“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” Ephesians 2:19-22
The Mountain of God
“On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.” Exodus 19:16-19
Can you imagine being there? Before this event occurred, which had been announced, the people had to be made ready. They were consecrated and rituals happened. Warnings were given – if anyone touches the mountain they must die – but don’t you touch them, they must die by stoning or arrows. And then God descends as promised and dwells on the mountain. He invites Moses to come up, for He has something He wants to share with the people. This is after the plagues, and after the crossing of the Red Sea. They have seen God’s majesty and power from afar, which resulted in their freedom. But now God invites them to come and be His next door neighbor for a while, and it must have been overwhelming. It wasn’t just whelming, it was overwhelming! If I was there I would have probably been wondering if I did that cleansing thing right.
Simply put, this experience was about God’s transcendence, his eminence, His Otherness. God, the creator of the universe and the ends of the earth, all that we see and don’t see, was there on that mountain in a limited sense – the world wouldn’t be able to handle His full revelation. Maybe that is what the Big Bang was, if that is how things started – it was God revealing Himself! When we talk about God’s presence, we have to understand this aspect of it, that the Almighty, infinite God, all knowing, all powerful’ eternal Lord of Hosts draws near. Proverbs says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. You need to understand that characteristic of God, and in that understanding there should be fear and awe. Who are we to approach the mountain, the dwelling place of God?
I cringe when people are so flippant about God, when every other word is using His name in vain, when they go through life as if they make their own destiny. They need a glimpse of the reality of God, of how small they are in this big universe… BUT… and there is a “but” coming… and so on that Mountain of God the standard is set that we need to live up to. The 10 Commandments are given and God sets the Law. Some religions have this God. They must do exactly what the Law says or they are judged, and so all are judged, because we can’t live up to the Law, any Law.
The Tabernacle of God
Here is the curious thing – God did not stay on that mountain. After some eventful things happened, Israel found themselves on the road, travelling. God gave them some very specific instructions to build a portable dwelling place. Listen to what is written at the end 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 on 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 Israelites during all their travels.” Exodus 40:34-38
And so God moves from the mountain where the people had to travel to, and into the midst of His people. He comes closer. This eminent God becomes the imminent God. He is now in their midst, and so the people go from having this standard to having a means and a place to fulfill the standard. The tabernacle is the place to offer the sacrifices and to seek God. As God leads, the people follow. All they have to do is go outside their tent and look to the middle of the congregation and they see the cloud or the pillar. The big scary God has revealed that He is more than that, more than just a cosmic force. He wants to have relationship with us, and stoops down out of heaven to do so. He initiates it. This is still the dangerous God. People died when they were not careful in their management of what God asked of them. He still demands holiness, but know there is a very immediate reminder that God is real.
Some religions have this God. They make idols and shrines because they believe that their God is among them. They work hard to please this God, to appease His anger.
The temple of God
But here is a “curiouser” thing – God did not just stay in the midst of people, He entered their lives, their heart. Listen to Paul writing to the church in Corinth: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” 1 Corinthians 6:19
People thought God was close when He was in the tabernacle, but He came even closer. You see, He set this standard. He revealed His character and said to us that this is the way to live. We found we couldn’t, no matter how hard we tried, and so God in His grace came to dwell among us as a man. He not only showed us how to live, but provided the way to do it – Christ in us. This is the big “BUT” we were waiting for. It was a mystery for so long how it would work out, but when Jesus came and lived and died and rose again, the mystery was solved.
David gives us a clue in Psalm 15 when He wrote: “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart.” He knew there was a way to walk on that mountain, and so he called us to holiness even way back then. Today we can enter the throne room of God boldly because the blood of the Lamb is sprinkled on our hearts. What other religion has their God dwelling that close?
This brings us to the church. The church is made up of you and I – every member an individual dwelling place of God, so that where two or three are gathered, God is in our midst as a community. What does this mean? It means we still have this fear, this respect of the great and all powerful God, but because His grace is shed abroad in our hearts we call Him Abba, Father. It means that God’s character will be seen in us, for He indwells us. It means we are all brothers and sisters, family, because we have the same heritage/parentage. It means that we are part of the same Kingdom of God. It means that the power of the resurrection and the fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings are part of who we are. Greater is He that is in us, than He that is in the world. It means there is no fear in God’s perfect love. It means we are victors in the spiritual battle we are called to. It means we have a friend that sticks closer than a brother, a twin brother. If we really believe and understand that God dwells here, it changes everything.