First Scripture Reading: Exodus 25.10-22 & Psalm 99.1-5 May 07, 2017
Second Scripture Reading: Romans 3.21-26 & II Corinthians 5.21
“How Can God be Both Merciful and Just?”
by Rev. Bill Jennings
Introduction: A few weeks ago we celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus, which is intimately linked to the Jewish holiday of the Passover. Christians do a good job at integrating our Faith from our roots in Israel’s Passover faith. But the other key Jewish holiday of equal importance, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is largely neglected among Christians. Did you know that both Jewish holidays are equally spaced in the Jewish year, six months apart, Passover on the 10th day of the 1st Jewish month, Nissan and Yom Kippur the 10th day of the 7th month of the Jewish year. Tishri? What is it behind Yom Kippur that helps us understand what we do at Communion
I. It begins with what the Lord instructed the Israelites to do on that day. And it all centers around the High Priest’s duties before the Ark of the Covenant. In the first reading, we heard about the Ark and its meaning in Israel. It was the meeting place between the Lord and Moses and Israel. It was therefore very important and dangerous!
A. The lethal power that surrounded the ark is awe inspiring. Once two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, violated the procedural rules in presenting burning coals before the Ark, and fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them right then and there in front of the Ark – just for violating a procedural rule! (Lev. 10.1-3). Listen to Moses’ instructions to Aaron, the father of Nadab and Abihu in Lev. 16.1-2: “The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, …’Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the Ark or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud above the atonement cover.’”
B.Another time, when David was king, about 435 years later, when the King ordered the Ark to be moved from a small town in the tribal area of Judah to Jerusalem, the movers disregarded the procedure for moving the Ark, and they carried it on an ox-cart and as it moved along, it began to slip and one of the men who was alongside the ox-cart tried to keep it from falling and held out his hand to steady it, died on the spot. King David and his servant Uzzah simply disregarded the Lord’s instructions on how to transport the Ark. (II Sam. 6.1-9)
C. The proper way to approach the Ark of the Covenant is described in Leviticus 16. On the Day of Atonement, every year on the 10th day of Tishri, the High Priest is to enter the Holy of Holies, before the Ark and bring into the Ark blood of a bull to atone for his own sins and those of his family, and also the blood of a goat or ram to atone for the “the uncleanliness and rebellion of the Israelites whatever their sins have been.” (Lev. 16.16)
D. For nearly 1,500 years, all of Israel observed this ceremony, and in their mind’s eye, they should have been able to visualize an infinitely holy, all powerful and awesome, yet invisible God present above the wings of the Cherubim, over what some of our Bibles call the “Mercy Seat” or “atonement cover”. Under that cover, inside the Ark were the two tablets of the Law, the Ten Commandments, representing the Law, Righteousness, and Justice of the God of Israel. But there was something wrong with that picture. The laws on those tablets in the Ark and the Justice and Righteousness of God had been violated. Something had to cover up the offense of the Law of God represented in the Two Tablets of the Law inside the Ark.
E. The only thing that would influence that lazar gaze of a Holy, Righteous and Just God from the reality of His Broken Law in the Ark was that with which the High Priest sprinkled over and covered the Mercy Seat: the shed life blood of the perfect and unblemished, sacrificial ram! This dramatic playing out of the Day of Atonement procedure prevailed in Israel from the Exodus to time of Jesus.
II. Now, fast forward to the “fullness of time” and the coming life and ministry of Jesus. Today we will be celebrating Communion together, and as we all know, Jesus and Paul remind us that “this cup is the New Covenant in my blood”. That means that the Old Covenant of which we have been talking, Moses, Aaron, the Ark of the Covenant, the Mercy Seat and “unblemished” animal sacrifices, has faded into the background.
A. The difference is infinite! This is how the author of Hebrews describes that difference in Heb. 9.12-15:
“[Jesus]…did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then will the blood of Christ who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death….For this reason Christ is the mediator of a New Covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance – now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”
B. Nor did the shedding of Jesus’ blood have to be repeated every year, like the blood of the first covenant. As a matter of fact, the sacrifice of the Day of Atonement under the first covenant, only served to remind Israel of their sins, year after year! Jesus shed his blood for us once and for all:
“Nor did he enter into heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the High Priest enters the Most Holy Place with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all, at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Heb. 9.25-26).
III. Finally, a word from Paul’s writings that help us understand what goes on at Communion:
A. In Rom. 3.23 Paul reminds us that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. That is all of us, Jew and Gentile alike, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Atheist, Agnostic, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Roman Catholic, All! We are all guilty and in Rom. 6.23, the wages of that sin is death. Paul did not invent that. It goes all the way back to Gen. 2.17 where the Lord warned Adam and Eve about the consequences of their disobedience in the Garden of Eden. Then, in Ezek. 18.4 the word of the Lord came to the Prophet saying, “For every Psoul belongs to me, the father, as well as the son – both alike, belong to me, the soul who sins will die.”
B. Paul goes on in Chapter 3 of Romans with this in v. 24: [Those of us who have sinned] “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. God presented him as a propitiation in his blood through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness because, in his forbearance of God, he passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration of his righteousness at the present time that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (NASV)
C. There is a lot to think about in those verses. First of all, Paul uses the same word in Greek for “sacrifice of atonement” in v. 25 that we find in Ex. 25 and Lev. 16 for “mercy seat”! So, what was for Moses in Law simply the covering lid of the Ark of the Covenant, simply a part of the furnishings of the Holy of Holies, it is for Paul and you and me, the “sacrifice of atonement” an act of God himself, or as the KJV and the NASV have it (as well as the footnote in the NIV) the propitiation for our sin.
D. What is “propitiation”? It is the complete satisfaction of Divine Justice and Righteousness, as well as the personal reconciliation between the offenders (you and me) and the One offended, or God Himself, through the sacrifice that the Offended One Himself provided, the shed blood of His Only Son Jesus who as we sang earlier today in the hymn, “He, [Jesus] to rescue me from danger interposed his precious blood.”
E. A Holy, Just and Righteous God would violate his very nature by saying that “Sin is no big deal!” If you really want to know what sin can do, do what Rodney reminded us of a few weeks ago: “Watch the Lamb” – on the Cross
F. Finally, Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin, for us so that in him we might become the Righteousness of God.”
Let us celebrate that union that we have in Christ around His Table