When people study the Old and New Testaments, they often make sharp distinctions between the two groups of books. The God of the Old Testament is a harsh, angry God, whereas the God of the New Testament is a loving and forgiving God. Living for God in the Old Testament consists of following a set of rigid rules. In the New Testament, it’s all about love. In the Old Testament, God is only concerned about Israel, and in the New Testament God cares about all nations and people. Sadly, these dichotomies are poor representations of both the Old and New Testaments. While sometimes difficult to discern, no unreconcilable differences exist between the two testaments.
Over the past several weeks, we’ve been investigating the tabernacle in the Old Testament. This week, I want to look at the last claim I mentioned above: “In the Old Testament, God is only concerned about Israel, and in the New Testament God cares about all nations and people.” Is this claim true, and how does the tabernacle relate to God’s heart for Israel and/or the nations?
Becoming Holy Priests
The Old Testament is certainly clear about one truth: Israel is God’s chosen people. We saw this last week when we looked at Exodus 19:5-6, where God proclaims to Moses, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Did you catch the exclusive language? God reminds Moses that despite the fact that all the earth is his, God has chosen to make Israel his people. When you read a statement like that it certainly seems as though God is only concerned about Israel. Perhaps, however, there’s more beneath the surface than what we’re seeing. When read again slowly, you can see a much fuller picture, a picture the tabernacle helps paint.
Because all of the earth is the Lord’s, God rules over and has access to all of the earth. Because all of the earth is God’s, he desires that all nations would come to know, love, and serve him. The people of Israel simply were the tool God chose to use to bring the nations to himself. Why were the Israelites a kingdom of priests and holy nation? Because, in being chosen by God, the presence of God dwelt in their midst. Therefore outside of God’s sovereign selection, there was nothing special about the people of Israel. Still, hopefully you can once again see the significance of the tabernacle. The tabernacle afforded the Israelites with the possibility of God’s presence dwelling in their midst, which in turn allowed Israel to be a holy nation of priests, which in turn was designed to attract and invite the nations into the presence of God.
As followers of Christ, you and I have the same marching orders. Right before Jesus left the earth, he commanded his disciples (including us) to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). We’ve all been commissioned to go unto the nations and make disciples. This means we evangelize (i.e. share the gospel) and disciple (i.e. baptize and teach God’s commands).
There’s something really unique about the above passage we often overlook. At the conclusion of this passage, Jesus reminds us of something important: “I am with you always.” What an incredible truth to cling to. Still, we have to wonder, how is Jesus with us always? Do you remember what Jesus promised in John 16:7? Jesus comforted his disciples, saying, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I ago away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” Think about this incredible truth. When Jesus left, he promised that we would receive the Spirit of God within us upon our salvation. If you know and love Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God himself, dwells in you. So, while the task of reaching the nations for God proved to be nearly impossible for the Israelites, you and I have the person of the Holy Spirit to equip and empower us for this incredible mission.
Finally, and most importantly, we no longer have to point to a physical location for someone to find the presence of God. Because the presence dwells in us, when people encounter us, they can encounter God. This is not to say that something within each of us is innately divine. Rather, it requires a miraculous event like Christ saving us for the Spirit of God to dwell within us. Still, what this means is that the people we encounter on a day-to-day basis have an opportunity to meet God through us. As Christians, we recognize that, at times, we struggle to live in the reality of how God sees us (in Jesus’ righteousness). Nonetheless, we are commanded to be holy and to make disciples. Therefore, just like the Israelites, how we live our lives matters. Is your sin more blinding than the presence of God? When people meet you, do they have an opportunity to see God in you?
You and I have the presence of God. Let’s serve as tabernacles, sharing God with others!
You can find the previous three post on the tabernacle here: