God Reigns: Gospel Pictures, Part 2

Sermon by David Strain on October 2, 2016

Exodus 26-27


If you would please take a copy of the Scriptures in your hands, we have been working over the last year our way through the book of Exodus. We’ve come this morning to chapters 26 and 27. If you’re using one of our church Bibles, you’ll find that on page 66. Last week we began a section of the book that starts in chapter 25, where the tabernacle, this tent in the encampment of Israel where God had promised to put His glory and His presence so that His people could meet with Him, is being described and its construction is being outlined and we are going to be camped out there a little longer as we consider the message of chapters 26 and 27. Before we read the text together, let’s bow our heads as we pray!


Father, would You help us by giving to us a fresh measure of Your Holy Spirit’s work? Pour Him out upon us. We pray that You would give us eyes to see the beauty and sufficiency and loveliness of Christ as He steps forward, even from this part of Your Word, as the great object of our heart’s deepest need, and enable us to run to and rest on Him alone. For we ask it in His name, amen.


Just for the sake of time, if you’ll allow me, I’m going to summarize the message of chapter 26, and then we’ll read chapter 27, together. So Moses has already been receiving instructions about some of the furniture that will be housed within the tabernacle – that was chapter 25, – and now God gives more detail about the tabernacle itself; the way it’s to be put together. In chapter 26:1-6, there are instructions given for ten curtains joined in two sets of five, and they’re held in place by gold fasteners made from richly woven fabric. And that’s going to form the inner curtain, the curtainwall that is, of the tabernacle itself. Then 7 through 14, there’s another layer made this time from goatskin designed to protect the tabernacle and the inner curtain from the elements. Then in 15 through 25, Israel is to make a series of frames and poles from acacia wood to give structure and support to the tent. And in 26 to 30, there are crossbeams. Once all of that is assembled, you will have this very simple looking rectangular looking tent, easy to tear down and reassemble as Israel makes its journey in stages through the wilderness. And then in 31 through 37 of chapter 26, we’re given the basic layout of the tabernacle, which is made up, you’ll see, of the most holy place where the ark of the covenant, that we looked at last time, is housed. Then there’s a thick curtain and another room which is the holy place where the lampstand and the table of the bread of presence again that we saw in chapter 25, are located. That’s where the priests would ordinarily minister day after day.


Now let’s turn our attention to chapter 27, as we pick up the reading of God’s holy, inerrant Word:


“’You shall make the altar of acacia-wood, five cubits long and five cubits broad. The altar shall be square, and its height shall be three cubits. And you shall make horns for it on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it, and you shall overlay it with bronze. You shall make pots for it to receive its ashes, and shovels and basins and forks and firepans. You shall make all its utensils of bronze. You shall also make for it a grating, a network of bronze, and on the net, you shall make four bronze rings at its four corners. And you shall set it under the ledge of the altar so that the net extends halfway down the altar. And you shall make poles for the altar, poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with bronze. And the poles shall be put through the rings so that the poles are on the two sides of the altar when it is carried. You shall make it hollow, with boards. As it has been shown you on the mountain, so shall it be made.


You shall make the court of the tabernacle. On the south side, the court shall have hangings of fine twined linen a hundred cubits long for one side. It's twenty pillars and their twenty bases shall be of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their fillets shall be of silver. And likewise for its length on the north side there shall be hangings a hundred cubits long, its pillars twenty and their bases twenty, of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their fillets shall be of silver. And for the breadth of the court on the west side, there shall be hangings for fifty cubits, with ten pillars and ten bases. The breadth of the court on the front to the east shall be fifty cubits. The hangings for the one side of the gate shall be fifteen cubits, with their three pillars and three bases. On the other side, the hangings shall be fifteen cubits, with their three pillars and three bases.  For the gate of the court, there shall be a screen twenty cubits long, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, embroidered with needlework. It shall have four pillars and with them four bases. All the pillars around the court shall be filleted with silver. Their hooks shall be of silver, and their bases of bronze. The length of the court shall be a hundred cubits, the breadth fifty, and the height five cubits, with hangings of fine, twined 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.’”


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


Let me confess to you that I am not much of a one for camping. I’ve done it once or twice in my life and it has, quite frankly, been a miserable experience! I don’t like bugs. I don’t like inflatable mattresses. I don’t like tents! I don’t like camping! I don’t understand why anyone would take free time and waste it on so miserable an experience! And so it’s really quite amazing to me to learn that at this point in the Biblical storyline, the one place in the universe where God was pleased to make His presence known to His people was not in a palace full of all the paraphernalia of majesty, not a castle with high towers and impregnable ramparts, nor a gothic cathedral all soaring, flying buttresses and stained glass windows. No, the one place where God purposed to meet with sinners was in a tent. Here is the condescension of God, stooping, stooping down to live with His nomad people who lived in tents in the wilderness, to live among them in a tent of His own.


And chapters 26 and 27, actually give us instructions about that tent – how they were to be constructed and arranged. There’s the inner tent. The tabernacle has an inner tent, as we saw – the Most Holy Place. That’s where the ark of the covenant is. The high priest may go there only once a year. There’s a thick blue curtain we’ll see in just a moment, and then outside of it, adjoining it, is the Holy Place where only the priests could go, the regular priests. And then there’s a court outside of it. And if you’ll look over at chapter 27, verses 9 through 19, – so chapter 26, describes the tabernacle itself, then 27:9-19 is the courtyard to be formed around the tabernacle and then 27:1-8, tells us that placed in that courtyard, outside the front of the tabernacle, outside the holy place, is a bronze altar of sacrifice.


And it’s entirely easy I’m sure – maybe this happened to you; you felt this happening to you as we read the text together as we read these straightforward, rather prosaic instructions about how to make curtains and where to hang them – isn’t it easy to sort of skim past all the details without really grasping the significance of what we’re being told here? I wonder if you saw what’s really happening. God is saying, “I’m about to move in and take up residence. I will have an earthly address where My glory will reside; in this tent.” And so is it really all that surprising that so much care is given to every single detail? That is should be just as God decreed and purposed since this will be the dwelling place of God in the midst of the camp of Israel. That’s why in 25:9 and verse 40 again, and then 26:30, and 27:8, over and over again we’re told all of this is to be done with exacting correspondence to the pattern Moses was shown on the mountain. God is the architect. He has a blueprint and He wants the tabernacle to correspond to it precisely.


And when you begin to grasp what’s really going on here, the significance of this, it starts to take on a somewhat more electric feel, doesn’t it? God is about to come and take up residence in the midst of His people. And that electrifying current, I think, becomes even stronger when you understand that the generalities and the details in these chapters point us consistently to rich themes full of Gospel significance. They rivet our attention, ultimately, on the Lord Jesus Christ.


Communion With God


Let’s think first of all about chapter 26, and I want us to think about the theme of communion with God that is very much a part of this passage’s message. It’s a text taken up with the construction of various curtains, the way they are to be joined together – the loops and rings and poles that will be used to connect them to form the walls and the ceilings of this rectangular tabernacle. And then look at verses 31 to 37, where we have the floor plan of the tabernacle. Verse 31, “You shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarn and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it.” Verse 33, “You shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil,” listen to this phrase, “the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.” You will remember, if you were with us last time, the cherubim are carved into, actually made from hammered gold and placed on top of the ark of the covenant. The ark of the covenant was the symbolic throne of God. And now we’re told this time that they adorn the curtain that separates the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place where Israel’s priesthood regularly ministered. The cherubim, we said last time, are the angelic guardians of the way into the presence of God. You remember how they were posted at the borders of Eden to prohibit our first parents returning to the place of their original fellowship with God. And so here they are on the way into the Most Holy Place where the glory presence of God was said to reside; a way to remind everyone, “This is a no-go area.”


The Way Into the Most Holy Place Closed

Actually, the word that’s used for the veil or the curtain there is a little different from some of the other places where it’s used in these passages. This word means it comes from a root that means “to shut out” or “to exclude.” And the curtain itself, the Talmud, the Jewish Talmud tells us, was four inches thick and took more than 200 priests to move. The whole thing screams exclusion. It is a barrier, a mechanism of exclusion. And so there’s a sort of dissonance that is created here, isn’t there? On the one hand, there is the thrilling, electrifying thought that God Almighty, the Lord of glory and grace was coming to live in the encampment of Israel. There He was, His glory presence known among them in the tabernacle so that even the lowliest Israelite could look there and see the tabernacle and know that there was the presence of God with His people. Thrilling thing! And yet, the Most Holy Place, the place where His glory was shining out, was closed. Access was closed for 364 days of the year, in fact, the entire human race was shut out of the Most Holy Place. On one day, the Day of Atonement each year, only the high priest could go behind the veil. There he went with sacrificial blood to pour on the mercy seat to atone for his own sins and the sins of the people. He had to do it year after year because the sacrifices he offered were only symbolic. They had no power. They were altogether inadequate for the job of making final atonement. Hebrews 10 at verse 1, the sacrifices that are continually offered year after year can never make perfect those who draw near. In these sacrifices, Hebrews says, there is a reminder of sin every year, “for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin.” The whole thing, you see, raises Israel’s hopes of communion with God, only to fail to deliver on the fullness of spiritual intimacy and fellowship with their Maker and their Redeemer. The way into the Most Holy Place was closed.


The Opening of the Most Holy Place

And so it went on, year after year, at first in the tabernacle; later in the temple in Jerusalem. Each year the high priest went behind the veil to make atonement, but when the next year rolled around, more blood was needed, a fresh sacrifice required because perfect satisfaction and atonement still had not been made and the dreary, gruesome routine of bloodshed rolled ever onwards. Until one day, that is. One day when at last the four-inch-thick veil that separates the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place and the rest of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, from heaven to earth – Matthew 27 at verse 50. No longer needed; it became obsolete. Taken out of the way forever. The way into the Most Holy Place opened access into communion with God, flung wide for every child of God to press in close. When Jesus Christ said, “It is finished,” no more blood sacrifice needed. He is the One to whom all that blood pointed; all those lambs and rams and bulls and goats. He is the true sacrifice whose blood atones for sin once and for all. “Therefore,” Hebrews 10:19, “Therefore, since we have confidence, we have the confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh. And since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” We now have boldness to approach the throne of grace. We can go all the way in!


You might think, “What a marvelous privilege the Israelites had. They could just look over there and there was the tabernacle; there was the glory presence of God in the midst of their encampment. Right there! What a thing! What an encouragement to them to see it!” Brothers and sisters, our privileges are so, so much greater, so much greater. Israel lived at the mere borders of blessing compared to what we now have in Jesus Christ. We can go all the way in with boldness and confidence to the throne of Abba Father and know that He hears us when we cry to Him. So there’s communion with God here through Jesus Christ. The door is opened to you to press in close and to know God.


Cleansing From God


Then look at chapter 27 verses 1 to 8, with me. First of all communion with God; now cleansing from God. Moses is told to have a bronze altar made that would stand in the courtyard outside the tabernacle in plain view of the congregation. It’s essentially a portable, acacia wood, bronze-covered fire-pit complete with tongs and utensils. Notice it has four horns on each corner, verse 2. According to Leviticus chapter 4 when the priest offered a sacrifice he would kill it at the entrance to the outer courtyard of the tabernacle. He would take the blood and throw it seven times against the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place and then he would smear blood from that sacrifice on the horns of the bronze altar and burn the animal carcass in sacrifice to God there. The whole thing was frankly brutal and gory; stomach-churning even. Not beautiful. Not pretty. The animal would scream. The smell would be awful. The blood would have covered the priest’s hands and arms and clothes and it would stain and bake onto the horns of the bronze altar.


The Sinfulness of Sin

Powerful graphic, ugly reminder of the sinfulness of sin, though not nearly so graphic as to the reality to which is points. If you want to know your true condition, the true horror of rebellion and sin against God, see what sin costs. Here’s just a little glimpse of it. The thing to which is points is still more horrifying. The emulation of the Son of God at the cross of Calvary; torn, broken, eviscerated, consumed by the fire of divine judgment. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Here is love – vast as the ocean; loving-kindness as the flood. When the Prince of life, our ransom shed for us, His precious blood. He loved us and gave Himself for us seeing the horror and filth and gory, ugly brutality of our sin, yet He bore it in His body on the tree to make full atonement and perfect satisfaction for us. All your guilt, all of it, all your shame, all your sin, every one of them, all of them together, the whole lifetime of thoughtless transgression, of willful rebellion against the rule of God, He bore it all for you on His shoulders on the tree. And as the Father’s sacrificial knife fell, His Son, His only Son, the Son whom He loved, bore the condemnation you have deserved because He loves you. Here’s something of the length and breadth and depth and height of the love of Christ for us who makes us clean.


In fact, so powerful a symbol of mercy was this bronze altar that it would go on in Israel’s history to become a place of refuge for someone who had been accused of a criminal offense. You could run to the bronze altar and take hold of the horns – a sort of symbolic appeal for sanctuary, for refuge. It happens, for example, in 1 Kings chapter 2 when Joab flees to the bronze altar to escape King Solomon’s justice. It’s his appeal for mercy. Of course, when Joab did it, he didn’t find any mercy. King Solomon executed his wrath upon him, right there at the altar. But you know, there is a sense in which, because we have a better sacrifice, a once for all atonement in Jesus, if like guilty Joab, knowing your guilt you’ll run to the horns of the altar; that is to say, if you will run to Jesus Christ, you will surely always find sanctuary, refuge, mercy, pardon. So go take refuge at the altar. Clasp the horns of the altar where the blood has been smeared. Go, that is, to the cross. Go with your guilty conscience and your sin-stained record to the cross, because only Jesus can make you clean.


Connection With One Another Before God


Communion with God, cleansing from God, and then finally notice also the theme of connection with one another before God. Look at verses 9 through 19 of chapter 27. It’s another uninspiring list of curtains and loops and clasps and pulls which, when linked together, would form a curtain wall around the tabernacle making a courtyard where this bronze altar would be situated. Just get the layout clear, okay? So there’s this large courtyard with a curtain around it. Inside is the bronze altar; then there’s the tabernacle made of two rooms. The Holy Place – there’s the lampstand and the table of the bread of the presence inside it. There’s the thick curtain with the cherubim on it. Behind the curtain is the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place where only the high priest may go. But in the courtyard, that’s where Israel is allowed to enter. And there, they’re to gather for worship and praise and sacrifice and communion with one another and with God. It’s to this place that Psalm 100 and verse 4, refers. “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.” It’s to this courtyard that David, of this courtyard that David sings with longing in Psalm 84, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes faints, for the courts of the Lord. For a day in your courts, O Lord is better than a thousand elsewhere.” It’s the place of communion, of congregational fellowship and praise and worship and joy.


But it was not at all large. It works out to about 150 feet by about 75 feet. They're over a million people in the camp of Israel. That’s a tight squeeze. I like what Matthew Henry says about this. He says, “This court would contain but a few worshipers. Thanks be to God, now under the Gospel, the enclosure is taken down. God’s will is that men pray everywhere and there’s room for all, that in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ.” In fact, you may know that at the time of Christ the tabernacle had been replaced by the more permanent temple and in the temple, there were several additional courts added. And the one furthest away from the Most Holy Place was called the Court of the Gentiles where the nations could come if they wished to worship. And hanging above the doorway from the Court of the Gentiles into the inner courts of the temple was a sign that read, in not at all seeker-sensitive terms, “Anyone who enters here will be killed.” The message is pretty clear, isn’t it? “You’re not welcome.” The nations are excluded. The place of worship was not only physically narrow and restricted, but spiritually so also.


But listen to Ephesians chapter 2 at verse 14. “Jesus Christ,” Paul says, “is Himself our peace, who has made both Jews and Gentiles one and broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. So you are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Believer in Jesus, the sign above the door says, “Whoever will let him come.” It doesn’t say, “Stay out.” It says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” It says, “Come. There’s room for you in the household of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” That’s the Church, isn’t it? Now that Christ has come, He has made us one. We are connected, not just each of us individually to Jesus but in Jesus, we’re connected, each of us, to one another. There’s profound connection among all who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ. First Presbyterian Church, that means there are no faces that do not fit in our assembly. It means there are no stories which, when overwritten by the grace of God and the blood of Jesus Christ, cannot enrich our own. It means there’s no stain you can bring with you on the Lord’s Day into our assembly that can’t be washed clean by the blood of Jesus Christ.


Communion with God through Christ – all the way in, right in close to the throne of Abba Father. Cleansing from God – so that your filthy record might be washed clean in the blood of Jesus Christ. And the connection with one another – here is home and we are family, through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.


Let’s pray together!


Our God, we bless You for Christ, who’s opened the door, flung wide the door, that we may go in, first to You to know You, to have communion fellowship with You, and there we find we meet one another, joined together, have fellowship in Christ with one another. How grateful we are that all the blessings we have received flow to us from the horns of the altar, from the cross of Christ. Would You rivet our attention, our eyes on Him? For we ask it in His precious name, amen.

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