WHAT IS THE SANCTUARY?
Every week we come to this holy place of worship. We call it a church, but in reality it is the Lord’s Sanctuary. Do we really know the significance of this building and more importantly, this particular room? Do we know what God’s design was for the sanctuary as well as its purpose? Do we understand exactly how we should reverence this building and this room? Do we enter it reverently? This is what we shall discuss today.
First let us start of with a definition. What is the definition of Sanctuary: SANCTUARY (saynk’ tew ehr ee) Place set aside as sacred and holy, especially a place of worship. It is also a place set aside for protection. (Holman’s Bible Dictionary)
Let us turn to Exodus 25: 8. 8"Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. This Sanctuary is the abode of God. Its importance should be of paramount interest to us. In the Bible there are 169 references to the "Sanctuary", and another 109 references to "Tabernacle." It is obvious that the Bible puts a great deal of importance to this structure. It becomes more important when we realize the Sanctuary on earth emulated the one which we will find in heaven. I hate to disappoint you, but when we get to heaven we will still be going to church. Of course, in heaven as opposed to earth, we will gladly go to church and be happy that we are.
The famous theologian, Calvin stated, "So highly does the Lord esteem the communion of His church that He considers everyone a traitor and apostate from religion who perversely withdraws himself from any Christian society which preserves the true ministry of the word and sacraments."
From the time that God gave Moses the blueprints for the Sanctuary until the time of Christ, God’s presence among men was associated with the Sanctuary. It was in the Sanctuary that God revealed Himself and communicated with His people. Let us turn to Exodus 25:22. There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites. Further in Exodus in chapter 29 we are told that God talked with Moses "at the door of the tabernacle."
Just how important was the Sanctuary to the Hebrews? We can get an idea of that when we consider that David was very hurt when he wasn’t allowed by God to build the Temple. That honor fell to his son Solomon. David was allowed however to gather the material and men to build the Temple. He even initiated trade agreements with neighboring countries to bring in specific supplies and men to help build the temple.
Solomon’s temple was magnificent even though it wasn’t very large. Only 30’ by 90’ with a porch in front and had tiers of chambers on the other three sides which were used as sleeping quarters for the priests as well as storerooms. The Temple was lined on the walls, floor and ceiling with cedar which was then overlaid with gold. The gold was engraved with figures of cherubims, palms, and flowers. The Most Holy was separated from the rest of the structure by a chain which was also made with gold.
Inside the Most Holy was placed the Ark of the Covenant. The ark had two cherubim made of gold. Solomon added two more cherubim carved from olive wood and overlaid with gold. Each of these cherubim stood fifteen feet high and had a wingspread of fifteen feet.
The furnishings of the Temple, that is the altar of incense, the candlesticks, the snuffers for the candlesticks, the bowls, basins, spoons, and censers were all covered in gold. The pots, shovels, hooks and basins used in the courtyard for the altar of burnt offering was made of brass. The laver used for bathing the animals was fifteen feet in diameter and made of pure bronze and held 20,000 gallons of water. It rested on twelve figurines carved to represent oxen. These also were made of bronze. There were also ten smaller lavers built on wheels so that they can be moved about as needed. Each of these held 400 gallons of water. They were made of brass, including the wheels and axeltrees. Each of the lavers, including the large one were ornamented with figures of animals and trees.
From this brief description we get an idea of the splendor of Solomon’s Temple. We also get a picture of the importance the Lord’s House was to the Hebrews. I am sure that a pilgrim visiting Jerusalem and seeing the Temple for the first time would stop and look at this building with awe and amazement. I am also sure that he was impressed enough to want to worship at this temple. He would probably make a quick trip to the market, purchase his sacrificial offering and head back to the temple to present his offering to the priest.
The Levites, whom were specifically chosen by God to preside at the temple had to perform certain ceremonial functions to prepare themselves for the service of God each day. There were even special circumstances that may occur that would prevent them from performing their duty for several days. God wanted only people of pure conscience, body, and spirit to work for him.
When the high priest was performing his function in the temple he had to wear special garments. Because he was the only one who could appear before the Lord in the most holy place, he had to be without blemish. He had to perform a ritual to cleanse himself before he even put on his priestly garments. The garments themselves were sewn and made of material according to Gods instructions. After he was dressed he then had to put on a breastplate. What was the significance of the breastplate? (Exodus 28:12, 29, 30) First off, it had twelve stones that signified each of the tribes of Israel. These rested above his heart. So when he went into the most holy place he was bearing the judgements of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually. With the Urim and Thummim attached he would know of the Lords pleasure or displeasure.
The high priest also wore a special hat, or miter, which was inscribed "Holiness to the Lord." The significance of this chapeau is found in Exodus 28: 36 - 38. He was to bear the iniquity of his people when he presented himself before the Lord. He was the mediator between the people and God. What also is significant about the high priest was that if he sinned, it was considered the same as if all the people sinned. ( Leviticus 4: 3). 3"‘If the anointed priest sins, bringing guilt on the people, he must bring to the LORD a young bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed. But of course, the converse was also true; if his actions were pure then God recognized those actions as being performed by all the people.
What we see here is a representative of what the Savior was to be for us. Christ is our mediator before God. He took the sins and judgement of all the people with Him to the cross. And more importantly, he bears our names in His heart at all times.
It is obvious that many of the practices of the priests in the earthly Sanctuary are no longer being conducted. That makes them no less significant. Although we no longer offer sacrifices upon the altar, does that mean we should not study the significance of the practice? Why did man offer sacrifices upon the altar? Obviously for remission of sins, but also for thankfulness,
for completion of a journey,
What did man sacrifice on the altar? Sheep,
Each of these ultimately represented what? The lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Why did it represent Jesus Christ? Because He too would be offered up as a sacrifice for payment of our sins. In the Sanctuary, the High Priest presided over everything And of course the High Priest represented Jesus Christ. That is because Jesus is the High Priest of the heavenly sanctuary of which the earthly sanctuary is a type. When the earthly High Priest spread the blood of the sacrifice on the altar, what did the blood represent? Man’s sin. Why did the priest rub it on the horns of the altar? It symbolized the placing of man’s sins on the scapegoat where it will be destroyed and forgotten. When the priest lighted the incense in the Sanctuary, what did the rising smoke indicate? Mans petitions rising to heaven.
God chose blood as the preferred offering for the remission of sins. God wanted man to hate sin. No one likes to kill an innocent animal. In particular no one is going to enjoy killing an innocent animal if the sole purpose is to place it on an altar and burn it up to wipe away his sins. Neither would the priest performing this unenviable task enjoy this practice if he was standing there all day in the blood and gore offering up sacrifices for a whole nation, day after day. God wanted man to abhor the slaying of innocents. Just as He abhors the sentence of death on mankind because of sin.
Each of these actions of the priests of the Lord’s Sanctuary symbolized something. Each of these actions were important. Each of these actions demonstrated and reinforced that man was dependent on God. What do we do today that demonstrates and reinforces our dependence upon God?
Next we need to define what Holy means: HOLY A characteristic unique to God’s nature which becomes the goal for human moral character. The idea of "holy" is important for an understanding of God, of worship, and of the people of God in the Bible. Holy has four distinct meanings. First is "to be set apart." This applies to places where God is present, like the Temple and the tabernacle, and to things and persons related to those holy places or to God Himself. Next, it means to be "perfect, transcendent, or spiritually pure, evoking adoration and reverence." This applies primarily to God, but secondarily to saints or godly people. Next, it means something or someone who evokes "veneration or awe, being frightening beyond belief." This is clearly the application to God and is the primary meaning of "holy." It is continued in the last definition, "filled with superhuman and potential fatal power." This speaks of God, but also of places or things or persons which have been set apart by God’s presence. (Holman’s Bible Dictionary).
Therefore knowing that God is Holy tells us that He is worthy of our reverence and worship, let us define worship: WORSHIP Human response to the perceived presence of the divine, a presence which transcends normal human activity and is holy. (Holman’s Bible Dictionary) This activity may take many forms and can be either personal or corporate.
Accordingly we show our dependence on God by worshiping his Holy person. When we worship at home, do we do it in quiet, without distraction? Do we go to a quiet room or closet? Do we hold our private worship in reverence? Reverence means respect or honor. When we worship God corporately, essentially that means what we are doing today as a congregation, are we worshiping reverently? I don’t mean just when the service begins, but from the moment you step into the sanctuary. Ellen White tells us in The Faith I Live By, page 189, paragraph 5 :Those who assemble to worship Him should put away every evil thing. Unless they worship Him in spirit and truth and in the beauty of holiness, their coming together will be of no avail.
Let us turn to Leviticus 26: 1, 2: 1"‘Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the LORD your God. 2"‘Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary. I am the LORD.
We must consider what the purpose of worship is. We also must remember the fourth commandment and what God is requesting of us. God created us in his image and with similar desires in that He did not want us to be separated from Him. He wanted to be able to walk the earth with us,
to sit down with us,
to eat with us,
to talk to us face to face. All that was lost when Adam and Eve ate the fruit.
God had to punish mankind for that transgression, however He still wanted to communicate with us. Though He had to punish us, He was not going to abandon us. When God gave Moses the blueprints for the Sanctuary, His sole purpose was to be able to be with His people.
Despite the passage of centuries, God’s desire is to still be with His people. Here in this Sanctuary today, God is with us. Not because we want Him here, but because He wants to be here. Having traveled around the world, and also having been to most of the states in the Union, I have been fortunate to visit many churches. In several of these churches I have noticed a reserved but empty chair sitting near the front of the church. The chair symbolized where God was sitting. A quiet reminder of the presence of God in that sanctuary.
Ellen White tells us in Testimonies vol 6 page 42: "Nothing else in this world is so dear to God as His church. Nothing is guarded by Him with such jealous care." In Volume 7 of the Testimonies on page 16 she writes, "The world will be convinced, not by what the pulpit teaches but by what the church lives. The minister in the pulpit announces the theory of the gospel; the practical piety of the church demonstrates its power."
It is important for us to remember that this Sanctuary of God is not just the building and furniture. We are also part of this church. According to Peter in 1 Peter 2:9 we were chosen by God to serve Him. The presence of God in this church speaks to us if we would only listen. But to listen for God’s words to us, we must be reverently silent.
Some other things I noticed in my travels were the various types of Sanctuaries. Some were small, some large, some plain, some fancy, some without windows, and some with exquisite stained glass windows. Each of these buildings however had one thing in common, they were dedicated to the worship of God.
When I was in Europe, I was able at any time to walk into a church and pray to God. I noticed something right away when I walked in. The peaceful, reverent, quiet. I was not alone in the church, there was always a few people there sitting in the pews. In some of the more elaborate cathedrals there would be tourists, yet even they were respectfully quiet. Why? Because they knew why that building had been constructed; for the worship of the Lord. I even had the privilege of sitting in on a worship service in several foreign countries. The service is not unlike ours: singing, prayer, and a homily. But that should not seem unusual since examples of conducting a worship service are given in the Bible.
We come to this building to worship the Lord and the Lord only as according to Matthew 4:10 : 10Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’
My concern today is that perhaps we have forgotten what this building is. Do we enter it with awe as the ancient Hebrew pilgrim did when he saw Solomon’s Temple. Do we enter it with reverence since it is God’s dwelling place as Aaron did when he entered the Most Holy place in the Sanctuary? Do we leave our sins at the door? Are we properly prepared to enter the Sanctuary as the Levites were before they served the Lord? These are questions only you can answer, but answer them you must. We are here to serve the Lord. And if we serve Him with love and thanksgiving in reverence and holiness, then He will refresh us,
But more importantly, He will redeem us.