Waiting to Show Himself
That they should seek God, in hope that they might feel their way toward him, and find him.(Acts 17:27)
In the tabernacle’s Holy of Holies, the Flame of the Presence was the beating heart of the Levitical order. Without it all the appointments of the tabernacle were characters of some unknown language; they had no meaning for Israel or for us.
The greatest fact of the tabernacle was that Jehovah was there; a Presence was waiting within the veil. Similarly the Presence of God is the central fact of Christianity. At the heart of the Christian message is God Himself waiting for His redeemed children to push in to conscious awareness of His Presence.
Who is this within the veil who dwells in fiery manifestations? It is none other than God Himself, “One God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible,” and “ One Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God; begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of God; begotten, not made; being of one substance with the Father,” and “the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified.” Yet this holy Trinity is One God, for “we worship one God in the Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost , is all one: the glory equal and the majesty co-eternal.” So in part run the ancient creeds, and so the inspired Word declares.
Behind the veil is God. He has discovered Himself to some extent in nature, but more perfectly in the Incarnation; now He waits to show Himself in ravishing fullness to the humble of soul and the pure in heart.
A. W. Tozer
If all there is to Christianity is ritual and observances then we truly have no hope. For there will be times when we are not able to practice these things or at least be limited to some degree. But if there is more, there is actually a real Being behind these things, then no matter what changes in this world, our faith and hope is steadfast and sure.
Long before Moses erected the tabernacle in the wilderness, God was making Himself known. Before the high priest offered the first sacrifice on the mercy seat, other sacrifices had been made. Think back to Eden, for example, that the first sacrifice for sin was made by God Himself.
“The Lord God made tunics of [animal] skins for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”
Genesis 3:21 –
Again we read in that powerful type of the Father sacrificing the Son, as Abraham brings Isaac to the mountain and the altar:
“Now after these things, God tested [the faith and commitment of] Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he answered, “Here I am.” God said, “Take now your son, your only son [of promise], whom you love, Isaac, and go to the region of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood, and bound Isaac his son and placed him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” He answered, “Here I am.” The Lord said, “Do not reach out [with the knife in] your hand against the boy, and do nothing to [harm] him; for now I know that you fear God [with reverence and profound respect], since you have not withheld from Me your son, your only son [of promise].” Then Abraham looked up and glanced around, and behold, behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up for a burnt offering (ascending sacrifice) instead of his son.”
We also read that before the priest and Levites were set in order by Moses and before the Ark of the Covenant was made with all the furnishings of the tabernacle, God manifested His presence. Before the veil was sewn and the Ark placed behind it God made Himself known.
“The [presence of the] Lord was going before them by day in a pillar (column) of cloud to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, so that they could travel by day and by night. He did not withdraw the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from going before the people.”
Later we read that a great elaborate temple was built by Solomon as a place to continue the ritual. We also read that even while the rituals were being carried out, the hearts of the people forsook the Lord. Not many years after the temple being dedicated, we find the people involved in ritualistic worship of other gods.
“So Ahab sent word to all the Israelites and assembled the [pagan] prophets together at Mount Carmel. Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people [of Israel] did not answer him [so much as] a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone remain a prophet of the Lord, while Baal’s prophets are 450 men.”
1 Kings 18:20-22
In Jesus’ day Herod rebuilt the temple, the Jews kept the Passover and the feasts, thousands of sheep were given as sacrifice and every ritual was performed correctly, but in all this, they failed to recognize God among them in the person of Christ Jesus. They were so engaged in proper ritual that they forgot the purpose of it. It was so important to offer the proper sheep and pay the temple tax(tithe) in Jewish coin that they set up booths in the temple and forgot that it was supposed to be the meeting place between God and man.
“And Jesus entered the temple [grounds] and drove out [with force] all who were buying and selling [birds and animals for sacrifice] in the temple area, and He turned over the tables of the moneychangers [who made a profit exchanging foreign money for temple coinage] and the chairs of those who were selling doves [for sacrifice]. Jesus said to them, “It is written [in Scripture], ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den.” And the blind and the lame came to Him in [the porticoes and courts of] the temple area, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful and miraculous things that Jesus had done, and heard the boys who were shouting in [the porticoes and courts of] the temple [in praise and adoration], “Hosanna to the Son of David (the Messiah),” they became indignant and they said to Him, “Do You hear what these children are saying?” And Jesus replied to them, “Yes; have you never read [in the Scripture], ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies You have prepared and provided praise for Yourself’?”
I think most of us are aware and to some degree accepted that some of our previous norms have changed in the Covid-19 crisis. Best practices has and will affect how we conduct and participate in worship experiences. I’m sure that none of us ever gave thought to observing Love Feast any other place than the fellowship hall with our church family, but this year we observed it in our homes with our immediate family only. We could never have conceived that we would gather in vehicles in the parking lot rather than in the sanctuary or gather on a Saturday evening for worship or participate in conference call church, but we are. I realize that for some, these are uncomfortable environments and they may feel like a fish out of water. We all like routine, at least to some degree.
I want to try to help us as we move forward given all the changes that have occurred in our world.
First of all, worship is about a Person and not a method. Before the temple was built, David was worshipping under a tree on a hillside while keeping sheep. The angels announcing the birth of Jesus did not make the announcement in the temple but to shepherds watching their flocks. They did not make the announcement at 10:30 on Sunday morning but at night, in the dark. We must make worship once again about the Person rather than place and time.
Second of all, worship is about connection between God and man. Remember that God visited Adam in the Garden and Abraham in his tent and Moses in the wilderness long before the tabernacle and it’s furniture were made. It’s interesting to me that Brethren initially did not build church buildings and the first “meeting houses” were simple functional buildings. I have to believe they understood that the meeting was about the Person and not the environment. I have not doubt they had seen the elaborate cathedrals of Europe with fine furnishings but missing the Presence of the life-changing God.
Third, giving of tithe and offering is a spiritual act of worship. In the same manner as the Israelites brought the best lamb and the first fruits offering, we bring our tithe. Remember that long before the tabernacle, Abel brought the best of his flock as an offering to God. So it doesn’t matter if we pass a plate or hold a bucket or give online, if our giving is from the heart, we will find ways to do so in spite of any restrictions.
Fourth, when we make our religion about the Person and not the ritual, we find a passion to share the knowledge of the Person. The Israelites were tasked with making God known to the inhabitants of Canaan, instead the created a nationalism of Jews which was exclusive instead of inclusive and emphasized the “proper ritual” as more important than mission. I think sometimes in the church, we make practice of ritual more important than mission. We may not be able to invite someone to participate in one of our rituals but we can always invite them to know our God.
In summation, I don’t know if we will ever be able to share Love Feast as we have in the past, it’s form may change. I don’t know if we will ever be able to pass the plate for offering or share a time of fellowship with hugs and handshakes. I don’t know if we will be able to sit close or to have choirs that stand close and sing. I don’t know if we will be able to return to personal touch and presence congregational care or whether we will ever feel safe to return to our old practices. But I do know one thing, that those who long for Gods presence and visitation will adjust and if our focus remains on the Person, we will find ways to experience Him in a full and rich way.
Sometimes we forget that religious practices and methods change over time. There was a day that musical instruments were banned but now we enjoy a variety of the enhancing our singing. There was a time when only the minister had a Bible and it was in Latin and now everyone has a copy in their language. We have moved from robes to suits to more casual dress especially for ministers and yet the gospel is still being preached. We have now indoor baptisteries instead of creek baptizing and yet we are still baptizing believers and it has lost none of its significance. What ever form our worship takes, if we keep the Persons of the Trinity at the center of our focus, it will be satisfactory to and received by God. None of this will be easy and there are a lot of rituals and practices of the church that are no longer part of what we do that I miss, but I know that my relationship with God is a living one and if I must modify my method of worship methods, it will never change that.
Dr. John Thompson