Where did Israel Worship?

Today's Bible reading: Exodus 25:1-8

Noah’s first act after leaving the ark was to build an altar to praise and thank God for his rescue from the flood.  As soon as Abraham reached the land of promise, he built an altar and worshipped God.  Exodus 20:24 shows that every altar was a place designated by God as one where He chose to come and bless His people.  God could be seen as dwelling in a special way in sacred places – especially on mountains.  That, of course, brings to our mind Mt. Sinai, which shook with the holy glory of God's presence.  But the tabernacle was given to Israel in the wilderness-wandering of Israel as a special place of worship to accompany the people – kind of a “Mt. Sinai on the go,” so to speak.

Only the finest materials and the best craftsmanship were used to build this portable shrine with its outer court … holy place … and holy of holies.  It was in the latter - which housed the Ark of the Covenant - that God's holy presence dwelt.  The whole sanctuary was so filled with God’s glory - with His holiness - that even contact with the sacred objects it housed made one holy.  After the tabernacle was built “the cloud of God's presence covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”  From now on, Israel had tangible proof that God was always with them.

And so do we.  God attaches Himself to special places - sacred places - today in the same way He always has. We know that God is everywhere – He's the God of the entire universe.  But He is also in special places as well … sacred places.  Why?  Because He says so.  He says that we can find Him at these special places for specific reasons.  Let me put it this way.  Imagine if we asked Moses, “Where is God?”  What would he say?  He would probably say: “God is everywhere.”  “But is He not in a special place, Moses?”  “Of course He is – in the burning bush. Take off your shoes.”  And what if we asked the High Priest, “Where is God?”  “Everywhere.”  “But is He not in some special place?”  “Yes of course He is, in the holy of holies, at the Ark of the Covenant.”  We pose the same question to ourselves: “Where is God?”  We reply: “Where the Word is.”  How true!  But is He not in some special place?  Yes, at the altar … for Christ says: “This is My body.”

God has always revealed Himself in special ways ... in special places … to His special people … so that He can relate to us, and forgive us, and love us.  The greatest way in which He did this for us, of course, is through His Son, Jesus Christ … who put on our human flesh for us and tabernacled among us … who localized Himself for us in a special way … who manifested the glory of God to us throughout His life and ministry … who submitted to the cross for us and suffered its shame for us so that we wouldn’t have to.  This is why we come to church … why we come to this sanctuary: to receive the fruits of His cross given to us in Word and sacrament.

During the early years after the occupation of the land of Canaan - in the period of the Judges and early monarchy - various places serve as the home of Israel's sanctuary.  Places like Shiloh and Bethel form the worship center of Israel, which was still a loose confederation of tribes.  It was David who transferred the worship of god to his capital – Jerusalem.  But it was left to his son – Solomon - to build a fitting, permanent home for the Lord.  When it was completed, “the glory of the Lord fill the house of the Lord,” thus making the temple the special place of God's presence.  The temple was always God's palace.  Worshiping God thus meant coming into the presence of the heavenly King for a gracious audience.

Prayer: Lord God, what a wonderful blessing that you meet with us through Your Son, Jesus.  Move our hearts to share the gospel with others, that many more may hear, learn and believe in You.  Amen.