Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Christ: The Mercy Seat

In our study of the good news so far in Romans 3:21-25 we have seen some very wonderful aspects of this good news. First we saw in Romans 3:21 that God’s righteousness does not come by works of the Law. This is good news because if God’s righteousness does come by works of the Law then no man can be saved because no man can keep God’s Law. If the righteousness of God comes by works of the Law then it is way too far out of every man’s reach. But verse 21 says, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested….” To which every hopeless and helpless sinner should proclaim, “Hallelujah – this is indeed good news!”

Second we saw in Romans 3:22 that God’s righteousness does come by faith in Jesus Christ. This is good news because now that which was impossible for us to attain and was totally out of our reach has now been brought near and within our grasp by the work of Another on our behalf. Since the righteousness of God comes by faith in Jesus Christ it is very near as Romans 10:8-13 says, “But what does it say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart – that is the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

Third we saw in Romans 3:23 that God’s righteousness is provided for any sinner who will believe. This is good news because all have sinned, whether Jew or Greek, and whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed. There is no partiality with God and nothing makes one man more or less savable than another.

Fourth we saw in Romans 3:24 that God’s righteousness is provided as a gift to believing sinners without any cause in them to earn or merit the gift. This is extremely good news or only those who were smart enough or rich enough or famous enough or powerful enough or whatever enough could be saved. As believers we would do well to remember that God has declared us righteous without any cause in us, based solely on His grace, through the redemption from sin’s penalty that is in Christ Jesus.

Fifth we saw in Romans 3:25 that God’s righteousness which is provided to us as a gift of His grace was purchased at a great price and high cost to God. This is good news because the only way that a holy God could justify sinners and remain just Himself in the process was through the sinless life and sacrificial death of a willing Substitute on behalf of guilty sinners. This was none other than the sinless Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. God did not have to give His Son and could have justly sent us all to hell. But even at such a great price and high cost to Himself, God did not spare His own Son but delivered Him over for us all (Romans 8:32). What a loving God we serve!

Now let’s look a little deeper into this matter of the great price and high cost that God paid for the gift of our salvation. We will do this by considering Christ as the mercy seat.

Our text says, “Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Romans 3:25). If you have the NIV it says, “God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood” (Romans 3:25 NIV). The word used here for “propitiation” or “sacrifice of atonement” means a sacrifice that turns away, satisfies, or appeases God’s holy wrath against sinners who have violated and not upheld His holy Law. So in propitiation the just wrath of God as the just penalty of God’s Law against ungodly, law-breaking sinners is turned away, appeased, or satisfied because His Law has been actually upheld through His wrath having been actually poured out on a sinless substitute.

So to speak of the cross of Christ as a propitiation or sacrifice of atonement is to speak of the sinless life of Christ and the sacrificial death of Christ as the only means of satisfying the justice of God and the only grounds by which He may extend mercy to any sinner. The Hebrew equivalent to the Greek word used for propitiation is used in the Old Testament in reference to the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies, where the high priest went once a year, on the Day of Atonement, to make sacrifice on behalf of the people. Therefore we could translate this verse as “whom God displayed publicly as a mercy seat in His blood through faith."

This brings us to one of the most wonderful illustrations of the work of Christ that is to be found in the whole Bible – Christ: the Mercy Seat! In order to understand this illustration and what Christ accomplished we must go back to the Old Testament and explain the symbolism of the work of Christ as found in Ark of the Covenant.

First though, we will start with Moses’ going up on Mount Sinai and receiving the two tablets of stone on which God wrote His Ten Commandments. While Moses was meeting with God on Mount Sinai and receiving Ten Commandments he was also receiving instructions from God on the construction of the Tabernacle and its furnishings. In Exodus 25:10-22 we read about the instructions for constructing the Ark of the Covenant. In Exodus 25:16 we read that the two tablets which contained the Law of God was to be put into the ark. In Exodus 25:17-21 we read about the instructions for constructing the mercy seat, the lid for the Ark of the Covenant. “You shall make a mercy seat…” literally a propitiatory (Exodus 25:17).

While Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving not only the Ten Commandments on the two tablets of stone, he was also receiving all the necessary instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle and the proper regulations of divine worship (see Hebrews 9:1-5). But because Moses was gone for so long the people got out of control (Exodus 32:25), made a golden calf, and offered it burnt offerings and peace offerings; and the people entered into immorality (Exodus 32:1-6).

So when Moses came down with the Law in his hands which he was supposed to put into the Ark of the Covenant after its construction, he became angry and threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain (Exodus 32:19). But God commanded Moses to bring two new tablets and He once again wrote the Ten Commandments on the new tablets (Exodus 34:1, 28). These unbroken tablets of God’s Law were placed in the Ark of the Covenant when the tabernacle was erected and the Ark was placed in the Holy of Holies (Exodus 40:17-21).

The broken tablets speak of man’s inability to keep God’s Law. However, the unbroken tablets speak of the Lord Jesus Christ, who in the fullness of time, was born of a woman, born under the Law, and kept the Law perfectly. Just as the unbroken Law was kept in the Ark of the Covenant so the Lord Jesus Christ kept the Law totally and therefore He was without sin, without spot, and without blemish.

But the Ark of the Covenant had on it a lid called the mercy seat. Inside the Ark was the unbroken Law which demands justice through the execution of any sinner. There is no mercy in the Law – only justice – but God in His love has provided a way to maintain the justice of His Law and to extend mercy. This is the purpose of the mercy seat. At each end of the mercy seat were two cherubim (Exodus 25:18). It was on the mercy seat in between the two cherubim that once a year the high priest came in and sprinkled the blood of the lamb on the mercy seat showing that the payment for sin against the Law had been made by an innocent substitute – one that had not violated or broken the Law. The reason that flawless animals were required by God in the sacrificial system is because they were to illustrate the flawless life of the Lord Jesus Christ who would then die to uphold the justice of God’s Law in order that God could legally extend mercy to those who would receive it.

So in essence, the Mercy Seat was an illustration of the death bed of the innocent substitute who would never break God’s Law but who would die for those who had. “But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying” (John 20:11-12).

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