Tag Archives: Mercy Seat

Salvation

Meditations on the Psalms

Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! (Psalm 3:8 ESV)

He who has been praying about His circumstance and passion now turns His attention to those for whom He has worked and taught and bled and died. He has asked God to save Him from those who murdered Him. He died and was resurrected. Through His agony and distress those who are His are irrevocably drawn into His kingdom. Those who identify with Him are so connected, not because of anything they have done, but everything He has done. Still, the citizen of the kingdom of heaven has the responsibility to obey God This is why they were created. Working for God by those redeemed by Jesus carries no merit but does result in eternal blessing.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are decreed and determined by God from eternity, from before the space-time creation of the universe and before Adam and Eve rebelled. “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:20-21 ESV). Jesus prayed for those who are His before His passion, declaring His eternal purpose in bringing them to Him. “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24 ESV).

Jesus is our salvation. Salvation means deliverance, victory, welfare and prosperity. God’s blessing, His gift of peace with Him, is given to those who are His through the blood of Christ, the mercy seat, which hides the sin of the people from His sight. It is not that Christians stop sinning but that, because Christ took upon Himself the judgment of and sentence for our sin, they are declared righteous before God. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).

Our obedience to God is demanded and expected and carries no merit. We cannot work for that which God gives freely through Christ. Our freedom in Christ is not shown through the lazy and irresponsible thinking of our hearts and actions in the world but through steadfast devotion and obedience to Him who gives salvation. There are at least four things we must believe and do.

We must truthfully admit our rebellion against God, that sin is real and turns truth on its head, demanding a lie be acted upon as truth. We are the wicked and ungodly people who are trained and teach others to hate God as described in Psalm 1. Not, only are we commanded to admit sin, we are commanded to acknowledge God as Creator, the One who sustains creation, who gives us purpose and who is the governor of creation. He is God and there is no other and we are designed to serve and worship only Him. Thus, sin is walking away from God.

We are commanded to repent, which is turning away from sin in the thinking of our hearts and actions. Repentance demands we understand the truth of sin and then its consequences, which is separation from God for eternity and existence without that which sustains life. Knowing the magnitude of the consequences of sin, coupled with the drawing of God toward Himself, is enough for those who are His to hate sin because He hates sin. Repentance is turning away from sin.

Faith is turning toward God. Those who repent, who turn away from sin, must turn toward that which is not sin. Faith is the intellectual believing of the evidence of God’s work, the emotional trusting of Him who alone is able to deliver upon His promises, and the willful obedience to His commands. Faith involves the whole person. Remove an element, or make one element of more importance than the others, and faith ceases. This is only a brief summary of faith.

Even though obedience is part of faith it also is the fourth element of salvation. Those who sin, walking away from God, who then turn away from sin in repentance, who turn toward God in faith, must now walk toward God. Jesus calls walking toward God to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6 ESV). This is not the simple obedience of faith, which is necessary, but the driven, insatiable delight to know God intimately. Instead of rote behavior, the obedient person abandons themselves to God, ceases living for the world and sets their eyes, and the thinking of their hearts, upon serving God in eternity, beginning now.

Those who are God’s are identified with Jesus Christ, His blessed Man, the Son, the King of kings, the One who gave Himself. Where He is, we are.

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I Cried Aloud

Meditations on the Psalms

I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. (Psalm 3:4 ESV)

Trust is an emotional response to a promise given by One fully capable of delivering upon that promise. In a world filled with people corrupted by sin, only God is trustworthy. It is to the only trustworthy God Jesus cries out, fully expecting an eternal, righteous, good and true answer.

To cryis to call out, to utter a loud sound, to proclaim, summon and invite. Thus, He cries out to God because He is surrounded by those who are trying to murder Him. All His adversaries consider Him incapable of ruling them and refuse to obey His commands. Instead, they conspire to kill Him, removing Him from authority over them, so they might rule themselves. His cry is for help from the One who has given Him dominion and ownership over the world and all it contains.

He who cries out expects an answer, knowing God hears and responds. Jesus is the only righteous One who lives, the blessed Man (Psalm 1:1). He acts and speaks with God’s full authority, being King over His kingdom. Jesus is God in the flesh and knows God will respond. God does answer, and His answer is eternal, fixed and finished.

Yet, the circumstances under which Jesus cries out to God look hopeless, final, showing a conclusion which seems to defeat the purposes of God. Even in the darkness, God is in control, working all things out according to His purpose and for His glory.

Jesus is on the cross, reviled and mocked by everyone. Then, darkness covers the face of the world as it appears God turns His back on His Son.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Matthew 27:45-46 ESV; see Mark 15:34).

Jesus hangs helplessly on the cross, appearing to all as forsaken by God. Upon His bleeding, hyperextended shoulders, with arms stretched out, the weight of His body borne on the nails in his arms and feet, God places the sentence of death due to all because all people sinned.

Jesus became the propitiation for sin. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2 ESV). Paul uses the same word. “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith”(Romans 3:22-25 ESV). The word translated propitiationin the New Testament means mercy seatin the Hebrew Scriptures (see Exodus 25:17-22, Hebrews 9:5). It was upon the mercy seat, the covering of the Ark of the Covenant, the priest poured out blood once a year to atone for the sins of the people. The blood poured out would cover the broken Law, the Ten Commandments, from God’s sight. Jesus, the Mercy Seat, poured out His own blood for the sins of the people. His blood covers those who are His. For those who are God’s, He no longer sees their sin but the blood of His Son.

Jesus knew why God turned His back on Him. There was no other way to bring sinful, rebellious people back into His eternal presence other than someone fulfilling His demand for justice. Because of sin, someone had to die both a physical and a spiritual death, as demanded by God in the Garden.

God answers Jesus from eternity, His dwelling place. When Jesus died He “cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit”(Matthew 27:50 ESV; see Mark 15:37). Luke tells us His cry. “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last”(Luke 23:46 ESV). He intimately knew God, trusting Him to fulfill the purpose for which He was sent into the world. Jesus died, knowing death could not keep Him.

Jesus told His disciple beforehand all that would happen, including His death and resurrection. Nothing happened which was not ordained and decreed by God from eternity. Nothing can hinder the will of God.

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.(Hebrews 5:7 ESV)

We cannot ignore the anguish and suffering Jesus endured, both physically and emotionally, while in this world. His crucifixion and death is His passion, a Latin word, passionem, which means a short period of suffering and enduring. Jesus endured intense suffering. During His ministry, His suffering was emotional. During His passion, His suffering was physical, compounded by the emotional. He suffered for us. God answered His prayer given for us.

God’s Testing

For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? [Mark 9:49-50 ESV]

From where does our responsibility, our obligation to obedience to Him, come?  If my argument is correct, then our obedience and responsible actions are founded and directed by His eternal moral character, by His righteousness and by the image of God in us. Consequently, anything which tempts us to fall, to sin, must be excised.

Jesus does not simply hide the symptoms of sin under His blood. His admonition to cut off a hand, a foot, or pluck out an eye is hyperbole. What He requires is even more desperate. We must change. The “old man” or the “old self” (see Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:9) with its unrighteous, worldly ways must die. None of the old may be carried into the new life.

God shows us sin, our unrighteousness through Himself and His moral character. It is our responsibility to recognize our sin, admit and turn away from that sin and strive to emulate His moral character. He demands nothing less than perfection.

Here is a mystery. Like the blood poured out on the covering of the alter, known as the mercy seat, which hides the sin of the people from God’s eyes, so Christ’s blood covers with righteousness those who are His. This process is called sanctification.

Sanctification happens immediately for eternity, upon death for eternity, and throughout eternity. What God begins in those who are His at salvation is completed at death. God always finished what He begins.

So, what does it mean to be salted with fire?

If the salt Jesus is speaking about is righteousness, God’s moral character, then the infusion of righteousness onto and into a person will have one of two outcomes. For those who are owned by God His sprinkling of righteousness will produce more righteousness. For those who are not His, exposure to righteousness will drive them away from God. Those who respond with obedience to the call of God will be drawn toward Him in confession and repentance. Those repelled by God’s righteousness will  produce anger toward Him and those who are His. Their anger will show itself in ways ranging from ambivalence to violence.

Yet, Jesus is not speaking to those who hate Him but those who love Him. He has already shown the reaction of the unrighteous toward those declared righteous.  It is the natural action of righteousness to act rightly under every circumstance. Yet, sprinkled within the sanctified citizen of the kingdom of heaven is the world and the flesh, both under attack by our adversary, the devil. We are torn, driven by the Spirit to love those who persecute while compelled by sin to react with unrighteousness toward them.

We are tested and our true master will wield control. Either we are slaves to sin or children of God, citizens of the kingdom of unrighteousness or of heaven. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” [John 8:34-36 ESV]. God’s testing does one of two things. Either His testing removes the impurities leaving pure salt, which has great value, or it removes the salt leaving the impurity, leaving only that which is worthless.

I will say this over and over. Obedience carries no merit. Obedience is a natural action for those being trained and fit for eternity with God. We must fight against the philosophy and thinking which suggests God owes us anything. He owes us nothing and has given us everything of eternal value. Those who believe God owes them something for their obedience want a temporal reward, something they can use and spend on themselves. Love is unconditional. Demonstrated by God toward us love is a giving of self for an other.

God takes the time to remove the impurities from those who are His. Let us think He is removing the impurities, He will remove them, He has removed them. God has made us righteous based upon the sacrifice of His Son. He is making us righteous. He will make us righteous.

Sanctuary

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace. [Ephesians 2:13-14 ESV]

In Scripture, a sanctuary is a place where God dwells.

We have made sanctuaries less divine and more anthropocentric (man centered). Like a garden, a sanctuary is a place where there is peace from the wars of the world in which we live. Sanctuaries have become places where man may visit, but may not stay and may not bring weapons or tools of destruction. Sanctuaries are places where men may run when pursued by others and find safety from those who wish to harm them, like the cities of refuge in Israel’s history.

Only incidentally will a sanctuary, whether a building or a place, point toward God. Herein is the problem. We are centered upon ourselves, making the individual the greatest and most important in our world. This is an attitude, not a fact. Just because we think ourselves more valuable, more important, or the center of our own universe, does not mean we are. We have abandoned the knowledge that God is the center of all, created and eternal.

In the center of the Garden of Eden were two trees. One was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the other was the Tree of Life. Adam and Eve were told to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They were told they could eat from the Tree of Life. In fact, God said they could eat from any tree in the garden except from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They were given permission to eat from the Tree of Life until they had eaten from the other. Then they were expelled from the garden so they wouldn’t eat from the Tree of Life, and live forever in their sin.

In the middle of the camp of the Israelites stood the Tent of Meeting. On all sides of the Tent were the tribes of Israel. Were they placed such to protect the Tent? Or was the Tent placed in the middle as the center of their life and existence? Here, in the Tent, God said He would dwell. This Tent was called a Sanctuary. “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it” [Exodus 25:8-9 ESV]. This place was holy, set apart for the sole purpose of fulfilling God’s desires. In the center of this sanctuary, the Tent of Meeting, was the Most Holy Place. Within the Most Holy Place was the Ark of the Covenant containing the broken Ten Commandments and the Mercy Seat, the covering upon which was poured the annual offering of blood to atone for the sins of the people.

When Satan tempted Jesus he took Him to a high mountain and showed Him all of the kingdoms of the world. Where else can you see all things except from the center? Satan asked himself the question “who is the greatest in eternity?” and answered himself pointing to himself, falling from his high position before God, made himself the self-proclaimed center.

What did Satan say to Jesus? “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” [Matthew 4:9 ESV]. Satan promised Jesus something he could not deliver. He may have given the impression all kingdoms were his by placing himself in the center of the world. Jesus exposed the lie with the truth. “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” [Matthew 4:10 ESV].

In the center of the garden was the Tree of Life. I believe this Tree of Life was a type of Christ, the Creator at the center of His creation. Man cannot live while at enmity with God.

In the center of the camp was the means God used to release the sinful person from the judgment and justified sentence of their sin. The Mercy Seat is a type of Christ and the blood poured over it, hiding the broken sin from the eyes of God, is Christ’s own. Man cannot live forever covered in sin. None of the kingdoms shown to Christ will last. Only His kingdom and the citizens of His kingdom, who are covered with the blood of Christ and have eaten from the Tree of Life.

Christ is our Sanctuary and our Peace.

God’s Mercy Seat

“You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. … And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. … Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. … toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. (Exodus 25:17-21 ESV]

The term “mercy seat” is best understood using the word “propitiate” which currently means conciliation. The actual Hebrew word means “lid” or “covering.” Yet, this particular lid does more than keep the contents of a box secure. Part of the lid was the cherub with outstretched wings and faces looking down at the lid, at the contents of the ark under the lid. It is from between the cherub God spoke to Moses. “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” [Exodus 25:22 ESV].

Under the mercy seat, contained within the chest, were three things placed within at God’s command over a short period of time. First were the second set of stone tablets upon which were the Ten Commandments written by God. Moses threw down and broke the first copy on the trail into camp when he heard the people of God partying and realized their sin and decadence, their rebellion against Him and God. Also within the Ark was a jar of manna (Exodus 16:33-34), never spoiling, and Aaron’s rod, which had budded, showing God’s approval of Moses and Aaron after a rebellion (Numbers 17:10). So, within the ark were God’s law, God’s provision for His people, and a symbol of God’s absolute decrees, His choosing.

Once a year the high priest, beginning with Aaron, would enter the Holy of Holies, or the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Testimony was, and offer atonement for the sins of the people. He would do this following the requirements of God commanded in Leviticus 23 by sprinkling, or pouring out blood on the cover, over the mercy seat. By doing this, still only once a year, the high priest would atone for the unintentional sins of the people.

As God looked down, symbolized by the faces of the cherubim, He would see those things in the ark. He would see His assurance of His decrees in choosing those who are His to do His will even though they rebelled. He would see the provision He made for His people during their wanderings in the wilderness because of their rebellion. He would see the Laws of God broken by the people in their constant rebellion. Then He would see the blood poured out over these things. Blood does not hide from His sight the rebellion of all people. Blood says the crimes and rebellion of the people have been paid for, atonement made, the sentence carried out and finished.

Once a year the blood poured out on the Mercy Seat released those who rebelled from the eternal just sentence and punishment for their sin. But someone has to bear the brunt of the punishment. It is not the blood of bulls and goats, which mean nothing to God. For the people continued to rebel, to sin against Him, requiring sacrifice daily, and annually in the Most Holy Place. Sacrifices must be repeated. To stop this there must be one sacrifice which takes care of all sin. Either that, or each must bear the sentence for their sin alone.

It was never God’s intent that each bear the sentence for their own sin. It was His intent that One perfect sacrifice be made for the sin of all. That sacrifice was His Son, Himself. Only one who has perfectly kept the Law of God could be the substitute, to bear the sentence of sin for another. And, He did.

“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus who God has put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sin. [Romans 5:22-25 ESV]

There is only One who could bear the burdens of the sin of any in the world, let alone all in the world, and pay the penalty of sin. It is God Himself. Jesus’ blood releases us from the sentence of sin which is eternal separation from God. His blood does not hide our sin from God. Nothing can. His blood covers  our sin so that when God looks at us He sees the blood of His Son covering us. His sacrifice and blood paid the penalty and redeemed us from certain eternal death. For thousands of years the sacrifices pointed to the continual rebellion and sin of people. These same sacrifices also pointed to the one sacrifice of the One who demonstrated His eternal active love for us, His mercy toward us, through His personal sacrifice.

Yet, even though God’s mercy is greater than we can ever know there are still many who will not be saved. There remains one unforgivable sin. Only one. But, it only takes one sin to separate us from God.

God’s Mercy to Us

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” [Exodus 34:6-7 ESV]

We do not have the right to concentrate only upon God’s mercy, separating it from the rest of who He is, focusing only upon this one characteristic. When I say we “do not have the right” I’m really saying we do this all of the time and doing this is wrong. Focusing solely upon the mercy of God takes Scripture out of context by infusing our own meanings into Scripture without trying to discover what God is saying. Our sin is ever before God, permeating our very beings. We have to work at keeping perspective. God does this for us.

In the two verses quoted Moses is instructed to cut out of stone two tablets. Upon those tablets God will write the Law for His people. God had already done this with the first tablets, cut from stone and engraved with words by the finger of God. Moses, upon hearing the loud sin of the people as he was coming down the mountain, threw them down, breaking them. God did not rebuke Moses for breaking the first stone tablets. Moses broke the physical set upon which God had engraved the “ten commandments” in stone. None had the right to break any of the Laws given.

Could the people plead ignorance because they had not received the commandments? They had experienced the miraculous protection of God as He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. They had eaten food miraculously provided by God. Each one of them was created, formed and fashioned in the image of God. They had been told to consecrate themselves and wait as Moses went up the mountain to listen to God. Yet, the people lost  patience with God and with Moses, rebelling against God and the very way He had made them while God was writing His words to them in stone. It was wholly appropriate for Moses to break them and then place the copy of the commandments, now broken, in the ark of the covenant as a continual reminder of man’s sin and rebellion.

When God gave the Law, the ten commandments, a second time to Moses and the people, He gave us divine characteristics which define who He is.

He is merciful and gracious.

He is slow to anger.

He is abounding in steadfast love.

He is abounding in steadfast faithfulness.

He forgives iniquity and transgression and sin.

But, He does not ignore the guilty.

And then, He makes a statement which should stop everyone in their tracks. He states the sin of the fathers (and mothers) will follow their families. Children will repeat the sins of their parents. Does He limit by saying to the “third and fourth generation“? No, He is not limiting the affect of sin but showing how it cascades down through the ages, from person to person, generation to generation. Sin cannot be stopped until it is destroyed.

We cannot understand or grasp God’s mercy unless we, at the same time, understand and grasp His righteous judgment against sin. Sometimes the easiest way (for me, at least) to understand what is being said is to work through from the end to the beginning.

Sin is pervasive and He will hold guilty all who sin. He does not ignore sin. Having created man in His image He will not overlook anything which corrupts, not His character but what represents and reflects His character. Sin corrupts His creation and He must judge not only sin but the desire to sin and debase anything which reflects Himself. When we sin, when we actively rebel against God, we augment the corruption. God has judged sin and sentenced all those who sin to death.

But, He says He “forgives iniquity and transgression and sin.” There must be something between the forgiveness of sin and the not ignoring the guilty. That something is Christ, the mercy seat, the One whose blood covered the broken Law. We will examine the mercy seat in another post. For those who belong to Christ, when God sees them it is through the blood of His beloved Son. He forgave us because His Son took upon Himself our sin giving us His righteousness. He is the divine reason for our acceptance by God.

Notice He is steadfast in both love and faithfulness. He does not facilitate or waver in who He is. He is not influenced by outside forces, or compromise His character to appease anyone, or ask. If anyone can find a place in Scripture where it is undeniable God asks anyone to obey His will please show me. Better, find two or three places. When He says He will love and be faithful to those who are His, He is. But, He demands obedience.

He is slow to anger. This does not mean He does not get angry. There are too many places in Scripture where He obviously acts in anger. In every instance His anger is righteous and justifiable. His judgment against sin is righteous and justifiable. His anger brings suffering but not all suffering is caused by His anger. Ultimately, all suffering is brought by sin. Though we all feel the effects of sin, His common grace continues sustaining our lives. He drives people to repentance through suffering. He allows suffering to teach the reality of sin.

Being slow to anger and decreeing a means for forgiving sin exhibits His active love, mercy, for those He created, and His eternal grace. Beyond a doubt, God’s intent in leaving those who are His in this sinful place, in a world at war, is so we might be convinced, completely, utterly convinced, of His love and mercy.

How do we know?

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. [Galatians 4:1-7 ESV]

In His mercy He changed our genealogy.