Christianity 201

June 22, 2015

Remembering God’s Law, God’s Provision, God’s Mercy

Yesterday we looked at the topic of different things that can be used to remind us God’s faithfulness to us. Things like special places, memorial stones, etc. are permitted, but not if they become idols, that is not if they become objects of worship. One special reminder that Israel carried with everywhere they went was the Ark of the Covenant. To the best of my knowledge, we haven’t dealt with that here recently, so let’s dive in.

From the website, GotQuestions.com:

God made a covenant (a conditional covenant) with the children of Israel through His servant Moses. He promised good to them and their children for generations if they obeyed Him and His laws; but He always warned of despair, punishment, and dispersion if they were to disobey. As a sign of His covenant He had the Israelites make a box according to His own design, in which to place the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. This box, or chest, was called an “ark” and was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. The Ark was to be housed in the inner sanctum of the tabernacle in the desert and eventually in the Temple when it was built in Jerusalem. This chest is known as the Ark of the Covenant.

The real significance of the Ark of the Covenant was what took place involving the lid of the box, known as the “Mercy Seat.” The term ‘mercy seat’ comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cover, placate, appease, cleanse, cancel or make atonement for.” It was here that the high priest, only once a year (Leviticus 16), entered the Holy of Holies where the Ark was kept and atoned for his sins and the sins of the Israelites. The priest sprinkled blood of a sacrificed animal onto the Mercy Seat to appease the wrath and anger of God for past sins committed. This was the only place in the world where this atonement could take place.

The Mercy Seat on the Ark was a symbolic foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice for all sin—the blood of Christ shed on the cross for the remission of sins. The Apostle Paul, a former Pharisee and one familiar with the Old Testament, knew this concept quite well when he wrote about Christ being our covering for sin in Romans 3:24-25: “…and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Just as there was only one place for atonement of sins in the Old Testament—the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant—so there is also only one place for atonement in the New Testament and current times—the cross of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we no longer look to the Ark but to the Lord Jesus Himself as the propitiation and atonement for our sins.

From the Apologetics website, Tekton:

1 Kings 8:9 There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb, when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt.

Heb. 9:4 Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant…

Contradiction? No. Kings and Chronicles refer to a time after Solomon. Hebrews refers to a time just after Israel left Egypt and when the Ark was first made. That’s a span of almost 500 years. Do you think the manna and the rod were still fresh? No, they were organic materials and would have crumbled away long since.

Some have noted that nothing in Exodus states that the rod or manna were put in the Ark. This is true; that they were there was an extrapolation of the rabbis and other Jewish writers based on Ex. 25:16, “And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee.” The gold jar tradition is testified to by Philo. One would have to assume that sometime in that 500 years, the jar was lost or removed, which does not seem unlikely given the loss of thousands of other artifacts through time.

Objection: The rod of Aaron would no more have rotted than the wooden portions of the ark itself.

It’s one thing to repair the tabernacle or the ark, and another thing to replace the rod of Aaron with a fresh substitute. The gold jar, admittedly, would not have rotted as would its contents. The jar’s value as a relic would be severely (totally?) reduced by the absence of supernatural contents. It is reasonable to suppose that the jar was set to a different purpose after the manna had been reduced to dust, or that the jar was taken in mischief.

The special status of the ark would have prevented any rearrangement of its contents.

Let us not neglect dealing with periods in Israel’s history (as in Judges) where Israel was occupied by invaders if not possessed by apostate leadership. We are not able to assume that the Levites were able to keep the ark completely safe and secure throughout the aforementioned 500 years (even as the fact that we have no idea where it is NOW speaks against this).

What about the fact that any non-Levite/non-Kohathite who improperly handled or looked on the ark would be instantly struck down by God?

Even assuming that the prohibitions associated with the death penalty were absolute rather than at God’s discretion, what would prevent heathens from seizing the poles and tipping the ark’s contents out?

Later Update: A reader has pointed out that Exodus 16:31-35 also implicitly indicates that the ark contained both the rod and the manna, particularly v. 34: “As the Lord commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, so that it might be preserved.” While this is not explicit, it does fit a natural assumption that they went together in the ark.

Hopefully that gets you started.

Go Deeper: For a further exhaustive study, including many scripture references, check out the Ark page on Bible.org

 

April 3, 2014

Meeting With God

Hebrews 10: 19+20

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,
(NIV)

This week we participated in a most unusual communion service. The elements — the bread and juice — were placed on a table in a self-serve style. Nothing unusual so far, right? But to get to them you had to walk behind a curtain, single file, one at a time. Suddenly, you were in there, all alone, just you and God.

Others were waiting and they joked ahead of time that they’d ‘tie a rope to your feet and pull you out if you stay too long,’ but you had these brief seconds to enter into the ‘Holy of Holies’ and express to God in a whispered prayer whatever you would say to Him, or listen to whatever He would say to you.

It’s a communion or Eucharist that I will never forget.

It brought home the idea that although we worship corporately at weekend services, ultimately, our relationship with God is individual. We’re not saved, or counted among God’s people because of what our church does collectively, but because of our personal response to God.  Consider the difference between these two phrases:

  • ‘We had communion at church this Sunday’   or
  • ‘While in the service today, I communed with God’

That got me thinking about the broader aspects of making our experience(s) with God more individual.

I think that sometimes people are critical of the phrases “accepted Christ” and “personal Savior,” when the problem can be solved with a rearrangement of one or two words. Consider the difference between:

  • ‘I accepted Christ as my personal Savior’   and
  • ‘I personally acknowledged Christ as Savior’

But then, the personal has to go beyond the initial conversion experience. Consider phrases like:

  • ‘We’re now part of local congregation’
  • ‘I’ve joined a weekly small group Bible study’

Each implies the idea of assimilating into the larger body, and that’s right and good, but total assimilation would mean the loss of personal identity. Your relationship to Christ cannot be expressed in terms of a relationship to a Church or study group.  (Note: Or biological family.)

Try these on for size; say them out loud if necessary; and see if they fit you:

  • ‘I am growing in my understanding of the ways of God’
  • ‘I am more fully aware of God’s presence in my life’
  • ‘I am increasingly making decisions subject to God’s desires’
  • ‘My appreciation for what Jesus did is a daily factor in my life’
  • ‘I am so thankful for God’s grace’

These I/My statements — and others like them you can add in the comments — should be at the core of our spiritual identity, not statements like:

  • ‘I’m really enjoying the church I’m attending’ or
  • ‘My pastor is absolutely amazing’

Maybe your pastor is amazing, but he will have to give his own account to God, and you will have to give yours.

II Cor. 5:10

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (ESV)

For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. (NLT)

Romans 14:12

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. (NIV)