As the people stood in the distance, Moses approached the dark cloud where God was. (Exodus 20:21)
This passage of scripture comes in the Exodus. God has just finished speaking audibly to the nation of Israel, delivering the Ten Commandments. Chapter 19 of Exodus gives us the narrative of preparation that Moses and the nation of Israel went through, sanctifying and preparing themselves for an encounter with God. Up to this point the nation of Israel had seen the signs and wonders that God had performed through Moses and Aaron to deliver them from Egyptian slavery. They had borne witness to miraculous provisions of food and water. They had seen the army of Egypt swallowed by the Red Sea. They had seen the power of God. They had seen Moses ascend Mount Sinai to speak with God but at this meeting they had been told that God would speak to them.
Here is the beginning of Chapter 19:
Exactly two months after the Israelites left Egypt, they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai. After breaking camp at Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and set up camp there at the base of Mount Sinai.
Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”
So Moses returned from the mountain and called together the elders of the people and told them everything the Lord had commanded him. And all the people responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” So Moses brought the people’s answer back to the Lord. (Exodus 19:1-8)
God was fulfilling His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He had shown His faithfulness and delivered them from slavery and now, for lack of a better term, was going to introduce Himself to the people so that they would know who He is.
Moses told the Lord what the people had said. Then the Lord told Moses, “Go down and prepare the people for my arrival. Consecrate them today and tomorrow, and have them wash their clothing. Be sure they are ready on the third day, for on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai as all the people watch. (Exodus 19:9-11)
I can only imagine that it was a long three days of preparing and waiting. The anticipation had to be overwhelming. My brain can’t really comprehend what they must have felt. These were the people who had already seen the plagues. These were the people who had seen the miracles and now they had been told in three days there were going to see the glory of God and hear His voice.
The day arrives and God fulfills His word once again.
On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. The Lord came down on the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses climbed the mountain. (Exodus 19:16-20)
Have you ever had your expectations overwhelmed? Well, I think may be a grand understatement compared to what happened that day.
God delivers the Ten Commandments to the people and this is their reaction:
When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram’s horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear.
And they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!”
“Don’t be afraid,” Moses answered them, “for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of him will keep you from sinning!” (Exodus 20:18-20)
Almost every reaction recorded in scripture to the manifested glory of God is fear. Not a fear that induces terror but an overwhelming awesomeness that brings that revelation that He is God and we, most definitely, are not. It is the fear that causes us to cry “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
It is this scene that our text takes us into, “As the people stood in the distance, Moses approached the dark cloud where God was.” (Exodus 20:21)
Heaven is heaven because God is there. Salvation is our lives being reunited with our Creator who is also our Savior. Faith in Christ should propel us to come out of the crowd that stands at a distance and approach the place where God is.
The New Covenant allows us not to have to depend upon Moses going up the mountain and coming back down to tell us what God had to say. Faith in Christ has provided a way for our relationship with God to transcend religion, to transcend ceremony and to transcend ritual. Salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ allows us to become the temple of the Holy Spirit; where we become the “mountain”.
He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. (John 14:17)
Next Sunday, (6/12/2011), we celebrate Pentecost; it is in Acts 2 that we find the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise here in John 14. God who had been with them in the Lord Jesus Christ was going to take residence in them through the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit living in our lives provides the great assurance of our salvation.
And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. (Ephesians 1:13-14)
Relationship with God is the foundation of redemption and as believers in Christ it is the foundation of our lives. The most important aspect of our lives is our relationship with God. We cannot be content with religious exercise, good deeds or biblical study.
For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. (Colossians 1:27)
We cannot be content with hearing the things of God second or third hand from other men or women who have been willing to seek and find the Lord. Jesus died upon the cross so that you and I could know Him.
I write this message to remind you that Jesus is not a force, a power or a principle; He is a person. Our lives must be founded on our relationship with Him.
Come close to God, and God will come close to you (James 4:8)