The Mercy Seat
The mercy seat.
– Famous cover-ups: I had John do some visuals for me, I used them out at the prison, but I thought that they were too good to use just the once. [P] Every so often we see reported some great cover up. [Watergate, Bill Clinton, Pol Pot, Stalin, cultural revolution] They all have one thing in common: some one had done something shameful and they didn’t want people to know. They wanted to appear fine and upstanding when the truth was something other. The thing is, that the cover up became known – we all know about it now. You can’t keep things covered up no matter how hard you try and no matter how much you want to. A famous American president, Abraham Lincoln, once said “You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”
– All try to cover up: But it is not just the rich, famous and powerful – we all try to cover up [P]. We all have things we are ashamed of, we all try to appear good decent people but the truth is otherwise. The instinct to try and cover up is strong and universal. At work when someone makes a mistake. Traffic cop pulls you up for speeding – what is your reaction? – a medical emergency, plane to catch. We all try to cover up. We try to get out of the consequences for what we have done; we don’t want to face the music. The burden of our sins is intolerable. We try to cover up but it is impossible [Hebrews 4:13 There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Luke 12:2 But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.] All will be revealed – you can’t keep it hidden. We may fool every one else, think we’ve got away with it, but you can’t fool God. God sees and will expose the wrong we have done: [Psalm 90:8 You have placed our iniquities before You, Our secret sins in the light of Your presence.] There is no hiding. We’d all like to be able to hide it, cover up, but it cannot be done.
– The universal need for cover up: This need to cover up goes way back – indeed, back to the very first man [P]. We all know the story of Adam and Eve – God placed them in a garden, there was only one rule: “Don’t eat from the tree in the middle of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” But of course they rebelled, broke God’s command. Immediately, they knew that they had done wrong, were ashamed, but they could never undo what was done – so what did they do – tried to cover-up, the very first of many cover-ups: [Genesis 3:6-11 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. They heard the sound of יְהוָה God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of יְהוָה among the trees of the garden. Then יְהוָה God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”]. God knew, you cannot cover-up, your sins find you out. They covered themselves with fig leaves – it was a very unsatisfactory cover. God made a covering for them [Genesis 3:21 יְהוָה made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.] – to do so He had to kill an animal – the very first death that ever took place - the first of many. Sin brings about death. It took the death of a living soul to make a covering. Every single man since Adam has been infected with the same rebellion. We want to make out that we are good people, but there are things that we have done that we cannot undo, things that fill us with shame, things we don’t want others to know about, least of all God. The old Anglican prayer book service states: “The burden of our sins is intolerable” We need the shame, the sin, covered up. This is a deep and fundamental need of every single person who ever lived – we are all fundamentally the same. We need covering.
– Observant male Jews wear a covering on their head [P] – does anyone know what it is called? – a kippah [P]. It is not to cover sin, but the head. It was never worn in Jesus day, in fact you see modern portrayals of Jesus covering his head with a tallit (prayer shawl) but it never was – Paul tells us in [1 Corinthians 11:4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head.] But the reason I mention it is it comes from a verb root meaning to cover: (כָּפָר) [P] – it also has meanings to make atonement, make reconciliation, purge. Stick with me for a bit of a Hebrew lesson – see these basic letters, if you put different vowels you get a different but related word: (כֹּפֶר) [P] which means a ransom, a gift to secure favour – it covers the cost owed. Or with other vowels you get (כִּפֻּר) [P] which means atonement, covers that which is owed morally, make amends. It is used especially in the expression “day of atonement.” – יוֹם כִּפֻּר – remember the Arabs attacked Israel in 1973 when they were unprepared on their holy day, the day of atonement, we remember it as the יוֹם כִּפֻּר war. So there are these shades of meaning, to cover, to ransom, to atone for sin – they are all related, different aspects of the same thing. So why the Hebrew lesson? Well I am finally getting around to reading today’s passage! And there is a word in it: (כַּפֹּרֶת) [P] place of atonement, it is the cover or lid that was put on the Ark of the Covenant, the KJV calls it the “mercy seat” – why? Good question! It is not a seat and the word is not related to mercy. I don’t know the answer except the translators were influenced by the Greek translation and their own theology rather than understanding the meaning and derivation of the word. So I am not happy with “mercy seat” as a translation, I think “Atonement cover” is a better literal translation, but to save controversy lets just leave it un-translated and call it כַּפֹּרֶת – knowing that 1/ it was the cover on the ark of the covenant, 2/ it was the place where sin was covered, the ransom for sin was paid and atonement made, making amends for sin, putting estranged man back “at-one” with God. [P] READ [Exodus 25:17-22 “You shall make a כַּפֹּרֶת of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. “You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the כַּפֹּרֶת. “Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the כַּפֹּרֶת at its two ends. “The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the כַּפֹּרֶת with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the כַּפֹּרֶת. “You shall put the כַּפֹּרֶת on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. “There I will meet with you; and from above the כַּפֹּרֶת, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.] You can see the place of atonement is central to this meeting with God, coming near to יְהוָה.
But why the cover? What did it cover? Well, what was in the ark? [P] 1/ The terms of the covenant, [P] written in stone – if you didn’t abide by them they testified against you, the covenant was broken – you’d had it! 2/ Aaron’s rod – Divine authority, [P] if you rebelled against it, likewise – you’d had it? 3/ Bowl of manna – [P] here is Divine provision, but in Numbers 11 the people complained about the manna, יְהוָה sent quails to supply the meat they craved but He also sent an epidemic that killed many – in fact Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11 that Christians had got sick and even died because they ate the covenant meal in an unworthy way. Divine provision is a blessing but if you are unworthy it becomes a curse. Yes, a cover was needed, to cover over the exacting, harsh and unyielding demands of what the covenant box contained.
– The day of atonement: God provided for this universal need of a covering for sin and its shame; for His people Israel He had a special covering up ceremony, it is called the Day of Atonement, it took place once a year – in Hebrew: יוֹם כִּפֻּר (day of covering, day of making amends for the wrong done). כִּפֻּר means “to cover” “to atone” – that is to make amends. We have all done wrong and need to make amends. On the Day of Atonement a peculiar ceremony was performed to cover the sins of the people. [P] Two goats were presented to the high priest, lots were cast and one goat was selected and the priest sacrificed it and its blood was sprinkled in the tabernacle or temple on the lid of the ark of the covenant, the כַּפֹּרֶת, the cover, the place of atonement. The blood made atonement, covered the sins. God requires blood to atone for, to cover sin, the death of a living soul. [Heb 9:22 without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (or remission of sins)]. What about the other goat? The priest laid his hands on it and confessed on it all the sins of the people. All the sins of the whole nation for a whole year were placed on this poor goat – it was then led out into a solitary place in the desert and released. It wandered away carrying this awful load of sin. Let’s read [Leviticus 16:1-34 יְהוָה said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the כַּפֹּרֶת which is on the ark, or he will die; for I will appear in the cloud over the כַּפֹּרֶת. “Aaron shall enter the holy place with this: with a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. “He shall take from the congregation of the sons of Israel two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering. “Then Aaron shall offer the bull for the sin offering which is for himself, (Hebrews points out that Jesus didn’t need to make this offering because He had no sin) that he may make atonement for himself and for his household. “He shall take the two goats and present them before יְהוָה at the doorway of the tent of meeting. “Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for יְהוָה and the other lot for the scapegoat. “Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for יְהוָה fell, and make it a sin offering. “But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before יְהוָה, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat. “Then Aaron shall offer the bull of the sin offering which is for himself and make atonement for himself and for his household, and he shall slaughter the bull of the sin offering which is for himself. “He shall take a firepan full of coals of fire from upon the altar before יְהוָה and two handfuls of finely ground sweet incense, and bring it inside the veil. “He shall put the incense on the fire before יְהוָה, that the cloud of incense may cover the כַּפֹּרֶת that is on the ark of the testimony, otherwise he will die. “Moreover, he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the כַּפֹּרֶת on the east side; also in front of the כַּפֹּרֶת he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times. “Then he shall slaughter the goat of the sin offering which is for the people, and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the כַּפֹּרֶת and in front of the כַּפֹּרֶת. “He shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the impurities of the sons of Israel and because of their transgressions in regard to all their sins; “When he finishes atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall offer the live goat. “Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. “The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. “Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and take off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there. “He shall bathe his body with water in a holy place and put on his clothes, and come forth and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. “Then he shall offer up in smoke the fat of the sin offering on the altar. “The one who released the goat as the scapegoat shall wash his clothes and bathe his body with water; then afterward he shall come into the camp. “But the bull of the sin offering and the goat of the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall be taken outside the camp, and they shall burn their hides, their flesh, and their refuse in the fire. “Then the one who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body with water, then afterward he shall come into the camp. “This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before יְהוָה. “It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute. “So the priest who is anointed and ordained to serve as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement: he shall thus put on the linen garments, the holy garments, and make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar. He shall also make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. “Now you shall have this as a permanent statute, to make atonement for the sons of Israel for all their sins once every year.” And just as יְהוָה had commanded Moses, so he did.] You can see why it is called an atonement cover (“atonement” 12x in that passage) – it is all to do with atonement, making amends, not a mercy seat. It is a strange ceremony, it may be a religious ceremony but it pictured a real need for sin to be dealt with, for it to be covered. The ceremony didn’t actual accomplish anything, but it pictured what would take place that would actually deal with this universal problem once and for all – this need for sin to be covered, to be atoned for.
– The great cover-up: A cover for sin is needed for each of us and the solution is Jesus – the only solution. The death of a soul is required to cover sin – a sin offering – but not just any soul, it had to be a moral being (a goat has no concept of right or wrong) – He had to be a man like us. And to be a perfect covering He had to be without sin – that is why Jesus is the only one who could be a sin offering – everyone else has done wrong. There was needed one to bear the load of our sin and carry it away and this Jesus did once and for all when He died on the cross [P]. The fact that He was sinless was proved by the fact that He rose again – death had no claim on Him as a sinner. Death could not hold Him in its grasp because there was nothing it could convict Him of. Jesus is the one who made atonement [Romans 3:25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, (the Greek word for כַּפֹּרֶת) through faith in his blood Romans 5:10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. Hebrews 2:17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 1 John 2:2 and He Himself is the propitiation (the one who puts things right, makes amends, appeases God’s wrath – it is related to the Greek word that is used to translate כַּפֹּרֶת) for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. 1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.] So Jesus did what the day of atonement merely pictured: [P] If you look at the כַּפֹּרֶת closely you’ll see that someone forgot to clean it – it’s got something spilt on it. There is blood on the כַּפֹּרֶת! – The blood of the sin offering. Jesus became the sin offering [2 Corinthians 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin (or become a sin offering) on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Isaiah 53:10 יְהוָה was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering.] He entered into the most holy place with His own blood, there it is on the כַּפֹּרֶת covering our sin [Hebrews 9:24-26 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own (no, it was with blood that was His very own blood!). Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself]. Jesus was not only the goat slain as a sin offering; He was also was the scapegoat – the sins of the whole world were laid on Him and He carried them away [Psalm 103:11,12 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His loving-kindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. ] John the Baptist testified concerning Jesus: [John 1:29 The next day he *saw Jesus coming to him and *said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!] He took the full load of our sin upon Himself, bore it in His very own body on the cross [Isaiah 53:6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but יְהוָה has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. Isaiah 53:12 He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors. 1 Peter 2:24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. ] Jesus bore the load that none of us could tolerate. Not only was sin covered – it was removed completely! How wonderful to have your sin removed, to be released from having to cover up our shame and set free from having to meet an impossible standard. [Psalm 32:1-3 How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!]. This freedom, this forgiveness, this covering, this release from the burden of guilt and sin can be yours if you confess your sin upon Jesus and rely upon His sacrifice on the cross. Jesus has made the big cover-up, He is the כַּפֹּרֶת, place your faith in His death and resurrection. Jesus has entered into the holy of holies, not this copy we have been looking at but into heaven itself! To appear before God! Not with the blood of a goat but with His own blood! Sin is not just covered over ceremonially, but full atonement has been made – He has made complete amends for our sin. Not covering it up but removing it as far as the east is from the west! [Psalm 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.] Hallelujah! Our sin He remembers no more! It is gone! – that which separates us from God has been removed – carried away by the Scapegoat. Now we have been fully reconciled to God and come before Him with complete confidence – all because of what Jesus has done! Praise His Name! [Hebrews 10:10-22 We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, (having completed His work) waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, And on their mind I will write them,” He then says, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, (that blood sprinkled on the כַּפֹּרֶת) by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.] There is the whole point of what Jesus did – He made the way for us to come near to יְהוָה right into His presence! Right there at the heart of God, in His very presence is the place of atonement – full atonement has been made: [P] “Guilty, vile and helpless we; spotless Lamb of God was He. Full atonement! Can it be?! Hallelujah! What a Saviour!