The security of the sanctuary

Published 9:56 am Thursday, June 4, 2020

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, Christians around the world have struggled with not being able to gather. We all are certainly aware that the church is the people, but we all recognize the fact that assembling ourselves in the sanctuary is of utmost importance for all generations of people.   The 84th Psalm is said to be written by the “sons of Korah.” This refers to the Levitical choir made up of the descendants of Korah. They had been appointed by David to serve in the Temple and had an active part in the worship procedures that took place there. There were seven psalms ascribed to the “sons of Korah.” This particular psalm (84) was written during a time when many of the Jewish people were unable to get to the Temple, or “house of the Lord” to worship, probably during the time when Sennacherib and the Assyrian army were ravaging through Judah. I find it interesting that the Psalmist reflects upon the wonders of the temple when he is unable to physically be in the temple. He meditates upon the beauty and peace of God’s House. I think our physical separation from God’s sanctuary has gotten our attention and caused us to see the importance on being inside the physical sanctuary! Psalm 84:1-2 states, “84 How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts; 2 My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” The word amiable means to have or display a friendly and pleasant manner, something that is lovely. The church building is a lovely place set aside for the worship of God, and of all places in this world, it should be a place that is pleasant, peaceful, and welcoming.
I watched many from my congregation walk into the sanctuary for the first time in over 70 days and they were immediately overcome with tears of joy. They stood staring up at the ceilings feeling that serenity that you find in the House of the Lord! The Psalmist said his soul longed for God’s court. The word soul is a Hebrew term for the innermost being. For the Psalmist, deep down inside, at the very depths of his being, even his heart and his flesh, they cried out to be able to spend time with God. The Hebrew word for cry has the picture of a child who cries out when it is hungry. I am sure you have all seen it. Infants cry with their whole body. Their hands clench into fists, their legs kick up and down and their faces scrunch up into seeming agony. This is how we should cry out for God: with our whole beings. I know we can cry out for God any place and at any time, but there is something special about doing so it in the sanctuary of the Lord.
God does not need a church building and he certainly doesn’t fit into a building, but the church is a place for sanctuary to happen. We call the room we gather in a sanctuary, same word used of the Temple. Calling this room a sanctuary expresses a major reason for what we want to happen on Sunday mornings: a time of rest for the troubled, stressed, worried, depressed, like a ship making it to safe harbor out of a storm. That’s what sanctuary means: A place of rest, protection, forgiveness, love, and refuge from the world. That is what it means to BE A SANCTUARY. The Psalmist even goes on to envy the birds that build their nests upon the altars of God. Psalm 84:3, “Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God.”
There was a custom among several nations at the time this Psalm was written in which the birds could build nests in and around the temple. Once they were there, they were allowed to remain, rather than being driven off or killed. The temple building was surrounded by a large courtyard, which contained the altar for burnt offerings. So, it is in this courtyard the bird makes her nest. They figured that since God controlled and made all things, if He allowed birds to nest in His house, then they were under His protection. They were in His sanctuary and His place of protection! This bird in Psalm 84:3 has found a place to lay her young. And where is her nest? It is near the altar. You know what happened on the altar, right? It is the place where all the animal sacrifices were made. Bulls, goats, sheep, even doves were sacrificed on this altar. And yet, in the midst of all this death and sacrifice, the little bird, with her little baby chicks, was safe, protected and free from all harm. When all the world is falling apart, when we are surrounded by death, destruction, violence, sickness, famine, plague and war, we are safe in the arms of Jesus. You may say I can experience the security of Christ anywhere, and I would have to agree completely, but for whatever reason inside the church sanctuary it is immediate! It is like the world stops for just a moment while you are there. During this pandemic, I have been blessed to be in the church building doing livestream messages, and each time I entered I felt the refuge of the sanctuary. Many of my church members texted and called to explain their yearning and longing to be back physically inside the church sanctuary. Many wanted to stop by to sit alone and pray while basking in God’s overwhelming presence. I believe the Psalmist felt the same way about God’s temple!
Verse 10 is the climax of Psalm 84 and is one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible. The Psalmist realizes that even though his time is short, and he cannot remain long in the temple, it is better to spend only one day as a door keeper in the temple than it is to spend 1000 days anywhere else. One day in church worshiping God together is better than a thousand days anywhere else doing anything else. When gathering is the way God wants it to be, church is the best possible place to be on earth. When there in unity and harmony, the sanctuary becomes a place of protection from all the storms of life. According to Wikipedia, “Sanctuary is a word derived from the Latin sanctuarium, which is, like most words ending in -arium, a container for keeping something in — in this case holy things or perhaps cherished people.” We all are God’s children and he keeps his most valued possession safe in His Sanctuary, and he also calls for us to be a sanctuary for others. When others are troubled and hurting, we are to be a safe place they can run to in their calamity and find love and compassion. I want to close with a line of lyrics from the song “Lord, Prepare Me to Be a Sanctuary.” “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true, and with thanksgiving, I’ll be a living, sanctuary, for you.” This is my prayer today that I will always be a safe place for those that are broken and hurting. I am also grateful for the physical sanctuary, and I pray that we never take for granted the gathering of God’s children in the sanctuary.
(The Solution Column is provided by Pastor Brandon Young of Harmony Free Will Baptist Church and his associate, David Odom)

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