Intimate Love, Costly Grace, Wondrous Holiness: Navigating a ‘Boring’ Passage

road-sky-sand-street.jpgJourneying through the book of Exodus can feel a lot like wandering in circles through the Sinai wilderness—it’s easy to get lost in the details. Exodus is an exciting and enjoyable book to read and study through at least the first 20 chapters. But the last half of the book is rarely read, studied, and preached—except for a few stories (Ex. 32-34). One of the reasons is that the book shifts from narrative to lengthy descriptions and commands. The last half of Exodus, particularly Exodus 28-31, are a little boring to the casual reader.

In Exodus 28, there is a seemingly endless list of specific descriptions and commands from the Lord as to how the priests’ garments were to be designed. An instructional tone continues in Exodus 29 as the Lord explains how the priests should be consecrated (set apart for service to the Lord). In Exodus 30 we see more instructions regarding the placement and purpose of tabernacle elements such as the altar of incense and the bronze basin. Exodus 31 reinforces Sabbath commands while Exodus 39 is a lengthy description of the Israelites obedience to the Lord in making the priests’ garments.

From a bird’s-eye view, Exodus 28-31 and 39 are all about God’s love, grace, holiness, and glory. True, this is a very broad and general statement that could nearly be true of every biblical text. But there is something unique about this section of the Exodus in how it relates to the rest of the Bible and even to you and I today. Exodus is all about God’s glory extending to the ends of the earth through his chosen people who possess his indwelling presence.

By God’s grace alone, he chose a people for himself and dwelled with them. The tabernacle was constructed as a means for God to live with his people. One of the most glaring realities communicated in Exodus 28-31 is that God demands and defines how he will be approached and worshiped. Because of our sin, approaching God on our terms will always prove disastrous. He is too holy for his people to just waltz into his presence whenever and however they so please. In the words of pastor Landon Dowden, “You don’t just stroll into God’s presence.” If Exodus 28-31 teaches us anything, it teaches us that it is incredibly costly to dwell peacefully with the living God.

Ultimately, Exodus 28-31 points to Christ, our great high priest, who makes “propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17). Only by being clothed with his righteousness can we fearlessly approach the throne of God (Heb. 4:14-16). The fact that we possess the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit every waking and sleeping moment of every day should leave us in awe of the work of Christ on our behalf.

I believe there are three important truths to draw from this often overlooked and seemingly obscure passage of Scripture.

1. God’s Love is Deeply Intimate

We see his deeply intimate love in the simple fact that he desires to live with us. Most of us are particularly careful in choosing who we live with. Whether in choosing a spouse, college roommate, or camp roommate, we don’t want to live with someone who will inevitably cause us harm. We choose who we live with based on their merits and their history with us. I’m so thankful God is not like us. He chooses to live with people who will inevitably cause him harm. He chooses to live with people who will deliberately turn their backs on him despite his unfailing goodness. It wouldn’t take long for the people with whom he has chosen to dwell to start worshiping a calf made out of gold. Yet, this God of deep, intimate love constantly pursues his people not based on their merits or history, but solely on the basis of his love.

2. God’s Grace is Costly

The only way for a God of infinite holiness and a people totally depraved with sin to live together is forgiveness. In any broken relationship, the party who is wronged must forgive the party who has wronged in order for the relationship to be restored. Well, the relationship between God and man is broken with a greater divide than any other relationship in history. Mending this relationship will require more than just blind acceptance. God would cease to be God if he allowed man into his presence without dealing with their sin. Grace and forgiveness that are in any way meaningful are always costly. And they are costly to the one showing grace and offering forgiveness.

The sacrificial blood-bath in Exodus 29 is not for the sake of religious rituals. These sacrifices are necessary for the possibility of forgiveness. And they point to the ultimate sacrifice, the divine sacrifice where the God who owns heaven and earth takes the greatest loss by sending his Son to bear his wrath against sin. God’s grace is indeed costly. But it is costly to himself. Oh, the lengths and depths of God’s grace!

3. God’s Holiness is Wondrous

Being overwhelmed by the mountain of details in Exodus 28-31 isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They speak to the wonder of God’s holiness. Remember, you can’t just waltz into God’s presence however and whenever you like. So, the details aren’t ritualistic. They aren’t for the sake of information overload. They are a testament to the grandeur and wonder of God’s holiness. One of the more sanctifying things you can do is meditate on God’s holiness or otherness. Just how different is he from you?

In all honesty, Exodus 28-31, and really much of the last 20 chapters of Exodus, is difficult to read. It is easy to miss the importance, meaning, and significance of these chapters. It is easy to get lost in the details. However, with the right lens, we will be able to see not only the importance of these chapters as inspired Scripture, but we will be able to see the deeply intimate nature of God’s love, the costly nature of God’s grace, and the wondrous nature of God’s holiness.

Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.


God In Us: How the Presence of God Changes Everything

pexels-photo-14287T. Desmond Alexander once wrote, “The tabernacle links heaven and earth.” In all the ways God brings his presence to his people, there are two main examples in the Old Testament—the tabernacle and the temple. They are similar in design and construction with the main difference being that one is a tent and the other is a building. Alexander would later write that through the many elements in the tabernacle, especially the ark of the covenant, “this is where the divine king’s feet touch the earth.” In the tabernacle, God comes to earth to be with his people.

The presence of God is one of the Bible’s major themes. Going all the way back to the Garden of Eden we see that the greatest loss as a result of the first sin was not a perfect place, but a perfect relationship with a perfect God. The tabernacle and the temple are both ways the Lord established for his people to meet with him. But neither the tabernacle nor the temple were enough to satisfy the Lord’s wrath against sin or the longing of the human heart. Our hearts will never rest until we are in his presence.

The presence of God that Moses and the Israelites enjoyed through the tabernacle was only temporary. And even with God dwelling with his people, only a select few were ever able to fully experience the presence of God in the Most Holy Place. But the tabernacle pointed to a much greater reality. It pointed to the ultimate meeting of heaven and earth in the person of Jesus Christ.

In John 1, Jesus is described as both the eternal Word who brought forth the world who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1-3, 14). Jesus is both fully God and fully man. He was with God even before the beginning. In him is the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. But the eternal Son and Word of God came to earth as a man.

In the person Jesus Christ, God comes to meet with us. John uses the same word Moses did when talking about the tabernacle in Exodus 25:8. Dwell. It is another word for “live.” The tabernacle was the means God would live with his people. But its purpose was to point us to Jesus who is the ultimate presence of God on earth. Jesus brings us close to God unlike anything or anyone else.

Through Jesus, the presence of God will be extended to the whole world. He uses his people–in whom the very presence of God dwells through the Holy Spirit–to spread his glory. Every time you share the gospel with someone, you take part in God’s mission to fill the earth with his presence and glory. Believers who live in a joyless and purposeless existence fail to embrace their full identity in Christ. In Christ, you are a living, breathing, walking tabernacle. The presence of God dwells within you. This should both encourage and empower you.

The presence of God should encourage you.

To see your own value. Christ did not die for you because you are valuable, as if you lured him to yourself by some admirable qualities. But, Christ did die for you! And the Spirit of the living God lives in you. God in you is an insatiable tonic for the poison of self-degradation.

To see God’s love for you. Doubting God’s love for us is a key tenet to ancient serpentine theology. The snake is alive and well today planting seeds of doubt into the heart of every believer. The problem with his ploy is the heart he is seeking to deceive has been transformed by the living and loving God who has taken up residence. Nothing and no one can remove God’s love from you. And the greatest evidence of this is in the fact that God dwells in you.

The presence of God in you should also empower you.

To greater obedience. With God in you, sin is both defeated and dethroned on the seat of your heart. Sin’s enticement is not match for God in you. You are fighting from a position of sure victory when you step into the ring with sin.

To greater boldness. With God in you, fear of vulnerability and  is swallowed up by bold and sacrificial neighbor-love. You can confidently love those who will not love you back. You can sacrifice your time, money, resources, and energy for the sake of others knowing that any loss is truly gain with God in you.

The indwelling presence of God literally changes everything–about the way you view the world and about the way you live in the world.

Access to the presence of God is forever open because of who Jesus is and what Jesus did. In Christ, the curtain is torn and the presence of God is available to all who cling to Christ. At great cost to himself, God brings those who have rejected his presence back into his presence. One day, we will have full access to God’s presence with no sin to mess that up. And it is all due to the Christ who became flesh and dwelt among us. Because Jesus humbled himself to dwell with us in this fallen world, all who trust in him will dwell with him in glory.

Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

A Work Never Too Hard for Him

construction-work-carpenter-toolsGrowing up, my life revolved around sports. My dad was the Athletic Director at the high school I attended. The first two years I was in high school, I never understood why my dad would come home so tired from his job. He would talk about how hard it was and how he had to make so many difficult decisions. I never really understood why until one day my senior year, I was allowed to miss all of my classes and just follow him around for the day. It didn’t take long for me to see how hard his job was. It seemed like he was on his phone all day. He was talking to referees, athletic directors from other schools, principals, coaches, parents, volunteers, maintenance crews, and even Bermuda grass companies from Florida. Then came the various scheduled meetings with parents and coaches throughout the day. I couldn’t believe how many problems he had to solve and decisions he had to make. I never judged my dad again for being so tired when he got home from work.

In Exodus 18 there is a helpful dialogue between what seems to be a newly converted, Jethro, and the established leader of God’s people, Moses. After a night of reunion, retelling of the story of God’s salvation, and responding with joyful sacrifice, Jethro wakes up the next morning to go to work with Moses. Moses had a job much more difficult than my dad. He was the leader of hundreds of thousands of people. And when hundreds of thousands of people live together every day, there are going to be conflicts that arise. Moses was the judge and mediator for God’s people. One of Moses’ jobs was to listen to the problems and conflicts of the people and judge accordingly. Moses stood between the people of Israel and God to settle their problems by telling them what God expects. The people would come to Moses to ask him what God says they should do or how they should act. Moses would “make them know the statutes of God and his laws” (Ex. 18:16).

Just like I did with my dad, Jethro saw how hard this work was on Moses. Moses literally listened to the problems of the people of Israel and taught them the law of the Lord all day long (Ex. 18:13). Jethro saw how exhausted Moses was, and he knew it was impossible for him to do this job alone (Ex. 18:14). Ultimately, Jethro said this to Moses, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone” (Ex. 18:17-18).

This is what makes the work of Jesus even more amazing. Jesus is the Mediator for his people. He stands between his people and God and settles the problem between us. Our sin against God is our biggest problem with him. By dying in our place, Jesus becomes the Mediator for millions and billions of people throughout history. But he is a perfectly sufficient mediator who needs no help. He alone is able to reconcile us with God. He will never grow tired, because he will exercise judgment and grace with infinite wisdom and strength. The work of bringing us back to God is never too heavy for him.

Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

Review: A Commentary on Exodus

51oScv1ttJLA Commentary on Exodus is written by Duane Garrett and published by Kregel in 2014.
Duane Garrett is the John R. Sampey Professor of Old Testament Interpretation and Professor of Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has also served as a pastor and missionary. He coauthored A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew and coedited the NIV Archaeological Study Bible, as well having written numerous Old Testament commentaries.

Have you ever struggled with studying Exodus? Needing a good conservative commentary on Exodus? Or even became disinterested while reading Exodus? Well, if that is you, this commentary is a game changer.

Dr. Garrett opens up the introduction by stating that “Exodus is the true beginning of the story of Israel”(15). In the introduction, he discusses the sources and composition of Exodus. Following that, he discusses the language used in the Hebrew text, the criticism and poetic style of Exodus. Since the history and culture of Exodus is important to the whole book, Garrett spends much of the introduction going into detail of Egypt (location, people, language, history, etc). At the end of the introduction, Garrett discusses the dates and other topics that might provide some controversy. Dr. Garrett brings clarity to the controversy.

The textual analysis is broken into 7 parts. Part One covers 1:1-2:10, Two covers 2:11-7:7, Three covers 7:8-15:21, Four covers 15:22-19:25, Five covers 20:1-24:11, Six covers 24:12-31:18, and Part Seven covers 32:1-40:38. The appendix covers the poems of Exodus. Each part breaks into a brief overview, the scripture, its structure, commentary and theological points gained from the text.

This commentary is beneficial for the pastor/student, or one who just wants to grasp Exodus. The structure of this commentary is helpful because it will keep the reader on task. If you are a student in Hebrew, this is work is immensely rooted in the biblical language. Finally, this is a conservative commentary in the aspect that Dr. Garrett believes the Exodus really happened, and we should too! It is hard to find Old Testament commentaries today that are well thought, written, clear, and believe that the events really took place. Praise God for commentaries such as  this!

Friends you only get one life, and it will soon pass. Only what is done for Jesus Christ will last.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


1557562_10153227664651515_1796309980_nEvan Knies is an undergraduate student at Boyce College where he studies Biblical and Theological Studies. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife, Lauren. You can follow him on Twitter @Evan_Knies.