The tabernacle is interesting. I read that no less than 50 chapters of the Bible are devoted to the Tabernacle. Most of the chapters are detailed and have been known to put more than one person asleep. The construction, ceremonies, how to pack up and move…
Some people get quite excited about the details because they see in every nuance of the construction of the tabernacle a perfect representation of Christ and the Church. For example, there is only one gate, and they see that as representing only one way to salvation. The gate is wide, signifying that many may enter. And it goes on literally with 100’s of one to one details. There may be some truth, but for me it is a bit too allegorical and I am not at all sure God had all that in mind. I see the significance in broader terms: God’s purposes never change. The reason God established the tabernacle is the same reason we have the church. His character is the same.
How is the Church like the Tent?
God creates order in the middle of chaos. The Tabernacle created order. The positioning of the camp is important: the very center…when the camp moved, instructions are given for setting up the tabernacle and then each of the twelve tribes set up camp in a specified location surrounding the tabernacle on each side… This Christmas, when you get Christmas cards, notice the cards with the church set right in the middle of the village, the tallest building is the church. The church is geographically in the center, indicating the center of people’s lives. This coming week, as you go to and fro your business in and around Sumas, I want you to take a look at our church building, many of you have looked at our building 100’s of thousands of times. Take a look at the steeple as if you’ve never seen it before. The roof the steeple is a three dimensional arrow pointing up, and top of that is the spire, pointing towards God. That’s the traditional meaning of the steeple, meant to be the tallest building around pointing up so that when you see the building you think of God. People driving by, if they think about it at all, know this is a place where people gather together… a visual reminder of God among the people. but you’ve seen it tens of thousands of times. The people only knew chaos, confusion, they only knew slavery. The Tabernacle brought order and peace.
Creation was about bringing order out of chaos. God created in rhythm, bringing order. The tabernacle was to be set up in a certain order. The details are not so important to us because we no longer worship in the Tabernacle, our form is different, but bringing peace and structure out of chaos is the same. (READ 40:9 as an example). On the first day of the month we have potluck dinner. That’s order. On the first day of the month we have communion. That’s order. Dependability. As humans we need patterns, we really do. A Christmas Eve service, an Easter Sunrise service… We don’t do very well as humans with instability, with randomness, with uncertainty… When people are without jobs it is not always the income alone that is unsettling, it is also not knowing what to do with yourself. The tabernacle was very orderly, God took all the guesswork out of it. That meant stability and peace. The church at its best does the very same thing – order and stability. How many times do people from the community seek the church when disorder hits their lives? It happens all the time. People come to you because you are a Christian, because they crave peace, a word of kindness. As the pastor, one of the humbling commissioning you have given me is to be available to people. The midnight call this week… The incentive many people have to be here on a Sunday morning is to find a measure of peace… a time to stop and rest to pray to hear to be at peace. Order out of chaos: that’s the tabernacle, bringing order to people’s lives with God at the center, that’s the church at its best: bringing order to people’s lives with God at the center.
But here is the thing. It is not us bringing order to other people, so much as it is finding order for ourselves with the help of God and inviting others to find the same peace.
The details of the tabernacle takes up 50 chapters of the Bible, plus hundreds more references. I am not going to go over each chapter, just a summary... (I really do encourage you in a reading plan to read through these chapters in the course of a year or two or 3). I am going to use three words to describe the ministry of the tabernacle/church that I first read as the title of a book in the 80’s, the same words I thought were helpful as my personal contribution back in 2005 when we as a church evaluated our purpose. And now, since I am the person standing up here and yacking…I use the same three words because they seem to make so much sense: What is the purpose of the tabernacle/church: Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. The church transforms the chaos of people’s lives into order, and offers love, acceptance and forgiveness.
Love. The cloud descends into the Tabernacle, the glory of the Lord fills the Tabernacle. The story of the tabernacle is interesting in that the bulk of the words are instructions and not so much the emotions behind the instructions. … One of the main purposes of the Tabernacle is to have a place to meet God. The people know God is everywhere, but to have a place helps us to focus… The Tabernacle is called the Tent of Meeting. The place for the people to meet God. Once in a while the text of scripture tells us about God’s character, the God whom the people meet: Exodus 34:35 stands out like a gem amongst rubble: (read). The God of Israel is a God of love, an unheard of characteristic of the pantheon of Gods worshipped in those days. Love is an amazing attritubute, an incredible need. Tell me a greater need any of us have than to be loved.
Acceptance. The rituals of the Tabernacle involve a lot of water: READ 40:30-32. A single word: renewal. The purpose of the Tabernacle is to be cleansed, renewed, to be acceptable to the Lord by the renewing of the Holy Spirit. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has gone the new has come.” Accepted by God. Just as we crave to be accepted by our peers, how much more profound to be accepted by God. Baptism by water is a different form from the rituals of the Tabernacle, yet the purpose of being cleansed, the symbolism of the reality of being accepted by God is very similar.
Forgiveness. The topic of sacrifices is lengthy in the old testament. Sacrifices are a substitute to pay the price for sin. We are told in the new testament that Jesus Christ payed the penalty of sin once for all time for all people so that all are acceptable to the Lord. The Lord will forgive the sins of all who ask, who want to receive the grace of forgivness. The sacrifices, we are told in Hebrews, were necessary over and over and over again, but with the Advent of Christ, the coming of Jesus Christ, he took the sins of the world upon himself, Jesus, a perfect man, God himself, died in our place, making the sacrificial system obsolete. Yet the purpose and the reality of forgiveness is the same.
Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. The Church is the gathering of God’s people where we exchange the chaos of our lives for peace through love, acceptance and forgiveness. May God be the center of our lives.