorization apps. Finally, journal things you have received, and routinely go back to review those words/instructions.

God’s Motivation

There were two elements that were critical to the structure of God’s tabernacle: The veil and the curtain to the tent. They were important because they separated the different sections of the tabernacle into 3:

–       The Holy of Holies, or The Most Holy Place

–       The Holy Place

–       The Outer Court (Courtyard)

These sections relate to God’s motivation for us, and what our motivation should be in all things, as seen in the 2 greatest commandments:

Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hand on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-39

In these two commandments, love was to be directed to 3 areas:

  1. To God, as primary
  2. To self, as the basis for others
  3. To others with the same degree as self

God’s construction of his temple gave his people the opportunity to see how God relates to us individually, to us in community, and to us in the world.

Becoming God’s People V: A Strange Sight

to download a pdf copy of this message, click here:Fifth in the Becoming God's People Series

You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites. – Exodus 19:4-6

A Kingdom in the Making

God’s plans for Israel were about to start taking shape. They had been released from Egypt, seen their enemies eliminated in ways they could not have imagined, and saw God do miracle after miracle to prove His ability to care for His people. He stopped them in the middle of the journey to reveal his heart and his plan for them, and to show them who they were to be. Being a nation and possessing the Promised Land was what they were all about, and seeing things unfold gave them hope that their days of suffering were finally at an end.

For many of the Israelites, this was the fulfillment of all the stories they had heard about God, and the promise of Abraham that they had held onto for so long. Many years later a similar scene played out with Jesus and the disciples:

After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” – Acts 1:3-5

The disciples were listening to what Jesus was saying, and saw that he actually had the power to do what he said, especially after he rose from the dead. Like Israel, the disciples saw the fulfillment of what they had longed for – the end of their days of suffering, and the beginning of a kingdom where they were the focus. The disciples saw a nation ruling that was not part of the promise, and could not wait for a king to step up and make things right. For us, we have desires and images of what life is supposed to be – who we are supposed to be and what we should accomplish and when. It is when those thing do not happen that we “look for a king” to make those things right – for the restoration of our kingdom.  While God does indeed want to bring restoration to us, it is rarely just to bring our suffering to an end. God’s purposes are much greater, and he gives us opportunity to partner with him in revealing his heart to the world.

To and Through

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” “Which ones?” the man inquired. Jesus replied, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. – Matthew 19:16-22

When the disciples were speaking with Jesus, they were looking for him to do something for them. They wanted the kingdom to be restored to Israel. The young man that approached Jesus was also looking for something to be done to him. He wanted a connection between the works he did and entry into eternal life. The man by anyone’s standards was living a holy life – following the commandments, being respectful, etc. The man however was under the impression that the blessing of God could be obtained simply by doing good deeds. He held a works-based view of holiness, that God would accept him for an act that he did. Jesus called him to a deeper understanding, not just of himself, but of God and his heart. Had the man yielded his heart, he would have received not only the riches that come from the kingdom of heaven, but the ability to allow his blessing to flow through him to others. The man missed out on the opportunity to experience the fullness of what holiness really is.

The disciples knew that Israel was supposed to be a holy nation, but at the time they were a colonized people under Rome. All aspects of their life, even including worship, were governed by Rome, a nation that prided itself on the other gods they followed. When Jesus rose from the dead, he seemed poised to be able to establish that holy nation that Israel was to be.  What the disciples did not see was that Jesus had a deeper revelation, a deeper fulfillment and a deeper calling for them – a kingdom that was not a kingdom of “to” but rather a kingdom of “through”:

He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:7-8

For Jesus, holiness was not an end to itself, but it was a means to many ends. Holiness was not only to affect the life of the one submitted to it, but through that submitted life, others would be touched and be able to experience that same blessing of holiness.

Holiness Defined

The Hebrew word for holy in the phrase “holy nation” is qadowsh (קָדֹושׁ). Qadowsh means holy, sacred, and set apart. In fact, the root word for qadowsh (קָדַשׁ qadash)primarily means set apart, dedicated, consecrated, prepared, and in some instances, to be honored. When God, then, was saying he would make Israel into a holy nation, he was not specifically talking about making a nation that simply did not do bad things, or a nation that shunned evil. God was making them into a nation that was set apart. God wanted to make a nation that was different.

When the day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day. But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” – I Samuel 8:19-20

Israel had watched God work in them, but when Samuel could no longer lead, and his sons were not great leaders, the true heart of the people came out: “give us a king, so we can be like everyone else”. Israel wanted identity based on what they saw around them. They didn’t want to be set apart, they wanted to blend in. This was because they were focused on themselves. They were willing to take what God was doing for them, but not as a sign of his love, because they still did not see themselves as a nation. In their mind, until they looked like everyone else, they were not to be measured with them, and were therefore not worth being considered. We can also think that we do not have value or are not worth being considered because we don’t meet an external standard or have not achieved things that others have. The strength of our voice is tied to the stuff of our life: the less we can show the less our voice matters.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; god chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things, and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption Therefore as it is written, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” – I Corinthians 1:26-31

Paul dealt with a people who wanted to fit in with the successful, with the intellectual and thought that to be considered, they had to fit a standard. He told them that God did not call them because of what they brought to the table – that he did not consider them because they were so much better than the world. In fact, it was just the opposite – they were different from the world, and God would use them to shame and dishonor that which is in the world.

Why Be Normal?

Where Israel had been previously cast aside, not valued and not considered, God chose Israel and put focus on them.  The question we can ask ourselves is, “Why”?

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. – Deuteronomy 7:7-9

Just like with Paul, God revealed that his calling of Israel was not because of what they were able to bring to the table. They were not a great nation with lots of people – they were the small nation that had been in captivity for years. However, God chose them because he loved them, and out of that love for Israel God declares and demonstrates that love to the world.

An Abnormal Life

One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him. He is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” – Job 1:6-8

Job was successful according to the world’s standards, but that was not what caught God’s attention. God was drawn to Job’s heart. When Satan came before God, he gave the indication that he was looking for people to destroy. “Have you considered my servant Job?” God was indicating that Job was different.  The word “considered” in Hebrew, suwm (שׂוּם), means to set, to found, to appoint. This is very similar to the meaning God used when he declared Israel a holy nation. God was basically saying, “have you set apart Job, because I have”. Job was considered by God, and never ceased to be considered by Him, even when everything was gone. In fact, it was at the point that Job, by our standards, needed validating the most that God used him to pray for his friends.

It was the difference of Job that God used. It was the difference of Paul, who came to Corinth in weak appearance but strong faith. It was the difference of Israel who carried the promise God made to Abraham. In all of this, God considered those who the world would cast away, and used them to show his heart. Peter, speaking to people who have been persecuted and scattered says:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – I Peter 2:9-10

For Peter, the castaways of the world were considered in God, and they would be used to show God’s heart and love.

A Strange Sight

Moses had seen a lot of things. Born Hebrew but growing up in Pharaoh’s place, then running for his life and tending sheep for 40 years. One day he noticed a bush on fire. That would not be enough to catch anyone’s attention. What did catch his eye was the fact that the flames seemed to have no effect on the bush. The flames and the bush were perfectly fine coexisting.

So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up.” – Exodus 3:3

This was truly a different type of sight. What was supposed to happen did not. When Moses saw how different it was, he was drawn. When our lives are different and we are coexisting with the Spirit of God, people are drawn to what they see. At the right time God showed Moses the truth about the tree, and he gives us opportunity to do the same with those that are drawn to us.

Introspection:

  • What suffering are you waiting for God to bring to an end? Are you interpreting his love and intentions based on that being fulfilled?
  • How would you describe the life and character of your kingdom? Where does God fit in your kingdom?
  • What good things make you feel like you are closer to God? What is he calling you to that would make you sad to do?
  • What does God want to do through you? Who, specifically does God want to touch through you?
  • What are people drawn to in you? How do you transfer that to the Lord?

Call to Action

  • Ask someone in the congregation how they see God coexisting with you. Spend time with the Lord thanking him for that area of your life
  • Ask God for one area outside of yourself that you can be used to show his love.