Hebrews: The Tabernacle

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Lovely Lane Chapel at Epworth by the Sea, St. Simons Island, Georgia

I love church buildings. I visited some beautiful, ornate cathedrals when I lived in Germany.  My late brother’s high school graduation was held in one in Worms. I didn’t see him walk for his diploma because I was looking at the intricate carvings and high, soaring ceilings. I met for a weekly Bible study in a church with incredible wood beams that always spoke peace to me.  I worked in a church in Florida with beautiful stained glass windows. I loved to sit in the sanctuary and watch the light cast colors across the room. But the church I fell in love with was a small chapel in Georgia on St. Simon’s Island called “Lovely Lane Chapel” at Epworth by the Sea. It is an unassuming white building in the traditional style of the late 19th century set on the banks of the historic Frederica River. But when you open the doors and step inside the all-wood interior will take your breath away. It is an impressive work of architectural art. But it’s just a copy and shadow of the true tabernacle in heaven (Hebrews 8:2, 5).  St. Peter’s Basilica and the pre-fire cathedral at Notre Dame, even the gold walls of Solomon’s temple pale in comparison to the divine original.

Likewise, the ministry of the priests who served in the temple in Jerusalem was significantly less than that of Jesus Christ, the great high priest. The writer of Hebrews pointed first to the gifts and sacrifices presented by generations of human high priests (8:3-4), and later we will see why those gifts and sacrifices fell short of the perfection the Law and the Law-giver demanded. But Jesus’ ministry “is superior to theirs” (8:6) because the gifts and sacrifices He offered were superior.

Jesus’ ministry did not happen in the earthly tabernacle and the sacrifice He offered was not given to a diety shrouded in smoke and incense. Jesus went personally before the Lord with His own pure blood.

Ornate buildings and animal sacrifices don’t make men holy. Neither do programs and weekly services. None of these satisfy the demands of a righteous God. But there is a way. It’s through the better tabernacle and the better offering – through Jesus, the Son of God, the Great High Priest, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Who takes away your sin, Beloved. He will make you holy.

Mary’s Treasure

I love Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth because, according to church tradition, it is Mary’s own recollections. Only Mary could recall intimate details about Gabriel’s visit the remarkable announcement: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (vs. 31-32). She remembered her question “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (v. 34), and the angel’s reply about the Holy Spirit’s part in the conception.

She even included the report about Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy and her aged cousin’s joyful greeting, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed I the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (vs. 42, 43). And “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (v. 45). She remembered the song she sang: My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . .”  (vs. 46-55).

Mary was the one who included Caesar Augustus’ decree that sent them to Bethlehem where her Son was born among the beasts of domestic life, bound up in rags, and laid to sleep in the animal’s feed trough.

Mary told about the shepherds who surely reported the angel’s proclamation to the parents. And the angel’s song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (2:14). Mary also remembered when Jesus was presented in the temple according to the law and the old man and woman who spoke powerfully about her son (2:25-38). Mary remembered Jesus when he was twelve years old, being separated from her and Joseph, and how He amazed the Jewish teachers by speaking with wisdom and authority beyond His years (2:41-50). And he amazed His mother by answering her scolding by saying, “Did you know I had to be in my Father’s house? (v. 49). Oh, how I wish Luke had picked her memory for more details of His childhood – clearly He was no ordinary child. Or maybe He was and the details are much the same as your childhood and mine.

Luke said that Mary, “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). I’m so glad she did because we have the most detailed, intimate account of our Savior’s birth and early glimpses of His ministry. Here’s my question for us both: What marvelous things has God done for you? Have you treasured them up in your heart (or written them down in a journal)? When someone (a grandchild, perhaps) asks you about your relationship with Jesus you will be glad you did.

God is Here

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The boy stood looking at the writing on the angry man’s poster: GOD IS NOWHERE. When the man laid down his poster to step into the nearby café, the lad turned the poster over and wrote diligently.  The man came back to his spot on the sidewalk and the boy said, “You had a mistake on your poster, but it fixed it. He picked up the poster to read what the boy had written: GOD IS NOW HERE.

That is the whole point of the Christmas story.  The Bible shows us that God has continually drawn near to man.  In the garden, He had close and personal fellowship with Adam and Eve, walking through the Garden with them in the cool of the evening.  But sin broke that intimate fellowship, and a barrier was placed between God and man.  God commanded the Israelites to make a Tabernacle that He might come and dwell among His people, and He did for hundreds of years until again, the sin of the nation of Israel became so great that God withdrew from the Temple.  The Old Testament records many visitations of God to Abraham, Jacob, Daniel, and others who were devoted to Him.  But these were brief occasions, to impart a message or empower His servant for a specific act.  God desired a deeper communion with man.  And God had a plan.

The angel recalled the prophecy: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him called ‘Immanuel*’ which means ‘God with us’” (Matt 1:23).  Jesus brought God near to us as a tiny baby in Bethlehem, as a man proclaiming the Good News, as the sacrifice on the cross for our sins, and as the risen Lord.  Then He gave us His presence continually in His indwelling Holy Spirit.  Immanuel is with us in storms and darkness and trial and suffering.  He is with us in our times of doubt and fear and loneliness and emptiness.  The joy of Immanuel is knowing that there is no place we can go and no circumstance of life we will face that God is as near as your whispered prayer.  Jesus made Himself one of us that we might be with Him now and for eternity.

Beloved, I pray that the Joy of Immanuel is with you this Advent season.

* Some translations spell this word differently, the NIV uses Immanuel, the KJV uses Emmanuel – either way God is with us.

Tiny King

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Image: “Simeon’s Moment” by Ron DiCianna

The old man shuffling through the temple courts was a common sight. You could tell exactly what time of day it was when Simeon came around. Same gait, same expression, the same sense of yearning. But today there was something different about him. He was excited, his eyes darted around and his feet moved as if every step was determined by a force outside of himself. Suddenly his weathered face lit up like a thousand candles as his arms extended towards a young couple. With Jesus cradled in his arms the old man began to speak in the sing-song voice of worship: “Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You now dismiss Your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32)

.Just then an old woman came up to the little group, her eyes bright with wonder and fixed on the infant in Simeon’s arms. “This is Him! This is the One! Oh, praise the name of the Lord – He has sent the Redemption of Israel!” Simeon smiled at Anna and nodded his head in agreement with her proclamation. They had both held tightly to the assurance that God would one day comfort and redeem His people and he was glad to share this glorious moment with his friend. For the two elderly people, the baby was the fulfillment of a promise they had long held to and yearned to see. Simeon, filled with the Holy Spirit, had been assured by God that he would see the Hope of mankind before he died. Anna, widowed early in her life, had dedicated her years to worship, fasting, and praying for the Messiah to come. It had been such a long time – not just their lifetime, but hundreds of years for the oppressed nation of Israel. In the temple courts that day, their faith was rewarded and they received the child with great joy.

How do you hold on when the promise of God is a long time in coming? Just like Simeon and Anna did – with faith. They never wavered in their expectations. They never stopped believing that every promise God made was as sure as His name – El Emunah, The Faithful God. Beloved, His name still stands today. You can wait in faith because God is still always and forever faithful. Christmas is the blessed proof that He will never fail to do what He says He will do.

Where Was God?

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“Where was God?” the atheist demanded. “Where was God?” the frightened widow cried. “Where was God?” the shocked nation asked. Even Christians looked to heaven and said,  “God, where are You?” It was the most tragic and horrific day in American history and twenty years later it still makes us weep. I imagine the same question was going through the minds of the Jews when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem. The event even sounds very similar:  “[The Babylonians] set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.” (2 Chronicles 36:19).

A memorial sits at the very spot in New York City where the buildings fell. People come every year to remember and pay their respects to the thousands who lost their lives that day.  Every year religious Jews come to Jerusalem to pray and fast in remembrance of the destruction of their Temple, first by the Babylonians in 587/586 BCE, and again in 70 CE at the hands of the Roman legions led by Titus.

Where was God when the Twin Towers fell? The same place He was when Jerusalem fell. In His heaven, ruling over human history. How can that be? I wish I could give you a simple answer, but this is the age-old “problem of evil” that men have pondered for thousands of years. It has been used to deny the existence of God and His goodness and sovereignty and quite honestly, I cannot answer it. But I can tell you that evil may have claimed a few battles throughout human history, but it has already lost the war.

Oh, satan thought he was victorious when Jesus drew His last breath and cried out, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). But he was trembling when the ground rumbled as the stone rolled away. He was dumbfounded when the angel told the women, “He is not here; He has risen!” (Matthew 28:6). He was horrified as Mary Magdalene ran back to the disciples with the amazing news, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).

So today I will remember the lives lost twenty years ago and pray for the still grieving. But I will not fear evil. I will keep my eyes on heaven and celebrate the risen Lord who dealt evil a fatal blow. No, the war is not yet over, but Satan has already lost. God has already won. God always wins.

Jesus is . . .

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“We’re New Testament people, we don’t need to read the Old Testament.” “I just want to know about Jesus, so I’ll stick with the New Testament.” Ever thought or said anything like that? I’ve heard it many times. As Christians – Christ’s followers – we are focused on only what Jesus did and taught.  But the Old Testament looks ahead to Jesus Christ.  Check it out:

In Genesis, He is the Seed of the woman who will one day crush the head of Satan.

In Exodus, He is the Passover Lamb and the one who leads His people out of bondage.

In Leviticus, He is the great high priest and the perfect sacrifice.

In Deuteronomy, he is the Great Prophet to come.

In Joshua, He is the Captain of the Lord’s host.

In Judges, He is the one who faithfully delivers His people from the cost of sin.

In Ruth, He is our Kinsman Redeemer.

He is the anointed King in the line of David in the books of Samuel.

In the books of the Kings, He is the Spirit filling the Temple.

He is the great Teacher in Ezra and the Restorer of broken walls in Nehemiah.

He is the Interceder for His people in Esther and the coming Redeemer in Job.

He is the Shepherd in Psalms and the Source of all wisdom in Proverbs.

He is the Teacher in Ecclesiastes.

He is the Beloved Bridegroom in the Song of Solomon.

In Isaiah, He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and Suffering Servant.

In Jeremiah and Lamentations, He is the Man acquainted with sorrows.

In Ezekiel, He brings life to dry bones.

In Daniel, He is the Ancient of Days.

He is the faithful Husband in Hosea, the Hope of His people in Joel, the Judge of the nations in Amos, and in Obadiah the One who warns of coming judgment.

In Jonah He is the preacher of the Good News, in Micah He is the Ruler from Bethlehem.

In Nahum, He is the judge of His people’s enemy,  the Sovereign Lord in Habakkuk, and in Zephaniah, He is the God who is mighty to save.

In Haggai He is the Glory of the House of God, in Zechariah He is the Royal Priest and in Malachi Jesus is the Son of Righteousness.

Beloved, if you want to know Jesus, read the Old Testament. He is all over the place.  Then read the New Testament with a fresh understanding of Jesus who was and is and is to come.

God With Us

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 “They will call Him Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

“Immanuel – God with us” is a great comfort as we endure the struggles of life in this fallen world.  To know that God is with us means we are assured of His presence and help.  But to truly understand the name and its significance, we have to go back to the Bible, to the most incredible statement by God: “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:9).  The God who created and sustained and ruled over all things wanted to dwell with His people.  So He gave them instructions to build Him a sanctuary and when it was completed “the cloud [of the Lord’s presence] filled the temple of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:11).  And the Lord dwelled among His people there.

Until.  Until their idolatry and sin became unbearable.  Approximately four hundred years after He filled the temple, the Lord withdrew His presence.  Shortly afterward the people were taken into exile and the temple was destroyed.  And though it was rebuilt when the exiles returned to Jerusalem, the Lord’s presence did not inhabit the second temple.

Until. Until the angel visited a carpenter, betrothed to a young woman and proclaimed the return of Immanuel.  Joseph would instinctively know what this name meant – God with us.     God came to once again dwell among men – this time in the humblest way – as a human baby born to peasant parents and laid in a feeding trough for animals.  The name “Immanuel” recalls the glorious presence of God in the midst of His people – walking among them, eating with them, touching them with human hands – and dying for them Immanuel is still present with His people today.  He is present in the Holy Spirit that dwells in every believer.  He is present in our worship.  He is present when we pray.  He is present when we rustle the pages of the Bible.  He is present when we reach out to touch a suffering soul with His love.  He is present in holy, divine moments and in the everyday events of our lives.  Because He is Immanuel, He is always present. Because He is God with us, we are never alone.

Immanuel – God with Us

 

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“They will call Him Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

One of the most beautiful hymns of Christmas is Emmanuel, Emmanuel:

Emmanuel, Emmanuel,
His name is called Emmanuel.
God with us, revealed in us,
His name is called Emmanuel.[1]

In our modern, New Testament mind the idea of “Immanuel – God with us” is a great comfort as we endure the struggles of life in this fallen world.  To know that God is with us means we are assured of His presence and help.  I am so grateful that God was with us through this difficult year that we experienced.  His presence gave me strength day-by-day and bolstered my faith.

But to truly understand the name and its significance, we have to go back to the Bible.  But don’t stop in Matthew, go back even farther to the book of Exodus, to the most incredible statement by God: “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:9).  In the ancient near east, the pagan gods of the time did not dwell with human beings.  No, the “gods” were far too important to be bothered with mortals and their petty lives.  But the God who created and sustained and ruled over all things wanted to dwell with His people.  So He gave them instructions to build Him a sanctuary where He could be present with them.  When the structure was built, the Lord came and took up residence in the place.  The same was true of the temple Solomon built for the Lord in Jerusalem to replace the tabernacle.  When the temple was completed, and the ark of the covenant was put in place in the Holy of Holies, “the cloud [of the Lord’s presence] filled the temple of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:11).  And the Lord dwelled among His people there.

Until.  Until their idolatry and sin became unbearable.  Until God said, “Enough.”  Approximately four hundred years after He filled the temple, the Lord withdrew His presence.  The prophet Ezekiel records the terrible sight of the cloud drawing up and away from the Holy of Holies and from the temple and from Jerusalem and the nation of Judah.  God was no longer with His people.  Shortly afterward the people were taken into exile and the temple was destroyed.  And though it was rebuilt when the exiles returned to Jerusalem, the Lord’s presence did not return to the second temple.

Until. Until the angel visited a carpenter, betrothed to a young woman and proclaimed the return of Immanuel.  Joseph would instinctively know what this name meant – God with us.     God came to once again dwell among men – this time in the humblest way – as a human baby born to peasant parents and laid in a feeding trough for animals.  The name “Immanuel” recalls the glorious presence of God in the midst of His people.  But not only in the temple.  No, this time Immanuel would walk among them, eat with them, touch them with human hands – and die for them.  God had been absent and silent for hundreds of years, but now He had returned to His people.

Immanuel was the promise of God’s presence.  And He is still present with His people today.  He is present in the Holy Spirit that dwells in every believer.  He is present in our worship.  He is present when we pray.  He is present when we rustle the pages of the Bible.  He is present when we reach out to touch a suffering soul with His love.  He is present in holy, divine moments and in the everyday events of our lives.  Because He is Immanuel, He is always present. Because He is God with us, we are never alone.

[1] Emmanuel, Emmanuel was written by Bob McGee in 1976 and published by C.A. Music.

The Lovely Dwelling Place of God

“How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty!” Psalm 84:1

Home décor and aesthetics are big business today – and with good reason.  Who doesn’t want a well-appointed home worthy of a magazine cover.  If your family is like mine, that look wouldn’t last more than a day past the photo shoot. What really makes a home beautiful? It’s not the paint or the furnishings or the landscape – it’s the ones who dwell there. It’s the people who call it home.

The Old Testament pointed to the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, as the dwelling place of God. The Tabernacle was made with the finest wood, the richest tapestries and was adorned with gold and silver elements. When Solomon built the Temple, the walls were covered with gold and only the finest stones were used throughout. It was necessary and fitting for the dwelling place of the Lord God to be the very best.  After the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, the Jewish people rebuilt it and the older generation grieved the smaller, less opulent structure. In time Herod remodeled and expanded the Temple to appease the Jews but, as Jesus predicted,[1] it was destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans.

There are many awe-inspiring structures of worship throughout the world. Have you seen St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, or the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris? Maybe you’ve seen pictures of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow or St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. They are all awe-inspiring structures of worship. But the most beautiful of all God’s dwelling places is YOU. The Scriptures says that if you are in Christ Jesus “The Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you” (Romans 8:11). You are the place where God chose to reside through His Spirit. You are the place God calls home. Whether you are tall or short, light or dark-skinned or any other color in between, no matter your weight or the color of your hair (even if you have none!), despite any scars or imperfections you may see, you are the lovely dwelling place of God in the world today. It’s not your physical appearance nor your clothes and accessories but it is the One who lives within that makes you the beauty you are.

Beloved, if you struggle with your physical image, may I suggest you look deeper than the surface? Look past the garments and flesh and see yourself as the exquisite abode of the Lord of heaven and earth. See the beauty within and let others see it too. My but you’re looking lovely today!

Holy Father, anything good in me is because your Spirit dwells within and makes me into someone beautiful, inside and out. Thank you for moving in – please make Yourself at home in me. Amen

[1] See Matthew 24:2.

Christmas Presence

presence“I will put my dwelling place among you…I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.”  Leviticus 26:11-12

God is all about relationship.  He created man for a unique and special relationship.  From the earliest days of creation, God walked with man in intimacy. Genesis 3:8 tells us that God enjoyed daily fellowship with Adam and Eve.  The second greatest tragedy of their sin was broken fellowship with God.  Their sin meant that God could no longer be with them in that intimate way.

Though man continued to live in sin and push farther and farther away from Him, God still desired that communion, so much so that He commanded the Israelites “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8). Once again, God drew close to His people, dwelling in their midst.  But, once again, because of sin and rebellion, God had to distance Himself from His creation.  Ezekiel 10 tells the sad story of the Glory of the Lord departing the Temple. But all was not lost forever.  Decades before, God had promised to make a way that His people could still dwell with Him despite their fallen state.

God who is forever faithful fulfilled His promise, and the Hope of Christmas was born.  John 1:14 says “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”  God came once again to live among His creation, this time as a flesh and blood man – Jesus.  He came as a baby, born as any other man, yet born with the divine nature of God.  He came to walk among us, to eat with us, and to touch His creation with the literal fingers of God.  And He came to die for us, to forever bridge the gap between God and man.  He came to restore the relationship that sin had broken, He came to be Immanuel – God with us – forever.

Holy Father, the lights and carols and tinsel of Christmas are beautiful, but the true wonder of Christmas is Your presence among us, as a baby, as a man, as our Savior.  My hope is in your promise to be “God with me.”  Amen