Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Ark of the Covenant

So much time has passed that some wondered if the ark would ever return. Layers of ancient history clouded its disappearance, some said it disappeared after Solomon, others said it was taken by the Babylonians. The ark of the covenant was gone and only a miracle could bring it back.

The ark served as a continual reminder of God’s presence among his people. Inside this golden chest lay the tablets God gave to Moses, a jar of manna from the wilderness and Aaron’s rod that budded. All served as reminder of the great Exodus when God took His people out an empire and into a covenant.

The tablets contained the “ten,” that is the commands that defined this covenant people. The manna was the wondrous bread that sustained the ancient Hebrews as they crossed the wilderness. And the rod budded as an indication that Aaron was chosen to be high priest on behalf of the people.

These sacred objects stored in this sacred box all pointed to the God that kept covenant with His people. Considered holy, the ark was not to be even touched by human hands. Everywhere they went, the Levites carried the ark before the people on rods.

The ark led them across the wilderness. The ark led them through the Jordan river. The ark even led them in victory against Jericho. The ark always led the way as a continual reminder that the Hebrews were “a people in covenant with God.” The ark rested in the Holiest room of the tabernacle. This room was likened to the third heaven.

Once the Philistines captured the ark, but after one failed attempt, David restored it. He brought it back to Israel in grand procession with singing and dancing. The victorious king vanquished their enemies and restored the ark back to the holy mountain. But not Sinai. David put the ark on Mount Zion and forever established it as God’s holy mountain.

But those days of promise were so long ago. The glory days faded, and all that remained was a dull tarnish of dashed dreams. Israel broke the covenant again and again and again. The nation was divided, attacked captured and eventually led into exile.

Somewhere along the way, the ark vanished. And with it, the sense of God’s presence had left the people. Forced to serve under various oppressors, the Hebrews lived in an endless twilight, awaiting deliverance, awaiting for another David to return. Then their oppression would be cast off, their exile would end and the temple would be fully restored with the ark of God’s presence.

Three times a year, the people made festal processions up the mountain to celebrate God’s delivering hand. Three times a year, they reenacted the ark’s journey across the wilderness and the procession up the Holy Mountain. Three times a year they remembered the covenant God struck with their forefathers. They times a year, they dreamed and hoped of another day.

The time for their Passover procession approached, but this year, another procession was already in motion. The ark had returned and was traveling through the city and up the Holy Mountain. Instead of war stead, this warrior king rode a donkey. But he had come to claim the Davidic promise. He had come to end the exile. He had come to break the rod of the oppressor. He had come to restore the temple. He had come to put the ark back on the Holy Mountain.

But where was the ark? He didn’t lead a band of Levites with the ark on rods. Where was the ark?

He was the ark. Jesus was the ark of the covenant.

Jesus entered the city with shouts of Hosanna and crowds cheering in a festal procession. He was the ark for he himself bore the presence of God in the midst of the people. He himself bore the covenant in his body. He spoke as one having authority for He was the living law of the covenant. He came as sustenance for the soul because He was the living manna. He came bearing Aaron’s rod, for he was the true High Priest of Israel.

But just as David learned, the ark could only be set in place with sacrifice, so Jesus also brought the sacrifice required to restore the ark to its proper position. He became the sacrifice. For He himself was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus the great High Priest offered Himself the Lamb of God as sacrifice and then Jesus the living ark of the covenant was restored to Mount Zion.

Only Mount Zion had changed. It was no longer a city in old Jerusalem but a city in the new Jerusalem, the city of the firstborn, the faithful in Christ Jesus, the people called out to worship God—not in a place but in spirit and truth. With ark of God’s presence set among his called out people in Christ Jesus, we are the mountain to which all nations will stream. For out from his people flows the living water that brings healing to the world.

As we proceed through Holy Week, we fix our eyes on the joy before us: the presence of God among His people in Christ Jesus. This is not simply a yearly celebration, but in reality every week we make the festal procession. Each Lord’s Day, we celebrate the ark being restored to Mt Zion with songs of rejoicing, and we encounter the law of the covenant, the heavenly manna and the great High Priest—all embodied in Jesus Christ.

Let us rejoice this Holy Week, for we are traveling to the Holy City to rejoice once more in the joyous presence of God, resting among His people.

1 comment:

Milton Stanley said...

Beautiful essay, Doug. Jesus is the ark of the covenant. I think you're exactly right, and you've given me a lot to think about, research, meditate on, and eventually teach. Thanks.