John Bradshaw - The Temple of God
I'm so glad we have this opportunity to gather around the Bible together. Before we open the Bible, we'll pray, and pray expecting God's blessing. Let's do that now:
Our Father in heaven, we come to You in the name of Jesus, grateful, believing that You will bless, asking You to do so. You are more willing to give Your Holy Spirit than earthly parents are willing to give good gifts to their children. So speak and be heard, we pray, and bless us from Your Word. We ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
In about the center of Athens, Greece, there stands the ruins of an enormous temple. Originally it was dedicated to Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods. When it was built, it was magnificent. Construction took about 680 years. But about 100 years later, it began to fall into ruin, following a barbarian invasion. Then, years later, building materials were taken from that temple and used in other construction projects. Today, there's very little of the temple left: some magnificent columns from the front of the temple, about 10 of them, along with three other columns, two of them still standing, one of them on the ground, having collapsed and broken into pieces in 1852. A once-proud temple, now dilapidated and insignificant. It's said that the oldest man-made place of worship in the world is in southeastern Turkey.
The name of the location translates in English to "Potbelly Hill". Archaeologists believe this worship complex was in existence long before the pyramids in Egypt, and long before Stonehenge in England. Today, just ruins, fascinating, for sure, but not anything more than something that was. Old ruins are fascinating. I've been to Stonehenge; I've looked at Stonehenge with wonder. In London, England, you can see part of the old wall from, around London city they say dates back to 400 BC. Fabulous. Not relevant today. Around the world you'll find all sorts of ancient temples, some of them still being used. The Word of God tells us about a temple that is far older than any temple you could find anywhere on earth.
The Bible tells us that God has a temple in heaven. We're not given any clue in the Bible about the date of its construction, although we can know for sure it is ancient. And unlike the ancient ruined temples on earth that today are just piles of ruins, the temple of God in heaven is still being used. In fact, God's temple in heaven is the nerve center of the entire plan of salvation. The temple of God in heaven is absolutely vital to our daily lives today, vital, absolutely, to our eternal destiny, and whether we realize it or not, thoroughly vital to our faith in God. Revelation chapter 11 and verse 19 says this: "And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in His temple the ark of His testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail". God's own temple, His dwelling place.
Now, this verse is not long on details, but it does tell us several things. One: God has a temple in heaven. Secondly, the Ark of the Covenant is there. The Ark of the Covenant is the repository for the Ten Commandments. So, thirdly, we know that the Ten Commandments are in the heavenly temple. A temple, the temple of God, in heaven. Not in ruins, but still very much in use. So let's go all the way back to the beginning. The God of heaven created a perfect planet, populated it with two perfect people, and it was a wonderful time. It's evident to us from the Word of God that looking back towards the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, God and His children would spend time in each other's presence. Let me run that by you again. Adam and Eve would spend time in the presence of God. Imagine what that had to have been like. Later in Bible times God would again meet the human family face-to-face.
John 1, verse 1 says, "In the beginning was the Word [and that's Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God". Then verse 14 says, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt [or tabernacled] among us". Now, the connotation there is to be in our midst, not only physically, like living on your street, but spiritually, as in dwelling in your heart. It's God's very real desire to dwell with His people, to be in their, or to be in our midst, in the midst of your life. God knows that the ultimate blessing for His people is to experience and enjoy the presence of God. And He knew that after Israel had been liberated from slavery in Egypt, His presence in their midst would be an enormous blessing. How would God deal with His people? He wouldn't come down and walk among them. His glory would be more than they could bear. It wasn't time for Jesus to come and "tabernacle" among them, as He did after His birth.
So God told Moses, in Exodus 25 and verse 8, "Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them". God Himself would live in the midst of His people. "Make me a sanctuary," He said. "Build me a dwelling". And they did. Israel was a nomadic people, so any dwelling they would build for God had to be portable, something you could put together and then dismantle when it was time to move on. And so God instructed Moses as to what sort of dwelling he should build. Exodus 25, verse 9: "According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall you make it". God said, "I want to dwell in the midst of my people, so make me a tabernacle, a sanctuary. Make it according to the plans that I show you, and I'll show you a pattern of another tabernacle. Model it after that". It was a gorgeous structure.
Two rooms, the holy place was the first room, and then the most holy place, the second, smaller room. It was surrounded by a courtyard that was enclosed by linen curtains suspended by silver hooks from pillars of brass trimmed with silver. The sanctuary itself was beautiful, the walls were gold-plated; the curtains were exquisite. And God gave Moses the plans and clear directions as to how this was going to be constructed. So let's look at what the Bible says in Hebrews chapter 8, verses 1 and 2. This is what it says: "Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an High Priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a Minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man".
Now, several things leap out at us from that passage. One: There's a sanctuary in heaven. Two: It's the true tabernacle, erected by God and not by humans. Three: Our High Priest is there ministering for us. And that's the most important thing. In the sanctuary of God in heaven, in God's heavenly temple, Jesus ministers for us as our great High Priest. The Bible is very clear there's a temple in heaven. Let me run through some listings for you. Solomon referred to "God's dwelling place" (2 Chronicles 6, verse 39). David called it "a palace" (Psalm 48, verse 3), "His holy temple" (Psalm 11, verse 4), the "place of His habitation" (Psalm 33 and verse 14). We've seen that John referred in Revelation to the "temple of God". Isaiah talked about the "habitation of Thy holiness" (Isaiah 63:15). Paul referred to the "true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched" (Hebrews 8, verse 2). Jesus called it "my Father's house" in John 14. And Jeremiah called it "His holy habitation" in Jeremiah chapter 25 and verse 30.
Hebrews 8 and verse 5 says that the priests who ministered in the earthly sanctuary served "unto the example and shadow of heavenly things," but that Jesus, ministering in heaven, is a mediator of a better covenant. That is, there was a sanctuary on earth, and at that sanctuary priests ministered for the people. Consider the sanctuary in the wilderness. There were priests who ministered, Levites, and sinners would come to the sanctuary with an offering. Often, it would be a lamb that would be sacrificed. Not always a lamb, but often a lamb. This would also happen at the temples that were built after Israel had reached the Promised Land. Animals would be sacrificed; offerings would be made. It was the priests that acted as the mediators between God and the people. So the temple of God in heaven is where Jesus ministers for us as our mediator, our great heavenly High Priest.
Now, I recognize that what I'm sharing with you right now might not be new to you. But discovering this can be like that man in England who recently dug out a small shiny cup from under a bed. It'd been there for years. His grandfather was a junk collector, had a scrap metal business. Before he died, he gave John several things. John said, "I put it in a box, and I forgot about it". He thought the cup was made of brass, didn't think it was worth much of anything, until he sent it to the British Museum, and the experts there told him they had never seen anything like it. Turned out it dated from the 3rd or 4th century, before Christ, and it sold at an auction for $100,000. It was there for years. He knew it was there, but he didn't realize what it was worth. A lot of people know that Jesus is in heaven. They're sure He must be doing something. They don't really know what it is or how important it is. The Bible is really clear about this.
Hebrews chapter 4 and verse 14: "Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Now let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and grace to help in time of need".
Now, let's consider this. The Bible tells us we have a great High Priest in heaven, and because of that we can "hold fast our profession". That's good to know, isn't it? If you were charged with a crime, you'd rest a lot easier if you had the best lawyer in town representing you in court. You would feel confident. God offers us that sort of confidence in our faith today. "Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, let us hold fast our profession". The Greek word there for "hold fast" is the word "krateo", it means "to cling tenaciously to something". Because we have a great High Priest in the heavens, let us cling tenaciously to our profession. Let me double-back around here.
In Hebrews chapter 4 just a moment ago, we read that we can come boldly to the throne of grace. We can come with confidence to the throne of grace. There's a challenge that many Christians have. They live their life in the direction of God. They're happily going their way. Maybe they've lost sight of Jesus, or they didn't have their personal devotional time with God. Uh, uh, perhaps their blood sugar is low. Maybe they got into a difficult situation. And they fall into sin. Well, we feel bad about that. But the Bible says that when we do, we can still come confidently, boldly, to the throne of... what? "To the throne of grace". That's what the Bible says. God is gracious towards us. He is willing to forgive those who are repentant, willing to forgive.
And so when you find yourself in a heap, when you find yourself having sinned, when you find yourself covered in shame, instead of staying away from God, run to God. Run to God. The story of the prodigal son taught us something. This boy shamed himself. He went to a far country, and he lived like a fool, and while he was there, the Spirit of God spoke to his heart, and he said, "I'll go back". And he went back, expecting to be taken back as a slave. And his dad ran towards him and embraced him, and said, "Let's celebrate! My son was lost; now he's found. He was dead; now he's alive". And you might take a moment of your life to think, "I don't want to go back to God after what I've done. Maybe God won't accept me. Maybe God will turn away from me". No! Banish such thoughts.
The Bible says we can come with confidence to the throne of grace, not because we are sinless, not because we haven't made mistakes. People who go to the throne of grace are people who need grace and mercy. And we can go there with confidence. I'm not making light of sin. I'm not minimizing sin. I'm not excusing your sin. Sin is terrible; the wages of sin is death. It's so bad that when you sin, the only place to go is to Jesus, as quickly as you can. It's like cancer; if you have cancer, you've got to get rid of the cancer cells. If you don't, they'll kill you. You take them to the surgeon. If you have a little tumor on your finger or somewhere else, "Doctor, take care of this. Get rid of it". Right? Yes. And if you find sin in your heart, instead of having a pity party and talking about how bad you are and feeling, now, you ought to feel terrible; there's no question about that.
Don't let it keep you away from God. Go to God, and go there as quickly as you can. There is no sin too bad that God can't forgive it. The only one He won't forgive is the one that you don't confess. Don't think you're too bad. You are not as bad as King Manasseh. You're not as bad as Solomon was. You're not as bad as David was. All of those men were forgiven and restored by God. The Bible tells us, "...come boldly to the throne of grace" and cling tenaciously to your faith. I think about a barnacle clinging to the hull of a ship. Those things grab on tight, and they don't let go. God says, "Because you have Jesus representing you in heaven, you can cling confidently to Him, and not let go". Amen!
And the writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus knows what we're going through by experience. He was tempted in all points like as we are. Wherever you've been tempted, He was tempted. Not figuratively. Literally. Was Jesus tempted to drink alcohol? Of course He was. No question about it. Was He... careful, careful now, was He tempted to be immoral? Of course He was tempted. He was raised in Nazareth, such a bad town one fellow said, "Can anything good come out of there"? Tempted. Remember: Temptation is not sin. Was He tempted to lose His temper? Think about this. This, for me, is one of the most incredible things about the Crucifixion. Jesus was up all night. He hadn't eaten in hours. In the wee hours of the morning they're slapping Him, and they are insulting Him. And they whip Him and put a cross on His back, and there are people jeering at Him. And Jesus knew just one look, just one wave of the hand, just one word, He could knock them all out. Was He tempted to lose His temper? Yes, He was tempted to lose His temper.
Remember, temptation and sin are not the same thing. I'm not saying He manifested frustration or hate or anger. He didn't. But was He tempted to? Yes. However, the Bible says He was tempted in all points just like we are, or tempted in all points like as we are. The difference is when we are tempted, we have the answering chords within ourselves. You are tempted to be angry, and there's part of you who loves being angry. You are tempted to steal, and there's part of you who would welcome those few dollars or that tax deduction that you're not entitled to. Jesus never had that. But He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. That's what the Bible says. Jesus didn't even sin by a thought.
Again, please don't make the mistake of thinking that temptation didn't mean anything to Jesus because He was God in the flesh. Oh, yes, it did. He was tempted, and those temptations meant something. Jesus met temptation as you and I meet temptation, that is, relying on the power and the strength of the Almighty to get us through. If you start giving Jesus some sort of advantage against temptation that we don't have, you destroy the completeness of His humanity. Jesus walked where we walked. That's so significant that Hebrews takes the time to point that out. Knowing this, that Jesus is acquainted with the vicissitudes of daily life, we are instructed to come with confidence to His throne of grace, so we can find mercy and grace to help in our time of need. "Let us then come boldly," the text says. In other words, in a time of temptation, we can come to Jesus, our High Priest, boldly, with confidence.
Where's the place for doubt in God's mercy or God's love? There's no place for it. That's why God's saints have "the faith of Jesus". They believe; they accept; they're confident that God will give mercy and grace to help in time of need. God is good! I wonder if you can say "amen". What is Jesus doing now? What's the Bible say? He's acting as our mediator, as our High Priest. That knowledge ought to fill you with confidence, confidence that allows you to come to His throne confidently. Not like Esther, coming to the throne of the king and not knowing whether or not she'd live to face another day. You can come, a sinner, to Jesus the High Priest. You can know that He cares, and He'll be gracious to you.
Now, understand something: Sinners don't come to Jesus so that Jesus can leave them stuck in their sin. We receive mercy from Jesus, and grace. What's that grace? It's enabling grace, overcoming grace, powerful grace, which forgives and cleanses. The sinner does not merely receive grace from Christ, but grace in Christ. You notice the difference? Not just grace from Christ, but grace in Christ. When you receive Jesus, you receive power. Remember, the gospel... remember what it is? The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. See, again, here's where a lot of people don't quite understand the book of Hebrews right. It's what Hebrews makes clear. What's going on in heaven today is as important in the plan of salvation as what happened on Calvary 2,000 years ago.
Let's pause and think about that. What is going on in heaven right now is as important to the plan of salvation as what happened on Calvary 2,000 years ago. The intercession of Christ in our behalf in the sanctuary above, it's as essential to the plan of salvation as Jesus' death upon the cross. Now, we hear people say, "Come to the cross. Come to the cross". Amen. The cross is wonderful. Uh, hey, you say that about the cross, "wonderful". That doesn't sound wonderful enough, does it? The cross is magnificent; the cross is great. We'd be lost without the cross. But after Jesus died on the cross, He ascended to heaven to do a work that's just as important as what He accomplished on the cross. If you compare the old sanctuary service, where what we understand to be the plan of salvation, the cross represents what went on in the outer court. The outer court, that's where the lamb was slain.
Now, think about this: If all you had in the sanctuary service was a dead lamb, if that's all you had, then you didn't have enough. What would happen? The lamb would be slain. The blood of the lamb would then be taken and ministered, and that's where the sin problem was dealt with. That's what Jesus is doing now, He's in heaven ministering, ministering His blood, "the blood of the Lamb," dealing with sin, acting as a heavenly mediator, acting as an advocate. First John 2, verse 1 says, "My little children, I write these things to you, so that you do not sin". And if any man sin, if anybody sins, that person has "an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous".
That's what we read in this book. With Jesus we have two things: He was the atoning sacrifice, and He is the all-powerful mediator. Something very significant to the plan of salvation is going on in the heavenly sanctuary today because Jesus is our High Priest. Something significant and special, therefore, should be going on in the lives on His followers on earth because of what Jesus is doing as our High Priest. He is the sin-pardoner, and He is the sin-cleanser. Keep this in mind. God's plan was to dwell in the midst of His people. What does that say about God? He dwelt with Adam and Eve, but something got in the way of that, sin. Immanuel, God with us, was born in Bethlehem, but He came unto His own; His own received Him not. You know, ultimately God gets His wish. Let's run over that again. God came and inhabited a sanctuary. But sin came. Well, sin came before the sanctuary. God came to the Garden of Eden. He dwelt with Adam and Eve. Then sin, then God dwelt in the midst of His people in a sanctuary. Ultimately, His people decided they didn't want Him.
Jesus came to the earth to be physically in the midst of His people, and His own received Him not. It's a little review. But ultimately God gets His wish. John says in Revelation chapter 21 that when the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven, a voice from heaven says, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. And God Himself shall be with them and be their God". That's what we read. That's what God wants, to dwell with His people. That's what God wants, to dwell in your heart. That's what God wants, to fill the church with His presence. That's what God wants, to be in your home, in your life, in your heart. What does that say about the love of God for sinners? What does that say? You know there's a third temple mentioned in the Bible? The first, the earthly sanctuary, later replaced by the more permanent earthly temples. And there's the heavenly sanctuary, where Jesus is now ministering for us.
And then Paul wrote to the Corinthians, and he said, "Don't you know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you"? God is serious about spending eternity with you. Christ's ministry in the heavenly sanctuary is all about a holy God preparing a people to live with Him forever. Isaiah 57, verse 15: "I will dwell with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit". What does this say about God? He came and dwelled with His first children, our original parents, Adam and Eve. "All right," He said, "make me a tabernacle, a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them". "All right," He said, "let's try again. Jesus, go". And what did they do? They nailed Him to a cross. God says again, "It's not over. Let me come and dwell with you. And I'll fill your heart with my presence".
That's what God wants to do. He wants to dwell in His people today. Can you imagine what would happen in the life of a sinner if God came and dwelled in that person's heart and brought to bear in that life all of the power of the grace of heaven? That's what God is looking to do, He's looking to "tabernacle" with us now. And then "tabernacle" with us throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. It won't be long. It won't be long. How is it with you and Jesus? Look, is Jesus dwelling in you, living His life in you? Or do you have Him at arm's length? Are you a cultural Christian, go to church, maybe pray once in a while, maybe ask the blessing before you eat? Or are you really given to God?
See, what Jesus wants is to have a moment-by-moment experience with us. Can you imagine that? Imagine bringing Christ into your life so that when you drive in the car, He's there with you. So that when you go to the bank, He's there with you. So when you're at lunch, He's there with you. When you're in a conversation with somebody else, Jesus is there with you. When you feel like you're alone, Jesus is there with you. Jesus now is in the temple in heaven, the temple of God in heaven. He is our High Priest and, at the same time, through His Holy Spirit, through the Spirit of God, He wants to dwell in our hearts now and bring to us the personal presence of God. That's something we must have. We can cling tenaciously to that and believe that, as we come to God, we find mercy and grace. As we pray, we're going to pray that the Jesus who is interceding for us in heaven and forgiving sin, would cleanse us thoroughly of sin and live His life in us. Let's pray for that now:
Our Father in heaven, we're serious as we pray to You about this. We learn that this God, this God of heaven, is not a faraway God. We recognize that You want to be so close, that You would actually dwell in us. We thank and praise You for Jesus, who is in heaven's sanctuary, heaven's temple, now interceding for us. And we are just so thankful that He would dwell in us and fill us with His presence. We look forward to the day when Jesus comes back and gravity loses its hold on the soles of our feet and, and we go up. Let that day come soon. Between now and then, give us grace to cling tenaciously to You, to remember that You are the God of forgiveness, the God of a new start, the God of grace. We accept You. Friend, would you do that now? I wonder if you can say in this moment, "God of heaven, I want Your Son, Jesus, to live His life in me". Can you raise your hand, wherever you are, right now? I'm raising mine. Our heads are bowed, our eyes are closed, but we lift up our hands, really, our hearts. We say, Lord Jesus, take us and fill us with Your presence. Thank You for being our mediator in the heavenly sanctuary. Thank You for filling us now with Your presence, and dwelling with us until You return to take us home. Let that day come soon, we pray, and we thank You in Jesus' name. Amen.