EXODUS: THE BIG READ / CH. 40 / “Heaven on Earth & Glory in the Tabernacle”

A sermon on Exodus 40 given by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on November 15, 2020 the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost. This sermon is part of a series on the book of Exodus, entitled “Exodus: The Big Read.”

I. What’s So Glorious About Glory?

Well, it all ends in glory. Exodus 40:34 reads, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” That word – glory – is, perhaps, so overly familiar to us that its meaning has become obscured. What is God’s glory? In the Hebrew, it literally means weight. It refers to the inmost nature or being of someone or something. It’s what the person is all about. So what is God all about? I want to persuade today that it is his glory to give himself to us. And I want us to see that in three ways in relation to the tabernacle.

II. The Tabernacle for Then (God’s Old Testament People)

As the tabernacle went with the people of Israel, it was intended to serve at least two purposes:

1. As a miniature of creation and the hope of new creation:

Think about v. 33 and how it sums up the construction, inspection, and implementation of the tabernacle: “So Moses finished the work.” Just as God finished the work of creation, so Moses finished the work of the tabernacle, all to God’s exact specifications! As in the Garden, so in the tabernacle: this is a place where God and man dwell, albeit now in a limited way because of sin. Tim Chester writes: “The tabernacle is the architect’s model, a visual representation of the promise that God will dwell among his people. … [H]eaven-on-earth in microcosm.” (Exodus for You, pg. 251, 255)

2. As a magnet, pulling in many people, not just Israelites.

And here we see that God intends the microcosm of his dwelling place to get progressively bigger throughout history. That it’s going to include more and more people as God reveals more of his glory. In fact, when Solomon’s Temple is built, it’s built to the same specifications as the Tabernacle, but doubled in size. The microcosm is getting bigger. And the Temple is supposed to be the storm center. The Temple is given, not so that Israel will simply bask in the rays of God’s glory, but extend those rays of blessing over the world. Remember, they were blessed to be a blessing. The promise made to Abraham was that in him, all the nations of the world would be blessed.

In Isaiah 58, the Lord declares this:

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
The Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
besides those already gathered.”

Unfortunately, this is also where we see, perhaps, Israel’s greatest failure. In fact, by the time of our Lord, the time of the Second Temple, the Temple is so cluttered, so insular, so overwhelmed with exclusivity, that it’s no longer serving its purpose. You can go online and see one of the Temple Warning inscriptions recovered from the 1st century. They were placed in what was called “The Court of the Gentiles” and read, “No stranger is to enter within the [railing] round the temple and enclosure. Whoever is caught will be himself responsible for his ensuing death.” Did the people of God forget where they came from? Did they forget rescue of Exodus?

Friends, we are in a time where the church of Jesus is strongly tempted to become insular instead of engaging and inward-facing rather than outward-going. Our God has always been a missionary God, and the tabernacle, his mobile home, far from being irrelevant, is his first demonstration to this commitment.

III. The Tabernacle for Now (God’s New Testament People)

One of the ways we as Christians can reflect on the tabernacle, is to mark well and meditate deeply on the ways in which it has been superseded by Christ himself. How does the tabernacle, this place of glory, set us up for the final revelation we have in Jesus?

At the moment of Jesus’ death, the moment of “it is finished,” that inner Most Holy Place, that place of glory is undone. Matthew 27:51, “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” The place where the glory of God is contained gets ripped open! In the cross of Jesus, God has come to us!

Michael Reeves put it this way: “Astonishingly, the moment when Jesus finally reaches the deepest point of his humiliation, at the cross, is the moment when he is glorified and most clearly seen for who he is. On the cross we the glorification of the glory of God, the deepest revelation of the very heart of God – and it is all about laying down his own life to give life, to bear fruit. The Reformer John Calvin wrote that “in the cross of Christ, as in a magnificent theatre, the inestimable goodness of God is displayed before the whole world. In all the creatures, indeed, both high and low, the glory of God shines, but nowhere has it shone more brightly than in the cross.” (Delighting in the Trinity, pg. 127, quote from Calvin found in Commentary on John, 13.31)

Pastor Tom Baker helpfully points out that all our signs and symbols in the church point us to the fact that God has come to us. That God has given himself to us! What do I mean by that? Think first of the pulpit – the word of God being faithfully delivered to us week-by-week, day-by-day. The Table, Christ’s body and blood being fed to us. The font – the water washing us and sealing us in the Holy Spirit.

These all point to the astounding reality we have in Christ: he has come to us and we his people are now his temple, inhabited by the Holy Spirit himself.

Tim Chester reminds us: “Of all the blessings God gives (and there are many), this is the greatest: God himself, in his glory. … In the end and at the end, what we get from God is God.” (Exodus for You, pg. 260)

And as it was with Israel, so it is with us. If the gift of God in Christ be that much greater, then how great is our responsibility to see that we share it with others? To ensure that the light we have is not hidden under a basket?

IV. The Tabernacle & the Age to Come (The New Heavens & New Earth)

This sounds really obvious, but the tabernacle is where the glory of heaven touches earth – they come together. And this is a picture of the solid hope we share in Jesus.

This God who shined forth in the tabernacle and who revealed his glory in Jesus Christ, his glory will one day cover all of creation. Habakkuk prophesies, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (2:14) How do the waters cover the sea? Completely.

As Tim Chester summarizes, the tabernacle shows us that the Christian hope is not 1) Heaven without earth (Gnosticism), not 2) earth without heaven (Nihilism), but 3) Heaven-on-earth. (Exodus for You, pgs. 257-258)

You know, every time we gather around the Lord’s Table, we proclaim this solid hope in the words of the Nicene Creed. We say together, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.” If we believe what we say, then how can possibly mutter our way through the Creed? We ought to shout it out! It’s not simply a recitation, it’s a proclamation of everything that really matters!

Recently, I saw a picture being shared on social media: it looked like a political yard sign, but instead it read, “In this house, we believe…” followed by the words of the Apostles’ Creed. This a vision for life bigger than any other in the culture around us! It’s a vision that proclaims that the world is being mended back together by God, through Jesus Christ. All of life is to be lived under this vision. And all people are called into it through the shed blood of Jesus Christ and his victorious resurrection!

In a world without reconciliation and forgiveness, we proclaim that our God has made both possible. In a world without a language for homecoming, we proclaim he has made a way home. In a world without hope, we proclaim the solid hope of a God like no other who gives himself to the world like no other god can or has.

And so, as we end our time in Exodus, we give all praise, honor, and glory to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Amen.

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