I have been captivated with the idea of experiencing the presence of God this week. It all started when I was dealing with the reality of undeserved or innocent suffering and how God does not give us his explanation for allowing it, but he does give us the experience of his presence in it (see Job 38-41 and 42:1-5). For the Christian, the highest privilege in life is experiencing the presence of God. To know the reality of walking with God – having him speak to us, having him give us his strength in times of difficulty, to know him personally, to be intimate with him, so we know what it is like for him to guide us, to lead us, to comfort us. Our faith is not a cerebral faith, it is not a mystical faith, it is not a faith where God is distant from us, where he is some otherworld deity who is not involved with us. Our faith is a relationship with the living and personal God where we experience his presence. Today I want to trace this thread through the Bible – noting how the presence of God is one connection that helps us understand that the Bible is one story, His-Story.
God’s presence is the experience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They walked with him in the cool of the evening, with uninterrupted fellowship. That experience will once again be ours in the New Heaven and New Earth. But because of the sin introduced when our ancestors ate the forbidden fruit, the presence of God is ours only through sacrifice, but it is ours nonetheless. When Adam and Eve sinned, God sacrificed an animal and covered their nakedness with its skin. That initiative from God enabled Adam and Eve once again to commune with God. Following the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, God manifested his presence to the Hebrew people in a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. Then he instructed them to construct the Tabernacle, a central location for sacrifice. When they did, these pillars filled the Holy of Holies and assured the people of God’s presence. When the permanent structure that replaced the Tabernacle was built by Solomon – the Temple – the Holy of Holies likewise was filled with an expression of God’s presence. But with the incarnation of Jesus, God’s presence took a new dimension. As Jesus walked among us, we beheld the glory of God, and the very presence of God was there. But there was still a reference to sacrifice as he taught that his body was the Temple of God. Further, after the sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the cross, the presence of God was not just with his people, it was in them, as the Holy Spirit of God fills those who are born of the Spirit, making our bodies the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the necessity of a central location for the presence of God, prominent in the OT, is discontinued even though the image of the Temple remained. However, there is some continuity with the OT in that there is a special presence of God in the central location of the church gathered, which is called the Temple of God. Notice Paul’s statement in Eph 2:19-22
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2:19-22 ESV)
This is a curious statement. We all know that the church is not a building, yet Paul says that God’s presence fills the church when it is gathered. How is this possible? I suggest that the answer lies in Ex 35:30-36:7, a passage that describes the construction of the Tabernacle.
Bazalel and Oholiab were the overseers of this project. Notice how the text describes them. First they were called (35:30). Then God gave them special gifts to construct all the elements of the Tabernacle (35:31-33). Then God enabled them to teach others (35:34). Then the congregation contributed all the resources needed for the project (36:3). Do you see the parallel to the NT church? God calls us to salvation, he gives us gifts, he instructs us to reproduce and teach others, and then he calls the congregation to either be or provide the resources (see Eph 4:11-12). The result of the ministry of Bazelel and Oholiab was the presence of God in the Tabernacle. The result of the ministry of NT believers is the presence of God in the church. But just how does this look in the NT church? I’ll describe that in my next post.