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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Willing service to God means willing service to others
Text:Exodus 35:20-21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 122

Psalm 51:1,2,7 (after the law)

Psalm 133

Psalm 48:1,3

Hymn 80

Scripture readings:  Exodus 35:4-36:7, 2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Text: Exodus 35:20-21

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

No church on earth is perfect, and neither is this one.  One of the things we need as a church is for God to be at work among us to help us grow in spiritual maturity.  What we need is for the Holy Spirit to apply the Bible to our lives to help us grow not only individually, but as a community. 

In our passage for this morning, we see God’s people coming together as a community.  They’re working together for a great cause.  As we’re going to see, that cause is first of all related to God.  However, it also involves the good of his people.  We’re going to see that willing service to God means willing service to others.  We’ll especially look at:

  1. The origins of this willing service
  2. The results of this willing service

Let’s first get situated in the world of our passage.  The context here involves the people of Israel on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan.  This is anywhere between 1200 and 1500 years before Christ.  One of the key pieces of context before this passage is what happens in Exodus 32.  In Exodus 32, Moses was up on Mount Sinai with God.  It seemed like he had disappeared.  The people of Israel got it into their heads to abandon God and go back to idols.  Moses’ brother Aaron helped them.  He invited everyone to contribute gold and he then took it and turned it into a golden calf for the people to worship.  Of course, God saw this and it made him angry.  He sent Moses back down the mountain to deal with it.  The important thing to realize is that this episode took place right before our passage.  The people of Israel are God’s people, but they’re far from a perfect people.  They’re dysfunctional.  They’re broken.  They’re fickle.  One minute they’re worshipping God and the next they’re bowing down before a golden calf.  These are God’s people, but they’re a sinful people.  Sound familiar?    

If the Israelites are going to reach the Promised Land, they need God’s help.  They can’t do it without him because it’s too much.  The people who lived in Canaan were many and strong.  So, the question is:  how can a sinful people have a holy God among them who will fight for them so they can take possession of the Promised Land?

God answers that question himself.  He has a plan.  The plan involves a dwelling among his people – a special tent known as the tabernacle.  The plans for the tabernacle were revealed to Moses while he was on Mount Sinai.  God told him exactly how it was to be built and how it would function.  Everything was laid out in detail.  God would dwell amongst Israel in the holy of holies, the most central part of the Tabernacle.  The holy of holies contained a special, gold-plated wooden box known as the ark.  The ark was thought of as being God’s throne.  God was a king sitting on his throne among his people.  Another important feature of the tabernacle was the bronze altar or the altar of burnt offering.  On this altar, sacrifices would be made to atone for the sins of the people.  If your sins were atoned for, they were swept away and you could have a relationship of fellowship with God.  You can see why the tabernacle was so important.  This was God’s way of dwelling peacefully among a sinful people, so he could fight their enemies for them and they could take possession of the Promised Land.  You could say the tabernacle was a gospel tent.  It was good news for a sinful people. 

That brings us into chapter 35.  Now it’s time to build the tabernacle.  Moses first instructs the people as to what God had said to him on the mountain.  First things first.  In order to build, you need building materials.  In order for the tabernacle to function, you need all the pieces in place.  So what we have in chapter 35 is the preparations for building the tabernacle and implementing its service to God.  In verse 5, Moses passed on God’s call for the people to bring contributions for the tabernacle – for Yahweh, for the LORD.  Look with me at verse 5: “Take from among you a contribution to the LORD.  Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution: gold, silver, and bronze” and so on. 

The people of Israel listened to Moses outline what needed to be done.  Then in verse 20, we read that they left his presence.  They went back to their tents.  Would this sinful people respond appropriately?  Some of them had definitely responded with generous contributions for the golden calf back in chapter 32.  Would there now be a generous response for the true worship of God?    

Verse 21 tells us that there was indeed an incredible response.  There were Israelites whose hearts were stirred up to great generosity.  Their spirits moved them, says the Holy Spirit.  They brought the contribution for Yahweh, for his service in the tabernacle.  They brought everything needed to build the tent itself, but also everything for its functioning.  They brought the materials that were needed to make things like the bronze altar.  They brought the materials needed for the priests, the holy garments.  Everything was supplied by people with willing and generous hearts.

Now if you skip ahead with me to the beginning of chapter 36, you get a better sense of what happened here.  Bezalel and Oholiab were the skilled craftsman entrusted with the work of building the tabernacle.  Look with me at what they say in Exodus 36:5, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the LORD has commanded us to do.”  Then Moses actually had to tell the people to stop being so generous.  Their generosity gave more than enough material for the building of the tabernacle and everything associated with it.

This is quite remarkable when you think about what happened with the golden calf in Exodus 32.  How is it possible that we go from those people to these people in Exodus 35?  Why all of a sudden do we have these willing hearts and moved spirits in Exodus 35?  Why is there is such a big-hearted generosity directed to God’s service? 

One could propose a few different answers to that.  A cynical person might say they were just trying to make amends for their previous sins.  They had tilted the balance pretty far in the wrong direction with their golden calf and now they’re trying to tilt the balance back in the right direction with their generosity for God.  We can’t rule out the possibility that there may have been some Israelites who thought that way.  If they did, they still didn’t understand God and his holiness.  They still didn’t understand their own sinfulness, that it’s impossible to earn your way to God’s favour.  If there were any who thought that way, they didn’t understand their need for God’s grace.

But let’s assume better things.  Let’s assume a repentant people here.  There’s a good reason to do that.  Certainly the end of Exodus 32 tells us that many of the worst and unrepentant culprits with the golden calf incident were killed by the Levites.  So it’s a good assumption that in Exodus 35 we’re looking at the repentant and contrite people of Israel, not people trying to pay for their sins and make it up to God.

So why are these repentant Israelites so generous?  What does the Bible say?  It doesn’t say in Exodus 35.  But if you go elsewhere in the Bible, you do find out what leads God’s people in general to be generous.  For example, you could turn to our reading from 2 Corinthians 8.  In that chapter, Paul is writing about the situation in Jerusalem with believers who were suffering.  The churches in Macedonia contributed to support them.  They contributed extremely generously even though they themselves were not wealthy.  Paul writes about their earnestness.  Where did this come from?  He says it in the first verse of 2 Corinthians 8.  It was from the grace of God.  God graciously worked this in them.  Now if we dig down into it a little deeper, in a couple of places in Scripture, the Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of grace.”  The Holy Spirit is how God graciously works in the hearts of sinners so that they will be willingly generous.  On similar lines, if we think of Galatians 5 and its famous words about the fruit of the Spirit, we don’t find generosity mentioned explicitly, but there is goodness.  Generosity is a kind of goodness.  It’s something that comes from the Holy Spirit. 

So if we talk about the origins of this willing service, we have to look beyond what people are doing.  We’re looking at what God is doing with his grace, with his Holy Spirit.  He is at work here to make sinful people offer willing service to him.  He works this extraordinary generosity.

Now I’d like to draw some lines to us today.  But I can’t say too much yet, because there’s more to unravel here in terms of what this is all pointing ahead to.  I don’t want to jump the gun.  Let me just say this right now:  the fact that the Holy Spirit is the one who produces this generosity and willing service leads us to action.  You might be tempted to think this leads us to inaction or passivity, doing nothing.  You know you think, “Well, if the Holy Spirit has to do it, then he’ll just do it whenever he wants and there’s nothing we can do about it.”  But that’s not right.  There is something we need to do.  It’s the same thing we need to do anytime we’re looking at what God does in our lives in his sovereign grace:  we can and we should pray.  We should pray for God to give us willing hearts in his service.  We should pray for God to move our spirits so that all of us together are extraordinarily generous in our service to God.  Loved ones, beg God to give you a big heart eager to contribute to his service here in the church.

That gets sharpened as we look at what resulted from the willing service of the Israelites in our passage.  Obviously the big result was the construction of the tabernacle – it got built.  So did all the furniture and associated things needed for the tabernacle to work.  So God had a functioning dwelling amongst his people.  But it wasn’t just functional.  It’s also important to see that it was beautiful.  Even though it was a tent, a temporary and portable dwelling, it was beautiful.  When I was a seminary student, an exhibition came to the Hamilton area where they set up an exact replica of the tabernacle.  It was quite exact – as I remember the only difference was that they didn’t use any real gold or silver.  One of the things that struck me about that replica of the tabernacle was how beautiful it was.  It was a tent, it was temporary, it was portable, but it was still constructed with a high-degree of workmanship and fine materials. 

Why was that?  Why was beauty and craftsmanship so important for the tabernacle?  Why did God want these expensive materials for the tabernacle?  There was a tent of meeting before the tabernacle -- it was pretty ordinary -- why couldn’t they just keep using that?  The answer has to do with God.  God was going to dwell among his people in this tabernacle.  He wanted this structure, even though it was temporary and portable, he wanted this structure to reflect his glory.  He wanted it to reflect the worth and value he represented to his people.  He wanted it to be impressive, a faint earthly reflection of how impressive he is.

So that’s the first result of the willing service of God’s people in our passage:  the building of the tabernacle resulted in people having an impression of the glory of God.  It was about revealing his majesty and worth to his people. 

Now there’s a second major result and that had to do with the people of God themselves.  As I mentioned before, the tabernacle was the holy God’s way of dwelling with a sinful people.  The way he could do that was through the ministry of the priests.  The way he could do that was through the mediation they offered through the sacrifices for sin.  Building the tabernacle meant building an altar for sacrifice, and everything that came along with that.  Sacrifices meant atonement, and atonement meant reconciliation.  What I mean is:  a sinful people who were at odds with God could be brought back into fellowship with him.  So contributing generously to the tabernacle meant service to God, but it also meant something for the community as a whole.  It opened the way for everyone in the community to have fellowship with the holy God.  God would dwell with them, he would fight for them, and they would receive their inheritance in the Promised Land.  Together the whole community benefited from willing service to God in building the tabernacle.   

We have to think for a moment of what this was really all about.  All of this was really pointing ahead to Jesus Christ.  The temporary structure of the tabernacle was later replaced by the more permanent temple in the days of Solomon.  In the New Testament, then, we don’t find a lot of mention of the tabernacle – instead, it usually speaks of the temple.  One famous exception is in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory…”  A literal translation from the Greek would read, “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us…”  Elsewhere in John, Jesus says that he is the fulfillment of the Old Testament temple.  He is God dwelling among his people, just like with the tabernacle and, later on, the temple in the Old Testament. 

There was willing service on the part of our Saviour to make that happen.  He has a loving and generous heart.  From that heart he willingly gave up his heavenly rights and privileges as the Son of God, he gave up what was so precious and valuable.  He emptied himself and willingly became poor for our sakes, as it says in 2 Corinthians 8.  There were two results from his eager, heart-felt service.

One was a revelation of the glory of God.  Remember John 1:14, “we have seen his glory.”  When Jesus became the tabernacle/temple, it was to reveal God’s glory on earth.  He showed what God is like in his love, in his compassion, in his power, in his wisdom, in his goodness.  All of these things shouted the glory of God through Jesus Christ.  All of these things showed the beauty and worth of God far more than the tabernacle ever had.  Do you see the beauty and worth of God shining forth in Jesus as he’s revealed in Scripture?  Do you see the glory of God in Christ? 

The other result from Christ’s willing service was reconciliation for sinners like you and me.  Just like there were sacrifices at the tabernacle for the atonement of Israel, there was the sacrifice of Christ’s body for your atonement.  He made that final and ultimate sacrifice on the cross for you.  As a result, a holy God can dwell with his people in fellowship.  As a result, we can be confident that God will fight for us just like he fought for Israel.  He will fight for us and he will bring us to our inheritance in the new creation, the ultimate Promised Land.  Listen, the sacrifice that fulfilled all others was made by Jesus in your place.  Loved ones, believe that for yourself personally.  Believe that Jesus has made peace with God for you through his most precious sacrifice of himself.  Believe that God is now on your side and is going to bring you to your ultimate destination.

There’s more to say.  The New Testament also speaks about the body of Christ in another way.  There’s his physical body which was nailed to the cross.  But the church is also described as the body of Christ.  And because the church is the body of Christ, the church is also called the temple in the New Testament.  God dwells among his people in the church.  For example, Hebrews 3 speaks of Christ being faithful over God’s house.  And verse 6 says, “And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence…”  God’s house is tabernacle/temple language.  We can say that the church is God’s tabernacle in the New Testament.  She is that because she is the body of Christ. 

Now this is where things start to gel together in terms of real application of our passage.  There is a sense in which the tabernacle continues to be built.  The church is a work in progress.  It’s always under construction in this age.  It’s never finished.  Believers are still called to gladly, willingly, generously contribute to this building project. The Holy Spirit has blessed us all with gifts and talents.  God calls us to contribute generously so that this building project we call the church can progress.

That brings us back to how we get a generous heart that will answer God’s call.  We get that through prayer.  We have to ask the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts so that we’re not selfish or self-centered, but instead that we reflect the kind and generous heart of the Saviour to whom we’re united.  We ask the Holy Spirit to work so that we look like Jesus, that we’re eager and big-hearted with regard to building our church community and contributing in whatever way we can.

There are results from our willing service too.  They’re the same as in our passage, the same as for our Saviour.  The first is the glory of God.  As the church is built, like the tabernacle was, God is treasured and his worth is magnified.  As we contribute generously with our time, our gifts, also our wealth, it will demonstrate that God is glorious.  God will be seen for who he is:  awesome in majesty, transcendent in glory.  Our willing service to the church is first of all about him and all about making much of him.

But just as before, that willing service to God also results in willing service to others.  The church is the tabernacle where reconciliation is proclaimed through Jesus Christ.  The church is where sinners hear about how they can find peace and fellowship with the holy God through the good news.  As we contribute our willing service, the church’s ministry continues and it blesses others around us.  We build up a community centered around the gospel.  It pulls outside of ourselves and makes us care about the needs of others, and above all, their spiritual needs.

Brothers and sisters, how are you contributing to the building of the tabernacle?  That’s not just a question about what you’re doing for the church, but also about how you’re doing it.  Notice that our passage isn’t just speaking about the things people were doing, but also about how they were doing it.  They were doing it with stirred hearts and moved spirits.  You say you contribute.  Wonderful.  Do you do it with a willing heart, with a generous spirit that aims to glorify God and serve your brothers and sisters?  Let’s pray that God would indeed give us that kind of heart, the kind of heart our Saviour showed and continues to show. 

Building up our church community isn’t something that is going to come easy.  We have a history.  We have our church culture.  Some things are good in that church culture and some things are not so good.  But loved ones, think again of the people of Israel.  Exodus 32 was a real low point with the golden calf and all.  Yet God in his grace worked among them and he brought about change.  With his Holy Spirit and Word he can do the same among us.  We shouldn’t be cynical or fatalistic.  Instead, let’s trust that the God of Israel continues to be both mighty and loving to his people through Jesus Christ.  AMEN.                           


Heavenly Father,

We thank you for your sovereign grace.  You worked in the hearts of the Israelites so that they repented from their sins and turned to you.  You worked in their hearts to make them willing and generous.  By doing that, you brought glory to yourself in the tabernacle.  By doing that, you brought sinners to yourself in reconciliation.  How thankful we are that you’ve done that all for us too in Jesus Christ.  We worship you for your love and mercy to sinners like us.  Father, please continue working in our hearts and lives with your Spirit and Word.  Make us willing in our service to you.  Give us generous hearts in building up the church.  Father, please turn us inside out and help us to care about one another and the service of the gospel in this place.  O God, we pray that you would help us as a church community to grow stronger together for your glory. 


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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