Free to Worship

Scripture: Exodus 35-40

 

Title: Free to Worship

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Preparation for God’s coming (hope)
  • Worship from the inside out (freedom)
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

Today we conclude our series on Moses in Exodus by looking at the final six chapters – 35 through to 40

  • In this section the people make the tabernacle in accordance with the detailed instructions Yahweh gave them in chapters 25 to 31

 

The tabernacle, you may recall, is like God’s mobile home – it is a sacred tent for God’s presence

  • The God of Israel is not aloof or detached and He is not fixed in one place
  • Yahweh wants to be present among His people – on the move with them

 

We don’t have time this morning to read all six chapters – I really just want to draw your attention to some of the main points in view, in particular…

  • Israel’s preparation for God’s coming
  • And their worship from the inside out

 

Preparation for God’s coming:

As we heard earlier, today is the first Sunday in Advent, which means we are less than a month away from Christmas

 

Tell me, what are some of the things that you have been doing (or at least need to do) to prepare for Christmas?

  • Write and send Christmas cards
  • Shop for Christmas presents
  • Put up the Christmas tree
  • Decide where you will spend Christmas
  • Buy special food
  • Attend end of year parties

 

Okay, show of hands, who really enjoys this time of year?

  • And who can’t wait for it all to be over?
  • There is much to do in preparing for Christmas – it is a busy time

 

Recently, in the last 3 months, we’ve had two new babies born in our congregation – Matthias & Pascal

  • There is quite a bit to do in preparing for the arrival of a new born baby, especially if it’s your first (as it was for Oti & Ann Na)
  • You need to set up the nursery, buy baby clothes, make arrangements for time off work, get a baby seat and maybe get a bigger car

 

At the beginning of this month Prince Charles paid a visit to Tawa College

  • I imagine there was a fair bit of preparation involved with that visit
  • Communicating to the pupils and the parents what was happening
  • Having some students ready to greet and perform for the prince
  • Liaising with police about security
  • Having some contingency plan if things didn’t quite go as expected
  • I don’t know – I guess there was lots to think of

 

There is certainly a lot to think of in preparing for a wedding

  • Organising the ceremony itself and then the reception afterwards
  • Inviting guests, buying a dress, hiring a suit, arranging flowers, working through some kind of marriage preparation course with the minister
  • Writing a speech, planning the honey moon – all sorts of details you wouldn’t imagine until you go through the process

 

Next week’s ‘19 Sleeps to Christmas’ guest service involves lots of preparation too (nearly as much as a wedding)

  • I don’t want to give too much away but there has been quite a bit of planning and work going on in the background for several weeks now
  • At this afternoon’s practice we’ll put it altogether to see how it works

 

That word Advent (on the front of your newsletters) simply means ‘coming’

  • During Advent we look back to Jesus’ first coming to earth 2000 years ago and we look forward to Christ’s second coming in glory
  • Christmas Advent is meant to be a time of preparation for the arrival of both a special event and a special person

 

When you read through Exodus chapters 35 to 40 you get a feel for the amount of preparation that went into Yahweh’s coming

 

There’s lots of detail about joining and fastening and making and then assembling the tabernacle. For example:

  • He made curtains of goats’ hair
  • He joined five curtains by themselves
  • He made the table of acacia wood… and overlaid it with pure gold
  • He cast for it four rings of gold and fastened the rings to the four corners
  • He also made the lampstand of pure gold… and so on

 

The image presented is not a static one

  • We don’t get a still photo of the completed project
  • We get a series of moving pictures, describing the process of the people’s preparation for the coming of God to dwell in their midst.
  • The community is in Advent mode.’ [1]

 

Much of the detail in chapters 35 to 40 is repetition of chapters 25 to 31

  • The main difference being that in chapters 25-31 God describes things in order of sacredness – starting with the ark in the most holy place and working His way to the outer courtyard and surrounding curtains
  • Whereas in chapters 35 to 40 we get a works report – so the order follows the practical logic of construction

 

Why the repetition? (albeit in a different order)

  • Because preparing for the Lord’s coming (His Advent) is important
  • It is not instant coffee or a microwave meal
  • It is not a Bunnings flat pack or ready-made curtains
  • Everything is unique, a one off, custom made and hand crafted

 

In the Old Testament the tabernacle isn’t just a symbol of God’s presence – it is an actual vehicle for divine presence

  • When God fills the tabernacle in Exodus 40, Moses is unable to enter

In the New Testament Jesus is the actual vehicle of God’s presence – more than just a symbol

  • As the Israelites prepared for Yahweh’s coming so we need to make room for the Christ child – we need to be ready to receive our risen Lord

 

Being prepared for Christ’s coming gets some attention in the gospels too

  • Jesus told a number of parables about being ready for his return
  • The parable of the 10 virgins – only 5 of whom kept their lamps trimmed
  • The thief in the night
  • The parable of the servants and the talents, and so on
  • This looking forward to Christ’s return is not meant to be an anxious thing – it is supposed to inspire hope – Hope is an attractive energy

 

Looking at the book of Exodus as a whole, we notice a contrast between the beginning and the end of the book

  • At the start of Exodus the people are despairing – Pharaoh is crushing their spirit under cruel slavery – they have nothing to look forward to
  • But by the end of the book Pharaoh is nowhere in sight and the people are busy preparing for the Lord’s coming – energised by hope

 

  • Despite the Pharaoh’s of this world and despite Israel’s own failure, God promises to be with His people and that promise fills the people with a sense of joyful anticipation
  • Like the joy and excitement we might feel as we anticipate getting married or as we look forward to the birth of a child or being reunited with loved ones at Christmas

 

As well as describing Israel’s preparation for God’s coming, Exodus 35 to 40 also shows us the quality and fabric of their worship – from the inside out

 

Worship from the inside out:

Aesop has a story about the sun and the wind – it’s a classic, worth repeating

 

The North Wind boasted of great strength.

  • The Sun argued that there was greater power in gentleness.
  • “We shall have a contest,” said the Sun.

 

Far below, a man travelled a winding road.

  • He was wearing a warm winter coat.
  • “As a test of strength,” said the Sun, “Let us see which of us can take the coat off of that man.”

 

“It will be quite simple for me to force him to remove his coat,” bragged the Wind.

  • The Wind blew so hard, branches broke off trees. The world was filled with dust and leaves.
  • But the harder the wind blew, the tighter the man clung to his coat.

 

Then, the Sun came out from behind a cloud, warming the air and the frosty ground.

  • The man on the road unbuttoned his coat.
  • The sun grew slowly brighter and warmer.
  • Soon the man felt so hot, he took off his coat and sat down in a shady spot.

 

“How did you do that?” said the Wind.

  • “Gently, from the inside out”, said the Sun

 

Pharaoh was like the wind to Israel – forcing them against their will with threats and whips and external pressures

  • But the way of Yahweh was more like the Sun – warming Israel, wooing them gently, so they were moved of their own volition, freely, naturally, from the inside out

 

From Exodus 35, verse 4 Moses said to all the congregation of the Israelites:

This is the thing that the Lord has commanded:

Take from among you an offering to the Lord; let whoever is of a generous heart bring the Lord’s offering: gold, silver, bronze… [and so on]

 

And they came, everyone whose heart was stirred and everyone whose spirit was willing and brought the Lord’s offering to be used for the tent of meeting…

So they came, both men and women; all who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and pendants, all sorts of gold…

[and so on]

 

Willing heart – willing spirit

 

In this context the ‘heart’ stands for the inner constitution or disposition of a person – their unseen inner reality

  • While the human ‘spirit’ refers to personal energy, gusto or inner drive [2]

The point is, no one was forcing the people to provide valuables for making the tabernacle – they did it freely and willingly, from the inside out

  • God, in His grace, had moved them with the warmth of His loyal love and commitment
  • The people were so generous that they had to be asked to stop giving

 

The best things in life are simple – Chocolate is a point in case

  • Chocolate only has three ingredients – and two of those ingredients come from the same plant
  • You can add other things to the chocolate like fruit or nuts or some other kind of flavouring but essentially the chocolate itself only has 3 parts
  • Would anyone like to guess what those three ingredients are? [Wait]

 

Yes, that’s right

  • Cocoa beans (or cocoa mass), cocoa butter and sugar

 

The cocoa beans give the chocolate that dark look and bitter taste

  • The sugar is needed to balance out the bitterness
  • And the cocoa butter gives it a smooth silky texture

 

Worship is a bit like chocolate – in that it has three basic ingredients

  • Giving (as in some form of sacrifice or offering)
  • Willingness (as in a willing spirit or a generous heart)
  • And obedience (doing what God asks)

Giving is integral to worship – like cocoa beans are integral to chocolate

  • We can give all sorts of things to God – we might offer songs of praise, money, talents or our time
  • The offering we take up each Sunday isn’t just to cover the church’s expenses – It is primarily an act of worship
  • Likewise, if you volunteer your time on the music team or the property committee or the deacons board or helping with Club Intermed or Youth group or Sunday school or doing the lawns or whatever else you may do
  • Then, so long as you are doing it for the Lord, it is worship

 

We’ve already heard how the people offered their valuables to God – their gold, silver, fine linen and so forth

  • The other thing they gave was themselves – their time and talents in service to make the tabernacle

 

Those who were at Doris Lindstrom’s funeral yesterday would have heard a reading from Exodus 35, verse 30…

 

30 Then Moses said to the Israelites: See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; 31 he has filled him with divine spirit, with skill, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, 32 to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, 33 in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. 34 And he has inspired him to teach…

 

The Scriptures go on to say how others joined Bezalel, under his guidance and tuition to build the Lord’s tent and equipment

  • They offered their time and skill

 

What this means is that work is sacred when it is done as an act of worship for the Lord

  • Your work during the week can be as much an act of worship as singing songs of praise in church on a Sunday morning

As the apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians

  • Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men or women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord… [3]

If giving is to worship what cocoa beans are to chocolate, then willingness is like the sugar, making the giving sweet

  • Worship isn’t meant to be an empty ritual
  • Worship is not blindly going through the motions
  • Worship needs to be from the inside out – from a willing heart and with a spirit (or an energy) which really wants to express love and appreciation
  • Without willingness the giving becomes bitter drudgery & loveless duty
  • Without willingness the letting go of sacrifice doesn’t free our heart – it clenches our heart into a fist of resentment

 

Okay then – if giving is the cocoa beans and willingness is the sugar, then obedience must be the cocoa butter

 

More than the other two ingredients it is the cocoa butter which determines the quality of the chocolate

  • The cocoa butter is the most expensive of the three ingredients and so cheap chocolate tends to skimp on cocoa butter or substitute it with something else
  • Just as there is no substitute for cocoa butter in quality chocolate, so too there is no substitute for obedience in quality worship
  • Obedience is indispensable to worship

 

Exodus 35-40 never tires of stating how the divine instructions were carried out in precise detail; there are 18 references to Moses doing as God commanded [4]

  • Obedience – doing what God wants – is more important than giving to charity or anything else we might think of as ‘good works’
  • What is it the Lord says, ‘Obedience is better than sacrifice’

 

Without cocoa butter it isn’t really chocolate

  • Without obedience it isn’t really worship

 

The cross was Jesus’ ultimate test of obedience to God

  • We read about it in the accounts of Jesus’ anguished prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane
  • Not my will Father, but Your will be done

 

Giving God what He wants, willingly, that is true worship

 

Conclusion:

The book of Exodus finishes one year after the people left Egypt with the presence of God filling the tabernacle

  • Exodus means ‘exit’ or ‘leaving’ – so it’s really about movement
  • It’s about God taking Israel out of Egypt and into the wilderness
  • Out of the known and into the unknown
  • Out of forced labour under Pharaoh to willing worship of Yahweh
  • Out of slavery and into freedom
  • Out of despair and into hope

 

And it hasn’t been an easy journey for Israel or Yahweh or Moses

  • It’s been a rollercoaster of redemption, failure, forgiveness and faith
  • But through the Lord’s (& Moses’) loyal love, Israel are a new creation

 

Jesus came for our Exodus – for our redemption – to make us a new creation, free to worship the Lord – free to willingly give God what He wants

 

Let’s stand and sing about the Lord’s love and faithfulness as we prepare for communion…

 

 

[1] Terence Fretheim, Exodus, page 314

[2] Alec Motyer, BST Exodus, page 320.

[3] Ephesians 6:7-8

[4] Terence Fretheim, Exodus, page 313.

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