Without fail, every time I think about the ark of the covenant, I’m reminded of Raiders of the Lost Ark, a movie I saw many, many times in the theater.
Back in those days—before movies were sold in stores, let alone downloaded or streamed—a big, successful movie might stay in theaters for months. The really big blockbusters, like Raiders, would play for a year or more. And so I made countless trips to see it at the Cinema City 8 theater, complete with its Vegas-style lights illuminating the Roebuck shopping plaza.
It is possible I heard lessons about the ark of the covenant in Sunday school, but I don’t remember any of them before seeing that movie. Do you remember the scene where the Nazis have the ark and are having a “ceremony” to open it? Their goal was to use the power of the ark to fight the Allies. Of course, Indiana knows they are making a big mistake by opening it, so he tells Marion to look away and close her eyes when the ark is opened.
And then it happens: one of the most iconic, terrifying moments in my movie-watching history. The faces of all who look at the ark melt off, the presence of God spreads, and everyone is obliterated—except for Indy and Marion, who knew better than to look at it.
I had heard so many sermons and lessons on the holiness of God growing up in our Baptist church. But that movie is what brought this question home for me: “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God?” (1 Samuel 6:20).
The answer, of course, is no one. When you read 1 Samuel 5 and 6, the point is clear. Not only are the Philistines going to pay for approaching the holy God in the presence of the ark, but so are God’s people. After all, Israel should know better. They should know the power of the ark and the depth of God’s holiness better than anyone.
Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God?
It almost seems like a helpless situation. God’s holiness and power come together and no one can stand in the presence of either of those things. Our sin and lack of holiness separate us from God in such a dramatic fashion that we cannot look on Him without fear of death.
There is one way we can stand before the Lord, in all His holiness. Jesus, the God-man, made a way for us. He stood in our place and died the death we deserved so that we could approach our holy God with confidence (Ephesians 3:12). He took on our sin and gave us His righteousness in return, making the impossible possible. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we can now “stand before the Lord, this holy God,” face to face (and still intact), welcomed with open arms (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Written by Matthew B. Redmond