The God People Want

I.      Introduction

So this week’s lesson finds God’s people in the wilderness worshipping a golden calf. If you’ve been reading along in the chronological bible, you might wonder how we have strayed so far from God’s plan for us in the Garden of Eden. What was God’s plan for Israel?

  • God’s plan: Garden of Eden
  • Israel’s plan: Desert

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II.      Background

But God is faithful and continually rescues us from our own choices.

After Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden because of their sin, we then read about the sons of Adam and how they continually chose sin. God literally washed away their sins in the age of Noah, bringing a flood, but even Noah’s children and grandchildren strayed from God’s plan.

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Then we get to Abraham, Adam’s 17th generation grandson. The Lord told Abraham in Genesis 15:3-18 that Abraham’s descendants would be more numerous than stars in the sky, but first, due to man’s choices, they would live as captives in a foreign land for 400 years before God would rescue them, deliver them, punish their captors, and return Israel to the land of Canaan.

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Joseph, through the actions of his jealous brothers, is sold into slavery to the Egyptians, but God brings him through the pit, the prison, the palace, and makes him Pharaoh’s prime minister, second in command. Through famine, Abraham’s family relocates to Egypt. Over the next 400 years, they lived with Pharaoh’s blessing and grew from 70 people of Abraham’s family to a nation of several million people.

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But eventually Joseph dies. The Egyptians forget what Joseph and the Israelites have done for them. Pharaoh enslaves the people of Israel. The people cry out to God for salvation.

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God answers. God raises up a deliverer, Moses, to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham, to bring His people back to the land of Canaan after 400 years. To save His people, God provide amazing miracles. Turning a staff into a serpent, bringing the plagues to Egypt, turning the Nile into blood, parting of the Red Sea. God will do anything to deliver His people.

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The walk from Egypt to Canaan isn’t far. From Cairo to Jerusalem is about 300 miles. At 20 miles a day, should take about 2 weeks to walk there. Or an hour and 20 minutes if you fly Turkish Air. But due to Israel’s unbelief and rebellion, instead of 2 weeks to cross the wilderness, it takes 40 years. Not one man stopped to ask for directions. I just wonder how long it took for one of the wives to say to their husband, “Seriously? You’re not going to pull over and ask for directions?”

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The rest of Israel’s children weren’t any better. “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? I wanna go home!” Instead of acting in faith and trust, instead of being grateful for their freedom, Israel whined, complained. They blamed God and Moses for their circumstances. They even threated to turn this car around right now and go back to Egypt and live in slavery again.

As we read along in our Chronological bible, this is what’s happened this week –

  • Saturday – Tuesday: God frees the Israelites from slavery after the ten plagues
  • Wednesday: God provides their daily needs, mana and quail, on the journey
  • Thursday: God establishes the Ten Commandments and other parameters for being a free people
  • Friday: God makes a Covenant with Moses which is accepted by the Israelites
  • Saturday: God gives plans for the Ark of the Covenant, the Table, Lampstand, Tabernacle; all items that will point Israel to worship the One True God, Jehovah. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  • Sunday (today): God is very specific on the elements, craftsmanship, and reverence for the Tabernacle, worship and observing the Sabbath.

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Today’s lesson will actually cover tomorrow’s daily scripture reading. Some of you have asked me how the lessons line up with the reading, so I make this list for this week. Sometimes our lessons will be based on what we just read the previous week, sometimes the lessons will be for the same weekend, and sometimes it will be the day after or even the week after bible study. Don’t let that discombobulate you.

During this week, all of God’s directions, promises, blessings are communicated to the people in specific ways. God spoke to Moses on the mountain, and the people below could hear thunder, see lightening and even smoke coming from the mountain.

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And it becomes a regular pattern. Moses goes up the mountain to talk to God. Moses goes down from the mount to talk to the people. Moses goes up the mountain, comes down the mountain. He goes up the mountain…

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III.      The God People Want

Where is Moses? Why didn’t he come down from the mountain? And that brings us to today’s bible study of Exodus 32. Moses went up the mountain to talk to God. The expectation of the people was that Moses would come back at a specific time. They expected God to do something on their schedule. But Moses is still on the mountain.

This is the same mountain where they had seen fire and smoke, thunder and lightning. They knew God was at work on the mountain in a significant way and been delivering messages, guidance, instructions for a tabernacle and an ark.

They also knew that Moses had a connection with God that was unique and powerful. They had seen this first-hand as they crossed the Red Sea and received water and manna from heaven. They were standing where they were, at the foot of the Mountain, because of the leadership of Moses under the guidance and authority of God.

Not that I am ever impatient when waiting on the Lord.

God to me: Me to God:
Psalm 46:10a Psalm 83:1
“Be still, and know that I am God.” “O God, do not remain silent.”

What was God doing? Exodus 31:18 –

When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.

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After all the instructions for building a temple, the ark, the commandments, God write Moses a personal letter. With God’s own finger. From our perspective, maybe not as big as parting the red sea, but God stepped out of heaven to take action in our world and created a miracle and engraved the Ten Commandments into stone.

The fingers of God have been at work since the beginning of creation. We saw it in the Creation Era. And now the finger of God has given us solid instructions in stone on how to live as a covenant people in the Patriarch Era. And Moses was holding that personal letter of stone. Moses was intimate with God; God spoke to Moses in a unique, personal, intense, and extraordinary way.

So, Moses was still on the mountain and the people were down below in the wilderness. We know from Exodus 24 that Moses was up on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights. Before the 40 days were over, the people became impatient that God wasn’t following the expected timetable. The people has become impatient with God.

If you’ve been a Christian a long time, this has probably happened to you. You have a difficult decision to make or a need for an answered prayer. You pray and you study, and God answers. The next time you have a difficult decision or a need for an answered prayer, you pray and you study…

Nothing but silence. Stillness. Quietness. God is not responding the way you expect. God is still on His mountain, and all you hear is the silence.

And the people of Israel waited for Moses and in Exodus 32:1,

Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

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Sometime before the 40 days were up, the impatience of the people reared its ugly head. Notice how it says, “as for this Moses.” Not, “I hope that man who led us out of Egypt is ok.” It’s “this Moses. Yeah, I know we saw the fire on the mountain and heard the thunder, but hey. Now it’s this Moses.” What has he done for us lately?

The people “gathered together;” God is too slow, let’s take action. And they didn’t ask Aaron, they demanded, “Come and make us a god.” Exodus 32:2,

And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

Slide15.JPGWhere did they get all this gold? Exodus 3:21-22 as Moses was getting ready to lead them out of Egypt, God says,

I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house, articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and you will put them on your sons and daughters. Thus you will plunder the Egyptians.”

In order to prepare the Israelites for the journey through the wilderness, the Lord provided everything they needed, and the gold had come from their captors. The Lord has provided these blessings to the people, and the people used these blessings to fashion an idol and blaspheme the Lord.

The people wanted a man-made god. A god that they would have to pick up and carry. A convenient god, there when they need it. One that they could see and feel, perhaps rub it for luck. And lest we think the Israelites are idiots, that’s exactly what we the people crave today. A convenient god, there to fulfill our wishes. A god who has eyes, but cannot see, like Adam and Eve who didn’t want God to see them in their nakedness and sin. A god who appears strong, a mighty bull, but in reality lacks power, unable to punish our sins. A god who is here before us but demands nothing of us. In other words, a god who doesn’t interfere with our lives.

The people want a god that allows them to express themselves sexually, immorally, and without restraint or judgment. A god who only appears powerful.

Not even Christians are immune to this. Many Christians are only familiar with a couple of verse – God makes all things good, God has plans to prosper you, Jesus is the way, the truth and the light. Truth is, though, is that God is far more complex than that. Last month when we studied Job, we studied how God can lift his hand of protection, and God has a purpose for everything, including suffering.

Truth is, not every verse found in the bible can be embroidered on a pillow. Certainly not Judges 19:29,

When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel.

Or Psalm 38:7,

For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease, and there is no soundness in my flesh.

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And yet, we just skip over uncomfortable verses because we want to believe our God is only a God of love and mercy, but not a God of wrath and justice. And yet we cannot truly understand His love and mercy without also understanding God’s wrath and justice and how he saved us from our sins.

Aaron was the brother of Moses, a leader of the people, the first priest of the Israelites. And on his first day of the job has already broken the first three commandments, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,” and “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Three strikes, you’re out.

Exodus 32:5,

So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.” Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

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Now this is a god the people like. So the people rose up to eat, drink, and party.

How long did it take for the people to go from following God out of Egypt to making a false idol and partying? Less than 40 days, barely a month.

Did God notice? Our God sees everything.   Our God is not the God we want Him to be. Our God is the God who is.

IV.      The God Who Is

Exodus 32:7-10,

And the LORD said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’ ” And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now, therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.”

God did indeed notice, and God’s holy response to sin is wrath. In barely a month, after all that God had done for His people, they had forsaken God’s commands.

The people are described as “stiff-necked”. It’s two Hebrew words, qasheh `oreph (קָשֶׁה עֹרֶף). It’s literally “hard of neck,” a phrase all-too-familiar to the Israelite. They used an ox for plowing, and the plowman used one hand to guide the plow, and the other hand held an “ox goad,” a light pole with an iron spike on the end of it. He would use the ox goad to tap the ox on the neck to turn it. If an ox was hard to control or it was stubborn, it was “hard of neck.” In scripture, this means the “stiff-necked” people were stubborn and non-responsive to God’s guidance. Oh yes, God knew these people. And He knows you and me. God’s response to sin is not to destroy the calf, but to destroy the idol worshipper.

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And Moses is still up on the mountain, Exodus 32:11-14,

Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: “LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.

Moses’ prayer is not bargaining, it’s intercession. He prays for the people. Verse 11 says Moses “pleaded” and the Hebrew word is חָלָה châlâh and very difficult to translate. Often used to indicate illness or wounded, these are various translations –

  • NASB – Entreated
  • NIV – Sought
  • NLT – Pacify
  • ESV – Implored
  • KJV – Besought
  • HCSB – Interceded

So Moses interceded in prayer for his people. Moses is considered a “type of Christ,” something I didn’t really understand until I spent some time with that phrase. The bible itself defines what “type of Christ” means, but there are 4 different words used,

  1. typos “type” (Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 10:6,11);
  2. skia “shadow” (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5; 10:1);
  3. hypodeigma “copy” (Hebrews 8:5; 9:23); and
  4. sémeion “sign” (Matthew 12:39).

Some Old Testament stories are shadows of prophecy and truth yet to come about our Savior. Moses is considered a “type of Christ,” and as special as Moses was with his relationship with God, Moses himself says a greater prophet will arise. Moses delivered the people from Egypt, but Christ will deliver the people from our sin. And so Moses intercedes on behalf of his people, pleading for their lives. And prayer changes God’s mind.

That always amazed me, that prayer can change the mind of God. But Moses was a high priest, a type of Christ! Well you know what? So are you. And so am I, and all believers. We are the priesthood of Christ, we are to show the light of Christ within us. 1 Peter 2:9 says,

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

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James 5:16 says

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

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It amazes me that the God of the Universe loves my prayers and God acts on those prayers.

But the caveat is that it’s the effective prayer of a righteous person. Righteous in Jesus Christ, asking for things that are in God’s will… and I probably resemble Aaron more than I’d like to admit, more than I resemble Moses or Christ. After pleading to God, Moses finally goes back down the mountain, and in Exodus 32:21-24,

And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this person do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?” So Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people that they are prone to evil. For they said to me, ‘Make us gods that shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.”

So Moses pleads for his people. Aaron says, “those people are evil. Me, I just threw a bunch of gold in the fire. Whoa, look, a cow came out.”

V.      Conclusion

While we are called to be a royal priesthood, sin is always crouching at our door. We must be vigilant, on guard, and patiently waiting on the Lord.

Remember this?

  • God’s plan: Garden of Eden
  • Our plan: Desert

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Let’s update this photo for today’s world.

  • God’s plan: Heaven
  • Our plan: golden calf

Slide30.JPGThe god people want is a god that tolerates everything the golden calf stood for. Immorality. Selfishness. Irreverence. Impatience. Rejection of God’s teaching so that they can mold a god that is less judgmental and more tolerant of their lifestyle. A god that only appears powerful but cannot see any wrongdoing. A god that answers every sin with, “God just wants me to be happy.”

But we can’t make God into something. God is who He is. He is fire, He is wrath, He is mercy, He is love. He is faithful, He is mighty, He is strong, He is power, He is God of all the ages, He is the truth, He is the light out of the darkness, He is Holy, He is Holy, He is Holy. The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord and who God truly is, and not a golden calf representing our desire to eat, drink, and party.

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After we leave this classroom, after we leave this church, and we return to the world and the worldly ways, don’t let the world tell you who God is. Study the bible, put on the whole armor of God, and let God tell you who He is.

To God be the Glory. Amen.

Blessings & Curses

I.      Introduction

Our scripture is Leviticus 26, and my initial reading understood God saying to the Israelites, “here is a list of blessings if you do right, here is a list of curses if you do wrong.”  There are a lot of blessings and curses.  In fact, that’s really everything in Leviticus 26, blessings and curses.

And I want to make clear right up front that I’m not going to teach on the importance of legalism.  You must do the following things or the Lord God is going to provide a smackdown on you and your family.  Nope, I’m going to leave that to the Pharisees.  There might be some Pharisees here in class, please don’t raise your hand.

But as I read these blessings and curses, I wondered if there was a bigger picture.  Perhaps I could start in Genesis and end in Revelation again?  I think the answer is yes.  The lesson always seems to start in Genesis and end in Revelation for some reason.  So as I read these blessings and curses, I think that sometimes just a missing bit of information can change our whole perspective on a situation, give us a new understanding.

For instance, here’s a story that could use a new perspective.  I know of a man that is confined to a room.  He is surrounded by men in masks.  One of the men in a mask has a knife.  The man in a mask with the knife begins cutting into the man confined in the room, while all the other men in masks do nothing to stop the man with knives.

The new perspective?  The man with the knife is a surgeon.Slide2

II.      Progressive Revelation

I grew up Catholic with all the baggage that comes with it, works are necessary for salvation, you have to be in the Catholic Church to go to heaven, yada yada.  In college, I went to my first Protestant church which began my journey as a Christ-follower.  Before I fully committed my life to Christ, one of the first things I learned was that the Old Testament wasn’t applicable, or so the explanation sounded to me.  I was told only the New Testament was applicable to Christians and the Old Testament was for historical purposes and to demonstrate God’s character.  I think today I would word that differently, but the gist is sort of correct.  When you read in Leviticus 11 that one is not supposed to eat shellfish, all of a sudden a bowl of shrimp and grits takes on very confusing theological significance.Slide3

I hadn’t realized at the time that I was just dipping a toe into understanding progressive revelation about Old Testament Law.  While God is unchanging, because of man’s sinful nature man keeps changing, so God’s relationship with us changes.  His relationship with us in the Garden of Eden – see, I told you I’d start in Genesis – God’s relationship with us was changed forever when Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.  God made covenants with man through Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and of course, Christ, and each covenant built upon the previous one.  Each covenant revealed additional information about God’s love for us.  It was progressive revelation for us over time.

So here in Leviticus, there’s more to this chapter than just a list of blessings and curses.  It’s the center of understanding the history of Israel and the messages of the prophets, it illustrates how the Lord uses both blessings and curses today to accomplish His will, and ends in a message of hope for all believers.

III.      Blessings, Leviticus 26:1-13

Let’s look at the beginning of Leviticus 26, verses 1 & 2,

‘You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the Lord your God.  You shall keep My sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary; I am the Lord.

This is the preface to the chapter and declares the Lord to be not only worthy to be worshipped, but the only one worthy to be worshipped.  And while this is an Old Testament statement from the Lord, the Lord is unchanging, and I believe these words are relevant for today for Christians.

Whatever we do in this world, we should remember who created the world.  The Lord God is who he is, and worthy to be praised.  Things that are important to the Lord should be important to us.  We are too often distracted by something else we feel we have to do instead of going to church or reading our bible.  I mean, after all, we’re busy people, right?  But those things become idols, things we end up worshipping more than the Lord.

The next 11 verses of Leviticus are the promised blessings to Israel, but they are conditional promises.  They begin with the word “if” –

If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments

If.  When we get into trouble over our heads, it’s not uncommon to plead to the Lord, “Lord, please rescue me.”  And then we have the nerve to judge God on whether He responds.  But how did we get into trouble over our head in the first place?  Were we walking in His statutes and keeping His commandments?  If the Israelites walked in the ways of the Lord, the Lord promised the following blessings –

  • Rain for the crops
  • Trees with fruit
  • Abundant grapes
  • Eat until they’re full
  • Security
  • Peace in the Land
  • No fear
  • Enemies will perish
  • Many prosperous children

And finally, in Leviticus 26:11-13,

Moreover, I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you.  I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so that you would not be their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.

God alone is worthy to be praised.  God reminds the Israelites that God alone is responsible for their freedom and that God wants to rain blessings on them and walk among His people.  All they have to do is fulfill the first “if” – honor the Lord alone and walk in His ways.

IV.      Curses, Leviticus 26:14-39

But there is another “if” in today’s scripture, but this half are the repercussions if Israel doesn’t honor the Lord.  It begins in Leviticus 26:14-15,

But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments,  if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant,  I, in turn, will do this to you:

Man, I don’t like to think God uses both a carrot and a stick to complete His will for us.  Some of the curses described here are directly from God, and others are more like warnings that bad behavior has bad consequences.  These curses include –

  • Crops consumed by raiding enemies
  • Rains will cease
  • Crops will fail
  • Infertility
  • Men killed by hostile animals
  • Pestilence and disease
  • People turning on one another
  • Cannibalism

Each one of these curses is an opposite to the blessing.  Here’s the list side-by-side:

Blessings and Curses in Leviticus 26
BLESSINGS (v1-13) CURSES (v14-39)
God Confirms Covenant (9) God’s Vengeance For Covenant (25)
God’s Presence God’s Absence
God turns toward His people (9) God sets His face against them (17)
God will dwell among them (11) God sends them into captivity (38-39)
God walks among them (12) God becomes their adversary (33)
Peace Peril
Security (5) Soul pines away/sudden terror (16)
Peace of mind (6) Terror, fear, panic (36-37)
Beasts won’t harm them (6) Beasts destroy and decimate (22)
Prevail over their enemies (7-8) Attacked by enemies – raids (16)
Struck down by enemies (17)
Ruled by enemies (17)
Flee, but none pursue (17)
Delivered into enemy hands (25)
Scattered among nations (33)
Destroy themselves – cannibalism (29)
Prosperity Poverty
God gives rains in season (4) God withholds the rains (19)
Crops will grow abundantly (4-5) Crops don’t grow (20)
Old grain cleared out for new (10) Enemies raid and steal crops (16)
Famine—lack of bread (26)
Land is desolate (32)
Israelites fruitful and increase (9) Consumption, fever, waste away (16)
Wild animals decimate (22)
Pestilence in cities kills (25)
Israelites kill and eat their own (29)

Obedience brings blessings of peace and security.  Disobedience brings insecurity, peril, and fear.  Israel will be defeated by her enemies, scattered, and ruled by others.  Instead of God dwelling among His people, Israel will experience separation.  In verse 17, God sets His face against His people.  Then, because Israel remains hostile toward Him, God becomes their enemy and God will drive them from their sanctuary into the hands of their enemies.  In their absence from the promised land, the land will enjoy the rest God promised.

I think people that do not study their bibles sometimes see God as being unpredictable or arbitrary.  They do not understand why good things happen to bad people, or why bad things happen to good people.  I don’t always understand, but sometimes I do.  God’s standards for Israel, the consequences for obedience or disobedience are clear, and they are given far in advance of any punishment or blessing.  The motivations are both positive and negative.  The purpose of Leviticus 26 is to motivate Israel to keep God’s covenant.

And it’s important to realize that, even though there are good things and bad things promised, the purpose is good and always positive.  God wants to dwell among His holy people.  Throughout Leviticus 26, as gruesome as the warnings are, the benevolence of God is apparent.  God’s first response to Israel’s sins is to discipline His people and bring them to repentance.  And every time Israel refuses discipline, God increases the penalty.  If you think you can win a fight against God, then you don’t know God.

Some might look at God’s responses as harsh, but remember, God’s first promises were blessings.  All Israel had to do was walk in the ways of the Lord.  And the harsh response from God is due entirely to Israel’s rejection of God’s laws and all that God stands for.  Let’s look at verses 14-15 again –

But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments,  if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant,  I, in turn, will do this to you:

His ways.  God wants what is best for His people.  Blessings if you walk in His ways, Curses if you reject Him.

V.      Past History of Israel

So what happened?  Despite these warning, Israel rejected the Lord’s ways.  The book of Joshua for the most part demonstrates that God delivered on the promised blessings.  Israel followed the Lord’s commandment and God was faithful in delivering abundant blessings.  But then the book of Judge showed the people os Israel rejecting the Lord’s ordinances, and God discipline was then forcefully delivered.

Leviticus 26, is the center of the history of Israel’s cycle of obedience, blessing, victory, apathy, disobedience, defeat, repentance, obedience.  Leviticus 26 is absolutely accurate.

God repeated his promises of blessings and curses through the prophets over the years to remind Israel that they were His chosen people.  Every prophet of Israel in the centuries to follow told Israel of the blessings to come if they followed in the Lord’s ways, and the destruction that follows disobedience.  And again and again, the cycle repeated.

VI.      Future History of Israel

So if God makes a covenant with Israel, but Israel repeats their cycle of obedience and disobedience despite the Lord’s promises of blessings and curses, who can fulfill the covenant?  Only the Lord can deliver Israel, and the Lord says at the end of Leviticus 26:44-45,

Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God.  But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord.

The Lord is saying in these last 2 verses that, despite obedience or disobedience, the Lord God will never turn His back upon His people.  He says specifically that He will never break His covenant.

So how does the Lord deliver His people when His people turn their backs in disobedience and bring down the curses promised in Leviticus 26?  If God is to deliver on His promise but the people will not hold up their end of the covenant, then God will fulfill their end of the covenant.  God will send a deliverer or a Messiah.  This Messiah will be God Himself as prophesied in Isaiah 49:1-3 –

Listen to Me, O islands,
And pay attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called Me from the womb;
From the body of My mother He named Me.
 
He has made My mouth like a sharp sword,
In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me;
And He has also made Me a select arrow,
He has hidden Me in His quiver.
 
He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel,
In Whom I will show My glory.”

In this verse, the Messiah has been selected to show the glory and power of God from and through Israel, but since God himself is the deliverer, Isaiah prophecies that the Messiah will also call gentiles to serve the Lord in Isaiah 49:6 –

He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also make You a light of the nations
So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

After all those cycles of obedience and disobedience, God Himself steps into time to take the curses upon Himself and deliver His people, but it now includes gentiles like you and me, anybody that believes in the Lord.

VII.      The Messiah Fulfills the Law

So when I read Leviticus 26, I needed a new perspective.  How could these verses of blessings and curses be applicable today?  The new perspective is that God has provided the blessings and born the curses Himself to deliver His people.  Jesus is our Deliverer from the cycle of obedience and disobedience.

Now, the Old Testament Law hasn’t been abolished by Jesus.  Jesus specifically says that he came to fulfill the Law.  First in Luke 4:16-20, Jesus goes to the synagogue, reads from the book of Isaiah, then sits down.  Sitting down indicated that had had finished speaking and his message was complete, but then Jesus says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  And then Jesus says later in Matthew 5:17,

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

Jesus led a perfect life without sin in complete obedience to the Father, even up to and including laying down His life for His followers.  Not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles.  In so doing, He completed the Old Testament and broke the cycle of obedience and disobedience.

We still have the Law with all the blessings and curses, but the Law has no power over us.  Paul tells us in the book of Romans that the Old Testament Law cannot save us.  We have demonstrated to God for centuries that we are disobedient; we cannot follow the law perfectly.  Instead, the Law demonstrated to us that we needs God to save us from the Law, so God sent His Son.

Are we free then from the law?  Well, yes and no.  We are free from following the 613 mitzvots that only demonstrated that we are sinners and needed a savior.  But many of the Old Testament laws are repeated as New Testament Christian principles.  Jesus gave us the example of one of the Ten Commandments that prohibited adultery.  The Pharisees focused on the behavior.  Jesus says we are responsible for even what we think, and if we think about adultery, then we are guilty.  But rather than focusing on 613 mitzvots, Jesus gave us a much easier understanding of how God wants us to live our lives.  Matthew 22:35-40 –

One of [the Parisees], a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.  Leviticus 26 opened with God telling the Israelites to remember that God is God, don’t worship anything else, and live your lives in a way that pleases God.  Those instructions haven’t changed in 6000 years.

We don’t suffer the blessings and curses that God promised the Israelites, but our Christian walk is still important, and the things we do or don’t do still have consequences.  Paul tells us in Galatians 6:7-8,

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

When we follow God’s plan, we receive blessings according to His will.  And when we do not, we still have to deal with the repercussions of our actions.  But we are no longer under the Law with all the blessings and curses that come with us.  Jesus fulfilled the Law for us in a way we did not earn.  Jesus provided grace so that we inherit eternal life, not through our own efforts, but through His.  In the Age of the Church, we are under Grace, praise Jesus.  Jesus bore our curses so that only God’s blessings remain for us.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

His Presence

             I.      Introduction

Our scripture for the week was supposed to be Exodus 39 & 40.  It’s starts with these verses,

Moreover, from the blue and purple and scarlet material, they made finely woven garments for ministering in the holy place as well as the holy garments which were for Aaron, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  He made the ephod of gold, and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen.

 So I’m thinking one lesson we can learn is what sort of clothes we should wear to church.  This description of clothing goes on for like the entire two chapters of Exodus 39-40.    We should always wear our ephods of gold, blue, purple and scarlet.  And I ask a deep theological question of the Lord: Lord, please reveal to me, what is an ephod? 

Here is a traditional ephod:

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So then I asked, Lord, is there a deeper theological message, other than a church dress code?  If I understood God’s answer correctly, today we will discuss God’s relationship with His people through history, the functionality of God’s temples and the duties of His royal priesthood.  And ephods.

But let’s start with this:  Where does God live?

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When I want to speak to God through prayer, I look up.  As though God was in a particular direction, and if I looked in that direction, I’d see Him.  Is He close?  Is He far away?  Where does God live?  And what does He look like if I see Him?

Does He look like George Burns?  Morgan Freeman?  And how does any of this tie into Exodus 39?

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Our bible study today centers on Exodus 38 through 40 which begins with a description of the first temple and the clothing to be worn by the first priests.  There are a great many instructions on what to build and what to wear.  We could spend a long time reading the description of the temple and the clothing, but I want to get into the purpose, so we’re just going to hit a few verses.  Turn your bibles to Exodus 38.    Here’s how God instructed the altar to be built starting in Exodus 38:1 –

Then he made the altar of burnt offering of acacia wood, five cubits long, and five cubits wide, square, and three cubits high.  He made its horns on its four corners, its horns being of one piece with it, and he overlaid it with bronze.  He made all the utensils of the altar, the pails and the shovels and the basins, the flesh hooks and the firepans; he made all its utensils of bronze.  He made for the altar a grating of bronze network beneath, under its ledge, reaching halfway up.  He cast four rings on the four ends of the bronze grating as holders for the poles.  He made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with bronze.  He inserted the poles into the rings on the sides of the altar, with which to carry it. He made it hollow with planks.

This goes on for 31 verses, and my second question (does anybody remember what the first question was?  Right, “What is an ephod?”).  My second question was, “what the heck is a cubit?”  That part was pretty easy to figure out, I guess they didn’t have a Wal-mart nearby to go pick up a ruler, so a cubit was simply the length from the back of the elbow to the tip of the finger, about 18 inches.  The final altar looked like this:

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And then, as if the altar instructions weren’t complex enough, there was some weird fashion show one had to wear before one was allowed to come near. 

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Church dress codes have certainly relaxed since biblical times.  Now we wear Astros gear.  I wonder why they don’t make Astros ephods?  That would be perfect.

Exodus 39 beginning in verse 1,

Moreover, from the blue and purple and scarlet material, they made finely woven garments for ministering in the holy place as well as the holy garments which were for Aaron, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  He made the ephod of gold, and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen.  Then they hammered out gold sheets and cut them into threads to be woven in with the blue and the purple and the scarlet material, and the fine linen, the work of a skillful workman.  They made attaching shoulder pieces for the ephod; it was attached at its two upper ends.  The skillfully woven band which was on it was like its workmanship, of the same material: of gold and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  They made the onyx stones, set in gold filigree settings; they were engraved like the engravings of a signet, according to the names of the sons of Israel.

And then this description goes on for another 43 verses.

What’s the purpose for all these instructions?    The Lord told Moses how the Aaron and the other priests were to dress when ministering in the Holy Place.  The Lord had specific instructions to Moses about a great many things before the Lord would, as Dr. Young says, “tabernacle among them.”

But when I was studying this chapter, it felt like I was reading a book out of order, and not even reading the entire book.  Like picking up a novel, reading a couple of chapters from the very middle of the book, then closing the book.  And afterward, I’d be asking myself, “How did the story begin?  How did it end?”  I dunno.  I’m only reading the middle part of the book.

I don’t know how many lessons I begin with Genesis 1, and many times I end in Revelation.  Today is another one of those times, so we’re going to have to study the entire bible today.  Shouldn’t take too long, right?  So let’s turn to Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1. 

          II.      Genesis 1:2, The Spirit of God

Genesis 1:1-2,

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In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

 To fully understand where God lives, well, that’s beyond our study.  But we can study what God has revealed to us in His Word about His Presence, and see how and when God reveals Himself to us.

When God created the heavens and the earth, it was perfect.  How could it be otherwise?  There is no presence of sin, no rebellion, nothing opposed to God.  God’s will is everywhere, God’s will is perfect.  And the Holy Spirit moved over the surface of the waters.  And this is important, God is in direct contact with His creation.  And at the end of the sixth day, God creates man and woman and places them in the Garden of Eden.  And there was still no sin.  In Genesis 2:15, scripture says,

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Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

In other words, God dwelt with man and interacted with Him in a perfect sinless environment.  But then mankind messed it all up, and disobeyed God by eating from the Tree of Knowledge.  And sin entered the world. 

This is important an important change in our relationship with God.  Sin entered the world.  You and I tell little lies and gossip and steal office supplies and get mad at each other, but we live with each other and learn to get along.  But God is not like you and me.  God is holy and pure and good.  He’s omnipotent and full of justice, and when He sees any injustice or sin, God will destroy it.  How can a holy God be otherwise, so see evil and just say, “well, that’s not so bad, I guess I can accept that.”  No, God promises to make all things right.

After man at the fruit of the tree of knowledge, what happened to the relationship between God and man?  God drove the man and woman out of the garden, no more in direct contact, lest God be compelled to destroy the evil within.

       III.      Exodus 38-40 God Dwells in His Temple

But God is also perfect love, and God still loves His flawed, sinful people.  How will God dwell among those He loves without destroying them in the process?   In the Old Testament, God prescribed a method, sort of like a Martian airlock. 

Slide14

I’m not sure the altar of the Lord has ever been described like a Martian airlock, but let’s go with it.  The purpose of an airlock is to keep the Martian atmosphere on one side, and the earthly atmosphere on the other, with an intermediate area to transition from Earth to Mars and back again.

So sinful man cannot simply walk up to the presence of the Lord without being destroyed by His holiness.  So the altar was devised by God for God to indwell, and the priestly garments, like a Martian spacesuit, was worn after the priest was purified and temporarily pure for approaching the presence of the Lord.  All of the clothing was symbolic for being set apart for God’s work of atoning for sin.  The dress code was mandatory.  Noncompliance was sin, and the wages of sin is death, so getting dressed up for church was a good idea.   God says that this is the Martian airlock method of separating His Holiness from our sinfulness so we won’t die, in Exodus 28:43,

They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they enter the tent of meeting, or when they approach the altar to minister in the holy place, so that they do not incur guilt and die.

 So even noncompliance with the dress code was a problem.  Forgetting to wear a tie to the altar was imperfect, a sin, and like all sin, no matter how big or how small, was punishable by death.  In Exodus 28:31-35, the Lord tells Moses to add little golden bells on the hem of the priestly robe –

“You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue.  There shall be an opening at its top in the middle of it; around its opening there shall be a binding of woven work, like the opening of a coat of mail, so that it will not be torn.  You shall make on its hem pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material, all around on its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around on the hem of the robe.  It shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the Lord, so that he will not die.

That’s a pretty sophisticated Martian airlock with all the bells and whistles.  And there’s meaning in the robe;

  • The blue represents heaven and water, the pristine state of the earth when God created it.
  • The gold represents, well, gold.  It’s pure and it’s rare.
  • The scarlet represents the blood; Leviticus 17:11 tells us that life is in the blood.  And this is important to the sacrificial system.  Since the wages of sin is death, sin requires atoning by blood, but God’s sacrificial system allows innocent blood of a lamb to be substituted for our sins.
  • The purple is the mixing of blue and scarlet together, mixing of the heavenly, of God and man, and indicated royalty.
  • The bells are because the Israelite must make noise to come before the Lord.  One of the words for praising God is the Hebrew word, ruah which means to make an ear splitting sound. The sound of the bells prevent the death of the priest when he comes before the Lord. While it is true that man needed to hear the bells to know that the priest was still alive, the bells actually seem to be protecting the priest from death.

Also, you may have heard that the priest also had a robe tied around his waist or around his ankle so that when the tinkling stopped, the people outside would know he had died and could pull the rope and retrieve the body.  I hate to say this, but that’s probably not true.  I checked on Snopes.com.  Actually, I checked a source by Dr. W.E. Nunnally, Associate Professor of Early Judaism and Christian Origins at Central Bible College and Adjunct Professor of Hebrew at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary ( https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/author/w-e-nunnally/  ) who researched this, and it’s an urban legend, though one that’s been around for a very long time, probably starting around 600 or 700 years after Christ.   Dr. Nunnally says,

“The rope on the high priest legend is just that: a legend. It has obscure beginnings in the Middle Ages and keeps getting repeated. It cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Mishna, or any other Jewish source. It just is not there.”

I mean, this professor is so smart, he knows what the Pseudepigrapha is and he’s read it.  So the story of the robe around the ankle is just not listed in scripture anywhere. 

I continued following the rabbit trail about the bells on the hem of the robe, and look at this last line we just read a moment ago –

It shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the Lord, so that he will not die.

 But then if we jump over to Leviticus 16:2-4, it says,

“Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.  “Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering.  He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments.  Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on.

 These are two different places, even though the words are similar.  The second location is inside the veil, often called the Holy of Holies.  The first one, the Holy Place, is outside the veil, where Aaron ministered to the Israelites.  Notice that the robe with the bells is worn outside the veil, but not inside after he’s been washed and purified.

That’s the end of the rabbit trail regarding the bells and the robe and the ankle, so let’s go back to the Martian airlock and recap the purpose of the altar and the priestly robes –

  • God desires a relationship with His people
  • God is holy
  • Man is sinful. 
  • The wages of sin is death, but God implemented a sacrificial system to allow innocent blood to be shed for the guilty.
  • The temple and the robes provides a purified exposure of sinful man to a holy Lord that separates man from the wrath of God.

The priest ministered to the people, collected their sins, made a sacrifice on their behalf, purified himself, then if everything was pure and holy, the priest would walk into the Holy of Holies to communicate with the Lord.

          IV.      The Temple of the Lord: What Changed?

Where is our temple today?  Why don’t we purify ourselves and sacrifice and asks a priest to intercede for us today?

The answer is Jesus.  Jesus changed everything.

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When Adam sinned in the garden, God put into a plan to save man from his sins.  It begins with Genesis 3:15 where God tells the serpent that Eve’s offspring will eventually crush the head of Satan, continues through the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel and Daniel for the salvation of God’s people.  The purpose of the temple before Jesus was described in Exodus 25:8-9,

Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.  According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.

But the book of Hebrews tells us that the temple was just a copy of better things to come in Hebrews 9:23-24,

Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these (blood sacrifices), but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.

 What this verse is saying is that the Jewish temples constructed for the Lord’s presence were copies of Heaven, examples.  These old temples required earthly blood regularly sacrificed because man sinned repeatedly, and so the sacrifices had to be repeated.  But this verse in Hebrews says Jesus didn’t come to cleanse a copy of the temple that represented heaven, but Jesus entered heaven itself, once and for all and for many.  This verse in Hebrews 9:25-26 goes on to say,

nor was it that He (Jesus) would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own.  Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

 In other words, the sacrifice of Christ is a permanent solution for all sin, past present and future.  His sacrifice was God Himself pouring Himself out for all of us on the cross.  And when Jesus breathed His last, His sacrifice to take away the sins of the world was perfect, and with His final breath in John 19:30, Jesus said, “It is finished.”  And this was not defeat; this was victory, for Matthew 27:50 says Jesus cried this out in a loud voice.  It is finished; sin has been defeated.

If you recall the purification of the priest, it enabled the priest to be temporarily purified so that he could offer sacrifices for our sins to God within the veil.  But the role of priest has also been fulfilled by Jesus, Hebrews 4:14-16,

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 Because Jesus is a permanent sacrifice and also sinless, additional sacrifices are no longer necessary.  Jesus is the last priest we’ll ever need, and with His sacrifice, 1 Peter 2:5 says that all believers are now part of the royal priesthood, chosen to proclaim the praises of Jesus who called us out of darkness and into the light.

So what about the temple?  The same temple built by Herod with the Holy of Holies where God would dwell and accept sacrifices from the purified priests wearing fancy schmancy garments? 

Jesus, again, changed everything.

For one thing, the veil that separated us from God fulfilled a purpose; it kept sin out.  But Jesus defeated sin with His final sacrifice, and this veil od separation was no longer necessary.  After Jesus’ cry of victory, well, let’s look at Matthew 27:50-51 says,

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.

The veil was torn by God from the top.  Remember that veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies?  Aaron wore the robe with the bells on the outside of the veil, but before he would go inside the veil, he’d had to purify himself before entering the presence of God.

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In Jesus’ day, Moses’ tabernacle was long gone, replace by Herod’s temple in the exact location, but the concept was the same.  A thick veil separated all from God except for the High Priest who would sacrifice for the sins of the people and purify himself before entering the Holy of Holies.

But because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, the protective veil that separated God from Man was no longer necessary.  Man now had a permanent sacrifice, a savior.  Jesus is our permanent sacrifice.  So what do we need a temple made of stone for if sacrifices are no longer needed?  We don’t.

In fact, Jesus knew this, and prophesied the temple of Herod would be torn down and no stone would be left unturned.  And in 70 AD, Romans soldiers overturned the temple and it’s never been rebuilt.  For Christians, the temple isn’t needed, because we are the temple.  1 Corinthians 6:19 –

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Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

 Jesus changed everything.  We are his priesthood and He is our greatest priest, the sacrifices are finished, the veil that separates us from the Holy of Holies is forever torn, and when we accept Jesus as our savior, we become the temple of the Holy Spirit.  The separation between us and the Lord is forever eliminated for those who accept Jesus’ atoning death.

             V.      The Temple Yet to Come

But this isn’t the way the story ends.  What about any future temple?  Let’s head to the end of the bible and check Revelation for any, um, revelations.

There are two main temples discussed in Revelation, and I want to dismiss the first one pretty quickly.  The dimensions of this first temple are prophesied in Ezekiel 40-47, and Daniel 9:27 says this temple will be built on the Temple Mount by Jews eager for their Messiah to return which, of course, already happened 2000 years ago.  Sacrifices in this temple begin again, but then in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 the antichrist desecrates the temple in the middle of the Tribulation and declares himself to be God.   Ultra-orthodox Jews are already prepared to build what they call the Third Temple.  While important to understand this third temple when studying end times eschatology, I don’t believe it to be a temple directed by God.  Why would we need sacrifices to begin again?  This temple is a misguided effort by Jews and orchestrated by man.  And when Jesus returns, this temple is destroyed by earthquake in Revelation 6:12-17.

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But for believers, we can read a little further to Revelation 21:22-23, a beautiful description of our glorious future.  John is describing what he sees as a new heaven and a new earth with a new Jerusalem:

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 

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God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and us will all dwell together in His glory where there is no sin, no pain, no tears.  That’s something to look forward to.

          VI.      Conclusion

I started off preparing for this lesson reading about what Levitical priests wore when going to prepare sacrifices, but there was a lot more to learn than just biblical fashion statements.  We learned that the role of temple was to be like a Martian airlock that separates our sinful self from the holiness of God who has vowed to destroy all evil.  We learned that priest purified themselves before offering sacrifices, but this had to be repeated every time a sacrifice was made.

And we learned that Jesus changed everything, who became our Great High Priest and we all became members of a royal priesthood with our bodies being the very temple of God where the Holy Spirit dwells today.  There is no longer a separation between us and God because Jesus forever intercedes for us.  And we learned that at the end of time, there will be no need for a temple at all because we will dwell with the Lord forever, just as the Lord originally intended when He created the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve.

In the meantime, there is no need to look up when we look to see where God live.  God dwells inside each one of us.

Jesus changed everything.

To God be the glory.  Amen.