The One Time Bells Are Mentioned in the Bible
- Clint Archer TheCripplegate.com
- 2017 19 Dec
Bell ringers, dispatched by the Salvation Army, are a familiar sight to yuletide shoppers. Their chipper smiles, their oscillating appendages yielding peels of music, their trusty red kettles ready to swallow up loose change, are all charming tokens of goodwill and cheer and charity.
The tradition began in 1891 when Joseph McFee committed to provide hot soup for the homeless on Christmas. He put a large kettle out and rang the bell saying “Keep the pot boiling!” so that passers-by would shed some loose change to stoke the warm hospitality.
Over the decades some have added more fuel to the fire than others. Some of the more notable donations include: Kruger Rand gold bullion, a ⅓-carat diamond ring (sad for some would-be fiancée, but good for the homeless), a check for half a million dollars, five golden rings (from an anonymous donor with a poetic flare), and several gold teeth. Yup. Teeth.
It would take a real Scrooge to find bell ringers offensive…or a monolithic department store chain obsessed with political correctness. Way before their bathroom policy misfire, Target had missed the mark of public opinion with one of their least popular gestures: they banned bell ringers from their 1,834 stores. They felt that making an exception to their “no solicitation” policy was unethical, so they opted out of supporting the homeless. Cold
After enduring an annual maelstrom of bad PR for three Decembers, the department store made a magnanimous mea culpa move by publicly announcing a donation of $1 million. Impressive, right? A grand gesture indeed. Except for this: it didn’t come close to recouping what the policy had cost the charity. One million dollars was a mere drop in the kettle compared to the $9 million per year the Salvation Army usually cleared from their Target bell ringers—a mere $26 million shy of fair.
When I learned this it occurred to me that as an unbeliever my estimate of the cost my sin incurred was equally uninformed. Many unbelievers reckon that the good they do outweighs the sin they have committed. But this is to grossly underestimate how serious it is to sin against an infinitely holy God. One transgression incurs an infinite debt, which is why punishment in Hell is not temporary, but eternal.
Many view salvation as a mere “coin in the coffer” transaction between man and God. But to pay back our unpayable debt, we owe God way more than the loose change of our good deeds. We owe him perfection. Enter Jesus. The reason we worship Jesus is because he handed us his divine righteousness on a silver platter. It is only his free gift to us that will suffice to appease the wrath we incurred. And there is an obscure but precious picture of this in the Old Testament. And it has bells.
Did you know there is only one place in the Bible where bells were used by God’s people?
In Exodus 28 Moses stipulates how the high priest was to dress when entering the holy of holies—the most sacred space in the Tabernacle and Temple—to make offerings for the sins of God’s people.
The holy of holies was so special and so off-limits to sinners that if the high priest didn’t follow protocol perfectly (a ritual bath, a consecrating sacrifice, and a pure heart) God would strike him dead for profaning the holy place.
But what if that happened? Now you have a dead high priest behind a curtain in a place with no one qualified to recover the corpse. The solution appears to be that the high priest would tie a rope around his waist so his lifeless body could be dragged out. This raises one more logistical question: how would the rope holders know if the man was dead or alive? If they pulled too early they may cause a clumsy mess of the work being done. And the priest wasn’t supposed to interrupt his ritual with an occasional “Still breathing!”
This is where bells come in.
The sound of the little bells ringing while the priest moved around was the sound of him being alive, being accepted by God.
If the ringing stopped, it meant God had rejected him and he was dead.
So, for the people of God ringing bells meant good news, especially for the high priest!
Whenever you hear the peel of a bell it should remind you of the good news that now we can all be accepted by God and we can all be made alive in him because of what our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, did on our behalf. (Isn’t that so much better than the hackneyed “angel gets his wings” story?)
Hebrews 4:15-16 - For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Ring the bells of the gospel this Christmas season. Celebrate that Jesus is alive and that we are accepted by God. And praise God for the peel of good news.
This post originally appeared on The Cripplegate. Used with permission.
Clint Archer has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.