“A SANCTUARY IN THE DESERT”
You will find, in your worship folders, a couple of sheets of paper stapled together. I want you to pull those out because you’re going to need them. And, unlike what Doug said, you won’t sing while I’m preaching! I will pause and we’ll sing together. We’re going to be studying a passage of scripture in our Bibles that represents a very dusty portion. In fact, when you think of the tabernacle of the Old Testament, I’m sure such exciting images come to your mind that you wait breathlessly to discover what God has in this book of Exodus. And it’s been a real thrill for me and I, again, appreciate you giving me the opportunity to study during the week because this passage has opened up. And we do not have time to get into all of it. I’m sure we could preach a series of sermons on this. But all I’m going to try to do, this morning, is touch on each of the six, seven counting the lid or the mercy seat, of these articles in the tabernacle and make the application to the New Testament Christian. And then what we’re going to do is, apply to our hearts, by way of music. And that’s where the singing comes in.
Now take your Bibles, please, and turn to Exodus, chapter 35. There are notes, as well, that may help you follow along. The tabernacle was given by God for three specific reasons. First of all, it was built to provide Israel with a worship center. Up until this time, they did not have a coordinated worship center or place where they could go and, as it were, meet with God. And this was God’s design whereby they could come and worship Him in the desert. You must understand, this tabernacle has a desert for a floor. The priests would walk about their duties on the desert sand. This was 150 feet long, 76 wide. It was a rather large complex. And it was master-planned uniquely.
But let me give you a second reason why this was given by God. Not only to provide Israel a worship center but, to preview, this is important, the work of Jesus Christ. If we failed to see Jesus Christ in the tabernacle, we have failed to understand one entire book of the New Testament, the book of Hebrews. In fact, God felt that the tabernacle was so essential to us today, that He takes time out to give us an entire New Testament book to explain all that happened in the Old Testament tabernacle worship. And it will preview, in a beautiful way, the work of Jesus Christ, who was the ultimate, once for all sacrifice. In fact, John, chapter 1, verse 14, says that, “the Word” - Jesus Christ - “became flesh, and dwelt among us”. Perhaps you’ve heard that the word “dwelt,” could be translated “tabernacle,” and it can be. Jesus Christ came and He “tabernacled” in the New Testament era in the way that God “tabernacled” with men, the Israelites, in the Old Testament. So that begins to give us a clue that Jesus Christ is previewed in this tabernacle.
Thirdly, it is to picture God’s plan of salvation. We need to understand, during this time and day, you could not approach God in any way or fashion you so desired. An Israelite couldn’t decide, “Well, I’d rather worship God this way and I’ll do it this way.” They would be consumed. So it is, in the New Testament era, that we cannot worship God any way we please. We must come by God’s prescribed method. In the Old Testament, it was the tabernacle. And they would walk through that gate and they would see, first of all, this altar of brass upon which the sacrifices were given and beyond that the laver and into the holy place, where the priest would commune with God, and then, once a year, into the holy of holies, where they would meet with the glory and majesty and holiness of God. That was the way they were to worship. No other way. And, isn’t it interesting, that Jesus Christ would say, in John, chapter 14, “I am the way”. In the original, that’s a double positive. It could be translated, ‘I am the way,” - the only way, I am - “the truth,” - the only truth, and I am - “the life” - that is, the only life. And He ends that verse by saying, “no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” - I am the prescribed method, in this New Testament day. So it gave the Israelites a center of worship, it pictured the plan of salvation, and it previewed the work of Jesus Christ.
Now it was financed in an interesting way. Look at chapter 35, verse 21. I’ve given you two thoughts in your notes, we’ll touch on them briefly. First of all, they financed this tabernacle by resources willingly donated. Verse 21, “And everyone whose heart” - I love this - “stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him came and brought the Lord’s contribution for the work of the tent of meeting and for all its service and for the holy garments. Then all whose hearts moved them, both men and women, came and brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and bracelets, all articles of gold; so did every man who presented an offering of gold to the Lord.” Isn’t it fascinating that these people would have their center of worship by gifts willingly donated. In fact, the Old Testament tells us that Moses eventually had to say, “Stop, that’s all, that’s enough. You, in fact, have given too much.” But, not only did they donate their financial resources to build this tabernacle, it says that they also exercised their gifts. Look at verse 25, “And all the skilled women spun with their hands, and brought what they had spun, in blue and purple and scarlet material and in fine linen.” - note verse 26 - “And all the women whose heart stirred with a skill spun the goats’ hair.” Now some of you that have sat me down and have talked to me know I’m a dispensationalist. That is, I believe that God moved in different eras with men in different ways. But this passage starts to pull me over that line because it’s a beautiful picture of how a New Testament church should operate, how a New Testament church moves in this community. We not only contribute what we have but, we exercise the gift, the talent, the skills that God has given us to motivate and to energize this work for His kingdom and His cause. That’s how it was financed and that’s how it worked.
It was master-planned in three different sections. First of all, there was the outer court, and then holy place, and then the holy of holies, biblically it’s referred to as the most holy place. Now let’s take a closer look. Turn to chapter 27. When approaching that tabernacle and walking through the gate, the first thing that you come to and that you see, if you were an Israelite, is an altar of brass or the brazen altar. This brazen altar was a picture of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, because, just as the Israelites sacrificed their animals on that altar, so - “Jesus Christ” - Hebrews writes, was sacrificed - “once for all” - for the sins of the whole world or the sins of many. Now this altar is a little bit different than I originally pictured it in my mind. If you look at the cubit and you discover that that’s 18 inches and you start figuring all of this out, you’ll discover that this altar was seven and a half feet square. Which leads us to believe, and some expositors have illustrated, that this altar, being too high to get up over to sacrifice the animals, had ramps leading up the sides of it. And I would imagine then these priests, by the dozens, because they would stand in line and they would approach this altar in uniform fashion, as they’re approaching this altar with their sacrifices, they would turn and then they would walk up this ramp and then lay their sacrifice on the open grate there inside, situated nearly halfway down. It was interesting that the first sacrifice that the priests laid on that altar was consumed by fire sent from God. This is an interesting point. The Israelite priest could only lay the sacrifice on the altar. It was God, in Leviticus, chapter 9, that tells us when he did that, that God sent fire from heaven and consumed the offering. And then, at that point in time, began a perpetual flame that would continue burning the sacrifices, the animals that were laid on that open grate. And so is it that we, represented by the Roman unbelievers and the Jewish people that rejected Jesus Christ, they could only place Christ on that altar, being the cross of Calvary. But it was God’s judgment, it was God’s wrath that was evidenced against Jesus Christ. You must understand that, if you try to visualize what’s happening here, you have this open courtyard and this huge altar and priests carrying the animals up and around and laying them in, in perpetual motion. There was no chair mentioned in the outer court, by the way. Why was that? Because no priest ever sat down. Why was that? Because the work of the priest was never completed. And isn’t that beautiful when you consider Jesus Christ, the high priest, in Hebrews it tells us that, once - “He . . . offered one sacrifice” - Himself - “for sins” - He - “sat down at the right hand of God”. That is, THIS priest, sacrificing once for all, was able to sit down; these never did, they were constantly in motion, constantly moving.
It’s interesting, as well, that this altar began to become a picture of mercy, not only judgment but, mercy. On the corners of the altar were, what we refer to or read as, horns. I never understood that. These were cone shaped with a pointed top that were simply built into the corners on each corner of this altar. It was the place where the priest would tie the animal sometimes, during certain sacrifices, before splitting it’s throat. This would keep that animal at bay. But these horns began to be represented as the place of mercy. In fact, we read, in the Old Testament, that Adonijah was fearing that Solomon would take his life and so he rushed into the court and he grabbed hold of the horns of the pillar and he hung on, pleading for mercy. We also learn that Joab, when he turned coat on David, also ran into that court and he grabbed hold of the horns of the altar, pleading for mercy. What a beautiful picture. Jesus Christ, the sacrifice slain once for all, that cross, which is the emblem of God’s wrath and judgment against the sin of the world, is also the place of mercy. And you and I come and we cling to the cross, pleading mercy before God for the sin we have committed. How is it possible that Jesus Christ could be seated? How is it possible that He could perform, in one act, what none of the priests could perform over hundreds and hundreds of years? It is because Jesus Christ, Himself, is the worthy sacrifice. He is the worthy One.
Let’s sing “Worthy Is The Lamb That Was Slain.”
In Exodus, chapter 30, we read about the laver of brass. This was also part of that court. This brass laver was the picture of cleansing as the priests would work about this ministering in their sacrificing before God. They would have to be cleansed, their hands would become dirty, their feet with the sands of the desert, their hands with the blood of animals. And so God instituted a way whereby they could be cleansed. It was more ritual, or symbolic, than it was literal. And this laver was more than one basin, it was two. They had one basin on the top where the priests would cleanse their hands in the water and then there was a basin built around the bottom of that where they would place their feet. This represented that the priest, as he served before God, would be a cleansed individual. We find, in the New Testament, Peter writes, in chapter 2, verse 9, he says, “you are a chosen generation,” - you, the New Testament believer, are a holy what? - “priesthood”. And we serve before God, our hands representing our service, our feet representing our walk. And you know what happens to us, men and women, as we serve, as we live? We are dirtied. We pick up the stains of our culture, of our own flesh and we are in constant need of cleansing. What is it that cleanses in the New Testament era? What is it that speaks of cleansing? Well, I think we could refer to several. Obviously, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. And yet, this laver was not a once for all cleansing that we experience by coming to Christ, who forgave our sins, past, present, and future. This refers to daily cleansing. And so, my mind must go to the word of God. Jesus Christ once said that He will sanctify or cleanse the church by the washing of the water of the word. And so, the scriptures are that cleansing element in our lives. Just as the laver in the tabernacle represented the cleansing. The interesting thing, as I studied this laver, is that it was made specifically from one item, given by Israelite women. Their mirrors. Now mirrors, in this day, were not made of glass, they were made of highly polished brass. They could view their reflection in these. The Old Testament tells us that Moses specifically asked for the looking glasses, the mirrors, from the women. And now that expands even more the fact that this anti-type may be the word because James refers to the word as what? A mirror. And we behold in it our reflection and we dare not walk away from it changed. Picture in your mind that priest, walking up to the laver, putting his feet in the bottom and his hands in the top. And all the while he is cleansing, he sees his reflection. As we serve God, as we walk about, as we dirty ourselves by our flesh as we sin, we find cleansing through the word, washing by the water of the word. And we dare not leave it unchanged. We go to the word and we leave cleansed.
I think a hymn that speaks well of that are the first and the last stanzas of “Whiter Than Snow.” Let’s sing it.
Once you had completed that duty, if you were a priest, you would now enter the holy place. There was a veil separating the holy place from the outer court. And inside the holy place were three articles: the table of shewbread, the lampstand, and the altar of incense. First let’s note the table of shewbread. This was a table overlaid with gold. And on it was, primarily, bread, in two stacks, six loaves each, in each stack representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Now these loaves of bread would stack because they were fashioned like our modern day pancake. The interesting thing about this bread is, that the priests ate it as they worked in the holy place. It was the symbolic sustenance that they gained in serving before God now in this special enclosed place of communion. Only the priests were allowed in the holy place. Only the priests, obviously, were allowed to sacrifice. But even the people of Israel could not look through and see what happened on the inside. They only stood in mystery as the priests went about their service, trimming the lamps and eating the bread and offering the incense. It’s interesting that this bread would sustain the priests. You and I, as priests, serving before God then, find our sustenance from several things. Obviously, the word. But it’s interesting that Jesus Christ, Himself, would say, “I am the living bread . . . if any man eat of this bread,” - John, chapter 6, writes - “he shall live forever”. Obviously, this table of shewbread, with it’s golden plates and utensils and it’s two stacks of bread, twelve in all, representing that communion between the priest and God and also the sustenance a priest has as he serves his God. The interesting thing about this bread is, it was never stale. It was changed often, periodically, systematically. Isn’t it beautiful to think, in our lives, as we serve before God, that the bread, representing Himself, never grows stale. He is always fresh. He is always near. And, as we serve Him, as you serve Him, as a priest, as a holy priest, as one who represents God to people and one who goes to God in behalf of people, we are sustained by the bread of Christ.
There is a hymn, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” that I think would be appropriate as we feed on that sustaining power of Jesus Christ, Himself. Stand when you find that. Lift your voices and let’s sing.
Another article of furniture in the holy place was the lampstand. This was made from one solid piece of gold that weighed between 75 and 90 pounds. It was carved in a unique fashion with seven arms. And I, forever, thought that this was a candle holder and there were seven candles. But that is not the case. There were seven lamps. Each arm was made with a cup at the top and that cup held a lamp. And in the lamp was oil and a wick. And the priests went about, in their daily duties, trimming the wicks and adding the oil. This was a perpetual light. In fact, in this linen covered holy place, the only light that was there was the light of this lampstand. As these priests moved about in communion with God, and in service before God, the way was lit by a lampstand. Now you’re already thinking way ahead of me now because you know the pattern I’m developing. That lamp, obviously, could refer to Jesus Christ because He is, “the light of the world”. But stop. That light was not visible to the world. That light was for the priests only. And what light, ladies and gentlemen, has been given to you and to me that is for us only? What is the light that the natural man cannot receive because it is foolishness to him? The light is the word. It is scripture. This illumines our path. This sheds light on our communion with God. This sheds abroad light so that we can serve our God as high priests before Him. And so, obviously, the lampstand, I believe, was a beautiful picture, in this place of fellowship, of the word. In fact, David succinctly writes, what? “Thy word is a” - what? - “lamp unto my feet, and a” - what? - “light unto my path.” This lampstand, to the Israelite, was perhaps a picture of light given by God’s own glory or presence. It, today, represents the word that illumines our path. David refers to a shepherd, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet”. Back in those days, there was often an ankle lantern that was strapped to the ankle of a shepherd. And, on a dark night when the stars didn’t shine, he would strap those and light them and he had just enough light for the next step as he tended his sheep. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet”. Often this word doesn’t give me direction for next week. It seems, sometimes, and this is frustrating, is it not, that it seems to give me just enough of a light for the next step, and then the next step. But, just as the priest, in that day, had enough light to illumine that holy place for his service, we are confident that this book, this word, illumined by the power of the Holy Spirit, gives us enough light, enough direction, for the next step.
Pull out that song sheet again. We’re going to sing the chorus and then the verse. We want you to join us on the chorus. I called Doug a couple of weeks ago and asked him to find somebody to sing a duet with you. He called me back in a week and he said, “I found somebody.” You might say he owed me a couple! We’ll sing the chorus first, you’ll recognize it, and then the verse, and then you join us as we sing the chorus. (“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”)
And also in the holy place would be the altar of incense. This was fashioned one and a half feet square, three and a half feet tall. It was located just next to the veil that separated the holy place from the holy of holies. And this, even in this day, was a picture of intercession between the priest and God. Perhaps, a picture of Jesus Christ, who now intercedes in behalf of us forever. And yet, remember, this is the place of communion between the priest and God. And so this, I believe, represents the priests communion before God. And this perpetual offering, this sweet smelling incense, floated through that linen ceiling and up into the clouds. The Israelites could catch a smell of it here and then depending on which way the wind blew. And yet, this was a beautiful picture of constant, perpetual communion with God. Obviously, a picture for us, as New Testament priests, of prayer before God. In fact, Paul writes, in I Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 17, he says, “Pray without ceasing.” - pray perpetually. Does that mean that I pray and never stop to eat or go to work or go to sleep? The word, in the original, “without ceasing” or “unceasing,” was used by the Greek writers as a person who had an incessant cough, they were always coughing. It doesn’t mean that they had one long, drawn out cough or they would never be able to breathe. This was a cough that seemed to always be there. And so, Paul is telling us, as priests before God, to live in such a way that a prayer is always there, it’s never far away. It’s as close as this cough when you can’t get over the cold. And so, this is a picture of beautiful communion with God. And I can just visualize, in my mind, those selected priests, as they would serve on a rotating system, they would be in there trimming the lamps and they would be eating some of the bread, moving about in hushed awe and silence as they communed with the holy God of Israel, Yahweh. And then, over here, they would add just enough incense and they would check it periodically to make sure the aroma was ascending into the heavens. They had a passion about communing with God. Can we be any less, as New Testament priests? Must there not be, in our hearts, a passion to commune with the God of our hearts, the one and only true God? That must be a passion.
Let’s sing about that passion, “As The Deer Pants For The Water.”
Now the most beautiful part of the worship system was on that day that was held in awe by the entire nation of Israel. There was a curtain separating the holy place from holy of holies, or the most holy place. Patterned in that veil, in brilliant gold, was the portrait or the figures of cherubim, plural for cherubs. Those were the angels in heaven that constantly adored God and they adore Him today. And, as you moved through that veil and into the holy of holies, or the most holy place, I’m sure, if you and I had the privilege of being the high priest, we would be in awe. And I use the word privilege but I don’t think they really used it then. This was the place that represented God’s holiness. You must understand, in that day, and try to picture this with me in your mind, that the cloud representing God’s presence, hovered over the ark of the covenant. Picture it, perhaps, like a tornado funnel that stretched high into the sky and it’s lowest part, that lowest part of the funnel, literally, rested just over the mercy seat, the lid of the ark of the covenant. This was the presence, the holiness, the glory of God. And there was a priest about to go in there! I’m not sure if, in that day, we would have considered that a privilege or not. In fact, the historians tell us that, as time went along, they were so fearful that the life of the high priest would be taken that they had sewn into the garment, the hem of the garment or that robe that the priest wore, little bells. And so, as he moved about that holy of holies and he offered that blood and he sprinkled it on the mercy seat, those priests, out in the holy place, they would listen for the sound of those bells, holding their breath for fear that God would not accept the sacrifice and take the life, in a consuming act of wrath, of that high priest. Another thing that they did, that makes it even more awesome, is that they would tie a rope about the ankle of the high priest. No one was allowed into the holy of holies except the high priest. And, if these priests heard the cessation or the bells stopped ringing, they were afraid the priest’s life was taken, they couldn’t barge in through that veil and take the body out and bury it. So they had a rope drawn about his ankle so that they could pull his body out if God did not accept the offering. THAT was the fear, THAT was the awesomeness, in their hearts, toward the holiness of God. Now we know, being New Testament saints, priests before God, that we can enter with boldness before His throne. But, ladies and gentlemen, one thing has not changed and will never change, and that is that God is still holy, He is still a God of righteousness. And we approach Him and, oh, how we go with a heart of love that He is an accepting Father, but so often we forget that He is also a holy God and we do not take Him for granted. We don’t turn Him into something else, someone who does our bidding. We go to worship Him in majestic holiness.
Let’s sing that attitude of worship in this next hymn. Stand with me please. “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
Remain standing. There was one other item in this. Obviously, it was that mercy seat. And this is where they ended in their worship system. This was the ultimate end of that annual feast time. And so we, as New Testament believers, cannot end with the awful righteous, holiness of God. There is mercy. And God designed that a solid piece of gold would be fashioned to form the lid of the ark of the covenant. The ark of the covenant represented a modern day cedar chest, about the same size. It was overlaid with gold and, if you opened the lid, you would find three things: Aaron’s rod, a jar of manna, and the stone tablets upon which God, with His own finger, wrote the Law. And then you close the lid. And then God fashioned a golden lid, or had the people fashion this golden lid, on either side of this lid called the mercy seat, were two cherubs or cherubim. And they with outstretched wings looked down onto the mercy seat, which is a wonderful picture of I Peter, where it tells us that, salvation was preached, mercy was preached - “things into which the angels long to look.” And here, even in this tabernacle, the angels looked on as if to speak, “What amazing mercy.” Because once a year, the high priest would enter with a basin of blood and he would sprinkle it on the mercy seat, the lid of the ark of the covenant. That was God’s way of saying, “I now view the Law, which you broke, through the covering of the blood and I grant you mercy.” Jesus Christ, once for all, shed His blood so that now, men and women, God views us through the covering of blood. We have broken the Law and yet, because we have Jesus Christ in our hearts, He views us through the blood and He says, “Forgiven. Mercy. You’re free.”
And we cannot help but sing the hymn, the adoration of our hearts and the truth of that. I want you to grab your hymnal and turn to 321. We’re going to sing the second and the third stanza. This is the song of adoration because of what Jesus Christ, or His shed blood, has done for us. “All Is Well With My Soul”
I think, can we not wait until we can tell him, personally, how thankful we are, face to face, for what He has done. Let’s sing that last, “looking forward to that day.” Raise your voices.
And all the people said, “Amen.”