These days, an announcement that a pastor will be speaking on "the presence of God" in this week's church service is likely to elicit yawns and glazed stares. This might be a good week to take that family weekend in the mountains, the thoughts of congregants race. It's a trite subject, over-used. Countless books have been written about it and it is so often mentioned over the course of "growing up Christian," that I think, perhaps, we have allowed its meaning to slip through the grasp of our understanding like sand through our fingers. In short, we have lost the awe.
Yeah, yeah, God is present everywhere. Yadda Yadda. So what? What more can possibly be said.
That's largely how I felt until I began to re-examine the tabernacle as I studied Hebrews.
What must it have been like to be a priest in ancient Israel? To day after day perform the monotonous duties of the tabernacle. Bloody sacrifice. That would get old fast. Refreshing of the show bread, renewing the oil in the candles... etc.
But I suspect that, from time to time, there arose a priest who truly loved God with all his heart and wanted nothing more to be able to enter the Holy of Holies -- to come into God's presence. Of course that was a the role of only one -- the high priest, so chances were, he would never get to do it.
What must it have been like to meander through the outer courts handling sacrifice, day after day. After which he would wash up and gaze at the sanctuary building (holy place/ holy of holies) and wonder of God's presence in that tiny room.
Perhaps when he had to go into the holy place to change the showbread or add oil to the candles, he stopped and took a minute to look at that thick rug-like curtain that separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies -- that separated him from some manifestation of the very presence of God Himself.
Maybe as he walked beside it, performing his duties he allowed his robes to brush against that curtain, and an inexplicable thrill as well as stifling fear erupted from his innermost place at the possibility that the presence of God could have been brushing against the curtain on the opposite side at the same time.
Perhaps before he left, he looked again deeply at he curtain that separated him from his God, and fantasized what it would be like just to run up and pull back the curtain and bask in the presence of God. Of course, that would mean certain death. But there would be that moment, that singular nano-second where he would behold some manifestation of the presence of his God -- and wouldn't death be a small price to pay for such a moment?
He would then scold himself for having such irreverent ideas. It was borderline apostasy. And then ashamed of his longings, he would return to his duties in the outer courts.
In all the centuries that passed during the use of tabernacle, and later during those generations that used the temple in Jerusalem, is it so far fetched to think, a priest with such a longing for God's presence could have lived?
Perhaps such a priest served in the lower ranks even during the days Christ walked this earth. Perhaps he stood before that curtain on that fateful day Christ said, "It is finished." He likely had no clue of the significance of all that was happening outside as the sky turned black as night, he was too wrapped up in his own longing to go past the outer courts, even past the holy place. Perhaps he stood before the curtain that only the high priest could pass by and ached to be there -- in the very Holy of Holies. And as he stood and reflected on longings that had to stay sealed in the most hidden parts of his soul, the earth began to shake, and as Christ slipped into death on the cross, the impenetrable curtain tore from top to bottom.
That priest surely could not comprehend how completely the longing of his heart was now truly being fulfilled.
I have become increasingly convicted in the past months that I do not long to be in the Holy of Holies. I do not recognize it for the spectacular opportunity that it is. I am content just to pass in and out of the outer courts. After all, that's closer than most folks ever try to get to God.
I rarely push in to even the Holy Place. And so for the past few months I have been praying for the longing of that priest -- an unquenchable thirst for the presence of God.
And I have been awakened as to how Christ has taken it all one step further. Ephesians 2:22 tells us: "And in [Christ] you are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His spirit."
No longer do we have to stare at dark curtains longing for that which has been withheld from us. God wants to build us, His people, into His new Holy of Holies, so that we may truly dwell -- not in the outer courts -- but in the very presence of the Lord forever!
What an opportunity! Now the question is, what are we going to do with it?