November 4, 2007

Earthen vessels, indeed!

Today I go to a building to worship God, but am reminded again that God does not need a building. In 1 Kings 8:27, Solomon prayed, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!

Why then do we have them? My devotional reading says that the building, beginning with the tabernacle in the wilderness, was not for God but for sinners. When sin separated Adam and Eve from God, their immediate access came to an end. He didn’t want that so mercifully covered their sin with tunics of animal skins, a shadow of the sacrificial system to be established. The death of animals to take their place pointed to Christ, the ultimate sacrificial substitute who would die for the sins of the whole world.

After they were put out of God’s presence in Eden, God eventually added more elements to enable His people to have this mediated access to Him. He introduced a meeting place and human mediators—a tabernacle and priests.

The tent or tabernacle in the wilderness was not for God either. God is everywhere and does not need a place to live, but because of sin, humanity has lost that sense of Him. They gained forgiveness through faith that He accepted their sacrifices, but they still needed to know that He was with them.

In great mercy and love, God took the initiative to meet with them in a special way. He chose a tent first, then a temple, both built to His specific instructions. By their design elements and the prescribed way of entering and meeting with God, both served as a reminder of the perfections of Eden that they had lost, and a vivid picture that the way back to God was through His provision for their redemption—a substitute must die for their sins. This ritual would be repeated until the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus Christ, offered Himself.

Now those animal sacrifices are no longer necessary, but what about the building? The Jewish temple no longer stands. Does that mean Christian churches are obsolete, not needed?

The New Testament says that the dwelling place of God, meaning again that special place where God meets with His people (He still is everywhere), has changed. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God . . . ?

Christians have a new meeting place. The Bible says He lives in us, makes His Spirit dwell in us. He does not live in everyone, only those who put their faith in Him and in the One who died for our sin.

That special sense of God’s presence is as close to me as He could possibly get. Again, this is not for God. He doesn’t need a place to live, but I need to know His nearness. This is partly for my comfort, but mostly that I might know Him, worship Him in spirit and meet Him in holiness. Without His presence in my life, none of that would be possible.

As for the building, it’s a convenience for the Body of Christ. In the early church, they met in one another’s homes. We still do that, but the size of our homes limits the gathering. Corporate worship needs space and because we live in a country that allows us to freely gather, we have buildings to facilitate that requirement.

The buildings are helpful, yet God still does not need a house. I’m of the opinion that we confuse ourselves by calling a building the house of God. God isn’t confined to church buildings. It seems to me more important to emphasize that He has chosen to live in our hearts.

How is this practical? I’m sure that the sense of God’s presence made a huge difference in the behavior of the Israelites as they entered the tabernacle. I’m sure that walking into the temple, even into the outer courts, made them more aware of the mighty creative and redemptive power of God. These places should also have made them more aware of their shortcomings and their need for Him.

Considering that, how should I respond to the fact that God lives in me? 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 continues, “ . . . and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.

The Lord has taken up residence in me. This residence belongs to Him so my choices and even my thoughts should reflect that humbling and awesome reality. Oh, my goodness, I feel totally inadequate, but that’s as it should be. The Bible also says that “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us.” I don't have to do this by myself!

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