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Exodus 25:10-22  10 “Have them make an ark[b] of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.[c] 11 Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it. 12 Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. 13 Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 14 Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. 15 The poles are to remain in the rings of this ark; they are not to be removed. 16 Then put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law, which I will give you.

17 “Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. 18 And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. 19 Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. 20 The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. 21 Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you. 22 There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

Allow me to highlight two parts of the text again:  “Make an atonement cover.” and “I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.”  

The verses I just read describe what came to be known as the Ark of the Covenant.  The Ark was a wooden box that had legs, rings and carrying poles.  It was overlaid with gold, fitting for a meeting with God, Israel’s King! The rest of the text talks about the cover or the lid that was on the ark.  The Hebrew word used for this lid was kappōret. The NIV calls this covering the “atonement cover.”  Other translations call this the “Mercy Seat.”

The Mercy Seat was a place of atonement, which means a place where sin could be forgiven. Think of the word atonement like this-at onement. The blood of Christ unifies us or makes us at one with God. Blood was spilled out on the Mercy Seat for the atonement of the sin of Israel. It was God who established that the ransom for sin would be an innocent sacrifice.  It could be easy to get hung up on that institution.  Why would God demand a sacrifice that involved blood? Is He bloodthirsty?  Does He get some pleasure out of seeing something die?  Not at all. 

You see, sin is the most grievous offense against God, so the penalty for sin called for the most precious sacrifice possible, something that would truly acknowledge the wrong that had been done. When someone commits murder, they get a much stiffer consequence than when someone breaks the law speeding.  When someone commits murder, they don’t get a ticket.  They don’t get off with a warning. There is a harsh penalty because of the level of offense. The same was and is true with God’s Law. The penalty has to correlate with the degree of offense. 

Sin breaks the Law of God.  It is the worst possible thing that can be perpetrated against God. The people needed to recognize how awful their sin was and needed to feel the weight of what it would cost to make atonement for sin, so that they would stop sinning. Do we understand today that God doesn’t just want us to receive forgiveness, but He wants us to stop sinning because sin is still a trespass against the holiness of God.

If God just gave Israel a time out when they sinned, first of all, they would never come out of time out!  Secondly, they wouldn’t ever feel or understand the weight of what they had done. If you never realize the evil, filthy, vile nature of sin, you can’t truly reverence the holiness of God.  We wrong God every time we sin. Realizing that because of their sin, a price had to be paid, which meant something had to die, (which by the way was merciful that God created a system whereby something else died in their place) but the recognition that sin brought death was critical for them to really be sorry for their sin and to want to repent and live differently.

Sin brings death to our souls.  Sin brings death to our relationship with God. That death had to be acknowledged.  Even in this process of bloody sacrifice, people would be able to see a demonstration of God who brings life from death. Relief from sin, at least in part, would come to God’s people as blood was poured on the Mercy Seat. So, the Mercy Seat represented the place of forgiveness for God’s people.  It was also a place where God would meet with the Israelites to give them the Law, to lay out His expectations, to communicate His plans and desires.  Essentially, the Mercy Seat was the place of forgiveness from God and fellowship with God. If Israel was going to have forgiveness and fellowship with God, they couldn’t bypass the Mercy Seat.

I want to quickly mention that inside the Ark of the Covenant, under the lid of the Mercy Seat, were three items. There was a golden pot of manna which represented man’s rebellion against God’s provision when they were traveling in the wilderness with God. God provided them with the bread-like substance, with the manna, every day, and they began to grumble and complain about the menu He was providing. Also in the Ark were the tablets upon which God had written the Ten Commandments.  These symbolized man’s rebellion against God’s Law.  Finally, Aaron’s rod was in the Ark.  It came into the picture during a time which Israel rebelled against the priestly leadership God had established which made it a symbol of man’s rebellion against God’s authority.

Those three things, rebellion against God’s provision, against what God wants to bring into our lives, rebellion against God’s Law, and rebellion against God’s authority-they pretty much sum up every category of sin.  God wanted to keep these symbols of sin under the symbol of mercy at all times. That’s why those three items were contained under the Mercy Seat in the Ark of the Covenant.  I’m comforted by the idea that God never wanted people to view their sin apart from the mercy that was available to them.

The mercy seat was an important furnishing in the Tabernacle on the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement was an annual observance, an annual time of sacrifice for Israel.  Sacrifices were made every day, but once a year, on the Day of Atonement, a series of special sacrifices was made.  One of those sacrifices was the slaughtering of a bull for the sin of the high priest, so that he could be cleansed before offering a sacrifice on behalf of Israel. The blood of a bull would be sprinkled on the Mercy Seat by the high priest. Then, a second sacrifice was made.  A goat was sacrificed, and its blood was placed on the Mercy Seat for the forgiveness of the sins of the Israelites. It’s interesting to note that the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat seven times. In the Bible, 7 is the number of perfection. The sacrifice would be complete with 7 sprinklings of the blood. These sacrifices were unique when compared to other sacrifices that were made.

The high priest would move through the space in the Tabernacle, past a curtain into what was designated as the Holy of Holies or Most Holy Place.  That is where the Ark with the Mercy Seat would be. Only the high priest could go through that curtain into the presence of God. The priest would also take a censor of coals and some incense whose smoke would hide the cover of the Ark.  The smoke would hide the Mercy Seat so that the priest wouldn’t die in the presence of God. The smoke was to veil or cover the presence of God. God was dwelling above that Mercy Seat, so to see the Mercy Seat would be to see God. No man could see God and live (Exodus 33:20).

Sprinkling an animal’s blood on the Mercy Seat and in front of it was the prescribed way to make atonement for the sin of the priest and the sins of the people of Israel. Other sacrifices took place over the course of a year.  Those offerings seemed to be a kind of restitution for sin.  It was almost like a penalty paid, a consequence that was meted out.  Only on the Day of Atonement could sin be covered. The problem of sin could never truly be dealt with, but this was a temporary covering of sorts, until the time of Jesus, when He would be slain for the sins of the world once and for all.

This Mercy Seat is talked about twice in the New Testament.  In the beginning of Hebrews 9 we read about the Tabernacle furnishings.  There we read about the annual activity of the high priest who would offer the blood of the atonement sacrifices and highlights that it was a temporary practice until the time of Christ.

The rest of Hebrews 9 and into the next chapter, describes how Jesus came as the better or perfect High Priest, how He offered a superior sacrifice of atonement.  The writer explores in detail how Leviticus 16 foreshadowed or looked forward to the more perfect sacrifice that Jesus would make on our behalf.  Here is the reality…The blood of sacrificed animals could never truly make atonement for our sin, but the blood of the sacrificed Jesus could and did!  

In addition to Hebrews 9, Romans 3 talks about the Mercy Seat.  It’s a powerful passage.  23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[i] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.

And here is what that footnote after the word, “atonement” says:

(The Greek for sacrifice of atonement refers to the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant…the place where the blood was spilled)

I don’t know how to phrase this other than the way it hits my spirit…Christ is the Mercy Seat where we can go to receive forgiveness.  He is also the High Priest in charge of presenting the sacrifice, and He, Himself is the sacrifice at the same time.  I call that a triple threat to the powers of darkness!  Jesus, one of the three members of the Holy Trinity, is three in one in this understanding of the Mercy Seat.  He accomplished three amazing feats at once!

We pick up Romans 3:25, the second part:

He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 

Get this.  Jesus demonstrated His righteousness when He died as a sacrifice.  Remember, Old Testament animal sacrifices had to be deemed “perfect,” without blemish.  Even Pilate, as he tried Jesus in his courtroom said, “I find no fault in Him.” Hebrews 4:15, II Corinthians 5:21, and I John 3:5 confirm Jesus was perfect.  Jesus never sinned.  His death and resurrection from the dead also proved His righteousness!  Jesus could only be raised again because His sacrifice was acceptable to God. If He hadn’t been a perfect sacrifice, He wouldn’t have been raised.  All of that confirmed His perfect or righteous status which meant the sacrifice was accepted by God. His death and resurrection from the dead proved His righteousness! 

This verse goes on to say that before the time of Christ, due to God’s forbearance or restraint, He had left the sins committed unpunished.  He held Himself back and sort of passed over the sins of those Old Testament saints who were trusting in the coming Messiah.  Yes, there were sacrifices commanded to be made, but that wasn’t truly payment for sin.  That was Sunday School for Israel. That was God teaching them. That was God bringing revelation to the people about the high price of sin, to create a desire for them to look forward in faith to the Messiah who would take care of the problem forever.  Oh, and did He ever!  Because of the righteous sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our sins no longer have to be patched up or passed over, but they are paid for, past, present and future!  God doesn’t have to restrain His anger and judgment toward those who are in Christ!  Hallelujah! 

Those Old Testament animal sacrifices were like an IOU or a promissory note.  That temporary covering was redeemed for full payment at the cross. Under the Old Covenant, God was merciful through the blood sacrifices to cover sin, but under the New Covenant, in the person of Jesus Christ, our sins are taken away.  John the Baptist rightly declared Jesus as the One who would fulfill every prophecy about the removal of sin when he said in John 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” 

Back to Romans 3, verse 26: 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.


Don’t miss this! On the cross, God demonstrated that He is just AND He revealed that He is the One who justifies.  The justice of God wouldn’t allow Him to let the trespass of sin go without being punished, but the mercy of God moved Him to be the One bear the consequence.  Who does He justify?  Who is it that receives mercy?  Those who have faith in Jesus.

It’s easy to see how someone could be only just.  They could simply send every guilty sinner to Hell.  That would qualify as justice.  That is what our sins deserve. So, to be just, a judge could just send everyone to Hell. It is also easy to see how someone could be the justifier, simply declaring every guilty sinner could be pardoned and set free.  But only God could find a way to be both just and the justifier of those whose faith is in Jesus.

The Mercy Seat of God was made known on the cross of Calvary where both justice and mercy were displayed.  Do you remember when I said that the Old Testament high priest sprinkled blood on the Mercy Seat seven times?  Can I just mention that at the place of Christ’s sacrifice, there were 7 places from which blood flowed, 7 places from which blood was sprinkled on that old wooden Mercy Seat. Those seven places were His brow, His back, His side, His two hands and His two feet. Jesus literally fulfilled every priestly requirement. By His blood, Jesus transformed a place of judgment, a place of death, into a place of mercy.

Do you remember the curtain that the Old Testament priest would go through?  The curtain behind which was the Mercy Seat, where forgiveness and fellowship were possible? That curtain takes center stage in the crucifixion story.

Look at Matthew 27:50-52 50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

When Jesus died on the cross of Calvary, that thick curtain in the temple was torn in two!  It wasn’t like the curtains in your bedroom. It was at least 60 feet high, and it was extremely heavy. It was not a coincidence when it happened. It was torn in two because it was no longer needed.  When Jesus cried, “It is finished” and breathed His last, earth realized what Heaven had done!  There would no longer be separation between God and His people.  The barrier was gone. A way had been made into the presence of God. There would no longer be the need for any sacrifice.  Sin’s debt was paid in full. At the moment Christ died, the New Covenant was enacted.  The blood of Jesus would forever be the currency giving us access into the presence of God. 

Hebrews 10:19ff 19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

If you have gone to Jesus to ask for the forgiveness of your sin on the merit of His blood, His sacrifice for you, God no longer sees your sin.  When He looks at you, He sees the blood of Christ, and when He sees the blood, He knows all His claims against you have been dropped.  In Christ, Jesus hasn’t just covered your sin, He has removed it from you!  

I said earlier, If Israel was going to have forgiveness and fellowship with God, they couldn’t bypass the Mercy Seat.  The same is true for us today.  You are only freed from your sin by the blood of Jesus, by trusting in His sacrifice, by entering into His life.  Are you living the life of the forgiven and free or do you stand condemned in your sin? You can give your heart to Jesus today and experience what it feels like to live truly free.

I titled this message more than mercy.  Mercy is not getting what we deserve.  We deserved death, but we have been given life. God has withheld our punishment from us.  He punished Christ in our place.  That’s mercy.  God has been merciful to us.  But in addition to mercy, through the cross and the gift of salvation, we also have received grace.  Grace is getting what we don’t deserve.  New life.  Forgiveness of sin. The Holy Spirit living on the inside of us. Favor here on the earth. A home in Heaven. These are the results of God’s grace in our lives.  That Old Testament Mercy Seat created an opportunity for forgiveness and fellowship with God.  The blood of Christ affords us a third experience.  It’s simply this: We can become God’s friend. 

Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan.

Oh, the grace that brought it down to man.

Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary.

Mercy there was great, and grace was free.

Pardon there was multiplied to me.

There my burdened soul found liberty, at Calvary.

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