Exactly as I Show You

AT Mount Sinai, the Lord spoke to his people and gave them his commands. After God gave an initial summary of the law—more would come—the Lord also instructed Moses on the building of the tabernacle. This structure would be a portable place of worship, a traveling temple, where the Lord would allow his presence to dwell in the midst of the people.

When God gave this instruction, he was clear that the people were to build in exact accord with his specification.

Exodus 25:9 – Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.

There is nothing confusing here. God said to the people that they are to fashion and erect the tabernacle exactly as he said. This is no surprise to us. If we have read Exodus before, we expect it and we keep on reading.

But wait a moment. Let’s use this to challenge a modern kind of thinking. How do you feel about God telling the people exactly how to build the tabernacle? Are you OK with that? Do you feel like God has the right to tell the people what to build? How dare he do so?

Why does God not just say to Moses to build a tabernacle, if he wants, to whatever specifications he wants and to offer worship however he wants? I think we know. God is the one who tells the people how to worship him. God is the one who tells the people how they may approach him. God is the one who makes provision so that the people’s sin may be covered and their lives spared from his fiery judgment. God is God, and he will deliver his standards. HE will not be told by sinful man how he must be followed or worshipped.

The funny thing is, when it comes to the Old Testament, when it comes to the tabernacle, I do not hear people saying that this is unfair of God. I do not hear people demanding that God explain himself. People, in general, are not accusing God of wronging people by demanding that the tabernacle be built to a particular design. We tend to suggest that God has every right to tell the people of Israel what pleases him instead of him shifting his pleasure to match their creative whim.

Where do people find themselves offended when God makes his standards known? I’ll offer two examples. One is in modern worship. Another is in salvation itself.

Today, Christians are often taken aback when people dare suggest that what mankind may do in a service of worship is in any way limited. How dare we say that only a man can preach the sermon? Why would we assume that things like sermons, sacraments, prayer, giving, Scripture reading, and song are what worship should include? How can we be so old-fashioned and limiting? The answer should be that we look to the command of God and attempt to build our services of worship in accord with the design shown us in Scripture. Yes, some churches will feel more ceremonial and formal than others. Some churches will use different instrumentation and musical style. But, if we are to honor the Lord in accord with his word, we need to do the things that he commands. And we would be wise to be very careful about bringing into the services things that are not commanded in his word.

How about the issue of salvation? Some folks are deeply offended that God is so restrictive about how people approach him for life and forgiveness. Many of these same people are not offended in the least that God commanded the tabernacle look a particular way. Ask yourself why this is. I would suggest that the reason they are offended by the exclusivity of Christ but are not offended by the exclusivity of the tabernacle design is because they think that human salvation is far more important than the tabernacle.

For sure, the salvation of our souls is important. But we would be incorrect if we assumed that our souls are more important than God’s glory. God is the Almighty. He is the Creator. HE is the Lord over all the universe. Everything that exists in the universe exists for the honor of the Lord. Our salvation, if we are saved, is to the glory of God as it depicts God’s wonderful love and mercy. The judgment of God poured out on those who reject him is to the glory of God as it depicts his perfect and holy justice.

If we say that it is fine for God to tell people how to shape the tabernacle, but it is not fine for God to tell people that there is one way and only one way of salvation, we have very much missed who God is in comparison to who we are. God is the Lord. HE will do all that he pleases. He has every right to tell us how he must be approached. HE has every right to tell us what is acceptable worship. He had every right to tell Israel what the tabernacle should look like. He has every right to tell you, no matter who you think you are, what your life should look like. Like the people of old, approach God in accord with his commands. If you seek to worship, do so in accord with the commands of holy Scripture. IF you seek salvation, come seeking God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone for the glory of God alone.

Simple Depth in Glorious Doctrine

Sometimes the simplest of doctrines are the ones we need to remember most. IN churches like the one I serve, there are always folks who are interested in the “deep” things. And, quite often, the things these folks consider to be deep are primarily things that are hard to understand or not broadly known. While we want to study all biblical doctrine, we can, if we are not careful, become fascinated with the obscure and fail to embrace and cherish the simple and true.

Christians, may I remind you that depth does not equal obscurity? May I also remind you that simple does not mean shallow. Sometimes deep study and deep faithfulness means learning to embrace with all of your being the things that every Christian should know.

Here is an example of a few things said in Psalm 18 that we all should love deeply.

Psalm 18:30-31a

30 This God—his way is perfect;
the word of the Lord proves true;
he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
31 For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?

Let me point out four doctrines, lovely doctrines, simple doctrines, deep doctrines, that we should love from those lines. First, note the perfection of God. David refers to God by saying, “his ways are perfect.” That is not a shallow truth. God’s ways are perfect. All that the Lord is and all that the Lord does is perfect. There is no flaw. There is no sin. There is no taint. God is absolutely, unquestionably, immeasurably perfect.

How important is that doctrine? How does it change us? When the Lord says that he will do a thing, our response must never be to measure it by whether or not we approve. God’s ways are perfect. Our response, when we see that the Lord does a thing should be to ask the Lord to reshape us in our sinfulness to love and embrace his perfection. Thus, when God speaks of things with which we are uncomfortable, we are the ones flawed, not the Lord.

Second, the word of the Lord proves true. This is a reminder that not only is what God does perfect in every way, all that God says is true. For David, this helped him to embrace the Pentateuch and the words of the prophets around him. For us, this develops for us our doctrine of holy Scripture.

Just like thinking of the ways of God as perfect, we now think of his word as true. So, what happens when our experience or our best understanding stands in contradiction to the word? WE have a choice to make. We either decide that we are more true than the word of God or that the word of God is more true than our experience. Christians, this is a vital piece of doctrine to get right, as it will shape everything you think you know.

Third, God is a shield for all who take refuge in him. What a glorious truth this is. God is a gracious God. God receives kindly those who come to him for shelter. Consider, there is no rule beyond God that says he has to do this. He could turn us away in our cries for his mercy. But he does not.

Here is a doctrine that helps us to understand the grace of God. We are all a people in danger. Our sin would cause us to be eternally condemned. But God is a shelter for all who take refuge in him. If you come to the one true God seeking shelter, he will grant it. We know from the rest of Scripture that there is only one way to come to God for shelter, through the person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6). But we also are gloriously encouraged by the truth that all who do come to Jesus in faith and repentance are genuinely saved (Rom. 10:9-10, 13).

Fourth, and finally, notice that David also tells us that there is only one God. Who is God but the Lord? Much of the world thinks in the terms of multiple divinities. Much of the world assumes all religions are the same. But the word of God tells us that there is not another God, period.

This doctrine is vital to the believer. We know that all other world religions are false, because we know that there is only one God who may only be approached through the person and work of Jesus. All other claims of authority are illegitimate, because we know that there is only one God. All that oppose God do not merely oppose a religion, they oppose the one and only Creator and Lord. And all who have the favor of God have blessing that can never be removed, because God is the only God. There is no competition for God. There is no alternative to God. There is only the one God.

You might say that all these things are easy to know. Perhaps they are. But that does not make these shallow. These are vital truths. And the more you think about them, the more you embrace them, the more you will love the Lord you serve. I’m glad that we have the opportunity as believers to delve into end times, to think about election, to seek to understand the intricacies of the trinity, to ponder the covenants. But I’m even gladder that we are given by God the chance to know that he is the only God, that is ways are perfect, that his word is true, and that he welcomes all who run to him for shelter. These things should change your daily life, and change it forever. So do not miss them as you seek to study the deep things of the Lord.

Do We Worship the Same God?

How many times have you heard differences between religions shrugged off by people declaring that, after all, we all worship the same God? I recall that phrase being significantly present after 9-11 as anger toward Islam grew. I also recall multiple conversations I have had with Jehovah’s Witnesses in which the person at my door worked to make sure I knew that we might differ on a couple of things, but we worship the same deity.

But do we? Do we really worship the same deity? Do Christians and Muslims or Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christians and adherents of other religions actually worship the same person? No, we do not. Though it is not popular to point out, we do not worship God, the same God, just in different ways. God has revealed himself in Scripture. He has identified himself as the one God, the triune God, the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit—three in one. If someone says that they worship the same God as Christians, but then they redefine God as not triune or define Jesus as a god rather than God in the flesh, we are not worshipping the same God.

Imagine that you and I are talking, and we have a conversation about our favorite movie. You tell me that your favorite film of all time is “Rocky.” I respond to you with a big grin and say that I really like “Rocky” also. Then I go on to tell you that my favorite part of that movie is when the main character has his leg swept, it looks like the bad guys are going to win, and then Mr. Miyagi gets him back out there to win the tournament. Would you agree that we have the same favorite movie?

If you know your movies at all, you will know that I was talking about “The Karate Kid,” not “Rocky.” Yes, both movies have something to do with fighting. Both have an underdog accomplishing something cool against tough opponents. But these are not the same movie. And no matter how much I want to say to you that we are talking about the same movie, we are not.

If that does not ring any bells for you, try this. If you and I talk about our favorite foods, and we both agree that we love burritos, we might think we have something in common. But if you define a burrito as long pasta noodles on a plate with red sauce and meat balls, we are not talking about the same thing. Perhaps we are both talking about food, but not the same food.

I understand that those who claim that Christians and people from other religions worship the same God often do so out of a desire for peace. In many ways I agree with the motivation. There is no room for violence or cruelty to one another because we disagree about religion. I would not at all support people being nasty to their Muslim neighbors because of the actions of other Muslims. There is no justice in punishing your neighbor because someone else of their religion did something evil. Nor is there value in someone punishing a neighboring Christian because of the nasty attitudes of others who claim Christ. But it is dishonest to say that we have no differences of substance.

What made me think of all this? Interestingly—to me at least—it was Ezra chapter 4. As the priest, Ezra, records the history of the people of Judah returning to their land after their exile in Babylon, he tells of the reestablishing of Israelite worship. But Samaritans who had settled the land wanted to participate, claiming to worship the Lord just as did the people of Judah.

Ezra 4:1-6 – 1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” 4 Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build 5 and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. 6 And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

When the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, they carried off many from the land. Then the king of Assyria returned some from that kingdom and forced them to inter-marry with people of other lands in order to create a new ethnic people. In that process, this mingled people also intermingled religious beliefs and practices. Thus, the people of Judah were correct in saying that these people had nothing to do with the house of the Lord or his worship. Even if the people in the land said they had been sacrificing to the Lord for years, they were wrong, they had not.

Take note, by the way, of the responses of the people who were enemies of the Jews. They did not like being told that they were not worshipping the Lord. They argued. Then they began to try to discourage the worship of the Jews. Finally, the opponents of Israel went to the government to try to put a stop to the religious practices of the Jews. The Samaritans were making it clear that if the Jews would not declare the Samaritan religion the same as the religion of Israel, the king should not allow them to worship at all. The Samaritans saw it as dangerous for a people to have a faith that is exclusive.

Christians, there is something here for us. We worship the God of the Bible. We worship Jesus as God the Son. We worship the one, true, God who is triune—Father, Son, and Spirit. We do not assume that others should be forced to agree that we are correct. But we do agree with the word of God that there is no God other than the Lord. WE agree with Jesus that there is no way for anyone to come to the Lord except through him. We agree with the apostles that there is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved except for the name of Jesus. We agree with the reformers that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone as revealed in the Scripture alone.

And because we believe the Bible, we have to say,” No,” when someone claims they worship the same God we do and then defines God differently than does the word. This will not be popular. It may bring persecution. It may lead to the government attempting to prevent us from continuing to worship biblically. But it is true.

Yes, there is room for us to see people as believers who differ on significant issues with you. You might disagree on baptism or church government and be a solid believer in the same God as all genuine Christians. But if you believe that God is not triune, not eternal, not holy, you and I do not worship the same God. If you do not believe Jesus is God, we do not worship the same God. If you believe that the Father is the Son in a different form, we do not worship the same God. If you believe that the God of the Bible is also the deity of some other religion under a different name, we do not worship the same God.

God’s word tells us who God is. We cannot say that a being who is not the Lord as revealed in the word is the same as the Lord who is revealed in the word. Rocky is not Daniel LaRusso. A burrito is not a plate of spaghetti. And a deity that is not the triune God of the Bible is not the same God that I worship.

God’s Claim of Exclusivity

One of the most offensive things about biblical faith to those who do not agree is the claim of exclusivity. People are often put off strongly by the claim of a Christian that Jesus is the only way that anyone can be right with God. The world in general is not offended if we say that Jesus is our way to find peace or a way to be right with God, but they are deeply offended when we suggest that those who try another way are under the judgment of God.

But the Lord has always been clear that he is the only God. He is clear that there is no other way to be forgiven and to have a future of joy after this life. There is one God and one way to life.

Psalm 96:4-5

4 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.

Look at the simple words recorded above in Psalm 96. God is pulling no punches. God is to be praised. Why? Because he is the only true God. There is one and only one God, the Lord, the God of the Bible.

What does God say about those who would follow other religions, other deities? What does God make of other faiths? It is not inclusive. In verse 5, we see this, “For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols.” God calls false gods worthless idols. They cannot save.

But what claim does God make about himself? Why does he have the right to claim that following him is the only way? Verse 5 also says to us, “but the Lord made the heavens.” That is a simple factual claim. If it is true, the psalm suggests, it proves that God has the right to declare himself utterly different than the gods of all other religions. God claims to be the Creator.

The funny thing is, for many, the claim of fact here is something they often ignore. This is assumed to be a relative claim. Relative claims are claims of value, of preference: Chocolate is better than vanilla; football is better than basketball; red is better than blue. But God is making no such claim. God is declaring ownership of the universe because he made it. Either he did or he did not. Either this is truth or a lie. There is no middle ground, none at all.

If the words of the Bible are true, God is the only God. He created the universe. And the only way for us to escape eternal judgment is to enter into his grace by being made right with the Creator. The only way to be made right with the Creator, according to John 14:6, is through Jesus Christ.

It seems to me that people are offended by the exclusivity of the faith because they assume that the simple claim of fact is read as a relative claim. God is creator. That is a yes or no. There is no other option. But many see that as a preference, “I like this deity over that one. I like this system of morality over that one. I think I am better than you because I like my system of morality over yours.” But that is not at all what the Bible is saying. It is not at all what the Christian is saying. We are simply saying that we believe the Bible. Believing the Bible requires that we believe that there is one God over the universe, the one who created it, and we owe him everything. We believe that there is one way to be right with that God, by grace and through faith in Jesus Christ alone. We are not claiming to be better or worse than any religion. We are claiming to be factually correct. The alternative is that we are completely wrong. But we are not claiming personal superiority. We are simply believing that Jesus is the only way to salvation. This ought to be no more offensive than a claim that 2 + 2 = 4 or that the moon orbits the earth. If we are wrong, we are completely wrong. If we are correct, we are completely correct.

Rejecting a Warning from Heaven

One problem that some express with biblical Christianity is the concept of judgment. Those who oppose the faith have a strong dislike of the idea that God would cast into hell those who do not come to him for salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. They feel that this is unfair, unkind, or simply not open-minded enough.

But a look at the word of God, in just about any place in the word of God, will show that this has indeed always been the way of God. The Lord has had a particular way that he is to be approached. The Lord has defined a particular way that his favor is granted. And those who refuse him by refusing to come to him in the way he defines are subject to his judgment.

In the Old Testament, this was true of the sacrificial system. Individuals were told by God exactly what offerings to offer in order to be forgiven. God told them also what animals could be offered that would have been unacceptable. What do you suppose would have been the right response of God to one who would slaughter a pig on the altar instead of a lamb? That person would not have found the forgiveness of god, no matter how much that person wanted the pig to be the right offering. It simply was not acceptable to the Lord.

Or how about this warning I came across in my daily reading from Hebrews 12?

Hebrews 12:25- See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.

In the Old Testament, people did not escape the judgment of God when they heard his warnings given from men on earth. Nobody called this unfair. If a prophet of God gave you a warning, it was your responsibility to follow the direction of that prophet to be in the favor of God. Well, take the argument from the lesser to the greater. If we know that ignoring a warning from earth leaves us under judgment, how much worse for us must it be if we ignore the voice of God warning us from heaven?

The Holy Scriptures are the voice of God going out over the entire world. God has made it plain in the word of God that there is one and only one way to approach him. That way is broad, meaning that it is open to all people of all nations and all backgrounds. Any person, rich or poor, young or old, free or slave, man or woman, any person anywhere who will repent of their sin and come to Jesus in faith will find forgiveness.

But that way is also narrow. How? It is the only way. God is in no way obligated to make a second path to his grace. God has provided the entrance. God has provided the Savior. God has provided the only sacrifice that can cover our sins. To reject that in favor of anything else, no matter how nice it may seem is to reject the grace of the one who speaks from heaven. And there is no life to be found in that sort of rejection.