Gospel Pictures, Part 1


In the pew racks in front of you, you will find copies of God’s Word. If you would take a Bible and turn to Exodus chapter 25, with me, Exodus chapter 25. If you’re using one of our church Bibles you will find that on page 65; Exodus 25, on page 65. Once you have the Scriptures open before you, would you bow your heads with me as we pray? Let’s pray together!


Lord, we remember the story of the woman with the flow of blood who came to You after bleeding twelve years – unclean, outcast. She’d gone to other healers but instead of healing, she was made worse and worse. And with trembling hand, she touched the hem of Your garment thinking that even the briefest encounter with You would bring her wholeness and cleansing and life. We take her stance this morning. Lord Jesus, would You give to us perhaps even just faith enough to touch the hem of Your garment that power may flow from You to us to make us whole and clean and to give us life. Do it, we pray, by Your holy Word for Your own great name’s sake. Amen.


Exodus chapter 25. This is the Word of Almighty God;


“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him, you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats' hair, tanned rams' skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breast piece. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.


They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it. You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.


You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat.  Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark, you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.


You shall make a table of acacia wood. Two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold and make a molding of gold around it. And you shall make a rim around it a handbreadth wide, and a molding of gold around the rim. And you shall make for it four rings of gold, and fasten the rings to the four corners at its four legs. Close to the frame, the rings shall lie, as holders for the poles to carry the table. You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, and the table shall be carried with these. And 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 regularly.


You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; three cups made like almond-blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond-blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch - so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. And on the lampstand itself, there shall be four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out from the lampstand. Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single piece of hammered work of pure gold. You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. Its tongs and their trays shall be of pure gold. It shall be made, with all these utensils, out of a talent of pure gold. And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.’”


Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant Word.


Well, this morning we are beginning another major section in the book of Exodus in which God gives instructions for the building of the tabernacle and its various furnishings and equipment. And as we’ll see as we begin to work our way through this material today and in the coming weeks, God gets specific; quite specific. There are detailed directions on scale and proportion on the materials to be used, of the construction methods deployed for everything from the priests’ clothing to each table and altar and curtain and pillar, right on down to tongs and bowls and spoons, all of which are used in the sacrificial rites performed in the tabernacle.


And if you’re anything like me, if you’ve managed so far to stick with Exodus all the way through the case laws and the civil code of chapters 21 through 23, and you’ve made it this far, when you come to chapter 25, and you see all these details about how many cubits the ark of the covenant has to be and where the rings and the poles go and the acacia wood needed for the table and the precise decorations of the lampstands, unless you’ve got a poncho for decoration I suppose, if you’re like me, you might find yourself finally and at last beginning to glaze over. You might even be tempted, as at least one of the commentaries on my bookshelf does, to skip ahead; you know to jump this whole section and move right on to chapter 32, and to the juicy material dealing with the golden calf. Well I’m going to ask you to resist that temptation and to hang in there with me and with Exodus and to take another look at these instructions from God on the building of the tabernacle because as I hope we’ll see, they’re actually extremely rich in symbolism and meaning, all of which points us to profound Gospel truths that we still very much need to hear.


Think of the tabernacle and its sacred furniture a bit like a giant pop-up book. You remember pop-up books? Maybe you read one as a child or you’ve read them to your children or your grandchildren yourself. You know how they work. You turn the page and a three-dimensional image sort of springs forward and those images in three-dimensions help to tell the storyline, don’t they? They help to get the point across. That is what God is doing with the tabernacle and these various items of furniture within it. He’s turning the pages of a pop-up book and as each image leaps forward, each piece of sacred furniture comes into view, the storyline of His saving grace for sinners, fulfilled in His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, becomes increasingly clear.


So do turn your attention with me please to chapter 25, and I want you to notice by way of preface the introductory section to this entire part of the book of Exodus there in verses 1 to 9. God instructs Moses to have the people of Israel make contributions so that the tabernacle can be built. In verses 3 to 7, we have a list of the required construction materials but then notice verse 8. There is a simply stunning statement there in verse 8. Don’t let it zip past you! Think about what God is telling Moses. “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst.” “That I may dwell in their midst.” His people, you know, lived in tents as they made their way through the wilderness. And God is saying that He will come to dwell among them in a tent of His own. That’s what the tabernacle was. Obviously, He doesn’t mean that God would somehow be contained within the tabernacle but He is saying that at this point in salvation His presence would be especially known and enjoyed among His people in this sacred place. God in a tent, made by human hands.


Staggering and full of rich Gospel significance. It is of course to this idea that John points us in his gospel, you will remember in chapter 1 at verse 14 – “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The word is “tabernacled.” He pitched His tent among us. God in-fleshed in Jesus Christ. The one to whom the tabernacle points us as God dwelling in the midst of the camp of Israel is the Lord Jesus, the true meeting place of God with men in whom alone we have access to the Father. That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “No one comes to the Father but by Me.” He was saying, “I am the true meeting place, the only meeting place where you can know God.” You meet God exclusively in Jesus. The tabernacle preaches Christ to us! And actually, so do each of the articles, these sacred utensils, and furniture used in the tabernacle with which the rest of our chapter is taken up, as I hope we’ll see. Would you look at them with me? Like images in a pop-up book, each of the items of tabernacle furniture is designed to help us grasp the storyline of redeeming grace.


The Theme of Purity


And I want us to see three themes in particular that lead us directly to Jesus here. Look first of all at verses 10 to 22 and notice the theme of purity. Of purity. God tells Moses to have an ark; an ark is an old English word for a box. Have an ark of acacia wood built? You see its dimensions in verse 10. It works out to be 3 feet 9 inches long, 2 feet 6 inches wide, and as high as it is wide. And in verse 11, it is to be completely encased in gold. This is a thing of extraordinary beauty and incredible worth. And then in verses 12 to 15 there’s a comparatively long section. If you were like me, if you read it you may have scratched your head a little bit. All this detail is taken up with these four rings and these acacia wood poles in exactly where they have to go. But why so much attention to these four rings and the poles that are never to be removed? Well the rings and the poles fed through them is a mechanism by which the ark is to be carried in such a manner that human hands need never, never touch the ark itself. Inside the ark, verse 16, Moses is to place the testimony that God gave him; the stone tablets bearing God’s Law. So put all of that together, this box contains the Law of God, its rich decoration, the poles that allow it to be carried yet never touched – all of that speaks to holiness. The Law of God; the glory of the thing. No one can touch it. It is holy. This is a thing marked and signifying the purity of God. This is a sacred object. It represents the presence of God in His holiness and purity as Lawgiver and Judge.


And that’s why, for example, in 2 Samuel chapter 6, when the Ark of the Covenant was being transported on a cart when the oxen leading it stumbled and the ark began to slip, Uzzah put out his hand to steady it and immediately the judgment of God broke out against him. We’re told, “Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it for the oxen stumbled and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah and God struck him down there because of his error and he died there beside the ark of God.” The ark of the covenant represents the blazing holiness and purity of God.


Two Angelic Figures

But look down at verses 17 to 22, and notice that we learn something about the covering placed on top of the ark. A flat platform of pure gold called in our translation “the mercy seat” that sits on top of the whole thing. And on either side, there are these two angelic figures – two cherubim. They face one another looking toward the mercy seat and their wings are swept up over it, hiding it from view. The last time we met cherubim in the Scriptures was at the very end of Genesis chapter 3. You will remember when Adam had transgressed God’s Law and fallen into sin and all mankind with him, our first parents were expelled from the Garden and to block the way back into Eden, the way back that is into the presence of God and into fellowship with God, He placed these cherubim to guard the way to the tree of life.


The cherubim are the guardians of the place of fellowship between God and man which is precisely the role that the mercy seat itself plays. Look at verse 22. There God says, “I will meet with you. And from above the mercy seat, from between the cherubim, I will speak with you.” Like Eden, this is now the meeting place of God with men. It is the focal point of the entire tabernacle which is why, incidentally, it is dealt with first of all. Now elsewhere in Scripture we meet cherubim always supporting or surrounding the throne of God. We read Psalm 99 verse 1, as our call to worship. “The Lord reigns! Let the people tremble. He sits enthroned upon the cherubim.” 2 Kings 19:15, Hezekiah prayed, “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim. You are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth.” In 1 Chronicles 13:6, King David went up, “went to bring up the ark of the covenant which is called by the name of the Lord who sits enthroned above the cherubim.” In Ezekiel chapter 12, the prophet is allowed to gaze not into the temple but into the holy place of heaven itself, there to see the throne of God and supporting the throne he sees four cherubim. And you will remember if you’ve been with us on Sunday evenings in Revelation chapter 4 when John sees a parallel vision. The four living creatures that echo Ezekiel’s vision, these cherubim, surround the throne of God.


The Symbolic Throne of God

So the ark of the covenant with its cherubim is the symbolic throne of God in His sovereignty and glory and holiness and infinite purity dwelling in the midst of the camp of His people. It will reside, this ark, this golden box, within the most holy place, the inner court of the tabernacle behind a great curtain which, as we’ll see in weeks to come, it also itself adorned with cherubim, images of cherubim. And the only person who’s ever allowed to enter into the most holy place and come before the ark of the covenant was the high priest, and then only once a year, and then always on the Day of Atonement bringing with him the blood of a lamb which he would pour out on the mercy seat to make atonement for Israel. You will remember from last week we saw Moses do something very similar. On the plain, under the shadow of Mount Sinai, he took blood and threw it against the altar symbolically applying the blood to God Himself to make atonement to satisfy God’s justice. Well here is that same principle being enshrined permanently and regularly in the worship and practice of Israel. The blood is applied to the mercy seat, to the throne of God.


Everyone Excluded

Now everything about the ark so far has screamed “exclusion.” The Law contained within the ark condemned everyone who broke its statutes. The gold encasing it spoke of royal splendor and majesty. The cherubim covering it recalled Eden and our exclusion from the presence of God because of sin. And the mercy seat is considered to be itself the very throne of God, shut from view by the wings of the angels. The purity of God, the message is clear, the purity of God shuts us out and yet this is the very place where atonement is made. Right there on the throne, right there between the cherubim, right there impure sinners like me and you are pardoned and reconciled to God. The ancient Greek version of the Old Testament translates the word used here for “mercy seat” with the word “propitiation.” It’s a word that simply means a sacrifice that satisfies divine wrath and it’s the word normally used for the work of Jesus Christ. “He himself,” 1 John chapter 2 at verse 2, “He himself is the propitiation for our sins.” Romans 3:25, “Jesus Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith.”


The ark of the covenant is designed to remind us that God is pure and holy and we are not. And then it also preaches Christ to us by whom that great gulf fixed between us and God is bridged. He is the propitiation for our lawbreaking. He is the Lamb whose blood enters the most holy place of heaven itself, into the real throne room of God, there to satisfy the wrath of God on our behalf. No longer do we need a high priest to enter into an earthly tabernacle or temple year after year to make atonement for us. No longer must we rely on sinful men making provisional, symbolic sacrifice. No, Hebrews 9 at verse 11, “When Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things which have come, then through the greater more perfect tent, not made with hands that is of this creation, he entered once for all into the holy places. Not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing eternal redemption.”


God is Satisfied

“It is finished.” Here’s an anchor for the faith of even the weakest doubting Christian. Look at yourself and you’ll see many reasons for doubt, many grounds to wonder if perhaps you’re a child of God at all. But look at the heavenly mercy seat where Jesus Christ went ahead of you, poured out His blood for you. There God is satisfied and the work is done and because of Him, you are accepted in the Beloved. Perfect atonement; eternal redemption. No sacrifices further required. No work of yours to find acceptance with God needed. He has done it all, once and for all. Praise the Lord. So there’s first of all here the theme of purity. The purity of God and the purification Christ accomplishes.


The Theme of Provision


Then secondly, look at verses 23 to 29. Here’s the theme of provision. Purity then provision. In verses 23 through 28, instructions are given to make an acacia wood table slightly smaller than the Ark of the Covenant but likewise covered in gold. Also, it has four rings and poles for lifting it. And in verse 29, there are, notice, various golden vessels made for the table including flagons and bowls for drink offerings. And in verse 30, the bread of the presence is to be set before God on that tabletop regularly. Now again, remember, this is God’s pop-up book. These are images designed to help us understand the storyline of grace. So picture the scene. On this golden table are various dishes. Among them is a flagon of wine. We know that from Leviticus 23:13. Apparently always kept filled, ready to be used as a drink offering before the Lord. And along with it, there’s the bread of the presence. Leviticus 24 tells us the bread of presence comprised twelve loaves, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel, piled into piles on the tabletop. And the priests, Leviticus 24:8-9, are to go in once a week and they are to consume the bread of the presence and replace it probably every week on the Sabbath Day. The bread of the presence is there to remind the priests of the provision of God for His people. There is bread for every tribe in the people of God. It’s a way of saying that to dwell with God in our midst is to have His promise to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory.


God Shall Supply All Our Needs

And they’d seen, the Israelites had seen God do that, hadn’t they, in their own experience. You remember they had complained of hunger during their trek through the wilderness and God had provided them bread, manna from heaven. Exodus 16, – for each day of the week, twice on Friday night, that they might gather enough for the Sabbath Day and have rest. And Jesus taught us the same promise that is being visually depicted here in the bread of the presence. I wonder if you have perhaps forgotten it. We’re not to live in the grip of worry or anxiety. We’re not to worry about what we will eat or drink or what we will wear. After all, our Father in heaven knows what we need before we ask Him. But rather, we are to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to us also. Have you forgotten those promises, living perhaps with the cold grip of worry holding your heart? Jesus taught us, as we prayed together a few moments ago, to look with expectation and in faith to God our Father to give us each day our daily bread. And so Paul would confidently remind the Philippians, and we all need to be reminded too, that “my God shall supply all your need, according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”


The bread of the presence was a reminder of the provision of God flowing from His presence to His people by His grace and even that points us to Jesus. Doesn’t it? After all, He is God’s greatest provision for our deepest need and so in John chapter 6, after He has miraculously multiplied the five loaves and the two fishes to feed the five thousand He would turn to them and say, “Truly, truly I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven for the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”


Are you living a dissatisfied life? Do you live in the grip of soul hunger that you have been unable to satisfy? You need the bread of life, the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t we need to confess, don’t we need to confess our easily we glut our spiritual appetites on what is not bread and spend our labor for what does not satisfy? Instead, Isaiah 55 at verse 2, the Lord says, “Listen to me. Eat what is good. Delight yourself in rich food. Incline your ear and come to me and hear that your soul may live.” Jesus is the bread of life, but perhaps we’ve been trying to sate our hunger by our entertainments and our treasures, with our work and our families, our ambitions or our avocations when only Christ can nourish your soul. Only Christ can nourish your soul. “Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, feed me now and evermore.” Doesn’t that need to be our prayer? I wonder if it’s yours.


The Theme of Presence


Purity, provision, then thirdly look at 31 to 40. Here finally is the theme of presence. Purity, provision, then presence. God requires a golden lampstand to be built for the tabernacle. It has six branches coming from a central stem making seven lights altogether. You notice how it's decorated. Verses 31 through 35. It has a base, stem, cups, calyxes. A calyx is the leaves that provide a protective whorl around a flower while in bud. And then there are flowers and the flames are set in the flowers themselves. And the whole thing, each of these is made like almond blossoms. This is a stylized tree we’re looking at, again reminiscent of the Eden where the presence of God was from which humanity was expelled. The number seven is the perfect number, a number redolent of deity in the Scriptures. And we’re told in Leviticus 24, that there’s to be a constant supply of oil so that the lamp can always, always be kept burning. It’s a picture to us of the presence of God whose light is never extinguished. Psalm 104 at verse 1. “God is very great. You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment.” Psalm 118:27, “The Lord is God. He has made His light to shine upon us.” 1 John 1:5, “God is light and in him, there is no darkness at all.” Revelation 22, perhaps especially pertinent here. Revelation 22:5 says of the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city, that is a temple garden like Eden and like the tabernacle, “they will need no light or lamp or sun for the Lord God will be their light.”


But this light that shines from God forever shines to us most clearly in the face of Jesus Christ, doesn’t it? John 1 at verse 4; “In Him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 8 at verse 12, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Like the tabernacle as a whole, like the ark and the mercy seat, like the bread of presence, so too the lampstand preaches Christ to us. Ours is a dark world. Turn on your TV screens. You don’t have to watch for long to see it, do you? Moral confusion everywhere, riots on our streets, injustice abounding, political chaos. Maybe you’re looking for a glimmer of light to pierce the gloom. The light of God that has never been extinguished, the light of life that we so badly need, shines only in Jesus Christ the Light of the world. To know Him is to dwell secure in the light of the presence of God forever. And although the darkness may seem at time impenetrable all around us, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.


We’ve been reading God’s pop-up book together, haven’t we, and the great storyline that each item from the tabernacle has helped us see is Jesus Christ, crucified and risen and reigning for us and for our salvation. I wonder as you’ve seen these images, and grasped I hope something of that grand Gospel narrative, I wonder if you will turn where they point you and go where they direct you for yourself – to the Lord Jesus Christ. What a comprehensive Savior we have in Him – one who is able to meet our needs, one who is suitable to us, able to save to the uttermost all who come to God by Him. He’s the only place, you know, to meet God, the true tabernacle; the one who makes atonement once and for all at heaven’s mercy seat to reconcile you to God. The only soul-satisfying, nourishing Bread of life and the Light of the world who alone can pierce our darkness – a perfect Savior. So that having Him, we have the one in whom God supplies all our needs according to His riches in glory. Do you have Him or have you been turning every which way but toward Him? Perhaps it’s time to train your eyes for the first time, or maybe again, anew, back on Jesus Christ. Let’s pray together!


O Lord our God, how we praise You for Your Son. We confess that we have been glutting our spiritual appetite with the junk food of the world. We confess that we’ve been turning every which way for guidance instead of stepping into the bright light of the world, the Lord Jesus. We confess that we’ve sought to make things right on our own and only made things worse instead of resting on the finished work of Christ whose sprinkled blood has made perfect atonement. And so as we bow before You we would flee back, run back, or run maybe for some of us for the very first time to Jesus alone. We are bankrupt but Christ is all the riches we need. Would You draw us, each of us, to Him, for the praise and glory of Your name we pray? Amen.

©2016 First Presbyterian Church.

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