Have you ever been amazed by man-made architecture? Have you ever seen a palace or castle, or even a magnificent temple and had to stop for a minute to marvel at its grandeur?
This is not a new phenomenon. Man hasn’t waited for the meteoric rise of modern technology to attempt architectural greatness. In fact part of me is more amazed by what ancient and even pre-twentieth century builders were able to achieve without the help of advanced technological precision. The Tower of Babel, Nebuchadnezzar’s Hanging Gardens, The Great Pyramids, and even the comparatively modern Taj Mahal witness to mankind’s skill, drive, creativity, and ability to manufacture the magnificent. However, each of these marvels were also made for a purpose. They were not simply built out of boredom or even for the sake of being unique, awe-inspiring, or beautiful.
They were created to tell a story.
A couple weeks ago I had a tremendous breakthrough in my understanding as well as pursuit of holiness. The catalyst for this breakthrough was actually our church’s Adult Sunday School teacher who called in sick Sunday morning. I had not prepared to teach, and so I grabbed a “That the World May Know” video and began to preview it. This video series is filmed on location in Bible lands and uses archaeology to bring the Bible to life.
The particular lesson I previewed that morning was focused on the remains of an ancient Egyptian temple. The whole point of the lesson was to contrast the gods of Egypt with the True God of the Israelites. Examining the temple in which the Egyptian god Ammun-rah was worshiped allowed for a comparison of the two belief systems.
I was thankful to have been able to find something so profitable on such short notice and was just about ready to take the DVD out and finish my morning sermon prep when God began to impress me with a very simple, somewhat obvious, but incredibly powerful thought.
What is the point of a temple? Why were they built?
Nearly all large scale architecture tells some story.
- The Tower of Babel testified to the desire of man to work their way into Heaven and become like God.
- The Hanging Gardens of Babylon told the story of a mighty king who wanted everyone to know how awesome he was.
- The Great Pyramids witness to the Egyptians reverence, worship, and deification of their Pharaohs.
- The Taj Mahal is a love story written in stone and stands as a testament to show how far one man would go to show his wife how much he loved her.
In eastern lands still today, the language is a picture language. When the Egyptians wanted to preserve and teach what they believed and how their gods should be worshiped, they built it. As you traveled up the Nile and came within view of Ammun-rah’s Temple, you immediately knew that this was Ammun-Rah’s territory. The massive edifice rising up more than a mile inland from the banks of the river testified to Ammun-rahs prominence. Stretching up from the river all the way to the temple gate was a wide pathway lined on both sides with statues of large rams, the symbol of Ammun-rah. Once you entered the temple and began to examine the gates, pillars, walls, decorations, and of course the priestly rituals you continued to read Ammun-rah’s biography. Everything told you something about Ammun-rah and it also proclaimed the importance and indeed god-like standing of Pharaoh.
Suddenly it hit me that the whole point of that temple was to let everyone know who Ammun-rah was and what he was like, how he was to be worshiped, and why he was significant in their lives.
My mind then carried over to Solomon’s Temple, and I realized the same things were true. A traveler visiting Jerusalem would have been struck by the beauty and magnificence of the temple to the One True God. They would have known this was Yahweh territory, and upon entering and observing, ideally they would have continued to learn more and more about Him. The basin, the showbread, the altar, the ark, the separating curtain, the priests, and the rituals were all part of the story.
What is the point of a temple? It is to exalt, glorify, and be a true witness to the god whose presence dwells within its walls.
By this time I was no longer thinking about Sunday School, but furiously preparing a brand new Sunday morning sermon outline with I Corinthians 3:16a being the main text: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God….?” My eyes had begun to open to a new or at least renewed way of viewing holiness.
In the past I have made holiness all about me. I need to become holy so that I will not sin and displease God, so that I can go to Heaven and not go to Hell.
I believe most of the time I have had the pure motive of pleasing God and not simply trying to determine if I could “get away with” some particular action; yet, my main motivation was still fear. Fear of failure. Fear of not getting it right. Fear of God being displeased with me. Fear of not pursuing holiness in the proper way. Fear of not properly understanding my heart. Fear of seeking for the wrong reasons.
A relationship dominated by fear is often void of much love and definitely low on grace. It is not that they don’t exist, but rather they are more like a building’s furnishings rather than its foundation. I recognize and appreciate them, but I do not rest upon and ground myself in God’s love and grace. In many ways I see them as a means to an end rather than, in some sense, an end in themselves.
I would go as far as to say that even holiness has been viewed as a means to an end. The end goal being not sinning, not failing, not displeasing God; ultimately those things are what I believed salvation to be. Therefore, rather than having rested in salvation, it actually remained a continual pursuit driven by fear instead of joy!
Is this really what holiness is all about? Is it really all about me? Certainly, I benefit from it, but it’s not about me, it’s about Him!
It’s about being able to tell His Story, to tell the world Who He is!
The apostle Peter alludes to this in the second chapter of his first epistle: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar [specially purchased] people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light … [that] they may by your good works, which they shall behold glorify God….”
The handiwork of an architect can tell us a great deal about who they are and what they enjoy. Everything from the size of the building, the amount, shape, and size of its windows, rounded or sharp corners, wide hallways, open or closed concept, modern or classic styling, can be examined to learn what is important to the designer.
The same is true of The Master Architect and Creator. When we examine His handiwork, the universe, we discover His ‘appreciation’ of beauty, design, and detail, and we might also deduce that He is powerful, transcendent, and even eternal, due to the vastness of space.
As the crown jewel of His Creation, His masterpiece, we are given the wonderful privilege of bearing witness in such a way that no mighty seas, majestic mountains, brilliant stars, or even unending galaxies ever could. We, His Temple, individually and collectively, do not simply speak but live His love, His grace, His forgiveness, and yes, His holiness!
I am the Temple of the Living God. When the travelers of life pass by, what story do they read?
When they stop and take a closer look at the furnishings and decorations what do they learn? Will they go away and forget the architecture, or will their hearts be challenged and hopefully forever changed by the story of the Architect?