The Christian Post reported on a “church” in South Africa named the Rabboni Centre Ministries where congregants eat grass as evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Throughout history and in the world today people have sought to meet with God in many and various, and sometimes strange, ways.
Thailand for example is 95% Buddhist and has multiple gods. The average Thai meets with his chosen god through offerings, chanting and meditation. If you are going on a long journey, you make an offering to the god of travel; and if you’re planning on gambling, you make an offering to the god of good fortune, and so one.
Muslims meet with God through the five pillars of Islam: the creed, daily prayers, almsgiving, fasting during Ramadan and the pilgrimage to Mecca. The inner enlightenment proponents meet with the god they find in themselves because, according to them, we are all gods. The followers of African Traditional Religion communicate with the ancestors, who have access to God, via the sangoma. Tree huggers say we meet with god in nature. Most of the people in my suburb say that although they might not read the bible or attend church, they meet with and worship God in their own way.
How we meet with God is a very important question and a big theme in the Bible.
The Garden of Eden
In the beginning of the Bible Adam and Eve are pictured as regularly meeting with God in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:8 says, “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day”. God is pictured as meeting regularly with Adam and Eve and enjoying intimate fellowship. Genesis 3, unfortunately, records the fall of humanity. Humans want to decide for themselves what’s right and wrong and since then self-fulfilment not what honours God is our chief aim. Adam and Eve, instead of meeting with God, now hide from God and are banished from the Garden. Humans are no longer able to meet with God.
Abraham of Ur
Mercifully, God did not leave us in banishment. In Genesis 12 God meets with Abraham and promises Abraham that he would bless him and his descendants (the Israelites of the Old Testament) and indeed people from all over the world. Human being would once more be able to meet with God.
The tent of God
By the beginning of the Exodus the Israelites are slaves in Egypt and being exploited rather than blessed. God rescues them, brings them through Red Sea and then to Mt Sinai where he gives them the Law, including the Ten Commandments. Included in the law are instructions to build the tabernacle (“tent”) where God would meet with his people (cf. Exodus 25-40). The tabernacle was a big tent that housed the Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy Place. The tabernacle was where God symbolically dwelt. As an Israelite, when you saw the temple, you would think, “God is with us”. If you wanted to meet with God, you took the appropriate sacrifice, went to the tabernacle and a priest would mediate between you and God.
The temple in Jerusalem
The portable tabernacle was replaced by the fixed temple in Jerusalem that King Solomon built. It still symbolised God’s dwelling with his people and the believer went there to meet with God. The temple was known as the “house of God”.
Jesus of Nazareth
Then one day, as John chapter 2:13-22 records, the man Jesus of Nazareth goes to the temple in Jerusalem, makes a whip, and drives out of the temple-complex those people selling animals and running foreign exchange dealerships. The religious leaders quite understandably ask, “What sign do you show us for doing these things…?” (v18) Jesus’ answers, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (v19) Jesus thus says that his resurrection is the great sign from God that he is authorised to clear the temple; the resurrection is the great validater of the lordship and deity of Christ. What is significant to note in v19 is that Jesus refers to himself as “this temple”. Jewish leaders respond in v20, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” The following verses add more light, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (v21-22)
Jesus as the true temple
Jesus refers to himself as the temple because everything that the temple represented and pictured, Jesus is. The temple symbolised God’s presence among his people, Jesus is God with us. Jesus is our unblemished sacrifice, our great high priest and where we go to meet with God. The entire temple category in the Old Testament with all its rules, regulations and stipulations prepares us for the person and work of Christ.
No Christian Hajj
The fact that Jesus is all that the temple symbolised is the reason there is no need for Christians to visit the temple mount in Jerusalem. One of the five pillars of Islam is the Hajj that says that one must make at least once in your lifetime a visit to Mecca if you are able. But visiting Jerusalem and going to the temple mount carries no spiritual significance and can bring you no closer to God. We now go to Jesus to meet with God; he is our new temple.
House of God
How do go to Jesus to meet with God? Not in a mystical way, but by reading of who Jesus is and what he has done in the scriptures, then responding in daily repentance and faith. There is now no earthly temple building or “holy place”. Your church building is not a temple, not a “holy place” with “holy ground”, nor “the house of God”. In fact, every place on earth is a holy place because we know the whole earth belongs to God (Psalm 24:1). Your church building, as magnificent as it may be, is simply a building to keep the sun off your back and the rain off your head. Jesus is the fulfilment of the temple; we go to Jesus to meet with God. We don’t have to go to Jerusalem, or climb a high mountain, or look to our inner selves, or make a spiritual pilgrimage to some ancient ruins in Cambodia, or visit a priest in Roman Catholic Church, or pay a sangoma to contact the ancestors, we simply need to go to Jesus.
The church as the temple
The Bible does not stop talking about the temple with Jesus. Ephesians 2v19-21 says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” The church, God’s gathered people, is now God’s temple. The temple in the Old Testament symbolised God’s presence in the world. God was physically with us in Jesus. God now dwells in Christians by his Spirit and the church therefore becomes God’s new temple in a fallen world. We don’t often think of ourselves as a church in that way. Many would consider the church as the equivalent of a public bathroom or perhaps a smelly outhouse; but God considers the church as his holy temple that is to be seen as precious, important, prized and valuable.
The church, as the temple of God, is meant to portray something of God to a fallen world by our godliness (1 Corinthians 6:18-20), our set-apart-ness (2 Corinthians 6:14-16) and by our living and speaking the gospel (1 Peter 2:5, 9). Unbelievers should in a sense “meet with God” when they encounter the church, not in saving way as only meeting God in Jesus can save, but in a way that points to the reality of God and the truth of the gospel.
Here is a helpful article by Conrad Mbewe on spiritual abuses, including grass-eating!