The holiness of God demands a mediator

‌‌These passages that we look to today and in the following week all come from one of the largest displays of God’s presence and power in all of history.

There is so much that takes place in the first 19 chapters of Exodus. So much. God has accomplished miracle after miracle. He’s called on creation to bow before Him, making a mockery of the false Egyptian gods, all to free His people from slavery.

‌He’s commanded water to form into walls and the seafloor to become dry ground. All to free His people from slavery.

‌He’s empowered His people to defeat enemies that should have destroyed them in the desert.

‌He’s fed them bread from heaven.

‌He’s given water from a rock.

‌How often do you recount the history of God’s faithfulness in these true stories as real as your favorite personal memory?

‌These things happened in real life, to real people. Sometimes I’m concerned, and I’m speaking to myself here, that we so quickly read over these things and don’t take in the weightiness of their reality.

‌‌These passages that we look to today and in the following week all come from one of the largest displays of God’s presence and power in all of history.

‌We can’t afford to miss what’s happening here simply on the basis of reading the text too lightly. If you do, you will miss three massive things: God’s Presence, God’s Holiness, and God’s Grace.

Let’s read Exodus 19:16-25, 20:18-21

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. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 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. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 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.

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. Also let the priests who come near to the LORD consecrate themselves, lest the LORD break out against them.” 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.’” 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.” So Moses went down to the people and told them. (Exodus 19:16-25)

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:18-21) 

‌Here’s the main idea:The holy demands of God’s nearness with His people require a mediator as a means of His grace.”

‌God’s Presence (16-20)‌

The people are coming before the presence of the Lord God. He is calling them with a trumpet sound.

‌This is a theophany: a visible manifestation of God to humankind.

‌But look at creation — thunder and lightning flashes. Even creation cannot remain the same at the presence of God

‌Look at the people — trembling. Can you imagine the tone of the camp during the preparation time? God is coming. We have to be ready. The stakes are high. If we get curious and try to get too close, then we will die. But God is coming.

‌And then God spoke to Moses … as in a conversation.

‌At its core, this is a relational move on God’s part with the people that He saved. Not a single Egyptian false god came and showed themselves during the 400 years in slavery. Not a single one. But God plans to be with, among, His people.

‌Do you long for the presence of God in your life? Do you anticipate the gathering on Sundays and times in the Word and time in prayer? 

‌Israel put on pause all the normal activities of life in order to prepare to meet with God. But how quickly can we take up the normal activities of life and miss the opportunity to communion with God?

‌God is calling you to anticipate time with Him and worshiping together with the saints on Sunday. Don’t miss it because you weren’t prepared.

‌Tim Chester says: “Sinai leaves Israel, and us, in no doubt. God wants a relationship with His people. But God is also dangerously holy.”

God’s Holiness (18-25)‌

There’s a seriousness that God is taking here, one that even Moses takes more lightly than he should. I get it, Moses has climbed about 2000 ft to the top of the mountain. And God says, go back down and make sure that the people know the rules.

‌And the priests are to be consecrated, otherwise the Lord will handle them. Stoning and arrows aren’t severe enough for those among the people who function as priests. If they aren’t prepared, the Lord will handle them directly.

‌God’s holiness is serious. We start to see hints of how this will play out for centuries to come. There are barriers set in the tabernacle and later the temple. After purification, the people would be able to enter the outer court of the temple. After purification, the priests could come closer but not into the Holy of Holies. And on one day a year, the Day of Atonement, the high priest, and after very specific preparation, would go into the Holy of Holies.

‌God is serious about His holiness, because it is dangerous for us as sinful mankind. When the holiness of God meets the sinfulness of men, something has to happen. We are either changed forever or we perish. And the outcome all depends on the circumstance and commands of God.

‌Uzzah was participating in the improper transport of the ark. The commandment was not to touch. He died when he reached out to steady the ark in 2 Samuel 6.

‌Moses returns to the people after encountering the presence and holiness of God so changed that people asked him to cover his face because the glory of God shown on him in Exodus 34.

‌King Uzziah stepped out of his role as king and sought to enter the temple and offer incense. Before he could do so, God struck him with leprosy in 2 Chronicles 26.

‌Isaiah was given a vision of the heavenly throne room of God. He was struck with the conviction of sin and his need for cleansing. So the Lord cleansed him with a coal from the altar in Isaiah 6.

‌Do you see yourself rightly before our holy God? How do you prepare yourself to meet with Him?

‌There has been a trend to see these things as something that an angry Old Testament God does because He’s just waiting and watching us to see if we fail, as if He relishes the opportunity to punish humans.

‌I don’t think this text, and many others, teach that though. It’s a red herring that the world and our own sinful flesh asserts to keep us from the grace extended to us by God.

‌God knows the effect that His holiness has and demands of the people that He is establishing this relationship with. And He gives instructions through Moses, calls him up to the mountain, only to tell him to go back and make sure again.

‌An angry God doesn’t do that. He doesn’t care. But the children of God, His people, don’t have to worry about wrath and discipline if we simply obey His commands. And He is patient to repeat His commands.

‌God does pour out His wrath on sinners and justly so. But He disciplines those whom He loves. His kindness leads His people to repentance. These commands of God given to the people of Israel are from His love, not from His hate or anger.

‌Simply put, when you are tempted to think or when you hear someone speak of the Old Testament God as being an angry God (as opposed to the loving God of the New Testament), turn to Exodus 19, and look at the God who lovingly reminds His people again and again for their good.

‌He is a holy God, and His love is most clearly shown in choosing a mediator. In part 2, we will look at what this means more closely.

James Hammack is a regular contributor to The Rope. He also is digital services manager for The Alabama Baptist/TAB Media. He also serves as worship pastor at Sovereign Grace Church, Prattville. He and his wife, Alicia, have three children.

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