Victoria Park Christian Centre
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The word Shekinah, meaning the dwelling or presence of God, has an interesting history. It is often spoken of by Christians as Shekinah Glory. Though it’s an ancient Hebrew word, it doesn’t occur in the Bible. Why Shekinah began to be used by the Jews in the mid-second century AD is an interesting story, and one that has important lessons for Christians. New words appear when people need to discuss concepts or issues in ways they haven’t needed to before. That was the case for the Jews in the second century. In a moment I will explain the reason for that. But it’s important to be aware that Shekinah is also important for Christians to understand today. To fail to understand Shekinah can lead to deception or defeat by the enemy.
The Temple at Jerusalem represented the high point of God’s revelation of himself to Israel. At various times He made himself known as a pillar of cloud or fire, in earthquakes or storms, in visions, or with blazing light. In the temple at last people felt that God was established with them, and they believed he always would be with them. When the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the temple. The glory of God filled the temple and the experience of it was so overwhelming at first that the priests could not fulfil their duties. Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings tells us why the temple was so important to Israel.
Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive. 1 Kings 8:30
In 70ad the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans and a severe persecution fell on the Jewish people. Most fled and began a long exile far from their beloved city. Without the temple a central part of their worship was missing. Without the temple the Jews had to find new ways to know that God was with them. How could they be freed from sin without a temple, without God’s presence in it? They had never needed a word for God’s Glory before, it had been with them. Now they needed to be able to discuss it and find out what the absence of the visible presence of God now meant.
In Judaism different approaches to the problem evolved. A mystical branch of Judaism called Kabbalah developed a concept of God’s presence that was “sacred feminine.” Some branches of Judaism emphasised that the presence of God was linked to the sabbath, and arrived at sunset on Friday evening. Others believed that gathering together to read the Torah was when God’s presence would descend.
Christians today also have problems understanding Shekinah Glory. Some believe it is represented in Tunnels of Fire, or falling angel’s feathers, or gold dust appearing on people’s faces. Others feel no sense of God’s presence at all, and often feel powerless and defeated by the enemy. In order to understand the movement of God’s glorious presence among us we must go back and look again at the very beginning, the first time God made his presence known to humankind.
In Genesis 2 we read that God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils His, own breath. Here we see that God endowed the first human with part of his own glory. We were honoured in that most intimate closeness with our creator. Yet, Adam and Eve failed to comprehend how extraordinary that was, and sinned. At once the damage was done. Now they felt terror at the sound of God’s presence in the garden. They hid among the trees, hoping to escape notice. They felt tormented as their sin had separated them from God. They were alive still, but now unable to comprehend God’s nature. They felt only guilt and shame.
As we know, from that point humankind descended into a long period of anarchy and destruction, with murder and corruption so commonplace that God had to destroy nearly everyone and start again with Noah and his family. Very slowly, over thousands of years, he established closer contact with human beings as he raised up the nation of Israel, who were taught ways of dealing with sin that allowed a restoration of that relationship on a limited level. This was all done in preparation for a final restoration of God’s original intention: that God and Man would be as one. That God’s presence could dwell among us again.
That did happen when the nation of Israel brought forth the Second Adam: Jesus Christ. Fully God in human flesh, Jesus was the presence of God among us in a way that had never happened before. He walked among sinners, bridging the gap between God and man, and in his death healed the breach forever between sinners and the Holy Creator God. In Jesus Christ some of us personally witnessed The Word dwelling among us.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
Scripture tells us that in him all the fullness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell. God’s presence was here, and everywhere He went Jesus made known the love of God, and the forgiveness of sin.
When Jesus prepared to leave his disciples for the last time he breathed on them and gave them the commission and the authority to deal with sin.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23)
The purpose of God, salvation for mankind, is served by the work of the Holy Spirit within us. Over time we are brought into the holiness of Christ surely and steadily as we allow His work of sanctification to bring us to maturity.
When the Holy Spirit filled the disciples on the Day of Pentecost a miraculous event happened that was visible to all. There was a visible manifestation of tongues of fire, and a miraculous gifting allowed the disciples to speak in languages, preaching the gospel to visitors in Jerusalem who could suddenly understand them. Two thousand people became Christians on that day as they responded to the truth of salvation in Christ. They were convicted of the reality of Jesus Christ, and of their own sin. Salvation took hold in their lives.
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:37-38
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
The mystery and richness of salvation is something that Paul often spoke and prayed about for the church, not just for the unsaved. Yet many Christians seem to think that once they are saved they can put that to the side and focus on other things. Christians who go looking for excitement elsewhere can miss the point: the plan of God is to bring sinners into the perfect holiness of His own being. In Jesus Christ the presence of God came among us, and He is with us still by the Holy Spirit who brings us to life. We must not not look to external events for evidence of God’s presence. To do so is to be drawn away from the centrality of Jesus Christ in the plan of salvation. As we draw nearer to him the Holy Spirit will present through us the works of God in their own proper time and place. This way God’s glory will be demonstrated. The purpose of it is to draw others to be set free from sin and be brought into loving relationship with their Creator.
I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:16-19
The fullness of God’s presence should be filling us as it once filled the temple in Jerusalem. We need only keep looking to our Saviour and continue to declare to Him what is in our hearts: Jesus, thank you that you died for me! Fill me with the fullness of who you are, by your Holy Spirit. I want to love you, and I want to love others with all my heart. Let your will, your power, be manifested in me, in the way that you will. Bring the fulfillment of your plan of salvation. In your holy name I pray.
This essay is an excerpt from a sermon by Karen Dixon at Perth Healing Ministries service on 13 March, 2016. Our services are open to all, as are our ministry sessions. If you would like more information on the work of Perth Healing Ministries, please contact us on the form below.