(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
The House of God
1st September 2008
This is the well-known story of “Jacob’s Ladder”:
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."
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:
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
1 Corinthians 3v16
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
1 Timothy 3:15
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
This recalls a conversation between Jesus and Peter:
And it confirms a prayer of Jesus about His disciples, in which He says to His Father:
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."