Sermon: Around the Table

I invite you to open your Bibles with me to Exodus 25:23-30. Exodus is the second book of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Exodus 25:23-30. This winter we are listening together to God’s instructions in the building of the tabernacle to explore how God desires us to worship and how it related to the mission of the church. This morning we come to the table of the tabernacle and then together we will come to the Lord’s Table. But before we hear God’s word together, please pray with me:

Prayer

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

You shall make a table of acacia wood, two cubits long, one cubit wide, and a cubit and a half high. You shall overlay it with pure gold and make a moulding of gold around it. You shall make around it a rim a handbreadth wide, and a moulding of gold around the rim. You shall make for it four rings of gold, and fast the rings to the four corners at its four legs. The rings that hold the poles used for carrying the table shall be close to the rim. You shall make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold, and the table shall be carried with these. You shall make its plates and dishes for incense, and its flagons and bowls with which to pour drink offerings; you shall make them of pure gold. And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me always.

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

What piece of furniture is the center of your home? Where do people gravitate to whenever they come in? The invention of the television has shifted this for many homes, but for much of human history at the center of every home was the table. Whether in meals or games or conversation, this was where people went when they entered a home. Life happens around the table. I remember being fresh out of seminary and moving into our first house. Our whole life was in boxes, we had spent the day unloading the moving truck and were totally exhausted. But that first night, I found our small, four chair kitchen table and set it up and we sat with Al and Cheryl Smeins and ordered pizza. We didn’t even have plates out, but we had a table. Our home needed a table, because life happens around the table. This is why some of you I have had the privilege of having in my home, around my table. For others, I have visited you and sat around yours. For others, that has not happened yet. But I believe it is important because life happens around the table.

In God’s house, there is to be a table. When God instructs Moses to build the furniture of God’s house, God tells him to build a table. Not just any table, either. This table is made of wood, thirty-six inches long by eighteen inches deep and about 27 inches high covered in pure gold. Gold moulding, gold rim, gold rings attaches for the gold-overlayed wooden poles to go through. Gold plates and dishes, flagons and bowls. This is no ordinary table. This is the Lord’s Table in the Lord’s house. In God’s house, there is to be a table and life happens around the table.

Life with God happens around the table. So as we look at the table this morning, I want to show you where we are set, what we receive, and then I want to invite you to come with me to the Table.

Where we are set, what we receive, and then come with me to the Table.

At the Table, Israel was set before God, and we, the church, are set before God to offer our lives for him.

When we began this series, we looked at the outer courtyard of the tabernacle, how God desires to dwell with his people, but also that he has set boundaries for our protection because of the holiness of God. We then stepped into the tabernacle to the altar, where a son of the herd died so that we could enter in to worship and where the guilty would cling to the horns of the altar. We saw that this pointed ahead to the true Son, Jesus Christ, who offered himself up in sacrifice on the cross so that all who cling to him can enter in to the presence of God and not be cast out. Then we stepped further in to the bronze basin, where the priests washed and centered their calling to go in to God in worship and go out to the people in ministry. We saw how Jesus fulfills both the cleansing of the wash basin and the priestly calling, and how, in baptism, we too are called to share in Christ’s anointing by going in to God in worship and out to the world in mission. By coming to the table this morning, we are stepping further in. Beyond the bronze basin was the tent of the tabernacle itself. While the whole of the tabernacle is God’s house, there is a sense in which this tent was truly God’s house. We have now entered into the inner chambers. The tent was divided into two rooms – a larger in front, called the Holy Place, and the small in back, called the Holy of Holies or Most Holy Place. The back room contained the ark of the covenant, where God has promised to dwell between the cherubim. It could only be entered once a year by the High Priest on the day of atonement. In the front room – the Holy Place – there was a lamp stand, a table, and an altar for incense. We will talk about those other two pieces of furniture in the next two weeks, but this morning we find ourselves at the Table.

We are told what they were to do at the table in verse 30: And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me always. Like every table, the table itself was not as important as what was put on it. At the Table, Israel was set before God, and we, the church, are set before God.

Leviticus 24 gives us a bit more detail about the bread of the Presence and what the priests were to do with it. Every sabbath, the priests were to take the best flour and make twelve loaves of bread. After baking the bread, they were to put them in two rows of six on the Table, together with some frankincense.

Twelve loaves of bread. Why would God have them put twelve loaves? Anyone? Any ideas of the significance of having twelve loaves of bread? (Yes, twelve tribes of Israel). Twelve or multiples of twelve are almost always connected to Israel and/or the church in the Bible. So these twelve loaves in some way represent the twelve tribes of Israel, the people of God.

Listen to what we are told about this bread of the Presence in Leviticus 24:8, Every sabbath day Aaron shall set them in order before the LORD regularly as a commitment of the people of Israel, as a covenant forever. The twelve loaves represent the people of Israel, the twelve tribes, being presented before God. And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me always. The bread was set before God. These twelve loaves representing the twelve tribes, were set on the table in the presence of God. They were offered to God.

Life with God happens around the Table. At the table, the people of God – in the twelve loaves – were set before God. This is a reminder for us that to live as one of God’s people is to live always before God’s eyes. God sees everything and knows everything we do, whether we are a Christian or not. But Christians do live uniquely before the face of God. We, like the bread, have been offered up to God. We have been placed before him and live our lives in his sight.

Living before God’s eyes, living standing before God, living like the loaves offered on the table, will radically change your priorities. It will change what matters. In his book, You and Me Forever, Francis Chan talks about how this God-focus changes a marriage. He observes that many problems in marriage come from couples spending far too much time looking at themselves or at each other, and far too little time gazing at God. He says that when your eyes are first fixed on Jesus, when he is your joy and satisfaction, the one who you truly give your life to, then marriage changes. The petty squabbles fade away. You become more concerned about the eternity you will spend with Jesus than about the few years you will spend wed together. We might think that by setting our focus on God and eternity first, it would make us less engaged in our marriages, but the opposite is true. The more rightly focused we are on God, on standing before him, offering our lives to him, the more properly engaged we will be in the relationships with those around us.

Michael Allen says the same thing about heavenly-mindedness in his book, Grounded in Heaven. He says that the idea that people can be ‘so heavenly-minded they are no earthly good’ is false. Instead, being heavenly-minded will enable us to be earthly-good. By fixing our eyes on Jesus, what matters to us will change in a way that will draw us into the everlasting joy of life in Christ, but also more fully to love our neighbor.

Both Allen and Chan are getting at the same thing that we find here at the Table in Exodus 25. Living before God will change your priorities. Israel, in the twelves loaves, was placed before God always. In this action, Israel was consistently reminded of her place. She was to live her life before God and for God. Her life was always to be offered to the LORD. While the whole earth was the LORD’s and God is Lord of all peoples, Israel had a unique place in God’s world as those who have been placed before him, placed on the table, their life an offering to God for his service.

At the table, we are set before God. And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me always. As Christians, we are called to be placed on the table of God, to live our lives before him always, to offer our lives to the service of God. Sometimes that will be joyous and at other times, the cost will be high, but living for God, living before God, will change your life.

I was fifteen when God called me to set my life on the table, to offer it to him and live the rest of my life before his face. I had been a Christian before that moment. I knew Christ and trusted him for my life and salvation. But when I knew that God was calling me to lay my life down, to pay any cost, to give up everything for him, no matter what it was, was a terrifying moment. I did not know where it would lead. All I had to know was whether I trusted God with everything. That trust lead me from my path of being a university math professor to standing before you this morning.

Life with God happens around the table. At the table, we are offered before God, like those twelve loaves set before God always. When our life is offered to him, when our eyes are fixed on him, when we seek to live our life before God always, what matters to us changes, and changes for the better.

First, I wanted to show you where we are set –  at the table, we are set before God to offer our lives to him. But I also wanted to show you what we receive. The instructions about what happens at the table do not end with the loaves offered to God. Leviticus 24:9 says, They shall be for Aaron and his descendants, who shall eat them in a holy place.

In God’s house, there is a table. It is a table where food is placed as an offering, but it was also the place where God provided bread for the priests. It is a table of both our offering and of God’s provision. At the table, we receive bread from God.

Every sabbath, God provided bread for Aaron and his sons. Every Sabbath, there was bread at the table. Every day of rest, the priests would enter the tent of meeting, come into God’s house, and there would be bread that God had provided for them.

God feeds his people. The bread of the Presence recalls Manna in the wilderness. Every day, God provides bread for his people – bread from God. At the Table too, God provides. God feeds. In God’s house, there is to be a table, because life with God happens around the table. The God of the universe, who spoke and galaxies formed, who whispered and stars shot into the sky, who shaped mountains and oceans with the sound of his voice, this God provides for us, provides for you. He sustains you with food and clothing, with bread and breath.

The table is a place where we receive the bounty of God. The priests did nothing to deserve this bread. It was a gift from God. They, like us, were to receive it as a gift. Even as they kneaded the dough and baked it to put it on the table, they were to know whose hand truly provided the bread. The bread at the table was the bounty of God, the gift of God.

At the table we receive the bounty of God, but also fellowship with God. One of the most interesting things about the table is that the table itself is ornate and beautiful and covered with God – fitting for the house of God – but the bread offered and given there is ordinary bread. It is the same kind of bread that would be found at your table and mine. In a very real sense, the bread was not special, it was ordinary. In this way, the bread becomes a token of our communion with God. The same bread on God’s table is on ours. When we eat the bread, we are eating together with God, especially when we come to his Table. It is ordinary bread taken up by God in this meal for the sake of our communion, our eating together with him.

In John 6, Jesus tells us what the bounty of the table in the tabernacle was really about. Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” The bread of life, the bread we receive at the Table, the bread that truly gives life is Christ. He is the bounty of God given for us and to us. He is Israel offered perfectly on the Table, his life perfectly given, and the bread that sustains us to eternal life. It is by partaking of Christ that we have life, that we taste the true and lasting provision of God – salvation, union, glory.

Life with God happens around the table. At the Table, Israel symbolically was offered in the twelve loaves placed before God. Their lives were set before God always as an offering to him. At the Table, the priests received the bread as the gift and bounty of God – tokens of God’s provision and communion with him.

When the prodigal son, having run away from his father and squandered his inheritance, came to himself in the far country, he said, “in my father’s house there is bread enough and to spare.”

In the Father’s house, in the house of the Lord, there is bread enough and to spare. So come and feast at the table of God’s house. Come to the Lord’s Table, where the supper is prepared for the children of God.

Friends, in God’s house, there is to be a table. We call it the Lord’s Table, because at this table, we feast with the Lord. At this table, we offer our lives to God, we like the bread are set before him always. At the table, we offer ourselves and find ourselves changed, our vision shifted, our sight set heavenward, and our priorities re-arranged by the gracious and goodness of God.

At this table, we receive the gifts of God for the people of God. We remember that Jesus Christ, the bread of life, came down from heaven and gave himself for the life of the world. We remember his perfect offering of his life and his death for us and for our salvation. At this table we remember not only the daily, physical provision of God for all our needs, but the ultimate and glorious provision of salvation in Jesus Christ through the cross and resurrection. We remember that just as Jesus took bread and broke it and took the cup and poured it out, the next day his body was broken and his blood poured out for us and for our salvation.

At this table, we eat with God, we have communion with Christ. Like the table in the tabernacle, the bread at this table is ordinary bread, the kind of bread that you would find on your own table. But it is by the Spirit’s work that we are brought into the presence of the ascended Christ so that in eating ordinary bread and drinking from an ordinary cup we are nourished by the body and blood of Christ and feast with him.

At the table, we also remember that in God’s house there is a table. In that great and glorious day when Christ shall come again and all shall be made right and all shall be made new and God will dwell with his people forever, there will be a table. A great banquet table for the marriage supper of the lamb. All the saints of all the ages will come and gather around that table and feast upon the bread of life.

So come to the Table. Life with God happens around the Table. Come and feast. Come and offer yourselves. Come and receive the gifts of God for the people of God, for all things are now ready.

One thought on “Sermon: Around the Table

  1. We have so enjoyed all your sermons on the tabernacle! Our Lord Jesus truly is the most wonderful satisfying and nourishing bread of life! What a blessing to have it brought out so beautifully!

    Like

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