A sermon on Exodus 25:10-22 given by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on October 4, 2020 the eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost. This is the eleventh sermon in an ongoing series on the book of Exodus.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK?
The Ark of the Covenant. If you’re about thirty or above, even just saying those words probably recalls that one scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. That Hollywood movie captured the face-melting power at work in the ark, but didn’t get much else right (actually, I re-watched the scene this week, and my thoughts were the same as one YouTube commentator: PG, huh? Must stand for Pretty Graphic!).
Mystery and intrigue surround the ark to this day – where did it go? Who has it? The Ethiopian church actually claims to have the ark, closely guarded in a chapel. For what it’s worth, I’m not sure its location matters that much, actually. The ark pointed forward to Jesus Christ. It’s its meaning that matters and that’s what we’ll focus on today.
Take a step back though, and let’s talk about the Tabernacle for a moment. Over the next three weeks, we will be looking at the design for the Tabernacle, sampling three items: the Ark, the Table for Bread, and the Golden Lampstand.
The design for the tabernacle was shown to Moses on the mountain with God, and its purpose is expressly stated in 25:8, “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.” In fact, will all that’s going on in the tabernacle, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it is a tent, just very much like the ones the Israelites live in.
Remember: one of themes of Exodus is creation and re-creation. In the tabernacle, God is beginning to retore what was lost in the Fall. Remember also: this one book in five volumes. And so, the fellowship that was torn asunder in Genesis, God begins to heal in Exodus. In Tim Chester’s words, “the tabernacle is [the] map showing us the way back home.” (Exodus for You, pg. 186)
At the very center of this tabernacle, this home, is the ark (you can see the basics of that layout on the backside of the sermon outline this morning). It was kept in the Most Holy Place, it was portable, and it contained, originally, just the two copies of the Ten Commandments.
The ark reveals the character and heart of our God, and it does so in at least four ways.
The ark shows us a God who takes the initiative to come to his people (in the story of the Scriptures, people don’t make their way back to the garden, God makes his way to people)
Again, in verse 8 God declares “let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.” And in v. 15, after stating that poles and rings for carrying the ark must be built, the Lord says, “the poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it.” So this God comes to his people and goes with them.
But even as we comes to them and goes with them, he present, and yet the way back is still in some sense barred. When people would enter the tabernacle, they would do so from the east – the same direction they were sent out of the garden. Cherubim, angels, line the fabric of the tabernacle, reminding us of the angel guard set at the east border to Eden, barring humanity’s way back home.
Oh how this strikes at the root of so much sin and brokenness and lostness in our world today! We want to make our own Eden. We want to plot our own course home! We want to be our own god. Ever since Man partook in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he has had more knowledge than he knows what to do with, all while lacking one thing necessary: trust in and fellowship with God Almighty. We see this accelerating in our time and place.
But our God comes to us, he exposes our need, brings us to repentance and faith in Jesus, teaches us, and shows us the way home, in him.
The ark shows us that we are called to live under God’s reign
From Tim Chester: “The ark has the same proportions as the footstool of an ancient king. When a king sat in judgment, he sat on his throne and put his feet on a footstool. But Israel is not ruled by a human king. God is her King. And God reigns from heaven. So he is, as it were, seated on his throne in heaven with the ark as his footstool on earth.” (Exodus for You, pg. 188)
The people of Israel are to be a people who live under the reign of God. The Commandments placed into the ark express this (and by the way, the two tablets are two copies of the covenant – one for God and one for his people – not one half of the commandments on one with the rest on the other).
The lid of the ark is made of pure gold with angels guarding the presence of God. William Tyndale originally translated this lid in English as a “mercy seat.” That is to say, “a place of mercy.” So God’s reign is accomplished by justice covered with mercy. We’ll come back to that.
The point I want to make here is that being a Christian means living under the good, wise, and freedom-giving reign of God. As the old prayer says, “to serve you is perfect freedom.”
Let me ask you today: if you don’t know Christ, are you free? Do you have a sese of actually being free? Search your heart and be honest with yourself. You know you are not. In fact, not only are you not, you’re actually the slave of another kingdom – a dark kingdom that does not bring freedom, but bondage.
There is the myth in our culture that the God of the Bible is simply old-fashioned, stuffy, and definitely does not like fun. But Exodus tells us that he is a warrior and deliverer for his people. He brings freedom. He makes a dignified people out of slaves. True freedom is found in the reign of God coming into ones life, for “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) Do you want to know that freedom today?
The Ark shows us a God who wants his people to have assurance of his presence
There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. (25:22)
The Lord gives his people the tabernacle so that there might be a tangible, physical place where heaven and earth come back together. “There I will meet you.”
I don’t know how else to say this: I believe that sometimes Christians try to be more spiritual than God.
Today, God has graciously given us the ordinary (yet, extraordinary, means of grace) that we would be assured of his goodness towards us. God has given us the preaching of his Word, the physical gathering of his people, the broken bread, the poured wine, and the waters of baptism, so that we might we have assurance in our lives.
Are we running to these ordinary means of grace, receiving them with hearty faith, or stiff-arming them, keeping them at a distance? Are we trying to live the Christian life in a way that is more spiritual and complicated than God intends?
(By the way, not speaking to shut-ins!)
The Ark presses and strains toward its fulfillment, culminating in Christ’s Incarnation (John 1:14)
The ark is a place that speaks of blood and glory.
I hope phrase sheds more light than shade this morning. Here’s what I mean: we need to see that the whole story of the Bible is one that pressing forward and strains toward the time when the Word tents among us. Not in shadows, but in our flesh. John 1:14 famously declares that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son.” Literally translated, it means that Jesus, the God-man, tabernacled in our midst. He took onto himself our very nature, becoming one of us in every way, save sin. The glory of God would be concealed and revealed in his life.
You may know that the ark played a central role in the Day of Atonement. This is the very place where the High Priest, once a year, would sprinkle blood on the mercy seat. As we already know, this would also be called God’s footstool (Psalm 99:5). How startling is to think that one day, it would be our Lord who would have his feet pierced through, his hands offered up in sacrifice, his body and blood given as the place, the temple, where justice is now covered with mercy and everlasting forgiveness.
The ark shows us that at the very heart of God, there is blood and glory. His glory is outward moving, blessing, reaching, to the point of becoming one of us. This God, who is so utterly holy, invites sinners to dwell with him.
Friends, this God has made us what we are. This is why we are Christians. There is no other god like our God. There is no other message like the message of Christ. No other good news like this Good News.
From Brennan Manning’s famous book, The Ragamuffin Gospel: “Many of us don’t know our God and don’t understand his gospel of grace. For many, God sits up there like a Buddha, impassive, unmoving, hard as flint. Calvary cries out more clearly than any theology textbook: We do not know our God. … The cross reveals the depth of the Father’s love for us: ‘For greater love than this no one has than that he lay down his life for his friends.’” (pgs. 75-76)
The ark cries out with the heart of your Father, beckoning you home this morning! The way is open through Jesus Christ.
I end with that stirring exhortation from Hebrews 10:19-25:
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
To God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be all the glory, now and always. Amen.