Scripture: Exod 25:8; Num 6:22-27; Deut 5:22-33; Ps 73:1-17; 1 John 1:1-4
Leading Question: How does a holy God bring sinners into His presence?
The whole organization of the sanctuary structure illustrated the gulf between a holy God and ordinary people. The covenant, etched in stone, was inside the ark which was inside the most holy place, where the high priest was to enter only once a year. The holy place was where the ordained priests carried on their weekly ministry. The courtyard was a place where ordinary believers could come for special purpose. Beyond the courtyard were the tents of the Levites; beyond the tents of the Levites were the tents of the rest of the congregation. In short, ordinary people were many steps removed from the presence of God in the most holy place.
Contrast this distance with the description of the believer’s relationship to Jesus in 1 John 1:1-4:
1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us – 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (NRSV)
Question: Do certain people today still need to find a way to negotiate the distance between a holy God and a sinful people? Is the closeness suggested in 1 John 1:1-4 only a rare experience, even for the mature Christian?
1. The Giving of the Law: Keep Your Distance. After the record of the second giving of the law in Deuteronomy 5, a description follows that emphasizes the fear that separated God from his people, a fear that God Himself affirmed as being quite appropriate. Here are the key lines from Deut. 5: 22-33 (NRSV):
22 These words the Lord spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, and he added no more. He wrote them on two stone tablets, and gave them to me. 23 When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you approached me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders; 24 and you said, “Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the fire. Today we have seen that God may speak to someone and the person may still live. 25 So now why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and remained alive? 27 Go near, you yourself, and hear all that the Lord our God will say. Then tell us everything that the Lord our God tells you, and we will listen and do it.”
28 The Lord heard your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me: “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you; they are right in all that they have spoken. 29 If only they had such a mind as this, to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, so that it might go well with them and with their children forever! 30 Go say to them, ‘Return to your tents.’ 31 But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you all the commandments, the statutes and the ordinances, that you shall teach them, so that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.” 32 You must therefore be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn to the right or to the left. 33 You must follow exactly the path that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.
Question: Is there any indication in the Old Testament as to how that fear was to be replaced by an attractive love that was “safe”? Or is one never “safe” in God’s presence?
2. Aaronic Blessing Filtered Through Several Layers of Authority. In Numbers 6:22-27, the Aaronic benediction is filtered through several layers before it reaches the people. The message is passed down from God, to Moses, to Aaron and his sons, and finally to the people:
22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
27 So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them. (NRSV)
Question: What are the gains and losses in our “modern” more casual approach to God? Should we take steps to increase the “awe” factor? Or does the story of Jesus change all that forever for everyone?