Those High Priests…the most envied people in the world am I right? I mean, who doesn’t want to slaughter animals on behalf of a quarrelsome people for a living? Sign me up!
Actually, on second thought, I think I’ll pass.
Truly, the only thing I’m envious of is their closeness to the mercy seat where the presence of Yahweh resided within the holy of holies. What a fearful yet awe inspiring experience.
The Mercy Seat
This mercy seat holds more meaning than meets the eye of the first, second or even twentieth reader. Made of pure gold and surrounded by cherubim with their wings spread to cover it, we can see the evidence of its importance. (Exodus 37:6-9). Its appearance demanded attention and was the focal point of the room. But if we gaze only at the significance of the mercy seat in regards to the tabernacle in the Old Testament, we miss the true beauty of this seat placed on the Ark of the Covenant.
On the Day of Atonement, the high priest performed several rituals of cleansing before he could enter the Holy Place. (Leviticus 16:1-10). Immediately following, he would enter in and carefully present the sin offering. Then he would bring the incense behind the veil and place it before the Lord so that the cloud of incense covered the mercy seat. After that, he had to sprinkle the blood of the different sacrifices on the mercy seat and in front of it in the correct order. (Leviticus 16:11-19). And he had to accomplish all these things exactly as commanded by God. This only scratches the surface of his job requirements.
And ya’ll, this still didn’t cover all the sins of the people.
Wanna know a secret?
Every sacrifice mentioned in the Old Testament Law were only for unintentional sins. Every. Single. One.
A careful reading of Leviticus reveals this to be true. But here’s one example:
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the Lord’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them, if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the Lord for a sin offering.” (Leviticus 4:1-3 ESV)
There was a time when this blew my mind. Recently, I’ve come to love this tidbit of knowledge. Those sacrifices were never meant to provide salvation, they were meant to provide a blindingly obvious need for a Savior from sin.
They were a yearly reminder of humanity’s biggest problem: We are dead in our sin, and we can’t save ourselves.
“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”(Hebrews 10:1-4 ESV)
If the sacrifices made back then didn’t cleanse the Israelites, how were any of them saved?
By faith. Just like us.
One Sacrifice For All
When the blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat, it was foreshadowing the Son of God who tabernacled with his people and died for their sin.
It was there, on the mercy seat, where the Father passed over the sins of his people as he looked forward to the all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 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. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-26 ESV)
A propitiation is an atoning sacrifice and the effects of the death of Christ in appeasing the divine justice and gaining the divine favor of the Father.
This mercy seat where the high priests did their duties year after year, pointed to the Great High Priest.
Jesus is the mercy seat where wrath is averted. Truly, this is the only place where a person can be forgiven.
“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:11-14 ESV)
All people who are saved, both before Christ and after, are saved through the blood of the spotless Lamb of God.
Do you hear the call?
Jesus is calling you to draw near to his throne of grace. A place where only the high priest could go before. But through Jesus, we have access and permission to boldly approach this throne! (Romans 5:2).
If you have never turned from your sin and trusted in him, he is your only hope. Only through Christ will anyone be forgiven. (John 14:6).
Maybe today you come as a child of God who is in need of mercy from temptation or trial. The call is the same for you: draw near to your Great High Priest who is able to sympathize with your weaknesses and provide help. (Hebrews 4:15).
His throne is one of mercy and grace, and his grace is unending.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16 ESV)