At the beginning of the year Mark commenced a sermon series looking at something called “Tabernacle Prayer”. I want to spend some time retracing the steps we’ve taken because people have been away and may have missed parts.
This Tabernacle Prayer is a tool that was developed by David Yonggi Cho who is also known as Paul. David Yonggi Cho was the pastor of a church in South Korea that has a membership of something like one million people, with over 200,000 attending weekly.
The Tabernacle Prayer model comprises a number of components that pick up on elements of the tabernacle as it was described and constructed in Exodus.
The Tabernacle Prayer model is not a format or formula to be rigidly followed but instead provides markers or signposts to help us to pray more effectively and holistically.
Before we continue looking at the Tabernacle Prayer format, I want to spend time considering the original tabernacle.
When I was a kid I didn’t have any direct exposure to Christianity. I missed out on those early Sunday School lessons from the Old Testament. The only tabernacle I knew of was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir o that didn’t really help me understand what a tabernacle was. And I was sure that barnacles were somehow involved!
What is tabernacle? It’s a building or structure that is set apart for a specific purpose. The word first appears in Exodus 25. Let me read verses 8 and 9 from the Christian Standard Bible [CSB]. This is the Lord speaking to Moses:
“They are to make a sanctuary for me so that I may dwell among them. You must make it according to all that I show you — the pattern of the tabernacle as well as the pattern of all its furnishings.”
So this tabernacle is to be a sanctuary for God to dwell in amongst His Old Testament, chosen people. And God specifically tells Moses in verse 22 later in the chapter He will meet with Moses and talk with him above the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place.
Earlier in Exodus the Lord had instructed Moses to tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go so they can worship Him in the wilderness. And the tabernacle was one of the means of worshipping God in the desert.
This idea of dwelling and relationship was so strong that the word ‘tabernacle’ came to be used as a verb in addition to a noun so it was something you did,not only somewhere you went. Some older translations of the Bible talk about God tabernacling with us – taking up residence.
But what comprised this original tabernacle and how was it used?
A full-sized replica of the tabernacle has been built in southern Israel in a place called Timna. There are a stack of photos and videos of it online. Whilst there is of necessity some poetic licence taken, it apparently conforms to Scripture quite closely.
The tabernacle is basically a big tent with some objects made of brass outside and wood and gold inside made to a precise pattern and laid out in a particular way. Information on its construction is described in Exodus 25 on-wards and describes specific building materials and, in some cases, even production methods.
Can I provide you with the rough dimensions of the tabernacle? The dimensions of the outer court were 50 cubits x 100 cubits. One cubit is 1 ½ feet so 75 feet x 150 feet, or 22 metres x 45 metres – roughly a quarter of the size of a football field or the size of an average house block 30 years ago.
The tabernacle and outer court were surrounded by a curtain that contained a gate or entrance at one end.
Within the outer court was the brass or brazen altar measuring 7 ½ feet square and 4 ½ feet high – or roughly 2 metres x 2 metres and 1.5 metres high. On this altar all of the animal sacrifices were made.
The brass laver was a big bowl from which the priests would take water to cleanse their hands and feet before serving either at the altar or in the Holy Place.
Further on from the gate was a tent measuring 15 feet wide x 45 feet deep – about 4.5 metres x 13.5 metres. This was the Holy Place that also contained the Most Holy Place.
The Holy Place held three items: On the left was the golden lamp stand, on the right was the table for the showbread, and in the middle near the curtain leading to the Most Holy Place was the altar of incense.
The lamp stand – which we’ll spend time later considering in more detail was a menorah – a seven-lamped stand that weighed about 35 kilograms and was fashioned from a single piece of gold. Priests were to ensure flames were continually burning in the lamps. The value of the gold alone at today’s price is $2.7M.
The table for the showbread and the altar of incense were both made of acacia wood and covered in gold. The showbread was 12 loaves of bread representing the 12 tribes of Israel that were encamped around the tabernacle and the showbread was renewed weekly on the sabbath.
The altar of incense was used to burn a specific mix that was renewed daily when the lamps were tended.
And inside the Most Holy Place was the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod that budded and some manna. On top of the ark was a lid called the mercy seat with cherubim at each end.
If you’ve seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, you’ll be familiar with a representation of it.
Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies or Most Holy Place, and that once a year on the Day of Atonement.
That is a very broad overview of the physical elements of the tabernacle.
But in terms of these tabernacle elements being used as a guide to prayer, David Yonggi Cho was given this idea over 50 years ago. A number of other people have arrived at or developed the same idea – including Mark Virkler who writes of using the tabernacle components as a method of fine tuning his relationship with God. He uses the elements slightly differently, but there is some overlap and similarity; and others have done likewise.
I know Mark has spent some time in each of the past few weeks recapping the elements of the Tabernacle Prayer Guide. And I will be no different today!
The gate or entrance to the tabernacle prompts us to enter God’s courts with thanksgiving and praise.
The brass altar brings to mind sacrifice and the shedding of blood. It points us to Jesus’ death on the cross and the forgiveness and restoration that is available.
The brass laver or basin or font is a reminder both of the need for cleansing and reflection. This idea of reflection is particularly interesting in the light of how the laver was constructed. Exodus 38:8 tells us:
He made the bronze basin and its stand from the bronze mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.
We’re talking about reflecting on our lives and the object to guide that thinking was made of brass mirrors. I find that fascinating!
Having encountered the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and then seen, reflected on and committed to dealing with the issues in our life as seen in the laver, we enter the Holy Place. As we do, we find ourselves between the lamp stand and the table for the showbread.
These represent the Spirit and the word so we are in a great place – between the two of them. Not emphasising one over the other but allowing each to inform and balance. Our reading of the word of God can show us, among many things, who the Spirit is and what He would do with us. And the Spirit can reveal and illuminate the word to us so we can better understand what we are reading.
And we do that standing before the altar of incense which is a reminder of the importance of worship and surrender and offering.
And finally beyond that curtain leading into the Most Holy Place is the Ark of the Covenant and the mercy seat which remind us of our status before the Lord. It is also an opportunity or invitation to intercession.
It is that same type of curtain that was torn in two from top to bottom in the Temple in Jerusalem when Jesus died.
As I mentioned earlier this Tabernacle Prayer model is a guide. Not something to be followed religiously, but something that can help us by providing markers. The original Tabernacle was built as somewhere for God to dwell. So this tabernacle prayer helps us approach God as He dwells in us.
Having some visual images of the tabernacle and its components hopefully helps us understand and remember their significance.
Different parts of the tabernacle were accessible to different people at different times of the year:
But for the believer we have access to the spiritual Most Holy Place 24/7. This was achieved by Jesus’ death and the shedding of His blood. Hebrews 10:19-22 bears this out:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus — he has inaugurated for us a new and living way through the curtain (that is, through his flesh) — and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.
So we, as believers, have full access to our Father in Heaven, through the Holy Spirit, by the blood of Jesus. But sometimes we forget that or cut ourselves off from that and this Tabernacle Prayer model can remind us of that access and show us a way back.
In the Old Testament, in their days in the desert God dwelt in the Tabernacle and met Moses above the mercy seat. Today He dwells in our hearts by faith. In Ephesians 3 Paul prays for the Ephesians that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith.
With that whole tabernacle context in mind we’re going to focus on the lamp stand which is representative of the Holy Spirit.
Mark spoke on some aspects of this last week. I will cover some of that territory but also branch off into some other areas.
We have full access to the lamp stand – the Holy Spirit; and the showbread – the Word of God. But often we don’t live in the reality of what we have. We instead live by sight, not faith.
As Mark said last week we need to explore and indeed pursue and embrace and welcome all that the Holy Spirit has for us.
I have a question. What does a lamp do? Illuminates. Dispels darkness. Dispels fear. Shows the way.
The lamp stand in the Holy Place did exactly that. The tent of meeting or tabernacle was completely enclosed and the only light was from the seven oil lamps of the lamp stand.
Also please note that the lamp stand held seven oil lamps with the number seven indicating perfection or completion.
As we take on board that the Holy Spirit is represented by this lamp it raises two questions.
As I was praying and thinking through that first question as to what the main areas of the Spirit’s ministry are a number of aspects came to mind:
We’ve spent some time last year discussing some of these ministries and attributes of the Spirit including spiritual gifts and the fruit of the Spirit. Bryan will in all likelihood touch on the Spirit’s role in illuminating and revealing Scripture next week.
I want to spend some time talking about the last couple of items: Walking with the Spirit; and the fellowship of the Spirit.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians, chapter 5, contains a number of exhortations regarding the Holy Spirit. Let me lay some of these out and then spend a little time unpacking them:
So these three verses tell us to walk by the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit. They are similar but point to different influences that can affect our lives. There’s about 16 sermons worth of material in these verses alone – many more if you’re Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
Verse 16 said to walk by the Spirit and we won’t carry out the desire of the flesh. Do you want the primary influence on how you act to be the Holy Spirit or your own nature and desires?
For me, I want it to be the Holy Spirit because my own ideas and desires are often tainted by sin and I often see things just from my perspective. I want a godly view on life and how to behave and that can only come from the Holy Spirit!
David Guzik, an American pastor and teacher in his commentary on Galatians 5:16 puts it this way:
To walk in the Spirit first means that the Holy Spirit lives in you. Second, it means to be open and sensitive to the influence of the Holy Spirit. Third, it means to pattern your life after the influence of the Holy Spirit. We can tell if someone walks in the Spirit because they will look a lot like Jesus.
Galatians 5:18 tells us if we are led by the Spirit we are not under the law. Paul is indicating where we go for guidance, insight and correction. Our best lives come from listening to the Holy Spirit rather than seeking to obey a list of rules.
In these two verses Paul is setting forward some alternatives: Live by the Spirit, or live by the flesh? Live by the Spirit or live under the Old Covenant law?
The third verse I want to delve into briefly is Galatians 5:25 where Paul writes if we live by the Spirit let us keep in step with the Spirit. It means to have our lives conforming and aligned with the Spirit. As the New Living Translation puts it:
If we are living now by the Holy Spirit, let us follow the Holy Spirit's leading in every part of our lives.
And the evidence of this leading, this influence of the Holy Spirit is the fruit of the Spirit which is the character of Jesus.
But how do we consistently walk by the Spirit, be led by the Spirit and live by the Spirit? I think Jesus has answered that. He spent much time on His own with His Father. And Jesus does what He sees and hears the Father saying and doing. In John 5:19 Jesus said:
Truly I tell you, the Son is not able to do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son likewise does these things.
And equally in John 12:50 Jesus said,
… the things that I speak, I speak just as the Father has told me.
Jesus did what He saw the Father doing, and said the things the Father spoke.
We all have good ideas about what we think God should be doing in our world; but it is only His ideas, His purposes, His plans, His words, His deeds that we need to get with the program regarding.
We need to be tuning in to the Spirit like Jesus so we hear and see from the Holy Spirit. I think God is talking to us most of the time but we’re not tuned in to listen. We need to spend time with the Lord and see and hear what He is showing us and speaking to us moment by moment.
And as we are hearing from the Lord and seeing what the Father is up to we need to be walking and living in obedience to what we are seeing and hearing in the Spirit.
What we to heed what we hear and obey what we observe.
The last thing I want to speak about today is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
If your background includes time in a church with a long and liturgical tradition one of the things you would be familiar with is ‘the grace’. It’s often used to conclude a meeting – whether a church service or prayer meeting. It goes like this:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all, evermore. Amen.
It’s actually taken from the very last verse of 2 Corinthians. But we tend to gloss over it. What is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and do I have it?
A similar phrase is found in Philippians 2:1-2:
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, make my joy complete by thinking the same way, having the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
The same Greek word, ‘koinonia’ is used on both occasions which is often translated as fellowship. It means partnership, benefaction, participation, communion. It results in a relationship because of common ground and shared experiences.
Within the context of these verses it reflects the ideas of comfort and peace, contentment and joy in the relationship. Do we enjoy joy by having the Holy Spirit live in us? Do we experience comfort and encouragement? Do we know and experience the best that God has for us: His grace, His love, His fellowship?
If I may put it colloquially, do we get the good stuff and are we receiving God’s top shelf?
Knowing the grace of Jesus, experiencing the love of the Father and enjoying the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is the good stuff.
To wrap all of this up this morning, my final questions which I referred to earlier were: What areas of my life is the Spirit seeking to illuminate today? In what areas do I most need godly input and how do I receive that? Please don’t try to answer that for me, but for yourselves.
As we metaphorically approach the lamp stand in the tabernacle we can ask the Lord questions like that: “What areas of my life is the Spirit seeking to illuminate today? What sort of revelation do I need that leads to transformation?”
And we will receive an answer. Sometimes that answer is a word or vision or a Bible verse, sometimes it’s a smack and sometimes it’s a hug. The Lord loves us but He also disciplines those He loves.
I believe we will receive what we most need if we come before the Lord in humility and faith with a willing heart.
[Preached at our church Sunday 2nd February 2020]