Too few churchgoers are aware of the significance of entering into the sanctuary with the people of God. If only they recognized God's presence is there, not because of the building but in the people assembled, how different things would be!
When Solomon dedicated the temple, the Lord gave a special manifestation of His presence as the offerings were made. "It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD" (I Kings 8:10-11 NASB). Not only is this account historical, in that it reminds us that the temple in Jerusalem was to be the place where God dwelt among His people. This manifestation of God's glory was also prophetical. In the priests being driven out because of the presence of the overwhelming glory of the Lord, the Spirit is indicating a time was coming when the Levitical priesthood would no longer be necessary in light of the glory that was to be manifested. As the Lord promised, "The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former" (Haggai 2:19).
That happened when Jesus came. His glory was beheld when the people saw that He was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). When He stood in the temple, a greater glory of God was manifested there than had been previously known (John 2:13-22). Then He promised even more glory would be revealed (John 16:13-14). After His death, resurrection, and ascension, through the Spirit He sent forth His glory to dwell permanently in the church, His temple (Acts 2:1-4). Even to one of the most splintered, morally challenged congregations in the New Testament, still the apostle Paul could say to those who believed in Jesus, "Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (I Corinthians 3:16).
In his newly released book on public worship, Dennis Prutow follows others in making the distinction between God's essential and gracious presence. God is essentially present everywhere, for as the psalmist says, "Where can I go from your Spirit?" (Psalm 139:7-8). Yet in the church a special, gracious manifestation of His presence exists. Prutow quotes A.A. Hodge, who writes:
As to his self-manifestation, and the exercise of his power, his presence differs endlessly in different cases in degree and mode. Thus God is present in the church as he is not to the world."
When you think and interact with a fellow believer, you are touching the living, Spirit-filled stone of God's holy temple (I Peter 2:5). No wonder you should be careful how you treat even the least of the brothers of Jesus, and no wonder He says that the way you treat them is how you are treating Him! When the minister opens the Word of God through reading and preaching, God is present by His Spirit speaking truth to His people. Our hearts should be filled with the vibration and pulsation His Word brings! When we bow in prayer, the King of heaven desires to fill us with His mercy and purifying love and assurance of His presence and glory. When the sacraments are observed, we are being marked and touched and fed with His gracious presence. How significant worship and life in the local church becomes then!
Prepare your heart for worship by meditating on God's gracious presence at your church this coming Sunday. Then remember that this is but a taste of the consummated glory yet awaiting us in heaven.