Written by Ibarto Botes
The significance of a place of encounter cannot be overstated. The people of God we read about in the Bible attached great importance to places, especially ones where they had met with God. A good example is Jacob, who saw the Most High in a dream while sleeping out in the open in Genesis 28. He woke up saying, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen. 28:17 ESV) Thus he set up a stone pillar and called that place Bethel, which means “House of God”. So too do we see the significance of places reserved or used for worship throughout the Bible. How often don’t we read about the “high places”, elevated locations where people practiced idolatry. To worship on a mountain might seem arbitrary to us, until we recognise the pattern of people encountering God on mountains. God instructed Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on a mountain in Moriah. Moses first heard Yahweh’s voice out of a burning bush on Mount Horeb, and later went up to meet with Him on Sinai in the sight of all of Israel. David offered a sacrifice to atone for his sin of numbering the people on a mountain outside of Jerusalem – the very place where his son Solomon would later construct the temple. Elijah had his showdown with the Baal prophets on Mount Carmel. It is even recorded that Jesus went up a mountain to pray on multiple occasions. Who can forget the mount of transfiguration, where Peter, James and John witnessed Jesus in His true glory and majesty shine brighter than the sun?
The narrative of God’s people always includes a place where He would meet with them. Whether it be “the land I will show you” in the lives of Abraham and the patriarchs, or the Promised Land that God gave as an inheritance to the Children of Israel, His vision includes a place. The Tabernacle and later the Temple that was the centre of the worship of Yahweh was built to God’s own specifications according to the pattern of what is in heaven (Heb. 8:5). God’s people knew that the very presence of the Most High God lingered behind the veil in the Holy of Holies. They understood that coming into the temple wasn’t just a gathering of people, but a drawing near to God Himself. Yes, the Temple was a place of worship and sacrifice and teaching God’s Law. But above all, it was a place of encounter between God and His people.
With the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and especially the Great Commission to go into all the nations, it might seem that the emphasis of a place became obsolete. It is well documented that the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. by Rome – something Jesus foretold in Matthew 24. The gospel stared to spread throughout the known world, carried by the faithful witnesses of Christ. Is there still any relevance in a place of encounter? After all, Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matt. 18:20 ESV) Must we attach any significance to a place when God is with us wherever we go?
Like stated earlier, God’s vision can be summarised as a place and a people for His purpose.
Jesus was the one who introduced the new way this vision would be expressed in Him. He called it the Church, and it was when He first spoke about it that scripture reveals a key to understanding God’s intent. In Matthew 16:16, Peter makes the declaration that Jesus is the Christ or the Messiah, the Son of the living God. The response Jesus gave went as follows: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:18–19 ESV) Note that Jesus speaks about building His church, denoting a place, but also giving the keys of the kingdom, which speaks about a people who would represent Him and to whom He gives certain authority.
The mystery Jesus reveals is that the Church is both a place and a people! This is so important to grasp and to keep in balance. The church is not a physical building, yet it is defined in its gathering. God still desires to encounter His people, and the church is the primary place where He encounters them collectively. It is where we are equipped to fulfil the purpose He envisioned from eternity past: to multiply and expand His Kingdom.
Wonderful! A place, a people and and a purpose to encounter God, hear Him and then go and serve Him. It is interesting to remember those 7 ancient churches in Revelation that also had the place, the people and purpose of God but somehow linked to time. They now no longer exist. It strikes me that Emmanuel should not miss the place, the peoples and the purposes of God at a time such as this!!
Wonderful, thanks for sharing Cheryl