Follow-up to last Sunday: why temple worship is obsolete

February 26, 2016

In the scripture we looked at in last week’s service, John 4:16-30, the Samaritan woman asks Jesus to settle a theological dispute: Where is the proper place to worship God? Is it on Mt. Gerazim, where Samaritans worshiped, or on Mt. Zion, where the Jews worshiped?

Jesus tells her, in verse 21, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.”

As I’ve said elsewhere during this sermon series, when Jesus refers to his “hour,” he is saying something about the cross. So in this case he’s saying that his death on the cross will make the location of worship obsolete.

Why?

First, consider this: in the Old Testament, when human beings got very close to God, they feared for their lives. One example is the prophet Isaiah, who saw the Lord in the Temple and said, “Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah understood that a sinner can’t get too close to a holy God–without being utterly destroyed!

This is why priests in the Temple were rightly afraid of going into the Holy of Holies, the place where the Ark of the Covenant used to be located, the place where only the high priest could enter once a year, on the Day of Atonement. These priests understood that since God’s presence was manifested in a special way in that small room, they were risking their lives by entering into it!

All that to say, because of their sin, even God’s people were separated from God. And this separation was symbolized by the large, thick curtain that cordoned off the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple.

Now remember what happened the very moment of Jesus’ death? The curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple was torn in two. This was a miracle that God used to symbolize what Christ’s death accomplished: Through faith in Jesus Christ and his atoning death on the cross, our sin can no longer be a barrier separating us and God. Because on the cross, during Christ’s “hour,” an exchange took place: Christ took our sins upon himself and suffered the penalty of death and hell for us. And not only that: it’s as if Christ has given us his righteousness.

On the basis of Christ’s righteousness, we are now holy in God’s eyes. Jesus makes this clear to Mary Magdalene in John 20, after the resurrection, when he tells her that he’s “ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Because of the cross, we can have the exact same relationship with the God the Father that Jesus has!

Far from having to go to a particular temple, on a particular mountain, to be close to God, our very body is now a temple in which God lives (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)!

If that doesn’t make you say, “Amen,” I don’t know what will!

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