Friday, May 15, 2009

Sunday School - the law and sacrifices (3) the tabernacle

There's nothing like teaching kids to help you realise how much you have to learn! Last week I learned how much I didn't know about the tabernacle.

  • Did you know that the Most Holy Place was a perfect cube, representing God's perfection?
  • Did you know it took about 5 largish steps to get from one side to the other (4.5 meters/15 feet)?
  • Did you know that the further you went into the tabernacle, from courtyard to Holy Place to Most Holy Place, the more sumptuous it became, from bronze with silver trimmings to gold with silver trimmings?
  • Did you know that the colours of the tabernacle curtains were royal colours, purple and red and blue?
  • Did you know that the ark, the only piece of furnishing in the Most Holy Place, represented a throne?
  • Did you know that only kings had cherubim in their throne rooms and on their thrones?

This was not just any old "tabernacle", not just any old "tent". When the Israelites moved into the Promised Land, it would become a "temple", a "palace". The tabernacle was a royal tent, where the King lived among his people's smaller, plainer tents.

I've never noticed these details because I've never taken the time to read the chapters on the tabernacle carefully. Let's admit it, these are not the most obviously exciting chapters of the Bible! The tabernacle is described in painstaking detail (Exod 25-30) and then, a few chapters later (Exod 36-40), it's described in virtually word-for-word detail again.

There's a reason for this: the tabernacle was God's holy house, the place where he lived with his people. He was the one who told Moses how it should be built, from post stands to woven coverings. It had to be built exactly to his design. It had to be set up exactly to his design. And it was.

In the last verses of Exodus, something spectacular happens. The cloud and fire move away from Mount Sinai and come to rest on the tabernacle (Exod 40:34-38). God no longer speaks to his people from a mountaintop: he lives among them.

For us, something even more spectacular has happened. Just over 2000 years ago, a tiny baby was born into this world: Emmanuel, God with us (Isa 7:14, Matt 1:23). There was no cloud and fire, although the skies did blaze with glory, at least for a bunch of poor shepherds. God "tabernacled" amongst us in his Son (Jn 1:14).

Just over 30 short years later, the "temple" that was Jesus' body was destroyed and 3 days later raised to life again (Jn 2:12-24). The curtain which led into the Most Holy Place was ripped apart (Matt 27:51). Jesus' death opened the way for us to enter God's presence any time, anywhere (Heb 10:19-22).

God no longer lives in temples (Jn 4:21-24). He never really did: heaven is his dwelling place (Deut 26:15, 1 Kg 8:27, Ac 17:24). The heavenly city needs no temple "because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (Rev 21:22).

God doesn't live in temples or church buildings, but he is "pleased to have all his fullness" live in Jesus (Col 1:19). And if we trust in Jesus, he lives in us by his Spirit (1 Cor 3:16, 2 Cor 6:16, Eph 2:19-22). We are God's temple.

The kids and I started building our tabernacle model this week (we also traced out the dimensions of the Most Holy Place in masking tape on the floor, to give us some idea of its real size).

We made the next page for our books, in royal purple:

Next time, we'll be talking about what makes us clean and unclean, and the uncleanness which keeps us from the presence of the holy God. I'm hoping I can explain it clearly. Any ideas?


Gordon Cheng said...

Now come on Jean.

You're not going to try to tell me that you missed it when I linked to this, and more significantly, this (the Lego version, almost)

Jean said...

Giggle giggle giggle. That's the sound I made while I was giggling at what you wrote, BTW.

And come on, Gordo, don't you realise Herod's temple is not the same as the tabernacle? You build a tabernacle out of lego - or spend the 30 years(?) of your retirement building a real-life model of the tabernacle (except I think they've already already done that) and then I'll be impressed.

Ha! Will you look at that! And that. I can see I have something to live up to.

Gordon Cheng said...

Wow! Will you look at that!

Lego's just the best thing.

Hon said...

Did you see the link inside one of the links? Good work, Alec Garrard!

PamelaTracy said...

Great information. I've just been scanning the Internet for info to make what I considered a dull lesson on the tabernacle more interesting. Your blog helped! Thanks

Jean said...

Thanks, Pamela.