Sculpting our Tents in the Age of Decay for the Hope of Imperishable Glory

Then and Now

Body Image Isn’t Just for Women Anymore

Men’s Journal recently did a piece on what Hollywood leading men need to go through to make the cut.

Brando never did crunches. Al Pacino didn’t slurp protein shakes. Cary Grant had never even heard of burpees, BOSU balls, or human growth hormone. But not one of today’s leading men can afford the luxury of a gym-free life. You simply don’t get your name on a movie poster these days unless you’ve got a superhero’s physique – primed for high-def close-ups and global market appeal. Getting there takes effort, vigilance, and the dedication of the elite athlete: high-intensity training, strict diets, supplements, and hormone replacement. If that fails, there are always drugs. Today’s actors spend more time in the gym than they do rehearsing, more time with their trainers than with their directors.

Since 5 percent body fat is nobody’s natural condition, fitness plans are geared to peak on the days of the sex scenes or shirtless moments. To prep for these days, trainers will dehydrate a client like a boxing manager sweats a fighter down to weight. They often switch him to a low- or no-sodium diet three or four days in advance, fade out the carbohydrates, brew up diuretics like herbal teas, and then push cardio to sweat out water – all to accentuate muscle definition for the key scenes.

No Pain No Gain

We all understand that if you want to achieve, you need to strive, but strive we often don’t. Why not? Isn’t it logical?

When you visit your doctor you will probably be told to eat less sugar and fat and exercise more. What do we call this? “sacrifice”.

Our bodies, and the world, are not what they “should” be and “sacrifice” is supposed to make up the difference.

Sacrifice, Then and Now

Isn’t it strange that this word has persisted as it has, or maybe it isn’t strange, but apt.

Various forms of sacrifice are nearly universal to human civilizations. In most cases there was a belief that humanity is somehow in debt to the gods, or in trouble with the gods and sacrifice will either placate the gods, pay our debt to the gods or keep the universe functioning.

There is a strange sort of parallel here. The ancients believed that sacrifice was necessary to keep the universe functioning, we believe that sacrifice is necessary to keep our bodies and our lives functioning.

“It is Good”

The phrase “it is good” appears repeatedly in Genesis 1. John Walton, retired professor of Old Testament from Wheaton College notes that this is a functional value judgment expressed by God in the story. We can see this in Genesis 2 when we hear “it is not good”.

“It is not good for the man to be alone!”

The “not good” is all about the man’s inability to function within God’s created design without “the woman”, his perfect counterpart.

This verse has nothing to do with moral perfection or quality of workmanship-it is a comment concerning function. The human condition is not functionally complete without the woman.

John H. Walton. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Kindle Locations 473-474). Kindle Edition.

What happens in the rebellion in Genesis 3 is that things cease to function according to God’s design and we are responsible for this. In the curses given out in Genesis 3 the man and the woman’s productive capacities are frustrated. The field produces thorns and thistles, and the woman’s womb produces pain and threat of death. It is only by sweat and pain that they can be continue to be secure and productive.

It is only after the man and the woman and their descendants are thrown out of the garden that sacrifices come into the picture.

Undoing the Rebellion

The story of the Bible is God’s story to undo our rebellion. There are usually two ways to undo a rebellion, one is to kill the rebels, and the other is to win back their hearts and minds. God’s call to Abraham and his follow up with the children of Israel is God’s plan to not just have for himself this particular people, but to reconcile himself with the whole world by using this chosen people as his instrument.

We’ve watched as he released them from Egypt and spoke to them from Sinai. Now he will command Moses to build a tent for him to dwell in their midst as they are also living in tents.

Housing the Gods

Just like sacrifices were common in the ancient world so were temples. Temples where places gods lived in the midst of the people. Temples were the places where gods could be found, could be fed and cared for, could be sacrificed to. On this score it seems again the Hebrews were just like the other nations. A key difference, however, was in what was in the temple.

Remember the second commandment. The Hebrews were told they must NOT make a statue or an idol out of anything in the world or make it to look like anything in the world. The LORD would live with them himself though the cloud of glory that was with them in the desert.

Details of the Tabernacle

After chapter 25 your find page after page of detailed prescriptions about the design of this tent and the articles of the tent. Why were these so important?

Scholars have long noted the similarities between the Garden of Eden story and the contents of the tabernacle and later temple. The purpose of the house was to recreate the original “good” world before the rebellion. The tabernacle was to communicate to Israel that this arrangement was to undo their rebellion and by their marriage purchased by the ongoing sacrifices they would attempt to establish the original communion lost. God would care for them and they would serve and obey God. In their midst to a small degree the world might see some of what God had intended for his creation, not the way things were working out in the world around them.

Covenant + Living Together = Marriage

One analogy that helps us understand some dimensions of this relationship is that of marriage. Their union isn’t premised upon their obedience, obedience helps make their living together possible. It is done, however, in the context of a commitment. God commits himself to the people and the people commit themselves to God.

A Troubled Marriage

What we’ll see in the coming weeks, however, is that this marriage is in trouble right from the start. Even though the children of Israel imagine themselves as intending to be able to sustain this relationship, we’ll see right from the start that this relationship is beyond their capacity to fulfil it. God has committed himself to them, however, and so will struggle on through hundreds of years of rebellion, betrayal and failure constantly trying to make the marriage work. The Old Testament prophets will write vividly about this drama. We can imagine this level of drama to be the kinds of things you read in a supermarket tabloid with each new level of outrageous behavior by Israel and God’s continual refusal to simply divorce and abandon her.

God Comes to Do For Her What She Can’t Do For Herself

The New Testament gospel writers will case Jesus as Israel. “Out of Egypt I have called my son” the gospel of Matthew says. Jesus will be called “Immanuel, God With Us”.

The gospel of John says that Jesus came and tabernacled with us.

The book of Hebrews notes that Jesus’ death on the cross becomes the one sacrifice to replace and fulfill the many.

Not Only Statue-less but Building-Less

When Jesus’ followers spread out and grew in the midst of the Roman Empire some asserted that this new religion was a cannibalistic atheism. Why? Because they didn’t have statues or temples and they had a meal in which they claimed to consume their god. The Romans were used to statues in temples of Gods that they made sacrifices but this new religion didn’t seem to be a religion at all.

The people of the Roman world, as we today commonly assume that it is only by sacrifice that an ideal world is created. The Christians made an entirely new assertion. They asserted that the new ideal world had in fact already begun. A final sacrifice was made and the new world had begun in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The community of his followers was itself the tabernacle or temple. This was, in a way the original intent for the community that surrounded the tabernacle. Another building wouldn’t be a big deal, but a people whose community expressed the will of their god would attract attention.


No sacrifice, promise or commitment made by us has ever proven to be sufficient. Even with unparalleled displays of divine power Israel could not fulfil the terms of the relationship and stay living with God. There is a vivid vision in the book of Jeremiah where God finally leaves his temple and lets Israel be like all the other nations.


Jesus comes to fulfil the failed project of Israel while also taking upon himself the covenant curses. He then is vindicated and in his resurrection reclaims and redeems our created role by taking on flesh that will not decay. He succeeds where Adam failed.


The church, not the building but the people, now become the replacement of the tabernacle in the world today. There is no statue here where people can try to look for “the god”, but we believe that God lives here in the midst of his people by his spirit.

What of Sacrifice?

Some in understanding that grace is a gift assume Christianity makes people lazy. Unless you threaten people they will devolve.

Are Olympic athletes lazy? Are tenured scholars always lazy? Are artists that paint or write but never achieve fame or wealth lazy?

The point of the gospel is that Jesus was under no compulsion to come near us and be brutalized by us. He did it for joy.

Christianity intends to reverse the motivational structure and see us strive from joy, not fear. To seek beauty, not escape from scorn or punishment.

This is vital in this world because while many seek to do good things once they realize that they may be laboring in vain they quit out of frustration.

For a Christian the resurrection changes this. Now, even though we labor in the age of decay what we build with our hands may end, but by the resurrection what we accomplish isn’t lost.

Like a movie star seeking peak condition for a scene knowing full well that he cannot hope to maintain the look for very long, the Christian excels in joy, knowing that given enough time in the age of decay even our best efforts will be brought down by time.

Perhaps we can imagine the movie star in their effort realizing that in the resurrection the perfection of their form will be a gift and that even the limited way they strived and realized a degree of beauty or perfection today will be somehow perfected and made imperishable in the age to come.

The Christian faith involves sacrifice, but willing sacrifice for joy just as Jesus endured the pain of his ministry and death seeking to come through it knowing the glory that was awaiting him.


About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in On the way to Sunday's sermon and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sculpting our Tents in the Age of Decay for the Hope of Imperishable Glory

  1. Pingback: Hell Hath No Fury… |

  2. Pingback: What Backyard Tigers and Chuck-e-Cheese Bears Reveal About Our Hunger for God and the Ironic Way in which God Turns it Around |

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