Around God’s central tent is a wider courtyard. It’s not hard to ask your favourite search engine for an overall schematic of the ‘Jewish tabernacle’. Again, the whole complex is like an archery target; the ark of the covenant is at the very centre, protected by concentric hurdles to stop unprepared worshippers stumbling inappropriately – fatally – into God’s presence. The concentric layers of protection are sometimes described as ‘graded holiness’: someone must be progressively holy to advance the next step closer towards God.
Most Christians know that Jesus is our important sacrifice. We don’t always know why this is important. How do you usually think about Jesus’ sacrifice? How would you discuss it with other people?
The Old Testament paints a visual picture for us. In the outer courtyard of the tabernacle – one of the outer layers of graded holiness – God designs an altar. Animals are sacrificed there. Some sacrifices function as a ‘key’ to unlock access into God’s presence. A sacrifice upgrades someone’s level of holiness, which authorises another step closer to God.
Yes, it can sound complicated, gruesome and dangerous. What makes us think approaching a glorious deity should be simple, or according to human rites? Yet the marvellous story of the biblical God is that he can be approached – and wants to be.
Old Testmant Israelites were instructed in a series of sacrifices which allowed some of them, some of the time, to draw closer to God’s presence at the centre of the tabernacle. The New Testament continues and broadens such notions. God dispenses with the physical tabernacle (and its successor, the Jerusalem temple). He engineers the ultimate sacrifice. The death of Jesus upgrades a worshipper’s holiness to the highest level, inviting us at any time to approach – safely – into God’s presence! Indeed, the New Testament letters are often addressed to God’s ‘saints’: his ‘holy ones’. These are not special individuals who warrant halos and stained-glass windows. These are all Christian believers. They include the ratbag Corinthians (1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1). And they include us: God’s holy people who have been upgraded and granted permanent access into his presence.