Exodus 27:9. You shall make the court of the tabernacle. On the south side the court shall have hangings of fine twined linen a hundred cubits long for one side.
Everything about the tabernacle was designed to remind you that God lived among you, but also that you are separated from God. This even included the court of the tabernacle. The tabernacle itself was surrounded by a huge 50′ x 150′ fence over 7 feet high. And not a chain link fence that you could see through. A solid fence of fine twined linen.
If the tabernacle is heaven, the courtyard is earth. Of course only the mediator priests could enter the heavenly Holy Place and handle the bread and light the lampstand. And only the High Priest could enter the throne room of God in the Holiest Place on the Day of Atonement. That left the earthly courtyard for everyone else. The rest of “humanity.” But even then only those who were ritually pure could enter the courtyard. No sickness. No bleeding. No bodily fluids. No one who touched an unclean animal or body. All reminding us of our separation from a holy God.
With time the tabernacle became the temple. Solomon’s Temple. Zerubbabel’s Temple. Herod’s Temple. By the time of Jesus, the courtyard that separated man from God now separated man from man. Now there were four courtyards, each keeping certain people further from God and further away from each other. The Court of Priests. The Court of (Jewish) Men. The Court of (Jewish) Women. And the Court of Gentiles.
Do you see what happened? Man’s heart had to find a way to self-justify. “If I’m separated from God, YOU must be really separated from God.” “Maybe I’m not a priest but at least I’m not a woman. Or worse yet, a Gentile.” The Jews, like all of us, in their self-righteousness worked hard to make themselves appear to be closer to God. In the Gospels the Court of Gentiles was turned into a shopping mall. A “den of robbers” rather than a “house of prayer for all nations.” And so Jesus condemned the temple. He didn’t just “cleanse” it, he told his disciples to pray that it falls into the sea (Mark 11:15-23).
Simply put they forgot the lesson of the altar.
Exodus 27: 1-2. “You shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits broad. The altar shall be square, and its height shall be three cubits. 2 And you shall make horns for it on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it, and you shall overlay it with bronze.
The very first thing you would see when you entered through the ONE gate and into the courtyard was the brazen altar. And everyone needed the same altar. The same sacrifice. Everyone entered the same single gate into the courtyard. No one walked past the altar. No one was exempt from the daily burnt offerings. No one passed on their personal sin offerings. No one stayed home on the Day of Atonement. There were no levels of offering for the “good Hebrews” and the “bad Hebrews.” The same blood sacrifice was required for everyone – even the priests!
You see the courtyard was supposed to reveal our separation from God, but also it was supposed to reveal our union with one another.
But what sin does is blind us to our common position. Our shared desperation. Our sameness as sinners. We take the very courtyard that is supposed to reveal that we are all the same and turn it into a way to show that some of us are just a little bit better than others. Some of us are just naturally closer to God aren’t we? Some of us are “good Christians,” and some of us… well “bless their hearts.”
Our union with Christ, with Jesus’ death and resurrection removes ALL separation. We are redeemed, forgiven, and set free. All barriers to God have been removed forever. The veil is torn. Everyone who is in Christ has the same access to our heavenly Abba. All are indwelt by the same Spirit and are part of the same Body of Christ. All who Christ indwells live face to face with God. Christ is our one and only ritual purity. Our cleansing. Our righteousness. There are no levels, degrees, or stations in the gospel.
Ephesians 2:4-6. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
Constructing courtyards through competition. What separates you from others?
This most precious of truths allows us to obey the most foundational of commands – “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.” The indwelling love and holiness that removed all separation between God and man has freed our hearts to love God. To worship and serve him. To be fully alive.
But that’s not all! Not only has all that separated God and man been removed, but all that separates us from each other has been removed. Like the altar, our union with the cross of Christ proves that we are all on the same level in God’s kingdom. In Christ there is no courtyard. Every wall of separation has been torn down by our Savior. Every barrier to our unity removed. Every reason for pride broken down. Every reason for peace provided. Now we can obey that second foundational command – “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Ephesians 2:14. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.
Ephesians 2:18. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
What does this mean? It means all that would separate us – race, gender, status – has been removed. We are each a priest unto God. Each holy. Each pure. Each accepted. Each in Christ. It means no more pride. No more division. No more superiority or supremacy. No more comparisons. No more courtyards!
What courtyards are you still constructing?
“To live is Christ” means that every barrier that would separate us from God and every barrier that would separate us from one another has been gloriously removed by our union with Christ. One nation, one tabernacle, one new man in Christ. That’s good news.