God With Us (Exodus 25:1-9, 40:24-38)
Big Idea: What does God want from you? He wants to live with you. And he’s humbled himself to do so.
A lot of people say the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, is boring. I don’t buy it.
We’re looking at the second book of the Hebrew Scriptures, and it’s anything but boring. You’ve got bad guys and you’ve got underdogs who need help. You’ve got murder, miracles, plagues, and the dramatic rescue of an entire nation. And then you’ve got God showing up and speaking audibly to an entire nation to tell them how to live.
I have a lot of words to describe the book of Exodus so far, and boring isn’t one of them.
But I get it. We looked last week at the law, and one of the complaints that people have about the law is that it’s so boring. If you were here last week I said that the law is rooted in God’s authority and character, and points to true freedom in all of life. I would argue that God’s law is anything but boring. The law is God’s instruction on how to live a life of freedom. You want to know how to love God and love your neighbor so that society functions well? The law shows us how. The law shows how much God cares for the details of our lives. It shows God’s concern for every area of life, including social justice and even the care of animals. Even the law, which some people find boring, shows how much God cares about how we live.
We’re looking at another section today that some people find boring. It’s a set of instructions on building the Tabernacle, found in Exodus 25 to 31, followed by the actual building of the Tabernacle, found in Exodus 35-41. In other words, we’re covering 14 chapters of the book of Exodus today. I hope you didn’t make dinner plans!
To some people, reading about construction plans and the building of the Tabernacle is about as exciting as reading architectural drawings. But it’s actually quite exciting, because this part of Exodus gets at the heart of not just the book of Exodus but the whole Bible.
Here’s what we learn. Two things.
First, We Learn What God Wants With Us.
What does God want with us? It’s one of the most important questions we’ll ever answer.
According to one author (Skye Jethani), most of us get the answer wrong. We completely misunderstand what God wants from us. He says that most of us have one of four postures before God, and none of them quite get at the relationship that God wants with us.
- Life from God — Wanting God’s blessings and gifts, but not God himself; using God to get our desires; focuses on consuming. This is worshiping God for what he can give us — if we obey him, we hope he’ll give us the good life. We have a relationship with God because we want him to bless us.
- Life over God — Abandoning God in favor of proven formulas and controllable outcomes; the implementation of useful principles; focuses on managing. This is thinking that we can get some control over God by how we live. We think we need a relationship with God, but let’s face it: we just have to dig down deep and make sure that we create the kind of life we want for ourselves, because nobody’s going to do it for us.
- Life for God — Focusing on accomplishing great things for God; a task to accomplish; focuses on serving. This sounds better. We think that we will lay down our lives sacrificially and do something for God that really matters. We want a relationship with God so that we can do something for him.
- Life under God — Relating to God according to cause and effects — we obey and God blesses; a set of rules and rituals to follow; focuses on sin. We want a relationship with God because when we obey him, he will give us what we need.
I want you to take a moment and think about which one of these characterizes your relationship with God. Are you here today because you want something from God? Are you here today because you’re looking for a set of principles you can follow that will lead to success in your life? Are you here today because you want to give your life in service to God? Or are you here thinking that if you do your part, then God will do his part, and then your life will turn out pretty well?
According to author, and according to the book of Exodus, all of these approaches to God fall short. Why? Because none of them is really good news. None of them really captures the magnitude of what God wants with us.
What does God want with us? Out of all the things that God tells us in these 14 chapters, here’s the heart of what we need to learn:
And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. (Exodus 25:8)
I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God. (Exodus 29:45-46)
Hear this: God’s primary purpose for us isn’t to give us things, to be managed, for you to live your life for him or under him. God’s primary purpose is to live with us — that he may dwell among us and be our God. In fact, this is the very thing that sets God’s people apart from everyone else. Moses says in chapter 33: “Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:16). God’s presence is what sets us apart.
Think about what this means for a minute.
What was Israel’s primary problem when they were in Egypt? You and I may think that their primary problem is that they were in slavery and needed to be rescued. That was a significant problem. But that wasn’t their main problem. Their main problem is that God wasn’t living with them. God wants to dwell with his people. We were meant to live in his presence, and God will do everything possible to make his home among us.
Not only does God choose to live with us, but he goes to great lengths to do so. If you study Exodus 25 to 31, you learn that there are a lot of precious materials used to construct the tabernacle. There’s onyx, pure gold, a bronze altar, and so on. This is a very costly endeavor. There’s a lot of skilled workmanship that goes into the construction of the tabernacle. A lot of this parallels the Garden of Eden. The tabernacle is God’s portable Garden of Eden, in which he can live with his people and move with them as they travel.
But on the other hand, it’s a tent. The ordinary word for tent takes place in Exodus 26:7 and occurs frequently after that. It’s the common word for tent — the same word that’s used for the tents that the Israelites used in their travel through the wilderness. God’s tabernacle was, as someone says, “the tent God used when God went camping.” God is so committed to living with his people that he’s willing to humble himself — just as he does later when Jesus takes on human flesh so that he can live among us as one of us.
Consider what this means.
God is incredibly relational. Suppose that I came to you after the service today and said, “What are you doing on Wednesday night?” I hate when people ask me questions, because I want to know why they’re asking before I answer! Do I want a favor from you? Do I want to enlist you in some project? Suppose that you found a way to delicately ask my purpose, and I said, “I can’t think of anything more that I would want to do than to spend time with you. There is nothing that would make me happier than to enjoy the privilege of spending some time with you.”
Now you would know that my purpose is relational, and you would have to decide whether that is a good thing or not. You’d have to decide whether me offering my friendship to you is something that improves your life or takes away from it!
But now imagine that we are having a conversation with God. And we begin to analyze God’s motives. Does God want my obedience? Is he waiting for me to get my act together? What in the world does God want with me?
And then imagine the answer coming back: his intention is to make us his treasured possession. He wants to live with us, spend time with us, and to be our God.
We worship a relational and personal God. God isn’t interested in being the means by which we acquire our treasure. He wants to be our treasure himself.
We were meant to live life with God, right now. We can commune with him, trust him, and enjoy unending union with him no matter how hard life gets. We can find our hope in God rather than circumstances, and enjoy a loving relationship with him. We are beloved by God. He wants to live with us.
If you think that this is a quirk, just a random part of Exodus but not a major part of the Bible, think again. It was his purpose in the beginning of the Bible. Eden was a place where we could live in God’s presence. But then humanity was expelled from God’s presence because of sin. But then it becomes a major theme in the Hebrew Scriptures. The phrase “I will be with you” occurs in some form almost a hundred times in the Hebrew Scriptures. And then we get to Jesus, who is called Immanuel, which means God With Us. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This is the amazing news. God himself has come to live among us!
And that’s not all. The New Testament repeatedly teaches that we — the church — are God’s dwelling place.
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ… (1 Peter 2:4-5)
And the end of the Bible is that this vision of God dwelling with his people becomes our permanent reality.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
Do you want to know the best thing about the life to come? It isn’t that we will live forever. It isn’t that that death will die. It isn’t that we will get to see loved ones that have passed on. It isn’t that we will get to enjoy all the blessings of eternity. The best thing about the life to come is that God will live with us. We will get to enjoy God’s presence.
A Canadian theologian studied this theme in Scripture and concluded:
Christians must awaken to the reality of the presence of the living God in their midst. What sets Christianity apart as unique is not only the deity of Jesus Christ but also the believer’s personal relationship with this living Lord. The Christian faith is much more than a creed and a code of conduct; it is communion with the risen Lord. As Christians truly love the Lord, enjoy his nearness, meditate on his excellence, and submit to his rightful authority, they will be compelled to share him with others.
The heart of Christianity is a relational God who wants to live with us. We get to enjoy this right now. This is the heart of the Christian message.
Secondly, We Learn the Obstacle That Gets in the Way and What God Has Done About It.
Now we get to the problem.
The whole of the second half of Exodus is about the design and construction of the tabernacle. The only exception is the story that we’re going to look at next Sunday. While God is giving instructions for the tent where he will live among them, the people of Israel are making a golden calf. They’re breaking the covenant that God has just made with them. They’re cheating on God before the honeymoon even begins.
As a result, God says to Moses: “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people” (Exodus 33:3). This is horrible news! Because of their sin, God isn’t willing to live with them anymore. The very thing that God wants most and that his people need most is being lost.
But Moses says, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here” (Exodus 33:15). Moses understands that if God doesn’t come with them, there’s no point. John Piper said a similar thing:
The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have Heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with Heaven, if Christ was not there?”
The answer has to be no. If God isn’t with us, there’s no point at all. More than anything else, we need God to live with us.
We get to the end of the book in Exodus 40, and we read that God does indeed move in and dwell among them.
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34-45)
There’s the good news and the bad news. God dwells among them, but he’s so holy that a sinner can’t enter his presence. What is the solution to this problem?
Exodus never tells us, but the book of Hebrews does. Hebrews says this:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:19-23)
Through his death, Jesus has made a way for sinful people to come boldly into the presence of God. God dwells with his people. This is amazing news!
The heart of the Christian message is that God wants to live with his people. And Jesus has made it possible for God to live with us despite our sin.
There is nothing more profound that I could say to you today. What does God want from you? He wants to live with you. And he’s humbled himself to do so. Won’t you enjoy this privilege today?