This is the last sermon in the Book of Exodus, we were at number 12, I thought we would begin with two quick questions to get our perspective.
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 to 40, all about?6 chapters on tent building. Most preachers would avoid these chapters. Not many people, they think of the Book of the Exodus, go to the last chapters and think, “Oh, there’s a great section on tent building at the end.”
If you’re making a film of this Book of Exodus, you’d make a big thing of the crossing of the Red Sea, and you’d make something of Mount Sinai, and the Ten Commandments, and you may make something of the Golden Calf, and the idolatry. Maybe even if you are doing an MA-type movie, you’d make a big thing of the orgy that seems to have followed, but you wouldn’t do anything with Chapters 35 to 40. You just leave them out. And yet here they are, not only at length at the end of the book, but they’re 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, think about where it begins and where it finishes. It’s beginning in slavery, and it concludes with fellowshipping, 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 in to 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 that 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 eagle’s 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.
I want this morning to take four issues in the last chapters, which are all about God. And if you get to your car this morning and I happen 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.”
The first thing is that God rules, “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 shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord.'”
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’re just given one opportunity to start talking to the people, what are you gonna say to the people? Why would you talk to them about the Sabbath? Why bring up the subject of a Sabbath?
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’re being but utterly miserable. Then, at the end of the day, quite proud that you’ve stuck it out and other people haven’t. We’re 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 business, and materialism.
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, is designed to lift 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 launched 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 resave people, and as He began to resave 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’s 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 failed 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 in the kingdom.” That’s what God says here. It’s very interesting, He asked them to stop and do nothing before He asked 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’ll die.” So it 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’re my people, this is what my people must do.”
He’s actually the one who rules their days, and He also rules their ways. He is saying to them, “Your week is mine, six days are mine, seventh is mine, your life is mine, your values are mine, your priorities are mine. I am dictating to you, you’re 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.”
There are days in the Christian life when life is pretty straightforward and good, and that’s when we, sort of, 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. And the Word of God tells us that if you become slack and then, disobedient, and you walk down a road away from God, there’ll 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 to 40, and has to do with the Tabernacle or the tent, is that He relates. That’s what the Tabernacle tent is for. It’s because God is still planning to live among His people though they’re sinful and connect to them though 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 that an encouraging thing to read the three chapters of the Golden Calf and then get to the next section, and see here is a God who still persists with sinful people?
You can see that God has not only forgiven them, but He’s also begun to do a transforming work in their heart 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 as they left Egypt by the Egyptians. They’ve 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, “Everyone who was willing and whose heart moved Him came and brought offerings.” And then in Chapter 36, verse 3, “And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning.” And then 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 was 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.”
I’ve seen this heart-prompted generosity again, and again, and again in the Christian life. I’ve seen it again, and again, and again in the churches. I just wanna imagine with you that I’m interviewing up the front this morning just as a matter of interest, a family who’ve, let say, come from Africa, and they’re total refugees in the country.
And here I am, I’m talking to the husband, the wife up the front, and they’ve got five or six kids, and they are godly, trusting, Christian people. And they are staying in what is, mostly, a one or two-bedroom flat, and they have absolutely nothing. I asked them 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 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’s happening there.
Here in this Exodus 35 to 40, God is planning to relate to His people, and His people want to connect with Him, this is a two-way keen relationship. Now application, if you’re a visitor today and you’re 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 in the world for three years specifically to form a relationship with you. Yes, you.
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’ve got a relationship, which will never break. For the bulk here this morning who are believers, we’re being reminded as this tent is being set up in the middle of the Old Testament people that God is a God who has a 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?
Maybe you need to say to Him if your heart is keen for fellowship and mind’s not so keen, “Would you help me?”
There’s nothing worse than a miserable, back-sliding Christian. And there’s nothing more joyful, and there’s nothing more fruitful than a person who’s walking with a heart drawn up to Jesus knowing that his heart is drawn down to them. Here you see is God, a god who relates.
God is a ransomer
Third thing from this section this morning is that He is a ransomer. He ransoms. And this is the point of the Tabernacle, and all the details, and all the furniture that’s inside the Tabernacle.
There’s an Ark, there’s a table, there’s a lampstand, there are two altars, there’s a priest, and he’s got special clothes to wear. All of this says God ransoms.
The Ark 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 two cherubim, 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 will meet with you.” So the Ark was very important in the middle of the Tabernacle.
Then you’ve got the lampstand to give them some lights, 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. Then you’ve got the priest standing there who’s been very carefully dressed and very carefully prepared for his role in this particular work.
I know we get over-familiar with ransom. Yes, we’ve got ransom. Yes, okay, I’ve sinned. Yes, I’ve got forgiveness. Okay, it’s all easy. I just want all my problems solved. But it is good for us every now and again, isn’t it, 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’d been deeply moved at her service, the week before. She’d 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, “Well, what a wonderful thing if you can get to 85 having been a Christian for 85 years, and be refreshed thinking through the work of the Lord Jesus for you.” It’d be a very sad situation, wouldn’t it, if we get to the point where we know everything and care for nothing.
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 was talking to you over coffee this morning and I said, you know, “What have you fallen into in this last week? Oh, 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 will kill you. There’s no future for you.”
There’s a painting apparently in Washington, D.C. of the prodigal son having come home, but it’s a very interesting picture because the prodigal son has come home to absolute 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.
Now just imagine if 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’s able to deal with whatever you’ve done this week, and whatever you’ve said this week, and whatever you’ve 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 to 31 furnishings
Chapters 35 to 40, furnishings.
Unless you’re an interior decorator these chapters are not going to mean a great deal to you. Why are we being told twice about all these furniture?
Because it’s vital information for forgiveness and the Jews love to have everything repeated. But mostly, we’re being told because what God said to do, they are now planning to do, keenly. And that’s not irrelevant. Just imagine if things that we were singing and 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 lampstand has lit up the tent, the altar is there for the offerings, the altar is there for the incense. The priests are carefully prepared. They are dressed for this serious role. They’ve got bells on their hems. You know, why they’ve got bells on their hems? Because when they walk into the Holy of Holies, and they move around, the people outside know they are still alive. They’ve 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 headgear 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 10 verse 4, “doesn’t cover human sin.” It’s only when Jesus came and lived a perfect life, and offered to do in 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 is 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. We didn’t get to read this, but I’d love to show it to you. Exodus 40:34, these are the last words of the book of Exodus, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting and the glory of the Lord covered 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 of 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, and in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.
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’re 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 the billions of galaxies, unbelievable that he would do this, and he filled it.
You can’t miss the point of the message, can you?
He comes down even though He’s 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 God decides whether they all 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. 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, “When 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. He rules He relates, He ransoms, and He resides. 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 that you’re 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.”
Second, relating to his relating, the tent in the middle of the people. I want to ask you whether there is a two-way relationship which you are enjoying with God? Are you confident of 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? That’s the question.
Third, 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?
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’s changing my life, and He is directing my life along the path of the Word?” Because you see, Exodus doesn’t teach slavery to promise 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’re not yet at the Promised Land. He will take His people to the Promised Land, but in the present, we’re out of the slavery and we’re in Christ. And because we’re in Christ and he is our ruler, he relates to us and we to him, and his ransom does, and we’re forgiven, and he resides in us by the Holy Spirit, we’re in the magnificent position of having the whole of our journey change. And all the parts of our life affected for good.
Let’s pray. Loving Father, we thank you that out of sheer kindness, you’re a God who delivers from slavery and brings to fellowship with yourself. We’re conscious that we are very like the Israelites, wayward, foolish, doubting, 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, which you’ve 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.