READ: Exodus 37-38
THINK: Depending on the translation of the Bible that you read, Exodus 37:6 says that an atonement cover or a mercy seat was made to sit atop the Ark of the Covenant. The devotional on January 25th (Exodus 26) discussed the etymology of the word kapporeth and exactly what atonement means for us. Today I want to head in a little bit different direction because my heart was moved, as I read the passage anew, to think about Jesus and his unbelievable sacrifice on our behalf.
And the questions I wanted to answer (briefly, because doing so fully could take volumes) are these: what does Jesus’ sacrifice have to do with the sacrifices made in the Old Testament? Also, what was the purpose of the blood that was sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat and what did that sprinkling accomplish? Even if that’s not a question that hit you while reading this passage, understanding the answer will help set the stage for reading all of the sacrificial laws that are yet to come in the Pentateuch. Like I said, the explanation will be brief, so please feel free to ask questions in the comments.
Sin requires a payment of blood. Sin is death and blood is life. Life is found in the blood and so the holiness of God requires that blood must be shed to atone for sin – to cover it up and pay the price for it. But the blood of bulls was never enough. No matter how perfect the bull, how pristine and well bred, no bull’s blood could cover the cost of human sin. And the Israelites knew this. Even as they participated in the sacrificial system and sprinkled the blood, year after year, atop the Mercy Seat, they knew that God never declared such blood to be fully sufficient.
So what were the sacrifices about? Well, it is a matter of expiation and propitiation. Expiation is the putting off of punishment. It is choosing not to count a persons sins against them. But it doesn’t mean that the sins are gone. They are simply set aside temporarily. This is the entirety of the Old Testament system. God asked the Israelites to make blood sacrifices as a show of faith – so that they could be expiated until the Messiah came and accomplished their propitiation. Propitiation is the complete and total wiping away and covering of sin. The people in the Old Testament were not forgiven because of the sacrifices they made. They were never atoned for by the blood of bulls. Make no mistake, their system was always symbolic act of faith and trust in the forgiveness God gave them – credited to them – because of the atoning sacrifice that the Messiah would one day make.
See, the hope of the entire system and the purpose of the Mercy Seat was always Jesus! It was never about anything else or anything less. Even as it was built during the time of the Exodus – though the people didn’t know exactly how it would play out in the end – the Mercy Seat was never meant for bulls. It was always Jesus’ seat. Those in the Old Testament looked ahead to him, and we look back to him because the cross of Jesus is the central event of human history. It is where blood was shed that was sufficient. It is where propitiation was accomplished for the entire world (1 John 2:2).
Jesus freely poured out his blood, giving everything for us, so that we could be shown mercy. So that our sins could be atoned for. So that we could experience propitiation as God totally wiped our sin and guilt away – not just ignored it for a time. Christ’s blood is God’s mercy. Christ’s blood covers sin in a way the layers of encrusted blood atop the Ark never could. Jesus was the hope that those in ancient times looked forward to – as they shed insufficient blood as an act of faith that the Messiah would one day be sufficient. And it is the hope of our time – as we accept God’s invitation to put our faith in what the blood of the Messiah accomplished for us. The blood-stained Mercy Seat was always just a preview of the blood-stained cross, and Jesus has always been the hope of the world.
PRAY: Thank God for the cross!