Sermon: Sunday May 8th, 2016.
Mothers Day, Ascension Sunday, Story Week 5, “Community Life”
Exodus 19:3-6, 20:1-17, Acts 7:48-50, John 13:33-35
We pitched our tent in Brachina Gorge in the beautiful Flinders Ranges last week. In this week of the Story we hear that God pitched his tent too. In Hebrew the Word says God ‘tabernacled” with his people in this part of The Story.
So, we hear today that God’s is into camping! His heartfelt desire is to pitch his tent around your campfire and live with you. God pitches his tent with us to enjoy eating and drinking together – rest and recreation by his creative hand.
But how does a holy, pure, perfect, all-powerful God who desires to pitch his tent in peace and love with his chosen people do that when the people are so much less than pure, and perfect and holy than he? By what we heard of his activity in Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea and the special name he gives by that burning bush we can tell that he is too much for us.
We hear this in this part of the Story too. We hear that as Moses asks the Lord to show him his glory and God says yes, but only partially because if God did show his glory in full, Moses would be toast!
So, here we see one of the times when God hides himself to make the promise and his loving kindness work for us.
This is where those 10 commandments, that smoking mountain of Sinai, that holy Passover meal come in; along with all those detailed design plans of the place of meeting (tabernacle) between a holy God and his people(a big tent) make sense. He does all of this so he can be with us – to dwell with us in peace and love.
All these detailed rules about who can meet with God when and when, and about how we are meant to treat each other in very practical ways are given so that the Lord can dwell with his people.
Someone once said that if the promise to Abraham was God creating a nation, then God’s word to Moses in the desert is God giving his people a job – making them into a people who he can live with so that they can fulfill his mission to draw all people back into his acceptance and love – back to the Garden, as it were.
So, the new nation is freed and given their job description and the description is the 10 commandments. This is how we live in true community life – God and us; us and us.
I know that so many people hear these commandments as words of God’s judgment on them. So many people believe that Christianity is essentially about keeping these rules, being very, very good in order to gain what God can give and not a relationship with a gracious and kind Creator.
You can tell. When you and I as Christians slip up on any one of these commandments, people are quite happy to tell us! People send their kids to our schools to make sure they get good morals and values based on these commandments – well the second 7 commandments anyway. Lots of church connected people seem to believe that they have to keep their nose clean before God by doing the commandments – even attending worship (Sabbath day) or even praying they will earn God’s continued blessing.
Friends, this skewed belief of what these commandments are has hindered us a church for generations. If all these commandments are things God uses to get us, to judge us when we get it wrong, then we completely miss the bullseye on what he is doing in giving us these commandments.
Actually, these commandments are gold. Better than that Golden Calf we build. They provide surety about what makes for peace and fulfillment in relationships, marriage, working life, student life. They are the means by which a person of faith in God’s gracious heart of any age can know for sure they are in God’s will in their words and actions. Here God speaks plainly so we can grab hold of his character and live in his tent, eating his food and drinking his life-giving wine.
Oh, but the people could not receive them as this.
They had heard them from Moses and said, in a solemn and celebratory moment that they would be God’s people and “do everything that God says” in these commandments. But then that terrible fall from God’s grace comes.
This Mad Cow disease of shaping that golden calf of gold was worse than all sins. All sins are really are a breaking of the first commandment to love God with your heart and soul. You always break two commandments when you break any of the others because in the end, sin is always about who you are trusting or rejecting. Idolatry is trusting anything or anyone more than God’s gracious love and provision for you.
But this bowing down to the self-made god or symbol of fertility and life – a cow, is worse than even a breaking of the first commandment. It is enjoying the breaking of it. It is throwing all God’s loving action and promise and promise right back in his face with complete disregard for him, his word, his love or his promised future. This is the fall of Israel. This is called “apostacy”. Rejecting God and not caring one iota. Flying in the face of everything good he gives and replacing him outrageously and for all to see with other things or people.
This fall of Israel would be forever remembered by the chosen people – with shame.
But as we have seen in the Story so far, and in our own experience, even apostacy cannot deter the Lord from his mission to live in peace with his loved creation, of which human beings are the crown.
For the second time we get this clear sign of what will one day come in the giving of his own dearly loved Son for the life of the world. We hear again in the details of the way in which the people are to make atonement for their sin that God requires that sin be atoned for (covered) by shedding of blood.
Sin must be dealt with, covered, atoned for because the Lord is just and holy and cannot simply sweep it under the carpet.
The sacrificing of animals becomes the rhythm of worship so that the people’s sin can be constantly atoned for (covered).
The new nation needed their sins covered so that God could dwell with them. The rebellion of the golden calf, the intercession of Moses, and the gracious forgiveness of God makes it possible for the Lord to continue dwell with his people. Exodus 33:14-16
And so it is even more fully now that Jesus has shed his holy innocent blood for all sinners and all sin – “once and for all” as the writer to Hebrew repeatedly states!
We hear that Jesus is our great High Priest and his blood once and for all atones for (covers) our sin (Hebrews 10:1-18). With the blood of Jesus received around his altar of grace with all other forgiven sinners here his blood is on the door frame of your life, you as a child of the covenant written in Jesus’ own blood are forgiven and given direct access into the Most Holy Place and time you like.
Friends, God is still into camping! He makes us his tent where he dwells. We are the place where God dwells. We are the new tabernacle. The church is not a building, the church is us and we are the place where God resides. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.
And our job? We are a community of priests – people who represent the Lord to others and represent the needs of others to the Lord. We are “in the gap” between a holy God of love and a dying world in need of his life. We desire to pitch our tent with anyone and stay with them as we eat and drink together working for peace and praying that God deliver us all from false gods and the Evil One’s attempts to imprison us.
Jesus’ sums it all up when he teaches us that by his unstoppable gracious acceptance these commandments are for us, his loving guidance for a truly communal life of love and serving his world and each other. Matthew 22:38-40 and John 13:35.
Chapter 5, New Commands and a New Covenant
Timeless Truth: Be different — set apart — for God’s purposes.
Chapter Summary (Have someone in your group read the summary section.)
The journey had begun. And, like all journeys, there is a “from” and a “to.” God saved Israel from slavery, and He saved them to become a holy nation – set apart for His purposes. Israel was to be different than the pagan nations surrounding them; they were called to honor God and to point others to this LORD. Just weeks after the exodus, God inaugurated a new covenant with Israel that, if obeyed, would shape them into the holy nation that He intended them to be.
God had worked through Moses to lead His people out of Egypt and now they were assembled at the foot of Mount Sinai in the desert wilderness. A holy God requires a holy people, so they were to consecrate themselves (p. 60) to prepare to meet with Him. When God’s presence filled the top of Mount Sinai with thunder and fire the people were terrified. They were invited to a direct relationship with the LORD, but opted for Moses to act as an intermediary on their behalf. Moses met with God on the mountain and received the Ten Commandments written on tablets of stone. These commands and ordinances revealed God’s expectations for His covenant people. This covenant was sealed with blood and ratified by Israel’s full commitment to obey.
That commitment, however, did not have the spiritual character to back it up. Just days after Israel agreed to obey God’s laws, they were up to their earrings in idolatry and then some. While Moses was on the mountain with God, the people traded their golden opportunity for a golden calf. When Moses caught sight of their depravity, he shattered the tablets and took immediate action. He assembled the faithful and put to death the corrupt. Sin, as always, was pricey, painful, and never worth the cost.
When God proposed to send Israel on to Canaan without Him, Moses prayed for God’s presence to remain. God graciously agreed and promised He would remain with Israel, in the form of a cloud over the Tabernacle. God then graciously answered another prayer of Moses to “show me Your glory” (p.67). God passed before him allowing Moses to only see His back because “my face must not be seen.” What an expression of God’s compassion and grace! After spending forty days with the LORD on Mount Sinai, Moses came down with two new tablets of the covenant law. Moses’ face was so radiant after time with God that he had to be veiled because the people were afraid.
God’s grace compels a devotion to Him alone. He is a jealous God for our benefit; all other gods lead to sin and death. His people are free – not to act any way they want, but free to become who He created them to be – holy, different, and designed to point the world to him. God didn’t just redeem Israel from slavery; He redeemed them for holiness. Their freedom did indeed carry a purpose.
Icebreaker Question: What was the worst discipline you received while growing up? What had you done to deserve it?
- What do the Ten Commandments reveal about the nature of God and His desire to have a relationship with us (p. 61-62)?
- What does it mean that God is holy? What are the implications of God’s holiness as we seek Him?
- Moses said, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning” (p. 61). How does the fear of God restrain sin?
- The Lord spoke to Moses “as one speaks to a friend” (p. 67). What was there about Moses that God found so pleasing? How would you rate your relationship to God, from 1 = Total Stranger to 10 = Close Friend.
- God describes Himself as jealous. What does this tell us about God? Why is it okay for God to be jealous?
- How did Israel go from “everything the Lord has said we will do,” to building a false god in scarcely over a month? Why is it so easy to become forgetful of God’s mercies?
- God reminded Moses that children live with the consequences of their parents’ sins (p. 68). How have your parents’ choices (good and bad) affected your life? How are your choices possibly affecting your children? What needs to change?
- God showed Moses His glory because He is “gracious and compassionate.” Describe a time when God showed grace and compassion to you (yes, this is a trick question).
- After punishing the Israelites for the golden calf, Moses immediately sought reconciliation with God. How should believers today hold one another accountable? How can we do this gracefully?
- God describes Himself as compassionate, slow to anger, gracious, and abounding in loving-kindness (p. 68). Where do you see these qualities in this chapter?
In the time remaining ask your group members to share any of their personal reflection insights from their journal entries.