One of the major differences between the church of Jesus Christ – the church as an institution and body – is that the church never has to work out its mission, its function, or its strategies to keep people interested. All of what the church is, what its mission is, how it should plan and how it must function lies in the fact that the church is not the brainchild of a group of people: the church is, and remains, the work of God: He calls it, his Word works out regeneration and brings new life – all based in the saving work of Christ, and the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.
God called his church into existence and He provides for it. The church must love and obey Him, seek and trust his Son Jesus Christ as their only righteousness, and live holy lives as they are led by the Holy Spirit. That is the first and last instance is the mission of the church.
We are not left to our own devices to make church work. We are not called to follow market trends to stay relevant. The gates of Hades will not stand against Christ’s church.
From both readings of the Scriptures of this morning we understand that God made it his business to establish his church on earth. He makes it possible for it to grow and to bring glory to his Name.
Christ descended to save and to equip his church
Paul says in Ephesians 4:9-10
(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) (Ephesians 4:9–10, NIV)
Christ descended, He completed the work of salvation, and He gifted his church, in the form of gifted people – apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers –
to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12–13, NIV)
What is the ultimate reason with these gifts?
Then we will no longer be infants… Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:14–16, NIV)
The Bible is clear here: God sent Christ to not only save his elect from sin, but also to equip them for service as every part does its work.
This is grace – God coming down to live with us. No other religion has such a God; all others worship a god they don’t know, a god who expects the impossible, a god who needs to be pleased in order to win his favour.
This is the way God always worked: it starts with Him, it involves people who deserves nothing but who are enabled for service, and it always has been for the glory of his Name.
For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:36, NIV)
The gifts to the Old Testament church
He called his people from slavery to worship Him. He gave them leaders in Moses and Aaron. There was a mountain, Sinai (or Horeb). It was the mountain of the Lord. That was the place where God met with Moses. We need to understand what happened on the mountain.
God came down to his people
Our God loves to have communion with his people; He wanted to be with them and guide them. He came down to them.
When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. (Exodus 24:15, NIV)
To the people the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire. And they might have asked: How are we ever going to live and communicate with this holy God without being consumed?
Holiness and sin
God’s holiness and his Person could not be beheld. Moses who represented the people, wanted to see the face of God, but he was not allowed. “Show me your glory”, he asked.
But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20, NIV)
Fellowship by God’s design
God gave Moses detailed descriptions of how he should built a tabernacle, the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altar of incense, the altar for the burnt offering, the basis for washing, the courtyard, the priestly garment, the ephod of the high priest and his breast piece. The materials for each item were specified, as well as its exact dimensions – all according to God’s plan. Fellowship with the Holy God is only possible on His terms.
God enables the persons with skills and abilities by his Holy Spirit
In chapter 31 we read:
“See, I have chosen Bezalel … and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab … to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you. (Exodus 31:1–6, NIV)
Now we’re back to the sermon of last week: the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the congregation to built the congregation to the glory of God. Bezalel and Oholiab were filled with the Holy Spirit with special gifts, skills and crafts to lead other gifted craftsmen. But, listen:
And He [God] has given both him and Oholiab … the ability to teach others. He has filled them (the“others”) with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them skilled workers and designers. (Exodus 35:34–35, NIV)
This begin to sound like the same principle we met in Ephesians 4: God, in Christ came down to give gifts to some skilled leaders to equip others for work! This is how God builds his church – all for his glory!
God equips his people and gives them willing hearts
… and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved them came and brought an offering to the Lord for the work on the tent of meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments. (Exodus 35:20–21, NIV)
Who were these people? Everyone of God;s people! There women who knew how to dye, to weave goat hair and wool, spin it , and make and stitch material together. Think about it: seamsters filled with wisdom of God to work for the glory of God.
There were others who had the gift of working with gold, silver and bronze. There were the woodworkers who constructed the framework of the tabernacle, the tables and the Ark. Others mastered the art of leather work. Others knew gemstones and other stones, how to select them, polish them and mount them. Verse 29 concludes:
All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the Lord freewill offerings for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded them to do. (Exodus 35:29, NIV)
In the end there were too many offerings and people had to be stopped bringing them.
God provided the material
What material? The wood, wool, goat hair, dye, the leather, silver, gold, the stones. Where did the people get it from in the wilderness of Sinai?
Let’s look back a bit in Exodus. God never demands of us without first of all give us what He knows we need.
Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.” (Exodus 12:32, NIV)
The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for … (Exodus 12:35–36, NIV)
He brought out Israel, laden with silver and gold …(Psalm 105:37, NIV)
Their gold, their cattle, their belongings were not their own: it belonged to God for his glory.
There is a reference to hides of sea cows. Where did they come from? The Red Sea was not too far away!
It seems possible to say that some of the hard labour as slaves in Egypt and skills learned there was now used of God for his glory. Do not despise difficult times; they are the times of schooling for better service.
God with his people
First the glory of the Lord was on the mountain. If was only Moses and Joshua who could experience it. But after the community, filled by the Spirit who enabled them to complete the work with skill, completed the work, we read:
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. In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. (Exodus 40:34–37, NIV)
The glory of God through Christ and the Spirit
We don’t have a tabernacle, or a temple, or priests, or an ark or an altar anymore – it’s not needed. We have Christ who filled everything and every detail of God’s design. Listen:
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them … I bring you good news … Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you: He is Christ, the Lord (Luke 2:9-11, NIV)
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, NIV)
This Jesus came down from heaven. He completed his work of grace and returned to the Father- and gave us his Spirit who enables us to be his church to his glory.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 3 July 2016