Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message on the Holy Place in the Tabernacle; Date: 6 September 2009

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Holy Flow

 

This is our third message on the tabernacle – the ancient worship tent – which was built according to God’s own precise blueprint. In fact, the tabernacle was modeled on what is reality in heaven even now and therefore the tabernacle remains the best teaching tool on worship for us today. The Lord said to Moses – I read from Exodus 25:9: “Make this tabernacle [that is the worship tent or dwelling place] and all its furnishing exactly like the pattern I will show youEven though this instruction was given more than thousands of years ago the truth of the tabernacle – the principles of worship – the symbolic meanings – remained modern and contempary. The Bible affirms for all Christians that the tabernacle is – I quote Hebrews 8:5 – “ … a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’”

What we learned first about the tabernacle was the main concept behind the worship tent – the top feature – which today among so many Christians is not understood: Access to God is progressive. You start at the Outer Court but then the presence of God intensifies the further you go into the Holy Place and then the Holy of Holies.

 

[Show slides of the tabernacle and give a running commentary.]

 

Then, we learned that the main problem of worship is that God is holy and we are not. How can we sinners draw near to God and not be consumed by his purity? The Bible compares the nature of God’s holiness with consuming fire (cf. Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29) and then expects us to be the same. The command is – Leviticus 19:2: “ … Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy[1 Peter 1:5: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”] Jesus – the Son of God – likewise – warns us in the Bible –  Matthew 5:17-20: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven … I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven

Therefore – even today – unless something is done with our sin we cannot draw near to God because nothing unclean is ever allowed in the presence of God. The holiness of God was so fearful that when the high-priest entered the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle once a year, he would do so with bells on his garments and a rope tied to his ankle. Outside people would listen whether the bells were still making any sounds. If everything fell silent, God might have killed the high-priest and the people – without risking the same fate – would simply pull on the rope dragging the high-priest out. God is absolutely holy and therefore – by his very nature – consumes everyone and everything that is unclean – that has any sin or any blemish.

For that reason – and this is the only way that we can draw near to God – as soon as we begin to worship – the very first stop must be at the Brazen Altar where innocent blood atones – washes away – cleanses us – from all sin. Every one of us is forgiven on account of someone else taking the punishment for our sins. In the past animals were sacrificed but all of these animal sacrifices foreshadowed what was to come: the once and for all – supreme – sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. The Bible explains – Hebrews 9:11-28: “ … Christ … did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God … It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself … ”

 

[Show slides of the brazen altar and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Give a running commentary. Add that now – through Jesus – we are all welcome in the Holy of Holies.]

 

After the Brazen Altar we come to a second brazen worship station – the Laver of Brass – and brass – by the way – is symbolic for judgement. For instance, the Bible can talk about the heavens which are as brass – closed in judgement with no blessings pouring down (cf. Deuteronomy 28:13-23; see also Numbers 21:7-9). In our spiritual experience we begin with brass, that is: sin must first be judged. This happens at the Brazen Altar and now also at the Laver of Brass which contained water for the washing of the priests.

 

[Show slides of the Laver of Brass.]

 

The Laver of Brass seems to foreshadow the ministry of the Word of God – Ephesians 5:25-26: “ … Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word … ” The Word of God has a cleansing function (like a washing with water) because the truth of God “splashes” against our sin – convicts us of our own sinful standards. In this respect it is also interesting that the Laver of Brass was made of the mirrors of women –Exodus 38:8: “ … They made the bronze basin and its bronze stand from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of MeetingMirrors – the building material for the Laver with its water – have in themselves also a cleansing function because when you look into a mirror, it makes you see your own imperfections and thus allows you to rectify your appearance. There is symbolism here because the Bible also compares the Word of God to a mirror (cf. James 1:23). The truth of God gives us a true reflection of who we are in the sight of God and thus allows us to rectify the problem and repent. As we begin to worship and move from the Brazen Altar to the Laver of Brass, we apply the Word of God to us – checking our appearance in the sight of God.

Furthermore – another cleansing aspect of God’s Word – when the lies of Satan darken our understanding and keep us imprisoned in self-condemnation and despair, then the truth of God sets us free – makes us clean – as we put our faith in Jesus and the forgiveness that we receive through him.

Lastly, there is also a foreshadowing of the cleansing water of Baptism – Acts 22:16: “ … Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on Jesus’ nameCf. Titus 3:5; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Peter 3:20-21.

 

After the preparation time at the Brazen Altar and the Laver of Brass, we can finally move on into the Holy Place and at once everything changes. We are no longer relying on natural light but enter a space where the sole source of light is burning oil and a lampstand. The building material changes from brass – the material of judgement – to silver (the entire structure of the Tabernacle was grounded in Sockets of Silver) – the material of redemption – silver was the purchase price for souls (cf. Genesis 37:28; Exodus 21:32; Matthew 27:1-9) and then also gold – the material of divine glory and God’s nature (cf. Revelations 21:18; 1 Peter 1:7).

We find the following items in the Holy Place:

 

[Slide with the three items.]

 

1) The Golden Lampstand, 2) the Table of Showbread and 3) the Altar of Incense. I want to be careful with the symbolism of every item and restrict myself to what is reasonably clear.

 

[Slide of the Golden Lampstand.]

 

The Lampstand was constructed from a single block of pure gold which weighed one talent – about 42.5 kgs – worth about $1,600,000 in today’s currency. It was a beaten work and was not fashioned from moulding or fabrication. It was made in a single piece (and its creation was a miracle – Exodus 35:30-33). The Lampstand was a central upright shaft with six branches – three on either side, making seven lamps in all which could be lit separately, but were always lit together. Each branch was ornamented with three knops, three flowers and three bowls in the shape of almonds. These bowls held the oil for the lamps. The central shaft had the same ornamentation except that there were four knops, flowers and bowls. The lamps were filled daily in the evening and dressed every morning while Israel was camped it was to burn continually and light up the Holy Place. The oil for the lamps was pure beaten olive oil and was supplied by the people.

Exodus 25:31-40: “Make a lampstand of pure gold and hammer it out, base and shaft; its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms shall be of one piece with it. Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand – three on one side and three on the other. Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. And on the lampstand there are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. One bud shall be under the first pair of branches extending from the lampstand, a second bud under the second pair, and a third bud under the third pair – six branches in all. The buds and branches shall all be of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold. Then make its seven lamps and set them up on it so that they light the space in front of it. Its wick trimmers and trays are to be of pure gold. A talent of pure gold is to be used for the lampstand and all these accessories. See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”

What truth does the Golden Lampstand signify? The people of Israel always understood the Golden Lampstand to represent the people of God whose mission was to become a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:7). The last book of the Bible contains letters to the people of God in seven churches and begins with the following vision – Revelations 1:12-16: “ … when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone ‘like a son of man,’ … his eyes were like blazing fire … his voice was like the sound of rushing waters … out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun … ” Later this vision was explained – Revelations 1:20: “The mystery … of the seven golden lampstands is this: … the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (cf. Revelations 2:5). Again – according to this vision – the golden lampstands represent the people of God. In this case there are seven lampstands – not just the one – but there are the same number of lamps – seven – lighting up the people of God.

The seven lamps speak of the seven-fold Spirit of God which is mentioned in Isaiah 11:1-2: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord … ” Also Revelations 4:5: “ … Before the throne [in heaven], seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits [or better: seven-fold Spirit] of God

What then does all of this mean? It means that we – the people of God – the church – the Golden Lampstand – need to be lighted by the seven-fold Spirit of God and not our own human lights. Another Scripture reference spells this out most clearly – Zechariah 4:1-6 – I read: “Then the angel who talked with me returned … He asked me, ‘What do you see?’ I answered, ‘I see a solid gold lampstand [again a golden lampstand representing the people of God] with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights … ’ … the angel said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty

Therefore, as God’s people we are not to depend on human might and human power and human ingenuity but the Spirit of God – the seven lights on the Golden Lampstand. I do not have to labour the point but give only one more Bible reference – 1 Corinthians 2:14: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned

A few more words on the Golden Lampstand before we try and make this practical for us today. The Golden Lampstand is made of hammered gold which can serve as a pointer to us that we are likewise – at times – hammered into the shape that God wants. [Cf. 1 Peter 1:7 talks about our faith that is of greater worth than gold but needs to be purified.] Then, the oil for the lamps was supplied by the people of God. [Cf. In the vision of Zechariah 4:1-6,11-14 two leaders of God’s people were identified as olive trees which directly fed oil into the Golden Lampstand.] And oil is again extracted in the – at times – painful process of pressing the olives – pressing us with trials and testings. Jesus himself was pressed almost beyond endurance in a garden – just before he was betrayed – wrestling in prayer with the will of God – and the place of his agony was called Gethsemane which is the very name for “olive press”. As we are pressed – as we yield to God in all circumstances – oil is released which serves as the fuel for the Holy Spirit in our lives.

It needs maturity to yield to God to that extent and therefore the Golden Lampstand featured the bud, blossom and fruit of an almond tree – all of the growth stages – whereby the mature fruit functioned as the bowl holding the oil for the lamps. In the church we need maturity so that the Holy Spirit can burn among us most brightly. [Cf. Notice also that the wick needed to be trimmed which points to the need of ongoing corrections in us.]

Now we make this practical. As we draw near to God in the Holy Place, it is the Holy Spirit that provides light. A few years ago I began prayer walking. Somehow praying in my study didn’t work – too many distractions, every incoming email made a sound, the phone. Therefore, I began walking and praying at the same time which taught me a few unexpected lessons about prayer. At first I was frustrated. I left home with a prayer list in my head and I would begin to bring before God our family and church and city, but after a while – strolling along – I would begin to relax – my thoughts would begin to wander – and – most of the time – sermon thoughts for next Sunday would come up – without effort. At home I had done all the reading and all the thinking but when I was prayer walking the sermon would take shape in exciting ways – unexpected connections – revelation – and often I had to quicken my steps home because I needed to get everything on paper before it was gone again. (This is why we need prayer journals.)

Even when I didn’t have to write a new sermon on that day – and for me this happened and happens in almost any prayer and worship context (whether at the prayer watch or a conference) – after some time – when the presence of God draws near – thoughts about sermon messages will begin to flow. What was wrong with me? Why could I not stick to my prayer list? I was thankful for the sermon thoughts but on my walks I was not supposed to work but pray.

It took me such a long time to realize that my flowing thoughts were not in fact me thinking up new sermon messages but these flowing thoughts were actually from the Holy Spirit who was imparting to me knowledge and revelation. I thought that I was a failure in prayer when I was in fact in the Holy Place where the seven-fold lamp of the Holy Spirit was burning with wisdom and understanding, counsel and power and knowledge. Frequently I would look at a finished sermon and just know that I did not write this one. I could not take credit for it because I knew that God put it together (unless I am deceived).

When I began to understand the significance of my flowing thoughts, I stopped beating myself up over not sticking to my prayer list. If – in my prayer time – God wanted me to have sermon ideas because this is what he called me to do, then I better flow with him and not myself. And let the truth be known: I have no interest in resisting God here because I am passionate about his Word. It’s so nice that God works with our passions. They (the godly ones) are from him. [I may also add that the flowing thoughts also include promptings about who to call and what to do during the day, church strategies, … ]

The reason that – for so long – I missed what was going on was that the flowing thoughts of the Holy Spirit felt so much like my own flowing thoughts. I just thought that I was undisciplined and daydreaming. This is a more common problem. For instance, when it comes to the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues – at first – most people – who have received this gift – find it difficult to distinguish what is of their own making and what is of the Holy Spirit. The same goes for many other variations of the prophetic gift. Did I just make up this picture in my mind or is it given to me by the Holy Spirit? The rightful discernment of the Spirit needs practice and experience. Do I have flowing thoughts that are born out of holiness and are in alignment with the Scriptures or do I simply daydream about my own selfish desires? We need to test what is happening.

Another prayer lesson that I learned when I began walking was that the key to the Holy Place was a still mind. As long as countless thoughts are racing through our minds, we cannot hear God. It was when I was walking – relaxing in the movement – when I was allowing the mind to wander – daydream – that the mind quietened down and enough control was yielded for the Holy Spirit to come with his flowing thoughts.

This is such an important key for receiving from God. Become still. Watch what you feed into your brain. For instance, you cannot pray after a wild action movie because it is hard for the Holy Spirit (and he won’t) to compete with the images of the movie. Become still. (Cf. Dreams and twilight waking or dozing off zones.) This is also helpful advice for when you come to receive prayer. When someone else lays hands on you and prays for you, do not pray yourself. Do not pray in tongues. Do not think of what you will say as soon as the praying has stopped. Be completely still – as passive as you can be – so that you can receive what the Holy Spirit wants to flow into you. Otherwise you are so busy pushing something out that nothing can come in. Become still.

All of this I have discovered “by accident” and for others it may look differently. I know people that are prayer driving – instead of prayer walking. Maybe the hum of the motor relaxes them. Then, God not only speaks through flowing thoughts but also specific Bible verses, circumstances, dreams and vision, and so on.

At this point I also want to encourage you that when you draw near to the presence of God – when you are in the Holy Place – the Holy Spirit will make different things flow for you – according to your calling. Some of us will get prayer burdens – a weight on their soul – to pray for certain people and circumstances – sometimes with tears and groaning. Others get flowing thoughts about work that does not seem to be as spiritual as sermon work or prayer burdens but it is.

If you are a mum and need to raise a child, God will give you flowing thoughts and wisdom about loving your son or daughter. So when you drift into flowing thoughts about child discipline or what school to choose for your child, then this may be the Holy Spirit giving revelation to you. Parents also need to live by the Spirit and not by their own strength. Likewise, if you are running a business or serve in a difficult work environment, you need flowing thoughts about strategy, time management, investment opportunities, partnership, and lots more. The Christian in the business world depends as much on the Holy Spirit as any Bible teacher. Whatever we do, we do in the name of Jesus and for him. [If – at this point of the message – you have stopped listening and your minds have wandered off to something else, then – and this is my comfort – this could also be God who is applying his Word to you where you need it.]

In summary then – when you are in the Holy Place with the Golden Lampstand and the seven-fold Spirit – still your mind and pay attention to your flowing thoughts.

 

[Slide of the Golden Altar.]

 

In the Tabernacle – whenever the priests were to fill the lamps again with fresh oil, they were also to burn incense at the Golden Altar (cf. Exodus 30:7-8) which teaches us that however we live by the Spirit, it is always connected to prayer – the Spirit is received in the context of prayer and again leads into prayer – powerful prayer with effective outcomes.

I read three verses about the original Golden Altar in heaven – the one that still exists today – Revelations 8:3-5: “Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne [in heaven]. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake

In closing, I make reference to the third item in the Holy Place – the Table of Showbread.

 

[Slide of the Table of Showbread.]

 

Every Sabbath twelve loaves of bread – baked in fine flour – would be laid out on it. At the end of seven days of laying before the Lord they were eaten by the priests. It was called Showbread which is a translation for “the Bread of the Presence” (“Bread of Faces”). The twelve loaves represented the twelve tribes of Israel – the entire people of God – who – and this is the symbolism – would be supplied with food in the presence of God – the Holy Place.

I will not now trace the Bible theme of bread – the manna given in the desert – Jesus as the bread of life – Holy Communion – the final feast in heaven. The simple point that I want to make is this: You will burn out, if you do not spend time in the Holy Place and get nourished with the bread of God’s presence which you find there. You need his bread. Anyone – any church – doing it in their own human strength will crash and burn. You need prayer – the bread of his presence – to survive. Therefore – and many a time (according to Rick Warren) even pastors are the last people to do so – cut your commitments – become less busy – cut down the time spent in front of the TV and the computer – and not your devotion time. Come – come into the Holy Place – it’s a good place – and feed on God. (Cf. Elijah – one of the greatest prophets – burned out when he took offense at God and therefore no longer went into the Holy Place.)

There is much to learn and discover about the Holy Place – and it’s not the same for everyone – but – this morning – maybe take away this one practical advice (what I shared about the Golden Lampstand – what it means to receive light from the seven-fold Spirit of God): Still your mind and watch your flowing thoughts. Amen.