After leading us in “Come Christians Join To Sing” and “The Glories of Calvary,” Bob Kauflin asked everyone to divide into groups of four or five to pray together. One person was to thank God for safe travel and for the opportunity to worship and fellowship together; one was to pray for our minds, one was to pray for our hearts and one was to pray for our lives. We had a brief but edifying few minutes of prayer, praying with people we did not know but with whom we shared a bond in Christ. It was a privilege to hear hundreds of voices, rising and falling in a murmur throughout the auditorium. And while we prayed separately, in small groups, we prayed together, asking God in different ways for the same things. After being led in a corporate prayer, Bob introduced us to a new song from the Valley of Vision CD project which will be officially released at this conference. We also sang “Grace Unmeasured,” “The Gospel Song,” and “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross.”
As the worship team left the stage, Bob moved to the center of the stage and introduced the conference. Josh Harris Senior Pastor of Covenant Life Church also took an opportunity to welcome us on behalf of himself, his staff and his congregation.
And of course, as seems to be a tradition at this conference, Mark Altrogge was brought to the front to bring announcements. The theme for his announcements this year will be “Guitar players are better than piano players because…” Mark will be collecting submissions from those attending the conference. If you would like to submit an idea, feel free to do so in the comments section of the blog and I’ll make sure they get to Mark. He will also be giving away shirts emblazoned with a slogan that says, “Guitarists rule.”
The first teaching session of the conference will be led by Jeff Purswell who serves as Dean of the Sovereign Grace Pastor’s College. He will be speaking on “A People of God’s Presence.”
What is in our mind when we use the phrase “presence of God?” Is it a mere distant wish? Is it something we need to strive to attain? Is it something we take for granted and treat with a “cool solidarity?” Tonight Jeff will bring our attention to one key idea–one biblical reality–that should inform the way we think about God and relate to God both in corporate worship and in our individual lives. It is this: God’s eternal purpose is to dwell among a people He has made His own. His purpose is not simply to create a people or to govern a people, but it is to dwell among a people He has made His own. This message will be preparatory for the entire conference as we see this truth woven through the fabric of Scripture. When we grasp this truth we can be filled with anticipation for corporate gatherings for worship, for the singing and worship we do this week. This truth can and should have a transforming effect on our singing, worship and living.
Jeff will suggest five pictures or images from Scripture that appear as the Bible’s storyline progressively unfolds.
A Garden (Genesis 2:8-15) – After God creates man, we learn about the Garden. This passage gives a sense of safety as in a protected parkland or an enclosed orchard. God intentionally placed Adam in a setting He had created for him. This Garden also gives a sense of provision as Adam was in a place of delight and provision. It is a place of Divine companionship where God walked with Adam and Eve. The greatest characteristic of this Garden: it was fundamentally a sanctuary, a sacred place. The Garden was a temple. This is what the writer intends to convey, for a temple is a place where God and men meet together. In Leviticus 24:12 God says that He will walk among the people. This refers to the divine presence with His people and near to His people. This Garden is on a mountain, and mountains factor prominently in God’s purposes for mankind. We see unhindered fellowship with God in a perfect, unspoiled environment. Here in the Garden, God is present with His people. He has purposed from all Creation to dwell with His people. God is the initiator in worship. This image of the Garden establishes God’s purposes for mankind.
A Dwelling (Exodus 25) – God commands Moses to oversee the building of a sanctuary in which He will dwell. Israel is promised God’s very presence. At the very establishment of the nation of Israel, God’s presence becomes a fundamental characteristic of the nation’s identity. They will be marked by God’s presence. To be the nation was to have God’s presence. In Exodus 33, following the incident with the golden calf, God promises to have His presence go with Moses and with the people. Moses says, “Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” Never before has God dwelt with man in this way. Man had unhindered fellowship with God in the Garden, but God did not dwell there. God met powerfully with Moses on Mt. Sinai, but God did not dwell there. But now God commands Moses to make a tent, a tabernacle, so He could live with them. God takes up residence in their midst. The location of the tabernacle points to this, for it was to be in the middle with the Twelve Tribes arranged around it. This is exactly where a king’s tent would be located when he would lead his people into battle. And there dwelt the Divine warrior. When the people entered the Promised Land, this dwelling was to be replaced by a permanent dwelling so that God would rest with His people. This shows us first that these dwellings were the mark of God’s presence with His people and in doing so He identifies with His people. As the people wander, God will wander with them, and when the people settle down, He will settle down with them. Secondly, these dwellings also point to God’s transcendence. While He was living with them in these dwellings, it is not unhindered fellowship. The tabernacle is divided and there is a curtain barring the Holy Place. As loudly as these dwellings spoke of God’s imminence, they also spoke of His transcendence. There is still a barrier to shield them from His glorious presence, for God’s presence is not always good news (think, for example, of Aaron’s sons and their “strange fire”).
A Person (John 1) – The Word became flesh and dwelt among us; it tabernacled among us. God set up a tent in our midst and dwells among us. We have beheld His glory just as His glory filled the tabernacle. Once again, God is dwelling with His people but now in a much different, more authentic, more personal way. Christ is the ultimate revelation of God; the ultimate self-disclosure of God. Jesus is the fulfillment of the temple and tabernacle. He is the new temple. The place where man and God meet is a person, not a building. The place of sacrifice is not an altar in a building, but Christ’s own body. At His death, in the rending of His flesh and the spilling of His blood, the veil of the temple that separated the Holy of Holies was torn in two, for it no longer guarded the presence of God. Access to God’s presence is no longer shielded but is open to everyone through Jesus Christ. The book of Matthew begins with the promise that Jesus will be Immanuel, “God with us,” and ends with Jesus’ promise that He will be with us to the very end of the age. Never has God dwelt more powerfully or authentically with man than in Jesus.
A People (1 Corinthians 3:16) – “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” When the Holy Spirit is sent and gives birth to the church, now what happens is that the church, in union with Christ and indwelt with the Spirit, becomes the Divine sanctuary, the Most Holy Place. The church is now the temple of God. God no longer dwells with people in a sanctuary they make for Him, but He dwells in them and they are a temple. See also 2 Corinthians 6:16ff. The Old Testament spoke often of a new temple and Paul tells us that this has now been fulfilled. Even more so than the tabernacle of old, the Christian congregation is God’s dwelling and should there be set apart for its sacred purpose. There are several implications. First, Christ must be ever-central to the church. We become the new temple only by virtue of our connection to Christ and by being filled with the Spirit. Second, Christ’s presence in the church demands holiness of the church. Third, God is uniquely present when His people are gathered. It is true that all Christians individually are temples of the Holy Spirit, but by far the emphasis in Scripture is that the corporate body of believers, the gathered church, is the temple of God. The church is that created entity that is nearest and dearest to God’s heart. The church is where God has chosen to place His name. Here he uniquely acts. Here he uniquely dwells. As a worship leader stands before the congregation, He stands before the very presence of God on earth.
A City (Revelation 21) – Everything in Scripture has been leading towards the descriptions at the end of Revelation. There is a surprise at the end of the Book, for through exile and destruction Israel was looking for a new temple. But in the consummation we see that there is no temple (verse 22). Why is there no temple? Because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The whole city is a cube. The only other cube is the Holy of Holies, showing that the new Jerusalem is the new Holy of Holies. The new city is made entirely of God just as the Holy of Holies was made of gold. But there are dissimilarities as well. The tabernacle had divisions, but the city has no divisions. There are no walls. The entire city is open to everyone. In the old temple was an altar, but in the new city is no altar for the definitive sacrifice has been made. And this brings us back to the beginning, back to Eden. Instead of Adam and Eve in the temple, Christ, the second Adam, is in the temple. As Adam and Eve fellowshipped with God in the Garden, so all of God’s people will fellowship with Him. Mankind returns to paradise.
God’s eternal purpose is to dwell among a people He has made His own. This is now our reality: God is a God who desires to dwell with His people. From the first page of Scripture to the last we see God’s eagerness to live among and dwell with His people. Left to ourselves we do not desire God. Apart from His grace in the gospel we hate God and run from God. Praise be to God, His disposition is different, for He wishes to dwell with us and He has made this possible through the cross of Christ. One day we will worship Him for this, for all eternity, face-to-face.
The second teaching session of the conference (led by Mark Mullery) will take place, Lord willing, tomorrow morning. Check back before lunch and I should have an update for you.