Summary: The Presence comes not because we manufacture emotions, but because we complete what our history calls us to and because we cultivate holiness and unity.
Prayer, in the words of hymn-writer Charles Wesley: Finish then Thy new creation, Pure and spotless let us be; Let us see Thy great salvation Perfectly restored in Thee! Changed from glory into glory, Till in heaven we take our place, Till we cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
What a clattering cacophony, that day in Jerusalem! What an assault on the ears! You could hardly hear yourself think. I don’t suppose they had rock concerts three thousand years ago, but it must have been a little like one. Loud and boisterous and uncontrollable!
The clank of cartwheels as a team of oxen made its way up the stony streets. The lowing of oxen and the bleating of hundreds of sheep, all of them jammed into a makeshift corral; and, every few minutes, pitiful moaning from the animals destined for the altar of sacrifice. Too much!
The people themselves – the whole nation had gathered in the city, and the sounds of street vendors mingled with laughter and the impromptu games of the children. Everywhere there was noise.
And then there were the musicians. Look at all the equipment these people had at their disposal! Trumpets, cymbals, harps, and lyres. I’m looking at the text to see if they had a four-manual organ too! What an exuberant sound there must have been, that day in Jerusalem!
Now right in the middle of it all, a worship service began. A procession carried the ancient ark of the covenant up into the newly built Temple, and the singers and trumpeters burst forth with music, the king prayed vigorously, and the people shouted hallelujahs ... and suddenly, there was a presence. A cloud. A brooding light. Something came over the people. They fell silent. The notes of the trumpets died away in the twilight. The singers closed their lips. The priests, appointed to stand at God’s altar, sank to their knees, overawed with the majesty of the moment. Everyone, that day in Jerusalem, was lost in wonder, love, and praise. Can you hear it? “Holy, holy, holy. Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. This house is full of Thy glory.”
How does God’s house gain glory? What brings God Himself into our midst? Is it all about shouting and singing? Does the cloud of God’s glory enter the Temple because the preachers are eloquent and their sermons full of snappy stories for sedentary saints? Does God come into this house because you and I orchestrate it, pumping up feelings and manufacturing emotions?
No, the glory of God is felt in His house not because any of us make it happen with musical prowess or oratorical fireworks. The glory of God comes to His house through two things. There are two conditions to be fulfilled if we are to feel God’s presence. One is about history and the other is about holiness. If we will complete our history and if we will cultivate holiness, then the glory of God will come into this house. If we want to experience the power of the Presence in this place, we must complete our history and cultivate holiness.
First, notice that when God’s people understand their time in history, and complete the work God has given them to do, then the glory of God comes. When we discern where we are in God’s redemptive plan, and seize that moment to accomplish all that God has given us to do, then we will know His presence. Then we will be lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Think of the history that led up to the moment when the new Temple was dedicated in Jerusalem. They brought in the ark of the covenant. This old box was a reminder that fundamentally they had been a nation of slaves, but God had brought them up out of Egypt, and God had established them in the land of promise. The ark of the covenant was there to remind them of their history and that they had come a long, long way under the mighty hand of God.
And then there was the tabernacle. The tent of meeting, they called it. For over two hundred years the central place of worship for Israel had been a tent, a temporary place. The tabernacle had been made by Moses out in the desert; it had moved with the people as they made their way up the Jordan River valley. It had crossed over into campground with Joshua. It had followed the judges under whom they had taken the land of Canaan. And it had served under their first kings, Saul and David. But it was just a tent. It was temporary.
But now, a new day, a new threshhold in their history. God had taken Israel from a wandering tribe of nobodies and had given them a beautiful land and a great capital city. God had brought them to a climax in their history, and had told them that in this new moment there was a new task: to build a Temple. This Temple would fulfill the history that had begun long ago with an ark and a tabernacle. They were called to complete this work. And this now they had done.