God’s Presence and What’s To Come

Text: Rev 21-22

Revelation 21-2,3

Over the last six days, I’ve been sharing with you some big moments in scripture where heaven and earth come together. It’s been a journey through and a celebration of the story of God’s presence among us, through the ups and downs. Yesterday I teased that where the story goes from here is going to be much bigger than what we expect.

 

If we zoom out from scripture and get a big picture of it all, we see that at the very beginning, God’s intent is to be with us, here on Earth. For a while, it was great. We screwed some things up and got ourselves kicked out of the garden, and so we lost access to God’s presence. The story since then has been a record of God’s attempts to dwell with us again, to bring us closer to him, and to bring more people in to be his children. Scripture leaves us with the hope, promise, and expectation that this trajectory continues in the future. God is faithful!

 

Allow me to admit that I don’t have a perfect understanding of what the future holds. It seems there are as many different takes on end-time prophecy as there are grains of sand on all the beaches. So I am going to conveniently sidestep most of that and stick to only a few things that I believe are clearly taught in scripture about our hope for the future.

 

Resurrection

 

The idea of resurrection has been around for a long time in the scriptures, well before Jesus. We see hints in Job 19:25-27, Dan 12:13, Isa 26:19, a strange zombie army passage in Ezekiel 37, and several other places. But it isn’t until the resurrection of Christ that the concept comes into the forefront. After all, his resurrection was the defining moment and hinge-pin of the Christian faith.

 

Paul tells us that Jesus is the “first fruits” of the resurrection (1Co 15:20,23), meaning he is the forerunner. He is the first to go forward into this resurrected state, and someday we will follow suit. Our bodies will be made new and different somehow, like how Christ’s body was made new, raised imperishable, in glory, in power, and “spiritual” (1Co 15:42-44), much more than simply being raised from the dead.

 

But it isn’t just our bodies that get resurrected. Heaven and earth get resurrected too. Scripture promises a new heaven and a new earth (Isa 65:17, 2Pet 3:13, Rev 21). Let this declaration from Rev 21:5 ring out in your heart: “Behold, I am making all things new.”

 

I’d encourage you today or in the near future to reflect on some classic resurrection passages/verses: 1Cor 15, 1Thess 4, 2Cor 4-5, Phil 3, Col 3:4, Rom 8:9-11, 1Jn 3:2, 1Cor 6:14. I know I have been heavy on versage this week, but if you find the time for these passages, it will be worth it.

 

The Return of Christ

 

A return or reappearing of Christ accompanies the resurrection. Many of the resurrection passages above mention his return as well, sometimes in the same breath. The events are apparently closely linked, if not the same instant. To me, it brings up the question whether his return is the catalyst for our resurrection, or if there is something about being in the resurrected state that allows us to see through the veil into the heavenly realm and see our king just as he is (1Jn 3:2). They both sound great to me. Someday we’ll find out together.

While we do have Christ with us in a way now, through the Holy Spirit in us, being together with our Lord in person (and as fellow “resurrectees”) will be much better. Everything, even death, will be subject to him, and then he will hand everything over to God, himself included, so that God will be “all in all” (1Co 15: 24-28). This is the true rule of God, his Kingdom!

 

God Dwells With Us

 

At some moment, any moment, everything is going to change in the twinkling of an eye (1Cor 15:52). We’ll have new resurrected bodies, live on a new resurrected earth, permeated by a new resurrected heaven, with no more sea (chaos) or death or crying or pain, together as a new Jerusalem, adorned as a bride for our resurrected Lord.

 

That’s not all… “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…” (Rev 21:3). This should sound very familiar this week. This is an almost identical echo of what God has been saying to his people all over scripture. It’s been his goal all along.

 

With heaven and earth joined completely, the temple is now obsolete. There doesn’t need to be a special room where they come together. It’s everywhere! John observes the city in Rev 21:22: “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”

 

Revelation 22 opens with visions of a river, and a tree of life…wait…is this the garden again? That imagery is very intentional, designed to connect your thoughts and heart back to Eden, reflecting on God dwelling with mankind with no barriers. Yes, God is restoring that kind of relationship with him.

 

Through scripture, we don’t often see God trying to get things back to exactly how they were. Usually, he is moving forward in ways that surprise us, both because we didn’t see it coming, and because what he did was actually quite a bit better than what we could have gone back to. Case in point: Having Jesus cover for us is way better than going back to the law and trying to fulfill it on our own.

 

In a similar fashion, I contend that John’s description of our future with God in Revelation 21-22 isn’t just a restoration of Eden, it is even better.

 

Well, certainly John can’t do it justice. And if he can’t, there is no way I can. However we envision these events unfolding, however powerful our imaginations are, we won’t be able to help being caught completely off guard, staggered, and surprised at the suddenly revealed beauty of God’s presence among us.

 

It could happen at any moment now. May it be soon.

 

-Jay Laurent

 

(Thank you, Jay for a great week looking at God’s presence throughout Scripture.  Tomorrow we jump back into our New Testament chapter-a-day reading – with the book of Acts to see what God was doing with the early church.  Until then . . . seek Him!)

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God’s Presence and You and Me

Text: Ephesians 2

Ephesians 2 22.png

We’ve been talking about the presence of God, temples, places where God dwells, and the intersection of heaven and earth. We’ve made stops at creation, the garden, the tabernacle, and the exile. Yesterday we talked about Jesus and how he was the new and improved temple.

 

This Jesus character, as it turns out, is pivotal in the biblical narrative. He changes everything. He turned the world upside-down and left everyone trying to put the pieces together and figure out what it all means. Ever had one of those moments when you learn some new information that forces you to rethink much of what you know? Everybody at the time was sorting out the reality that Christ died and was resurrected.

 

As you can imagine, Jesus is a pretty big deal when it comes to our topic of the presence of God. He changed that too. Not only was he the new and improved temple, but he was ushering in a new age of the temple. I am not sure what version of the temple we are on now, but this one is bigger. You can’t really have a better temple than Jesus himself, but you can make it bigger and distributed more widely.

 

Mark 15:38 mentions that as Jesus died on the cross, the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. This veil was like a barrier before you can get into the holy of holies in the temple. It was like a layer between us and the presence of God. The veil being torn symbolizes that God’s presence is no longer contained in a special room. Jesus, being our high priest, paid an offering of blood once and for all, for all of our sins. There no longer needs to be a separation between us and God’s presence. Because of what he did, we are all acceptable in God’s presence. Hebrews 9 is a great chapter talking about Jesus being our high priest and making this sacrifice for us.

 

Yesterday I left you with a prediction from John the baptizer (yeah, because saying “baptist” sounds even weirder) that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The most dramatic fulfillment of this happens in Acts 2. There’s a sound of a violent rushing wind, tongues of fire resting on people, people being filled with the Holy Spirit, and speaking languages they don’t even know. People are left trying to make sense of it, even supposing they were all drunk, until Peter stands up and explains. What is happening is a fulfillment of what is written by the prophet Joel. God is pouring out his Spirit on everyone. Peter drives it home with this statement in Acts 2:36: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” This hurt to hear. Peter follows up by telling them to repent and be baptized, and they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

With this strange event and Peter’s speech, God has started a new kind of temple. It’s me and it’s you. Now with the barrier of sin being dealt with, God can live in each of us as his temple. We are now his temple, individually (1 Co 3:16-17, 6:19) and collectively (Eph 2). His presence has been made highly accessible to us, through what we call the Holy Spirit, or the power of God, living in us.

 

Brothers and sisters, we are the church, and we are called to work together using the different natural abilities and talents we have, and using the special abilities God gives us through his Holy Spirit. Paul says to the Ephesians in Eph 2:19-22, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

 

So this is where we are. I feel that passage is more about bringing the gentiles and Jews of the time into the same fold together, but it has a beautiful application for the church today. We are being fit together and built into a temple where God dwells. How privileged we are, and how amazing it is! Praise God that he has made the tent big enough to include all of us in his presence.

 

As good as this all is (and it truly is!), it gets even better. Paul calls the Spirit in us a down payment or a deposit for what is yet to come (Eph 1:4, 2Co 5:5). Just an appetizer. What God is working on is going to exceed all of our expectations of what our future with him looks like. All of them.

-Jay Laurent

God’s Presence and the Exile

 

Text: Ezekiel 11

Ezekiel 11 19

This week so far, we’ve talked about creation, the garden, and the tabernacle, exploring how they fit into the theme and story of God’s presence. Today I want to talk about exile, or that feeling you get when you know you aren’t home, and things aren’t right. It’s an ongoing theme for the Israelites. We see it when Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden, we see it when the Israelites are held captive in Egypt, and now we’re going to see it again as Israel and Judah are given into the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

 

Let’s do a quick fly-by to bring us to this point from where we left off in history. Moses and the Israelites wander around in the desert for a while and eventually reach their promised land in Canaan. The Israelites capture the land under the leadership of Joshua. After Joshua, Israel is led by a series of Judges, people who get Israel out of a bind after they have been stupid over and over (and over) again. After that, Israel is brought together under the kingships of Saul, David, and Solomon. David, like Moses, receives plans for a temple from God, and his son, Solomon completes them, the difference being that Solomon’s temple was much more grand and permanent than Moses’s tent. Moving on, after Solomon’s death, the people divide into northern (Israel) and southern (Judah) kingdoms.

 

God’s people at this point have an ongoing problem. They aren’t following their covenant with God. They prostitute themselves to other gods. Even under dire warnings (Dt 29 and Jer 25, among many others), they continue to make their own way. They aren’t even getting along with each other, hence the divided kingdom. They simply do not get the point, and as a result, God, even while being slow to anger (Exo 34:6), has reached a point where he has to serve justice. And by that, I mean allow Assyrians and Babylonians to come clean house on them.

 

And clean house they do. Israel is pummeled and scattered by the Assyrians. Judah is taken by the Babylonians. King Nebuchadnezzar sieges Jerusalem in about 598 BC and 587 BC, taking the people of Judah into captivity. The second time, the temple of Solomon is destroyed, too. You can find a particularly devastating account of this siege in Jeremiah 52. It’s great bedtime reading for all the kids.

 

What. In. The. World. At this point, it would sure seem like God’s people are done for. They had a pretty good run, but this must be the end.

 

But not all is lost. In Ezekiel 11:16-20, God shows Ezekiel a glimmer of hope, and has him relay the message to the others who are in exile. Even though they are scattered and captive, God is still their sanctuary (or their temple, if you will). He is going to give them back their land, and turn their hearts of stone soft. They’re going to be his people, and he’s going to be their God. Yet, in verses 22 and 23, God shows Ezekiel that his presence is leaving the temple, in the form of a strange cherubim-driven chariot. So God’s not even in his temple anymore, but he’s still with a few of his faithful people who are in exile, sustaining them.

 

Through Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, among others, we see God making some pretty big promises about coming out of exile, a new temple, a messianic king, and a renewed rule (kingdom) of God, for starters. But for the time being, exile is the reality for God’s people.

 

The Persians eventually conquer the Babylonians in 539 BC, and Cyrus the Great allows the Israelites in exile to go home if they want. Only a small portion go back. Maybe now things will get better, back to the good old days. We can get a new king, build the temple again, and God will be with us. We’ll have rest from our enemies.

 

And they do rebuild the temple (see Ezra and Nehemiah about all of this), but it isn’t anything near what it used to be (Hag 2:3), and there is no indication that God’s presence ever fills it like the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple. Something is still not right. God’s people are back to their land, but it doesn’t really feel like home. They are struggling to find their identity again. They’re still not following God’s covenant. Where’s God? What is going on? It’s like the exile never really ended. And perhaps it still hasn’t ended. It has, at best, been replaced by new exiles into new Babylons over the centuries, and that’ll likely be what we continue to see until everything is restored.

 

If this whole thing makes you feel a little bummed, that’s just a taste of the exile feeling. The exile was massively painful for God’s people, and so much of scripture is dedicated to wrestling with the questions and emotions brought up by it. According to many, the narrative of scripture is shaped around it. And exile isn’t just the experience of Israel, it is a reality we share in, as well. While we give Caesar his due, really we are citizens of God’s dimension, heaven (Phil 3:20). So we remain faithful to our God, and hold on to a hope that there is something better just around the corner.

 

“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.” -Malachi 4:2

 

I hope that verse made you smile as it made me smile. There’s hope and a new day. There is indeed a new temple for the Israelites, with the presence of God, even. But it’s not the kind they’re expecting. More on this tomorrow.

 

-Jay Laurent

God’s Presence and the Tabernacle

Exodus 40 16 17

Text: Exodus 40

 

As we leave the Garden, the state of God’s relationship with his creation is strained. Adam and Eve have been kicked out of the garden because of their defiance, and no longer have access to God’s presence like they had before. They are effectively exiled.

 

Let’s jump ahead to Moses. Now, there is much that happened between the garden and the introduction of Moses, and it is important stuff to know, but I want to race ahead to our topic of God’s presence.

 

As you probably know, Moses was a man chosen by God to lead God’s people (the Israelites) out of captivity in Egypt. It’s quite the epic story, and it is crucial to the Israelites. It reminds them how God chose them as his people and was faithful to them, bringing them out of captivity.

 

So now the Israelites, under the leadership of Moses and the miraculous deliverance of God himself, have escaped the clutches of Pharaoh. While they are in the middle of nowhere, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, God begins to form a deeper relationship with them. He begins by giving them some basic guidelines of being his people, part of which is what we know as the Ten Commandments.

 

In Exodus 25, God begins giving Moses some very specific (exhaustive!) guidelines for building a tent structure called the tabernacle. It is important to ask why, just like how we asked why God would create us in the first place. And I think the answer to why he created and the answer to why he wanted a tabernacle built are the same answer: In 25:8, God says, “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.”

 

Simple enough. But God has been interacting with his people all along. We can see how he worked in Noah, Abraham, and Joseph, just as a few examples. And now he has entered into a very special relationship with Moses, and by extension, to the rest of the Israelites. So if God is working among them and has a relationship with them, why do they need a tent thing?

 

I don’t know why God chose a tent specifically, but there is something special about it. God wanted to use it to dwell among his people, in a way that was closer to how he dwelt in the Garden. It was a much more intense dwelling and presence than he had been able to have among his people for a long time, since the Garden. Mankind lost special access to God’s presence after the Garden was off limits, but with the tabernacle, God was providing them with a new way to access his presence again. God is in the business of restoring.

 

God’s intentions and vision for this tabernacle are made more clear by the frequent callbacks to creation. In chapters 25-31, there are seven sections that begin, “the LORD spoke to Moses…” followed by detailed tabernacle plans. This is a reference back to the seven days of creation, when God commanded the cosmos into order. The sixth speech mentions craftsmen and priesthood, where day six of creation features mankind created in his image. The seventh speech is a reminder to the Israelites about the importance of the Sabbath, while day seven of creation is when God rests.

 

The tabernacle and creation accounts are further connected in structure with key phrases: Gen 1:31 vs Ex 39:43 (seeing what was done), Gen 2:1 vs Ex 39:32 (completing), Gen 2:2 vs Ex 40:33 (finishing work), Gen 2:3 vs Ex 39:43 (blessing), and Gen 2:3 vs Ex 40:9 (sanctifying).

 

Additionally, there are several symbols in the tabernacle that are connections back to Eden. The lampstand in 31:8 is a symbol of the tree of life, and the ark may symbolize the tree of knowledge (it contains the law, and you die if you touch it). There are images of cherubim in the tabernacle, reminding us that cherubim guarded the entrance to the garden. Gold and precious stones may also be symbols that tie the tabernacle back to Eden.

 

Similar connections to creation and the garden exist when looking at Solomon’s Temple, but I’ll leave that unexplored to return to our regularly scheduled program.

 

What is the purpose of all these references to creation and the garden? I believe God wanted his people to recognize the symbolism as his attempt to bring the garden back to them, in a way. God wanted to commit to his people and assure them that they could again have access to his presence. God wanted them to know that dwelling with them was his plan from the very beginning, and he will restore it. And we know that God’s intent is to dwell with us too, in ways that far surpass the tabernacle among the Israelites, and in ways that far surpass even the garden.

 

What? Yes! We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. Now to Exodus 40 before I get too excited. When everything for the tabernacle was done according to God’s instructions to Moses, God’s presence rested in it:

 

Ex 40:34-38 (NASB): “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.”

 

If you are Moses, then this is a fairly anti-climactic way of ending Exodus. He didn’t even get to go in! There is still apparently a problem with sin. If you go into the holy of holies and are not clean enough, you die. Only the high priest can go in, once a year, offering blood to cover for the sins of him and the people (Hebrews 9:7). Looking back at the garden, and how sin and the presence of God are incompatible, maybe kicking Adam and Eve out of the Garden could have been more of an act of mercy than a harsh punishment.

 

But here is God, dwelling among his people again, restoring and guiding them. My prayer for you today and every day is that you will seek to be where God is, by following that cloud. That you will linger when the cloud lingers and that you will set out when the cloud is taken up. That God will show you where and how he is moving and invite you in on the action.

 

Jay Laurent

God’s Presence and the Garden

Genesis 2 8

Text: Gen 2:4 – 3:24

 

Yesterday we began talking about the presence of God, starting with the creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:3. We saw that God not only created the earth as a place for us to live, but also as a place for him to be present with us. The heavens and earth are God’s temple.

 

As we move on in Genesis, starting with 2:4 and going to the end of chapter 2, we find another creation account, and its focus is different than the first, paying special attention to humans and what seems to be agriculture. We are introduced to a garden, and people to cultivate and rule over it: Adam (which literally means man or mankind) and Eve (which literally means living or life). The garden also includes two special trees, the tree of life, and tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of knowledge could have easily been called the tree of certain death, because God promises they will die if they eat from it. But they can eat from anything else.

 

This garden is a special place. It seems to be a focal point, almost like a holy of holies for God’s cosmic temple. It is sacred space that he shares with his creation. God walks in the garden and is present there with Adam and Eve. Can you imagine just sharing space with God, doing some gardening, and God just walks by, like it was a normal thing? “Oh, hey God.”

 

That kind of closeness and intimacy with God in his presence was how it was for Adam and Eve, until something happened. There’s a talking serpent. This mischievous serpent character convinces Eve that she won’t in fact die if she eats from the tree of knowledge, she’ll just have knowledge like God. This is tricky because it has just enough truth in it. Maybe you would call it a white lie, but still a deception. Eve eats from the tree of knowledge, and Adam follows suit.

 

As Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, they disobeyed God’s direct command and took matters into their own hands, going down a path to prematurely obtain the knowledge of good and evil. They likely had a childlike innocence about them before, and maybe God would have in time revealed this knowledge of good and evil to them in his way, in his time. Well, now things were going to be different for them. They suddenly realized they had no clothes and hid from God. They were ashamed. God finds out what they did (surely he already knew what they did) and kicks them out of his garden.

 

The consequences were very serious. God has cherubim (winged creatures sort of like a sphinx, not at all like a baby with wings) and a flaming sword guard the entrance so they can’t enter and eat from the tree of life. They are exiled from the garden, they are effectively sentenced to death by no longer having access to the tree of life and God’s presence. They will have to work much harder to grow food to survive, and some other fun consequences.

 

Reading an account like this makes you think a lot. What sorts of things are symbolized by the tree of life, and tree of knowledge? What is a serpent doing there? Are we really talking about fruit? I have no definitive answers to these questions. The beauty of this passage is that it forces you to think more every time you read it, and I believe that is why it is there.

 

The garden account is ripe with symbolism to interpret. While it is an account about real people, it is written in a way that makes it much bigger than that. Adam and Eve can be seen as archetypes for us, meaning the things that are said of them are also true of us. Adam is formed from dust (Gen 3:19), so are we (Ps 103:14). Eve is made from one of Adam’s sides, while we recognize that men and women are each other’s halves in a way. They face temptation and shame, so do we. They do things in defiance against God, and so do we (Rom 3:23), and as a result of that defiance, they exiled themselves from God’s garden, as we frequently exile ourselves from God’s presence when we sin, in a way. Their story is much like ours.

 

This isn’t the most encouraging chapter in the story of God’s presence. It’s one of the lower places we could go in scripture. The reality is that sin and the presence of God are not compatible things. Sin, separation from God, and death are all connected, if not three heads of the same monster. Of course, God knows this, and still wants to be present with us, so there has to be some kind of remedy for sin. Ultimately, we know that remedy to be Christ, but there was a progression to get there.

 

Tomorrow we’ll look at Exodus 40 – how God used a man named Moses to renew his presence among his people.

 

-Jay Laurent

 

God’s Presence at Creation

Hello Readers!  If you have been reading along with us everyday in 2019 – you have now read all of the gospel of Matthew.  Well done!   We will cover the other three gospels later in the year (John in April, Mark in August and Luke in December). This week we are going to take a little theme break and investigate the topic of the Presence of God.  Every day there will be a Bible passage to read, but they won’t be consecutive New Testament chapters.  Then, next week (starting Sunday, February 10) we will begin a chapter by chapter daily walk through the book of Acts.  Remember, stick with us all year and we will cover the whole New Testament – as well as lots of other golden nuggets as well.  And so we begin – – – The Presence of God at Creation!

Text: Gen 1:1 – 2:3

Isaiah 66 1 a

This week, I want to lead you in some thoughts, taking a tour through scripture to highlight some big moments in the story of God’s presence among us. Today we are going to start this journey in Genesis 1, with creation.

 

But why creation? I think that is an important question, if not the biggest question Genesis 1 aims to answer. Probably hundreds of times I came there preoccupied with questions about who, what, when, where, and how, but forgot to ask why. And the answer to the “why” question is intimately tied to God’s presence.

 

When we think about “why” questions, we’re starting to think about purpose. Teleological questions. We’re going places scientific inquiry doesn’t (and can’t) go. We’re starting to ask the questions God wants us to think about most.

 

The opening verses of Genesis paint a picture of a wasteland. God is hovering over the deep, or the waters (a recognized symbol of chaos). The earth is said to be without form and void. It has no purpose. God begins his work to shape it all into order.

 

But why? If you are God, do you need the heavens or an earth? Do you need plants, animals, and people? I’d guess that no, God doesn’t require any of those things. He’s God, right? It seems that if God doesn’t need anything, he was motivated by something to create.

 

The earth was set up as a space for us to live, and rule with God, or be stewards, over the rest of creation (this is at the core of what it means to be made in God’s image). The earth is a gift to us. The first six days of creation are the account of God separating, naming, and giving function and purpose to all the moving parts of his cosmos, really for our benefit.

 

God calls what he did “good” after each day, and then after he is finished, he calls the whole thing “very good.” In other words, all the parts come together and work like a well-oiled machine. Thank God the earth functions beautifully for us, but there is something more going on here, particularly when we talk about day seven.

 

Day seven is something we usually mention as an aside to creation. We say things like, “now God kicked back to relax, and he did it to admire his creation and be an example for us so that we remember to take a day off.” And we might be correct in saying something like that. But let’s be real, God doesn’t need rest. There is something more going on here.

 

First, “rest” in this context probably doesn’t mean God is tired and needs to recharge. It means he now has stability and order in his creation. You can see this idea of stability and security come up many times in scripture when it talks about God giving rest (see Exodus 33:14, 1Ch 22:9, 2Sa 7:11).

 

Second, it is understood among the Israelites and other ancient Near Eastern cultures that when deities rest, they rest in temples. And a temple isn’t finished until a deity rests in it. This is a strange idea to us, but it was understood in those cultures (we can see a similar thing happening in the ancient Babylonian creation epic, Enuma Elish, for example). They would know right away from the text of Genesis 1:1-2:3 that it has a temple theme, and that God rests in it on day seven.

 

Third, the number seven carries with it a symbolic meaning of completion. We think of numbers strictly as representing quantities. Ancient Israelites aren’t as strict with their use of numbers, and use them in ways that qualitatively symbolize things. This is why you see numbers like 7, 12, and 40 all over the place in the Bible.

 

But where was the temple in the story, though? Did you miss it? So did I. Ever seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? It’s the best Indiana Jones movie, by the way. There is a part in that movie where they are in an old church that was converted to a library, and they’re trying to match Roman numerals from a stained glass window with locations in the building. They are stuck on finding the location of 10, until Indiana walks up a staircase to a balcony overlooking where they were standing. Lo and behold, there is a giant X across the whole floor. They didn’t see it, because they were standing on it the whole time.

 

If you are looking for the temple in Genesis 1, it’s been under your nose the whole time. In Isaiah 66:1, God declares, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool.” The whole cosmos is God’s temple. God spends the first six days of creation naming and giving purpose to the different parts of the heavens and the earth, to provide a place where we can thrive, but the dual purpose is that these parts are being inaugurated and paraded in as pieces of his temple.

 

But to just build a temple out of materials doesn’t make it a temple. A temple isn’t a temple until God rests in it, otherwise it’s just a structure. Day seven is when God rests in and inhabits his temple. It’s when he moves in with us. This is part of why it was important to the Jews to observe the sabbath, to celebrate his stability and presence in their lives.

 

Day seven isn’t the aftermath of creation, it is the completion, the crown, like the shiny star or angel on your Christmas tree. God could have made this beautiful place, put us in it, and moved on, never to have contact with us again, and it would still be amazing! But no, God didn’t just wind up the clock and step away, as some people mistakenly believe he did. He decided to be involved with his creation, especially us, in real and intimate ways. He decided that he would be present in his temple, living among us.

 

The why of creation, the purpose, is that God wanted to make his home with us.

 

Next, we’ll travel to the garden.

 

Just a quick note to give credit where it is due. The idea of creation being a temple isn’t mine. First of all, it is God’s idea. But if you are interested in reading more about it from scholars who can articulate and support it much better than I can, check out The Lost World Of Genesis One by John Walton, or The Temple and the Church’s Mission by G.K. Beale.

— Jay Laurent

The God Hug

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Hugs convey so many emotions – there’s the “hey, I haven’t seen you in a while” hug, the “wish you well on your journey” hug, the “so sorry for your loss” hug, the “I’m so happy for you” hug, the “I can’t believe we just did that” hug, the “I love you anyways” hug, the “it’s great to be alive” hug, the “you must be having a bad day” hug, and “you look like you haven’t been hugged in a while” hug.  Putting your arms around another human being brings about some sort of connection we simply cannot attain on our own – I mean, have you ever tried to hug yourself (or are you trying now that you read that)? It just doesn’t work. Your mind knows that you cannot fulfill this need for embrace, connection, and sense of belonging on your own. The great irony of hugs is we often need them in the midst of the the most lonely and terrible things.  When we feel no one can know. When we feel no one understands. When we feel we are not worthy of love. When we are ashamed of what we become. When we are running away.

 

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.” – I Chronicles 7:13-16

 

These words were spoken by God to Solomon concerning Israel after the consecration of the temple.  These people have a condition and a promise not unlike our own. When things get bad, where are we going to turn?  When we are lonely, scared, hurt, or struggling to understand, who will we seek? The thing is, we have someone who understands.  We have someone who calls us worthy. We have a proud Father. We have someone to run to in the middle of the deepest, darkest storms of our life. He is God Almighty, and his arms have been reaching towards you and I since the beginning of our existence, ready, waiting, watching, and listening.  Once He hugs, he does not let go because His name is forever written on our hearts, his newly establish temple.

 

There are two conditions to God’s hug.  The first is submission. The actual physical posture of a hug is one of the most vulnerable positions you can put yourself in.  Your arms and hands are no longer protecting your body. You are giving up the rationally safe position to experience greater joy. This same predicament comes with turning to God.  Giving up safety means airing out your junk to him and others. It means putting trust in His hands. We do not seek to know why the rain falls on the just, but we seek to know Him, that He is a Good Father, who is for us, not against us – this is what brings us joy when we don’t understand.  I know – IT IS SO HARD in the midst of famine, frustrations, and fury, but God is faithful to us, so we must seek and trust.

Additionally, the second condition is invitation.  God was invited into Solomon’s temple and He shows up big time (2 Chronicles 5:14).  That same invitation and power is available to us. Submitting to God’s will begins the removal of junk that crowds the space where His Spirit is to dwell, and His Spirit is our Comforter, our spiritual hugger, constantly filling and surrounding us with the presence of God.  It is available to us when the clouds are shut and when we celebrate the rain. Try this – actually physically verbalize this invitation and outstretch your arms – I know sounds weird. Submit. Invite. As you worship, as you pray, as you walk throughout your day. God presence is what follows, telling us that we are His children and we can cry out “Abba, Father, I need a hug!” because we are never left or forsaken by our Father.

-Aaron Winner