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The Tabernacling God December 25, 2014

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Zephaniah 3:14-17

Christmas Day

December 25, 2014

 

Focus:  God dwells in the midst of His people.

Function:  That the hearers never again fear evil.

Structure:  Here is the historical situation of the text, here is the meaning for us now.

 

The Tabernacling God

 

It might seem a little strange, but I want to talk about fear today.  Here we are gathered together, God’s children, rejoicing and celebrating Christmas, celebrating the birth of our Savior…and yet, we’re going to talk about fear.

Fear is part of our brokenness as sinners.  We get scared, we worry, we’re anxious.  And in most of those cases, the fear comes from one of two places. We fear being alone.  And we fear the unknown.

When we’re afraid, it’s good for us to seek out others.  For many of us, that’s even our normal reaction to fear…we seek out people that we love.  Think back to your childhood with me.  Think of those dark and stormy nights when you were just a little kid.  The winds were howling, you were afraid that like the Big Bad Wolf, they’d huff and puff and blow your house down!

Then there was the lightning, those brilliantly terrifying flashes of light in the midst of darkness.  And for whatever reason, every time the sky flashed, there would be this tremendous roar of thunder.  You quaked under your covers.  You tried to ride out the storm, you tried to ride out your fear alone.

But as the winds continued to howl, as the storm raged on, and perhaps even a siren began to blare, the fear was too much to bear alone.  So what did you do?  You climbed out of bed, or crawled out from under the bed, and you ran where?  Straight to Mom and Dad.  You ran into their bedroom, screaming, crying, so afraid of what was going on just outside the window.

Maybe you had stern parents, who told you there was nothing to fear and just to go back to bed.  But more than likely, they welcomed you.  They were tired, they were probably asleep, but they welcomed you.  Maybe they held you or cuddled with you.  Maybe they sang to you so loudly you’d only hear their voice instead of the howls of the wind.  Maybe they even let you climb into bed and stay with them until the storm passed.  Fear not, you’re not alone!

Other times in life bring about fear.  Perhaps you’ve lost your job and you’re afraid of how you’ll make ends meet, you’re afraid of how you’ll care for yourself and your family.  Or maybe you or someone you love have been diagnosed with cancer or a life-threatening disease and now suddenly there’s this fear of the unknown, of what the next few months will bring.

In times like these, there’s a temptation to continue to fight it alone.  The idea that you have to be strong for yourself.  But that’s not the way we were made.  God didn’t make isolated creatures.  God made a family.  And when we share these hurts, when we share these fears with our loved ones, whether they’re family or friends, we feel better.  Maybe the fear isn’t gone, but you’re not alone anymore.

This brings us to a beautiful verb that you may have never heard before.  The word is “tabernacling.”  And that’s what our God is all about.  The Old Testament tabernacle was more than just a tent.  It was sign, it was a symbol, it was a reminder that Yahweh was in their midst.

As the Israelites wandered around in the wilderness, and even for a while after they settled down, they had the tabernacle.  Let me give you an aerial view, as that helps us see what this is all about.

First you have the outer walls, so a big rectangle.  And remember, this is all portable, they could take it down, move it, and set it up again the next time they made camp somewhere.  Then inside the large rectangle, they set up a smaller tent.  In that tent you had the holy place where there was an altar for incense, a lampstand, the table of presence with bread on it.  And then there was a curtain, dividing it from another room.  That room was the most holy place, or the holy of holies.

In that room sat the Ark of the Covenant.  You’ve probably seen pictures, you’ve probably seen Indiana Jones, but let me tell you a little bit more about this ark.  Sure it was a box, holding memories of the great things God did for them.  Inside were the Ten Commandments, those two stone tablets Moses had chiseled on the mountain.  Then there was a jar of manna, to remind them of how God provided for them and fed them in the wilderness.  And then there’s Aaron’s staff, fully budded with flowers, harkening back to a time where God had reminded them He was with them.  Fear not, you’re not alone!

But the ark was more than just a box.  Have you ever seen old pictures or a movie with kings, queens, or emperors being carried by their people?  They’d have this chair, with slots on the sides for long poles and then multiple people would lift the chair up and literally carry their leader.  The Ark of the Covenant had those slots, it had those poles.  And the lid of the ark was called the mercy seat of God.  It wasn’t a box, it was God’s throne.

So as we zoom back out: here’s the throne, here’s the most holy place and the holy place inside the tent.  Then there’s the outer wall, and then beyond the wall, God told His people to camp.  There were twelve tribes, and they were to camp three tribes to the north, three to the west, three to the south and three to the east.

Do you see it?  From our aerial view, do you see what God was doing?  His throne was literally in the middle, in the midst of His people.  It was a reminder to them that He was right there with them, right there in their midst, providing for them, leading them.  Fear not, you’re not alone!

The tabernacle was where God dwelled in the midst of His people.  And that’s the definition of tabernacling, that’s what makes it such a beautiful word!  God tabernacled in the midst of His people, He was dwelling right here with us.  Such a powerful thing, such a wonderful thing!

When we were afraid of the storm, when we ran to Mom and Dad, it was more than just the relationship that helped us.  It was tabernacling!  They were right there with us.  Their presence made things better.  Fear not, you’re not alone!

God’s presence in the midst of His people did just that.  He provided for them, He took care of them.  He defeated and defended against their enemies.  He literally led the people as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  God was their leader as He tabernacled with them.  That was a beautiful thing.

Unfortunately, in our sin, we kicked God out.  We told Him we wanted a king to lead us instead.  We told Him we wanted to worship idols instead.  We told Him we didn’t need Him, that we could do this alone.  And we kicked Him out.

Until, that is, He tabernacled with us again.  That’s the beauty of Christmas.  That’s the beauty of this little baby boy born to the virgin Mary.  God tabernacling with His people.  Despite our sin, despite our worship of idols, God sent His Son into our midst.  God sent His Son to dwell among us and to lead us.

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 Yahweh has taken away the judgments against you;
He has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, Yahweh, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
17 Yahweh your God is in your midst,
a mighty One who will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness;
He will quiet you by His love;
He will exult over you with loud singing.

 

The words of the prophet Zephaniah are truly beautiful.  He spoke to an exiled people, to a people who were afraid because they’d lost their homes, they’d lost their hope, they were alone.  But Zephaniah told the people that they would once again have the tabernacling God in their midst.  And that prophecy came true.

God did not abandon them, despite their wicked ways.  God has not abandoned us, despite our wicked ways.  Jesus, our King, is in our midst.  And He provides.  In His death and in His resurrection, He has provided all that we need, He has provided us with forgiveness and life.

Once again, He is tabernacling with us.  His presence, like parents to a child on a stormy night, His presence with us removes all need for fear.  The devil can’t overcome Christ, sin and death have no power over the risen Lord.  So fear not, you’re not alone!  And that’s a beautiful thing indeed!  Merry Christmas!

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