October 8, 2008
Through the Tabernacle
by Katherine Britton, Crosswalk.com News & Culture Editor
“Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?”
1 Corinthians 3:16
Looking around the replica, all I could see was the white tent walls and the spray-painted altar. That life-size recreation of the Mosaic tabernacle was spotless, absent the blood and fire that was so central to the Israelites worship. Yet our tour guide continued to emphasize the duties of the outer courtyard, where the Israelites would bring their lambs, doves, or even flour to repent of their sins. A fire that never died would consume their offering to illustrate how their sin was consumed. Every day, the high priest would sacrifice on that courtyard altar of behalf of the people who daily sinned.
This was all in the outer courtyard, where the common man could come if he was escorted by the priest. But a veil separated him – as it separated me in the replica – from the Holy Place, where only the high priest could go. The priest would cleanse his hands and feet from the blood of the day, then enter to offer incense on the altar in that Place. But no other Israelite ever saw even that room, much less the Holy of Holies. The only one who could enter and intercede for the people was one specially appointed by God, and even that came after all kinds of ceremonial washing and sacrifice.
And the holiest place of all – the very place of God’s presence – in the Holy of Holies was so sacred that it was only accessible one day of the year, with so much sacrifice and symbolism that it completely boggles the modern mind. The priest would lay his hands on the “scapegoat” to symbolically place all of his and the people’s sins on the goat before entering the Holy of Holies (for the record, that goat was never allowed inside the Holy Place). The priest could only approach the Mercy Seat after transferring his sins.
Here’s the bottom line: God’s explicit instructions allowed no sin to come before Him. The priests went through all kinds of measures to make sure they were ceremonially clean before entering behind the curtain into His presence.
Now consider this: “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’” (2 Corinthians 6:16)
As Christians, we are the new tabernacle. We live in the constant presence of God, because He lives with us. We have direct access that the Israelites couldn’t have dreamed of. And yet it’s so easy to get comfortable with idols in the temple.
As the perfect sacrifice, Christ only had to die once to atone, not daily like all the sheep and goats of Israel. The price of salvation isn’t constantly before our eyes like it was for them. Ironically, that tempts me to be complacent about the cost, and let the little sins and idols start creeping into my heart – God’s temple. If God gave such specific instructions to keep His earthly home clean of sin, why do I think I’m exempt? My salvation isn’t even a lamb that I brought myself; it’s the Lamb who came to be slaughtered for me before I was born.
Intersecting Faith & Life: In the New Testament, Christ has to come into the temple and literally overthrow the corruption at work there, because He simply can’t tolerate uncleanness in a holy place. Are you actively cleansing the temple of the Holy Spirit everyday, confessing the hidden sins and desires? Or have you gotten lazy and let the idols set up in your heart? As believers, we are called to be set apart for Christ, holy before Him. Are we?