The Holy and the Common

Ezekiel 42-43

Why is it that older churches and cathedrals seem to have an aura about them that is missing from newer Christian constructions? There is a special reverence that is shown to these historical places of worship, but why? They appear to be more “holy” than modern church structures–are they really or is it just perception?

In our reading today, we get more details about the temple complex being shown to Ezekiel. As I mentioned yesterday, one intention for the prophet in giving specifications to all of Israel was so they could imagine what it would be like. Another reason, which flows from first is to draw attention to God’s holiness and, in turn, Israel’s sinfulness. But why would imagining the temple lead to recognizing sin? This question and the ones in the above paragraph are tied together.

The idea of holiness in the Bible is connected with being different, set apart, or sacred. The God of the Bible is called holy; He is without sin, He is all powerful, He is worthy of worship and adoration. Yahweh is distinct from His creation. Though humans are made in His image, they have sins which separate them from God, showing Him to be holy and people common. When humans encounter God’s holiness, it leaves them in awe of His majesty and with awareness of their own sinfulness (see Isaiah 6). When you see a dirty object–even one you think is clean–held up to something that is flawless, every little blemish is revealed. That is what happens when humans meet God.

When we see older churches or cathedrals, we are looking at something different, uncommon, a building designed to be set apart from other constructions. Older places of worship are usually taller, more distinctive, and, dare I say, were built by people more reverent than us. They have brilliant stained glass, magnificent architecture, and invoke a deep sense of beauty. Modern churches, by contrast, aren’t much taller than most middle-class housing and, in most cities, are located every few blocks. They look dull in comparison, with nothing extraordinary to offer. Older churches appear more holy because they stand out more, while modern ones seem all too common.

Older churches and cathedrals were built as the place where humans go to encounter God, much like Jews viewed the temple. Many modern Christians understand they don’t have go to a building to worship God, but for most of Christian history the church building has been the place where followers of Christ have gathered to worship their creator, which is why those older churches were so grand. They wanted the building to reflect the holiness of the God they worshiped. God’s holiness causes people to recognize their own sinfulness. It’s no wonder that the dulling down of Christian architecture has mirrored a more laissez-faire attitude towards sin.

What should we do then? Should we go back to designing and building grand places of worship?

No. When Jesus left the curtain torn, the separation between the holy God and sinful humanity was broken. This means striving after good works and the sacrificing of rams and bulls is not the way to achieve holiness. Instead, we put our faith (believe) in the one responsible for ripping the veil in half and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. Because of the righteousness of the Messiah, we can be holy and the spirit of God can dwell in us, as we live as the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16).

God’s holiness still causes us to recognize our own sin, but we don’t have to go to a grand building to see it. We encounter it through scripture, reading about God Himself or His son who reveals so much about Him. We see it in nature, looking through binoculars, telescopes, or with the naked eye. We see it when the Church (the people, not the building) acts as it was intended to. Thankfully God’s holiness doesn’t just reveal our sinfulness, but His love for us and willingness to forgive those who ask for it. What a holy, loving, and awesome God we serve!

– Joel Fletcher

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezekiel 42-43

Tomorrow we will read Ezekiel 44-45 as we continue on our

Imagine

Ezekiel 40-41

Here we go! I thought we were past the “boring” parts of the Bible. Yesterday we read about God obliterating a mighty leader and his allies and today we get dimensions for a temple? Two whole chapters on dimensions and part of another(we’ll get to that tomorrow)? Give me a break…

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems we are living in one of the least imaginative periods in world history. If you asked me to write a simple short, short story, like under 1000 words, I don’t know if I could think up something that would hold your interest for 10 minutes. I don’t know if it would be because of my lack of imagination or yours (maybe both). This is why we find passages like today’s so boring. And I think I know why our imaginations are so lacking. It is because of the constant bombardment of visual stimulation. We don’t need to exercise our imaginations, so we don’t. We have blockbuster films so we don’t need novels. Kids have IPhones so they don’t need to play made up games. Cars have DVD (or Blu-ray) players so they don’t have to exercise their vocabulary (which takes imagination) to play the Alphabet game. I don’t want to sound like some old fart harping on modern technology, but anyone who thinks smartphone usage among the adolescent (and younger and older) doesn’t carry consequences is being naive at best. Maybe I’m delusional, but at least that means I have imagination, right?

Now on to these “boring” dimensions…

In our key verse for today (40:4) Ezekiel receives instructions to look, listen, and pay attention to what is being said and then to tell it to the people of Israel. This signals for us that even the most minute measurements of this passage are seen as important to the people of Israel. It makes sense that these small details would matter; anyone who has done carpentry knows that even an eighth of an inch can make a big difference when trying to make something square (flush). And that’s the case even if you make something as small as a birdhouse. How much more so when you’re creating a compound as big as the temple being described. If this temple is actually going to be built, it needs detailed specifications. No one builds anything on a grand scale without a blueprint about how to build it. So it makes sense that the builders of this temple would need to know this “boring” stuff. But why does all of Israel need to know what this temple will look like? The answer to this question reveals in part why Ezekiel was told to tell all of Israel the vision and part of what we should glean from the passage. God wanted Israel to be able to imagine what the temple would look like. They could make a mental picture in their minds and imagine being there with Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel . This would have filled the righteous with joy, hope, and a longing for the future and the idolatrous with guilt, fear, and hopefully a desire to repent. It would have revealed God’s holiness to them and made them think about their guilt (we’ll talk about this more tomorrow). There’s no doubt in my mind the Jews in exile had better imaginations than us.

Now to us unimaginative folks…

Just as God wanted to have the people of Israel use their minds to picture the temple and imagine what it would be like to be there, our creator wants us to use our imaginations. We are to love Yahweh with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. I think this last one gets under appreciated or is used simply to refer to knowing about God, but part of loving God with our mind is using our inherent ability to imagine. Today’s passage is a great opportunity to do so. As you’re reading (or, listening) to Ezekiel 40 and 41 and the dimensions listed (read a version with measurements you’re familiar with) picture the temple in your mind and what it would be like to be there with God. There are other parts of the Bible with much less detail, but where we can still picture the scene in our mind. This should help us in our study of scripture and fulfilling the command to love God with all our mind. We can imagine what it was like at creation, what it was like to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, or what it will be like in the Kingdom. These are not only great exercises for our lacking imaginations, but I believe they are ways to worship. We are made in the image of the one who created the entire universe out of nothing. Imagine that-

Joel Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ezekiel+40-41&version=NIV

Tomorrow we will read Ezekiel 42-43 as we continue on our

In God’s Presence

Exodus 25-27

Exodus 25 8 NIV

                Places of worship come in all different shapes and sizes.  I have worshipped God in huge cathedrals with impressive pipe organs and altars overlaid with gold and stained glass windows.  I have also worshipped God in open-air tabernacles with sawdust floors.  I have worshipped God in a deer stand, at the beach, on a mountaintop and on a table undergoing radiation.  I have worshipped God in loud and energetic services with guitars, drums, and electronic keyboards and I have worshipped him in places with no sound at all except the flickering flame of a single candle.

                I believe God loves to be worshipped in lots of ways and in lots of places.  Even in the Biblical stories God was worshipped on simple stone altars, in burning bushes, on mountain tops and down in valleys.

                Israel was at a critical time in their formation and it was important for them to have a steady reminder of God’s presence.  God made his presence visible to them as they journeyed with both a pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night.  As they continued their journey across the wilderness, God chose to make his visible presence known to them in a portable house of worship.  This place would provide structure in the midst of their community wherever they stopped to make camp.  The tent of meeting or tabernacle would be an ongoing visible sign that God’s glory was in their midst.  And God taught them how to be a holy nation. He used various symbols and rituals of sacrifice and worship as a way to drill home to them his holiness and the consequences of sin.

                How God chose to do this is quite interesting.  He could have simply built a temple Himself in the heavens and dropped it down fully formed on earth.  However, God chose instead to invite His people to become active participants in creating this place of worship.

                First, God began with their willing desire to give.  “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze;  blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair;  ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather acacia wood;  olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breast piece” (Exodus 25:2-7).   This was not a mandatory tithe that was required; this was an offering to be willingly given and received.

                Where did the people get all of these valuable commodities?  If you will recall, as they were leaving Egypt they were given many valuable items by the Egyptian peoples – one might say this was payment to help compensate for years of slavery.  They had these items in their possession already.  Those who were willing could give them to help create the tent of meeting and the prescribed worship items inside of the temple, which included the Ark of the Covenant, the table, the lampstand as well as the material for the tabernacle itself, and the altar, courtyard and the oil to keep the lamps burning.  All of the materials were freely donated.  The people of God used their own skill to build the items from these donated materials – carpenters, weavers, stonemasons, goldsmiths and others each made their own contributions to the creation of this place of worship.  In this way, everyone in the community that wished to participate had buy in to the tabernacle.  It truly was a communal place of worship.

                Once the nation finished their journey through the wilderness and took possession of the Promised Land, they would eventually transition from a portable tent of meeting to a permanent temple under the leadership of King Solomon.  However, this tent of meeting served them well for 40 years in the wilderness and many more during the times of the judges, and king’s Saul and David.

                For Christians, we do not worship God in a tabernacle or physical temple and we do not bring sacrifices of sheep or goats or bulls for an offering to God.  For us, the Church itself is the temple of God.  I am not talking about the building where the Church gathers to worship, I am talking about the actual people who gather to worship, and we are the Church.  Jesus said whenever 2-3 gather in his name that he is there in their midst.  There is no one single right way or place to worship God.  It is wherever God’s people come together.  Christian Worship does not have to follow follow a strict pattern.  Worship is where we gather to read the word of God, pray, worship, encourage each other and exhort one another to good works, break bread and proclaim the resurrection of Jesus.  Blood sacrifices are not necessary because Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and he entered into the holy of holies once and for all and gave his own body as the final sacrifice for all of our sins.

                One thing remains unchanged from the time of Israel in the wilderness tent of meeting and the Church today.  God still welcomes us to bring our offerings from the heart as a way to say thank you.  We can still bring tangible offerings, and we can still offer our gifts and talents as ways of showing God our deep gratitude for all of his blessings to us.  It is not all that important how we worship or where we worship, but it is very important that we worship and we bring our offerings freely to worship God.

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+25-27&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 28-29 on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan