The Ark and the Mercy Seat
February 28, 2021 | Jeff Thompson
Passage: Exodus 25:10-22
The Lord begins His instructions for building the Tabernacle by sharing with Moses the specifications for the famous Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat. In this study, we'll see how these precious items pointed to Jesus and His saving work on the Cross.
We're in Exodus Chapter 25, and God is giving Moses instructions for the Tabernacle, which is essentially a portable temple.
God is going to share the instructions for the main structure of the Tabernacle a bit later. But first, he's going to give Moses instructions on how to build the instruments, the appointments, the vessels, the furniture for the Tabernacle.
And today we're going to focus on the two most famous appointments in the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant and its lead, the Mercy Seat.
Now, you may have noticed that the pace of our study has slowed over the past few weeks and it's going to stay that way for the next few weeks. There are some things that simply cannot be rushed because they are so important to the narrative of the whole Bible. They are central to the entire story of God and his grace across all of scripture. Just as we needed to slow down for the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant, we need to slow down and look closely at the Tabernacle because it what because of what it speaks to and because of what it speaks of, it's simply far too important to just rush through.
And so with that, let's jump into our study today in Exodus Chapter 25. We'll begin reading in verse 10 and will make some comments as we go through. As always, it says God speaking to Moses and they the Israelites shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two and a half cubits shall be its length, a cubit and a half its width and the cubit and the half its height. God has just described a wooden box with an open top measuring around four feet long, two feet wide and two feet high verse 8 11.
And you shall overlay it with pure gold inside and out. You shall overlay it and shall make on it a molding of gold all around. You shall cast for rings of gold for it and put them in its four corners so these rings would go in the four bottom corners.
Two rings shall be on one side and two rings on the other side. And you shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark that the Ark may be carried by them. The poles shall be in the rings of the Ark, and they shall not be taken from it.
Because the arc is going to represent God's presence and glory with the Israelites, God is going to rest enough of his power upon it at all times, that it would instantly kill anyone who just touched it outside of specific instructions from God to do so.
This was to teach the Israelites about God's holiness and to remind them to take him seriously.
So these wooden poles were were necessary to carry the ark because they enabled the ark to be moved without anybody dying, which was a good thing. Verse 8 16 and you shall put into the ark the testimony which I will give you or the testimony that I am giving you.
That testimony is simply a reference to the two stone tablets upon which the finger of God himself wrote the Ten Commandments. The testimony referred to there are the two tablets of the Ten Commandments.
You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold.
Two and a half cubits shall be its length and a cubit and a half its width.
So these dimensions line up with the Ark of the Covenant because the mercy seat also served as the lid for the Ark Verse 8 18. And you shall make two cherubim of gold of Hamade work. You shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat, make one cherub at one end and the other cherub at the other end. You shall make the cherubim at the two ends of it, of one piece with the mercy seat. And the Cherubim shall stretch out their wings above covering the mercy seat with their wings and they shall face one another.
The faces of the Cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat.
Cherubim are angelic beings who are involved in the worship of God. The Prophet Ezekiel saw them in the vision and famously described them as having four faces those of a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle is he?
Keel also described them as having two wings for flying and two wings for covering themselves, all while somehow having the appearance of being like a man.
Now, as strange as these Cherubim sound to us, their supernatural beings that are breathtakingly beautiful when beheld in their natural environment, which is the heavenly places in the spiritual dimension.
When we're in the spiritual dimension with the Lord one day in his presence in heaven, we're going to be perceiving things in different dimensions. And perception is going to change in a radical way. And these beings in the heavenly places are staggeringly beautiful.
Verse twenty one. You shall put the mercy seat on top of the Ark and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I will give you. And there I will meet with you and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the testimony about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel. When the Shekinah glory of God actually pronounced Shekinah, so when the glory of God, the the keyboard, the physically manifesting presence of God would occupy the holy of holies in the Tabernacle, it would rest atop the ark of the covenant between the two cherubim on the mercy seat.
The presence of God would never be inside the ark, waiting to escape and melt the faces of Nazis. That's an Indiana Jones reference, by the way.
If you're young and don't get that reference, then your parents need to make correcting that their top priority right now.
It's important and I share that again, just to clear up this common misconception that God's presence dwelt inside the ark. The Bible never says that it describes God's presence as resting between the cherubim atop the mercy seat when the ark was in the holy of holies.
Now the ark and indeed the whole tabernacle, as we shall see in the coming weeks, pointed to Jesus.
They pointed to his work and his ministry as our savior in the story of our salvation and redemption in the Bible trees or would often speak of humanity and gold typically speaks to divine glory. And when we put them together, we find them together in the ark.
This picture emerges for us of Jesus, who became fully man while also being fully God at the incarnation, the wood and the gold together in one being Jesus Christ.
Now let's talk about the wood that was used. It was acacia and an acacia bush or an acacia tree was likely what Moses encountered as the famous burning bush.
Back in Exodus Chapter three, Acacia was what was available in the wilderness, a dry and arid place. Isaiah prophesied that Messiah would grow up before God as a route out of dry ground. The acacia tree is covered in thorns.
Verse is Heaven tells us the ark was to have a molding around it, literally a crown around the top edge of the box, or what we would call crown molding.
The Ark of the Covenant had a crown that was made from the wood of the thorny acacia tree that was overlaid with gold. Speaking of the crown of thorns that Jesus would wear as a man and the crown of gold he now wears as the king of kings. For centuries, the Bedouin, the nomads of the wilderness have been piercing the acacia tree to extract its resin because it functions as a topical treatment for wounds and cuts.
And what else did Isaiah prophesy about Messiah? He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement for our peace was upon him and by his stripes we are healed. Like the resin that flows from the acacia tree, the blood that flowed from Jesus as he hung on the tree was for our healing.
There are some physical parallels I've just mentioned there between the Ark of the Covenant and Jesus, but the most important parallels are spiritual in nature. And in order to understand that picture more fully, we need to understand what would happen on the one day, every year when God's presence would rest atop the ark and he would meet with Israel as he promised. Moses in our text that day was known as Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement.
And on that day, after incredibly voluminous and detailed cleansing rituals, which you can read about in Leviticus 16, the high priest would enter the holy of holies and under instructions from God, sprinkle the blood of sacrifices onto the Ark of the Covenant while repenting for the sins of the whole nation of Israel. So make sure that we're grasping the full picture of what's going on here.
The one day a year when a person could be in the presence of God, there had to be bloodshed.
They had to be a sacrifice for sins. And while this is going on, where is the law? Where are the Ten Commandments there out of view there in the ark. Covered by what? The Mercy seat. Jesus said, Do not think that I came to destroy the law. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.
And our brother Paul writes in Colossians to you being dead in your trespasses and the circumcision of your flesh he has made alive together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us.
And he has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross the law, which was our death sentence because we're all guilty of violating it was perfectly fulfilled by Jesus during his earthly life and in laying down his life on the cross, Jesus shed his blood so that our sins could be forgiven.
Jesus took care of our sin debt with his blood. Jesus took care of our failure to keep the law by keeping it perfectly in our place. And the ark is a picture of Jesus.
That's why God tells Moses there, I will meet with you.
There I will meet with you through Jesus at the mercy seat where the law is taken care of, where it is covered by mercy and the blood of the sacrifice that covers sin, would you write this down?
The Ark of the Covenant, the mercy seat, the Tabernacle and the entire sacrificial system. All pointed to Jesus, they all pointed to Jesus, they were all a picture, a prophetic illustration of Jesus.
Now, in case we missed the connection between Jesus and the Ark and the Mercy seat. Scripture paints us an even clearer picture in the gospels of the New Testament. Jesus has been laid in a tomb, he's dead. And after visiting the tomb in are grief stricken St. Mary Magdalene is is devastated to find the body of Jesus missing. So she runs to tell Peter and John and then makes her way back to the tomb again and in John 20 we read, it's on your outlines, Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping.
And as she wept, she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw now underlying the rest of this to angels in white sitting, one at the head. The other at the feet where the body of Jesus had lain. Mary goes into the tomb, she sees two angels dressed in white, both sitting down, one at the head and one at the foot of the stone slab where the body of Jesus had lain. Do you see the picture?
The stone slab in Jesus's tomb was the true Mercy Seat. According to Leviticus 16, the day of Atonement was the one day a year when the high priest would wear white linen clothes instead of his usual fancy adorned outfit. Just as our great high priest, Jesus was wrapped in linen when he was laid in his tomb. After the sacrifice had been made on the day of atonement, the high priests would take the blood of the sin, the offering and sprinkle it seven times on the mercy seat seven being the biblical number of holiness or perfection, the body of Jesus bled from seven places, his brow, his back, his side, his two hands and his two feet.
On either end of the mercy seat, the rectangular lid of the Ark of the Covenant or statues of what? Angels, angelic beings. And here we see the two angels at the head and the foot of the stone slab upon which the body of Jesus was laid. What has come between us and the law and allowed us to have fellowship with God and the forgiveness of sins, it's the blood of the king.
The blood of Jesus. God's word is it's just absolutely amazing, amazing.
According to ancient Jewish writings, the practice was later developed of tying a rope around the waist of the high priest before he entered the holy of holies on Yom Kippur.
The reason being that if the high priest had not performed the ritual cleansings correctly to the Lord's satisfaction or if he was hiding grievous sin and he came into the presence of the Lord, the Lord would just strike him dead right there in the holy of holies.
And because nobody else would be ready or qualified or brave enough to enter the holy of holies to get the body, they could then pull the body out from the other side of the curtain using the rope. And those same ancient writings also record a very unsurprising detail that nobody else would try to enter the holy of holies on the years when somebody died, which apparently happened seven times.
Now, here's the point. God's people would know that the sin offering the sacrifice offered on the day of Atonement was acceptable to God based on whether or not the high priest came out of the holy of holies alive.
If he came out after offering the sacrifice alive, it was a sign that God had received and accepted the sacrifice Jesus made himself both our high priest and our offering. He went into the real holy of holies in heaven and became the sacrifice for all sins by all humanity, past, present and future. Now think with me, how would we know if Jesus, our great high priest, had made a sacrifice on our behalf that was acceptable to the father?
How would we know? If he came out alive after offering the sacrifice. And you know, the story he did, he did praise God, he did. And when Jesus did come out alive, when he rose from the dead, he declared, as the high priest would on the day of atonement, your sins are forgiven.
You're forgiven. The apostle Paul declares this in Romans four, where he writes of Jesus, our lord, who was delivered up because of our offenses and was raised because of our justification.
The resurrection proved that the sacrifice Jesus had offered on our behalf was acceptable to God, and we have been forgiven.
In Psalm 40, Verse is, seven and eight, David prophesies the words and heart of Messiah Jesus when he writes, then I said Behold. I come in the scroll of the book. It is written of me. I delight to do your will. Oh, my God. And your law is within my heart. Other translations will say in the volume of the book, it is written of me. In other words, Jesus says, the whole Old Testament was written to point.
To me. To me. The writer of Hebrews elaborates on this point beautifully in Hebrews 10, would you turn there with me in your Bibles as too long to put on your outlines?
Hebrews 10 and I'll start us off in verse four, it says, for it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away.
Since you see all these Old Testament sacrifices, including those offered on Yom Kippur, we're never actually taking away since only the sacrifice of Jesus could do that. All these other sacrifices were to point ahead to Jesus and to be an act of faith, believing that God would one day provide the sacrifice that would be good enough to gain us the forgiveness of since it was also to teach the Israelites some important realities, such as sin always leads to death and there can be no remission of sins without the shedding of blood.
But the writer of Hebrews says, of course, there's no way the blood of bulls and goats could earn forgiveness of sins. No way.
Therefore, when he that's Jesus came into the world as a man, he said, sacrifice an offering you. That's his heavenly father you did not desire, but a body you've prepared for me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin, you had no pleasure then I said, behold, I have come in the volume of the book. It is written of me to do your will or God previously saying sacrifice and offering burnt offerings and offerings for sin.
You did not desire nor had pleasure in them, even those which are offered according to the law. Then he Jesus said, Behold, I have come to do your will. Oh God. He takes away the first. So Jesus takes away the old sacrificial system that he may establish the second, a sacrificial system in which he is the one and only sacrifice that is needed. Verse 8 10. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all, once for all, Jesus is good enough to cover all sin, past, present and future.
And under the old covenant, every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices which can never take away sins.
But this man, Jesus, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. Why? Because the work was finished from that time, waiting till his enemies are made his footstool. You want to know how that happens?
Read the Book of Revelation four by one offering he has perfected forever. Those who are being sent to fight, I love that Verse is let me just read again, is so good for by one the offering he has perfected forever.
Those who are being sacrificed, not sacrificed, sanctified.
Sanctify, I love the juxtaposition of the absolute guarantee of the end result, we've been perfected forever.
I love the juxtaposition of that truth.
With the process we're still in, we're still being sanctified. Just as surely as you and I know that we're being sanctified.
We have been sanctified.
I like to use this phrase, its future history is what it is, it's God talking about something in the future with the same level of certainty that we talk about events that are now history, that have already happened because God is already there in the future.
He's already seen it happen.
He has absolute control over all things. So nothing can stop it from happening if the Lord desires it to happen.
And when God says that we have been perfected forever, we've been sanctified, it's done. It doesn't matter that the moment is not here yet for us fully. It's done. It is done. Verse 8 15, but the Holy Spirit also witnesses to US four after he had said before, this is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts and in their minds, I will write them.
Then he adds their sins and their lawless deeds. I will remember no more. Now, where there is remission of these, where there is remission of sins, there's no longer an offering for. In other words, after Jesus offered himself as our offering and sacrifice, no other sacrifices are needed, no other offerings are necessary. Jesus was and is enough forever. Always it all pointed to Jesus, the tabernacle, the sacrifices, the ark, the mercy seat.
All of it pointed to Jesus. Our ability to walk in relationship with God. Has nothing to do with anything, we've done nothing. It has everything to do with the fact that Jesus has fulfilled the law, he's removed it as an obstacle and threw his blood, he's invited us to draw nearer to God and be healed. It's about mercy God didn't meet with his people inside the box, inside the ark where the law was kept. He met with his people at the mercy seat where the law was covered by mercy and the way for us was made open by the blood of Jesus.
If you want to follow Jesus, you have to understand that he's the one who did it all for us. He did it all for us in Luke 18. We read this starting in verse nine.
He that's Jesus spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.
So Jesus is sharing this with some guys who thought, you know, I'm right with God because I'm such a good guy. I'm so good at following the law. I'm always doing good things.
And here's what that kind of thinking leads to.
It says, And they despised others.
You see, when we think God loves us because we're good, it's naturally going to make us look down on anyone that we think is less good than us because we're going to think that God loves them less.
Jesus, keep sharing the parable. Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisees stood and prayed thus with himself.
God, I thank you that I'm not like other men, extortionists, unjust adulterers.
Or even as this tax collector gesturing toward the tax collector, I asked twice a week I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the tax collector standing a far off would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven because he feels such shame, but beat his breasts saying, God be merciful to me, a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house, justified rather than the other, for everyone who exalts himself, will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted. We cannot work our way. Into a right relationship with God, we cannot earn our way into God's good graces.
In Ephesians two, our brother Paul reminds us that by grace, you have been saved through faith. And that that grace is not of yourselves, it's the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast, Paul says you're only saved because God is gracious and you're only saved by faith in the grace of God. And that faith, by the way, doesn't even come from you. It's also a gift from God. And the reason salvation works this way is so that all the glory goes to Jesus, not us.
Everything about our salvation and our relationship with God.
Is by grace, everything, it's all unmerited, it's all undeserved, and it's all possible because Jesus took the law that condemns us, fulfilled it as a man, shed his blood and died as the sacrifice in our place so that through his blood, we can have fellowship with God, where we should have known death and wrath.
We instead find mercy and grace. Now, you might be solid on that. You might understand that you're saved by grace, you're clear on your salvation. But let me ask you. What do you believe about your sanctification? What do you believe about the Christian life? Because far too many Christians believe they're saved by grace, but sanctified by works, that Jesus save me.
But but now it's up to me to show that I deserve it or Jesus save me.
I know to get me started, but but now I've got to work to keep it. I've got to earn my salvation in order to hold on to it. It's still the grace of God that enables and empowers you and I to follow God. If we think it's all on us after we're saved, we'll end up like the Pharisee in the parable that Jesus told puffed up proud. Looking down on others. The truth is that when we walk in the Lord's ways, we will find that we're blessed.
But we can't even walk in the Lord's ways, in our own strength. We can't strain our way to producing spiritual fruit.
I'm going to remind you of a truth that I love to share over and over and over, because I believe it is the key to the Christian life. And I also believe that we are so quick to forget this.
What did Jesus say, and John, 15, was the key to our sanctification. Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I'm the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him bears much fruit for without me.
You can do nothing. Jesus doesn't say the key is to focus on doing good works. Jesus doesn't say no. You need to strain to do good works. He says the key to the Christian life, the key to being a fruitful Christian, is to focus on knowing me and walking with me.
Because then you'll naturally produce the fruit of good works, but if you try to be good on your own, just know this without me. You can do nothing. The branch of the vine has one job stay connected to the vine, the vine takes care of the nourishment, the vine takes care of everything. All that branch has to do is stay connected to the vine and then that branch is going to bear fruit. But the second that branch disconnects itself from the vine, it's done, it's dead, it can't do anything.
It's all by grace. What's our part?
It's real simple. To accept Jesus invitation, to abide with him, to be connected with him, to meet with him, to accept the invitation to fellowship with him, to be healed by him on a daily basis over and over and over and over again, that's our job, to keep accepting that invitation. Jesus is not waiting for you at the perfection seat. He's not waiting for you at the performance seat. Jesus is waiting for you at the mercy seat.
But, Jeff, what if I haven't been reading my Bible? What if I haven't been praying? What if I haven't been tithing? What if I've become entangled in sin again? It's called the Mercy Seat. Because it's for those who need mercy. In other words, it's for all of us all of the time. The Christian life is not about trying to earn our ticket to the Mercy seat. You can't earn mercy, that's an oxymoron, the Christian life is what results from meeting with God at the Mercy seat.
There's nothing you and I have to do to earn God's love or forgiveness, we just have to receive it.
But listen, when I receive it, when I receive it, when I meet God at the mercy seat, I'm so overwhelmed with gratitude and love for my God because of his grace and mercy and love for me.
I can't help but want to give him my whole life. I can't help it. I want to be in the world. I want to talk with my heavenly father. I want to become more like Jesus.
I want him to have Lordship over my life.
You know, there's a reason we never pray, oh, lord, just give me what I deserve today, I hope you're not praying that because you really shouldn't pray that most of us deep down know we'd be in real trouble if God gave us what we deserve. And we sure are glad that he doesn't. He gives us grace instead. Justice. Well, that's getting what you deserve. Mercy, that's not getting what you deserve. And Grace. That's getting blessings that you don't deserve.
There's only mercy for you and I because the just Jesus Christ. Was punished for the unjust, which is you and me. The way to the mercy seat is open only because the blood of Jesus has been spilled as the sacrifice in our place and in sinless life has fulfilled the law of God. And when we reach the mercy seat, we find the most incredible thing. A God who says. I'm so glad you're here. I'm so glad you're here because I want to bless you.
At the mercy seat were astounded, defined not only a god of mercy, but a god of grace, a God of unbelievable goodness, and that's why we love him so much. That's why we want him to have our whole lives. How could we not? Would you make a note of this? We are both saved. And sanctified by the grace of God, it's the grace of God that saves you. It's the grace of God that sanctifies you.
And listen, it's the grace of God that will keep you saved and get you to where you need to be in the end, which is in the presence of God. Now, there's a quick danger in all of this that I want to just bring your attention to. And first, Samuel, for the Israelites have just lost 4000 men. Embattle to their enemy, the Philistines, and then some of the elders of Israel propose getting the ark of the Covenant and taking it into battle.
The text says that when it comes among us, it. May save us from the hand of our enemies, it may save us from the hand of our enemies while they get the ark and when it reaches their camp, whole Israeli army lets out a great and loud shout that's heard by the Philistines in the text says the Philistines were afraid.
For they the Philistines said God has come into the camp. Do you see the difference there, the Israelites said it, it may save us from the hand of our enemies, the Philistines who didn't follow God.
Didn't say, oh, the ark, it has come into their presence, they said God has come into their camp. The Philistines fully expect to die because of this, but they basically say to each other, well, I guess this is it, let's go out like soldiers, let's go die like men. They go into battle. And Israel loses thirty thousand men, 30000 men, it's a crushing defeat. The Philistines take the ark and it remains in their pagan possession for a season of history.
Here's the point, here's the point, as I told you earlier. Israel began to believe. That it was about an it. Rather than God. The person of Jesus Christ, and we can do the same thing if we if we take in all this knowledge, all this theology, all this doctrine, but we forget that it's really about abiding in Jesus. It's not about knowing that abiding in Jesus is the key. It's about actually abiding in Jesus, just as it's not about knowing how salvation works, that saves you.
It's actually giving your life to God and receiving salvation that saves you. Hear me on this church. Doctrine is not God. Theology is not Jesus. God is God. Jesus is Jesus. Do not make the mistake of confusing the things that reveal God and point to God and inform us about God. With God himself. We have to know God for ourselves, we have to come to the mercy seat for ourselves, we have to actually abide with Jesus for our selves.
Let me say this in closing. Hebrews four 16 in conclusion. Let us therefore, in light of all of this, all we've heard today, let us therefore come boldly to the throne of Grace. That we may obtain mercy. And find Grace to help in time of need. The way is open. It doesn't matter where you've been. Or what you've done. Or what you're stuck in right now. There's a god of grace waiting to meet you at the Mercy seat.
Where healing and wholeness. Does not depend on who you are and what you have or haven't done. But on who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. If your relationship with God is dependent on how you're doing. Then you're missing the point. It's all about Jesus. It's all about Jesus. He's your hope, he's your victory, thank God for that. And our invitation is simply to come to the mercy seat. And find grace and abide in Jesus and experience the blessings and the joy and the peace and the rest and the hope and the victory that's only found in Jesus.
Would you buy your head and close your eyes? Let's pray together. Jesus, thank you so much for opening up the way to mercy and grace for each of us. Thank you for sharing your blood and laying down your life.
As our sacrifice. Thank you for living the perfect life on our behalf. Thank you for covering the law with mercy, Lord. And we admit we confess, Lord. That we should have known, rather, we should have known judgment. But instead, we got what we did not deserve. We got mercy and we got grace because, Jesus, you took the judgment in our place and you experienced the wrath in our place that we deserved. And we just want to say thank you, thank you for loving us, Lord.
I pray for myself and everyone watching this video. That we will not fall into the trap of thinking we need to improve our performance before we come to the mercy seat, before we rejoin the vine that is you, before we begin to abide in you again. But right now, we would draw near to you and we would abide in you. We would become connected to you again in a fresh way right now. And that, Lord, our walk with you would simply flow out of abiding in you, not any striving or any effort of our own.
Thank you for making it so simple. Jesus, help us to accept the invitation to abide in you now. And when we wake up tomorrow morning and then over and over and over again, we love you, Jesus. We're so thankful it's in your name. We pray. Amen.