Sacred Space – Jesus Christ and Sacred Space
Previously, we’ve discussed ancient sacred spaces: Garden of Eden, Sinai, the Tabernacle of Moses, Solomon’s temple, and other sacred places.
Usually when we think of the Tabernacle or Solomon’s temple, we think of animal sacrifice. While this was an important part of the ritual performed in these sacred sites, it wasn’t the killing of the animals that mattered, but the symbolisms and covenants entered into at the temple that were of greatest importance to ancient Israel, including the prophets and Jesus.
The Manger as Sacred Space
Joseph and Mary were not homeless. They were away from their home in Nazareth, required to be in Bethlehem for the census. Joseph had money to rent a room, but none were available, as many of King David’s descendants returned for the accounting. We are told that the only place available was a manger.
What better place to have the birth of Christ than in a lowly stable? It is likely that the manger was built into one of the caves commonly used in the area to keep animals. The cave symbolizes a womb, a protective and secluded place to prepare both animals and newborn babes for the world outside.
For the shepherds, whose eyes were filled with angelic visions and ears pulsing from heavenly choirs, their journey from the fields to the little town of Bethlehem would be a pilgrimage. Just as thousands of Jews would travel annually to the high festivals at the Temple, so these lowly shepherds would walk to their sacred space.
While animals were present, there were none sacrificed. Yet this was a holy space where shepherds, kings, and all mankind could find atonement for their sinful lives. In this sacred space, the shepherds found themselves brought back into the presence of the Lord. For them, the experience would be so awe inspiring, they would return rejoicing and spreading abroad the godly things they had seen.
As with Moses seeking to lead Israel up Mount Sinai so they could see the face of God, the angelic messengers led the shepherds to the God of Israel.
River Jordan as Sacred Space
John the Baptist preached in the wilderness near the River Jordan, because “there was much water there” (John 3:23). In teaching people far from the cities, John opened the way for the people to make a pilgrimage to hear him preach. He had a special purpose:
“As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:4-6).
John would prepare the way for mankind to see the salvation of God, even Jesus Christ the Messiah. John led them to a sacred wilderness, where the humble would be baptized by immersion for a remission of their sins. Yet, he stated that another would baptize not only with water, but with the Holy Spirit of God.
When Jesus arrived to the Jordan River, John recognized the importance of Christ. He insisted that Jesus should baptize him, and not the other way around. Jesus explained the reason John should baptize Him: “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).
When Jesus arose out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. The place and the event were made holy in that moment. Now that the place was sacred, the voice of the Father could be heard, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
According to the apostle Paul, the heavenly voice states, “Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee” (Hebrews 5:5). In this, we see that Christ (who has always been God and Lord) has made a covenant with the Father via baptism, and in doing so has been reborn or begotten again of the Father. In doing so, Jesus shows us the path whereby we also may become spiritually begotten of the Father through Christ, worthy to be in the presence of God.
The Mount of Transfiguration as Sacred Space
Jesus led his three apostles, Peter, James and John, up an exceedingly high mountain (Mark 9). Anytime a person is led by an angel, the Spirit, or a prophet of God up a mountain side, they can expect to have a sacred experience.
On this mountaintop, Jesus was transfigured. His face shone, and he was filled with glory. The ancient prophets, Moses and Elias, now among the angelic divine council of God, appear. For Latter-day Saints, this describes an endowment of power for Jesus and his apostles.
Peter is so amazed, he requests tents be built to establish the moment as a Festival of Tabernacles or Sukkoth. Celebrated in the autumn of the year, it is one of the three major festivals that all Israel were expected to travel to the temple to celebrate. Tents or tabernacles were made and topped with palm fronds and were reminiscent of the 40 year journey of Israel in the wilderness, until they arrived in the Promised Land. Entering the Promised Land symbolized returning into the Lord’s presence. For Peter, being brought into the presence of Moses, who led Israel through the wilderness, and then to see the Lord in his glory, established for him that this truly was the fulfillment of Sukkoth, which also symbolizes entering into the Lord’s presence after having been judged worthy.
Again, the presence of God was felt, as the voice of the Father proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son: hear him” (Mark 9:7).
Peter’s pilgrimage up the mountain, guided by Jesus himself, led him to see Christ in his glory with members of his divine council. So sacred was the experience, Jesus commanded his apostles not to speak of the event until after his death and resurrection. We see that such an event is not broadcast freely, but is kept sacred and guarded.
Gethsemane and Calvary as Sacred Spaces
Gethsemane was an olive grove at the base of the Mount of Olives. Jesus visited the garden on several occasions to pray or meet privately with his disciples. Gethsemane literally means “olive press”, as the ripened olives were pressed on site for the precious oil to be extracted. The main olive press was in a cave there in the garden. In the springtime during Passover, the olive press would be still, awaiting the harvest later that year. The cave was likely used as a place for pilgrims to stay, while worshiping during the day at the restored Temple of Herod.
Some believe that Jesus’ final night of prayer in Gethsemane may have occurred in the cave. In a city filled with one million pilgrims, the grove of olive trees may not have provided enough solitude. For Jesus to begin and end his life’s work in caves creates sacred book ends to that life. Where at his birth, shepherds approached to see the face of salvation, Jesus would now begin his great work of atonement, which would end upon the cross.
“And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,
Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:41-44).
Earlier in the evening, Jesus gave his disciples wine to drink, a symbol of the blood “which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). Those innocent drops washed clean the ground upon which Jesus prayed. It was now a sacred spot.
With the visit of the angel to strengthen him, divine light again comes down to earth. Had his disciples not slept, perhaps they would also have had angels come to strengthen them, as well.
As we know, His sacrifice would continue on another mount, the mount of Calvary. Upon the cross, we would see the greatest sacrifice ever made; one that would end animal sacrifice and replace that rite with baptism and the holy supper or Sacrament. Upon the cross, Jesus would deal with relationships between Him and others.
For the Roman soldiers who divided his clothing, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Jesus looked upon Mary, “Behold thy son” and then looked at the lone apostle at the cross, John the Beloved, and said, “Behold thy mother.” John took Mary to his own home to care for her (John 19:26-27).
Finally, Jesus had the most important relationship to handle. “My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” To complete his work, Jesus had to temporarily be left all alone, without the Holy Spirit or the touch of His Father’s love. He had to carry the work of atonement by Himself. Once accomplished, Jesus could then say, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Being lifted up, Christ would now return into his Father’s presence.
Herod’s Temple as Sacred Space
During his mortal life, Jesus created many sacred spaces of his own, but gave special attention to the Temple, which he called his “Father’s house.”
The Infant Jesus in the Temple
At eight days of age, Jesus went with his parents to the temple for his circumcision and blessing. On seeing him, Simeon and Anna prophesy and praise God for the chance to see the Messiah. The temple was the House of the Lord, and therefore the presence of the Lord dwelt therein. To see the Lord, even as an infant, was to stand in God’s presence within his temple.
Jesus at 12 years of age
For his entrance into manhood, Mary and Joseph returned with Jesus to Jerusalem when he was twelve years of age. After offering sacrifices, Jesus remained behind to learn and discuss the doctrine and the law with the scholars and priests of the temple. While sacrificing of animals was going on, Jesus spent his time asking questions and answering things. The temple, then, is a place of learning the things of God. He was “about my Father’s business,” which included teaching in the temple.
Cleansing the Temple
On at least two occasions, Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers. People came from other lands to worship during the high festivals. In order to purchase animals for sacrifice, they would have to exchange their foreign currency for sheqels. The money changers charged enormous sums to exchange moneys or to purchase animals for sacrifice. They profited greatly from the desire of the people to serve God in His House. For Jesus, the sacred space had been desecrated. Only in cleaning the inner vessel could the temple be made holy again.
Woman caught in Adultery
Once, while teaching in the women’s court of the temple, Jesus was confronted by scribes and Pharisees. They brought to him a woman caught in adultery. When her crimes were described, the Pharisees wanted to see whether Jesus would have her executed, according to the Law of Moses, or show her mercy. No guilty man was mentioned in regards to the woman caught in the act.
Jesus draws in the sand, making the holy temple even more sacred by the Master’s Touch. He tells the men that the one without sin should cast the first stone. When they all left with their guilty consciences, Jesus asked the woman where her accusers were.
“Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
She said, No man, Lord.
And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:10-11).
The temple became the place for forgiveness and atonement. It is where the adulteress kneeled in the presence of her Lord and found salvation.
Jesus’ last week
After entering Jerusalem in triumph, Jesus spent the last week of His life preaching daily in the temple (Luke 19:47). While the priests and leaders of the Jews sought to kill him, he sought to help them see that temple worship was more than just the slaughter of animals. Jesus testified of his Father, and that all could come to the Father through Him. He answered questions regarding resurrection, heaven, and the kingdom of God on the earth. They failed to see that before them in the temple stood the God of Israel.
Because they rejected Christ, they would be cast out of his presence. His House, the Temple of the Lord, the House of God, the True Sanctuary, would be destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, leaving them without a place to enter into God’s presence again.
By Gerald Smith