June 8, 2010 David Balzer

Exodus 19-24: God’s Law: God’s Gift to God’s People

Is there someone you have trouble buying presents for? They already seem to have everything. You sometimes see things advertised as “The gift for the person who has everything!”

Or maybe it’s someone you want to say “thankyou” to, but there’s no gift that says a “thankyou” that’s big enough.

For me, it’s my parents. They’ve done so much for me. Given me so much. How does a box of chocolates, or a potplant, or a book compare to THAT?

Occasionally I get lucky. Sometimes I find something they DO need. Dad’s library’s about five times the size of mine, but I’ll occasionally stumble across something good that he doesn’t have.

And earlier this year, I realised Mum didn’t have a trolley for her laundry basket. She’s just moved to a new house with a long line, and she has to walk along it. But they’re just little things. And they don’t really compare to all they’ve done for me.

But sometimes Dad or Mum TELLS me something they’d like. It spoils the surprise. But Dad, especially, figures it’s better to get something he NEEDS rather than socks, or chocolates that just make him fat.

But what about God? How do you say thank-you to God? He’s given us EVERYTHING. But what present can you give God to say thankyou for ALL THAT? What’s HE missing from his cupboard? What TOOL’S not already in his workshop? What book’s not on HIS shelf?

It’s just as well for us. Because just like Mum and Dad, God TELLS us what he wants. He tells us HOW to say thankyou. Look at Ex 19 v 3. God’s led Israel through the desert. And they arrive at the foot of Mt Sinai exactly three months after they left Egypt. And God’s got a message for Moses. Look at v3.

(Exo 19:3-6 NIV)  Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD 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: {4} ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. {5} 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, {6} you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

God reminds Moses about all that he’s done for Israel. And then he tells Moses what he expects in return. In response. OBEDIENCE.

We say thankyou to God for saving us/ by OBEYING him. That’s the correct response to God’s goodness. And God gives us his LAW so we know HOW to obey him.

But notice what it’s NOT. It’s not man trying to earn his way to God. It’s God graciously giving us a gift. A gift FOR OUR BENEFIT, not our harm, or our disdvantage.

God’s law is God’s gift to God’s people. And by obeying it, God gives us three things. Obedience means learning about the holiness of God. Obedience means showing gratitude to God. And obedience means showing the WORLD what a great God we serve.

1. Obedience means learning about the holiness of God.

Firstly, obedience means learning about the holiness of God.

We just read that by obeying his law, God makes us into A HOLY NATION. Obedience sets us apart from those around us. It makes us different. Holy – like our holy God.

Obedience TEACHES us about God’s holiness. How does it do that?

A lot of the laws were CEREMONIAL. To do with being ceremonially clean. The point was to remind the people that approaching such a holy God wasn’t something that you did lightly. Or in an off-hand way. It was a big deal to come into God’s presence. Look at v10 of Ch 19.

(Exo 19:10-21 NIV)  And the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes {11} 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. {12} 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 . {13} 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.” {14} After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. {15} Then he said to the people, “Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from ual relations.” {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. {17} Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. {18} 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, {19} and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. {20} The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up {21} 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.

It was an awesome thing to come before the God of the Universe. And you needed to make sure you were READY. So part of the role of God’s law was to make sure people were READY for God.

But the point is/ it wasn’t the CEREMONY ITSELF that made the people ready. The washings were to REMIND them what it meant to approach a holy God. To make sure their HEART was right. That their desire was to honour and obey God.

THAT’S what God’s REALLY interested in. Because external washings don’t do ANYTHING for him.

You see, it’s only by JESUS’ sacrifice that we can be washed on the INSIDE. Washed where it counts. Listen to what Hebrews has to say. Hebrews 9 v13.

(Heb 9:13-14 NIV)  The of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are CEREMONIALLY UNCLEAN sanctify them so that they are OUTWARDLY CLEAN. {14} How much more, then, will the of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to , so that we may serve the living God!

All the ceremony in the Old Testament did/ was SHOW people what a holy God they served. It was a SYMBOL. But it didn’t actually DO anything to the inside. It didn’t MAKE them any more PURE. That was something only GOD could do.

Our symbol is the cross. It’s the cross that reminds us of the holiness of God. Of his justice. How he can’t just ignore sin. It’s the cross that plays the part of the ceremony in the Old Testament.

But I wonder whether the cross loses that impact for you. That purpose of reminding you of God’s holiness.

As Christians who understand GRACE, the temptation is to CHEAPEN it. To EXPECT it. To ASSUME it. We play on God’s patience. “Oh, it doesn’t matter. God will forgive me”

Perhaps as we read about all the rigmarole Israel had to go through to approach God, we can be reminded of what an ENORMOUS THING Jesus did. How costly it must have been for Jesus to cleanse us. To satisfy the wrath of a holy God. So we could stand before such a holy God. As clean and pure. As holy.

Perhaps we need the warning of ch 19 v21.

(Exo 19:21-23 NIV)  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. {22} Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them.” {23} 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.'”

God gives us the law, so that by obeying it, we learn about the holiness of God.

2. Obedience means showing gratitude to God.

Secondly God gives us the law, so that by obeying it, we SHOW GRATITUDE TO GOD.

All the way through Exodus we’ve seen the order of things. God acts, and then he expects a response. He provides, then he gives a test of obedience.

And it’s the same at the start of Ch 19. (We read it earlier). God reminds Israel what he’s done, and THEN he tells them the right response to that.

Even in Ch 20. how do the Ten Commandments start? V 2.

(Exo 20:2-3 NIV)  “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. {3} “You shall have no other gods before me.

He starts by declaring who he is, and what he’s done. ONLY THEN does he tell us what WE have to do.

It’s the complete opposite of what most people think is happening here. They think, “The New Testament’s about GRACE. About what GOD does for US. But the Old Testament’s about LAW. About what WE have to do for GOD. “If I obey the Ten Commandments, then God will accept me”.

But that’s upside-down thinking! Because the WHOLE of the bible is about Grace. God’s ALWAYS made people his children because of grace. And obedience to the law is always a RESPONSE OF GRATEFUL APPRECIATION TO THAT GRACE.

Take the Sabbath command for example. “The seventh day is a Sabbath TO THE LORD”. Our rest is to be DIRECTED TO HIM in THANKS.

And that’s exactly the same for Christians. Nothing’s changed

The New Testament is full of examples. About how we obey in response to God’s goodness. Like Romans 12 v 1.

(Rom 12:1-2 NIV)  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCY, TO OFFER YOUR BODIES AS LIVING SACRIFICES, HOLY AND PLEASING TO GOD–THIS IS YOUR SPIRITUAL ACT OF WORSHIP. {2} Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, etc

The law is God’s wonderful gift, so that by obeying it, we show our gratitude to God. That’s my second point.

3. Obedience means showing the WORLD what a great God we serve.

The third point about the law/ is obedience means showing the WORLD what a great God we serve. Go back to Ch 19 v 6 again.

(Exo 19:5-6 NIV)  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, {6} YOU WILL BE FOR ME A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS and a holy nation.”

Obedience means that Israel will be a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS. What does that mean? Remember that a priest’s job was to represent man before God, and to represent God before man. To be the “in-betweener”. If you like, the introduction agency.

How was obedience to God’s laws going to make Israel a kingdom of priests? We get a bit more of a clue from Deuteronomy 4. It’s the OTHER account of the Ten Commandments. Listen to what it says about what obedience to God’s law will do. Verse 5 of Deut 4.

(Deu 4:5-8 NIV)  See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. {6} Observe them carefully, for THIS WILL SHOW YOUR WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING TO THE NATIONS, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” {7} What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? {8} And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

As Israel obeyed God’s laws, it made the OTHER nations sit up and take notice. “Look at what a great nation Israel is! It’s really got it’s act together! If they show justice and mercy to each other LIKE THAT, how just and merciful must THEIR GOD be!”

By obeying God’s law, Israel was meant to declare God’s goodness to the nations.

And if you look at the follow-up chapters in Exodus. Chapters 21-23. It’s a pretty nice picture. If people really DID treat each other like that, then the world would be a great place. The whole TONE of the chapters isn’t about loading great burdens onto people’s backs. One more law after another.

But that/ if you look to the OTHER PERSON’S interests, then your whole life will be better. Make sure your animals are tied up. Make sure your verandah is fenced off. Look after slaves, and widows, and orphans. Don’t accept interest on loans. If you take a man’s cloak as security, make sure he gets it back at night. BE OTHER-PERSON CENTRED.

In fact, it will be just like the way God created things. All relationships in harmony. Just like Eden. Man at peace with man. Man at peace with creation. Man at peace with God.

These laws aren’t “Here’s some burdens for you to bear.” But/ “Here’s the way society will work best. The way people’s rights will be protected. Here’s my gift to you”

And that’s what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew Ch 5. The first thing he says is that he hasn’t come to ABOLISH the law. Verse 17. and that nothing’s going to disappear from the law. And he still says we have to obey it. In fact, he makes it even harder.

Because he goes on to talk about a number of the Ten Commandments. . BEING ANGRY is just like . Adultery. A LUSTFUL THOUGHT is just like adultery.

And some other favourites. Divorce. The law isn’t an excuse for you to change your wife because you feel like it. It’s there to protect the rights of people.

And the same with “an eye for an eye”. Verse 38. Getting someone back because they hurt you. It’s not an excuse for vengeance. God’s original law set a LIMIT on punishment. The punishment was there to PROTECT PEOPLE’S RIGHTS. If you’re “other-person-centred”, the best way you can look after their rights is to turn the other cheek – that’s the purpose of the law.

And so God’s law is his gift to his people so that life can function well. The way it was designed.

And when that happens. When people start treating each other well, THE WORLD TAKES NOTICE! And God meant that to happen too. For people to notice the great life of God’s people. To hunger for it. And to want to be part of it too.

And it’s interesting that that’s what Jesus says too. Right before this section in the Sermon on the Mount, he talks about being SALT AND LIGHT. Verse 13. “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world”.

And I think his point is/ if you obey God’s law, and if you do it from the right motivation, and you put other people first, then people will take notice. They’ll see what a great life it is following God.. And just like in Deut 4, they’ll give the glory to God.

(Deut 4:6-8 NIV)  “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” {7} What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? {8} And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

And that’s JUST as true for us Christians as it was for Israel. Turn over to 1 Peter Ch 2 with me. Peter’s talking to the Christian church. But he picks up the language of Exodus 19. Look at verse 9. Look at who he calls the Christian church.

(1 Pet 2:9 NIV)  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.

They are a holy nation. They’re to be separate and pure. But they’re also a royal priesthood. They’re to be IN the world, but not OF it.

To be in the world/ means to stand between men and God. And to declare God’s praises to the people around. To introduce people to the God who can save them. Who can call them out of darkness.

And look how they’re to do that. Look down at v 11. They do it by obeying God’s laws.

(1 Pet 2:11-12 NIV)  Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. {12} Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Their lives are to be so good, that their neighbours will want to be part of them as well. And they’ll glorify God on judgement day. In other words, they’ll become God’s people too!

Jesus said in John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. {35} BY THIS ALL MEN WILL KNOW THAT YOU ARE MY DISCIPLES, IF YOU LOVE ONE ANOTHER.”

That’s a challenge for us, isn’t it? That, as a church, our lives should be so other-person-centred, and full of joy and love, that other people will want to be part of us. They’ll want to be introduced to the one who can rescue them from darkness, too!

And isn’t that exactly what Deut 4 says the law is for?

(Deu 4:6-7 NIV)  Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” {7} What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?

God’s law is God’s gift to God’s people. And by obeying it, God gives us three things. Obedience means learning about the holiness of God. Obedience means showing gratitude to God. And obedience means showing the WORLD what a great God we serve.

And they’re three great reasons to LOVE God’s law.

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