By Simon ManchesterSunday 13 Jul 2014Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
Safe With God – Exodus 35-40
Loving Father,we pray that you would prepare our minds and hearts to be humble,receptive and we pray that you would open this part of your word so that we would see you and see the way that you have called us to trust and obey.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.
If you could turn back to Exodus chapter 35 we are going to look at the last section. I want to begin by saying that a man told me not too many weeks ago that he forgets Sunday sermons by the time he gets to his car and he is heading home.
I thought this was a fairly feeble excuse until I took the test myself. It helps a little to preach the sermon but it doesn’t mean you always remember what you’ve preached by the time you get to your car.
Now because this is the last sermon in the Book of Exodus here at No.12,I thought we would begin with two quick questions to get our perspective and the first is – what’s the Book of Exodus all about? If you followed the series or even been to many of the 12,what have you learned? It would be a great mistake,a great sadness wouldn’t it if you got to the end of a series on Exodus and someone said to the preacher or the listener – what have you learned? And you said “I don’t know”.
The second question – what’s the last section (chapters 35 – 40) all about? It’s about 6 chapters of tent building. Most preachers would avoid these chapters. Not many people who think of the Book of Exodus go to the last chapters and think – Oh there’s a great section on tent building at the end!
If you were making a film of this Book of Exodus,you know you’d make a big thing of the crossing of the Red Sea,you would make something out of Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments and you may make something of the Golden Calf and the idolatry and maybe if you were doing a MA type movie,you would make a big thing of the orgy that seems to have followed but you wouldn’t do anything with chapters 35-40 – you’d just leave them out.
And yet here they are,not just at length at the end of the book but they are actually full of helpful information and that’s what I want to focus on as we come to the end of the series.
To answer the two questions – the Book is about – well just think where it begins and where it finishes. It begins in slavery and finishes with fellowshipping and worshipping God. So the Book is about slavery to fellowship or slavery (as some would say) to worship. It isn’t just slavery and then freedom of your own kind to do whatever you would like to do but slavery to God. That’s what it’s all about and God’s people in the Old Testament may not have deserved to be rescued and they may not have deserved to come into fellowship with God and they may not even in some instances have wanted to be rescued or come into fellowship with God – but that’s what God is working towards.
And when you think about your own sinfulness (and I think about my own sinfulness) and the tendency to drift and go against God,the Book of Exodus is very significant,isn’t it? God is saving people for himself.
The second question is: what’s the last section about? Well the Tent is the meeting place and so God is arranging fellowship. In one of the early sermons I mentioned that chapter 19 verse 4 may be the key verse in the whole Book of Exodus where God says – you see how I’ve brought you on eagles wings and I’ve brought you to myself and here is God planning in the very centre of the people a tent where he will meet with them.
Now since the Golden Calf has just happened in the last sermon that we looked at last week,it is a very remarkable thing,isn’t it that God is sticking with sinners. And when you are tempted every now and again,partly because of the accuse of the devil and partly because of your own frailty to think,well he couldn’t possibly stick with me – he’ll stick with that other person over there because they are godly but I’m not – Exodus tells us that at the end of the Golden Calf incident,God plans to meet with his people. He sticks with the sinners. You may be plotting your sins – God is plotting your joy.
So I want this morning to take 4 issues in the last chapters which are all about God and if you get to your car this morning and I happened to be walking past and I say to you: “what was it about this morning”? you’ll be pretty safe if you say “it was about God”!
And the first thing is that God Rules. Will you turn to chapter 35 and verses 1 & 2. “Moses assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them,’These are the things the Lord has commanded you to do: For six days,work is to be done,but the seventh day should be your holy day,a Sabbath of rest to the Lord.’
Can you imagine that you are just gathering the people of God after a tremendous time of idolatry and sadness and grief and stupidity and tension and you gather them all together and you are just given one opportunity to start talking to the people – what are you going to say to the people? Why would you talk to them about the Sabbath? Why bring up the subject of the Sabbath?
And the answer to that question is he’s not talking about the ‘killer sabbath’ which Victorian Christians and others have invented where you basically sit in a suit and make sure that you do nothing enjoyable or pleasurable or happy for the whole day so that you can be as apparently faithful as you think you are being,and utterly miserable and then at the end of the day you are quite proud because you have stuck it out and other people haven’t. We are not talking about the ‘killer sabbath’ which is just miserable and the furthest thing from the Bible.
We need a good Biblical doctrine of the Sabbath,don’t we? And the Biblical doctrine of the Sabbath is that God instituted the Sabbath to teach his people that there is more to life than the world. His people have got to stop for a day and just not be obsessed with things and work and busyness and materialism.
And that’s why God says in chapter 35 verse 2 “Work six days but if you think that my plan for the world is that you would work and eat and work and eat and work and eat and work and eat and die,you couldn’t be more mistaken. You couldn’t be more naïve or deluded.
The ‘rest’ day you see is designed to lift up the minds and the hearts of the people of God to God and to remember that there is a plan which God has which is much bigger than the world and goes beyond the world and is for eternity and God will launch this Sabbath in the Book of Genesis and that’s when he stopped creating. And it says “he rested or he sabbathed” and the first couple in Genesis had more than the creation to enjoy,didn’t they? They had God to enjoy but then they lost him in the rebellion.
And so God began to re-save people and as he began to re-save people he began to teach them the Sabbath all over again. And he began to teach them the Sabbath to keep them from worshipping the world which would kill them. But it’s not enough to just teach the Sabbath because you can teach things and then not have the ability to do them. There’s nobody who can bridge the gulf between what God says and what we ought to do. There is a massive gulf of disobedience there and that’s why Jesus came and died to bridge the gulf between what we know and what we fail to do. And then he said to people “come and I will give you rest,I will give you Sabbath”.
So this short section in Exodus chapter 35 immediately after the idolatry of the Golden Calf is not a piece of ancient irrelevance. Here is God saying this obsession with stuff and matter and work and money and progress and success will kill you. I command you to stop and think about things to do with eternity and the kingdom. That’s what God says here.
It’s very interesting – he asks them to stop and do nothing before he asks them to work on the tabernacle.
So it’s not irrelevant,it’s not Victorian moralism – this is God saying to people if you worship the world and if you fail to recognise what is bigger and better than the world,you will die.
So isn’t God just being kind (although it is God being kind) he’s actually laying down the rules. He’s saying to the people ‘you are my people; this is what my people must do’. And you see he’s actually the one who rules their days and he also rules their ways. He is saying to them ‘your week is mine 6 days are mine,7 days are mine,your life is mine,your values are mine,your priorities are mine – I am dictating to you,you are not dictating to me.
There are days,aren’t there,in the Christian life where sin is quite active and then we slowly but surely come back to the mercy of God and then that word of God comes back to our mind,doesn’t it,and it says – remember he’s in charge of you – you just drifted,you just wandered away,you were just disobedient,you were just stupid,you’ve come back through the mercy of God – He rules you.
And there are days in the Christian life when life is pretty easy and good and that’s when we slacken off – holidays are not great for me! and we get away from the patterns of the normal week and we get away often from just those patterns and habits which do us good and we become slack. The Word of God tells us that if you become slack and then disobedient and you walk down a road away from God there will be death down that road and the Word of God says – come back to the rule of God because when you come back to the rule of God that’s where you’ll find paradoxically your freedom. So here is God dictating that he rules.
The second thing about God which is the whole of chapters 35-40 and has to do with the Tabernacle,the Tent is that he relates. God relates. That’s what the Tabernacle Tent is for. It’s because God is still planning to live among his people although they are sinful and relate to them although they are wayward.
The Golden Calf incident has been a terrible incident and yet the mercy of God has been seen to be sufficient even for that sin. And here he is he is going ahead with the Tabernacle.
Brothers and Sisters isn’t that an encouraging thing? Isn’t it an encouraging thing to read the three chapters of the Golden Calf and then get to the next chapter and see here is a God who still persists with sinful people?
And you can see that God has not only forgiven them but he has also begun to do a transforming work in their hearts because this tabernacle was to be made with metal and material and oil which the people had in their possession. They had lots of precious metal because they had been given a lot as they left Egypt by the Egyptians. They obviously had lots of material and they also had these oils and so God was not asking them to do something beyond them,he was asking them to build a tabernacle from what they had in their possessions.
And in verse 21 of chapter 35,it says: ‘and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved him came and brought offerings’. Then in chapter 36 verse 3 ‘the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning’. Then in chapter 36 verse 6 ‘Moses had to give instruction and say to the people STOP,no more,do not bring any more,we have got more than enough’ – metals,materials and oils.
So God’s heart was committed to the Tent and their heart was committed to the Tent too. As one commentator says “when the human heart is right the purse strings release”.
And so here is God planning this wonderful Tent of Meeting in the midst of his people and the people are saying that’s what we want. We want you in our midst.
Now I’ve seen this heart prompted generosity again and again and again the Christian life. I’ve seen it again and again and again in the churches.
I just want to imagine with you that I’m interviewing up front this morning just as a matter of interest,a family who have,let’s say,come from Africa and they are total refugees in the country. Here I am and I am talking to the husband with the wife up front and they have got 5 or 6 kids and they are godly,trusting,Christian people.
They are staying in what is essentially a one or two bedroom flat and they have absolutely nothing. And I ask them about how they’ve come to the country and how they are trusting the Lord and how they want to serve him in a new place and then we finish the interview and I absolutely guarantee that from this congregation and maybe from others at this church,things would begin to pour in of beds,and cupboards and crockery and cutlery and food and clothes and blankets and white goods and maybe a television because the need would have reached your heart and you would have responded and I would at one point perhaps have to say ‘we’ve got enough,STOP’. And that’s what is happening here.
Here in Exodus 35-40 God is planning to relate to his people and his people want to relate to him,this is a two-way keen relationship.
Now an application if you are a visitor today and you are not a Christian,do you know that Jesus Christ came into the world,and the Bible says “He tabernacled or he tented or he camped into the world for 3 years specifically to form a relationship with you – yes you”. And therefore the question is: since his heart is committed to you – what’s your heart like? Have you got to the point,as it says in John chapter 1,of receiving him? Because then you have a relationship with him which will never break.
And of course for the bulk here this morning who are believers,we are being reminded,as this tent is being set up in the middle of the Old Testament people that God is a God who has keen relationship with sinners and therefore although we drift and fade and we wander and we do all sorts of stupid things,I want to ask you this morning – what’s your heart like? Are you in that kind of cool stage? Are you in that compromising stage? Are you in the unbelieving stage? Are you in the drift? Are you in close fellowship? Are you walking with him in joyful fellowship?
Because maybe you need to say to him if your heart is keen for fellowship and mine is not so keen,would you help me because there is nothing worse than a miserable back-sliding Christian. And there’s nothing more joyful and there’s nothing more fruitful than a person who is walking with a heart drawn up to Jesus knowing that his heart is drawn down to them. Here you see is God,who is a God who relates.
The third thing from this section this morning is that God ransoms. This is the point of the tabernacle and all the details and all the furniture that is inside the tabernacle – there’s an Ark,there’s a table,there’s a lamp stand,there are two altars,there’s a priest and he’s got special clothes to wear and all of this says – God ransoms.
The Ark of course was a wooden box covered with gold and on top of the gold lid (not a very big box – just your average cardboard box size) and this is made of wood and it’s covered with gold and there’s a lid on the top and on the top are the 2 cherubims- these two figures with wings and God in his condescension and mercy said ‘I’ll meet there – that’s the symbol of my presence – that’s where I’ll meet with you’. So the Ark was very important in the middle of the tabernacle.
And then you’ve got the lamp stand to give them some light. And you’ve got the table for the utensils,washing and you’ve got the altar for sacrifices (quite a big altar with a bronze top) and you’ve got the altar for incense so that thanksgiving can be offered to God for his mercy and then you’ve got the priest standing there who has been very carefully dressed and very carefully prepared for his role in this particular work.
Now I know we get over-familiar with ransom – yes we’ve got ransom – OK I’ve sinned,yes I’ve got forgiveness – OK it’s all easy – I just want all my problems solved.
But it good for us every now and again to remember that this ransom has come to us so freely and so fully and where would we be without it?
I was talking to an 85 year old lady on the weekend and she said that she had been deeply moved at her Sunday service the week before as she had been reflecting at the Communion Service on what Christ had done for her,not only physically but spiritually and it deeply moved her and I thought what a wonderful thing if you can get to 85,having been a Christian for 85 years,and be re-freshed thinking through the work of the Lord Jesus for you. It would be a very sad situation,wouldn’t it,if we get to the point where we know everything and care for nothing.
And when it comes to this forgiveness,this ransom that God gives to us,what would you do if it was not so available? What would you do if I was talking to you over coffee this morning and I said “you know,what have you fallen into this last week?” O you’ve fallen into this and this – you know the Bible says there’s no forgiveness for that. I’m sorry there’s no answer. You’ll have to carry that alone. That would kill you. There’s no future for you.
There’s a painting apparently in Washington DC of the prodigal son having come home but it’s a very interest picture because the prodigal son has come home to absolutely desolation. There’s no home,there’s no father,there’s no welcome,there’s no forgiveness,there’s no robe,there’s no ring,there’s no celebration because he’s bankrupted his family. He’s killed them. He’s destroyed them.
Just imagine we were clear and desperate on our sin and we went to God and said – we are asking for forgiveness and the answer came back – ‘there’s nothing’.
But the Bible tells us,doesn’t it,that God’s grace and mercy is so abundant and so great that he is able to deal with whatever you have done this week and whatever you have said this week and whatever you have thought this week. We have a tremendous gift in the ransom of God,don’t we?
And it’s all symbolised here in the furniture in the middle of the tent. So these tent details in chapters 35 to 40 (and incidentally it’s the second time we’ve been given all the details and so it’s not the best Quiet Time material is it?)
Chapters 25-31 – Furnishings,furnishings
Chapters 35-40 – Furnishings,furnishings
Unless you are an interior decorator,these chapters are not going to mean a great deal to you. What are we being told twice about all this furniture? And partly because it’s vital information for forgiveness and the Jews loved to have everything repeated but mostly we are being told because what God says to do,they are now planning to do keenly. And that’s not irrelevant. Just imagine if things that we were singing hearing in church Sunday by Sunday we then just went and did – that would revolutionise our life wouldn’t it and the people we mix with and the church itself? It’s the ‘knowing’ and the ‘doing’ which we are watching here in Exodus and is so wonderful.
So the tent is in place,the Ark is in place symbolically where God dwells. The lamp stand has lit up the tent,the altar is there for the offerings,the altar is there for the incense,the priests are carefully prepared,and they are dressed for this serious role. They have got bells on their hems! (Do you know why they have got bells on their hems? – Because when they walk in to the Holy of Holies and they move around,the people outside know they are still alive – they have not been struck down because if the bells stop ringing,somebody has got to pull that rope which is around the ankle of the High Priest and pull them out.)
And on the head gear of the High Priest is written ‘Holy to the Lord’. So it’s a rich,serious,wonderful reminder that God is a God who ransoms.
Now it was a very effective system because God had planned it but it didn’t really atone for sin because the Bible tells us in Hebrews 10 you can’t pay for human sin with animal blood. The blood of bulls and goats says the writer of Hebrews in chapter 10,doesn’t cover human sin.
It’s only when Jesus came and lived a perfect life and offered to do an exchange with sinners and paid with his blood and offered up the righteous self – that’s where an effective forgiveness came. That’s where we can be completely set free and as he set this offering of himself and God raised him from the grave and he entered up into glory and the Bible says he prays for his people,he ever prays for his people and he has sympathy for us and he is able to save forever – he is the superior,perfect High Priest. He’s the ransoming one.
That’s why he says in Mark 10 “I didn’t come to be served by you – I came to serve you and to give my life as a ransom for many”.
Fourth and last this morning,God resides. Please turn with me to chapter 40 verse 34 at the very end of the section. We didn’t get to read this but I’d love to show it to you.
Exodus 40 verse 34 (these are the last words of the book of Exodus) “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. In all the travels of the Israelites,whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle,they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift,they did not set out – until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day and fire was in the cloud by night,in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels”.
Well do I need to remind you that the cloud is a symbol of God’s presence? The cloud going before them in the wilderness,the cloud settling on Mount Sinai and here unbelievably the cloud of God comes down and enters the tent. It’s a big tent – it’s about the size of this building that we are in this morning. But still can you imagine taking the God of the universe into a tiny little building on a tiny little planet in one of the billions of galaxies – unbelievable that he would do this and he filled it.
Well you can’t miss the point of the message,can you? He comes down,although he is the God of the universe. He fills the Tent with glory to the point where Moses doesn’t dare anymore to walk in. He decides whether they will stay or move and he shows himself to every one of the Israelites for the whole of their travels. He couldn’t be more gracious.
And it’s hard not to feel the force of the New Testament fulfilment of this when God by his Holy Spirit takes up residence in his people. That’s why Jesus says ‘where two or three gather in my name,there am I by my spirit in the midst of you’ and then he says to the believers in John 14 “the Holy Spirit will be in you forever’. The residence of God – unbelievable.
That’s why it would be a great mistake to read these chapters and just say ‘what sort of material do you have’? what sort of metal do you have?’ what sort of oil do you have?’ what sort of gifts do you have?’ That’s all useful but it’s all about God. These chapters are telling us about God.
I want to close by asking you some quick questions before we pray.
On the matter of God ruling,ruling our days and ruling our paths,I want to ask you this question: is there a part of your life which is fighting his rule? Is there a part of your life which is unsurrendered? Is there a secret part to your life where you basically say to him – this is out of bounds? And if that’s the situation you are in,it’s just not Christianity because as the old saying goes “He’s the Lord of All or He’s not Lord at all”. Every single part has to be brought under the rule of God.
Secondly relating to his relating – the Tent in the middle of his people. I want to ask you whether there is a two-way relationship which you are enjoying with God. Are you confident with his grace to you through the Lord Jesus and his promises? Are you a person who has sincerely put your faith in Christ? Do you know his grace to you? Have you put your faith in him? Are you enjoying the relationship? Those are the questions.
Thirdly,since God is a ransoming God and has set up an altar in the tabernacle of the Old Testament and has caused the Lord Jesus to die on the cross,I want to ask you – since the Old Testament tabernacle has disappeared,do you look on Christ as your Saviour? Not only do you look on him as your Saviour but do you have peace with God because of Him?
And the fourth question,because God is a residing God,the cloud moves into the tabernacle,is the presence of God in your life real? Are you able to say the Holy Spirit has brought me assurance and he is changing my life and he is directing my life along the path of the word?
Because you see Exodus doesn’t teach slavery to Promised Land – that’s a Bible theme. Exodus teaches slavery to God. And that’s where the Christian stands in the world – Slaves to God. We are not yet at the Promised Land – he will take his people to the Promised Land – but in the present we are out of the slavery and we are in Christ and because we are in Christ and he is our Ruler and he relates to us and we to him and he has ransomed us and we are forgiven and he resides in us by the Holy Spirit,we are in the magnificent position of having the whole of our journey changed and all the parts of our life affected for good.
Let’s pray,let’s bow our heads –
Loving Father we thank you that out of sheer kindness you are a God who delivers from slavery and brings to fellowship with yourself. We are conscious that we are very like the Israelites,wayward,foolish,doubting and fearful. We do give you great thanks this morning that you are committed and plan our life and our joy.
We ask that you would help us to live under the rule of the Lord Jesus. We pray that you would strengthen our relationship with you in humble dependence. We also pray that you would fill us with joy as we think of the ransom that you have worked at the cross and we pray as the Holy Spirit resides in our heart he would fill and rule our heart to your praise and to our usefulness and to our joy.
We ask it all in Jesus’ Name – Amen.