In the picture above, I’m standing on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in February 2011. While the temple was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70., many experts believe that this stone pavilion marks the spot of the Most Holy Place—that part of the temple separated by a thick curtain, in which God’s presence—his Holy Spirit—dwelt in all its fullness. The high priest could only enter the Most Holy Place once a year, on the Day of Atonement, and only after making careful preparations. (See Leviticus 16.)
Except for one lone representative once a year, God’s people Israel had no access to the Most Holy Place.
Why? As the Bible shows us time and again, to be in God’s direct presence was a life-threatening danger. See, for example, Isaiah’s fear in Isaiah 6:5: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Now recall that when Jesus was crucified, the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple was “torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51 and parallels), signifying that Christ’s once-for-all atoning sacrifice for the sin was accomplished for everyone who believes in him. As a result, our sin no longer separates us from God. Indeed, we can approach the “throne of grace” with confidence (Hebrews 4:16) because we have been made holy through Christ. As the author of Hebrews also says,
And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. (Hebrews 10:19-20 NLT)
As if this weren’t amazing enough, we not only have access to God because of Christ’s sacrifice, our bodies themselves are now the temple in which the Holy Spirit resides: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) While Paul is referring to the local church overall (the you is plural), he refers to individual Christian men later in the letter, when he warns them not to have sex with prostitutes: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
My point is, the Holy Spirit dwells within us individual believers. What a privilege!
I thought of the picture above, our direct access to the throne room of God, and the Holy Spirit residing within us while reflecting on Elizabeth’s words to Mary in Luke 1:43: “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
But couldn’t each one of us Christians rightly ask, “Why is this granted to me that the Lord himself should come to me?” After all, we who live on this side of the cross should have an even greater sense of astonishment than Elizabeth! For she was merely in close physical proximity to God, whereas we have God living within us! It’s as if we have the Most Holy Place within our heart!
Let this truth sink in for a moment.
In his book Hidden Christmas, Tim Keller describes the astonishment that we ought to feel as Christians. (Do we?)
I would go so far as to say that this perennial note of surprise is a mark of anyone who understands the essence of the Gospel. What is Christianity? If you think Christianity is mainly going to church, believing a certain creed, and living a certain kind of life, then there will be no note of wonder and surprise about the fact that you are a believer. If someone asks you, “Are you a Christian? you will say, “Of course I am! It’s hard work but I’m doing it. Why do you ask?” Christianity is, in this view something done by you—and so there’s no astonishment about being a Christian. However, if Christianity is something done for you, and to you, and in you, then there is a constant note of surprise and wonder…
So if someone asks you if you are a Christian, you should not say, “Of course!” There should be no “of course-ness” about it. It would be more appropriate to say, “Yes, I am, and that’s a miracle. Me! A Christian! Who would have ever thought it? Yet he did it, and I’m his.”
1.Timothy Keller, Hidden Christmas (New York: Viking, 2016), 89-90.