Tabernacle Part 2 – The Curtains
A few weeks ago we started a series about the Tabernacle, the portable temple-tent of God that was built according to the pattern God showed Moses when he was on Mount Sinai where God was worshipped for several centuries. The Tabernacle is the fullest Old Testament type of Christ, it points to Christ and the realities which are ours in Christ over and over and over again. The first week we looked at the Tabernacle itself, which is yet another proof of God’s desire to dwell with and among his people and points us to Christ Jesus who made his tabernacle among men as a man. The second week we looked at the bread and light in the tabernacle which point us to Christ as the one who gives eternal life. This week, we’re going to look at curtains.
How many of you have ever seen “The Sound of Music”? In one scene, Captain von Trapp sees his children climbing trees, and he interrogates Maria, asking “Now Fraulein. I want a truthful answer from you. Is it possible - or could I have just imagined it - have my children by any chance been climbing trees today?” “Yes, Captain.” Von Trapp continues, “I see. And where, may I ask, did they get these,” meaning their play clothes. Anyone remember? Maria answers, “I made them. From the drapes that used to hang in my bedroom.” The captain incredulously retorts, “Drapes? Do you mean to tell me my children have been roaming around Salzburg dressed up in nothing but some old drapes?” to which Maria replies, “Mmm-hmmm. And having a marvelous time.” Captain von Trapp saw curtains, but Maria saw clothes. Likewise, when some people look at the Tabernacle they just see some colorful curtains, but we can see Christ; and we’re going to spend our time looking at just one curtain, the inner veil or curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies.
Let‘s start with curtain‘s colors which signify Christ’s identity. God gave the following instructions to Moses: “Make a curtain of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman.” (Exodus 26:31) Blue, purple, and scarlet: what’s so significant about those three colors? If you ask different sources, they will give you different interpretations, but let me offer one; and I’m not saying this is the definitive interpretation, but it is a possible interpretation.
Blue, the color of the sky, points to our Lord’s heavenly origins. Purple points to our Lord’s royalty as King of kings. The scarlet points to Christ’s sacrifice, scarlet being the color of blood. By the way, a little tangent. I read something interesting about how they made this scarlet. The word translated scarlet is also properly translated as the female coccus ilicis, a type of insect from which people made red dye. Here’s what I read about this worm, and how even the process of manufacturing this scarlet dye points us to Christ and the cross: “The crimson worm (coccus ilicis) is a very special worm…When it is time for the female or mother Crimson worm to have babies…she finds the trunk of a tree, a wooden fencepost or a stick. She then attaches her body to the wood and makes a hard crimson shell…After just a few days, when the young worms grow to the point that they are able to take care of themselves, the mother dies. As the mother Crimson worm dies, she oozes a crimson or scarlet red dye which not only stains the wood she is attached to, but also her young children.” Some people right now might be thinking, “Ok, why this tangent about ancient dye manufacturing and entymology? Just as the mother Crimson worm attaches herself to wood, our Lord suffered himself to be nailed to the cross; and though he could have come down, would not out of obedience to the Father and love for us. Just as the dying Crimson worm oozes a crimson dye staining the wood and covering her children, Christ shed his precious blood - a crimson tide - that stained the cross of Calvary and covered us.
The Only Way
When we read about the Tabernacle, there was only one gate into the courtyard surrounding the Tabernacle, and there was only one door leading into the Tabernacle, and there was only one way - by going behind the inner veil - that someone could enter the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle. One gate, one door, one way: this all points us to Christ, the only way.
The Isetta is a somewhat unusual car. This Italian designed micro-car made its debut in the 1950’s was different from most other cars in that it had only one door. There was only one way for the driver to get in the car.
Many apartments and every hotel room I’ve ever been in have only one way in. There are monuments and towers that have only one way to the top. Until we develop Star Trek teleportation technology or build a 250,000 mile elevator, there is only one way to reach the moon.
All around us: one way, one way, one way; but when we talk about God, the thought that there is only one way to God is decried as intolerant, close-minded, antiquated thinking, an anachronistic notion that is politically incorrect in our pluralistic world that insists that all religions are different paths to the same God.” A 2008 Time magazine article titled “Christians: No One Path to Salvation,” states: “Americans of every religious stripe are considerably more tolerant of the beliefs of others than most of us might have assumed...The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life last year surveyed 35,000 Americans, and found that 70% agree with the statement ‘Many religions can lead to eternal life.’” It continues to say that 57% of self-identified Evangelical respondents agreed that there is more than one way to have eternal life. Sure some people might go so far as to suggest that one particular way is a better way or more direct way or easier way, but no matter whether Christ or Buddha or Muhammad or Shiva or whatever, you’ll ultimately wind up at the same destination. I am going to say something that might sound offensive, but the truth is sometimes offensive; and something that sounds politically incorrect, but is Biblically correct: this whole popular notion of all ways leading to God is a false doctrine, a lie first hissed by the father of lies himself.
One credo of Protestant Christianity is Sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone, the principle that the sole rule of Christian faith and practice is sacred scripture, and other things: tradition, personal experiences, reason - they are measured against the infallible rule of Scripture and against it they stand or fall. So what does Scripture say? Is it fuzzy, is there wiggle room, is there any equivocation or qualification? Does it say Jesus is one way or Jesus is the best way?
Jesus says in John’s gospel, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) What about Muhammad? He taught there is only one God and Muslims engage in pious practices like daily prayer and charitable giving? If they’re just sincere in their belief and trying their very best to be good and do good isn’t Muhammad a way? No - I am the way, the truth and the life. What about Buddha? He teaches some good things about thinking right thoughts and engaging in right behaviors and saying the right words. If someone is trying to end selfish craving by following Buddha’s espoused Middle Way and doing their level best to say the right things and do the right things and think the right things, isn’t Buddha a way? No. I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. That’s pretty cut and dry, don’t you think? No wiggle room, no equivocation, no qualifications.
Think about it: if Jesus is not the only way, then he became flesh and made his dwelling among us for nothing, he was tempted as we are for nothing, he suffered betrayal, false accusation, unjust condemnation, manual blows, scourging and crucifixion for nothing, he was raised on the third day for nothing; and if Jesus is not the only way then Jesus lied about being the only way and he can not even be a good moral teacher or ethical paradigm let alone the incarnate Deity if he lied about being the way, the truth, and the life.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.”
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5)
“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” (John 10:9)
Now, somebody might argue, “But that’s so exclusive!” We live in a culture that frowns on exclusivity, and the doctrine that Jesus is the exclusive way to the Father, to eternal life, to heaven irritates people who preach inclusivity; but Jesus is the exclusive and inclusive way; he is the exclusive way, the only way to the Father; but inclusive so far as anyone and everyone can come. Jesus assures us, “whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37) Jesus is the only way, but it is a way open for male and female, young and old, free and slave, Jew and Greek.
This is what we believe, how does it affect our behavior? First, if we compromise and say that Jesus is one way, then those who follow another path have no reason to believe on Christ Jesus; for no matter how we might paint Christ as a good way or better way or what have you, they will stick with their familiar way. We must be unyielding in our affirmation that their way may encourage good behaviors and may entail beautiful customs, but it will not get them to the Father, it will not get them to heaven, it will not get them to eternal life. We must stick to our guns in affirming Jesus as THE way.
Second, if Jesus is an inclusive way, open to all, we must evangelize everyone. Reach out, not only to the pleasant and affable, but to all with the Gospel; reach out to rich and poor, young and old, uneducated and educated, Republican and Democrat, black and white, male and female.
The Open Way
“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Warn your brother Aaron not to enter the Most Holy Place behind the inner curtain whenever he chooses; the penalty for intrusion is death. (Why?) For the Ark’s cover - the place of atonement - is there, and I myself am present in the cloud over the atonement cover.” (Leviticus 16:2) Under the Old Testament, only the high priest could enter behind the inner veil into the Most Holy Place, and only once a year on the Day of Atonement, when he would sprinkle blood on the atonement cover - or the place of atonement - for his sins and the sins of the people; and the reason why he could only enter once a year was due to God’s presence. Remember, the ark of the covenant served as God’s throne on earth, and here we read how he manifested his presence above the ark of the covenant in a cloud; God is truly present everywhere, but he was present in a special way in the Most Holy Place. So think about it: how can a sinful man enter into the presence of the thrice Holy God? As the prophet Habakkuk said, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on inquity” (Habakkuk 1:3). That’s why, when the presence of God filled the temple, the prophet Isaiah was not ecstatic, he wasn’t overjoyed - he bewailed; he wrote, “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs…And they were calling one to another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ (And we expect Isaiah to be thrilled to the core, to be happy beyond measure at seeing the invisible God whom he believed on and loved and served; but there is no ear-to-ear smile; rather, we see the color flush from his face, his eyes wide open and mouth agape in dread; and we read his lament ) ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3, 5) All of this is to say that the way was not open under the Old Testament, access was severely restricted to one person once a year and only then with blood for the atonement or purging of his sins and the sins of the people because God is holy and man is sinful; and even with all his best efforts and intentions, all man’s righteousnesses are as filthy rags in the sight of the Holy God.
But that all changed one day two thousand years ago, when our Great High Priest when behind the inner curtain in the heavenly Tabernacle and sprinkled the blood of the Lamb shed once for all, for the remission of sins on the atonement cover, and the inner veil was torn in two. We read, “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom…” (Matthew 27:50-51) That this inner veil was rent in twain is astonishing, for Jewish tradition teaches that the inner veil’s dimension were 60 feet from top to bottom and 4 inches thick. What man could rend this inner veil in twain? Answer: None, for the curtain was not torn by a man from bottom to top; but at the death of his Son, God reached down and he himself ripped the curtain in half from top to bottom, showing that we now have access into the Most Holy Place, into his very presence. We read in Hebrews, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. This is the new, life giving way that Christ has opened for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us.” (Hebrews 10:19-20) The blood of the Lamb has purged away our sin and guilt and made peace between us and God, so that now we do not have to stay without the Most Holy Place as if there were still some barrier brarring our way, neither need we enter as with trepidation and trembling; the Holy Spirit through the inspired writer of Hebrews assures us that we can enter into God’s presence and stand before his mercy seat with boldness because our sins have been washed away, our guilty consciences cleansed, our penalty paid and propitiation made by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, by his perfect sacrifice offered once for all sin.
Hebrews 10:22 goes on to say that since we have this access into the Most Holy Place, we should draw near; and I would like to close this morning’s message with this quote from Matthew Henry and a final word of exhortation. Matthew Henry writes, “They must draw near to God. Since such a way of access and return to God is open, it would be the greatest ingratitude and contempt of God and Christ still to keep at a distance from him. They must draw near by conversion, and by taking hold of his covenant. They must draw near in all holy conversation (meaning holy conduct), like Enoch walking with God. They must draw near in humble adorations, worshipping at his footstool…They must draw near in conformity to God, living under his blessed influence, still endeavoring to get nearer and nearer, till they come to dwell in his presence.” Let us then draw near in earnest prayers, in meditation on his sacred Scriptures, in singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, in conforming to our Lord’s pattern and living a godly life in Christ Jesus - not only today, but every day entering into the Most Holy Place and drawing near to God with the assurance from James: Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Amen.
THE TABERNACLE, PT. 3
February 23, 2014
I. Colorful Curtains
“Make a curtain of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman.” (Exodus 26:31)
II. The Only Way
A. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
B. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
C. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5)
D. “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” (John 10:9)
E. “whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37)
III. The Open Way
“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Warn your brother Aaron not to enter the Most Holy Place behind the inner curtain whenever he chooses; the penalty for intrustion is death. For the Ark’s cover - the place of atonement - is there, and I myself am present in the cloud over the atonement cover.” (Leviticus 16:2)
A. “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on inquity” (Habakkuk 1:3).
B. “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs…And they were calling one to another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3, 5)
C. “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom…” (Matthew 27:50-51)
D. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. This is the new, life giving way that Christ has opened for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us.” (Hebrews 10:19-20)