The Presence of God.
Exodus 25-26, Mark 10
And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. – Exodus 25:21-22 ESV
In chapters 25-26, we have God’s incredibly detailed instructions to Moses for the construction of the Tabernacle and all the elements that were to be contained within it. God left nothing up to speculation. It was all to be done according to His design, and there was a very clear plan involved. The specificity in these two chapters is amazing, if not somewhat boring. God gives exact measurements and specific details regarding the construction methodologies and the materials to be used. And He funds it all through the free-will gifts of His people. He tells Moses to take up an offering, but only “from every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me” (Exodus 25:2 ESV). This was not going to be a coerced contribution, done halfheartedly and unwillingly. It probably didn’t hurt that the last vision the people had had of God was “like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain” (Exodus 24:17 ESV). They had just been witness to the power and presence of God, so when Moses asked them to contribute to the construction of a “tent” in which God might dwell, they were more than motivated to give. The very name, “tabernacle” means “dwelling place.” This was to be where God would meet with them. It would be a constant reminder of God’s abiding presence. And the place where God’s presence would rest would be above the mercy seat, within the Holy of Holies. The writer of Hebrews provides us with a summary description of the Tabernacle: “Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tentwas prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second sectioncalled the Most Holy Place,having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail” (Hebrew 9:1-5 ESV). The central feature of the entire Tabernacle was the mercy seat, which sat atop the Ark of the Covenant. It was into the Most Holy Place that the High Priest would enter one time per year “and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people” (Hebrews 9:7 ESV). It was there that the high priest offered sacrificial blood once a year to atone for (cover) the sins of the Israelites as a nation. This offering made propitiation (satisfaction) for their sins for one year. But each year, this same process had to be repeated. It was a sacrifice that had limitations and could never completely satisfy the just demands of a holy God.
What does this passage reveal about God?
This structure was to be the dwelling place of God. It was designed to house His presence and was to be a central focus of the Israelite community all through their years of wandering through the wilderness. It was to this place that they would come to regularly offer sacrifices to God. Within the Holy of Holies and inside the Ark of the Covenant were contained the copy of the Ten Commandments, given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. The tablets of stone contained God’s holy, righteous and unwavering expectations of man. But on top of that same Ark was the Mercy Seat, aptly named, because it was there that God meted out His undeserved grace and mercy each year, forgiving the people for all the ways in which they had violated His commands throughout the year. It is a picture of God’s law and love, His righteousness and mercy, His justice and patience. The very fact that God would dwell among men who regularly and willingly disobeyed Him is remarkable. The idea that God would offer a way in which men could enjoy mercy when what they really deserved was His wrath should not escape us. It is all a picture of the mercy made available to mankind through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Again, the writer of Hebrews makes the connection for us: “ But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12 ESV). Christ not only performed the role of the High Priest, entering into the Holy of Holies to offer a sacrifice on behalf of the people, He came presenting His own blood as the payment that would satisfy the just demands of a righteous, holy God. And unlike the yearly sacrifice offered by the human high priest, Christ’s sacrifice of His own life was a one-time event, fully covering the sins of mankind for all time. “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12 ESV). He did what He came to do and when He was done, He returned to His Father’s side. The Tabernacle was a foreshadowing of what was to come. It was a glimpse into a greater sacrifice yet to be given. It offered a temporary reprieve from God’s justice. But it would not be until Jesus Christ came in human flesh and died a sinner’s death on the cross, that God’s demands for justice against the sins of mankind would be completely satisfied.
What does this passage reveal about man?
Man cannot satisfy God on his own. Our very sin nature makes us an unacceptable payment for our own sins. We can’t pay back God for all the sins we have committed against Him. From the earliest days of the people of God, a substitute sacrifice was necessary and the shedding of blood was required. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). Over the centuries, tens of thousands of innocent lambs, goats, and bulls were slain in order to pay for the sins of mankind. And while the sacrifice of these animals was ordained by God, it was never intended to be a permanent solution to man’s problem. Speaking to His Father, Jesus said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book’” (Hebrews 9:5-7 ESV). Ultimately, it was going to require the death of Jesus on the cross to fully satisfy the just demands of God. His innocent life and substitutionary death was the only way the sins of mankind could be paid for once and for all. And just as in the days of Moses, men still need a stand in, a substitute to pay for their sins. Our sins make us unworthy to come into God’s presence. The commands of God condemn us as law breakers and deserving of death. But God extends mercy. He offers a way in which we can enter into His presence, free from guilt, uncondemned by the law and free from the penalty of death. All because He provided His own Son as a sacrifice for our sins.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
The reading of the details of the Tabernacle and all its elements can be somewhat boring and uninspiring, until I remember that it is a picture of what God has done for me. It is a reminder of God’s intricate, detailed, marvelous plan to provide me with a means by which I can stand in His presence, forgiven and sin-free. The Tabernacle was costly. It contained materials of great value. It was the most priceless place in the entire camp of Israel. It was the central focus of their community and the pride of the nation. I should hold the death of Jesus Christ on my behalf with the same value. I should not take for granted the priceless gift I have been given by God in the form of His Son. Peter reminds us to conduct ourselves with fear, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19 ESV). My access to God’s presence came with a price. A great price. It cost God His Son, and Jesus His own life. In the book of Mark we read the story of Jesus and His encounter with Bartimaeus, the blind beggar. When this man heard that Jesus was near, he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47 ESV). Even when those around him tried to shut him up, he only cried out louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:48 ESV). And Jesus stopped, turned to him and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51 ESV). And suddenly, Bartimaeus, an undeserving sinner, found himself standing in the presence of God Himself, being offered an opportunity to receive something he didn’t deserve: healing. His sight was restored. His faith in Jesus’ ability to provide healing and wholeness resulted in something he could have never provided for himself. And that has been my experience with Jesus. He has healed and freed me from the blindness of sin and the darkness of a life lived outside of His divine presence. I have been shown mercy by the God of the universe. What an incredible reality.
Father, I can’t thank You enough for providing the means by which I could be made right with You. Without Your Son’s death, I would have no life. Without His sacrifice, I would still be blinded by sin, living in darkness and completely unable to change my circumstances. Thank You for providing Your Son as my substitute and satisfying Your just demands for my sins. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men