The Sacred Sanctuary


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19 Nov 2023

The Sacred Sanctuary

Passage Exodus 25

Speaker Chris Haley

Meeting Morning

Series Exodus: The Redeemer




Ikea – Four letters that bring joy to the hearts of some, but dread to the hearts of others. Some would happily spend hours walking the aisles, browsing the catalogues, eating the meatballs. Others would rather be thrown in a minotaur’s labyrinth than try and navigate the windowless maze that is the Ikea warehouse!

And the passages before us this week and next, which speak of tables, chests, curtains, and lampstands, run the risk of being as dry as the description and assembly instructions on a piece of Ikea flat pack furniture. Thankfully! And believe me, I’m as thankful as you are! There is a lot more going on than just furniture!

What we have before us is what one commentator calls ‘a parable, a prophesy in material, gold, and silver. This is there to tell us something about ourselves, and about our God, and especially about Christ. So it should be anything but dry. It should be dripping with Christ and the Gospel with more drips than a leaky Ikea mug!

There is a lot of detail in these passages, but before we lose the woods for the trees, let’s look at…

The Big Picture v8-9

The Israelites are in the wilderness. They escaped from Egypt, and now Moses has gone up with seventy elders who have somehow met with God in some way in the last passage. Now Moses alone (with Joshua) goes up to meet with God more fully and hear him speak at the summit of Mount Sinai.

God instructs them to make a sanctuary, a word that will be later used of the temple. They are going to make God a tent, a tabernacle. This is roughly what it looked like, and they were to build it according to his instructions. This was roughly the plan.

Why were they to build it? v8 that God might dwell in their midst. The experience they’re having at the foot of the mountain. The experience they’ve just had on the mountain with the seventy elders somehow surviving God’s presence. The experience Moses is having approaching God at the top of the mountain.

They are to make something that can somehow repeat that. So that God may go with them in their wanderings in the wilderness, walk with them, so to speak, as they journey to the promised land. We’ve said all the way through this that God was not just bringing them to Canaan, but to Himself. God is providing them a blueprint of how He can dwell amongst them. And an awful lot of the rest of the first five books deal with how that can be possible, especially given that God is Holy, and people are sinful. Normally that equals death for the human beings involved. God is so pure and holy that sinful things are pictured as almost burning up in front of Him. God is a consuming fire, says the Apostle John.

It was okay in Eden, the last time this really happened when God dwelt with his people. There was no sin in the garden of Eden when God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. But their sin ultimately led to their death. So how can God dwell with his people without consuming them? The answer, says God, in the first place, is the tabernacle. This holy tent they will build. It’s not just any tent. They can’t just nip down to Millets and buy one on special offer! God will show them exactly what they are to build according to the pattern he shows Moses on the mountain. It will be a sort of heaven on earth. A representation of heavenly realities.

In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews tells us as much. Hebrews 9:23-24 ESV: "Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf."

How is the tabernacle a copy of the heavenly realities? It features representations of where God dwells and pictures how God can dwell with his people. There will be Eden imagery where God walked with his people. A special tree, animals, angels, gold as is mentioned in Genesis. There is similarity between the tabernacle and Mount Sinai, where God came down to dwell in the cloud at the top. There is similarity to what we see in Revelation as the veil is drawn back and we are allowed to see the heavenly realities as the apostle John saw them. It’s like a cross-section of the heavenly realities we see there.

In Revelation 4, God is pictured at the centre of reality with everything and everyone in a sort of orbit around His throne. Later on in Revelation, we discover that at the centre of the throne is a lamb looking as though it was slain, the Lord Jesus. But if we take a cross-section of that, this is what we get. A throne, a lamp (sevenfold lamp), a sea, and then ministers serving around the throne, wearing crowns. Interestingly, we’ll see in a few weeks time, the high priest wore a crown of gold and wore white linen like these guys! God is still at the centre; it’s just displayed differently. That’s in part because the picture is supposed to be ascent, of going up. Like going up into the highest heavens where God is said to dwell. Or going up Mount Sinai, as God had come down at the top. And as with the mountain, access is more limited the higher you go. Regular folk weren’t allowed near the mountain at all. The elders were allowed some of the way up. But only Moses (with Joshua) was allowed to the summit. And only the high priest was allowed in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle, as we’ll see.

Really what the tabernacle is to be is to be a moveable mountain, a portable paradise. Eden, if you read Genesis carefully, is on top of the mountain or large hill. Four rivers flow from it. In Ezekiel 28:14, Eden is even called ‘the mountain of God’. Humankind’s already tried to bring back Eden at this point without God. The tower of Babel, a man-made mountain to reach to God! Not for God’s glory, but for man’s glory. Not so with this, though. This is God stepping in and providing a portable paradise, a means to dwell with his people as they wander through the wilderness. A moveable mountain for God to dwell with his people. And as we think about God dwelling with his people, we cannot help but think of the Lord Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, who tabernacled amongst us.

This whole thing is there to point us to Christ. We’ll see Him in some of the detail of what’s described, but we mustn’t miss that he’s there in the big picture. Jesus is the fulfilment of what we see here, God dwelling with his people. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We remember it at Christmas time! He continues to dwell with us by His Holy Spirit living inside believers. And we will dwell with Him forever in the new creation. That is where this thread of Scripture is ultimately going: Christ! It’s there to show us Christ in the very fabric of what is made, and the passage literally begins with the fabric and materials that will be used.

A Big Ask v1-7

God could have made the tabernacle fall out of the sky as he did with the manna, but he doesn’t. He asks the people to give of their own possessions and belongings to build the tabernacle. And He is quite prescriptive in what he asks for. Verses 3 to 7 take you through the offerings he would accept. I’m not going to comment on all of them, but they are generally high-end materials: gold, silver, precious fabrics, spices, gemstones. Acacia wood was a bit more common, from a variety of trees that grow in the Middle East. But bear in mind they’re in a desert - wood was not the easiest thing to come by.

They would have these things partly because they had plundered the Egyptians before they left Egypt. God had given the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians so they would hand over their jewellry and precious fabrics as they left. God had essentially gifted this to the people via the Egyptians. And God now asks the people to use the gifts he had given them to honour Him. He never intended that it would be used to feather their own nests but to glorify the giver of those gifts. There is a principle there, isn’t there? All that we have is a gift from God, and all of it is there not to feather our own nests but for his service. Our homes, our time, our finances - they are gifted to us by God to use in line with his purposes, and we honour God as the giver when we do that.

How much of your time is God worthy of? How much of your income is God worthy of? How much of your life is God worthy of? This isn’t a plea for cash! It’s not that we’re short; I know we have many generous givers in church. I don’t know who they are because I don’t want to look at people that way. But this is the principle we have here as we work through the book. Everything we have is God’s, and Biblically we give him the best of those things, not the dregs.

Could you imagine: God asks for gold, and someone comes up and says, I’m keeping my gold for myself, he can have some straw! I’m keeping my gemstones, he can have some pebbles I found on the floor on the way here. God directs here what the people can and cannot give. He wants the best - a big ask. But it’s not by compulsion. Giving should never be by compulsion. The Lord loves a cheerful giver, not a browbeaten, reluctant giver. They are to take contributions v2 “From every man whose heart moves him…”

Now you might think, that’s a terrible system! Why doesn’t he make Moses insist people? But the Lord is at work in the heart of his people, and in chapter 35, they give, and they give in abundance. God can move hearts to give to fulfil his purposes. He will cause his people to build a tabernacle that he might dwell among them. And just as God has been directive in what they must give, he’s also directive in what they must build. This isn’t a worship as you feel. God is to be worshiped in the way that he directs, even in the small details.

Small Details, Big Meaning v10-40

I’ve put graphics together, partly to help you, but also to get my own head around what’s being described. The text is definitely right. The pictures may not be what they actually looked like; we can’t exactly know. With that caveat, let’s look at firstly…

The Ark (v10-22)

The ark was the centre of the centre. It’s called an ark in English, but the Hebrew word means something more like a chest. It’s not the same word as Noah’s ark or the ark Moses was put in earlier in Exodus. We’ll call it the ark though just for simplicity.

It comprised several parts. The ark itself was a wooden box, not much bigger than some of our tables (a cubit is about 18 inches, the length from your elbow to your fingers). It was to be covered with gold—the closer to the centre, the more precious the metal.

In the box would go the ten commandments, a jar of manna, and Aaron's staff. But we’re not there yet! That does explain why it’s called the ark of testimony here. It stands as a witness to God’s kindness to his people in their wilderness wanderings and would contain the ‘terms and conditions’ of their covenant, so to speak.

No one could touch the ark once it was consecrated, so feet were put on it with rings for poles to carry it—even the poles are to be covered with gold!

On top of the box, there was to be a lid. But it was more than a lid; it was the mercy seat. This was the most precious part of the most precious item, made of pure gold and guarded by cherubim, as was Eden after the fall. God would speak from there to Moses in Numbers 7, and it is spoken of as God’s throne in 1 Samuel.

But most importantly, it is where the blood of sacrifices was applied, once a year on the Day of Atonement, by the high priest, who alone could enter this part of the tabernacle. It was the place of atonement, where the sacrifice was accepted by God.

New Testament-wise, this is picked up and applied in 2 places. Firstly, the cross itself—when Jesus died on the cross, it is spoken of in Romans and 1 John as a propitiation. A propitiation is a sacrifice that satisfies and turns away wrath. Jesus took God’s anger at sin on Himself on the cross; He doesn’t just wipe away sin, He takes away God’s anger at that sin. That’s propitiation. The word in Greek for what happens on the cross is the same word as for mercy seat. The mercy seat points forward to Christ’s propitiation, and so the cross becomes the place of atonement. There’s a sense in which Christ is enthroned on the cross—the cross is where the mercy seat’s purpose truly happens. Therefore, the cross truly is at the centre of all things. That’s why at the centre of the throne is the Lamb—who was slain. The cross is at the centre of all things.

Secondly, Hebrews takes this further, showing us how Christ applies his own work at the cross. It talks of Christ entering the true Holy of Holies of the true tent, by means of his own blood. He now is seated—where? At the right hand of the throne on high—makes sense! Or using slightly different imagery to make the same point: Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV, "Since then 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 is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Christ has passed through the heavens—he’s gone through the cloud—that’s why it’s made such a big deal of in Acts! Now we may approach the throne and find mercy at the mercy seat. How? Because Christ has applied his own blood to the mercy seat.

Do you remember what we read in Hebrews 9? "For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf." Christ stands in the Holy of Holies as our great high priest. He’s pictured as seated because his one-time-for-all-time work of the cross is done! But he’s also pictured as standing because as our great high priest, he ever lives and ever pleads his own blood before the Father. God cannot be angry at yours or my sin because he ever has the evidence before Him that the price has been paid. The great redeeming work is done! Christ has made propitiation so that we can approach God, not for wrath and anger, but for mercy and grace! That is what the mercy seat is pointing to—the mercy shown to us because of Christ’s sacrifice.

But the ark isn’t the only piece of furniture in the temple. Outside the Holy of Holies, there was the Holy Place. Slightly less holy than the Holy of Holies, and our other two pieces of prophetic furniture were found there.

The Table (v23-29)

The table wasn’t huge, about the size of two Ikea tables next to each other. It was overlaid with gold, had rings and poles to carry it, a rim around it, and was a place to put items needed in the tabernacle like cups and tongs. It was close to the centre, hence the gold, though not behind the curtain in the most holy place. Part of the reason is that the table was for the showbread—twelve loaves of bread that were replenished every seven days by the high priest. If it were in the Holy of Holies, it could only be replaced once a year when the high priest was allowed in. The table was really about the twelve loaves of bread on it; that’s why it’s there. It’s tempting to make this all about Jesus, with Him being the bread of life and all, but really this seems to be more about God’s people being in God’s presence. Hence the twelve loaves like the twelve tribes. It’s linked in the rest of the law with the lampstand that stood opposite it.

The Lampstand (v30-40)

The lampstand was made of pure gold and was situated along with the table in the Holy Place, but not the Holy of Holies. It was stylized like an almond tree with branches, flowers, and calyxes. The lampstand brought light to this section of the tent, specifically in v37, the area in front of it. What was in front of it was the table with bread. The tree imagery of the lamp obviously brings to mind Eden, with the tree of life, but there’s also the imagery of light which seems more significant. Again it’s tempting to take this straight to Jesus, Him being the light of the world and all, but the way it’s picked up elsewhere in Scripture makes it clear it is the Holy Spirit that is in mind here. So in Revelation 4:5, "From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God." It’s more picturing God shining His spiritual light on His people, represented on the table which was directly opposite the lamp. In the Old Testament, it’s verbalized in the blessing that the priests were to make over the people—Numbers 6:23-26 ESV, "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace." God shining upon his people was a sign of his blessing. In the temple, that happened permanently. In the New Testament, it’s picked up in 2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV, "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." God shines His spiritual light into our hearts to see the glory of God in Jesus. God’s blessing is experienced as the Holy Spirit enables us to recognize God’s glory in Jesus Christ. God is shining the light of His Spirit on believers—it is a sign of His blessing.

This arrangement portrayed visually God’s intention that his people should live continually in his presence and enjoy the blessing mediated by his priests. Christ has come so the picture can be retired, and one day we will experience this more fully—Revelation 21:21-23 ESV, "And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb." One day we will perpetually dwell in the light of his presence, with his face smiling upon us. His face smiles upon us now because of the work of Christ, because Christ ever stands before pleading his own blood. But in those days his people will—Revelation 22:4-5 ESV, "They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever."

What is pictured here is reality now through Christ by His Spirit, and one day it will be consummated as we enjoy eternity in His Presence. Do you know the reality of Christ in your life now? Can you see the glory of God in the face of Christ? Do you recognize he is no mere man, but God Himself? If you have come to know Christ, do you know that because of Christ, God’s face shines upon you? That because of his sacrifice, God no longer looks at you with an angry face but with a smiling face. In Christ, the wrath has gone—the sacrifice has been made, and Christ stands before the mercy seat on our behalf. There is, therefore, no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. The punishment has been dealt with, and if we know that, do we live that out? When the devil whispers in our ears and tempts us to doubt our forgiveness, do we look to Christ’s sacrifice or our own inadequacies? When we sin, do we try to punish ourselves, or do we approach the throne of grace in prayer to find mercy and help in our time of need?

This really matters in our day-to-day lives as believers, whether we’re at home, or at work, or at school, or even at Ikea! This is so much more than furniture; this sets the pattern for the greatest event in history! We’ll find out more about the tabernacle next week, but for now, let’s pray.

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