I have a question for you.
When you think about the Temple, or even the Tabernacle, how do you picture that place? I'm not talking about the structure of it, which the Bible well describes for us, but rather, what do you think happened there? How do you think the people came to that place, what did they do while they were there, what did they get out of it?
If you're like many Christians, when you think about the Temple, you think about a place not all that different than a contemporary church. You think about a place where the people gathered in a section different than that in which the pastor or preacher or priest gathers (there is a sanctuary and there is a stage). You think about a place where music is played and someone sings. You think about a place where a proclamation of the truth of God is made for everyone to hear and even where the people shout, "Amen!" when they hear it. You think about a place where offerings are made, and a lot of us have cleaned up these offerings in our heads to make them more like our modern-day offerings, which go cleanly into a plate, rather than the bloody, messy offering of something that went on a plate.
Am I striking a chord here? Is this what you picture when you picture the Temple and the worship that took place here?
If not, it's likely that you fall entirely in the other direction, picturing some kind of extremely proper, stuffed-shirt, formal experience with some guy with a booming voice doing all of the preaching and praying. You picture the caricature of Christianity being in charge of this place. The people are silent, standing in awe. Bowing in prayer together in unison. A solemn "Amen" sometimes rings out. If this is your image, you think this worship must have been pretty boring, and you might not even be sure how Christianity (or rather, faith in the Lord, since the Temple existed before Christ) lasted this long. You might even be wondering how the people even waited for Jesus as long and as expectantly as they did, if this is what their Temple experience was like.
This is so hard for us because most of us have never experienced any kind of corporate worship that is different than what we've settled into for Sunday mornings. In fact, if we have, we've often run away from those experiences and run back to what we are more comfortable with - a corporate gathering with lights and music and big screens and pew Bibles and preaching. Three songs, a prayer, another song, a sermon, an invitation, and a closing song. And, if you come from certain backgrounds, we throw Communion or the Eucharist in there, too.
So it's only natural that this is what we imagine Temple worship must have been like, too. It's easy for us to think about the people all the way back to the Exodus when the very first Tabernacle was built being essentially like we are, thousands of years later - coming to a place for music and prayer and proclamation and then going home "full" of the Holy Spirit until it's time to come back and do it again.
Of course, the more I talk, the more you probably start to think that I find some kind of trouble with this. And I do. We all should. Because it's affecting our understanding of something very important in God's Word, something that we seem to know so well because almost all of us can repeat the words themselves, but if you look at how we're living it, we have to say...we're missing something. And what we're missing is the real meaning of those words, a meaning that is clouded because of our misunderstanding of what Temple worship actually is.
Thus, let's talk about this.
But first, let's talk about one more word that we get a little confused about.