You may be thinking, “why in the world did we devote an entire day to studying some verbal blueprints for a tent that was used to worship God in an outdated, Old Testament system? Aren’t we Christians who are free from the Law and free to worship God in Spirit and Truth, no longer bound by the physical space of a place?” True, we are. Jesus said so in John 4. However, as we will see throughout the study of Exodus and Leviticus, if we will pay attention to the tabernacle we can learn some important lessons that may have direct impact on our experience of God today.
First, we need to understand that God has given the Christian reader of the Old Testament a “decoder ring” to help us make sense out of the intricate details of the tabernacle. This decoder ring is the letter to the Hebrews. Hebrews 9-10 especially explain that God intentionally had Moses construct this physical space called the Tabernacle in order to give a concrete analogy to the cosmic work that Jesus would ultimately do for us in the Spiritual realm. The writer of Hebrews says,
“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. For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” (Hebrews 9:11, 24)
For our purposes today, we need to focus in on the fact that, in some way, the tabernacle represented a certain reality about 1) the presence of God, and 2) how a human being could come into the presence of God.
There were three basic sections to the temple: the outer court where the altar of burnt sacrifice and the basin of washing was placed, the Holy Place where the lampstand and the table were placed, and the Most Holy Place (aka Holy of Holies) where the ark of the covenant was placed behind the thick curtain.
The outer court. The people were allowed into this area. Here they brought their sacrifices to be slaughtered and burnt on the altar to pay for their sins. (We’ll talk more about that bloodbath in Leviticus).
The Holy Place. Only the priests were allowed into this rectangular room. After having cleansed themselves in the basin of water just outside the door, the priests were allowed in the Holy Place where they could keep the flames of the lampstand burning and make sure the Bread of Presence was nice and fresh.
The Most Holy Place. Behind a very thick embroidered curtain was the ark of the covenant — the place that represented the very presence of God Himself. No one was allowed in this room except one man, the High Priest. He was only allowed in this room one day a year, on the Day of Atonement. On that fearsome day, the High Priest would stick his arm in behind the curtain, wave a censor of incense around until the chamber was filled with a thick smoke so that he wouldn’t be able to really see the place of God, then he would step in and sprinkle the room with the blood of a perfect lamb to pay for the sins of the entire nation that year. If he touched the ark, he would die.
As New Testament Christians we know that Jesus is our High Priest and that when He died the curtain to the Holy of Holies was torn in two, allowing all people access into the presence of God. And yet, I think we need to be aware that coming into the presence of God is not as flippant or as easy as we sometimes make it out to be. Perhaps if we look at the three sections of the tabernacle as three phases that we need to go through in order to fully come into God’s presence it would enhance our experience of worship. These three phases can be applied both to your personal Quiet Worship of God and to a worship gathering.
Phase One: Care and Share OR A Messy Mash of Blood and Guts
When we begin to come into God’s presence we need to be aware of the fact that we are carrying tons of baggage with us that we have acquired during the battle of living in this dark world. We have sins that we have committed that are weighing down our conscience and causing interference in our relationship with God and with others. We have wounds that have been inflicted on us and wounds we have inflicted on others. We have fears, and worries, and pride, envy, arrogance, etc, etc. When we gather together we need to dump all the baggage. In this phase of a worship gathering it is good to spend time talking to one another and sharing prayer requests, confessing sins, and repairing damaged relationships. We need to take our baggage and our own human pride and slit its throat, strike a match of surrender, and watch it all get consumed in the fires of selfless sacrifice. Then we can be cleansed in the basin of God’s grace and forgiveness and walk into the next room.
Phase Two: Prayer and Prepare OR The Spirit and the Word
In the Holy Place there were two things: the lampstand with seven lamps and the table on which was set the bread of Presence. In our worship experience these two things must be present before the full presence of God can be entered and experienced. On the one hand we have the 7-flamed lampstand. Throughout scripture (especially in Revelation) the Holy Spirit is described as a fire and as the sevenfold Spirit. In our worship we must be open and aware of the fact that it is only in the supra-rational power of the Holy Spirit that we can even be standing in God’s Presence. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that allows us to love each other, to understand God’s Word, and to love God. The Spirit is like a flame. He flickers and dances and gives off energy, but He can’t be touched. He is Spirit. He is the power, the energy, and the breath of God for our lives.
The second thing in the room is the Bread of Presence. Jesus said that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus also said that He was the bread of life. John said that Jesus was the Word that became flesh. So, this Bread of Presence in our worship experience is the concrete, objective Word of God that was revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. We have access to this objective revelation of God’s Word through the study of the Bible. More simply put, the study of the Bible is a vital part of the worship experience.
There is a wonderful balancing act going on in this room. On the one hand you have the pure energy of the free flowing Spirit. On the other hand you have the objective revelation of the physical Word of God. To truly experience God’s presence in Worship we need to keep these two elements in balance. We are energized by the Spirit and we are instructed by the Word. We can’t have one without the other. In our worship gatherings we need to study the Bible intensely and let the Spirit do with that in us what He will.
Phase Three: Stare OR Stand In Awe and Focus completely on God
Now that we have dumped our baggage so that we aren’t focused on ourselves, and have been further focused by the objective Word and the illuminating Spirit, we can humbly, selflessly, come into the presence of God. In this place it is all about Him. Here is where we give praise and adoration as we sing out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” In this third phase of worship we give to God and tell Him how much we love Him. It’s all about Him; the focus should never be on us. And then, just like Moses, when he would meet with God on the mountain or in the Tent, the radiance of God will ignite our radiance and we will shine before men.
A Worship Challenge. Many times we distort the worship experience and get stuck in either phase one or phase two. Some of us come to worship and make it all about us. “This is my pain today, pray for me.” That’s great in phase one. Bring your pain; share your burdens with your brothers and sisters in the church, prayer for one another. But then, dump it! Yet we often carry this self-focus into the next two phases and continue to have a spirit that says, “This is what I think the Bible means. This is what MY experience of God is. This is how I have given my life to God and how God has worked in MY life.” While it is God talk, it is not God focused. It still brings all eyes in the room back to the person. In phase three our language and our behavior should be God focused. We are talking to Him about Him. We are offering up praise and glory to Him and Him alone. This is a supra-rational, experiential place where all eyes are focused on the glory and majesty of God and God alone. So, the next time you enter into a worship circle, see if following this progression enhances your true experience of the presence of God.