It was late one Sunday evening as I prepared to leave the church. It had been a full day of preaching in the morning and evening services, a fundraiser lunch, and a committee meeting that was held after the evening service. I was tired, for sure. But I had left my Bible on the altar, and needed to get it.
As I walked into the darkened sanctuary, the familiar smell of the church greeted my nose. I have grown up in church and no other aroma is the same as that of the local church. You won’t find it in a mall, Burger King, or a movie theater. It is special.
Once inside the sanctuary, an uplifting Presence arrested my steps. Immediately, I felt refreshed, inspired, and at home. There was no music playing or choir singing. It was just me, and this anointed Presence of our precious Lord. I knelt in the aisle as one would do before a king.
Then, in a distinct whisper, I heard the familiar voice of my beloved Savior say, “They have left, but I have not.” I melted into the carpet and began to worship the lover of my soul. Much later, I stumbled to my car as one who was drunk on the satisfying wine of the Holy Spirit.
But I often rehearsed the words that the Lord spoke into my spirit, “They have left, but I have not.” A curious question arose, “What would it be like if ‘they’ had stayed and Christ had left the sanctuary?” That, of course, would be devastating. Who would want to go to a sanctuary that the Lord had abandoned?
It was the prophet Ezekiel who saw that very thing happen. In Ezekiel 10, the prophet had a vision of the Lord being forced out of His own House by insincere and fraudulent worship. It was not an immediate abandonment, but slowly, reluctantly, the Lord took successive steps away from the House that was His. Eventually, a mysterious chariot-throne appeared and the Presence of God sat upon it and departed the Temple.
Apparently, the worshipers did not even notice that the Lord was gone! They continued with their perfunctory rites and rituals until the day of their capture and the destruction of the Temple. Could God actually abandon His House? Yes, if the worshipers force Him out, He will go. (Hosea 9:12)
You may doubt my words because it is somewhat unimaginable. But in sorrow, I point you to the place of worship called Shiloh. At one time, the glory of God resided there, but it became a God-deserted place (Jeremiah 7:12-15). Or, as it is written in Deuteronomy 31:17, “Woe be to those from whom God departs.”
May this be a warning to the Church. Keep the worship sacred, and your vows pure before the Lord. Be sure that the Lord is welcome in His House of prayer. (Matthew 21:13).