The Tabernacle was a portable worship center like no other. It was constructed according to God’s very specific plans with carefully chosen materials. Remember those gold and silver vessels the people of Israel had left Egypt with? God had planned ahead. Skilled workers endowed with wisdom from God were handpicked to craft the building itself, all the vessels that would be used for worship, and the garments worn by the priests. Nothing was left to the imagination of the people; God gave Moses very detailed instructions that were to be carried out to the nth degree.
There are all sorts of angles we could look at the tabernacle from as we journey on to Bethlehem today. We could see how each of the elements in the tabernacle represent Jesus. We could talk about the ceremony the priests had to go through each day and each year in order to atone for the people’s sins. We could discuss the Holy of Holies and how God’s presence hovered there among His people. And we could marvel at the fact that while God tabernacled among the people in a man-made tent for all those years, He would later tabernacle among them in the body of a man, Jesus Christ.
But here’s where I’m choosing to go today instead.
It interests me that God spelled out for the people how they were to worship Him. He didn’t leave it up to their imagination or earthly wisdom. He designed the dwelling place, the clothing for the priests, and the instruments of worship. He explained who would do what and when. He set the standards very high and insisted upon strict observance, not just to be difficult, but because there is indeed a correct way to approach a holy God and there are also myriad wrong ways to approach Him. Cleansing, repentance, humility, atonement, obedience – all necessary to come before our God, and not just “as we see fit.” These are heart matters and God knows the difference between rote performance and true worship that originates in truth and in spirit.
For millenniums people have tried to worship God or some other god. Why? There is something within us that longs to worship. We see beauty in nature and we gaze with appreciation. We hold close a newborn baby and we stare in awe at the miracle of new life. We look into the magical blue eyes of a lover and something in us wants to just jump in as though those eyes are pools of blue water. We listen to a skilled soprano sing a beautiful aria with seemingly no effort and we are pulled to our feet with shouts of “Bravo! Bravo!” while tears are streaming down our face. We watch our quarterback run 80 yards through a maze of giants for the winning touchdown and we jump up on the bleacher with high fives all around. Almost daily we are drawn to give someone, something a little credit. Our heart strings are played, our emotions soar, our spirits want to get out and boogie. We need to demonstrate that “someone” is greater than ourselves and we have been amazed.
Many people never truly understand that while it is fine to applaud a great performance or feel goosebumps at the love of another person, our greatest worship should be reserved for the One who is truly worthy, the One who makes all those other things or people what they are to us. They end up directing their worship to the wrong person or thing.
Others realize that there is something, someone beyond what they can behold with their eyes and so they try to reach out to this god. Hence, religion. The problem with religion is that every single one of them are based on man’s attempt to reach up to God instead of God’s one simple act of reaching down to man. Every attempt to reach up to God is clumsy and disrespectful in some way, whether it be good deeds, ceremony, emotional worship, meditation, sacrifice, you name it.
So as we journey on to Bethlehem today, let’s thank God that we don’t have to create some way to get to Him. We don’t even have to construct a tabernacle in our back yard, dress in special clothing, go through a series of cleansings and sacrifices, or pray a certain prayer. We simply come to our God through the person of Jesus Christ. He is our sacrifice and our high priest. He is the one and only way to come to God.
And when we get to Bethlehem, like the Shepherds who will join us there, we will be drawn to worship the one true God. What will we do? We could shout with joy, do a dance, or play our little drum. But my bet is we will automatically fall to our knees, hang our heads low, and weep. Why? Because while something in us automatically knows to worship, I believe God showed us how to worship in that stable. Matthew 2:11 says of the wise men who later visited the Child, “they fell down and worshiped Him…”
Worship isn’t a matter of interpretation. From the the Tabernacle to Solomon’s Temple to the manger to heaven, it’s all about Jesus. It always has been; it always will be.