This week we conclude our series of looking at Advent through the lens of the tabernacle. Mark Heger tells us about the final part of the tabernacle, the Glory of the Lord, and links it together with the shepherds that came to manger at the birth of Jesus. To listen to the podcast version, click HERE.
Good morning everyone! How are y'all doing on this lovely December day? My name is Mark Heger and I am the Group Director here at Normandy, and for the last few weeks I have had the extreme pleasure of teaching and preaching to you guys during this Advent season! And now, with Christmas only being like 36 hours away, we have come to our last sermon of 2018 (since we will NOT be meeting next week before New Years). Hopefully you all have gotten your Christmas shopping done, your holiday travel planned out, and you are ready to go into this wonderful time of year with joyful hearts, low anxiety, and enjoy some good quality time.
But regardless of what level of Christmas spirit you are currently at, we are going to have a fun time today. Because today we are concluding our final sermon of this Advent series where we have been looking at the coming of Christ through the lens of the Old Testament Tabernacle. Each week we have taken a closer look at one specific piece of the tabernacle and talked about how it relates to the Christmas season. So if we could, let’s pull up that picture of the tabernacle again and give it a quick run through of all the parallels between Jesus and the tabernacle that we have mentioned.
-Gate with Curtain: Jesus is the narrow gate
-Alter for Sacrifices: Jesus is the perfect sacrifice
-Basin for Washing: Not only does Jesus give us living water, but He also cleanses us and washes us clean.
-Tent of Meeting…The Holy Place
-Alter of Incense: Paul says that you are the aroma of Christ
-Table with Bread: Jesus is the bread of life.
The two weeks ago we looked at the Lampstand and talked about how Jesus is the true light that gives light to every man…and how Jesus calls US…you and me…the Light of the World. And in the same way that we put lights on our houses and decorate our trees, we as believers should shine bright to the world around us in order for them to see our good works and glorify God because of them.
Then last week, we looked at the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat…the lid over the Ark…and we talked about the great lengths that our Holy God had to go through in order to tabernacle and dwell among an unholy people. Because this God who used to be separated from His people and who instructed them to build a sealed off room called the Holy of Holies…a God who gave them the system of blood and sacrifices and ceremonies in order for them to be able to approach the Most Holy Place in order to pay their debt for sin and forgiveness every year on the Day of Atonement…that same God decided to come down from heaven, to dwell among His people and to cancel the debt of sin and pay the price for forgiveness with His own blood in order to redeem His people and reconcile His relationship with His greatest creation…thus restoring the original intimacy that we had with Him in the beginning at the Garden of Eden. Our God is the most loving, most amazing, most caring, most holy God that we could ever imagine. And we are so lucky and fortunate to have a Father in heaven that loves us so dearly!
Now it’s easy to get caught up in a bunch of new information and get excited about all the cool new things your learning about the Tabernacle and think that this series is about the tabernacle. But you have to remember that this series isn’t about the tabernacle, it’s about Advent…the coming, the drawing near of Christ… And today we are going to finish this series with the most important part of the tabernacle.
We are read about it together, so open your bibles to Exodus Chapter 40. You guys remember Chapter 40? We read it two weeks ago and it basically sums up everything that God asked Moses to do to build the tabernacle. Remember that 8 times it says, “And Moses did everything as the Lord Commanded Him.” And then look at verse 33
“Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work.” - (Exo 40:33)
So everything with the tabernacle is set-up and finished…just as the Lord commanded. And then look at verses 34 and 35. Because HERE is the entire point of the book of Exodus:
“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”
The Glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle and dwelt among the people. Glory came down from heaven and filled the tabernacle like a cloud, and stayed in the tent, in the camp, in the desert with the people. The point of the book of Exodus, isn’t just freedom from slavery, because even if you are a free man or woman, but you do not have the presence and glory of the Lord with you, then you are still enslaved. But the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle and now, the people can meet with the Lord and bring Him sacrifices, and worship Him, and have The Day of Atonement. Now that the Lord has made a way to be with His people, He can start dealing with the problem of sin that caused the separation in the first place! You guys follow me?
And so last week we talked about the Day of Atonement and the sacrifices that would take place. And how one day each year, the High Priest would enter into the Most Holy Place with fear and trembling to make sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins. But the Day of Atonement wasn’t the only day that sacrifices were made…in fact, every morning and every evening, there were sacrifices being made for the daily sins of the people in the camp. And so in order to accommodate for this many sacrifices, the Priests would have their own flock of sheep. And these sheep would all be perfect, without any flaws or defects, the best of the herd were hand chosen to be a part of the Priest’s flock. And in order to care for the many sheep that were necessary for the many sacrifices that had to be made, the Priests had their own shepherds that were employed to take extra special care of this valuable flock of sacrificial lamps, goats, and rams.
Now shepherds in general had a pretty tough life. I’m sure many of you know or have heard that Shepherds were some of the lowest people in Jewish society. Being a shepherd meant that you were not only financially impoverished, but also that you were relationally and spiritually impoverished. Because in the Jewish society, shepherds handled and lived with sheep for extensive periods of time. This made them smelly and gross and dirty compared to the rest of the people. The shepherds often came into contact with blood and feces from the sheep, which made them unclean. Until they were ritually cleansed other Jews would be reluctant to touch them. And because of the nature of the work, shepherds would not typically be near a place of worship. Instead, they would be on the outskirts of the camp, or far outside the camp taking care of the flock as it grazed and searched for water. Therefore, shepherds rarely went to worship or to offer sacrifices, which placed them on the fringe of society.
However, fortunately for most shepherds and farmers, at night they would return the flock into the stables for safety and rest. Lots of predators come out at night which you want to protect your sheep from, and if a sheep gets lost in the dark you are going to have a heck of a time finding it, right? So at night, the shepherds would bring the flock or the herd back into the stables near the camp and then they might have time of their own to go worship or offer sacrifices or join in the normal societal rituals and routines. And then they would pick back up their job first thing early in the morning. But you may have noticed that I said this was only the case for MOST shepherds…not all shepherds. Because for the shepherds that were tasked with looking after the Priestly flock, they had to be on the job 24/7 and here’s why:
The “perfect/clean sheep” weren't allowed to be kept with the other sheep. They had to be kept apart in order to keep them ceremonially clean and acceptable as a “perfect” sacrifice. That also meant that they couldn't be pinned-up in a dirty poop and pee filled stable. No, these sheep had to be free range, grass fed, perfectly kept animals. And this meant that the shepherds over the Priestly flock were the only shepherds that NEVER got a break…they had to be on watch 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. They would take shifts in order to make sure that nothing happened to the valuable sacrificial animals that were used to cover over everyone else’s sins…but never for their own. You see the Priestly Shepherds were familiar with the passover story and the importance of the Day of Atonement, and so they know the pressure of their job to provide spotless lamps for the priests. But how depressing must it have been for them to realize that the one thing that could have saved them and forgiven them was eating grass right in front of them…demanding their attention day and night. Salvation and cleansing from their sins was literally at their feet, but it might as well have been a million miles aways because these guys cannot ever become clean! There certainly was no hope for salvation among them because of the absolute spiritual poverty that they must have been experiencing.
Do you remember who said, “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, because their’s is the Kingdom of Heaven”. Because that man was coming into world, and He had something special planned for His grand entrance…You can follow along in Luke 2.
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born…
Isn’t this amazing! Can’t you just imagine the angels in heaven? For hundreds of years they have sat and listened to their God whisper His plan to the Prophets:
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel [God with us]” - Isaiah 7:14
And the angels already the knew the result that would come of this:
“Your covenant with death will be annulled; your agreement with the grave will not stand.” - Isaiah 28:18
But the angels have spent their entire existence in the glory of the Lord…they are in full view of His glory 24/7…and it causes them to sing and rejoice and shout at all times! But not right now. Right now at this very moment, I imagine that all of Heaven is silent…sitting on the edge of their seat. Watching, waiting, and wondering…whispering to each other in a hopeful disbelief, “It’s impossible…It’s not going to fit…How is ALL that Glory going to fit in something so small?”
But then, breaking the silence of that night, a baby’s first cry! “…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:7 NIV)
And up in Heaven the angels are going CRAZY!!! They are whoopin’ and hollerin’…high fives and chest bumps are being thrown around. Every single angel is stoked out of its mind…they are ECSTATIC…ELECTRIC! They simply cannot control their excitement any longer, and so they go to the Lord and plead with Him, “Lord, this news is too good! We have to tell someone about this! Who can we share this incredible news with? Should we tell the kings? Should we alert the army generals? But what does God say? Obviously we don’t have record of this conversation between God and the angels, but I imagine it went something like this:
“Yes, you can go tell some people. You see those shepherds right there? Those ones in the field right now…who are still watching over the flock of sheep at night…the sheep that Priests have been sacrificing to Me? Those guys right there, they have no friends, no relationship, hope of salvation…so I want you to go tell them!”
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” Luke 2:8-16
Did you catch that? Did you see what they did?
The shepherds, who many scholars believe were the same shepherds that were watching over the Priestly Flock…the sacrificial lambs…left the sacrifice in the field in order to go and see the PERFECT sacrifice lying in a manger. They left their job with the high priests of Jerusalem to go and visit THE High Priest born in Bethlehem.
God told the angels to go tell the shepherds…those who are on the margins, the people who are broken and seeking relational healing…the spiritually impoverished. That is who God wanted to share in the first revelation of His full Glory! The first time since the fall of man that God’s glory was fully on display for everyone to look at directly without any barrier, any rituals, any curtains or veils or mercy seat. And God wanted to share this historical moment with the lowly shepherds.
Now church, here’s the thing. There is no difference between you and the shepherd. At one point or another, whether its years ago or still to this day…YOU were broken, outcast, seeking healing, feeling the weight of your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual depravity. You were spiritually dead, being crushed and poisoned by the weight and the toxicity of your own sin. “BUT GOD, [who] being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” - Eph 2:4-7 (ESV)
Through Him choosing to live among us, we received life…a life that no longer is inhibited by barriers or sacrifices or ceremonies. “In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Eph. 3:12 NIV) There is no longer any need for a courtyard. There is no longer any need for the tent of meeting. There is no longer any need for the Most Holy Place…because Jesus has fulfilled those things and now the Glory of the Lord dwells among us…inside us. And the most Holy Place is right here, where two or more are gathered. There is no longer any need for fear and trembling, because fear is only present when you don’t know the outcome. Well Church, we know the outcome. We know that our Jesus conquers death. And because of that, we can now approach the throne with boldness and confidence, knowing that our God saves!
In the same way that God’s Glory came down from heaven and rested on the tabernacle, over a thousand years later God’s glory would come down once again in dwell among His people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. We have seen His GLORY, the GLORY of the One and Only, who came from the Father full of grace and truth.”
And the only appropriate response to seeing His Glory is to worship the Lord Jesus just as the angels did, singing “Glory to God in the Highest!!!…and Peace to His People on Earth.”