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Month: September 2008



“Suddenly, just as the executioner’s assistants were about to carry out their orders, [Quasimodo] climbed the balustrade of the gallery and clutched the rope with his hands, knees and feet. The crowd saw him slide down the façade like a raindrop on a windowpane, run over to the executioner’s assistants with the swiftness of a cat, fell them both with his enormous fists, take the gypsy girl in one arm as easily as a child picking up a doll and rush into the church, holding her above his head and shouting in a formidable voice, “Sanctuary!”

Within the walls of Notre Dame the prisoner was inviolable. The cathedral was a recognized place of refuge.”

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Victor Hugo – 1831

Victor Hugo way back in 1831 understood what a church sanctuary was as he wrote his famous, classical novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. In fact, back in 1831 all of society recognized with reverence what a sanctuary within a church represented. Even in my earliest memories of attending church, the place of worship within the church was always referred to as “the sanctuary”. When entering the sanctuary, I remember there was a quietness and reverence seen and felt. It was inviolable from the rest of the world and all the troubles of the world. There were people sitting in silent prayer, preparing their own hearts and minds for worshiping Almighty God as well as praying for the pastor and participants in the worship service. There was an attitude of worship, of reverence, for there was a realization of being in the presence of God; holy, majestic, and righteous God. It was a solemn place of meeting; man with God and God, through the Holy Spirit, with man.

So what is a sanctuary within a church and why is it important to know?A “sanctuary” is a sacred place regarded as holy. It is a place consecrated or set apart to God. It is a place worthy of or regarded with reverence. It is a place of refuge, free from harm. Matthew 18:20 captures this clearly (Jesus speaking), “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.” Don’t miss the fact that Christ is there! Why has the church sanctuary down through the ages been looked upon with such great reverence? A survey of Scripture, God’s Holy Word, is helpful.

In ;Exodus 15: 17-18, after Moses led the Israelites through the Red Sea, Moses declares, “You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance – the place, O Lord, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands established. The Lord will reign for ever and ever.” Moses and the Israelites recognized the sovereignty and power of God as Pharaoh’s army was defeated. And they recognized the Lord’s desire for a dwelling place among the people, that being the sanctuary.

The Lord’s desire for a sanctuary and dwelling place is further seen in ;Exodus 25: 8 where the Lord says, “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” It is important to see that the Lord had a desire for a special meeting place, a holy place, a place of refuge, and a place of reverence.

It is also important to see that the passage cited in Exodus 15 preceded the giving of the Law while the passage in Exodus 25 was given after the Ten Commandments and was expressed as a part of the Laws and regulations that were to be followed. What is the point? The matter of the sanctuary, the desire of God for a meeting place with His people and the attitude of reverence for the sanctuary is not a matter of following the Law or a matter of legalism. The Lord wants our fellowship and desires for us to meet with him.

Three passages from the Psalms are also helpful. In Psalm 63: 1-2, David writes, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.” I appreciate the way that David, who became a king yet was often referred to as just a shepherd boy, so eloquently and simply captures in a few words what we all feel and experience in life.

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