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The Presence of God in Genesis
- Genesis is a series of worldview stories that were written so that God’s people coming out of Egypt had a Godly worldview rather than an Egyptian worldview.
- There is a desire for the presence of Godin every people group. Every religion has their temples.
- When God created man and woman, he placed them in the Garden of Eden. That was the original temple. The temple isn’t a building, it’s a place where people meet with God.
- God’s desire was that Eden would be spread over the whole world (see also Habakkuk 2:14). There were rivers spreading out to bless other places.
“The presence of God is to be missional as well as enjoyed.” (David Devenish)
- The temple was spoiled, Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden and an angel blocked their access.
- After that point, people had to enter the presence of God through sacrifice.
- There were prophetic foreshadowings in Genesis of a time when there would be much greater access to God’s presence – for example Enoch walking with God and Jacob’s ladder to heaven.
The Presence of God and Moses
- Moses demanded that Pharaoh let God’s people go so that they could worship him and enjoy his presence.
- When God’s presence appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai it was very different to the Garden of Eden. God’s presence appeared in fire and smoke, and nobody could go there but Moses alone.
- Moses got so much of the presence of God that he said that he wouldn’t go unless the presence of God went with him.
“Even though they weren’t able to know the presence of God fully, presence was what characterised them compared to anybody else…” (David Devenish)
- God’s presence was also seen in the tent of the tabernacle. This was constructed according to God’s design, and it was engraved with fruit trees and flowers and had sweet-smelling perfumes (reminiscent of Eden).
- There was also a curtain with an angel engraved (again a reminder of Eden) blocking access to the real place of the presence, the Most Holy Place. The message was that the situation hadn’t changed since Eden – people were still blocked off from the fullness of God’s presence.
The Presence of God and David
- The Ark of God’s presence had been brought into the Promised Land, and was at Shiloh and other temporary locations (which was itself prophetic of the presence of God being experienced in different places).
- David wanted to build a temple as a permanent dwelling place for God. God said that Solomon would be the one to do it instead.
- David still enjoyed God’s presence and danced before him, but what he knew of God’s presence was nothing compared to what we know of it.
- Solomon built the temple, and again it was decorated with trees and animals, etc. Once again, this resembled Eden.
- When the temple was dedicated, the presence of the Lord descended upon it (just as it had with the Tabernacle).
The Presence of God in the Prophets
- Over many years, the people sinned with idols, and eventually, they were taken into exile in Babylon.
- One of the exiles was Ezekiel. He prophesied about seeing ‘wheels within wheels’, which signified the mobility of God and that his presence can be anywhere (i.e. in Babylon, not only in Jerusalem).
- Ezekiel also had a vision of a new temple with impossible measurements (showing that it was figurative), that had a vast river flowing from it. The further away from the temple the river got, the deeper it was.
“The further we take the presence of God in mission, the deeper the presence of God.” (David Devenish)
- Isaiah also prophesied about a new temple (see Isaiah 2:2).
- Zechariah and Haggai encouraged the returning exiles in rebuilding the temple.
Jesus and the Temple
- The ‘temple’ in Jerusalem was just a building.
- People experienced the presence of God wherever Jesus was. The presence of God was touching lepers who weren’t allowed near the building and healing women with bleeding who were considered as unclean.
- The temple was on the streets and engaging with people (see John 2:19).
- When Jesus was talking with the Samaritan women, he dezionised worship (John 4:21-24).
- When Jesus died, the curtain in the Jerusalem temple was torn in two. Access was now open and because one sacrifice had been made, no more will ever be required.
- Now rivers of blessing will come out from those who experience God’s presence in Jesus (see John 7:38).
The Church and the Temple
- At Pentecost, God came down to dwell in the new temple (the church) in a similar way to how God came to dwell in the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple.
- The presence of God came with a demonstrable sign (tongues), just as the prophet Joel had promised. It was a sign for all the nations.
- When you speak in tongues, you build yourself up – but you also prophetically proclaim that the people groups who speak that language will enjoy God’s presence.
- Pentecost was a missionary event that prepared the temple to go to every nation.
Individual Christians are Temples
- Individual Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit. Paul used this as an argument against sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 6:18-19.
“The presence of God is for us to enjoy, it is missional and it empowers us to overcome sin.” (David Devenish)
- We are also a temple of God corporately (see Ephesians 2:21-22).
- The sign in the Old Testament was smoke and fire. At Pentecost, it was tongues. Today, it isn’t just a gooey feeling (often when we get shivers down our spines as we sing, it is just caused by good musicianship).
- The presence of God does touch our emotions, and it also changes us. The New Testament sign that the Spirit is among us is the use of spiritual gifts.
- The presence of God is to be experienced everywhere. The glory of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
- This is why we plant churches everywhere, and particularly why we plant churches where there are currently no believers.
“We plant churches in order to make disciples and build the temple.” (David Devenish)
The Presence of God and the Future
- Eden will be restored and there will be the New Heaven and the New Earth as was always promised (see Revelation 21).
- This is both a promise of the future and our present objective.
- In Revelation 22, we see the presence of God with the river going out, trees and healing for the nations – just like Ezekiel’s vision (and Eden).
You talked about the presence of God and mission going together. In our churches today they are often played off against each other. How can we make sure that we have both?
- It’s about having both together rather than contrasting them.
- You don’t have to have everything in every meeting.
- It should be our enjoyment of the presence of God that motivates us in mission.
- 1 Corinthians 14 talks about how the presence of God can be administered and how unbelievers can be considered.
How do you see the presence of God manifested outside of Sunday meetings?
- We often underestimate how much we carry the presence of God by our attitudes.
- Do your job well. Be a good ambassador. You will eventually secure favour so people will listen to you.
- Encourage people to have faith that they carry the presence of God with them where they go.
How do those in leadership steward the presence of God well in our meetings?
- It is hard to teach objectively how to do something that is intuitive.
- You learn how to do it through experience.
- Try to disciple leaders in it. After you go down a certain route in a meeting, discuss with them why you did it that way.
What are the similarities and differences between the presence of God and the kingdom of God?
- There is a strong link, but they are different theological emphases.
- Presence is God living with us. Kingdom is God’s rule in the world.
If there are already churches in a place, should be still be looking to plant churches there?
- There are very few areas in the UK that are so saturated that there aren’t parts of them that are still unreached.
- The more churches in an area, the more impact there will be.
- We should look to do this in fellowship with other churches.
Do you have any recent stories of people outside the church being impacted by the presence of God?
- Recently, in a part of Southern Russia with no churches, a believer from another area went and prayed for a girl who had seen her family attacked and who was traumatised and unable to speak. Her speech was restored and her trauma was healed.
- In another area, a couple moved out there with the sole purpose of praying. In the following few weeks, four different people contacted the church office because they had had dreams about Jesus and wanted help making sense of them.
With our reformed theology of ‘place’, have we missed something of the special places where God seems to dwell?
- We must take the Biblical view that Jesus dezionised worship (John 4). The purpose of this was to liberate the preaching of the gospel and the experience of the presence of God everywhere.
- Pragmatically, in David Devenish’s experience, there are places (such as magnificent cathedrals) where the faith of previous generations that have built something to God’s glory makes an impact.
If somebody gets saved but they are not part of a church, are they still carrying the presence of God?
- .. but the fullness of God is expressed through his church.
- There is something special about the presence of God in his people corporately that we wouldn’t want to lose.
How do we understand talk of ‘an increase in the presence of God’ or ‘God showing up’?
- We are not talking of coming from absence to presence.
- We are talking of coming from presence to manifest presence.