LONG STORY SHORT - part one
These are my notes for my teaching at the Cornerstone Church on Sunday, May 5, 2019.
INTRODUCTION: BY SPECIAL REQUEST
This teaching series, Long Story Short, comes to you by special request. I've been asked to give an overview of the entire Bible. Since I'm always willing to please, here it is. This week, we'll look at the Old Testament and next week, the New Testament.
Don't tune out if you're a long-time Christian and you can recite all the books of the Bible in proper order and you can give an overview of each one. That's not what we're doing here today.
Instead, I'm going to present the overarching storyline of the Bible. We're looking at it from 30,000 feet. I believe this will be be helpful and eye-opening to everyone.
Last week, I read this introduction to the Bible:
"The Bible is massive. It’s daunting. And the idea of reading it all in order—well, that sounds like a New Year’s resolution we’ve all tried and failed. But we believe the Bible is a profound and beautiful book telling one complete story from beginning to end, and we believe that one of the main themes of that story is the relationship between heaven and earth." https://thebibleproject.com
Heaven is God's domain, a realm of beauty and goodness and peace. Earth is our domain, sadly marred by sin and evil mixed in with a lot of beauty and goodness.
The overarching storyline of the Bible is this: Throughout history, God has been making a way for us to experience his Presence and to know him as our Friend. The Bible is God's account of heaven coming to earth.
It's like an alien invasion story - ha ha. Seriously, it is the greatest story ever told, a beautiful love-story, in which God journeys from heaven to earth to find his bride.
So ... this week, let's look at how heaven came to earth in the Old Testament.
GOD WAS PRESENT IN THE GARDEN TEMPLE
When God made the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1), he built a garden temple for his presence; the Garden of Eden. He wanted to meet with the humans he had made. His dream was friendship with us. Can you imagine?
In the ancient world, the two most beautiful and sacred places in a city were the king's garden (for example, the hanging gardens of Babylon), and the temple. Both temple and garden were carefully designed as stunning destinations (think of the ancient ziggurats and pyramids). In Genesis 1-2, God combined the garden and temple.
"Eden" is the Hebrew word for bliss or delight (see Psalm 36:8 - God's river of delights). We could call Eden the garden of delights. Why? Because it was beautiful and bountiful and, most importantly, God was there.
Was the garden really designed as a temple? There are at least four clues in Genesis 1-3 that point to it :
The seven days of creation are significant. In the ancient world, temples were dedicated at the end of a seven-day preparation time. Later, the Tabernacle, the Jerusalem Temple, and the end-times Temple all had/will have seven-day dedication rituals (See Leviticus 8:33-35; 1 Kings 8:2, 65; Ezekiel 43:25-27).
God made man and woman in his image. The last object placed in an ancient temple, was the image or statue of the god - to represent the god's presence. Humans were made in God's image to represent him in the world, and to work with him to rule over it.
God "rested" (Hb: shabat) on the seventh day. This is better translated as "ceased." Long story short, one of the OT synonyms for "shabat" is translated "to settle in." At the conclusion of creation, God's presence settled into the garden temple he had made.
God was present in Eden. (Genesis 3:8-9) "The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day ..."
Sin drives a wedge between God and us, so when Adam and Eve rebelled against him, they ran away and hid. In turn, God banished them from the Garden. Holy God will not live with unholy people, defiled by sin.
And that, in most stories, would be that. The world would descend into chaos and we would live and die without any connection to God at all. Heaven and earth would be entirely separate forever.
But God had another idea. Heaven would invade earth. Not to destroy us, but to restore us. Here's how that worked ...
GOD WAS PRESENT IN THE TENT, THE TABERNACLE, AND THE TEMPLE.
Before God had a place on earth, he formed a people to host his presence. From one ancestor, Abraham, he created a nation called Israel. He had a special relationship with Abraham and his descendants, which he sealed with an everlasting agreement or covenant. And then God's presence manifested among the people of Israel:
The Tent of Meeting. As Israel wandered in the wilderness, God met with Moses, their leader, in the tent of meeting:
(Exodus 33:7-11) "Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting” ... 9 As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. 10 Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped ... 11 The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend ..."
God held meetings with Moses, face-to-face, friend to friend. The Lord spoke to him. It was amazing. The tent hosted the presence of God as heaven came down to earth.
The Tabernacle. Later on, the Lord told Moses to build a more advanced tent of meeting called the tabernacle. He gave very specific instructions about the design, the materials, the people, and the rituals attached to the tabernacle. This was because the purpose of the tabernacle was to host his holy presence:
(Exodus 25:8-9) “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you."
(Exodus 29:42-43) “... There I will meet you and speak to you; there also I will meet with the Israelites, and the place will be consecrated by my glory."
(Exodus 40:34) "Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle."
The location or place of the Tabernacle/tent of meeting was new. It was at the center of the camp. The presence of God was back among his people. Hints of Eden even in the desert.
The Jerusalem Temple. Israel moved into the land God promised to Abraham. King David made Jerusalem his capital city and built his palace there. God chose David's son, King Solomon to build a temple in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 28:10). The purpose of the temple was the same as that of the tent of meeting and the tabernacle:
(1 Kings 8:10-13) "When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. 11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple. 12 Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud; 13 I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever.”"
Heaven on earth.
God's purpose was to meet with his people there. So, he made a way for their sins to be removed and their guilt to be cleansed through offerings and sacrifices. He designed a room inside the tabernacle/temple called the Holy of Holies. He designed a box called the ark of the covenant where his glory would appear. And its lid was called the mercy seat or atonement cover. Everything was designed and built for God to manifest his presence on earth. Amazing!
(Exodus 25:22) There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.
God wanted everyone to know that he was there, in the center of the nation. Heaven had moved in. Israel hosted the presence of God.
Until they didn't.
GOD WILL BE PRESENT IN A NEW TEMPLE.
Less than 400 years after the temple's dedication, God's presence left. Israel's idolatry, injustice, and overall indifference towards God "drove" him away. Jerusalem was destroyed, the nation was conquered, and the people were dragged into exile.
(Ezekiel 10:18) Then the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim.
Game over? No! God's love for us is relentless. Hidden in the awful prophetic warnings of the writing prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the others, are big promises of restoration.
(Ezekiel 43:1-5) "Then the man brought me to the gate facing east, 2 and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory ... 4 The glory of the Lord entered the temple through the gate facing east. 5 Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple."
(Joel 2:27-28) "Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed. And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people ..."
(Joel 3:17) "Then you will know that I, the Lord your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill (on which the temple was built). Jerusalem will be holy ..."
(Habakkuk 2:14) "The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."
God's presence will overflow from the temple until it fills the whole earth.
CONCLUSION: GOD'S PRESENCE NOW
The Old Testament is a collection of books, written by many authors over many centuries, but it has one principal theme or focus: the presence of God on earth. Based on my understanding of the Old Testament, we can believe that God's priority is to re-unite heaven and earth and to fill the entire world with his glorious presence.
Next week, when we look at the New Testament, guess what we're going to find? We're going to discover how and why God moves into our lives.
That's next week. What about right now? Right now, you are part of planet built by God so that he could be your Friend. He wants you to host his Presence. He made us in his image for that very purpose. He hard-wired us for connection with him. He isn't far off. He's here and he's looking for people to host his presence. That's why Jesus came into the world. When you turn to him in faith, his Spirit makes you a temple for his Presence.
This week, think about this: The greatest privilege in life is hosting the presence of God. That's why we exist. That's what defines us. Pastor Bill Johnson wrote:
"It's important that we all find the "one thing" that can become the reference point for the rest of the issues of life. And that one thing is the Presence of the Almighty God, resting upon us." - In Hosting the Presence: Unveiling Heaven's Agenda, 2012.
For many years, I've loved Psalm 27 because it shaped my heart to long for God. The psalmist wrote:
(Psalms 27:4) "One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple."
Yes! There's nothing better. Take a moment to recognize the magnitude of God's love and grace. He has made a way through Jesus Christ to make his home in you. His Spirit has made you the temple (see next week). Moses knew what a treasure he had:
(Exodus 33:14-15) "The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.""