When you think of a holy place, what comes to mind? Pews and stained glass? Dimmed lights and organs? Hymnals and pianos? Whatever you think of, it is probably clean and refined. But, if we stop to think for a moment, we will remember that the holiest place that has ever been was a piece of rough wood, dropped into a socket in the ground, between two suffocating criminals. People walked by shouting and spitting on the stripped Man whose hands and feet were affixed to it by massive spikes. Dusty. Noisy. Undignified. Holy.
The cross shatters our whole understanding of how people meet with God. The old pagan ideas of bribing angry deities with meat cannot survive a collision with the Lord Himself as the Lamb. Modern sentimentalism is incompatible with the horror of Calvary. But we find a new kind of holiness: God comes down to dwell with us amid our frailty. The sanctuary of God is not in some virgin wilderness or pristine chapel made by human hands. The holy place is His people, with all of their stench and their sin. From the cross, we have been made clean and fit to serve as His dwelling place. Indeed, the Emmanuel promise of Bethlehem has been fulfilled: God is with us.
Paul explains to the Corinthians that their gathered church is the Garden of God, Eden restored, and the Temple where God dwells. They should not take their fellowship lightly, or treat each other contemptuously. That is carnal thinking – as if they were mere humans and not the dwelling place of the Almighty. In the church, there is no room for divisions about who follows Paul and who follows Apollos! They are both servants who were working on the same holy place. The Corinthians needed to come together and build this fellowship with the best materials their lives could muster. God would judge what they used in building His House, and only that which was precious would stand His judgment.
We must never substitute the real work of worship for cheap substitutes. Worship involves building up the people of God’s church for God’s glory. It is messy and painful. It is about love and self-sacrifice. It discards pride and embraces the apparent foolishness of God. But the people of the Cross can accept nothing less.