THE PURPOSE AND MEANING OF BEING WITH JESUS
OT Passage: Ex 29:35-46; NT Passage: Jn 14:15-27
Key Verse: John 14:23
“Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’”
From our series on discipleship so far, we know that discipleship means following Jesus and learning from him. We know that Jesus has very important and valuable things to teach us as his disciple. We know that Jesus commanded us to help others be his disciples. In this week’s lesson, we are taking a step back to try to see the bigger, ultimate purpose or goal of discipleship. It starts from the key verse of M. Paul’s message last week, which says that Jesus chose the twelve first of all so they could be with him. We might think it’s simple and obvious that the disciples needed to be with Jesus to learn from him. But in fact, the concept of being with Jesus and with God is so deep and rich. To find the purpose of meaning of being with Jesus, we’ll look at passages throughout the whole Bible. I pray we can find new vision for living in God’s presence. The message has three parts.
I. God’s desire for a dwelling place
What did you think about the first passage from Exodus that we read? We know the book of Exodus mainly for its account of how God used Moses to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. After God sent ten plagues on Egypt, Pharaoh drove the Israelites out all at once. They crossed the Red Sea on dry land and met God at Mount Sinai, receiving the Ten Commandments. God did all this for Israel because of his stated desire to make them a nation specifically devoted to God, a “kingdom of priests and holy nation” to preserve the knowledge of God in a world corrupted by sin.
Have you read the book of Exodus all the way through? In the second half of the book, the action definitely slows down. Several chapters are dedicated to describing in detail how to construct and furnish the tabernacle, which was the large tent that would serve as a mobile temple while Israel was still a nomadic nation without any permanent homeland. Reading that section of Exodus, someone might think it’s the bronze age equivalent of an Ikea manual. But we shouldn’t forget that that’s part of the Bible.
The passage we read is a part of that section. It describes how descendants of Aaron were to be ordained as priests, with seven days of sacrifices to first purify the tabernacle’s altar, and then to atone for the priests’ sin. Then there is a description of the sacrifices that were to be offered on the altar every day, in the morning and again at twilight.
This passage shows us key features of the priestly system of worship that God established for Israel through Moses. It shows us that the priesthood was exclusive; the only people allowed to carry out the priestly functions were the descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron, and they acted as intercessors for the rest of God’s people. It shows us that the system was based on sacrifices, of both grain and blood, some of which were meant to atone for sins. And there is a theme of consecrating people and things to make them holy.
Why did God prescribe all this? What was its goal? We can see that at the end of the passage. In verse 42 God says that when the tabernacle is consecrated in this way, he will meet with the leaders of Israel and speak to them there. Somehow, this tabernacle and whole system would open the way for access to God so his people could have the benefit of hearing from him. Let’s look at the last three verses again, verses 44-46. “‘So I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. 45 Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. 46 They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.’” The final purpose of all this was so that God could dwell with his people. The God of the Bible is the God who wants to live together with his people. God said the same thing at the beginning of this section about the tabernacle; Exodus 25:8 says, “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” At the end of the book of Exodus, when the tabernacle is finished and consecrated, the glory of the Lord’s presence came and filled the tabernacle in the form of a thick cloud (Ex 40:34-35)
What is the greatest blessing for any person, for any family, any church, any nation? God’s presence is the greatest blessing for anyone. This is also illustrated in the book of Exodus, when Israel sinned by making the golden calf idol while Moses was away on the mountain. God was very angry, and Moses begged God to forgive his people. Then God seemed to offer a kind of compromise, saying, “You go ahead to the land flowing with milk and honey,” that is, the promised land of Canaan. “But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.” It was really a test for Moses. Moses immediately saw how unacceptable this would be, understanding that all the blessings God could give would be useless if God himself did not accompany them with his presence. On the positive side, many verses in the Bible speak of the blessing of God’s presence, including in Psalm 16, where it says, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” When the Bible speaks of the blessing of God on the life of young Samuel, it says, “the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.” (1Sa 2:21) When God is with us, we can say in the words of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” (Ps 23:1)
Clearly, we need God’s presence in our lives, and thank God for his expressed desire to be with us. But does God really need all these animal sacrifices and special clothing and apparatus in order to dwell with people? No, not literally. The book of Hebrews in the New Testament calls all of this “only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.” (Heb 10:1) Even the prophets of the Old Testament repeatedly said that all these sacrifices cannot please God if the heart of the person doing them isn’t right. But what God meant to teach through the tabernacle, the priesthood, and the offerings is universally valid. They are a kind of visual parable to teach Israel about the nature of their God and the reality of sin and the plan of salvation.
As you may know, these rules and sacrifices are meant to show us that God is holy—that he totally pure and righteous—and that his people also need to be holy, as Leviticus 11:45 says:
I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” As the holy God, the Lord cannot dwell in the presence of sin. Psalm 24:3-4 say, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? 4 The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.” God requires purity of both heart and deeds. But since sin entered the world, it has corrupted every aspect of life; most of all, it corrupts the human heart, making us unable to dwell in God’s presence.
As an example of the power of sin in human hearts, among all the other news we heard this week, we heard that four US senators sold off a large amount of personally-owned stocks after receiving a closed-door briefing about the dangers of the coronavirus, before any of that information was shared with the public. I don’t want to pronounce anyone guilty before the evidence comes in, but of course plenty of other people have done very similar things to this, and worse. It’s an example of how sin can make even people who are entrusted to look after the public good put their own financial concerns above what is potentially the very lives of others.
Without any way to be cleansed of our sin, we would have to be cast out of God’s presence forever, like a permanent quarantine. The Old Testament system also shows us that the only way to atone for sin is through a sacrifice, and furthermore, the priesthood shows that that sacrifice only has value if it’s made by a person who is already holy. That is a very difficult requirement to meet, especially now that the grocery stores are running low on chickens and other things that we could sacrifice. But thankfully, as the author of Hebrews said, there was a better way coming for us to live in the presence of God.
II. God is with us in Jesus
Jesus’ coming into the world was the greatest expression of the desire of God to dwell with his people. Seeing God’s presence as a cloud is undoubtedly impressive; but in Jesus the divine took on human form so God could be with us in a much more direct and immediate way. John 1:14 describes it like this: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The glory of the divine presence was fully manifested in Jesus. Matthew’s gospel also expresses this when he quotes the prophet Isaiah: “‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” (Mt 1:23)
It’s amazing to think that while the disciples were together with Jesus, traveling with him through Galilee and Judea as he taught and healed, they were in the very presence of God. Sometimes the full reality of that impressed itself upon them, like when Jesus calmed a storm with a single command. But mostly, the disciples knew Jesus simply as their teacher. Jesus’ humble life with his disciples seems not comparable to the awesome descriptions of Mount Sinai rumbling and shaking and the pillar of smoke and fire and the tabernacle and its glory. But in fact, it was God’s presence in an even more real way. In Jesus the word became flesh, God’s presence became human, so he could be with us humans in a way that we can appreciate and be helped by.
Only a few people could experience being with Jesus in the flesh, limited as the human form is by space and time. And even with the disciples, Jesus’ time was short and soon came to an end. However, Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross made God’s presence available in the biggest possible way. As the Son of God, Jesus was holy and sinless, so he could make the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and that sacrifice was himself. Through his death on the cross, Jesus fulfilled in actuality what all the priestly sacrifices of the Old Testament were pointing to. The author of the Book of Hebrews calls Jesus Christ “our great high priest” and says, “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Heb 10:12-14) As further evidence of what Jesus’ death accomplished, at the moment he died the curtain covering the Most Holy Place in the temple was torn in two, meaning that the barrier of sin that cut off mankind from God’s presence was taken away. Now, when we acknowledge our sinfulness and repent, accepting Jesus’ forgiving grace from the cross, we are welcomed into God’s presence as his own children. God’s presence is fully available to us through faith in Jesus. No other sacrifice is necessary, the price is paid in full.
Now the remaining question is, how do we take advantage of what Jesus has done for us? How can we know and experience the blessing of God’s presence in our lives? Answering this question fully will take us beyond this week’s message and into the next ones. But we can start with some words of Jesus from the upper room speech, which is our second passage. John’s gospel records that on the night before his death, Jesus told his disciples very profound things about how he would still be with them even after he humanly departed from them. By looking at these words we can begin to understand something about being with Jesus.
Firstly, Jesus told his disciples that he would send them the Holy Spirit. John 14:15-17 say, “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” The Holy Spirit is God’s presence within our very self, so that our own body becomes the tabernacle where God dwells. Dwelling in us, the Holy Spirit reminds us of Jesus’ words and teaches us their meaning; he convicts us of sin; and he assures us personally of God’s love.
Jesus describes this further in verse 23: “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” The words “make our home with them” show that God intends his presence in our lives to be permanent. He doesn’t come just to visit; he’ll make our heart his home. He will never abandon us. With the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples are never alone. So Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (Jn 14:18) With God’s presence within us, the result is peace that the world cannot give or take away. So at the end of our passage, in verse 27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” I pray we may all experience real peace from Jesus’ presence with us in this time of crisis.
III. God’s presence in the church
For the last part, we want to consider the communal aspect of God’s presence as it relates to the New Testament church, the church that we today are members of. In the upper room discourse, Jesus also told his disciples what their mission would be after he was gone. In John 15:26-27 Jesus says, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” Notice the close connection between this mission and the presence of Jesus: how Jesus says here, “for you have been with me.” The disciples’ authority to testify about Jesus came from the time they spent with him. By this authority, others would believe and come to know Jesus based on the disciples’ testimony. When the disciples began to testify on the day of Pentecost 50 days after Jesus’ death, the church was born. (I hope we don’t have to be locked down for 50 days; but maybe there can be a great new work of the Holy Spirit after this!) On what basis can our own testimony about Jesus be effective? When we ourselves have been with him. Others will see that, just as people saw it in Jesus’ first disciples.
As more and more people believed in Jesus based on his disciples testimony, they began to gather together and have fellowship. This was all part of God’s plan, because we are made to dwell with God not only individually but as a community. In fact, the New Testament teaches that the Church itself is the true tabernacle, and also the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit dwells not just within us, but also among us. 1 Peter 2:5 says, “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
The stones are living because they are each growing. So also, within the church, each of us grows, and in turn the holy building grows through the fellowship we have with each other. Not all of us are growing in the same aspect at the same time. Paul explains this in Ephesians 4:11-13: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
We know that for each of us, to become spiritually mature is to become more like Jesus. But no two people are like Jesus in exactly the same way. Different people model different aspects of Christ’s grace. When we are all together, those aspects combine together, and the presence of Christ manifests itself among us more fully. As Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” I’m sure that works even virtually, though probably to a lesser extent.
Which brings us back to discipleship. In effect, living in community we disciple each other, because everybody influences everybody else all the time. We can see how Jesus’ image is reflected uniquely in each person and learn from them. Of course, we need to make sure that we individually spend time with Jesus, so that we can have something of Christ to bring to the church body. As we become more mature together, we can achieve more of that mysterious unity in diversity, maybe in ways we can’t even imagine now. Then, the church as a whole can reveal Jesus more fully to the world.
Today we thought the goal of being with Jesus as his disciples. Of course, it’s to learn from him, but it’s also that we may live in the presence of God, which is our ultimate joy. We have the ability to be with Jesus even today by the Holy Spirit, because of what he did for us on the cross. We can also be with Jesus by being with God’s people in fellowship. May God bless our discipleship ministry so many people may dwell in God’s presence forever.