Sometimes you will hear about a church holding an old-fashioned tent meeting. Tent meetings used to be quite popular events with lots of music and preaching meant to encourage revival among the members of a church so that they would get out and share the good news as well as opportunities to share the gospel message with those who were interested in coming to hear the music and preaching. Often they have bluegrass and country-style gospel music and I imagine that the shouting preaching done in some Pentecostal churches is better suited to a tent than a church building. Yet the style is less important than the felt presence of God among the people gathered together to hear His word proclaimed and singing praises to Him. But our passage today is not just another old-fashioned tent meeting. Here the beautiful tent that we call the tabernacle was given the divine stamp of approval. Here the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle so that even Moses was not even able to meet with God in that tent. Thus we are reminded of the absolute holiness of our God. Nevertheless, the glory-cloud and the pillar of fire are reminders of the presence of that holy God with His people. The incident with the golden calf had threatened to prevent this from ever happening, but now all is forgiven and God is going forward with His people. Listen to the way that Scripture describes it, bringing the book of Exodus to an end:
Preaching idea: For the one who believes in Jesus, this life is a pilgrimage together with God on toward the Promised Land of the new heavens and earth.
Like ancient Israel we are on a pilgrimage to a better country—a heavenly one.
At the end of Exodus the people of Israel had been saved from Egypt and were waiting for that city whose designer and builder is God. They were already saved but they had not yet arrived. The glory-cloud had been with them when they left Egypt and at Mount Sinai. Now it again makes a grand entrance at the dedication of the tabernacle and as they move forward. Noting the glory-cloud here at the end of the book has the effect of reminding us where they have been and where they are going. For the end of Exodus isn’t actually the end of the story; the end of Exodus is the beginning of more wilderness journeys. And these wilderness journeys were not your typical Sunday afternoon drive. The people of Israel knew where God wanted to take them – they knew that God was giving them the land of Canaan. And the people set out whenever God set out but they would stay whenever He stayed. So the people had to wait for a better country. The land of Canaan being a picture pointing to the heavenly country.
So likewise today everyone who trusts in Jesus has been already saved from slavery to sin and saved from death but we have not yet arrived in the new heavens and earth. Jesus died for the sins of His people on the cross and decisively defeated death with His resurrection, but we still await our final resurrection bodies when the heavenly city comes down. Thus for the Christian this life is a pilgrimage to that better country. We know where God is taking us and that the wilderness journeys of this life are not pointless detours nor are they the vacations of tourists. Being on a pilgrimage means you have a clear sense of your final destination, which then helps you to hold onto your faith while you wait for the better country. Understanding this life as a pilgrimage also opens you up to leave your comfort zone and thus to experience God in new and exciting ways. So embrace the adventure, defy the dangers, and enjoy the journey. For we know that there are more chapters in these travels ahead of us until Jesus comes back on the cloud or we go to be with Him.
Thankfully, we don’t make the pilgrimage alone—for like ancient Israel God is with us.
The glory-cloud was a continual reminder to Israel that God was with them. He was with them as they left Egypt and went between the waters of death on dry ground. He was with them on Mount Sinai where He gave the Ten Commandments. And our passage today shows that God will live in their midst in the tabernacle as the story continues. Thus neither all the military might of Egypt, nor the temper tantrums and outright rebellion of Israel, nor even the wrath of God have been able to keep God from being with His people on this journey to the Promised Land. Now all was forgiven and God was going forward with His people as the glory-cloud by day and the fire by night showed Israel throughout all their journeys.
And while you may wish that you could see the glory-cloud right now you live at a far better time in redemptive history than Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – for you are gathered in that glory-cloud because you have the Spirit of Christ within you. Jesus said, “I will be with you always to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). And indeed He is with you; He is even within you. You are on a pilgrimage to the new heavens and earth and on that journey the God who is one and three is with you, which makes all of the difference. Because He is with you, you will not remain the same. What makes this journey a religious pilgrimage and not just the trip of a tourist is that you want to be reshaped into the image of God instead of any other image your imagination can dream. This is what He is doing in you on the way to your final destination. Since we do not live in tents everyday and worship in tents every week it can be easy to forget that we are not at home here in this culture and society but we are on the road to a new country. Yet the truth remains: for the one who believes in Jesus, this life is a pilgrimage together with God on toward the Promised Land of the new heavens and earth. May He be praised. Amen.