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Worship: From Exile to Restoration


"Worship: From Exile to Restoration"

September 3, 2011

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This week’s lesson points out the pivotal role the Jerusalem sanctuary played in the religious thinking and worship of the Jews.  It calls our attention especially to the restoration of the temple after seventy years of Babylonian captivity.  
What was the Sanctuary service originally meant to accomplish?  Was it significant merely for its design and architecture?  Did it get its significance from the performance of a variety of worship acts and sacrifices?  Is it possible, in our day, that we have a superficial focus on the importance of structures and services, which to a greater or lesser degree have lost their true spiritual significance in our thinking?
Not long after the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, God told them the purpose of temples, sanctuaries, and sacrificial systems.  He said, "Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8).  God’s purpose in setting up a sanctuary system, including a building, was for intimacy.  He wanted to be close to His people, and He hoped they would want to be intimate and close with Him.  He desired a deep and tender relationship with a group of people who could represent His goodness to an alienated and hostile world.  He put it simply, “I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31:33). 
God’s desire to “dwell among them,” (and among us!), is not a statement of geography.  He is not saying, “I want to live nearby these people.”  God is making a statement regarding the desire of His heart to live in relational friendship and intimacy with the Israelites – and with us!  Revelation 7:15 tells us that for all eternity this will continue to be at the core of God’s desire regarding us – “He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.”  In the end, this closeness will be realized in God’s experience, and ours, because He will dwell among us.
Over and over the idea that God’s desire is to dwell with and in us is portrayed in Scripture.  The temple and sanctuary lesson book are one metaphor of this reality. 

  • “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)
  • “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you”  (1 Corinthians 6:19)
  • “For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people’" (2 Corinthians 6:16).
  • “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’" (John 2:19).

Clearly, the temple that God is interested in is the soul temple, the spiritual temple, the intellectual and emotional temple – the temple of our minds and hearts.  The temple is us – the very core of our being!
This temple relates to us as individuals, and as a corporate body of believers.  “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
“From eternal ages it was God's purpose that every created being, from the bright and holy seraph to man, should be a temple for the indwelling of the Creator”  (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, page 161).
The problem for God has been that while He deeply and earnestly desired communion and fellowship with us, we filled our soul temples with other gods with whom we would rather have fellowship and communion.  God has not cast us aside, or given up hope that we will turn back to Him.  He is bending all His energies to win us back.  He labors to create in us a desire to turn from our current idols and “gods,” back to the one who has loved us with an everlasting love.  He says of His people – His bride, “I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there.”  Hosea 2:14.
Our lesson title is, “Worship: From Exile to Restoration.”  While this is rightly applied to the Jewish nation, it is now urgently true that we as individuals and as a Seventh-day Adventist body of believers, are being called by God to return – in true heart and mind worship – from spiritual exile to spiritual restoration.  This call to return is a call to repentance.  Exile to restoration always involves repentance.  “Every animal slain by the hand of the sinner (in the sanctuary service) was to be a miniature Calvary.  It was to reveal the deep seated enmity the sinner held against God.  It was to prove that God held nothing back, not even His Son, if by any means He could get man to see and abandon the rebellion buried so deeply in his mind.  The service was to be a catalyst to melt the proud and stubborn heart.  Nothing less than “blood” could wash away such deeply hidden unconscious sin – the will to kill God” (Donald K. Short, Then Shall the Sanctuary Be Cleansed, page 35).  This is the exile from which God is working to bring us back– an enmity towards Him that manifests itself in all manner of self-absorption.
The good news of the gospel always leaves us with hope and encouragement.  “No man can of himself cast out the evil throng that have taken possession of the heart.  Only Christ can cleanse the soul temple.  But He will not force an entrance. . .  He says, ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him’ (Revelation 3:20).  He will come, not for one day merely; for He says, ‘I will dwell in them, and walk in them; . . . and they shall be My people.’ ‘He will subdue our iniquities’ (2 Corinthians 6:16; Micah 7:19).  His presence will cleanse and sanctify the soul, so that it may be a holy temple unto the Lord”  (Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, page 161).  May He find an entrance in all our hearts today.

--Bob Hunsaker