|Prepare to Meet Your God, Exodus 19:9-25
JBS 2009 Sermon 6
This sermon was written and preached by Dr. Calvin Wittman at Applewood Baptist Church in Wheatridge, Colorado.
This sermon is compliments of Proclaim Online from LifeWay Christian Resources. Visit http://www.lifeway.com/proclaim
This sermon supports the sixth chapter of January Bible Study 2009, Living in Awe of God, Studies in Exodus.
Introduction: There are times and moments in life when we sense the presence of God more powerfully than at other times. These are those life changing experiences when we know we are in His presence, when deep within our souls we sense that God is near. They are moments wherein time seems to stand still, and yet they are over all too soon. They leave us forever changed. Once experienced, we have a tendency to spend the rest of our days longing to relive those moments.
It is not by accident that we call them mountain top experiences, for it is on Mt. Sinai that God manifests Himself to Moses and to Israel. Exodus 19, 9-25, our text today, recounts for us this experience in the life of Israel.
Chapter 19 begins with God affirming His love for the Israelites, as He recounts for them all He has done, and in very tender terms He reminds them that they are precious to Him, a precious possession which He has chosen from all the peoples of the world. It was to be through their life and witness that God’s glory would shine to the nations and others would be drawn to Him.
After God calls them to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, the Israelites respond in faith, agreeing to do all that God has said.
It is then, beginning in verse 9, that God begins to reveal Himself to His people. (read text)
It is difficult for us to get a sense of the drama which is described here in Chapter 19. But imagine with me for a moment that you are in the camp of the Israelites. You’ve been wandering in the desert for three months. You’ve seen all that God has done; you’ve been an eyewitness to the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. You’ve picked up the manna in the morning and you’ve drank of the cool, clear, life giving water which came from the rock.
Now, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, dark clouds begin to gather around the mountain. Moses sends word through the camp that for the next three days everyone is to wash their clothes, to abstain from sexual relations and to prepare themselves to hear the voice of God.
On the morning of the third day as the sun begins to rise in the east, after everyone has followed Moses’ instructions, you, along with the rest of the people, are called to the edge of the mountain. You are warned not to go beyond the barriers which have been set around the mountain, on pain of death. There is a sense of anticipation in the air, a sense of expectancy and excitement.
Suddenly, from the clouds, lightening flashes, there is fire and smoke upon the mountain; thunder rolls and the sound of a trumpet blasts, louder than you could have ever imagined. The presence of God is so real and so powerful that you, along with everyone around you, begin to tremble. Then the mountain itself begins to tremble. Fear seems to have gripped everyone, the fear that comes from being so close to God. The trumpet sound grows louder and louder, Moses begins to speak to God, and God answers back in the thunder.
It is a day like no other day you have ever experienced. It was the day when you first experienced the presence of God.
Our text today deals specifically with this subject of approaching God. I want you to notice several things about coming into the presence of God.
Approaching God requires Consecration – This speaks to how God views us
In verse 10 God tells Moses to consecrate the people, to set them apart, to purify them, so they will be qualified to meet God. The Hebrew word employed here is from the same root as the word Holy. It means to be ceremonial clean or pure, to be set apart from that which is profane and dedicated or consecrated to that which is holy. One of the New Testament words which carries the same meaning is “sanctify,” or “sanctification.”
As God prepares to meet His people, as He prepares to speak with them and give them the Law, He tells Moses that they must be prepared and Moses is given the task of consecrating or sanctifying them.
We do not know in great detail exactly what it was Moses did to consecrate them, what is of importance is that we note they had to be set apart before they were ready to meet with God.
There were two things God told them to do:
They were to wash their clothes. Clothes, perhaps more than any other outward sign, speak to the intentions of the one wearing them. If you meet a man in a football uniform you don’t really have to ask him what he is about to do, his clothes tell the story. The same is true for a woman in a bridal gown; her clothes tell you everything you need to know. Like Baptism is an external representation of an internal transformation, so the clean clothes were to externally symbolize their understanding that to come to God means one must be internally clean, to have a pure heart.
Psalm 24:3-4 says, “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul in vain and has not sworn deceitfully.”
By washing their clothes, the Israelites were demonstrating their understanding that God was Holy and that to meet with Him required holiness.
Secondly, they were to refrain from sexual activity. Not that sexual activity within the bonds of marriage was in anyway unclean, but as they prepared to meet God, as they prepared themselves spiritually, they were to abstain from any personal indulgence which would take their heart and mind off of God. Three days of self-restraint and preparation allowed the Israelites time to reflect, time to meditate on their upcoming meeting with God. In the New Testament, Paul instructs the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 7:5 that married couples were only to abstain from physical relations for the purpose of prayer and fasting, and even then, only for a short time lest Satan tempt them because of their lack of self control.
The lesson here is that meeting with God requires personal preparation. It means seeking Him with an undivided heart and mind. It means not allowing anything else, no matter how blessed or wonderful it may be, to distract us from preparing to hear from God.
Prayer and fasting, seeking the face of God and abstaining from the physical things of the world which satisfy us, are both things which God tells us will bring us spiritual power. In Mark 9:25-29, you recall that the disciples tried to cast out an unclean spirit but could not. And when Jesus had cast it out He told them, “This kind cannot be driving out by anything but prayer and fasting.” In preparation for His ministry, in Matthew chapter 4, Jesus fasted and prayed. He consecrated Himself for the service He was about to enter.
We don’t spend much time these days thinking about the preparation necessary to meet with God. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons we lack the power of God in so much of what is called church these days. We just don’t spend enough time getting our hearts and our lives right, preparing ourselves to meet with God, and consequently we don’t experience the presence of God that we read of in scripture.
If we want to experience God as believers did in days of old, we must be prepared to meet Him. We must be consecrated.
In the New Testament God tells us how to prepare ourselves to meet with God. James 4:8-10 says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners and purify your hearts, you double minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you.”
James tells us four things to do as we prepare to draw near to God:
Cleanse your hands – stop sinning. If we are going to experience the presence of God we cannot allow unchecked sin to continue in our lives. Practices and habits which grieve the Holy Spirit of God, will keep you from experiencing the power and the presence of God. One of the reasons we don’t see revival in our churches today is because we’ve become all too comfortable with sin. To cleanse one’s hands literally means to wash up, to get the stains of sin off of them, to stop sinning.
Purify your heart – The heart is the realm of feelings and attitudes. It is the place where man cannot see, but God sees clearly. Attitudes of anger, of bitterness, or resentment and of jealously will keep you from experiencing the presence of God. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” If you want to be in fellowship with God, if you want to experience His presence and know the joy and power that comes from that experience, you cannot regard sin in your heart. That is, you cannot be unrepentant and allow your sin to remain unconfessed. If you want to draw near to God, your heart must be right with God and with others.
Be wretched, mourn and weep – This speaks to taking your sin seriously, of understanding that it was our sin that nailed Jesus on the cross and that to save us from our sins was the reason He died on the cross. To take our sin lightly is to tread upon His shed blood and to mock His suffering on our account. Anyone who wishes to meet God will not treat sin lightly or flippantly. James calls us to come to terms with the disgrace that sin brings upon us and to mourn and weep over it, not to explain it away or offer lame excuses as to why we are involved in it.
Humble yourselves – this brings us to the heart of the matter. To be right with God demands humility. It means seeing ourselves from God’s point of view and realizing that it is His grace and mercy that allow us to be in fellowship with Him, not our own merit. The opposite of humility is pride and it is pride which keeps most of us from experiencing God as we would like. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.
Approaching God requires consecration. It requires that we be set apart from all that profanes us and set apart unto the One who makes us Holy.
But secondly, our text shows us that…..
Approaching God requires Veneration – This speaks to how we view God
In verses 12 and 21-25 we find God telling the Israelites to keep their distance from the mountain. In verse 12 God told Moses to set limits all around so that the people would not go up and touch the mountain, lest they incur the death penalty.
Some might say that God is teaching them reverence, but more than reverence, this passage deals with veneration. Whereas reverence implies that feelings of love are mingled with honor and respect and speaks to treatment, veneration speaks not only of that which is of great worth but of that which is hallowed or holy. It has more to do with attitude than treatment. Veneration is respect mixed with awe.
There are two things which can be said here about God setting boundaries around the mountain.
First, it was to teach the people that God was different from them as was not to be approached lightly.
Living in a polytheistic environment, as they had, where the Egyptians had worshiped hundreds of different gods, the Israelites were accustomed to seeing the Egyptians carve their gods out of wood or stone, and manipulating them however they desired. But God wants them to understand He is no false god. He is the One true living God who will not be manipulated, handled or approached casually. He wants them to understand Who it is they are approaching.
Several years ago, while on a mission trip to South Korea, I noticed a very interesting practice in their churches. When I entered the sanctuary there was no talking, no idle chatter or even any laughter. To the contrary, up to half an hour before the service started people were in the pews, heads bowed, eyes closed and hearts directed towards heaven in prayer. The Korean Christians demonstrated a sense of reverence in approaching God, the likes of which I had not seen in years in our own country. It spoke to the fact that they knew Who they were approaching and understood something of how it is we are to come into His presence.
Here in the West, There is a casualness in the way that we often approach God which I believe betrays an ignorance on our part as to with Whom it is we are dealing. So often we come to church laid back, sing our songs of praise half heartedly or from rote memorization; we listen to His word preached with a critical ear, never giving thought to the reality that when we come to worship we are coming to meet with God.
We have become guilty of becoming overly familiar with that which is holy to the point that church has a become more of a place to meet other people than a place to meet God.
We will not see His Spirit pour out upon us, we will not experience the awe and wonder of His presence till we once again come to understand Who it is we are meeting and prepare to meet Him in a manner fitting His person. The truth of the matter is, the closer we get to God the less casual we will become. The more we know of His person, the more reverent we want to be.
The boundaries were set to teach the Israelites that they were not to approach God lightly. They could not and neither can we.
Secondly, the boundaries told them that He could only be approached on His terms.
There were, no doubt, those who wanted to see God for themselves. They were curious to the point that they wanted to sneak a peek of God. There have always been, there are and always will be those whose self importance and hubris will cause them to think that they can deal with God as equals. One of the reasons God set boundaries for the Israelites was to teach them that He can only be approached on His own terms.
The Israelites had already proven that they were not given to taking instructions. They did not like being told what they could and could not do. They were, by nature, complainers and complainers are people who think they deserve things better than they are. If they had complained to Moses about their lack of water to the point that he was afraid for his life and if they had not followed God’s instruction concerning the collection of manna, it stood to reason that they needed an additional warning concerning the boundaries on the mountain.
In verses 21-24 God reiterates His commands to Moses, telling him to warn the people not to cross the boundaries lest “the Lord break forth upon them.” Obviously a reference to what would happen to anyone who came too close to the glory of God. God’s prohibition was for the safety of the people, lest, like a moth that gets too close to the flame, they too be consumed by the glory of His presence.
If we were to seriously consider Who it is we come to church to meet, I wonder how it would impact our attitudes, our actions and the way we comport ourselves in general. I wonder if it would cause us to view church in an entirely different way. I’m afraid that like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, many today have turned the house of God into something other than that which it was intended to be.
When we come to God we should come with a sense of veneration, with an awe and respect that speaks to our understanding of who it is we approach.
But there is another interesting insight to be found in these verses, one which we cannot overlook, especially as we look to find a foreshadowing of Jesus at Mt. Sinai.
Approaching God requires Mediation – This speaks to how we get to God
In verse 12, when God tells Moses to “consecrate” the people, the construction of the word in the original language denotes causative action, that is to say, it was something Moses was going to do for or on behalf of the people. It was not something they could do for themselves. There were things they had to do, but the consecration was something Moses was told to do to the people. He was their mediator; he was their intercessor, the one who went between them and God.
We find a clearer picture of this just a few verses later. Look at 20:18-21. This is one of the clearest pictures of a mediator in the Old Testament: Moses going to God on behalf of the people and speaking to the people on behalf of God.
Exodus 20:18-21 “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightening 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 think darkness where God was.”
The people were not able to go directly to God. They had to stand at a distance. Only Moses and Aaron could approach God. God would speak to Moses and Moses would speak to the people. In this sense he was their priest. They only way those under the Old Covenant could get to God was through a mediator.
Under the New Covenant, or the New Testament, we are still in need of a mediator to get to God.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Pope is the “Pontiff Maximus,” which, from the Latin, speaks of him as the supreme bridge builder in that they believe he is God’s representative of Christ on earth, bridging the gap between God and man. But scripture tells us otherwise.
1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and one Mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all…” Jesus is now the only mediator between God and men.
As Moses went up the mountain to represent the people before God and then back to the people to represent God before the people, God was painting a picture for us of the work that Jesus Christ would do thousands of years later. But instead of being on Mt. Sinai, Jesus would be on a hill outside of Jerusalem, a hill called Golgotha. Whereas Moses went up the mountain to mediate the Old Covenant, Jesus went up the hill the mediate a New Covenant.
Hebrews 8:6, speaking of Jesus, says, “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.”
Moses went up the mountain to get the Law of God, Jesus went up the hill so that we might receive the grace of God. The Covenant Moses mediated was based on the works of men, the Covenant Jesus mediates is based on His finished work.
In Hebrews 12:18-24 scripture makes a contrast between the New and the Old covenant, between Moses on Mt. Sinai and Jesus on Mt. Calvary. This is how the Berkley version translates it.
“In fact, you have not come up to something tangible, a blazing fire, and gloom, darkness and storm, to trumpet sound and audible words, the hearers of which implored that no further message be brought to them, for they could not bear the injunction, ‘Even if an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.’ And the phenomenon was so dreadful that Moses said, ‘I am terrified and trembling.’ Instead, we have come up to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to ten thousands of angels in festal gathering and to the church of the first-born whose names are enrolled in heaven, and to God the Judge of all and to the spirits of the righteous who have reached perfection, and to Jesus, the Mediator of a new covenant and to the sprinkled blood that tells of better things than that of Abel.”
The message is clear. The only way we can get to God is through Jesus. He is the mediator, the one who makes it possible for us to get to God. And the reason we have access to God through Him is because His blood consecrates us, it sanctifies us or makes us holy so that we can be cleansed of our sin and enter the presence of a holy God.
The world is full of religions which tell us that they are one of many pathways to God. But, again, Jesus tells us otherwise. In John 14:6 He says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father, but by Me.”
The pride of many becomes a stumbling block that keeps them from coming to God through Jesus. They do not want to accept that they cannot be good enough on their own, that their works cannot save them. They do not want to see themselves as helplessly lost in sin and desperately in need of a Savior.
This chapter speaks to each of us here today. To those who are saved it says that we must see to the condition or our relationship with God. If we want to hear from Him, if we want to experience His presence and power, we must rid ourselves of sin and be wholly His. It calls each of us who are believers to allow examine our lives, to allow His Spirit to examine our hearts. As the Psalmist said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Through this passage this morning, God is calling us to Himself, calling us to do whatever is necessary to draw near to Him. As James says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”
To those who hear this message who are not sure about their salvation, God is speaking to you today, calling you to Himself. He is telling you that Jesus is the only way. Through the work of Jesus on the cross, through His shed blood, through His death, burial and resurrection, you can have access to God. You will not get to God simply by being good, you will not get to God simply by being religious. There is no other man except Jesus who can forgive your sins and write your name in the Lamb’s book of life. This morning, God is speaking to you, revealing Himself to you, calling you to come and join His family. This morning He wants to forgive your sins and give you eternal life. The balls in your court, now it’s your move. He has extended His grace, what will you do? Will you receive Him or will you reject Him?
Dr. Calvin Wittman is pastor of Applewood Baptist Church in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. He is a former missionary to Spain, and holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Seminary (MDiv), and Southern Seminary (DMin). He is also a veteran of the United States Navy and has worked as a news anchor on both television and radio stations in Texas.
©2008 LifeWay Christian Resources
Page , JBS 2009 Sermon 6, Prepare to Meet Your God, Exodus 19:9-25, Calvin Wittman