I believe Hugh Stowell, many years ago, penned one of the most beautiful songs ever written. The song, “From Every Stormy Wind That Blows,” reads…
From every stormy wind that blows,
From every swelling tide of woes,
There is a calm, a sure retreat,
‘Tis found beneath the mercy seat.
There is a place where Jesus sheds
The oil of gladness on our heads,
A place than all besides more sweet;
It is the blood-bought mercy seat.
There is a scene where spirits blend,
Where friend holds fellowship with friend;
Though sundered far, by faith they meet
Around one common mercy seat.
There, there on eagle’s wings we soar,
And sin and sense seem all no more,
And heaven comes down our souls to greet,
And glory crowns the mercy seat.
To fully appreciate this song, one must understand what the mercy seat is. We are introduced to the mercy seat in Exodus 25, after the Lord had made the covenant with Moses and Israel upon Mt. Sinai. The people were voluntarily to give of their means for the building of the tabernacle and its furniture (Ex 25:9). The pattern for the ark was given first (:10-16), followed by instructions for the mercy seat (:17-22).
The mercy seat covered the ark of the testimony in the holy of holies (cf., Ex 26:34). God told Moses, “There I will meet with you…” (Ex 26:22). It was a place of holiness, fellowship, righteousness, and instruction. Not even Aaron, the High Priest, could come before the mercy seat without offering a sin sacrifice for himself (Leviticus 16:2ff). God was there, appearing in a cloud over the mercy seat. The ritual Aaron had to follow to approach the holiness of God there was extensive (read Leviticus 16:3-14). Included in that was the placing of blood upon the mercy seat to make “atonement” for himself and his household. The same thing was done to the mercy seat to make atonement for the people (Leviticus 16:15). Later on, when the temple was built, a place was reserved for the mercy seat (1 Chronicles 28:11).
When the New Testament speaks of the mercy seat, the primary audience is the Jews. The mercy seat is figuratively used to represent the importance and significance of what Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross does in taking care of our sin problem. We depend on the mercy of God to save us from the guilt of our sins, and the symbol of the mercy seat is designed to help us see both the ugliness of our sin and the complete holiness of God. He absolutely will not receive us and forgive us without an “atonement” for our sins.
Therefore, when you come to New Testament verses speaking of “propitiation,” “atonement,” and “reconciliation,” take into consideration their Old Testament background. These words describe God’s justice and wrath being satisfied in some way. The “some way” is Jesus’ blood sacrifice on the cross. 2 Corinthians 5:19 explains this by saying, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them…” Jesus, our High Priest (Heb 9:11-12), offered up His own blood, not for His sins but for our sins. By that sacrifice, we are made alive and right with God (Rom 5:11-21). But we must go to the designated place to receive the benefits of Jesus’ shed blood. The Bible says both that the blood (Revelation 1:5) and baptism (Acts 22:16) wash away our sins. So, Jesus’ blood washes away our sins at the point of baptism, submitted to by a repenting believer who is being baptized in order to have his or her sins forgiven (Acts 2:38).
It was certainly a relief to God’s Old Testament people to have their sins atoned for by the High Priest. But, each sacrifice each year was a reminder that the debt had not been fully satisfied (Heb 10:3-4). Thank God that what those sacrifices could NOT do, Jesus’ sacrifice did once for all time (Heb 7:27). When we do what God says to be saved, the debt against us is canceled and fully satisfied. If we continue to live faithful to God, that blood continues to save us (1 John 1:7). Because of this, no matter the hurts and heartaches we face in this life, we can have the peace and fellowship of God to hold us up “beneath the mercy seat.” What comfort!