This week I have another compare and contrast for you, based on our Old Testament and New Testament passages.
In Exodus, we’re getting deep into the instructions that God gave the Israelites for consecrating the priesthood and the implements of the Tabernacle, and the instructions are very detailed and specific… and rather a bloody business, when you think of all the animal sacrifices involved.
The purpose of all of this instruction, the rivers of blood spilled, the precise measurements and the ritual, was to set these people and these things apart — designated as holy for God’s purposes. It was intended to keep the people from looking at them as common, and taking them for granted.
God Himself was to dwell in this place. He was finally coming to live with His people, but He knew his people very well by this point, and He knew how easy it would be for them to find His presence… well, commonplace.
Looking at it like a marriage, once you get past the honeymoon stage and settle in to daily life, it’s all too easy to get accustomed to the other person’s presence, and to stop paying attention. To take them for granted. Sometimes, even, to get irritated at their constant nearness and want to ignore them.
That would be the last thing He wanted.
So did God really need all the ceremony? Was that much death truly necessary? Could He really not relate to His people without fresh blood on the altar and an exclusive patented blend of spices burning in the room?
The way I see it, it wasn’t for Himself that God decreed the meticulous rituals. It was for mankind, who would without them far too easily forget that they were in the presence of something magnificent, holy, and eminently worthy of awe and respect.
Fast forward to Mark chapter 2, where God is once more dwelling among mankind — but this time, undercover.
The religious people of the day took great pride in continuing the ceremonies that were set out in the Torah, and in scrupulously following the letter of the law. In fact, Jesus’ behavior was positively scandalous in their eyes, because he consorted with disreputable sorts like tax collectors (agents of the hated Roman government), loan sharks, and prostitutes… Not only that, he didn’t demand his followers jump on board the latest religious craze and fast along with the Pharisees and John’s disciples. He let his followers pick grain for a snack on the Sabbath, for pity’s sake!
But Jesus had a point to make. He wasn’t here to impress the religious people of the day. He was here to do something completely different… to shift the paradigm of how mankind related to God.
It was the poor, the sick, the sinners who needed His attention, not the self-righteous. And it was the heart and the intent of the Law that the religious folk were ignoring in favor of making a show of following the rules.
Jesus came not to abolish the law, as He said in Matthew 5:17, but to fulfill it in a way that had never been done before, and to teach mankind how to follow the heart of the message: love.
36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
And the heart of the message goes both ways — our love for God, and His love for us:
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)
We no longer have to bring sacrifices to the temple and stand back for fear that the holy presence of God will strike us dead on the spot. The altars at our churches aren’t doused with fresh animal blood, and anointing oil isn’t a product that’s exclusively available to the priesthood on pain of excommunication.
We live under the grace of God by virtue of Christ’s completed work, and we are no longer obligated to follow the letter of the law in order to be in right standing with Him… We have the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable us to enter into His presence at any time, day or night, in ways that would make the priests of Exodus tremble to consider.
And many times, we forget that we are in the presence of something magnificent, holy, and eminently worthy of awe and respect.
Lord, remind us not to take Your presence for granted this day.