Bringing Us Into God’s Presence

February 21, 2021

Pastor John Hering

Exodus 40:17, 20-30, 33-35

Exodus 40:17, 20-30, 33-35

17 And so in the first month of the second year, on the first day of the month, the Dwelling was raised.

20 He took the Testimony and put it into the ark. He set the poles in place on the ark and placed the atonement seat on top of the ark. 21 He brought the ark into the tent. He set up the special veil to screen the Ark of the Testimony, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.

22 He put the table in the Tent of Meeting, on the north side of the tent, outside of the veil. 23 He set the bread in order on the table in the presence of the Lord, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.

24 He put the lampstand in the Tent of Meeting, opposite the table, on the south side of the tent. 25 He lit the lamps before the Lord, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.

26 He put the golden altar in the Tent of Meeting in front of the veil. 27 He burned incense of fragrant spices on it, just as the Lord commanded Moses. 28 He put up the screen for the entryway to the tent. 29 He set the altar of burnt offering at the door of the Dwelling, the Tent of Meeting, and offered the burnt offering and the grain offering on it, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.

30 He set the basin between the Tent of Meeting and the altar and put water in it, with which to wash.

33 He erected the courtyard around the tent and the altar and set up the screen of the gate of the courtyard. So Moses completed the work.

34 Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Glory of the Lord filled the tent. 35 Moses was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud stayed over it, and the Glory of the Lord filled the tent.

Most people today don’t expect to talk to God.  They might say that if you plan to see God it will be after you die.  Is that true?  Is it possible to come into God’s presence?  God gave the people of Israel the answer to this question by giving them the Tabernacle.  It was a place where God dwell and show the people the way back to him.  This picture of the Tabernacle (and later on the Temple) was a shadow of the future when the world would see the Christ.  When Jesus would finally appear, God intended for his people to look at him through eyes of faith that had been conditioned by centuries of Tabernacle and temple worship. 

This year for our Sunday morning services we are reading the Passion History of Jesus for our Bible Lessons, and we’re preaching on Old Testament portions of God’s Word that point to Jesus.  Today may the Holy Spirit bless us as

We See Jesus Bringing Us into God’s Presence

That Presence is Near

Have you ever been to a place where a famous political person is going to give a speech?  It happened to me when former President Obama was running for office.  I was on jury duty in downtown Dallas and he was supposed to give a speech at Convention Center. I didn’t get to see him, but it was obvious he was in the building.  The streets were buzzing crowds of people, police officers and secret service that formed a protective wall around him. I knew I was close to him.  God wanted the Children of Israel to realize how close he was to them.  To teach how close he was, God incorporated his presence into the Tabernacle. 20 He took the Testimony and put it into the ark. He set the poles in place on the ark and placed the atonement seat on top of the ark. 21 He brought the ark into the tent. Inside this wooden box covered in gold was the Testimony (the two tablets of stone), a golden jar of manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded in front of Pharaoh.  On top of the Ark was the lid made of pure gold with two angels on it.  The lid was called the Atonement Cover—or the Mercy Seat (KJV).  Then the Lord would meet Moses here: 34 Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Glory of the Lord filled the tent. 35 Moses was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud stayed over it, and the Glory of the Lord filled the tent.  The Glory of the Lord usually appears as a dense cloud of smoke and fire.  It showed that the Lord was more than a man-made carved idol.  God was real!  He revealed to the people that he was truly present inside. It was so real that when it happened Moses couldn’t even enter the Tent of Meeting.

This was more than just symbolism.  God appeared so the people could see his presence.  It is also true that God is everywhere all the time, for God is Spirit.  That is why Solomon wrote this about God when they dedicated the Temple: 27 But will God really dwell on the earth? In truth, the heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this house, which I have built! (1 Kings 8:27). Just because God appeared visibly to Moses and the people didn’t mean he couldn’t be someplace else at the same time.  God made his omnipresence appear close to his people.  God wanted his people to know and believe that he was really there, just like taught them he was everywhere.   Our God of the universe graciously chose to be close to his people. 

The same is true for us! This can be hard to believe when we’re stuck in cold houses, no running water or Covid-19 hits the family.  However, Jesus said, 20 In fact where two or three have gathered together in my name, there I am among them(Matt 18:20).  Yes, God fills the universe; yes, God is in heaven; yes, God is also here with us.  We actually have this pictured for us in the design of our worship space.  The windows let light shine behind all we do here, reminding us that God is behind it all.  The crucifix reminds us that Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice.  The altar is where we place the elements for the Lord’s Supper where Jesus promises, This is my body, which is given for you (Luke 22:19).  Yes, God’s Presence is Near and We See Jesus Bringing Us Into God’s Presence.  Jesus is here.  He is here with his blessings of forgiveness for our sins, his love to strengthen and build up our faith with his promises from his Word.  In all these ways Jesus Promises to be with us,

But That Presence Is Hidden

The Tabernacle held the real visible presence of God.  It taught the people that the Lord was reaching down to them as he is with us.  But, to actually see God with our physical eyes we need to die—or Jesus needs to return. Why?  Because we can’t be in God’s holy presence due to our sinful nature and our life of sins.  God taught his people how hard it is for a sinful person to come into God’s presence in the design of his Tabernacle. God designed a worship space for his people that emphasized how badly they needed a Savior. Let me explain the design of the Tabernacle so we have a clear picture was what God was doing.  Around the Tabernacle was a fence with a gate in it.  Here’s what was in the courtyard: 29 He set the altar of burnt offering at the door of the Dwelling, the Tent of Meeting, and offered the burnt offering and the grain offering on it, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. 30 He set the basin between the Tent of Meeting and the altar and put water in it, with which to wash.33 He erected the courtyard around the tent and the altar and set up the screen of the gate of the courtyard. To get into this outer area of worship you had to be clean.  God set up all sorts of rules about how one was clean by how they dressed, what they ate and even what they touched.  This was the outer courtyard where the sacrifices were made. 

Inside this area was the Tent of Meeting.  It was divided into two parts.  The first 2/3s part was called the Holy Place: 22 He put the table in the Tent of Meeting, on the north side of the tent, outside of the veil. 23 He set the bread in order on the table in the presence of the Lord, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  24 He put the lampstand in the Tent of Meeting, opposite the table, on the south side of the tent. 25 He lit the lamps before the Lord, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  26 He put the golden altar in the Tent of Meeting in front of the veil. 27 He burned incense of fragrant spices on it, just as the Lord commanded Moses. 28 He put up the screen for the entryway to the tent.  Only priests could go into this part of the Tent of Meeting.  They took care of the lampstand and altar of incense that gave light and represented the prayers of the God’s people and the table with 12 loaves of bread represented the 12 tribes of Israel. 

The other 1/3 part of the tent was called the Most Holy Place. This was the location of the Ark of the Covenant.  Only the High Priest could enter it once a year.  If anyone else entered they would die.  He set up the special veil to screen the Ark of the Testimony, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  This thick veil kept anyone from seeing inside.  God was in this Host Holy Place hovering over the Atonement Cover and hiding himself from the eyes of the people.  God was there But That Presence Was Hidden.  God was teaching them that the way to heaven was closed to people because of their sin.  And God was very choosy about who opens up the door.

On our own, we cannot come into God’s Presence.  For God sees us for who we are be nature.  It is a little bit like taking the garbage out in the summertime.  When you open up the lid and have maggots crawling out.  God looks at our hearts and hates to see our hearts by nature rotten with maggots. Even if you’ve never robbed a store, been put in jail for murder, cheated on your spouse, lied to your employer, or spoke a dirty word—it is still true that the sinful heart is rotten to God.  Too many times we look for someone to blame—government, Electric Company, boss or even family.  Every heart has lurking within the capability to commit any sin at any time.  If you believe you would never commit such sins, then open up the lid of your heart and see the maggots that God sees. Then realize the punishment you deserve!

The Tabernacle taught the people that they were sinful and could not see God—he was hidden.  But, they could hear what God said through Moses and the prophets.  They would proclaim what God said about sin and the need for a sacrifice to pay for that sin.  They would bring their sacrifices to the Tabernacle over and over to receive forgiveness.  But, that forgiveness was temporary.  It taught them they needed something more.  After centuries of sacrificing lambs on the altar for their sins, they learned that all of these sacrifices pointed to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Jesus was the perfect sacrifice because he never thought about stealing, killing anyone, cheating on his friends or his enemies, spoke a dirty word, or blame his enemies.  Jesus died and offered his perfect life on our behalf to exterminate the maggots of sin in our hearts and lives.  Even though God’s Presence is hidden from us today, We See Jesus Bringing Us Into God’s Presence.

Most people today don’t expect to see God face to face before they die.  But, can you be brought into his presence?  Well, our church doesn’t have a fence around it, a Holy Place and Most Holy Place.  When you come to church you see all the way to Jesus Christ.  While we do have respect for this house of prayer, there is nothing wrong with you coming up here after church and touching the baptism font where God made you his own dear child.  Or touch the altar and cross that remind us of the sacrifice Jesus made to pay for all our sins.  Touch the pulpit and remember that while God is hidden from our physical eyes, we are not shut out of God’s presence because of our sins.  Jesus has washed away all our sins.  Therefore, whom is Lent for?  It’s for me and you who need to be reminded of the suffering and death Jesus paid for you.  It for you when you will stand in the presence of God and see him with your very own eyes.  Because today you know God is near, even though sometimes hidden, You See Jesus Who Brings You Into God’s Presence. Amen.

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