In Exodus 25, God gives Moses the blueprints for the construction of the Tent of Meeting which until the construction of the temple some 400 years later, would become the most sacred place where he would meet his people as they worshipped with prayers, songs, and sacrifices. The Tent had three sections; the outer court where the men could come, the holy place where the priests ministered, and the most holy place (the Holy of Holies) where only the high priest could come but once a year to present the blood of the atoning sacrifice. The most holy place held but a single piece of furniture - the ark of the covenant, a wooden box overlaid inside and out with pure gold and covered by a golden lid on which were carved representations of winged creatures called cherubs.
What interests me about this box is what it contained, and what it was called. Originally, it held only the tables of stone on which were carved the Ten Commandments. Aaron's rod and a bowl of manna were later added, but the Ten Commandments were its most important contents. The box itself was called the Ark of the Covenant, which signified the one-sided agreement whereby God claimed his people for his own. The Ten Commandments inside the box signified the responsibilities incumbent upon the people God delivered from Egypt's slavery. Inside the covenant, so to speak, were the conditions by which from a human perspective, it was maintained.
The lid of this box was called the Mercy Seat, and it was where God promised to meet his people through the intercession of the high priest and the application of the sacrificial blood. Psalm 145:9 tells us that God's mercies are over all his works. Nowhere is that better represented than here. Whenever we try to live by the law, doing our best, hoping God will somehow accept us, we fall short. None of us is able to perfectly do all we know we should do, nor can we fully abstain from what we know we should not do. Our best is never good enough, and if our best is all we have to offer, we end up living in either despair or frustration. But over all our failure sits the Mercy Seat, where God meets us because Jesus died in our place.
I wish I had lived a better life than I have lived. I wish I were able to say, "from now on, I'll always do exactly as God demands," but I live every day in the knowledge of my failure - past, present, and future. I'll never measure up. The holy Law of God continually testifies against me. But over it all is the Mercy Seat. God meets me there, not because I deserve it, but because he is merciful and forgiving. And for that, I am thankful tonight.