The Word for today:
mark this: (from Hebrews 9:3-5)
Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place…having the Ark of the Covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat.
mark this: Romans 3:23-25/NET
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith.
Haven’t I seen you somewhere before? Do you have a twin?
These are questions that come to mind when we meet someone who looks so familiar that we could swear we must have met him before.
There are certain scenes in the Bible that should evoke the same questions. Yesterday, we showed pictures–from Genesis, Exodus, and the gospel of John–which looked strikingly alike. In each one of them, angels were stationed at the place where man and God might meet.
One scene took place at the Garden of Eden. Man and God were together in the garden, but man’s sin soon separated them. As Adam and Eve left the garden, cherubim with a flaming sword guarded the way to the tree of life. On the ground next to the entrance was the blood of an animal whose skin provided a temporary covering for their nakedness.
The next scene was from the tabernacle. In the inner compartment–the Holy of Holies–the Ark of the Covenant was covered with a golden lid, called the “mercy seat.” There, only once per year, when the blood of an animal was sprinkled on that lid, God met with one man for just a moment. Cherubim, fashioned from pure gold, were at either end of the mercy seat keeping watch.
Finally, we saw two angels stationed at the tomb where Jesus’ body had lain. But this time something very different happened. Instead of standing between the people and God (as they did at the Garden of Eden); instead of admitting only one person per year (as at the Tabernacle) the angels at Jesus’ empty tomb invited a common person–Mary of Magdala–to come right in and see for herself where Jesus’ body had been.
These three pictures, though much the same, are slightly, progressively, different. They are examples of a poetic technique called “incremental repetition” (which sounds oxymoronic–How can something change while staying the same?) The many resemblances between the scenes actually enhance the few slight differences between them.
In the first scene, man was shut out of the Garden altogether, though the sword which kept them out also lighted the way for their future return. Almost unnoticed, a blood atonement (the animal skins) is foreshadowed.
In the second scene, though the blood atonement is ceremonially observed, its effectiveness is limited to just one person and just one moment every year. Nonetheless, the steps of Adam and Eve are retraced in reverse as the high priest enters the Presence of God.
In the third scene, the angels beckon a woman (a picture in reverse of Eve’s banishment) to enter the tomb–which itself is a picture of the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, which itself was a picture of the Garden of Eden where man once enjoyed unhindered access to God.
To emphasize how Jesus, who is the mercy seat (1), had forever obliterated the sin barrier between God and man, the thick curtain that shut the people out of the Holiest Place had been torn, at the moment he died, from top to bottom as if by invisible hands.
The cherubim, who long to look into such things (2), finally got to see what they’d been waiting for. The Garden, the Holy of Holies, Paradise itself (all pictures of God’s Presence) would be closed no more.
Man and God meet at the mercy seat. Like other tabernacle furniture—the lampstand, the laver, the altar, the ark itself, etc., the mercy seat pointed to a person. As both Son of Man and Son of God, he is the connection between God and man whom Job had longed for—someone who might lay his hand upon us both (Job 9:33).
On that first Easter morning, when Mary Magdalene thought she’d seen the gardener, she was right. This last Adam will never let thorns and briers choke the Garden again.
And if Mary should encounter the subtle speech of a serpent, she’ll tell him to go speak to her Husband, this time.
(1) See Romans 3:23-25/NET (above); (2) 1 Peter 1:12