Sermon: The Courtyard of the Tabernacle

Note: This sermon was originally preached after 4 days in bed with influenza, so it is not in fully manuscript form. 

Introduction

  • I love the mission statement: Sharing Christ in Community
    • I also love the vision of how God is calling us to live this out: worship, special events, small groups (what we are calling ‘Worshipping the Saviour, Welcoming the Stranger, and Growing in Christ Together’).
    • I remember interviewing and looking through this and seeing the piece about worship and thinking, ‘yes! worship is central to the mission of God’s people.’
      • It is so good and right that we see worship as central to what it means to live out the mission of God’s people. Not just how we worship – being hospitable to outsiders, welcoming and encouraging, all good things – but the fact of worship is at the heart of the mission because God is at the heart of the mission. We serve, we suffer, we feed, we fight, we proclaim, we pray, we go out into the four corners of Brantford/Brant and beyond so that others would proclaim the goodness and glory of the name of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
      • Worship is central to mission. The church is sent so that we might be gathered in worship.
        • Don’t quite believe me? The Bible describes the New Heavens and the New Earth as being filled to the brim with worship of God.
        • Don’t quite believe me? God’s people spend 400 years in slavery in Egypt. God brings them out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. God brings them through the waters and then up to Mount Sinai. God brings them to himself and then, basically, marries them with the Ten Commandments as the wedding vows. Then what does God spend verse upon verse, chapter upon chapter, book upon book talking about? Worship.
          • Most of the rest of the book of Exodus is spent on how to build the tabernacle
          • Most of the book of Leviticus tells us what to do in the tabernacle
          • Most of the book of Numbers as well as Leviticus tells us who can go in the tabernacle, wearing what, when, why, and why not.
          • Deuteronomy then retells much of this again.
          • Yes, there is a lot else in the Torah, the Law, the first five books of the Bible, but the dominant theme for four whole books of the Bible, these foundational books, is worship.

So this morning we are beginning a new series here at Bethel on worship and mission called “Draw Near” and we will do this by looking at how God directed Israel to build its place of worship, the tabernacle, and what that tells us about who God is, who we are, and how we are to worship him. We will move outside in, so we will begin this morning with the outer courtyard of the Tabernacle. It is found in Exodus 27:9-19 (usual ‘find it’ words).

Prayer of Illumination

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:

You shall make the court of the tabernacle. On the south side of the court shall have hangings of fine twisted linen one hundred cubits long for that side; its twenty pillars and their twenty bases shall be of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their bands shall be of silver. Likewise for its length on the north side there shall be hangings one hundred cubits long, their pillars twenty and their bases twenty, of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their bands shall be of silver. For the width of the court on the west side there shall be fifty cubits of hangings, with ten pillars and ten bases. The width of the court on the front to the east shall be fifty cubits. There shall be fifteen cubits of hangings on the one side, with three pillars and three bases. There shall be fifteen cubits of hangings on the other side, with three pillars and three bases. For the gate of the court there shall be a screen twenty cubits long, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen, embroidered with needlework; it shall have four pillars and with them four bases. All the pillars around the court shall be banded with silver; their hooks shall be of silver, and their bases of bronze. The length of the court shall be one hundred cubits, the width fifty, and the height five cubits, with hangings of fine twisted linen and bases of bronze. All the utensils of the tabernacle for every use, and all its pegs and all the pegs of the court, shall be of bronze.

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Explanation

cubit is the distance between your elbow and the tip of your middle finger. I’m sure they had a standardized cubit at the time, but we don’t know the exact length, roughly 1 1/2 ft, 1/2 meter

So the tabernacle courtyard was an open-top rectangular tent. Interestingly we are not told the color of this part, but for most parts of the tabernacle the cloth is colored specifically.  The north and south sides were 100 cubits (150 feet) long, the East and West sides were 50 cubits (75 feet long). It was made of fine twisted linen with pillars and bases of bronze every 7.5 feet. The hooks where  the cloth was attached to the pillars were made of silver as well as the bands on the pillars. This tent-wall was 5 cubits high (7.5 feet), so you could not see over it inside. On the East side there was an opening twenty cubits wide (30 feet) covered by a blue screen that served as the entrance.

Just so you have a sense of what this looked like. There is a lot we could notice and a lot we will get to in the coming weeks that reveals the heart of God for worship, who we are, and how we are to worship the Lord. But this morning, I simply want to make three brief observations about the passage.

Observation 1: God desires to dwell with his people

He tells them to build a tent. A tent is movable. A tent is a place to live and sleep that you can move. Some people use them for recreation and some, even in our city itself, use them as their permanent dwelling.

So when God tells his people to build him a tent he is telling them that he wants them to build a house for him to live with them. This is a stunning proclamation. The God who saves, rescues and redeems is not content to remain a distant Lord in the sky, but instead chooses to take up residence with his people, to live among them. He wants them to build him a house for his name. The God who is God for us also desires to be God with us and to have us with God. He desires to dwell with his people and for us to draw near to him. This is central to the mission and to the heart of God.

A tent is not only a dwelling place, a home, but it is also movable. When God led the people throughout their journey in the wilderness and into the promised land, God – and his tabernacle – would go with them. On one level, they would need to approach God by entering his house in worship, but on another level God would go with them wherever they went.

In telling Israel to build him a tent, God is showing his desire to dwell with his people, for them to draw near to him in worship.

Observation 2: Tents have walls – boundaries – We cannot casually enter into the presence of God.

When God tells his people to make a space for him to dwell, to build a house for his name, the first thing they must build are the boundaries. Just as a house cannot stand without walls, so the tabernacle cannot exist without this outer tent-wall. This is not just a physical limitation, but communicates a spiritual reality. We could not see in to the tabernacle, let alone all the way into the presence of God. There are boundaries.

We see in God’s design of the tabernacle not only his desire to dwell with his people, but his incredible holiness. To be holy is to be set apart, and the very first thing you would notice about the tabernacle if you were to go there for worship would be that God is set apart, there is a wall around the house of God. Different from the walls around castles and gated communities which are designed to keep those inside safe from those outside, the walls of the tabernacle are a reminder to us that we are the one in danger coming into God’s presence. Worship is holy, dangerous work. Worship is both the most beautiful, rapturous, and glorious thing you will ever experience because you come into the presence of God, but it is also the most dangerous thing you will ever do because you come into the presence of the living God.

God puts up walls from the start to remind us not to take Him, nor worship of him, lightly. The reason God has such explicit and detailed directions, for pages and pages in the Bible, is not because God is somehow OCD about all of this, but because we cannot easily come into his presence. As creatures to come into the presence of the God who created, who holds everything in the world in his hands is no small thing. But for sinners, rebels, the wicked to enter into the presence of the Holy God is another thing entirely. Yet, God desires to dwell with his people, he longs for us to enter into the sweetness of his presence, so he says, you must build a tabernacle, a house for my name.

But this does mean that we should view our time in worship with a little more awe. I think Annie Dillard gets it right when she says in her characteristically brash way:  “Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.” – Annie Dillard

Observation 3: The Entryway Faces East

There is curious detail in the directions of the tabernacle. The entryway, the door, is on the East side. 

Read Genesis 3:22-24

What if I told you that once we get inside the tabernacle courtyard we will find things decorated with fruit and flowers, that there would be cherubim, knives, and fire all over the place.

Eden was the place where God walked in the garden in the cool of the day. It was a place of worship and praise. The tabernacle is a new eden, a new place where we can draw near to God, only the door is not barred, but we are invited to come.

Sin cast us out not long after the beginning, but by placing the doorway on the East, God is already hinting that what he is doing in creating the tabernacle is about undoing that estrangement, that condemnation that came in the garden. We were cast out East of Eden and now we find it very explicitly stated that the door to the house of God is on the East. We come back from the east to enter God’s house, symbolically heading back into Eden.

Again, the point is that this hints that part of what the tabernacle is about is dealing with the sin of Eden. We will see this more explicitly in the coming weeks as we go inside the courtyard and into the tabernacle itself.

God makes it clear so that we can draw near.

Summary

  1. God desires us to draw near to him so he tells his people to build a house for his name, a tabernacle.
  2. God is holy, so we cannot casually enter his presence, so literally and symbolically, the first thing we see when we come to worship are walls and boundaries. This is for our protection, not God’s.
  3. Part of what is going on in the tabernacle is overcoming what happened when we were banished from the garden. The door is now open for us to enter back in to God’s presence.

What does that mean for us:

One simple application for us this morning: Never take worship lightly.

Worship is about drawing near to God. God gives us worship as a gift so that we can come before him. We can all have our preferences when it comes to worship – style of music, style of preaching, whether the pastor should wear a tie or not, length of service. Some of those are important and some are not, but all of them should be subservient to the overall goal of drawing near to God.

Worship is central to the mission of God because it is central to the heart of God. After leading his people out of bondage into freedom, God tells them to build a house for his name so that they can worship him.

Last Observation: God wants us to build him a House – Tabernacle – John 1:14

“and the word became flesh and dwelled among us”

“and the word became flesh and tabernacled among us”

Jesus is fulfillment of the tabernacle, the temple of God. If we want to see that God desires to dwell with his people, to be not just God for us but God with us so that we would be with God, if we want to see God holy and in his glory, full of grace and truth, if we want to know the way God will ultimately deal with the estrangement and condemnation of Eden, if we want to draw near to God, then we must come to Jesus. “At the word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” Jesus is the true tabernacle, the true way the Father has given us that we might draw near him in worship.

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