Forth Wednesday in Advent
December 22, 2010
Text: Exodus 25:10-22
Dear Friends in Christ,
Any time anyone brings up the Ark of the Covenant, the first thing many people think of is Harrison Ford as Dr. Henry W. “Indiana” Jones and the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. There is actually a lot of good stuff in that movie. What many movie goers didn’t grasp is how much of what is portrayed is based upon the Bible and up on history. Hitler really did collect artifacts and talismans. If he’d have had any inkling of the location of the Ark, he would have sent men to find it. And of course we know from the Bible that opening the Ark is a bad thing. Several people in the Bible died for trying to do that. In fact merely touching the Ark caused death. The Philistines became ill merely having it in their cities. The Ark of the Covenant is one of those items you’re not quite certain you want around.
What was the Ark of the Covenant? It was a box made of acacia wood, covered in hammered gold. It was about a yard long, a half yard wide and a half yard tall. It had a lid also covered in gold. On the lid were statues of two cherubim. Between the cherubim was a seat, called the “Mercy Seat”. The Ark was built at the time of Moses. Inside was placed an urn of manna, the stone tablets, and Aaron’s staff which come to life and blossomed and produced almonds. If the Ark still exists, it is unknown what one would find inside today. Perhaps these items have indeed turned to dust as the movie depicted. Or perhaps they were removed. The Ark itself disappears sometime between 950 B.C. and 680 B.C. It may have been taken to Egypt by the Pharaoh Ramses II, whom the Bible calls Shishak. But, if so, it may have been returned. It appears to still be in the temple into the time of Isaiah. But it does not appear that it was still in the temple when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The last hint of it’s presence would be a hundred years earlier, and even that is not certain. So we don’t know if it was destroyed. We don’t know if it was hidden. It could, in theory, be out there waiting to be found. I’m not certain I want to be the one to find it.
The Ark was placed into the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle. This was the innermost sanctuary of the Tabernacle. The high priest would go into the Holies only once a year. He would enter on Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement. He had to take the blood of the goat sacrificed for the sins of the people and pour it out on the Mercy Seat. This continued in the Temple of Solomon. Once the Ark was removed, and throughout the time of the second Temple, the high priest would simply pour out the blood on the spot where the Ark would have sat. According to Jewish tradition, the Ark had been placed in the Holy of Holies of the Temple on the very stone where Abraham had attempted to sacrifice Isaac. For indeed, the temple mount is the very same Mount Moriah, where Abraham and Isaac had went to worship.
How does the Ark of the Covenant point us to Christ? It goes back to what the Ark of the Covenant is. A little study of languages is in order here. In Hebrew, the word covenant is B’reth. Yet, when Jewish scholars translated the Old Testament into Greek they chose an odd word to translate B’reth. They used the Greek word Diatheke. Diatheke means last will and testament. It carries with it the idea of being a solemn gift. God’s Covenant was a gift to His people. He sealed that gift with His own presence. Christ dwelled upon Mount Sinai. We don’t know why. We just know that He did. Moses got, from Christ, the instructions for building the Ark of the Covenant, on Mount Sinai. When the Ark was first placed into the completed Tabernacle, the glory cloud that concealed Christ upon the mountain descended and rested upon the Ark. The Ark was Christ is throne among His people. And what did they do with their sins? They poured their sins out upon Christ. Christ would be upon the Mercy Seat when the priest poured out the blood. By this act they were pouring their sins upon Christ. Why? Because Christ was taking their sins upon Himself.
The Ark, in a literal sense was lost. But the true Ark remained. The true Ark is Christ’s throne of grace. The next throne would be the womb of a young virgin. So when Mary comes to Elizabeth, Elizabeth greets the living Ark of the Covenant. The manger would become the next Ark of the Covenant. So the shepherds would come and see Ark of the Covenant with Christ there enthroned, in a stable. And finally, Christ would take His place, enthroned upon the final incarnation of the Ark of the Covenant - the cross of Calvary. The cross too would be Christ’s throne of grace among His people. It was upon that mercy seat that the blood of atonement for our sin would be once and for all poured out.
So yes, the Ark of the Covenant is an object that points us forward to Christ. It is Christ’s throne of grace. It is the mercy seat of God. In that, it was the first in a long line of thrones, from a virgin’s womb, to a manger, and finally the cross. The Ark and the Cross are really the same thing - Christ’s throne of grace, the mercy seat of God. They are both the place where our sins are placed upon Christ and atoned for all eternity.