Throughout the Bible, God uses illustrations to teach His people specific truths about Himself. Sometimes it’s about His character, sometimes it’s instruction on how to relate to Him, and sometimes it is to remind us of the ways in which He proves His love and care for us.
I was recently challenged with one such illustration described in the book Complete in Him, by Dr. Michael P. V. Barrett. In a discussing the Day of Atonement, Dr. Barrett speaks of some of the ways God used the ark of the covenant to speak to His people. He writes, “The ark was simply a box that symbolized the presence of the Lord. Although it functioned primarily as an object lesson, the restrictions guiding its construction, content, location, and transportation were rigid and inflexible. God was declaring that there is something wonderfully fearful about His presence; human beings cannot trifle with the most Holy God.
- Its being overlaid with gold declares the sovereign majesty of God.
- Its being overshadowed by the cherubim declares the holiness of God.
- Its containing a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod testifies to God’s gracious provision for His people.
- Its containing the tablets of the law, the Decalogue, speaks of God’s righteousness and in His inflexible demand for righteousness.
- Its being covered with the mercy seat, the atoning lid, proclaims the gospel of hope. Without the lid, the law cried for righteousness and demanded condemnation for unrighteousness. If the box were left open, humanity had no hope. But the closed box declared the sinner’s salvation. The mercy seat was God’s visible pledge that He will be satisfied with the atonement and will by virtue of that atonement dwell in fellowship with people. When the blood of the goat was sprinkled on the atoning lid, the impediments to fellowship with God were removed. The blood was a propitiation, or satisfaction, of God’s just wrath against the sinner. The blood was placed over the demands of the law, and all was well.
As clear a picture of the gospel that the ark was, it was only a picture.”
And then Dr. Barrett says this, “All that the ancient box pictured, Jesus Christ is.” I marvel at that statement. The sovereign majesty of God, the holiness of God, the provision of God, the righteousness of God, and great mercy of God, all these, and more, are seen in the person of Jesus, the Incarnate Lord.
The various elements in the story of the Birth of Jesus also teach us so much about the character of our God. The mere idea that the Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent King of Heaven, would leave its glories and wrapped Himself in our diseased flesh. He submitted Himself to being born in scandal and into poverty, knowing every moment of this life of suffering here on earth would end with scorn and betrayal by the ones He loved. Finally, He bore the agony of the wrath of God for our sins. What humility! What grace! What love!
What I hope to see plainly in this Christmas season is the cross. Jesus was willing to “humble Himself and be obedient to death, even the death of the cross” for my sins and yours for reasons unfathomable for my small mind. He did all this for that “closed lid” that He might be our Eternal Mercy Seat.
This is the greatest Gift of all.