A Sermon on Exodus 25:17-22
I preached this today.
17 And thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof.
18 And thou shalt make two cherubim of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat.
19 And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubim on the two ends thereof.
20 And the cherubim shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be.
21 And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee.
22 And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.
When we think of Exodus, we tend to think of the story of Moses leading the people of Israel out of Egypt. This story is certainly one of the highlights of the Bible. However, unfortunately it means that we often forget some of the later chapters on Exodus. These give meticulous details about the tabernacle and how it should be furnished.
You might wonder what is so important about all these details. The reason is that the tabernacle was to be the most holy place on planet earth. The very presence of God was to be manifested in the tabernacle.
The things of the tabernacle were to be patterned after the things of heaven. I did some missionary work in Japan. While I was there, I visited an Anglican church. It looked exactly like an Anglican church in England, except that you had to take your shoes off when you went in. This church in Japan had been modelled on an English church. Likewise, the tabernacle on earth was to be modelled after the much greater temple that was in heaven. Did you know that God has a temple in heaven? At the edge of the universe there is that place where God's presence is manifested in a way unknown anywhere else in the cosmos.
Not only was the tabernacle modelled after the temple in heaven in its appearance, but if we look carefully at the details of its furnishings, we can find hidden references to some of the deeper spiritual truths of Scripture. I cannot go through all of these today, but I would like to talk about the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant. By the way, if you want to explore some of the symbols and types of Exodus, I highly recommend reading AW Pink's commentary, Gleanings in Exodus. I do not agree with everything he says, but it is a very thorough commentary.
Most people know the Ark of the Covenant from the Indiana Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. I saw it when I was a four years old and was terrified by the bit at the end where the baddies melt after the ark is openned. It made me cry. Defintely too scary for a four-year old.
What is the Mercy Seat? If you are from a Salvation Army background like my mother here, you will know all about mercy seats, they have one in all their citadels. They are based on the idea we find in Exodus 25. Nobody knows exactly what it looked like, but it was placed on top of the Ark of the Covenant. It was not a seat in which anybody was allowed to sit, not even the high priest. It was Yahweh’s own throne. Just as God had His throne in heaven, He also had His throne on earth in the Tabernacle.
God entered into human history. He had condescended to man and entered into a relationship with the people of Israel. A relationship of government, but also a relationship of grace.
The nation of Israel was made the special object of God’s protection and blessing. God had chosen them to be the centre of His workings on earth. And some of us believe that at in their restoration after Christ’s return they shall be restord to blessing and privilege. However, they were a nation under law. Inside the Ark of the Covenant was placed the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments. The Mercy Seat was placed over them. Thus, law was the principle of God’s rule over Israel. When they were faithful they knew of God’s protection, but when they neglected the law they had been given, they were disciplined and fell prey to their enemies. In Deutoronomy, the last book of Moses we have a list of blessings that Israel would enjoy if she kept the law and a list of curses that would fall on them if they neglected it. And neglect it they did, with the result that they were scattered amongst the nations.
The Mercy Seat was made of pure gold. This reflected the purity of God’s holiness. God is utterly pure and righteous. He can have nothing to do with that which is defiled. That ought to be a sobering thought to us. Yet Christ was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Christ. Thus in Him we are also made holy.
The Mercy Seat was decorated by images of Cherubim. What are Cherubim? They are heavenly beings. Ezekiel and the book of Revelation describe them as having the characteristics of a man, an ox, a lion and an eagle. Whether the Cherubim on the Mercy Seat looked like that, we do not know. A lot of the artistic depictions of the Ark show them as the more human-like conventional winged angels.
The Cherubim represent God’s judicial dealings towards mankind. They represent God’s government.
The visions of Ezekiel and the apostle John both included Cherubim. Both these men prophesied of God’s judgment.
When our ancestors, Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, God sent Cherubim to guard Eden. They were a sign that judgment had been exercised.
Just imagine in the Victorian era, a ragged child gazing into the windows of a toyshop, looking at all the wonderful toys inside. And imagine that child being pushed away by a burly doorman saying “These ent for the likes of you, son. These are for the nice children.” That must have been how Adam and Eve felt as they gazed at the home they had lost in Eden, forever barred by those Cherubim. Yet they had brought that loss upon themselves by disobeying God.
Thus, there were Cherubim on the Mercy Seat in the most Holy of Holies. They were there as a sign that Israel was subject to God’s government. Their sins had to be dealt with.
Therefore only one person could go into that place to intercede for them, the high priest. Once a year on the Day of Atonement. An animal had to be sacrificed before he could do so. Blood needed to be shed first. Without shedding of blood is no remission for sins. Thus, after having made sacrifice for the people, the high priest would come before the Mercy Seat as a representative of the people so that their sins could be pardoned.
The entrance of the high priest to the holy of holies was a type or a shadow of Christ.
The Lord Jesus Christ suffered death as a sacrifice for our sins. The blood of animals could never free anyone from sin. Yet Christ permanently dealt with the problem of sin by His death. He gave Himself for sinners.
After He rose from the dead, Christ ascended into heaven, into that heavenly tabernacle. He is present there as our great High Priest. He is there in heaven as our representative.
Just as there were Cherubim in the tabernacle on the Mercy Seat, there are real live Cherubim in heaven.
Adam and Eve were shut out of the Garden of Eden by Cherubim. Now there is a man, a human being, who dwells amongst the Cherubim. The apostle John saw Christ in heaven in the midst of the Cherubim and the angels.
In Christ, redeemed humanity is lifted up to the heights of heaven. In Christ, the believer is given access to God and given the right to enter into heaven. Through Christ redeemed humanity is united to God.
Maybe you are here today and you are not a Christian. Maybe you have no fellowship with God. To you God is a remote figure. You can be reconciled to God through Christ. Through Christ you can enter fellowship with God. You can receive the very life of God, eternal life through Jesus Christ. If you will believe on the Lord Jesus you shall be saved forever. I would urge you to turn to the Lord Jesus.
That Christ has entered into heaven means that we can have confidence in our prayers. As the high priest, Christ is our representative. By entering the heavenly sanctuary, He has obtained for us the right to bring our prayers to God. So we can ask anything of our heavenly Father in the name of His Son Jesus Christ. We can have confidence that our prayers will be heard in heaven.
In the old Tabernacle, the high priest of Israel never got to sit down in the mercy seat. It was the throne of Yahweh. However, Christ, our high priest is sat down in the throne of His Father. Christ has been given all authority in heaven and earth. He has not yet exercised that authority, for not all things are yet put under Him. However, when He comes in glory He shall rule over all creation.
But the Lord Jesus Christ shall not rule alone. He shall reign with His saints. The apostle Paul said “If we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him.” Those who are in Christ have the opportunity to share in ruling over the universe with Christ. The Lord is establishing a new heavenly humanity in His Church who will be Lords over the universe. A kind of celestial aristocracy.
The Cherubim were a sign of God’s judgment over mankind. However, as Paul says, “Do ye not know that we shall judge angels.” In the coming kingdom, the saints are going to be in charge of the angels.
Knowing this is very important to us. How are we to conduct our affairs knowing that we shall judge angels? Now is the time to prove that we are ready for this responsibility. How can Christ put us in charge of His Father’s business when we are neglectful of our daily obedience? If we would reign with Christ, we must be attentive daily to our calling to serve the Lord.
Yet through the Holy Spirit, we have the power to overcome and to win that crown. Let us therefore look to our Saviour in His heavenly sanctuary and be diligent in His service.