Oil for My Lamp

If you’re tired of Exodus then you’re in luck because we will be taking the next two weeks off of it for Easter.  However this week we’ll be looking at Exodus 27.  It is a really good passage to head into Easter because we will see pictures of the cross long before the cross.  I’ve titled this morning’s sermon “Oil for my Lamp” only because I didn’t know what else to call it.  We will discuss oil for the lampstand but not until the end of the chapter.

To start though, we look at the bronze altar.

Exodus 27:1-8

1 “Build an altar of acacia wood, three cubits[a] high; it is to be square, five cubits long and five cubits wide.[b] 2 Make a horn at each of the four corners, so that the horns and the altar are of one piece, and overlay the altar with bronze. 3 Make all its utensils of bronze—its pots to remove the ashes, and its shovels, sprinkling bowls, meat forks and firepans. 4 Make a grating for it, a bronze network, and make a bronze ring at each of the four corners of the network. 5 Put it under the ledge of the altar so that it is halfway up the altar. 6 Make poles of acacia wood for the altar and overlay them with bronze. 7 The poles are to be inserted into the rings so they will be on two sides of the altar when it is carried. 8 Make the altar hollow, out of boards. It is to be made just as you were shown on the mountain.

Like so many other parts of the tabernacle there’s plenty of details that we could focus on here.  There is one major one that I want to point out however.  Unlike the other articles of the tabernacle, the altar here is made of bronze and not gold.

There is probably a practical reason that the altar is not gold and that is because gold is a soft metal.  It would probably not stand up to the heat of the sacrifices made upon it.  But that still doesn’t explain why bronze and not some other material.

Bronze is symbolic of judgment in the Bible.  It is a hard material – perhaps the hardest of what we would call precious metals.  It was used to make weapons and shields.  Samson was bound in bronze shackles when he was captured and the last king of Israel was also bound in bronze shackles by the Babylonians.

In the book of Revelation we are told that the feet of God are like bronze.  It might be making too big of a leap for a connection but there are numerous mentions of God treading the winepress of His wrath.  It would be with feet like bronze that would be doing the trampling of the winepress.

The bronze altar is not about bringing the judgment of God upon the people however.  Instead it is about appeasing God’s wrath.  We rarely speak about the death of Jesus in these terms but this is an important concept to realize and understand.  We know and teach that the death of Jesus brings about forgiveness of sin.  This is correct.  But that isn’t the start or end of the process.

Romans 6:23 tells us:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Death is the result of sin.  It is the punishment that comes from disobedience.  Death did not exist until Adam and Eve sinned.  When Jesus died on the cross He took the penalty that we deserved.  Now, you might have wondered at some time, why couldn’t God just forgive us?  Why did Jesus have to die?

The reason is that there is a debt that has to be paid.  We think of justice in terms of our criminal courts but that’s not the way things work with God.  In our courts a sentence is handed down and a person might be given five years in prison.  But they might get out early for good behavior.  Or they could be pardoned altogether by the governor or president.  In short, the crime can be forgiven and the sentence not carried out at least in full.

Forgiveness doesn’t work this way with God.  Because God is holy all sentences have to be carried out and punishment has to be exacted perfectly.  Forgiveness comes not because God simply forgave and forgot about the punishment, it is paid for by Jesus on the cross.

To give another illustration, I’ll use our tax system.  Politicians on both sides always want to lower taxes.  Each side wants to lower it for a different group, but lower taxes here is the key.  What happens when we lower taxes?  Well, someone has to pay for those lower taxes.  For every dollar that taxes are lowered for someone, someone else must pay an extra dollar or there needs to be a dollar cut from spending.  This means that someone will receive a dollar less in services, be it road maintenance or a welfare check.  You can’t just lower taxes without counterbalancing it.  In the same way, God can’t just forgive sin, someone has to pay the price.

Jesus paid the price in His death on the cross.  But death is not the sole penalty for sin.  Death is not God’s wrath.  Jesus appeased God’s wrath on the cross.  The theological term for it is propitiation.  A student recently asked me why Jesus’ death had to be so horrific.  Basically, why couldn’t Jesus have just walked into Jerusalem, stood in front of the crowds, and gave up His life?  Wouldn’t that have satisfied the penalty of sin?

On the cross Jesus experienced the worst that mankind had to offer.  All of the hatred of man was directed at Him.  All of the physical pain that we put each other through was put into the cross.  The cross was scientifically devised to be the most painful form of death that the Roman government could bring about.  They studied and tried to make it as awful as possible.  It was so terrible that they declared it wasn’t a suitable death for anyone who was a Roman citizen regardless of how terrible their crimes.

The death and the torment on the cross still doesn’t compare to the true force of the wrath of God however.  We may look around the world today and see all of the evil that is in it and figurative say that the world is going to hell around us.  But despite all of the ugliness, God has not abandoned this world.  That is the true wrath of God though, being separated from Him.  The worst agony on the cross was experienced when Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  It was at that time that He was separated from God the Father for the first time in all of eternity.

The bronze altar was meant to be the place of sacrifice to atone for sin and to appease God’s wrath.  It was a temporary fit until Jesus paid the price once for all.  The altar would have stood between the entrance of the courtyard and the entrance of the tabernacle.  In other words, there was no way to approach the tabernacle without walking past the altar.  The same is true today as there is no way to approach God without coming by way of Jesus and the cross.

Exodus 27:9-19

9 “Make a courtyard for the tabernacle. The south side shall be a hundred cubits[c] long and is to have curtains of finely twisted linen, 10 with twenty posts and twenty bronze bases and with silver hooks and bands on the posts. 11 The north side shall also be a hundred cubits long and is to have curtains, with twenty posts and twenty bronze bases and with silver hooks and bands on the posts.

12 “The west end of the courtyard shall be fifty cubits[d] wide and have curtains, with ten posts and ten bases. 13 On the east end, toward the sunrise, the courtyard shall also be fifty cubits wide. 14 Curtains fifteen cubits[e] long are to be on one side of the entrance, with three posts and three bases, 15 and curtains fifteen cubits long are to be on the other side, with three posts and three bases.

16 “For the entrance to the courtyard, provide a curtain twenty cubits[f] long, of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen—the work of an embroiderer—with four posts and four bases. 17 All the posts around the courtyard are to have silver bands and hooks, and bronze bases. 18 The courtyard shall be a hundred cubits long and fifty cubits wide,[g] with curtains of finely twisted linen five cubits[h] high, and with bronze bases. 19 All the other articles used in the service of the tabernacle, whatever their function, including all the tent pegs for it and those for the courtyard, are to be of bronze.

Much like with the tabernacle itself, the courtyard and made up and divided off by curtains.  There’s just a couple of things I want to emphasize here.  The tabernacle is magnificent on the inside of it.  We saw a few weeks ago how the priests would have not only seen incredible craftsmanship but also intricate details that pointed toward Christ.  The outside of the tabernacle looked very plain however and there was nothing majestic about it.  There would have been nothing that indicated that it was the holy residence of God Almighty.

The curtains of the courtyard serve a similar purpose.  A color isn’t given here so they are plain white.  Before I mentioned that white is symbolic of purity.  Many people recognize Jesus as good.  Those on the outside are only going to see the plain white curtains of the courtyard.  Those outside of Christ only see His goodness.

Jesus is quite divisive but one thing that basically everyone agrees upon is that Jesus is good.  People today who despise Christianity can find no fault with Jesus and instead place blame for what Christianity became on His followers.  Many people who don’t believe that Jesus is Savior recognize Him as a good man and a teacher who wanted people to live right lives along the lines of Buddha or Mother Teresa.

Even the people of Jesus’ day recognized that Jesus was good.  Pilate could find no fault with Jesus but handed Him over to be executed.  The Jewish leaders could not find any charges to bring against Him and knew that what they accused Him of were lies.  Everyone sees the goodness, the purity of Jesus.  You have to be on the inside to see everything else about Him.

The second thing to note about the courtyard is its size.  This courtyard is only 150 feet long.  It is 75 feet wide.  And it sits in the center of a camp that has millions of people in it.  It is a speck in comparison to the size of the camp.

It is the minority, not the majority who come into fellowship with God.  The courtyard wasn’t made to hold millions of people or even tens of thousands.  This entire courtyard is somewhere around a quarter of an acre.  If you pack the people in like sardines, all of them touching, you might get 5000 people in.

The size also tells us that God looks for quality over quantity.  The tabernacle is ornate and has the highest of quality workmanship but it’s obviously not huge.  Every pastor wants to see his church grow because at least in theory it means that people are getting saved to cause that growth.  But I can tell you that God is far more interested in a church of 20 people who are deeply in love with Him and who want to worship Him and learn about Him than He is in a church of a thousand where people go because it is entertaining and they leave feeling good about themselves.  That’s not to disparage big churches or imply that they are bad or that they’re all like that.  What I’m simply saying is that God is far happier with a small church that is working than a big one that isn’t.

Exodus 27:20-21

20 “Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning. 21 In the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain that is in front of the Testimony, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the LORD from evening till morning. This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come.

The order of the instructions for the tabernacle feels rather random at times.  We already discussed the lampstand.  We just looked at the curtains for the courtyard.  And we still haven’t looked at all of the articles in the tabernacle itself.  I can’t tell you the exact reasoning for what feels like a random order other than to say that there is a logic behind the order even if I don’t explain it or can’t.

In this case, these two verses serve as a turning point for the next two chapters.  We will see the involvement of the priests and what they do in the tabernacle more.  Our pictures in the tabernacle so far have mostly been Jesus and what He has done for us.  We will continue to see Jesus in the upcoming chapters but we will switch the focus to how we approach Jesus.

In these verses we see that the priests are to always keep the lampstand burning.  They need to be sure that there is oil.  Oil is representative of the Holy Spirit in scripture.  It is one of the clearest symbols that we have in the Bible.

Romans 8:9 says And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.  There’s a lot of debate over the Holy Spirit and what one must do to get it and when one gets it.  We’re not going to get into that this morning.  But the teaching is clear that salvation and the Holy Spirit go hand in hand.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:19 we’re told Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.  It is clear that we want the Holy Spirit burning within our lives. That is what is pictured here in the lampstand.  The priests were to keep the oil flowing at all times and never let the flame burn out.

I’ll close with a parable by Jesus.  Matthew 25:1-13

1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

We can’t choose to live Christlike lives when it is convenient for us.  We don’t get to choose what parts of Christianity we like and which ones we don’t.  When Jesus asks for our lives, He doesn’t want a couple of hours a week from us.  He doesn’t want us to throw out most of our bad practices.  He wants all of us, 24/7.  He wants us to get rid of all our sin and follow Him completely.

It has been said that those who plan to give their life to Jesus at the eleventh hour may die at 10:30.  That’s probably not a problem for people at church here today.  But we need to keep our lamp lit at all times.  We don’t light it when it’s convenient.  We don’t look to God only when times are tough.  God

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