All eyes have been on Paris this week, with the devastating fire that recently destroyed much of the Notre Dame Cathedral. People are mourning and grieving and holding candlelight vigils to honor the significance of this grand cathedral. No doubt, the building is an iconic, awe-inspiring architectural feat. To see something so beautiful burned is a terrible thing to behold…
As significant as the cathedral has been for nearly 800 years, this unfortunate event serves as a reminder that our hope does not reside in a building or objects regarded a “holy.” Instead, it is good to remember the ultimate value of Christ’s presence in those who trust Him through the Holy Spirit. This beautiful new reality transcends any temporal object of our affection.
Many experts are saying that it could take as many as 20-40 years to rebuild the cathedral. This reminds me of the time Jesus exclaimed, in John 2:19, “Destroy this temple, I will raise it again in three days.” People replied, “It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it three days?!”
With his comment, Jesus was talking about his body, not the physical temple in which they were standing. However, his statement brings up another good question – why does Jesus refer to Himself as a temple? What is the significance of this?
Let’s go all the way back to the book of Exodus in the Old Testament. When the Israelites were journeying through the wilderness to the Promised Land, God instructed them to build a portable temple, or tent, called a “Tabernacle” (Exodus 25:8-9). The Tabernacle was to be a place where the presence of God could “dwell among” His people (Exodus 25:8). This was a contrast to other “gods” in the ancient near east, who were nowhere near their people.
Ancient near eastern people were known to construct objects to represent these gods, but the gods were fickle and wanted little to do with people, other than to use and abuse them. Worshippers of these false gods went to great lengths to arouse and gain their attention. Sexual promiscuity, human sacrifice, and even child sacrifices were some of their methods. All of this was an effort to appease, coerce, and manipulate the gods to pay attention to them and do what they wanted.
The God of Israel was very different – He initiated interaction with His people. He desired to “dwell among” His people and be in relationship with them. This was a counter cultural statement to all the nations of the earth. God was saying, “I am the one true God who wants to know you, who loves you, and can offer true life and restoration. I am unlike any other God.”
Eventually Israel’s King, Solomon, built a permanent temple for Jewish people to worship God in Jerusalem (1 Kings 5) – a place for God to dwell and interact with His people. Unfortunately, the Israelites took God’s presence for granted. As a result, the temple was destroyed as an act of God’s judgement. It was destroyed and rebuilt several times as different nations took Israel captive.
When Jesus arrives on the scene the people of Israel’s hearts are once again far from God, and they oriented their hearts toward the wrong things. The religious leaders are oppressing the people through religion – putting “heavy burdens” (Matthew 23:4) on their shoulders and making it hard for them to gain access to God. Eventually the meeting place of God, the temple, became a place of burden and even extortion. This is why Jesus cleared the temple (John 2 & Matthew 21).
Ultimately, Jesus, God in the flesh, was the very presence of God with His people (Colossians 1:15). Jesus was the physical manifestation of what the tabernacle and the temple were pointing to – NOT religion (man’s attempt to “get” to God), but access to and relationship with God ONLY because of God’s grace.
Unfortunately, to this very day, religious leaders are putting heavy burdens on people and preventing access to God through the idolization of religious practices, places and things. We all have sinful, superstitious practices we use to fool ourselves into feeling acceptable or earn a standing before God.
Whether it’s the cross around our necks, the rosary in our pockets, the relic we saw, or the cathedral we worshipped in, these things make us feel closer to God – like we have a better standing before Him.
Some churches will use those kinds of religious practice to manipulate people, just like the religious leaders in Israel did. Sadly, these practices only enslave us in superstition. They also diminish the significance of the presence of God with us, in Jesus Christ, and God inside us, in the Holy Spirit.
Christians no longer have to travel anywhere to be near the presence of God like the people of Israel once did. You are no closer to the presence of God in Israel, the Vatican, or the Notre Dame Cathedral than you are anywhere else when the Holy Spirit lives inside of you by faith.
This Easter weekend, as we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus, let’s also remember the mind-blowing ramifications of what that means: “Christ in [us], the hope of glory.” (1 Corinthians 1:27)
Because of Jesus’ death on the cross (the destruction of the temple) and His resurrection from the dead (the raising of the temple in three days), we have unprecedented access to God (1 Corinthians 2:9-12). Because of the presence of God in us, WE are God’s temples! (1 Corinthians 6:19)
One of our worship leaders, Lori Thee, said it well, “It’s best to wear the cross on one’s heart and keep the worthiness of all objects in their place.”
As sad as it is to see the Cathedral of Notre Dame burned, it is simply a symbol. The true essence of the grandeur of Christ exists inside every believer. Let’s praise God this Easter for this remarkable reality!