THE GOOD NEWS: Jesus is your tabernacle
Observant Jews will spend Sept. 20-27 in and around a temporary construction, barely enough to withstand a stiff wind. That is, four walls made of wood frame and canvas covering (to mimic animal skin) and roof made of tree branches thatched loose enough to offer glimpse of the stars in the sky.
Such is the way to celebrate Sukkot – Hebrew plural word meaning ‘booths’ and the underlying term for what is called the Feast of Tabernacles.
God instituted this festival. (Leviticus 23:33–34) For 40 years God made mobile His unfaithful people in wilderness wandering, graciously providing them perishable food to eat and temporary shelters, tabernacles, to inhabit. And He instituted the Feast of Tabernacles to draw His beloved people annually into a participation of remembrance of His faithfulness in spite of their unfaithfulness.
Recall the Old Testament saga of the exodus, how God delivered His beloved people from slavery, from death, and from the devilish Pharaoh, and then led them, protected them, provided for them, personally – His very presence manifested by means of the tabernacle. That is, four walls made of wood frame and true animal skin covering.
On the outside, the tabernacle was not much to behold. It had no form or majesty that people would look at it and no beauty that people would desire it. But while covered with mere layers of skin, inside was pure glory, a golden ark of God’s covenant, so that God made the tabernacle His ‘tent of meeting’. There He would form a cloud and fill with His glory and speak with Moses (Exodus 40:35).
The tabernacle was God’s place in which animal sacrifice was made and animal blood poured out to cover the sins of the people that God might dwell with His forgiven, beloved people. It was God’s place where He brought together the glorious and the lowly, the divine and the human, the eternal and the temporal.
And so God’s purpose by the Feast of Tabernacles was to use the temporary to point His beloved people to the permanent: a short-lived tent toward the lasting; the destructible toward the indestructible; the mortal toward the immortal.
With all this in mind, consider the Gospel of Mark account of Jesus’ transfiguration. (Mark 9:2-9) By His transfiguration, Jesus Christ gave a sliver peek at His divine glory – that which remained fully His from eternity but for having veiled and limited it behind His human flesh and blood. It was a literal mountain-top experience of Jesus speaking of His impending suffering, death, and resurrection, with Moses and Elijah. Until Peter interrupted.
Bored with hearing Jesus speak of such bad news, Peter could not fathom how a cross could ever go with Jesus’ glory. So Peter devised a plan to preserve the moment by building some tabernacles — one each for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Peter presumed to construct a housing for God.
Thank God for Peter. For Peter’s presumption exposes our guilt and shame for the same — that our purposes can trump God’s, that glory must come without a cross, that what we build has anything to do with what lasts. Presumption that comes from the same boredom with hearing Jesus speak in His Holy Word.
And thank God for His Word to Peter. Verse 7 — A voice out of the cloud said, “This is My Son, the Beloved! Be hearing Him!” That is, God’s Son. True God begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man born of the virgin Mary. “The Word become flesh and ‘tabernacled’ among us,” (John 1:14) Human bone frame and human skin covering.
On the outside, not much to behold. He “had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.” (Isaiah 53:2) But while covered with mere layers of skin, inside is pure glory, the body and blood of God’s new covenant, so that Jesus Christ is God’s ‘tent of meeting’ whereby He fills with His glory and He speaks with us. For Jesus is God’s sacrifice, holy blood poured out to cover our sins that God might dwell with us. Jesus is God in whom are brought together the glorious and the lowly, the divine and the human, the eternal and the temporal. For the glory of the empty tomb followed the cross of Calvary!
God’s Son! Be hearing Him! For as Jesus speaks for our hearing in His Holy Scriptures, He turns us from the temporary to give us the permanent.
Bone frames and flesh coverings, we are barely enough to withstand the stiff wind of even the threat of a virus. Yet, by Jesus’ Word with water, He baptizes our mortality into immortality.
By Jesus’ Word of absolution, our natural sinful desire for the short-lived is absolved and transformed into godly desire for the lasting.
By Jesus’ Word with bread and wine, He uses the destructible to give the indestructible of His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.
The Good News! The Festival of Tabernacles is obsolete. Jesus is your tabernacle. And, in Him, your sins are no longer yours, death is destroyed, the devil defeated.
Kevin Wendt is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Destin.