Writing over at The Glorious Table today! Click here to link to the full article or begin the preview below…
I’m working on reading through the Bible. Front to back, slowly but surely. To be certain, going through it this way has been different, but, this approach also means I am getting to experience God’s Word in ways I never have before.
One of my favorite parts of reading the books “in order” is that I get to see certain things develop chronologically. As an example, I spent the last couple of months getting through Exodus, where we witness the building of the tabernacle. The tabernacle was a physical space God had his people build so they could worship Him in the desert after they escaped Egypt. They called all the people to gather supplies. Gifted artisans were asked to create the space where the people would commune with God, offer sacrifices, practice atonement, and keep the Ark of the Covenant. I have to confess, reading through the details of its construction was fascinating, if a little exhausting! The descriptions are so elaborate.
Here’s a list of some of the materials needed: gold (so much gold), silver, bronze, blue, purple and scarlet thread, fine linen, goats hair, red ram skins, badger skins, acacia wood (lots of acacia wood), and onyx. And that was just the exterior. For the inside of the tabernacle they also made the ark, a table, lampstand, a couple altars, washing basin, and some seriously elaborate “priestly garments.” These items now added precious stones like emerald, amethyst ,and topaz, and again, so much gold. It sounds gorgeous, both physically and spiritually. I cannot imagine what that gleaming space full of precious metals, incredible woodwork, and people covered in jewels must have looked like. Apparently, it fit the bill, because the final chapter of Exodus ends with the heading, “The Glory of the Lord”. God’s presence took his place. They had accomplished what he had asked of them.
So, there I was, finished with Exodus, enjoying the pretty scene and God’s presence ― and then Leviticus started. Leviticus 1, the header reads, “The Burnt Offering”. This is where we start to see Moses, Aaron, and the priests start using the tabernacle by offering sacrifices for the sins of the people on the altar. The pace I was reading was about a chapter a day. Around day four, I paused and wrote a little something in my journal. Why? Because what I was reading was just so blatantly in contrast to what I had witnessed in Exodus previously. In spite of all the finery, it quickly got messy. Bloody. Animal pieces and parts, and fire everywhere. This is what I wrote:
“All this work that went into the tabernacle, and now we are watching it be used to do ministry, absolve sin, and worship. I love this picture of the church! Get dirty; use it!”
For the very first time, I felt like I got a modern word for the modern church from the old pattern of sacrifice, slaughter, and restitution. Typically, I tend to focus on the messiness of sacrifices and think about my gratitude for being on “this side” of the Old Testament, grateful for Jesus’ stand-in as the eternal and forever sacrifice over my life. But this? It felt like it wasn’t about that this time. This was a message for us. The body. The people who build the buildings, decorate the entryways, paint the children’s wings and shiplap the sanctuaries. Are we just making the church pretty, or are we using it? We gotta ask if we are okay with getting messy, because that is the model we’ve been given.
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