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May 23, 2010

Becoming God's Tabernacle

Passage: Exodus 25:1-40

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Taking It On the Road

Category: Old Testament

Keywords: tabernacle, church, relationships, ark of the covenant


Just as every room in a house holds different experiences and relationships for families, so the house of God holds unique significance and relational importance with God. The Tabernacle and its furnishing have relational significance for us, especially as we are the Temple of God today in the church.


Becoming God’s Tabernacle

May 23, 2010

Exodus 25-30


 Q:  How many of you have seen the show, “Extreme Home Makeover”?  How many of you like that show?  WHY?  [People are getting their homes redone/rebuilt in order to facilitate their particular needs and dreams as a family.]


Group connection:  Have each group make a list of all the different kinds of rooms they have in the different homes represented in their group today.   A room qualifies as a separate room if it has a door or at least 3 walls that set it apart from other rooms.  (Yesterday we did this at our table and were amazed at the variety of rooms that exist in our own home.) 


Here’s how we’re going to keep track of the variety of rooms.  Keep your hand up as long as we have not specifically named every kind of room in your house. 

  1. Living room
  2. Dining room
  3. Kitchen
  4. Bedroom
  5. Bathroom
  6. Family room
  7. Study/library/den
  8. Garage
  9. Storage room

10.  Laundry room

11.  Furnace room

12.  Guest room

13.  Exercise room

14.  Entertainment room

15.  Rec-room

16.  “Mud” room

17.  Craft/sowing room

18.  Workshop

19.  Sauna room

20.  Game room

21.  Music room

22.  Ball room

23.  Dish room

24.  Walk-in refrigerator room/root cellar

25.  Conservatory/hothouse/plant room

26.  Sun room

27.  Sitting room

28.   Pool room

29.  Drawing room

30.  Hobby room


WHY have so many different types of rooms? 

[Different rooms have different functions that each make different activities possible or help deepen and develop relationships in a home with various people in a variety of ways.]


Q:  So, what are your 3 favorite rooms in the house and why?


If developing and growing relationships with family and friends call for different kinds of rooms in which we can relate around different activities, it is not surprising that as God begins to develop a deeper, more meaningful relationship with His people, he calls upon them to “build” a place where He can relate to them in varied and deeper ways.  That’s precisely what we’re going to see today in our ongoing study in Exodus. 


REVIEW:  Exodus is a book about God bringing out his people from slavery in Egypt and God bringing his people into right relationship with Him and with each other.  Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen how God was giving His chosen people more and more experiences with Him so that they could develop a deeper and deeper relationship with Him. 

  • What did God show them about himself with the plagues he visited upon Egypt?
  • What did God show them about himself in the crossing of the Red Sea and deliverance from Pharaoh’s army?
  • What did God show them about himself with their hunger and thirst?
  • What did he show them about himself at Mt. Sinai when he met with Moses and gave him the Law?


In the text we’re looking at today, God is basically giving Moses and the people of God the blueprints for a particular structure he wanted them to construct that would enable people to connect with God on a daily basis, right in the middle of their community, every day of the week. 


All of this instruction assumes that God’s people want to experience life with God on an ever-growing, ever-deepening level.  It’s clear from this book that not everyone had the same kind of relationship with God as their neighbor did.  It was always with the same God—Jehovah/Yahweh/Adoni.  But the level of relationship varied dramatically from person to person.  Just look at a passage from Exodus 24.

9 Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, [b] clear as the sky itself. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.

 12 The LORD said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction."

 13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, "Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them."

 15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.


  • Who had the most intimate/deepest relationship with God?  [Moses.]  What was unique about Moses’ relationship with God that others didn’t have? [Ch. 19—God spoke with Moses directly.]
  • Who had the next-closest relationship with God?  [Exodus 24:1-2, 13-14—70 elders of Israel; 33:7-11—the “tent of meeting” for Moses & Joshua.]
  • The next-closest?  [The people who waited at the base of the mountain.]


God wanted the most intimate relationship possible with every one of the Israelites…but he also knew the reality that not everyone was in the same place, able to embrace the same depth of relationship that he had with Moses. 


So God instructed Moses to have the people “make a sanctuary” for God in which he would “dwell among them” (25:8).  This “sanctuary” was known by the people of God as “The Tabernacle”.  [It actually had many different names (“the tent/tabernacle of testimony” (Nu. 1:50; 9:15), the “sanctuary of the Lord” (Nu. 19:20), the “house of God” (Jud. 18:31), and “the house of the Lord” (1 Sam. 1:7).]  It was placed at the very center of the people of God when they stopped and camped anywhere along the way to the Promised Land (Nu. 2:17). 


Now in Exodus 25-30, God gives very specific instruction about just what this “meeting place with God” is supposed to look like, what is to be used as construction material, what the different areas and implements of worship are  to be and how they are to be arranged.  In essence, this is what the place looked like.


While that might look like a reasonably nice “tent-job” for a bunch of people shuffling along in the desert somewhere, it’s not really all that impressive as a “dwelling place” of the God, is it?  After all, we’re talking about the God who makes stuff like human beings, planets, animals, stars and galaxies by the billions. 

So God is probably not trying to communicate about his grandeur or power or infinitude in this Tabernacle.  Unlike people who build a huge house or estate to impress other people and show off their wealth, that doesn’t seem to be a high priority to God.  So what is?  What do these various pieces of furniture and construction instructions aim to achieve? 


ILL:  I’ve had a similar experience in a number of different poorer nations of the world where I’ve been privileged to visit or live.  In each of them I’ve met people who live in what all of us would consider to be absolute poverty. 

      I remember my first real encounter with squatters in Manila, Philippines.  The street where this new, young church had bought a little piece of property in the business district of the city had a number of squatter’s homes on it too.  I became friends with one family who lived down the street a block or two.  They lived in a little one-room hut about 4 feet off the ground.  There was a rickety wooden walkway suspended above the open sewer that flowed in front of their “home.”  Their entire “house” was smaller than my current 8 by 15-foot office at home right now.  There was one bed where they all slept at night and sat on to eat in the day.  The kitchen consisted of a place to store a few items of food—no running water, no electricity, no stove to cook on or sink to wash in. 

      But this was “home” to a family of four—mom, dad and a couple of little kids dressed in rags.  And every time I visited, they would have something for me to eat.  They would take time to serve tea and sit and talk.  That little hovel had more life and love and happiness in it than many an impressive mansion I’ve been in.  It was meant to facilitate as best they could the best relationship possible for a little family. 

So with God’s Tabernacle in the wilderness.  It wasn’t about show or impressiveness.  It was about symbolism and relationship.  It’s where God wanted to connect with his people.


So let’s take a brief look at what some of the elements of this Tabernacle reflect about God and the kind of relationship He desires with people.  Then we will look at how that relates to the growing relationship God desires with us today and the significance of that for those of us who are desiring to develop the deepest relationship possible with our God. 


Ex. 25:9—“Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.”

God begins his description with a very clear command to Moses:  “Do it just like I tell you, no adjustments, no design changes, just what I tell you and show you.”   Why do you suppose God said that?  Well, the book of Hebrews, written over one thousand years later, tells us why in Hebrews 8:5. 

“They [the priests] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain."”


ILL:  When I was a kid, my parents built a “playhouse” in our back yard.  It was about 4’-by-4’.  It had a pitched roof with real shingles on it, a couple of windows (with plastic over them in the winter and open in the summer), a “bed” about 4’ long.  It even had a “stove”—a drop-down piece of plywood painted white with 4 “burners” painted on the board.  And I think my mom even sowed curtains for it at one point. 

      My sisters loved “playing house” in it.  I loved turning it into a war bunker with neighborhood boys jumping in and out of the windows, shooting at each other around the corners and lobbing pinecone “grenades” in the door and through the open windows.

      Where did we get the idea of a “playhouse”???  From a “real” house, right?  Did it resemble our “real” house with its thousands of square feet of space, furnace, fully equipped kitchen, 5 bedrooms, etc.?  Sort of…in a “symbolic” sort of way. 


So it was with the “Tabernacle.”  The various elements of it were a sort of child’s copy or “shadow” of the real thing in heaven, the real, unfiltered presence of God.  And just as every room of a house has a slightly different purpose and facilitates a slightly different kind or level of relationship, so with God’s Tabernacle. 


So let’s take a look at one of the items of this Tabernacle and then see what God might be saying to us through that today.


  1.  The Ark:  Exodus 25:10-22

The Ark is the first item mentioned and it is the central symbol of the presence of God.  That’s important.  God himself is to always hold the first and most important place in any relationship-building between God and people.  His presence is what it is all about, not the buildings or the traditions.  Without His presence, everything else is empty and meaningless, just ritual.   

      The Ark of the Covenant was essentially a 2’ by 4’ box of acacia wood overlaid with pure gold inside and out. Inside the box were the Tablets of the Law, a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded.  On top of the box was what is called the “mercy seat”.  It wasn’t a “seat” at all but rather an “atonement covering”—a solid slab of gold over which two angelic representations with wings hovered. 

      God said that he would meet with Moses as the nation’s representative there before this Ark.  In years to come, he would meet with only the High Priest and that just once a year at this Ark.   The Ark was to be situated inside the Holy Place in a section called “the Holy of Holies.”    

      All of this symbolized both the problems with and the provision for relationship with a holy God by sinful people, both then and now.  Here’s how.

  • God had given to His people everything they would need for success and relationship with him.  The Law of God reflected the nature of God in the realms of both human-to-human relationships and God-to-human relationships.  The pot of manna represented God’s constant provision for human needs.  And the budding rod of Aaron represented the constant flow of new life God gives to this world and to those in relationship with him. 
  • The problem is that human sinfulness enters in at every level. 
    • We are all law-breakers, not law-keepers. 
    • We all use and abuse the abundant provision of God. 
    • We all are dead sticks of wood unless God pours his power and life into us. 
    • That’s why we need mercy.  God--perfect in justice, righteousness, holiness and moral purity—is compelled to judge rebellious sin in his universe.  His holiness demands eternal justice…yet his love calls forth eternal mercy and grace.  So once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest was permitted to enter the holy of holies, where he sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice from that day on the mercy seat (Lev. 16).  That made atonement, by faith in the substitute sacrifice of the animal, for the sins of the nation.  Where God’s penetrating, holy and justice gaze would have seen his people’s sinful failure, it now saw the faith of God’s people in the life-taking sacrifice of an animal, and God’s postponed judgment. 


I say “postponed” because that practice had to be observed year after year after year…for hundreds of years…until the Lamb of God who “takes away the sin of the world” gave his guiltless life for us, guilty sinners. This practice in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple in Jerusalem, was just a “playhouse” copy of the reality unfolding continually in the presence of God.   


Hebrews 10:19-22 tells us that Jesus accomplished in heaven far more than the holy of holies accomplished on earth.  He opened wide God’s presence for all of us who put our faith in His sacrifice on the cross for sinners. The result is something every Israelite would have been utterly amazed at.   

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


Only 1 person every year—the High Priest—got that privilege of getting near to the presence of God in that special place called the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.  Yet now, every one of us who trusts Christ personally and seeks to get near to the Father’s holy presence through Jesus, is able to move into God’s awesome presence any day, any night, any year, any time. 


All of this was, unbeknownst to the Israelites, pointing them to the coming Messiah.  From the vantage point of the church, Jesus is in all of this. 

  • His blood is what has canceled God’s rightful judgment against us. 
  • He is that “mercy seat” (“propitiation”, Rm. 3:25; I Jn. 2:2) that delivers us from judgment. 
  • He is that “manna” from God, the “bread of life” (Jn. 6:32), that gives eternal life to anyone who receives Him. 
  • He is that ever-budding source of new life that makes all who abide in him fruitful for God (Heb. 7:16; Jn. 15:5). 


Is it any wonder the writer of Hebrews pleads with God’s people today to “draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith….”?  God has always wanted people to come close to him.  But without dealing with our sins and weaknesses, coming close to God would only have meant our certain destruction.  In Jesus Christ, however, it means our certain forgiveness, our certain connection with God our Father, and our certain fruitfulness as His children.  



  • For what do you need forgiveness today, that “mercy seat” of Christ that deals with your failures and sin?
  • What daily bread of life do you need from God to keep going, keep having energy and strength, spiritual health to press on and persevere?
  • Where are you longing for fruitfulness, fresh growth and fresh life from God in your life that would otherwise be a dry, lifeless stick? 

God’s invitation is this:  “Draw near to Me with a sincere heart full of faith that Jesus is and has all you need…and I will draw near to you” (James 4:8). 


HOW can we “draw near” to God?  I think God has given us a number of means for getting close to Him.  Let me leave you with 3 very briefly.

1.)     Personal communication from your heart to His through the experience of prayer.  The Tabernacle actually had a special altar of incense dedicated to burning fragrant incense the filled the entire tent and surrounding area with this unique smell. It was the closest thing used on a daily basis to the manifest presence of God in the Holy of Holies.   

      [Talk about Christmas Eve service at St. John’s Cathedral last December and the swinging of the incense censer.] 

      Revelation 5:8 gives us a vision of the hosts of heaven worshiping before God with “golden bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”   God delights in experiencing the prayers of his children. 

      Why is it that the church today does so little praying?  Why do we feel so awkward about praying out loud?  Why do we hesitate to pray together like children around a table, talking with God?  Is it not a tactic of the Evil One to keep us from drawing near to God’s heart when he has removed all the barriers that used to stand in our way before Christ’s death on the cross?  

      How about we learn to pray like never before?  How about we do it NOW, not a month or year or decade from now?  God pleads with us:  Draw near with a sincere heart!

  1. Let’s learn to pray alone in our homes (like Daniel, 3 times/day).  John Wesley was a very busy pastor in his day.  He traveled over 200,000 miles on horseback in England, Scotland, and Ireland in order to preach about 42,000 sermons.  He wrote about 200 books and organized his followers into a Methodist society… which later became the Methodist denomination.  A few years ago, a fellow pastor and friend of mine, Alec Rowlands, visited England and made a special point to go to Wesley’s home.  There he found the small room Wesley would daily go to for prayer.  Still there is the chair he would kneel before…with 2 slight indentations in the wooden floor where his knees had worn down the planks.  It has been said that "when John Wesley was carried to his grave, he left behind him a good library of books, a well-worn clergyman's gown," and the Methodist Church—a church of 135,000 new members and 541 itinerant preachers.
  2. Let’s learn to pray when we come together with God’s people in small and large groups.  If Jesus said, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations” (Mk. 11:17) AND if WE gathered together are God’s “house”, God’s “tabernacle”, God’s temple (I Cor. 3:16,17) then drawing near to God in prayer ought to be a well-known and wonderfully familiar practice among us.  THE most powerful encounters I’ve ever had with the presence of God have come in extended prayer retreats with other pastors.  If we’ll set the table, God will come! 

      When do you pray with others in the church?  We try and provide opportunities every week.  But don’t let our planning limit your praying. J  (Prayer Team here on Sundays; Fill/Mix/Pour Life Community groups; Prayer groups that meet weekly just to pray; Worship Services where we take time to pray together.)


2.)    We must learn to draw near to God through that which He has said invites his blessing on our lives—serving those in need.  Listen to what God said to his people hundreds of years later when they had gotten the religious rituals of fasting and giving alms down…and were doing it regularly…but their hearts had drifted from God.  Isaiah 58 speaks to what draws God near to us:

6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
       to loose the chains of injustice
       and untie the cords of the yoke,
       to set the oppressed free
       and break every yoke?

 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
       and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
       when you see the naked, to clothe him,
       and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
       and your healing will quickly appear;
       then your righteousness [a] will go before you,
       and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

 9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
       you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
       "If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
       with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
       and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
       then your light will rise in the darkness,
       and your night will become like the noonday.

 11 The LORD will guide you always;
       he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
       and will strengthen your frame.
       You will be like a well-watered garden,
       like a spring whose waters never fail.


This is why we do church downtown—we want to be doing for people in need what God says will enable God to be working in us in profound ways.  [Different service opportunities to feed, cloth and bless the needy in Spokane—Cup, City Gate, Sunday I-90.]


3.)    Every week we celebrate Communion as a way of personally “drawing near to God.”  It is the N.T. equivalent  to the sprinkling of blood of the tabernacle sacrifices over the people.   We are accepting the sprinkled blood of Christ over our lives, the Lamb of God sacrificed just so that we can draw near to God without fear, without guilt, without danger, without judgment. 


Invitation to trust in Christ alone.


Invitation to “draw near to God” this morning…in prayer, in communion and in service.