"Meeting with God"
May 1, 2005
We have reached Mount Sinai.
Israel has been rescued from slavery in Egypt and has been led to Mount Sinai. And in chapter 19, Israel camps at the base of Mount Sinai. Do you know how long they stay there? Anybody know?
They stay there almost exactly one year. And it takes 58 chapters of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers to tell the story of all that happens right here at the base of Mount Sinai. We will spend the rest of the book of Exodus in this location.
Last week, we read about a meeting that Moses and Israel had with Jethro, his father-in-law. This week, we read about a meeting that Moses and Israel had with God!
In Exodus chapter 19, God shows up like He has never shown up before!
In chapter 20, God will give the 10 Commandments, and we’ll start working through them next week, but we’re just going to study chapter 19 this week. We’re going to see what God says before He gives the 10 Commandments and how God comes in His awesome holiness to meet with His people at Mount Sinai. And I’m going to share three applications from this passage of Holy Scripture that I think we all need to take to heart.
Let’s pray and then join Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai.
Exodus chapter 19, starting in verse 1.
"In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt–on the very day–they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain."
This is the fulfillment of Exodus chapter 3, verse 12 which said, "God said, ‘I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’"
This is the "mountain of God" where God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. Burning and burning and burning and burning and burning and burning with a holy fire that never went out!
And here he is again. This time with all of his people, more than 2 million Israelites strong, encamped at the base of the mountain.
It has taken them 3 months to get here. God has been with them all along. But now, in a special way, in an awesome way, God is going to come down to meet with them.
And God is going to make a covenant with them. A covenant that is based upon the covenant that He made with their forefathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A covenant that is based upon grace but comes with obligations. A covenant of law. Theologians call it the "Mosaic Covenant" because Moses was the mediator of it.
And now in verses 3 through 8, God offers it to Israel.
"Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD [YHWH] called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’ So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, ‘We will do everything the LORD has said.’ So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD."
God is offering to make a covenant with Israel. And Israel (in v.8) agrees to make that covenant. "We will do everything the LORD has said." Easy to say, hard to do.
Notice what this covenant is based upon. It’s based upon grace. V.4
"You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself."
This law covenant doesn’t start with law. It doesn’t start with God saying, "If you obey me then I will save you. If you earn your way into my good graces, then I will accept you." It doesn’t say, "If you first prove yourself and obey all of my commandments, then I will rescue you."
It begins with the rescue! It’s all built on the rescue. And once again, God reminds them to remember their rescue.
He says, "You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself."
You have experienced my rescue. It was on eagles’ wings.
You know how baby eagles learn to fly, don’t you? After they are pushed out of the nest, their mothers swoop down below them and gently bear them up from beneath them so that they are safe. I love that picture!
"I have carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself."
This covenant is God’s doing. It’s His initiation. It’s His grace. He’s done the rescuing. He’s done the carrying. He’s brought them to Himself.
And out of that flows this covenant. This special relationship. V.5
"Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession."
With the grace of the rescue comes obligations. There will be a law for them to follow. The covenant agreement has stipulations that they will need to keep.
And as they do, they will be (out of all nations!) God’s treasured possession.
I’ve told you before about this word for "treasured possession." The Hebrew word is "cegullah." Doesn’t that sound good?
It means "valued property." A special possession. A treasure that is personally owned and precious to its owner. Cegullah.
God says that Israel will be His "cegullah."
Everything on Earth is His, but Israel will be His in a special way. Israel will be His "cegullah"–His treasured possession.
What does that mean? V.6
"Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."
"A kingdom of priests" means that Israel, as a whole, will serve in a priestly function among the nations. They will be set-apart to YHWH and represent Him to other nations, to the rest of the world.
"A holy nation" means that Israel would be "morally pure and dedicated entirely to the service of God" (Hannah, BKC, pg. 138). They alone of all the nations of the Earth would be specially set-apart to do God’s will.
They would be His "cegullah." God’s treasured possession.
And the good news for us today, is that we, the church, are now God’s treasured possession through faith in Christ Jesus. And we need to live like it.
Point #1. LIVE AS GOD’S TREASURED POSSESSION.
Now, where do I get that? 1 Peter, chapter 2, verse 9.
Peter is talking to the Christian church scattered throughout Asia Minor. And he says, "[Y]ou are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."
Sound familiar? Peter is just applying the wording of Exodus 19:5&6 to us. "[Y]ou are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God..."
And the call upon us is to live like it.
Israel was supposed to be different from the nations around them. They were to know that they were special to God and live special lives–holy lives.
If you are special to God, then you need to live like it.
If you have been saved by God, then you need to live like it.
If you have been set-apart for God, then you need to live like it.
Live as God’s Treasured Possession.
Do you know how much God treasures you?
The choir sang, "You Are My Treasure" this morning. And that’s right.
But do you know that if you are a believer in Jesus Christ then you are God’s treasure?
God paid the ultimate price to purchase you. Not because you were valuable, but to make you valuable! And now you are valuable to Him through the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Because of Jesus, You are God’s "cegullah."
Live like it.
"[Y]ou are a chosen people [you are chosen!], a royal priesthood [you are a priest!], a holy nation [you are holy], a people belonging to God [cegullah]..."
Live like it.
Is there anything in your life (and we all have something) that doesn’t fit with being God’s treasured possession?
Is there some sinful habit?
Is there some incongruous relationship?
Something that doesn’t fit with being God’s special property?
Are you different from the people around you? Or do you just fit in?
Do you live like God’s treasured possession?
This weekend, my wife went away to the Women’s ministry seminar in Beaver Falls, and I had all 4 kids to myself on Friday afternoon and evening. And our van was in the shop for an inspection. So, I have no vehicle and 4 kids who were just bouncing off of the walls. "Mommy’s away, let’s play!"
And I got really frustrated with them and lost my temper a few times. And I had to apologize to them. And I had to seek God’s forgiveness.
When I came to this point in my sermon preparation, I thought of how that wasn’t living as God’s "cegullah." I was responding just like the world does when they aren’t getting their way.
But I’m God’s precious property, and that should make a difference in how I act.
We are God’s treasured possession, and we need to live like it.
Now, back to our story.
The LORD has reminded Israel of their rescue and promised them a special covenant relationship, and the people of Israel responded with quick and total affirmation of this covenant relationship. And now, God is going to come to meet with them. V.9
"The LORD said to Moses, ‘I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.’ [Clouds have been a way that God has shown up before in this story. This will be a dense one that will bring God’s voice near to the people, and they will know without a doubt that God speaks to Moses and they can trust him as a mediator.] Then Moses told the LORD what the people had said. And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. [Get ready. God is coming!]"
"Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, 'Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. He shall surely be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on him. Whether man or animal, he shall not be permitted to live.' Only when the ram's horn sounds a long blast may they go up to the mountain.’ [Put up barriers so that the people don’t get too near. And anyone that crosses the barrier should be killed, but with a projectile so that no one has to get near the mountain themselves.] After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. Then he said to the people, ‘Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations.’"
God is coming. Israel, prepare to meet your God!
God is going to come on the mountain in a visible demonstration of His glory and His holiness.
And the mountain will be so charged with holiness that the people should not come up too far on it or be killed. They should abstain from sexual relations and prepare to meet their God. This was the equivalent of the nation taking off their sandals because they were on holy ground.
Remember the setting. Two million people camped at the base of the mountain. They erect these barriers so that no one gets too close. Everyone does their laundry. Husbands and wives abstain from marital intimacy so that they can pray.
Everyone begins to hold their breath. What is going to happen?
What will it be like? This is scarey.
And then He comes. And it’s like nothing that they could have ever imagined. V.16
"On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him."
There is no way to grasp this. Have you ever been stuck outside with no shelter in a thunderstorm? Have you ever felt the earth move in an earthquake? Have you ever marveled at the power of nature as you watch a tornado bounce along the horizon? Have you ever wondered at the grandeur of the Grand Canyon or the Pacific Ocean? Have you ever been afraid of the dark? Have you seen a forest fire?
This was greater and more terrible and more awesome and more frightening than all of those put together!
Imagine! The terribleness, the dread, the shaking of the earth, the sound of that mysterious trumpet growing and growing and growing, the sight of that thick cloud and the smoke and the fire! The power of the thunder and the flashing of the lightning, there is nothing on Earth to describe it! The mountain trembled! The mountain was on fire! The dread of this! The abject terror they must have felt! You describe it! Just imagine how terrible it must have been to see this visible demonstration of the holiness of God!
This is not just a burning bush. This is a burning mountain. A burning mountain.
The mountain was on fire with the holiness of God!
God is here.
This is a meeting with God. And it is terrible. V.20
"The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the LORD said to him, ‘Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them.’ [No one is exempt.] Moses said to the LORD, ‘The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, 'Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.'’ The LORD replied, ‘Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the LORD, or he will break out against them.’ So Moses went down [one more time] to the people and told them."
Notice how concerned God is that the people do not come too near.
He is too holy for them to approach.
If sinful man gets too close, the holiness of God will break out and wipe them out!
God is holy.
And (point #2), WE SHOULD TREMBLE AT GOD’S TOTAL HOLINESS.
Our God is a consuming fire! He is not to be taken lightly.
V.16 "Everyone in the camp trembled."
As well they should.
And so should we.
Tremble at God’s Total Holiness
One of the problems in American Christianity is that we are too flippant and casual with God.
Yes, we have a personal love relationship with God. Yes, God is close to us. Yes, God is near to us. Yes, God is my friend and my brother even though He is a King.
But this is the God who is close to us!
The God whose presence sets the mountain on fire!
The God whose coming all of the Computer Generated Images of Hollwood’s movie studios could not come even close to approximating the awesomeness of on the big screen!
This is the God whom we are close to!
Our God is a consuming fire!
And we should tremble.
We should tremble.
When was the last time you meditated on the sheer holiness of God?
This is the God with whom we have to do. He has not changed.
To come near Him without protection would mean to die.
His presence bears no imperfection.
He cannot stand sin.
He is holy, holy, holy.
And we should tremble in His presence.
It’s amazing that we are allowed into His presence at all.
But Jesus has made it possible for us to enter in.
And that should make us tremble, as well.
And that’s point #3. COME TO GOD WITH THANKFUL CONFIDENCE.
Yes, tremble. But come.
And come further up and further in than Israel could.
Come all the way up.
Because Jesus has opened the way for us to come all the way up to God.
Epheians 3:12 says, "In [Christ Jesus our Lord] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence."
Something has changed.
God is still this holy. But something has changed that allows us to approach God with freedom and confidence.
It’s called the New Covenant. And it’s better than the Mosaic one.
Turn with me to Hebrews chapter 12.
The writer to the Hebrews is convincing some Hebrew Christians that the New Covenant mediated by Jesus is much better than the Old Covenant under Moses. And he points out the differences in chapter 12. Look at v.18.
"You [Christians, New Covenant believers living on this side of the Cross] have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm [Exodus 19]; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.’ The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’ But you [Christians, New Covenant believers living on this side of the Cross] have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn [that’s where we are this morning! First Church of the Firstborn], whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel..."
He goes on and he ends with a call to worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. To tremble in worship.
But the reason is because we have come to God through an even better covenant than this wonderful one in Exodus 19. We have come to God through the New Covenant which is ratified in Jesus’ blood.
Now, we can approach the throne of God boldly with confidence to find help in our time of need.
"In [Christ] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence."
Come to God with thankful confidence.
Thankful for the blood of Christ.
Confident that that blood is able to protect you from the holy righteous wrath of God.
Confident that because of the sprinkled blood of the Lamb of God you will be accepted in His presence.
"In the presence of a holy God."
You are invited to a meeting. In the presence of a holy God.
Come to God with thankful confidence through Jesus Christ.
Isn’t that a wonderful invitation?
It’s open to you today.
Whether it’s for the first time. You’ve never met with God before.
Or if it’s for the thousandth time.
Come to God with thankful confidence through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Worship at the Lord’s Table
That’s the meaning of the table set for us this morning.
It is an invitation to come and meet with God.
It is a reminder of the blood of the New Covenant which has opened our access to god.
It is symbol of our trembling worship that we are in the presence of a holy God.
This table is a reminder of our rescue on "eagle’s wings" and that we are God’s chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God as His "cegullah," His treasured possession, and should live like it.
This table is a meeting with God.
Will you come?
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, walking in fellowship with Him, you are invited to eat and drink this memorial meal with us. Take this time to meditate on the holiness of God and your special relationship to Him through the death of His own Son.
If you are not yet a believer or if you are living in unrepentant sin or if you aren’t sure you are a believer, or if your life is completely inconsistent with being God’s special treasure, we ask that you let the plate pass you by today and use this time to reflect on what has been said. Don’t take this lightly or flippantly. Don’t act like it doesn’t matter. The God of Exodus 19 is a consuming fire. And He hasn’t changed one bit. Take this time to think about God’s holiness and His wrath and His offer of grace and His invitation for you to come to Him.
Consider His invitation for you to meet with Him by faith in Christ Jesus.
(All Scripture Quotations from the New International Version of the Bible)