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Author:Rev. Joe Poppe
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Congregation:Redeemer Canadian Reformed Church
 Winnipeg, Manitoba
 www.redeemer-canrc.ca
 
Title:At Mt. Sinai, the LORD brings His people into His presence to establish the covenant with them
Text:Exodus 19 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness
 
Preached:2008-11-09
Added:2009-01-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Confession of Dependence and Divine Greeting

Ps.24:1,2,3

Ten words of the covenant

Hy.4:1,3

Prayer of confession and illumination

 

Ministry of the Word

Reading: Exo.19; 1Pet.2:1-12; Heb.12:18-29

Hy.10:1,2,3

Text: Exo.19

At Mt. Sinai, the LORD brings His people into His presence to establish the covenant with them.  We’ll consider God’s grace:

1.      in choosing Israel as His treasured possession.

2.      in appearing to His people on Mt. Sinai.

3.      in restraining His people from setting foot on the mountain.

Ps.68:4,8,12

 

Offering

Ps.138:1,3,4

Prayer of thanksgiving and intercessions

Hy.22

Divine blessing

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Joe Poppe, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

            Proverbs 9:10 tells us, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  This was exactly what the LORD wanted to teach His people Israel.  He had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt.  Through the ten plagues and what happened at the Red Sea, the LORD showed forth His majestic power and glory.  That He was the King of all creation; that this world and all those in it were subject to Him.  The LORD brought Israel to Mt. Sinai.  To reveal Himself in an even fuller way to His people.  To teach them the fear of the Lord.

            What does it mean: “to fear the LORD”?  Does that mean that we are scared of Him?  At times God’s people were terrified at His presence.  Their fear was extreme, for meeting God made them think they would die.  Yet it is striking to see how the expression “the fear of God” is used in Exodus 20:20.  The people had asked that Moses speak to them on behalf of God, lest they die.  Moses answered, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”  The “fear of God” Moses refers to is not being afraid, but rather showing respect, showing reverence for the Most High majesty of God.

            Do we respect God in that way?  As a holy God?  As an awesome God?  Do we revere and honour Him and give Him the reverence due to His holy name?  Children, when your dad or mom asks you to fold your hands and close your eyes to pray, do you listen to them?  Do you sit quietly and respectfully, realizing that when we pray we are talking to God?  Brothers and sisters, does our conduct in daily life show that we are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation?  Or do we easily give in, in our struggles against sin, thinking that since we are Christians God will forgive us anyway?  In word and deed do we treat God with the reverence and awe He deserves?

            I think that because God is in heaven, and we are on earth – we tend to lose sight of the holiness of God.  Our text this morning brings us to Mt. Sinai.  There we see how the LORD revealed Himself to His covenant people Israel.  Our text reveals much about God’s grace and love, claiming Israel as His own people.  Yet it also reveals much about God’s awesome holiness.  It teaches us not to treat God as our “pal.”  He is on a different level than we are.  The LORD is in heaven, we are on earth.  The LORD is holy God, we are sinful people.  He is to be revered and adored!  I preach to you the Word of God under the following theme:

At Mt. Sinai, the LORD brings His people into His presence to establish the covenant with them.  We’ll consider God’s grace:

1.      in choosing Israel as His treasured possession.

2.      in appearing to His people on Mt. Sinai.

3.      in restraining His people from setting foot on the mountain.

In our text, the LORD’s promise to Moses in Exodus 3:12 is fulfilled.  God had 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.”  Our text tells us that in the third month after the Israelites left Egypt they came to the Desert of Sinai.  They camped in the desert, in front of the mountain.  Israel will remain here for almost a year.  The next fifty-nine chapters of the Biblical record are about what happened here!

Mt. Sinai has a special place in Biblical history.  God chose Mt. Sinai as the place to meet with His people.  The LORD Himself came down upon the mountain.  Moses, as the representative of God’s people went up the mountain.  The LORD spoke, commanding Moses what he was to tell to the people of Israel.  The words God spoke make it clear that at Mt. Sinai, the LORD was renewing the covenant He had made with the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The LORD claimed Israel as His people; He called them to truly know Him, revere Him, and commit their hearts to Him.

In our text God reveals His grace to Israel.  He makes known His purpose in redeeming them from slavery in Israel.  God says, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself.” (Exo.19:4).  The LORD compares Himself to an eagle, in how it cares for its young.  When a baby eagle gets to the point where it needs to learn to fly, the mother will push it out of a nest, which was typically located high along some cliff.  The baby eagle will flap its wings, but the first few times it often does not have the power to save itself.  Then the adult eagle will swoop down, catch its young and carry it back to the safety of the nest.  In grace, the LORD brought Israel to Himself.

Having redeemed His people, the LORD now makes a covenant with them.  He clearly distinguishes the children of Israel from all other peoples.  He says, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” (Exo.19:5).   1 Chronicles 29:3 makes it clear that the term “treasured possessions” refers to the special treasure a king would keep in his personal treasury.  Israel was the LORD’s prized possession.

The LORD says “Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exo.19: 6).  Note that God has a claim on the world and all that is in it.  As Creator everything belongs to Him.  But Israel was special.  He had set His people apart from all the other peoples of the earth.  They were “a kingdom of priests.”  The most striking privilege of a priest is that he was allowed intimate access to God.  This privilege God promises to the whole nation.  They would be allowed to draw near to Him.  He would be their God, and they would be His people.  Living together in communion!

Finally, the LORD claims Israel as “a holy nation.”  To be holy means “to be set apart, dedicated to God.”  If something was consecrated, it was set aside for service to God.  That is what the LORD did with the people of Israel.  In and of themselves they were no different than any other nation.  Weak sinners, is what they were.  But God set them apart, dedicated them to be His people.  He set them apart from all the other nations that lived on the earth.  He designated them to serve as His holy people.  Just as the LORD God Himself was holy, so He chose Israel to reflect His image and be His holy nation.

In the New Testament the Christian church received the promises which the LORD first made to Israel.  The apostle Peter makes this clear in 1 Peter 2:9-10.  He says, “But you 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.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”  Peter makes it clear that the words initially spoken to Israel are for the Gentiles also.

What we need to understand is that this was all a work of God’s grace.  Israel had done nothing to deserve this kind of treatment.  They were not a greater nation, or a more attractive people than any of the other nations on the earth (Deu.7:7-8).  They had done nothing to merit any favour with God.  As church, at heart we are no better or more worthy than others in society around us.  Yet the LORD in His grace and mercy chose us to be His treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

With Israel’s election as the people of God came a strong call.  Our text makes that clear.  Through Moses the LORD says to the people of Israel, “If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” (Exo.19:5). There was an obligation on Israel’s side to keep the covenant that the LORD was making with them.  They were to obey God’s voice.  They were to hold fast His covenant.  Not to earn their side of the bargain.  But as a response of faith for the grace shown to them.

The covenant that the LORD established with the people of Israel was not a deal between two equal partners.  It was not like the negotiations that take place between a star hockey player and the team that employs him.  In such a case, you have a negotiation of the terms of a contract between two equal parties.  The LORD initiates the covenant; He sets the terms.  Yet it is a covenant of grace.  What the LORD has already done for His people forms the basis for His demand that we to obey God’s voice and keep His covenant.

In our text the LORD teaches His people: you owe me a proper response because of what I’ve done for you.  I’ve redeemed you from slavery in Egypt, I’ve carried you on eagles’ wings.  At this point in time the LORD does not give any specific stipulations that He wants His people to obey.  What He desires is a heartfelt commitment.

The same applies to us.  You see, beloved, grace puts a claim on us.  We see that in the words the apostle Paul speaks in Romans 12:1.  Pauls says, “In view of God’s mercies (revealed in Romans 1-11), offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.”  We see it in what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19&20, “You are not your own.  You were bought at a price.  Therefore glorify God with your body.”

God has given us life; He has given our lives meaning and purpose; He has filled our hearts with comfort and joy.  What He desires from us is that we offer our lives to Him as a sacrifice of thanksgiving.  That we commit our hearts and lives to Him.  We have a risen Saviour, a High Priest who intercedes for us, a King who sits on the throne to defend us.  The response God seeks from us is that we surrender ourselves to Him; that we obey His voice and heed His commandments.

Israel responded to God’s call by stating, “We will do everything the LORD has said.”  They recognized the wondrous works of redemption that God had done for them.  Delivering them from slavery in Egypt through the Ten Plagues; baptizing them through the waters of the Red Sea; and caring for them in their wilderness travels.  There heartfelt desire was to serve the LORD.  How is that with us beloved?  Do we recognize God’s claim on us?  Do we seek to offer our lives as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God?  Is the goal of our life to serve God according to His Word?

In our first point we’ve considered God’s grace in choosing Israel as His treasurer possession.  In our second point we’ll consider God’s grace in appearing to His people on Mt. Sinai.  Our text continues with the LORD promising to come to His people on Mt. Sinai.  The LORD says, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud…” (Exo.19:9).  When reading this passage our tendency is to read over what God says here.  But that is a big mistake.  Please consider what is happening in our text.  God is coming down from heaven, approaching His people, drawing near to them again!

In Paradise God came down from heaven into the Garden of Eden.  He would walk and talk with Adam and Eve.  But that was before the fall into sin.  After the fall into sin, God banished them from the Garden.  Their close communion with God was broken.  While God had at times appeared to His people, for example to Abraham and to Moses, these were special occasions indeed.  Now the LORD was coming down to meet with Israel.  Our holy and awesome God, great in power and majestic in glory, was condescending Himself to come down to the Israelites.  What undeserved grace!

Yet before that could happen, the LORD gave specific instructions to prepare His people for His coming.  He 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.” (Exo.19:10-11).  Just like earlier the first born had to be consecrated to the LORD, so now all the people needed to be consecrated.  That means, they were to be set apart for the service of God, made holy.

What did this involve?  One thing they were commanded to do was to wash their clothes.  Another was that they were to abstain from sexual relations (Exo.19:15).  The point here is not that God is opposed to sexual intimacy in marriage.  God has given His blessing on that; there is nothing shameful or dirty about it.  But the point here is that the people were about to meet the living God of heaven and earth.  They needed to give their full attention and concentration to the living God, who was coming to manifest Himself in their midst.  There were not to be any distractions from this.

Further, the LORD commanded that boundaries be set at the bottom of the mountain.  Whoever touched the mountain would be put to death. It was just like when the LORD appeared to Moses at the burning bush.  “Do not come any closer,” God said.  “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exo.3:5).  It is like when we come near a high voltage power transformer.  It is surrounded by high fences with barbed wire on top, and big signs saying, “Danger, high voltage.”  The LORD God is a holy God.

In God’s command that the people were not to touch the foot of the mountain, we see how serious the LORD is about His holiness.  He was going to come down on Mt. Sinai.  With His coming, Mt. Sinai would become holy by virtue of God’s presence on it.  God’s holiness is so great that anyone who violated it would suffer the death penalty.  For no mortal sinful person can stand before our holy and majestic God.  The LORD set limits on how close the people could come.  Those limits had to be respected.  Whoever did not was put to death.

God’s holiness is so great that His anger is aroused against all those who violate it.  This becomes very clear in the case of Uzzah, recorded in 2 Samuel 6.  The situation there was that David was having the ark of the LORD brought up to Jerusalem on a cart.  When the oxen stumbled, Uzzah reached out his hand to touch the ark to prevent it from falling off the cart.  The anger of the LORD was aroused against him, and God struck him there for his error.  Uzzah died because he violated the holiness and majesty of the LORD by touching the ark.  Even though his intent was honourable, he was put to death for violating the holiness of God.

What does all this mean for us today?  It means that also we have to be careful in the manner in which we approach the LORD our God.  Much of this has to do with our attitudes towards God.  Do we fear God?  Is there in us a healthy respect for His holiness and majesty?  Does that show through in how we approach God in prayer?  Scripture does indicate that the LORD was Abraham’s friend, and that Jesus considered His disciples to be His friends.  But they were not equal relationships, between buddies.  There were times when Abraham bowed down with His face to the ground to show his homage to God.  Similarly, the disciples worshipped Jesus as the Son of God.  We should never treat God as our pal.

A health respect for God’s holiness and majesty will show through in many other areas of life.  It means that when we come before God in worship, we will dress up and not dress down.  My point here is not to prescribe a certain kind of dress standard for our church services.  Rather, it is to ask you – when you come to worship the Lord, does your dress reflect that you are coming into the presence of the Great King of all the earth?

Next Sunday, we hope to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together.  As God’s treasured possession, as a royal priesthood and a holy nation – we are allowed to come to the Lord’s Supper to share in the tokens of His grace.  But only if we have consecrated ourselves; only if through self examination we have ensured that we stand in a right relationship with the Lord our God.  Not if we are living in sin, or if we refuse to be reconciled to our neighbour.  It says in Hebrews 10:26-27, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.”  God will maintain His holiness.  His judgment will fall on those who fail to respect Him.

Having set limits in how close His people could come to Him, the LORD appeared to Israel on Mt. Sinai.  “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.” (Exo.19:16).  The LORD’s presence caused everyone in the camp to tremble.  “Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.” (Exo.19:17).  “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.” (Exo.19:18).  God revealed Himself with thunder and lightening, smoke and fire.  He showed Himself to be the Almighty Ruler of heaven and earth, the awesome King of creation.  The LORD impressed on His people His majesty and holiness.

This brings us to our final point.  In it we’ll consider God’s grace in restraining His people from setting foot on the mountain.  Our text tells us that that the LORD ascended on top of Mt. Sinai, and called Moses to the top of the mountain.  Moses came, and God told him to go down again to warn the people not to force their way through to see the LORD, lest they die.  Moses responded that he had already warned the people.  But the LORD knows His people better than Moses did. 

God doesn’t want His presence to be lethal to His people.  He knows our human nature, how weak and how prone to sin we are.  He knows that the Israelites needed another warning.  So He sent Moses down to warn them not to force their way through to see the LORD.  Here we see the grace of our God.  He had come to His people to re-establish the covenant with them.  To be their God, and make it possible for them to be His people.  He desired communion with them.  But the LORD knew that unless the people were restrained, they would force their way through the limits He set, and cause their own death.

Our situation as the people of God living in the new covenant is much better than that of the Israelites in the old covenant.  They were restricted and restrained from approaching God.  For He was holy, and they were sinful!  Only Moses could go all the way up the mountain to meet with God.  The LORD forbade the people from setting foot even on the base of the mountain.

Our reading from Hebrews 12 comforts us with a message about how wonderful it is to come to God.  The author of Hebrews refers to the great fear with which the Israelites approached God on Mt. Sinai.  Yet he teaches us that we do not need to be afraid of coming before God at Mt. Zion, at the city of the living God.  The reason for this is that we have a great Mediator in Jesus Christ.  By His blood Christ has paid for our sins.  He has opened the way to the Father for us.  Our Lord has ascended into heaven to sit on the throne of grace at God’s right hand.  So we may approach God in full assurance of faith.

Thus we see beloved, how we have received a wonderful position.  We are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  It is who we are in Christ.  It is what we are called to be, through the working of the Spirit in us.  As God’s chosen people we are privileged to approach God without dread or terror.  We may do that in our prayers.  Calling upon God as our Father, and expecting all good things from His gracious hand.  We are allowed to come to the Lord’s table to share in communion with Christ our Saviour.  Not due to any of our merits, but only through the washing of Christ’s blood and Spirit.  Yet anytime we come before God we need to do so remembering the words of Hebrews 12:28-29: we are to “worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Joe Poppe, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. Joe Poppe

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