Phil Cox

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The House of God

1st September 2008

This is the well-known story of “Jacob’s Ladder”:

Genesis 28
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.
He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the LORD, and he said: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it." He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven."
Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel [which means the house of God], though the city used to be called Luz.
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth."

There’s a great deal that this story can teach us, but I want to focus on verses 16 and 17:

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it."
He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven."

What do we mean when we say God is in a place?

Of course, God is omnipresent. That is, God is everywhere.

So what sense is there is saying “Surely the Lord is in this place”?

The answer, of course, is that God chooses to make His presence more obvious in some places than in others. For example, in the Old Testament, God told His people to build Him a house – a temple (e.g. Exodus 25v8-9, 2 Samuel 7v8-13, 1 Kings 6v11-14, Haggai 1v1-11). But God also said that He didn’t live in houses:

Isaiah 66v1
This is what the LORD says: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me?

As Stephen said in Acts 7v48:

“the Most High does not live in houses made by men”.

So what is the temple for? The answer is that, although God is everywhere, God chooses to reveal Himself most clearly in His house – His temple. In Old Testament times, sacrifices were made at the temple, the worship of God was most glorious at the temple, and so on.

Now the church is God's house

In New Testament times, the church is God’s house – His temple:

1 Corinthians 3v9
… you are God's field, God's building.

1 Corinthians 3v16
Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?

Note here that “you yourselves” (plural) are God’s temple (singular). The church – the gathering together of God’s people – are His temple.

1 Peter 2:4-5
As you come to him, the living Stone - rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him - you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Timothy 3:15
…God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Hebrews 3:6
… Christ is faithful as a son over God's house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.

And today, you can hear Christians saying “God was really with us this morning”. And sometimes, you hear other Christians, saying, “God is everywhere”. They’re both right. But God makes us more aware of His presence in some places and at some times, than others.

And just as Jacob said: "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it", there are thousands of people every Sunday, in church meetings up and down the country, who are not aware that God is there.

How can this be? Why are some people not aware of God’s presence in His house?

I’ve got two answers.

Firstly, we need God to reveal His presence

Jacob was a man like us. He wasn’t perfect but he was (at that time, anyway) trying to do the right thing. He was obeying his father by travelling to a far-off city. And we too are not perfect, and most of us are trying to do the right thing. And many of us understand that going to church is the right thing to do. God our creator deserves thanks and praise.

Jacob was uncomfortable. He was sleeping on the dust, with no cover and a stone for a pillow. And he was probably afraid. Bears and lions lived in that place in those days. And we can be uncomfortable in the house of God. We can be asked to sing songs that we’re not sure are true. We can hear an uncomfortable or boring sermon. Strangers may come up to as and try to befriend us. Or perhaps no-one talks to us.

Jacob was not aware of God’s presence until God revealed Himself to him in a dream. And we can go to church for years and years, and not experience God. We need God to reveal Himself to us.

Paul wrote this about the Christian experience:

2 Corinthians 4v6
God… made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

This recalls a conversation between Jesus and Peter:

Matthew 16v15-17
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.

And it confirms a prayer of Jesus about His disciples, in which He says to His Father:

John 17v6
"I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.”

I pray for those who come regularly to my own church, but who have not yet been born again, that God would reveal Himself to them. Then they will say:

"Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it."

Secondly, the House of God doesn’t function as it should

It would be a great deal easier to find God if the church didn’t hide Him so effectively.

When we can’t even be bothered to go to our weekly local church gathering, the House of God is diminished. When we go but don’t involve ourselves in worship, the House of God is demonstrating a wrong attitude to the owner of the house. When we go, but are unfriendly or insensitive to visitors, we don’t just sin against the visitors, but against God by desecrating His house.

It’s the duty and the privilege of the church – God’s house – to meet together frequently, to praise God with all our hearts, to pray to Him faithfully and sincerely, to love others with His love and to reflect His glory. And when we take our responsibility seriously, it is easlier for others to find God.

When the church is functoning properly then, when outsiders encounter the church, their reaction will be:

"How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven."