But it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery . . . (Deuteronomy 7:8, ESV).
Several years ago, I climbed the steps up to the massive Sacred Heart Cathedral in Bendigo, Australia. As I stood inside, I couldn’t help but look up and around, and my mouth fell open naturally. The sun was shining in through all of the high, tall windows. There was a magnificent yet encompassing warmth that imparted a reverence in spirit. All could enter.
Travelling in Greece a few months ago, our group visited several places that had a bema, or a raised platform, with a few steps leading up to it. In the Greek orthodox churches it was often separated at the front by a gate, and the priest would lead from that area. Sometimes the bema was completely hidden behind the iconostasis, or decorated partition. In the old city of Corinth, it was a big flat stone platform from where the people would’ve been addressed, similar to where Pontius Pilate would’ve sat on his judge’s seat (Matthew 27:19).
Someone recently asked me how I would describe God’s love. The Old Testament can sometimes get dismissed as harsh and archaic, just stories, the way things were done. But as I read through, I am astonished by the love of God. The plagues that left the Israelites untouched, their deliverance at the Red Sea, His ongoing presence and guidance throughout their humanness and resolute lack of trust. The number of judges and prophets He provided to bring them back again and again and again and again . . . and again. This part of the story is important; this part of the Word is also living, fulfilled in Himself.
I came across a picture of what the temple in Jesus’ day would’ve looked like, both inside and out. I had known that the curtain separating the Most Holy Place was thick but this visual provided a renewed understanding. How significant when curtain estimated at 60′ high, 30′ wide, and 4″ thick was ripped—yes, ripped in two—seemingly like a piece of paper. “Surely, He was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54)!
And so we face the bema, where we have direct access to the very One who sits on its throne. The holy of holies is accessible as we come with a reverence, friends of God yet not His equal. Our Judge and Sacrifice. I AM and Intercessor. We have reconciliation. We have sanctuary.
Which leaves me also astonished at the Body of Christ. I’ve seen challenges and discord that can come in a church. But I’ve also seen unity and peace there. Sometimes mixtures of both spectrums at the same time. I have met God (or been met by God) in churches that are big, tiny, full, empty, friendly, unwelcoming, growing, and seemingly dying. Christ’s body extending beyond logic. At His design, He still unfurls the bema toward us and draws us again and again. And so we work out our sealed salvation with fear (or awe) and trembling as we are being transformed together.
Back to my friend. It was a deep conversation but we really didn’t get to my answer, and perhaps I needed some time to think about it. So what can be said about God’s love? These lyrics by Rich Mullins are still the best way I can describe it. Thankfully He always gets the final (good) word. And He always gets the final (good) word about us. And so for me it’s still worth climbing a few steps to hear it again . . . and again.
“Three Persons and one God, I bless and praise thee, for love so unmerited, so unspeakable, so wondrous, so mighty to save the lost and raise them to glory” (“The Trinity.” The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975, p. 2).
Contributed by Karen Stelter