Sermon for Sunday, August 22th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Exo 19:1-25 ESV] 1 On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2 They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3 while Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” 7 So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. 8 All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD. 9 And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.” When Moses told the words of the people to the LORD, 10 the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments 11 and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. 13 No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” 14 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. 15 And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.” 16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the LORD to look and many of them perish. 22 Also let the priests who come near to the LORD consecrate themselves, lest the LORD break out against them.” 23 And Moses said to the LORD, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it.'” 24 And the LORD said to him, “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, lest he break out against them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.
New Testament reading:
[Act 7:30-38 ESV] 30 “Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. 33 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’ 35 “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’–this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ 38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.
[Jhn 6:35-40 ESV] 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
We have a fairly long reading today as our sermon text; that of the entire chapter 19 of Exodus.
To summarize this account, I’ve made a list of 7 actions that occur in it. This perhaps will help you get your bearings before we look into some details of the passage.
You might write these down to follow along better:
(1) From the desert to the mountain.
(2) The people encamp at the mountain.
(3) Moses goes up to God.
(4) God calls out to Moses – promising that they will be his people.
(5) The people tell Moses that they will obey.
(6) God tells Moses to consecrate the people.
(7) The Lord descends.
In this chapter we have a return to the mountain. It is a return for this is the same mountain where God spoke to Moses in the burning bush. This is Mt. Sinai. (a.k.a. Mt. Horeb) And this return is a fulfillment of the prophecy from early in Exodus (3:12) where God has said to Moses, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” The fact now that not only has Moses returned to this place but that all of the people are with him is a display of just how far we have come. When Moses was last at this mountain the people of Israel were fully enslaved in Egypt with absolutely no hope of deliverance. Now they are here. At this mountain. They have been delivered. And they have traveled through the wilderness. How was this all possible? Was it because of their own strength? Certainly not! The Lord has done this.
God has chosen the Israelites from amongst all people to make a covenant with them. He delivered them from Egyptians, and He bore them on eagles’ wings, safely bringing them out of Egypt and declaring them to be His treasured possession among all the people, and that they shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
In some ways, perhaps what is most notable about our reading today is not the reading itself, but the fact that it is immediately prior to God’s giving of the 10 Commandments in Exodus chapter 20 (also Deuteronomy chapter 5). The nation which God has made needs laws. But before God can come down to them giving the law, the people need to be consecrated; they need to be made ready and devoted to God so that they will embrace the law of God.
So I want to look at this passage in three points.
I. God Views His People
II. God Validates His People
II. God Visits His People
I. God Views His People
How does God view His people? I’m not speaking of visual ways, as if God had some massive telescope to look at from heaven. But rather, what is God’s view OF his people?
Is He a disappointed Father? Is his relationship with us sometimes Hot and sometimes Cold? Or, does God view his people in a much fashion far more grand.
Now certainly the people of God are no more deserving than anyone else to have God look favorably upon us. Yet God looks upon his people with great favor. And this is not because of who we are or what we have done, but it is because of HIS love for us.
God promises a covenant relationship with His people. The covenant is God’s relationship of friendship that He establishes with his people. And in this covenant—in our text—He promises that He views His people as His treasured possession, as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Let’s look at each of these idea.
A. Treasured Possession
First, “a treasured possession.” Simply put, you belong to God. Have you considered that fact in that language? You are not your own, but you belong to God.
1 Corinthians 6:20 we read “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.”
God has redeemed His people through the death of His son Jesus Christ. He now owns you—you are no longer owned by sin or Satan or the world. But you are a treasured possession of God.
God is not merely putting up with you, or just OK with you; you are a treasured possession! How amazing. The God of all the universe treasures you.
We find this idea also in Titus chapter 2 where we hear
[Tit 2:11-14 ESV] 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people FOR HIS OWN POSSESSION who are zealous for good works.
God grabs us out of the pit and says “you are mine, for keeps.” The people of God are his possession. This includes you. Take comfort in this, dear Christian, God has chosen you to be his treasured possession.
B. A Kingdom of Priests
Not only that, but the people of God are also chosen to be a Kingdom of Priests.
In the Reformation this was emphasized as the doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers. This doctrine teaches that just as we should’t make a distinction between run-of-the-mill Christians and canonized Saints—since indeed all Christians are saints—so we shouldn’t make a distinction in holiness between priests and laity. While some are called to the work of the church it does not entail that they are more holy or have more access to God than others.
All Christians are to pray directly to God, not relying on other “priests” to mediate for them, but themselves going directly to God in prayer.
So we hear Peter say of all Christians:
[1Pe 2:9 ESV] 9 But you are a chosen race, a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Peter clearly knew the book of Exodus! He, just like Exodus, speaks not only of God’s people as a treasured possession but as a kingdom of priests and even a holy nation.
C. A Holy Nation
When we think of a holy nation, we might desire that to be nation in which we live in. We might desire our nation to be holy. But it would be a mistake to think that there is such “a holy nation.” It would be a mistake to think that the United States or Israel or some other nation is in view. The Holy Nation is not a worldly power at all. The Holy Nation is the Church of God, the invisible church of all believers regardless of which country they live in.
This holy nation is full of holy people. The people of God are to be holy; to be separate from sin and to be consecrated to God.
The Israelites, as we know, have been separated from the Egyptians. Now they are to be consecrated to God. This is in all preparing for His coming on Mt. Sinai with the 10 commandments.
But how are they to be consecrated? How are they to be prepared to God’s coming? We find that this is the central focus of the passage: preparing the people for God’s coming.
I’ve titled this sermon provocatively: “Prepare to meet you maker.” But this isn’t like in the Westerns where that phrase is said before a person is shot and killed. Here it is not people who are soon going to God, but it is God who is soon coming to His people! He is coming in a thick cloud with thunder and lightning and fire and a great trumpet blast.
So how are the people to be prepared? We find five ways in our text for how the people are to be be consecrated to God. This is how God’s people are known. These are ways in which God validates his people, proving who are his.
II. God Validates His People
(1) Wash their garments (v. 10) They are to be clean before the Holy God arrives.
(2) Be ready for the third day. (v. 11) They are to all know that God is coming.
(3) Stay away from the Mountain upon pain of death. (v.12) “Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.” Sometimes in Scripture there is a fear of death for one who gets too close to God or looks upon him. Here however the death comes by way of stoning of the people. God tells Moses to tell the people to guard the mountain and keep all away from it.
(4) Don’t touch him who touches the mountain! (v. 13) For the one who touches the mountain, “no hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot.” That is how serious God is about this command. The one who touches the mountain shall be killed, and even He shall not be touched.
Now that ends the preparations that God has given in the text. But Moses notes a fifth one. He says:
(5) “Do not go near a woman.” (v. 15) This is a command Moses gives but not God.
Most of the commentaries I checked did not explain what is going on here. Only after searching through 5 or 6 did I come upon some suggestions, and they are, in my mind, not definitive conclusion.
What I can say for sure is that this command “do not go near a woman” (understood to mean “do not go near your wife”) is not a degradation of women, as if they (and not men) are unclean.
What is perhaps going on in this passage is that this requirement of temporary abstinence is to focus their minds on God, in a manner similar to how fasting prepares a person and focuses them on the Lord. We know that Paul teaches that a man and wife may abstain with consent for a time to devote themselves to prayer.
What also is apparently going on here is that bodily fluids are considered unclean. (Leviticus 15:18) And so abstinence keeps away that uncleanliness.
Now these five requirements are ways that God validates who His people are, as His people follow through with these commands.
Connected to this we find an “if-then” statement in verse 5 of our text.
It says: “if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples.”
This does not mean that the covenant is conditional on our part. It is God who fulfills the covenant. Consider all that God has done so far in the Exodus for His people, despite their sins. It is not they who are keeping the covenant, but it is God who fulfills it and keeps his promise. The “if” in the “if-then” statement is not the condition of the covenant for man to fulfill, but rather it is a description of the people whom God sees as holy in Jesus Christ. It is how they are VALIDATED as are the people of God chosen by him, not how they appease God or become his people.
It is God who fulfills the covenant in Jesus Christ. And it is God who Visits His People.
III. God Visits His People
God comes to the mountain on the third day with thunders and lightnings and thick cloud and a very loud trump blast. “The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain.” (v. 20)
And as God came down from heaven to the mountain, so Christ came down from heaven to do God’s will.
Jesus says in John chapter 6:
38 For I HAVE COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
God comes down despite the people sinning against him. And Christ comes down despite we sinning against him. His love for us is so great that he loves us through our sin and despite or it.
First God came down on Mt. Sinai bringing the law, then in Jesus Christ He came down bringing the grace that fulfilled His covenant with His people.
The Israelites were prepared for the coming of the Lord. They were prepared to meet their maker.
Are we prepared? Are you prepared? Meeting your maker may happen in one of two ways. Upon death you go to Him, or yet in this world (as he promised) Jesus Christ returns to earth while you are still living.
No doubt if the people of God are to consecrate themselves to the Lord in God’s coming at Mt. Sinai, even more should we consecrate our selves to God to prepare to meet our Maker.
How should we do this?
We are to live as Christians, as becoming of the faith. Not to earn your salvation but to prove it, to live as you are called to do, in honor of God, giving Him the glory. The Lord who has saved us (not from Egypt but from sin) has done so for a purpose – that we might live not unto sin but unto His commands for us. For freedom he has set us free. Let us live no longer enslaved to sin, but as servants of the Most High who has blessed us in all things.
It is in his name that we pray. Amen.