The Courtyard—Separated by a Barrier

Do good fences make good neighbors? There can be good reasons for a fence or wall. Why did God have Moses build a curtain to separate the courtyard of the tabernacle from the camp of Israel? (Exodus 27:9-19).

Live separate from the world. The courtyard marked the holy location of the tabernacle. The courtyard around the tabernacle was a rectangle, about 75 by 100 feet, with posts, apparently supported by pegs and ropes, and was made of linen. It was not designed to keep livestock in or out, but to mark out the precincts of the tabernacle. That was the area that was particularly holy as the symbolic dwelling place of God. Holy means set apart to God. Sinners cannot approach the presence of a holy God without the problem of their sin being dealt with first. That is why, as one entered the courtyard he came to the altar before he drew near to the tabernacle itself. The courtyard was not available for the people generally. It appears from Leviticus 1 that they could bring their animals to be sacrificed into the courtyard to the entrance of the tabernacle. But, usually, it was only the priests who spent extensive time in the courtyard. The closer one came to the most holy place, the more limited the access. Although Israel was God’s holy nation, the fence around the courtyard kept the people at at distance. “The Courtyard was new evidence of the fact that, although the Lord dwelled among Israel, the Israelites could not freely approach Him. (Cf. 39:9-20; Pss. 100:4; 116:17-19.) The work of Christ has removed this restriction; the Lord now dwells in the hearts of his people. We are privileged above the Israel of the Old Covenant: besides the approach to the Lord’s throne through prayer and ‘falling asleep in the Lord’ (cf. 1 Cor. 15:18), which was also open to the Israelites, we no longer have a courtyard beyond which the vast majority of the Israelites could not approach, and which they were not always able or allowed to enter.” (W. H. Grispen, Exodus, pp. 259-260).

Don’t behave as the world does. Though the fence around the courtyard reminded Israel that they did not dare come lightly into God’s presence, it also reminded them that they belonged to a holy God. They were God’s people, set apart to serve him. The first part of Ephesians 2 points out the contrast between the the way we once were, and what we are now in Christ. You may no longer walk in the disobedience in which you once lived. Your life is characterized by the good works for which God ordained you.

Live as those brought near to God in Christ. Christ has broken down the barriers that separate people from each other. The courtyard of the tabernacle was surrounded by the tents of the Israelites. Gentiles coming was not really an issue. By the time you get to Herod’s temple, you have the Court of Israel, the innermost court, then the Court of Women, and outside of that, the Court of the Gentiles—with signs warning of the death penalty for any Gentile who dared to go beyond. That is the context of what Paul writes in Ephesians 2. As deep as the racial divides in our culture may be, they are mild compared to the divisions between Jew and Gentile—and the church at Ephesus had both. But Christ does away with those divisions. He destroyed the dividing wall of hostility. Christ abolished the law with its commandments and regulations. Paul is not teaching that the Ten Commandments or the moral law of God are irrelevant to believers today. Rather, he is thinking of the details of the ceremonial regulation that made it impossible for Jews to have fellowship with Gentiles, without becoming ceremonially unclean. The reason for those ceremonial regulations continues. God’s people are different from the world around them. There is no room in Biblical Christianity for racial superiority or for despising people.

Christ has proclaimed peace to you. Your basic problem is not alienation from other people, although that is at the forefront of what Paul talks about here. Rather he goes behind that to its cause. You were alienated from God. But God has reconciled you to himself in Jesus Christ. His holy wrath against your sin has been satisfied by the death and resurrection which we remember in the Lord’s Supper. You have access to the Father by one Spirit (notice the emphasis on the Trinity). You have been brought near. The Lord’s Supper involves table fellowship with God! You are welcome, not just into the courtyard, but to the family meal! “The church is not an aggregate of diverse people, but individuals united to each other in their union with Jesus Christ. . . . Christ builds from living stones, sinners who are resistant material, difficult to shape, reluctant to fit with other living stones. Yet Christ continues to build – for he means to come himself, by his Spirit, to dwell among us as his house and temple (1 Cor. 3:16-17). He wants to be able to point to the church in the world and say: ‘See, that is what I can do. See my wisdom, power and love’ (cf. [Eph.] 3:10)!” (Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Ephesians, p. 73). Christ preached peace to those far and near. Christ made peace, v.15. He puts it more strongly in v.14, “Christ is our peace.” He preached peace to those near (the Jews) and those far away (the Gentiles). The high and lofty God (Isaiah 57:15) comes proclaiming peace to his people. And that peace extends not just to the corner of the world known as the Land of Israel, but to the exiles in far countries and to the Gentiles as well. As we come to the Lord’s Table this morning, we celebrate the message of peace which Christ preached in his words, and by his death and resurrection. You who have heard the message of peace,and have responded in trust, are invited to come and feed on him.

Truly hear Christ preaching peace. Come, not just past a barrier made of linen, but past the barrier of your sin. Enter the court of heaven, and live as those reconciled to God, for that is what you are.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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