Instead of talking about the Golden Rule today I’d like to discuss Hebrews 9 which is one of the most challenging pieces of scriptures, but it is one that mentions Gold a great deal. Gold was considered valuable, especially in Old Testament times and it was also considered a symbol of power and strength. Hebrews 9 is a chapter not about Gold and not about riches, although it mentions copious amounts of the precious metal, but it is a verse about something far more far more valuable when considered fully and understood.
Hebrews 9 pretty much describes a ceremony for the forgiveness of sin. Inside a very holy room inside a holy room sits a golden altar, gold because Gold was important and valuable and made people drop their jaw because of its awesomeness, and sat on this altar was the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was a gold box, again gold because it was a treasured and revered precious metal and this Ark contained three items that symbolised the failure of man, sin – your sin, my sin, anyone’s sin at the time. The three items inside this gold chest were a “Gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant” each of which was representative of sin.
Manna in Gold was significant, the manna kept the Israelites alive for 40 years but they complained and wanted more. They were not grateful for what God had given them. Now placing this in a gold jar in the Ark really was a way of saying don’t you recall how important this manna really was?” it must have hurt. Today we have not changed, we still moan about all that we have and want more yet we have what we need and in many ways we have more. So locked away in this chest was a symbol of ungratefulness placed in a gold bowl or jar to remind the people then of their sin, very much a slap in the face with the manna being placed in a valuable dish.
Next inside was the rod of Aaron that had budded and produced almonds. This was a symbol that signified rebellion against leadership. Most of us have rebelled against our parents either growing up or as teenagers now, many of us rebel against or detest wise leadership in the workplace or school and even more of us rebel against God. Nothing much has changed, Moses was the connection between God and the tribes of Israel who each thought they could do what Moses was doing. So the offence of rebelling against leadership was locked away in a Gold box, a very visual and meaningful a symbol in Old Testament times.
Finally there were the stone tablets of the covenant. These were not the originals, no if you recall Moses had the originals and when people began to disobey the rules he got a little annoyed, stormed off and smashed them on the ground. Moses had to go and ask God for a second set, a copy if you like. These were placed in the Gold casket called the Ark; to the people they were a very real symbol of how to live their lives and how they had broken the rules. Locking them away in a strong, gold box gave them even greater value. We all sin, every one of us and since Old Testament times we have not changed much.
All these symbols of living an ungodly life were locked away in a Gold box, the items were of significant importance at the time and being locked away in something made form pure Gold made them even more important and gave the sense they were even more valuable. And there they were, locked away, out of reach with no way to be forgiven for sin or so it seemed.
All these items, locked away in a casket layered with pure gold, presented in Tupperware made of pure Gold, sat on an altar, in an sanctuary behind a curtain deemed to be a place that is holiest of holy, the people of the time must have been assured there was something miraculous surrounding them. And a ceremony conducted, with all this Gold in a place that only God and a high priest could enter must have added to the certainty that the ceremony that was to forgive their sins was for real. But the hype, the glitz, the glam and the showmanship was taken another step further to woo the audience.
Now all this is locked away and the real thing that makes the forgiveness of sin possible is what is on top of the Gold casket. All the items inside symbolise sin and it is what is on top, what essentially needs to be used is the Mercy Seat as described in Exodus 25:17 (NKJV) “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.” Is what matters. This seat is the important part and with the 2 Solid Gold Cherubs facing each other it is the place where God will communicate with the high priest, holding some blood, and forgive sins. Sin was forgiven through quite a channel in the Old Testament.
The ceremony required the shedding of blood, blood was considered an important part of the ceremony and only through shed blood could sin be forgiven, also in Old Testament times a slaughtered animal was worth almost as much as gold to many people, so blood also had some kind of value to. So the blood of a calf was used and spilt on the Mercy Seat or Atonement stone. Only by having all this together, the Gold casket, with rod of Aaron, the gold bowl full of manna and the tablets of Moses, sat on an altar, in the holiest of holy places, overlooked by Cherubim that overshadowed the Mercy seat and then adding blood to the mercy seat could the ceremony commence and be completed. This happened just once a year to remove sin from the people because at this time no saviour had been sent, Gods own blood had not been shed.
Sin was a fairly hectic thing and those that feared God took it seriously. The Old Testament is littered with things that can, will or could happen by not obeying God but people then were like we are now. They were humans, natural born sinners if you like, prone to mistakes, prone to temptation and those who feared God feared their sin and the ceremonies conducted for the forgiveness of sin were an importance part of life, and it all happened at the Mercy Seat. What a place to be?
We all think that sin is forgiven by the Grace of God but it is in fact his mercy that gives full forgiveness. Grace is what God does for us that we do not deserve, all those blessings in life and really by receiving his grace there is no forgiveness. But Mercy on the other hand, and in Old Testament times this must have scared the people like a horror movie, is what God withholds from us that we do deserve. Mercy is leniency, Mercy is not being sent to hell for our sins. So the ceremony taking place at the Mercy seat is a place not unlike a confessional today where forgiveness is asked for the things done wrong.
In Old Testament times sin could only be forgiven at the Mercy seat there was no other way. All the Gold that was used in the construction of the ark, the altar, the cherubim and the mercy seat was used to symbolise its importance. All this Gold and the shedding of blood demonstrated that the forgiveness of sin was important and it really was quite a ceremony and hard work.
All that pomp and circumstance was removed when a living mercy seat died for mankind. Yes and living mercy seat, something worth more than gold and yet could shed blood, the blood of God. Hebrews 9 clearly says that sin can only be forgiven through the shedding of blood and a mercy seat, the Old Testament stipulates the same and there was and is a living Mercy seat. The Old Testament practices were prevalent during the time of Christ but his teachings showed that Sin could be forgiven by believing in Him. Christ spoke of His Fathers Blessings, His Grace and His forgiveness or His Mercy and through believing in him and only by believing in Him could sin be fully forgiven or paid in full.
Christ came to die for to save mankind, those who believed in Him at the time knew they no longer had to wait a year until the sin forgiving ceremony because He was their Mercy Seat; they now had a doorway opened to God and heaven. 1 John 2:2 says “He (Christ) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” Atoning from atonement or mercy meaning blood offering, blood that had to be shed for the forgiveness of sin. His blood shed for us makes Christ the blood offering and not just any blood offering but the blood offering for all.
Christ came so that we, when we sin (not if) may find forgiveness, Mercy, through Him. With no pomp, no ceremony no altars made of gold and symbols of our wrongdoing presented in yet more Gold and certainly no slaughtered calves or sheep to provide some blood required. The process of believing and knowing that God will show mercy and will forgive is the same as in the Old Testament in many ways but all we need to is turn to Christ to find forgiveness. It requires an understanding that we have sinned, have made a mistake, have fallen into temptation and then asking for forgiveness, not via a high priest but direct.
Each and every one of us is a sinner, whether we like it or not we cannot help it as we are weak, helpless humans. God knew and knows this and this is why he sent his son for us He knew that a perfect living sacrifice had to be made and that sacrifice was his own son. His own son, who taught love, compassion and forgiveness had to suffer a horrendous death, shed his blood and die publicly for the sins of men to be washed away. It was an act that no father should have to consider but God allowed it to happen simply so that we, mankind may be forgiven and he made his Son a living Mercy Seat.
All the Gold in the world cannot equal the price that Christ paid. He became a living mercy seat and he knew that his blood must be shed to forgive sin. His sacrifice allows God’s grace to flow into our lives and allows is Mercy to rain down on us when we deserve the ultimate punishment. Christ is your Mercy seat, Christ is the most valuable thing you can have in your life and you can choose him in your life it is as simple as that. There are no ceremonies, no need to find a room that is the holiest of holies and no need to kill and calf and bring its blood to church with you. No, simply accept Him as your Lord and Saviour and all the pomp and circumstance fall away, calm is restored to your life and a new life can begin.
Do you, will you accept the living Mercy Seat into your life?
Matt Newnham is a Christian, Writer and Speaker. He is a single father and lives in Cape Town, South Africa. Matt is passionate about life and success and his ability to touch the heart of readers has earned him the title “The Master of Emotional Appeal” Follow Matt on Twitter @MattNewnhamZA and on his Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/mattwjnewnham