Monday, November 26, 2018

The Mercy Seat

The Tabernacle 10

Note: Today's post brings this series to an end. I shall now take my usual holiday break, and return with a new series in January. Have a happy Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas.

I want to end this short series on the Tabernacle today by bringing to your attention three distinct aspects of what took place within this room, the Holy of Holies. I will briefly explain all three in their setting of the Tabernacle, and then show you how they directly and wonderfully point to Jesus Christ. To do this, I am going to briefly explain what happened inside this room once a year.

Leviticus 16.5 And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.
6 And Aaron shall offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make an atonement for himself, and for his house.
7 And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
8 And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat.
9 And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD’S lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering.
10 But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness
11 And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself:
12 And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail:
13 And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not:
14 And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times.
15 ¶ Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat:
16 And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness.
17 And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel.
18 And he shall go out unto the altar that is before the LORD, and make an atonement for it; and shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about.
19 And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.

Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the following series of events would take place. The High Priest would dress carefully, kill and offer a bullock on the Brazen Altar, and retain some of the blood. He would then combine in a censer some coals from the Brazen Altar and some incense from the Altar of Incense, and carrying that in one hand with the blood from the bullock in the other hand, he would enter the Most Holy Place. Once inside, he would sprinkle the blood of the bullock seven times on the lid of the Ark, the Mercy Seat, in order to cover his own personal sins. This allowed him to safely enter the presence of God.

This Mercy Seat was the ornate, gold-covered top or crownmercy-seat to the wooden chest that was the Ark of the Covenant. Two massive carved cherubims, covered in gold, stood with wings unfurled over the Mercy Seat. And somehow, floating above the Mercy Seat, was the Shekinah glory, the cloud that represented God’s very presence dwelling or tabernacling in the Most Holy Place.

Aaron would then return back outside, and cast lots on two goats. One goat was then killed, and its blood reserved. Aaron would then bring the blood of the sacrificed goat back within the Veil, and sprinkle it – this time for the people – around and on the Mercy Seat. He would then leave the Most Holy Place, return to the still living goat, and give it to someone who would lead it out into the wild and allow it to go free. This goat, called the scapegoat, symbolically bore the sin of Israel far away when it left. This term – scapegoat – has thus in English come to mean someone who receives the blame for something someone else did.

In this, there are three distinct pictures of the Messiah’s work, the one whom we know as Jesus Christ.

Jewish-High-PriestFirst, Jesus is our High Priest. It was the High Priest’s job to be the mediator between the people and God, satisfying God’s wrath at their sin on the Day of Atonement by sprinkling the blood on the Mercy Seat. In essence, then, he pled before God for forgiveness on behalf of the people. Exactly so, Jesus is our High Priest.
Hebrews 3:1 Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;

Hebrews 6. 19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;
20 Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

Hebrews 7. 22 By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.
23 And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death:
24 But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.
25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
26 For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;

Not only is Jesus our High Priest, He is also our sacrifice, shedding His own blood to atone for our sins. And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten from the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood. (Revelation 1.5)

All of the blood shed in the Old Testament, with its millions of sacrifices, was simply meant to point toward this blood, the Messiah’s blood, shed for us and applied for us, covering our sin. Yes, He was the High Priest, but as High Priest a resurrected Jesus carried His own blood into the Holy of Holies in Heaven’s Temple and there sprinkled it on the one Mercy Seat that matters. And my sin was covered and so was yours.
Agnus Dei by Francisco de Zurbaran c.1640
We see, finally then, that Jesus Christ is thus in a sense the Mercy Seat for our sin. Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. (Romans 3.24-25) Do you know what “mercy seat” means in the original language? Propitiation, which in turn means - appeasement. A holy God is justifiably filled with anger at us because of our sin. We need something that will appease Him. Since the wages of sin is death what will appease Him is death, as represented by a sacrifice’s blood. But we have to find someone who’s shed blood would not be needed for their own sin. The only someone like that? The only to ever keep the Law perfectly, Jesus Christ.

Thus it is that when He, acting in His capacity as High Priest, sprinkled His own blood on Heaven’s Mercy Seat, it bought us mercy, appeasing a justifiably angry God. And mercy rejoices against judgment since God’s wrath has been appeased by the propitiatory sprinkling of the shed blood of Christ on the Mercy Seat.

I leave you finally with this passage from Hebrews for I cannot say it better than this.

Hebrews 9.2 For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary.
3 And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all;
4 Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;
5 And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.
6 Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.
7 But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:
8 ¶ The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing:
9 Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;
10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.
11 But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;
12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

What is the Tabernacle about?

Him. Who He is and what He did for us.

‘Tis glorious.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Ark

The Tabernacle 9

The word “ark” immediately brings two things to mind: Theark Ark of the Covenant and the big boat that saved humanity from the Flood during Noah’s day. Our post obviously concerns the former. The reason the two items share the same word though they are so distinct is simply because an ark is just a chest or container that holds something. Moses’ Ark held three items, which we will discuss in a moment. Noah’s Ark held every breathing animal on Earth.
Moses tells us how Bezaleel built this last and final piece of Tabernacle furniture.

Exodus 37.1 And Bezaleel made the ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half was the length of it, and a cubit and a half the breadth of it, and a cubit and a half the height of it:
2 And he overlaid it with pure gold within and without, and made a crown of gold to it round about.
3 And he cast for it four rings of gold, to be set by the four corners of it; even two rings upon the one side of it, and two rings upon the other side of it.
4 And he made staves of shittim wood, and overlaid them with gold.
5 And he put the staves into the rings by the sides of the ark, to bear the ark.

This Ark, like the Altar of Incense, was basically an empty wooden chest, two and half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. It was covered on both the outside and the inside with beaten gold, and was marked by an edge or crown along the top made out of gold. That edge held the Mercy Seat in place, a similarly constructed yet separate ornamental lid. We will talk more about the Mercy Seat next week.

I have mentioned Bezaleel several times throughout this series but he really comes into view here. A highly talented individual, he was largely responsible for the construction of the Tabernacle and its furnishings. Some of that surely was in a supervisory capacity but Exodus 37 tells us he personally constructed the Ark, naturally enough since it was the most important piece of furniture in the Tabernacle.

This Ark, by the way, was the only original item of furniture from the Tabernacle to take its place in Solomon’s Temple. It stayed in Solomon’s Temple until the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC. The Ark was either lost or hidden then, giving rise to numerous real life and fictional quests. It is my opinion that it will be found in the Millennium, and placed inside the Third Temple in Jerusalem. Imagine that. Bezaleel built a piece of furniture that played an integral role in the world for nearly a thousand years and may yet again.

A moment ago, I mentioned this Ark contained three things. They were not there accidentally. Remember, everything in the Tabernacle somehow points toward Christ, and this applies as well to these three items. What were they?

Hebrews 9.2 For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary.
3 And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all;
4 Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;

The first item it contained was the second set of stone tablets 1hewn out by Moses upon which God’s finger had written the Ten Commandments. Why the second set? Because Moses destroyed the first set when after descending from Mount Sinai he found Israel worshipping the golden calf. He broke the tablets in pieces, ground them into powder, mixed them with water, and forced Israel to drink them down. He then went back up to Mount Sinai for a second set.

Thus we see that the Law itself was immediately broken, physically, a representation of how humanity would continue to break it morally for millennia to come. However, the second set of tablets was placed unbroken inside the chest that was the Ark. The symbolism is plain: the Messiah would be the only one who would keep the Law perfectly unbroken.

Six months before His death He stood before a crowd of people who hated him, a crowd filled with people who had already made attempts on His life, would make another one before the day was over, and would continue to do so until they killed Him, and asked, Which of you convinceth me of sin? (John 8.46) I promise you, if vitriolic spite could have found someway to prove Him guilty of so much as an unacceptable sneeze they would have. But they could not. He fulfilled the Law in every respect.

The second item the Ark contained was an uncorrupted pot of manna. Manna, you will recall, was gathered once a day,THR_26 six days a week, by the Jews throughout their long weary decades in the Wilderness. Along with water from the Rock and the occasional quail, manna was what kept them alive. This manna could only be kept for one day (two days on the day prior to the Sabbath) before it bred worms and stank. Yet somehow, an entire pot of it was preserved in perfect condition inside a wooden box in a Mediterranean climate for at least a thousand years.

So where does manna come into the story of Christ? After feeding the 5,000 Jesus and His Apostles crossed the Sea of Galilee only to find that the crowd had followed them along the shore. When that crowd met Him, they demanded that if He really wanted to be accepted as their messiah He should this time not just miraculously make bread, but actual manna. As always, Jesus sought to turn them from their pre-occupation with material things and miraculous events to see that He Himself was what they needed; He was their spiritual sustenance, not some magically produced Wilderness food. I am the bread of life. (John 6.48)

Thus, this manna, kept unspoiled in the Ark for centuries, pointed Israel toward the fact that their Messiah would meet the daily spiritual needs of His people. All by Himself. He would be their Bread of Life.

The third item inside the Ark was Aaron’s rod that budded. In Numbers 16 we find the story of a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Envious of Aaron, the rebels wanted a piece of his divinely ordained priesthood. God’s answer to that unseemly demand was to ask each tribe to send in the staff of their prince, and the staff – a long-dead tree branch, basically – that burst forth into new life, producing branches, leaves, flowers, and fruit would indicate which tribe God had chosen to stand before Him in ministry.

imageGuess who’s staff burst into bloom? And it came to pass, that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds. (Numbers 17.8)

To me, the symbolism of this clear. The Messiah, though to all intents and purposes was dead, would return to life, and by that return to life would prove that He was the divinely appointed High Priest, with all the rights and privileges and responsibilities pertaining thereto.

Like the pot of manna, the Messiah is the Bread of Life. Like the unbroken tablets, the Messiah kept the Law perfect. Like Aaron’s rod that budded, after death He burst forth into life.

Indiana Jones did not find that Ark. The Ethiopians do not have behind a rusty iron fence in Addis Ababa. It does not sit in a hollowed out cavern underneath Golgotha. I suspect it is in some yet undiscovered cave on the shores of the Dead Sea. But wherever it is, when it is finally found, and opened, three things will be found – an unspoiled pot of manna, two tables of stone written on by God, and a staff full of flowers and almonds, all miraculously preserved. Why? Because He is still the Bread of Life, He still keeps the Law perfectly, and He is alive now and forevermore.

Israel’s Messiah. My Saviour.

He is beautiful.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Veil

The Tabernacle 8

blood_curtainThe Tabernacle was divided into two rooms. The front room, containing the Table of Shewbread, the Menorah, and the Altar of Incense, was called the Holy Place. The second room is referred to in Scripture as the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies, or the Holiest. It contained one item of furniture, the Ark of the Covenant on top of which was placed the Mercy Seat over which the outstretched wings of the cherubims hovered.

In between those two rooms hung a veil. Moses does not give us any dimensions of the veil, though he does describe it.

Exodus 26.31 And thou shalt make a vail of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen of cunning work: with cherubims shall it be made:
32 And thou shalt hang it upon four pillars of shittim wood overlaid with gold: their hooks shall be of gold, upon the four sockets of silver.
33 And thou shalt hang up the vail under the taches, that thou mayest bring in thither within the vail the ark of the testimony: and the vail shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy.

In Herod the Great’s reconstruction of Ezra’s Temple, the Temple Jesus knew, Josephus gives us more detail on this particular Veil. It was forty cubits long, twenty cubits high, and composed of seventy two panels sewn together. Four inches thick, it was tremendously heavy, and when it was replaced every year it required 300 priests to muscle it into place.

This veil was designed to section off the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place. The latter was accessed at least twice a day by numbers of different priests on rotation, but the former was only entered once a year on the Day of Atonement and then only by the High Priest.

Like everything else in the Tabernacle the Veil shows us something about Jesus. In this case, the Bible is clear that it represented the human body that the Messiah would inhabit.

Hebrews 10.19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
21 And having an high priest over the house of God;
22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

This understanding is only strengthened when we see what took place at the Crucifixion. Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent. (Matthew 27.50) Theeb61f-templeveil moment Jesus breathed His last breath that enormous, four inch thick, heavy veil described by Josephus was supernaturally torn in two, beginning at the top, was ripped right through to the bottom.

I have spent over a thousand hours studying the life of Jesus Christ. One of the things that such study has deeply impressed upon me is His sheer humanity. I do not mean to take away from His divinity, but He was not just God. He was the God Man, the man Christ Jesus. (I Timothy 2.5) We forget that. His muscles were sore at the end of the day. When He grew weary His eyes closed in a necessary sleep. He experienced hunger pangs and the cotton mouthed feeling that comes when it has been too long since you drank. His eyes stung with sweat as He worked. He was human.

Implicit in this is the necessity that He be born as a baby, grow up as a child, and embrace all that such growing up means, short of yielding to temptation. Knowing this humanizes Him, so to speak. It helps us to enter into what it must have been like to be Him, and helps us realize that He well knew what He was asking when He required of us various things. He walked where we walk, felt what we feel, saw what we see, and tasted what we taste. He knows what it is like to be human with all the frailty that goes with it, and that comforts me sometimes.

But the fact that He clothed Himself in human flesh, what is referred to doctrinally as the incarnation, is more than that. He endured more than just what it means to live human; He endured what it means to die human. It means He walked through the same valley of the shadow of death that I will. Not just walked, hurled Himself. It means He knows what it is like to suffer, to writhe in agony as His nerves shot messages of pain up His spine and into His brain, to refuse a mind-numbing medicine so that His thinking would be clear, so that He could taste every bitter moment of Calvary, so He could drink it to the dregs. The Veil did not unravel one trailing thread at a time; it was viciously shredded.

Rending of the Veil
by William Bell Scott, c 1869
For me.

And when it was thus torn, ripped, disfigured so much it was hard to see the human visage under the hanging strips of flesh and blood, that torn Veil allows me access to God and to the atonement available on the Mercy Seat.

Wounded for me, wounded for me,
There on the cross He was wounded for me;
Gone my transgressions, and now I am free,
All because Jesus was wounded for me.
-W. G. Ovens