Before we begin the study of our passage today, I just want to take a moment to remember the 11 people who were recently killed in this horrific shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh: Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger. We mourn with the rest of the country for their loss and grieve and pray especially for their families.
Tragedies like this are never easy to process; nor should they be. No matter what our worldview, our souls always scream against the reality of death; and even more so against the violent acts that often cause that death to be experienced sooner than it should. And we as Christians know why death entered into the world. As we have talked about in recent weeks, it came from our being cut off from the tree of life, which was a manifestation of the presence of the very God who is Life.
I find it so interesting that the name of the synagogue in question was Tree of Life. Because the tree of the life of the presence of God is exactly what we need to get back to if the murder in our hearts is ever going to be cleansed. And of course that tree of life is revealed again in Jesus and is something we are ultimately restored to in and through He who is the Life, which is why the Bible, in it’s final chapters in the Book of Revelation (22:19) closes with our being united again with the Tree of Life. But the question comes, how is the tree of life made available to us again. What needs to be done for us and in us for us to be united again with the presence of God. That is the subject of our message today. Go ahead and look with me at…
John 1:29-31 (NIV) John Testifies About Jesus— 29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
As we finish up our series on the Tabernacle, I would like to re-emphasize how centrally important this theme of sacrifice that is interwoven in and throughout much of the symbolism of the Tabernacle truly is. As we move past the altar and into the holy place and then the holy of holies, and are confronted with the ark of the covenant, we find that the ark was a dramatic symbol and picture to us of two things; first, having the Word of God (His Law) at the very center of our lives (as the tablets of the testimony were at the very center of the ark). And secondly, that at the center of our worship there is also the need for us and our sins to be covered by the blood of sacrifice, which the ark being sprinkled with blood every year by the priest was a reminder of.
A Culture of Sacrifice— Now in our culture we don't offer up sacrifices. In fact the whole idea of sacrificing an animal is very unfamiliar to us. We have pulled some images from scripture here and there, but for most of us, we don’t really know what it really meant to live in a culture of sacrifice; a lifestyle that in every sense revolved around the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem.
A Place of Death— But in that time, the Jewish religion revolved around sacrifice as the means of coming into and maintaining a right relationship with God. But imagine growing up in this kind of culture. As a kid you were certainly no stranger to seeing blood; you saw animals being killed on a regular basis. You see animal after animal being offered up on the altar of God as a sacrifice; some of which were for your sins. It was normal in Jewish culture to see animals being slaughtered. And the temple, though it was the house of God, it was also (as we have said before) a place of death. Multitudes of animals died in the Temple. Now I want to highlight this for you because I want you to see this startling visual connection between death and the presence of God. You cannot enter into God's presence without first submitting something to die. In order for you to some into the presence of God, your sin must be atoned for. And the only way for your sin to be atoned for is through the death of an animal. And that animal was a lamb.
Christ The End of Sacrifice-- Now imagine what it would have been like for you to in that culture, after hearing the Gospel, to then become a Christian. And you begin to recognize what it means that Christ, the Lamb of God, died for you. That is the reality of what Christ did for you and for me. He willingly died; willingly shed His blood, and even in the midst of His being pierced, licked the blood off our hands in His prayer to the Father, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Forever Clean-- Because Jesus (Our Ultimate Priest; and yet also the Ultimate Passover Lamb of God) sacrificed Himself, we have been set free not only from this whole sacrificial system; but we have been set free from our very bondage to sin. We can be forever cleansed; we can be made forever pure in and through allowing Him as our Passover Lamb to have His blood sprinkled on our lives.
Your Final Sacrifice-- Now I said His death ended the whole sacrificial system. But there is still one sacrifice left that we need to make; not an offering of grain, drink, pigeons, doves, goats, or lambs; but the sacrifice of ourselves.
Romans 12:1-2 (ESV) A Living Sacrifice— 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers,[a] by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.[b] 2 Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
by the mercies of God— Now that phrase "by the mercies of God" points us not just to the fact that God is a nice God, but to the fact that God is so good; so loving that He has made provision for us for our atonement in and through Jesus Christ. That is why the throne of God on the ark of the covenant was called “the mercy seat”. Because Jesus Christ and His blood (which was represented by that blood sprinkled on the ark of the covenant) is the ultimate expression of God’s mercy.
Living Sacrifices— And in response to that, Paul says that we are to offer up ourselves; our bodies as living sacrifices to Christ. And that word "bodies" encompasses both our bodies and our souls; our hearts and minds as well. All of who we are is to be offered on the altar to Christ. We are to be living sacrifices. But what does it mean to be a living sacrifice? To begin to answer this question, we need to take a look at 1 Corinthians 3:16, which says…
1 Corinthians 3:16 (NIV)-- 16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?
Hieron vs. Naos-- My wife Tanya is without a doubt one of the most brilliant people I know. Having come originally from Ukraine, she studied and graduated from the seminary I graduated from as well. And we had the joy of sharing classes together. And just to help you understand the mind God has gifted her with; picture this: she was a Ukrainian in the English-speaking United States learning Hebrew from a Japanese professor. I still don’t know how she pulled that off. Only somebody with her mind could do it. But some time ago, as I was discussing some of this material with her in order to glean what I could from her years of Biblical study, she described to me that in Greek there are actually two words for Temple: ἱερόν and ναός. ἱερόν is used of the larger Temple complex (the [buildings, balconies, porticos, courts], etc.). But ναός is used to denote the temple itself, [consisting of two parts, the 'sanctuary' or 'Holy place' (which no one except the priests was allowed to enter), and the 'Holy of holies' or 'most holy place’].
We are God’s ναός-- And here in this verse, in talking about the United Body of Believers, it literally reads Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s ναός and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?
We Are God’s ‘Most Holy Place’-- In other words, we as the united Body of Christ are God’s ‘most holy place’; we are the ‘Holy of holies’. That is what Paul is saying here. Just think of what that must have meant to him as a supremely dedicated Jew!!! What does that mean for us? What does it mean to be a living sacrifice?
Walking in the new way— It means we are to walk in a new way. Paul says here in Romans 12 that we are to be "holy and acceptable to God". This is our offering; our "spiritual worship". We must present ourselves "holy and acceptable" to Christ. Holiness (not ritual purity, but holiness of heart and of life) is what we are to present in worship to God.
Forsaking the World-- And this means conforming ourselves, not to the world, but to the image of Christ. Paul says: Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
The Will of God: Not Direction, but Holiness— And the reason Paul gives us for this is (he says), "that by testing you may discern what is the will of God". Now immediately we begin to think about knowing the things God wants us to do. But that is not what Paul is talking about here. He is not talking about knowing the future will of God, but knowing what is pleasing to God. That is why Paul follows the phrase "that by testing you may discern what is the will of God" with "what is good and acceptable and perfect". God wants us to make choices that are good and acceptable and perfect. We obsess over the direction. But God is less concerned with the direction than we think. Yes He will lead us on and along His path. But we need not fret over whether we take a wrong turn. It is having the character of God and coming into His presence through Jesus Christ; that is what God chiefly wants; not letting anything separate us from or take priority over Him.
Your Death-- If you want to enter into the presence of God, then you have to die. You have to die to sin so that you might be made alive in Christ Jesus. Through dying to ourselves we are made alive to God. And an amazing thing happens. We ourselves become the Temple/Tabernacle of God.
Have you given yourself to God like that? Have you offered up yourself to Him as wholly and completely as He did for you as the Lamb of God? All this imagery we looked at today points us towards death. Because it is only through death that we can attain life. Christ (the Lamb of God) became the sacrifice we needed for our sin. And being saved from eternal punishment, all He asks us now is to offer ourselves to Him and abide in His love; to lay our own lives on the altar for Him; not just so that we might die to sin; but so that through Him we might be made alive to righteousness, to joy, to lasting fulfillment; and even to eternal life. Today, if you haven’t done so, give yourself to Christ like that. Give yourself to Him as fully as He gave Himself to you; and He will make YOU truly alive. Let us do this. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.