Exodus 19:16-25 – An Awesome God

Mount Sinai

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.

Then the Lord told Moses, “Go back down and warn the people not to break through the boundaries to see the Lord, or they will die. Even the priests who regularly come near to the Lord must purify themselves so that the Lord does not break out and destroy them.”

“But Lord,” Moses protested, “the people cannot come up to Mount Sinai. You already warned us. You told me, ‘Mark off a boundary all around the mountain to set it apart as holy.’”

But the Lord said, “Go down and bring Aaron back up with you. In the meantime, do not let the priests or the people break through to approach the Lord, or he will break out and destroy them.”

So, Moses went down to the people and told them what the Lord had said. (NLT)

As Christians await the Day of Pentecost and the giving of the Spirit, the Revised Common Lectionary reminds us of another great anticipation from the Old Testament. The ancient Israelites were amazingly delivered from Egyptian slavery, miraculously walked through the Red Sea, and traveled with wondrous anticipation to Mount Sinai. Now, in today’s reading, they are about to meet with God!

The scene of this meeting is not exactly the romantic highland encounter of the Man from Snowy River (my wife’s all-time favorite movie). The landscape is much more akin to the dark and volcanic Mount Doom from The Lord of the Rings. The picture appears more foreboding than loving. The thing about mountain top experiences is that they are not all monolithic one-size-fits-all encounters with bright rainbows and happy skipping unicorns.

Holy Scripture is replete with mountain experiences. Mountains serve as symbols for significant encounters with a mighty God. Whether it is Christ’s transfiguration on a mountain; or, the giving of the law on a mountain; the awesome mountain serves as a tangible symbol of divine majesty, strength, and sovereignty. And, I might add, conversely, valleys in Scripture are symbolic of difficulty and suffering.  Our God is a God of both mountain and valley. That is, the God of the Bible is both transcendent and immanent; he rules with power and might high above us on his holy mountain; yet, he also comes near to us in the valley of the shadow of death.

Leading up to the giving of the Ten Words (Commandments) in Exodus 20, Exodus 19 portrays an awesome scene of God in his transcendent holiness and power. In fact, the experience was so otherworldly that the people were afraid to even come near the mountain. The Israelites needed limits placed on themselves because of God’s holy presence. Just like coming too near the immense power of the sun will destroy us, so getting near God can ruin us if we do not respect his holiness.

Respecting God’s power and transcendence brings the reality of his immanence into greater appreciation. God has gone to extreme lengths to reveal himself to his people. For the Christian, it all culminates through the incarnation of Christ, the sending of the Son. In Jesus, the transcendence and immanence of God meet perfectly to bridge the chasm between humanity and the divine.  Because of Jesus, the awesome sounds of thunder and trumpet do not lead to fear; they announce grace to those who approach God by faith.

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant….

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time, his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:18-29, NIV)

Our God is an awesome God. As Christians anticipate Pentecost, we connect the consuming fire of Mount Sinai with the fire of the Spirit. The divine drama of both experiences has provided God’s people with spiritual power. Both the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery by God and the deliverance secured on Mount Zion from spiritual slavery by Jesus are meant to free us to do the will of God. With God’s Word and God’s Spirit given to us, we are emancipated from an empty way of life to experience the fullness of Christ.

May the Spirit who hovered over the waters at creation breathe life into your spirit.

May the Spirit whose presence on the mountain was a consuming fire grant you a revived spirit.

May the Spirit who overshadowed the virgin Mary at the conception of our Lord overwhelm your spirit with joy.

May the Spirit who set the Church afire on Pentecost aflame every spirit on earth with the love of Christ.

And, may the Spirit who exhorts, encourages, helps, and comforts be your blessing and your life today and always. Amen.

Exodus 3:1-12 – God of the Impossible

Burning Bush by Yoram Raanan
The Burning Bush by Yoram Raanan

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So, Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” (NIV)

The burning bush is one of those iconic objects and stories in Holy Scripture. The experience of Moses changed both his life and the lives of all the Israelites then and now. Having spent the first forty years of his life as a darling in the Egyptian court, then the next forty years far from that life on the backside of the desert with a bunch of sheep, it is an understatement to say Moses did not expect or ever envision encountering God in a burning bush.

The impossible has no possibility. Or, does it?

That incredible encounter engaged the senses of Moses: the paradoxical sight of seeing fire in a bush that isn’t burning up; the smells of sheep, the outdoors, and perhaps, even of fire; hearing the call of God from within the bush; spiritually and emotionally tasting the attentive justice of God; and, removing the sandals to touch and feel the grounding of sacred space.

The story comments on the senses of God, as well. Even though God is Spirit and is worshiped as such, God is alive with his own sensations: seeing the approach of Moses, and the misery of the Israelites; the smell of injustice wafting into God’s nostrils with a stench that brought a strong divine reaction; hearing the cries of suffering; anticipating the savory taste of showing mercy and justice together; touching Moses in such a profound way that he and the Israelites would never be the same.

Through it all, the close identification between God and God’s people is expressed. The Lord feels the humiliation and pain of the Israelites and vows to uproot them from the Egyptian factory farm of slavery and plant them firmly into rich Promised Land soil.

And what God promises to do, God has the authority and power to make good on.

An impossible situation, Moses thinks. How can hundreds of years of backbreaking bondage to a national force so mighty that nothing can be done about it be broken? Who am I, Moses, to face such odds? Ah, but God specializes in systems of oppression and miserable people. It is the Lord’s abilities which conquer the mightiest of foes and can extend mercy to the lowest and the least powerful. The entire situation is ripe for divine intervention and supernatural wonders to occur.

God will make a way where there seems to be no way. God works in ways which transcend our senses. Where we are blind, God gives sight. Where we are deaf, God opens our ears with the sound of justice. When our taste buds are shot with the gruel of poverty, God causes our tongues to dance with the zest of mercy. When our nerve endings are raw from cruel bondage, God touches us with freedom. Where our nostrils have become accustomed to the smell of death, God’s aroma of life awakens us to new hope.

My friend, I believe with all my heart that:

You already intuitively know deep in your spirit that the impossible is possible with God.

It is never a question of God’s ability, but of God’s timing. God is able – and the Lord works the impossible in its proper time so that justice and mercy will have their full effect.

God of the impossible: I believe. Help me in my unbelief.

God of mercy: I receive. Help me in my denial.

God of justice: I accept. Help me in my rejection.

God of all time: I endure. Help me in my impatience.

God of All: I submit. Help me in my rebellion.

God of power and of might: I trust. Help me in my distrust.

God of our Lord Jesus Christ: I follow. Help me in my wandering.

God of the nations: Yes, you know that I love you. Yes, Lord, you know I love you. Lord, you know all things, and you know that I love you. So, yes, I will answer your call to go. Help me in my sending. Amen.

Click God Will Make a Way by Don Moen as we believe together.

Hebrews 3:1-6 – Jesus Is Better

 

Loving-Gods-House

“Therefore, brothers and sisters who are partners in the heavenly calling, think about Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.  Jesus was faithful to the one who appointed him just like Moses was faithful in God’s house.  But he deserves greater glory than Moses in the same way that the builder of the house deserves more honor than the house itself.  Every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant in order to affirm the things that would be spoken later.  But Jesus was faithful over God’s house as a Son. We are his house if we hold on to the confidence and the pride that our hope gives us.” (Common English Bible)

It’s hard to be patient, difficult to persevere.  If the Christian life were a piece of cake, then there would be no need for the strengthening of faith and the development of perseverance.  But faith is a muscle.  If unused, it atrophies.  Faith needs exercise, and it must be tried in adverse circumstances to grow and mature.

The reason the author of Hebrews wrote his letter to Jewish Christians is because they were losing their grip, faltering in their faith.  The hard circumstances of those Christians were leading them to entertain the notion of returning to their old ways of life, apart from Christ.

It can be tempting to think of the past as “the good old days.”  But if you think about it for any length of time, you know better.  You’re just struggling in the present, and our minds turn to filter all the crud out from the past to make it look like things were better back then.

“Better” is what the book of Hebrews is all about.  The writer consistently and persistently insists that Jesus is better than anything from the Hebrew Christians’ past.  Moses was one the most respected and impressive figures of Old Testament history.  Jews revered him.  The book of Hebrews acknowledges that respect for Moses, but points-out and reminds the people that whereas Moses was faithful within God’s house, it is Jesus who is the Master over the house.  Jesus is better than Moses.

What’s more, we as believers and followers of Jesus are the house.  Jesus Christ is Lord – not Moses, or anybody else.  Jesus cares for and protects his house.  It might be tempting to believe that a previous house we lived-in in another city or town was better.  But the reality is that we live today in God’s house.  Therefore, we must hold on and not let go of the confidence we have in Jesus and the pride and privilege we have in living where we presently live.

When life is tough, reminiscing about the past is easy.  For sure, you can find all kinds of things you miss from your previous days somewhere.  Yet, trolling your personal history, like a time-wasting galavant on the computer, doesn’t do anything for your need of faith and perseverance.  But today, Jesus has a hold of you.  Today he wants to walk with you through your trouble, and not just transport you to the past.  Now is the time to follow Jesus into all the situations that are in front of you.  You are not alone.  You can do this.

Lord Jesus, you are sovereign over my past, present, and future.  Today has its situations and problems.  Help me walk into and through them with your gracious protection so that perseverance is developed within me and my faith in you is strengthened for tomorrow.  Amen.

Exodus 5:10-23


             It was God who called to Moses out of the burning bush.  It was God who told Moses to go to Egypt because he heard the groaning of the Israelites in their slavery.  It was God who promised Moses that he would deliver the people from their awful bondage.  But the promised vision of release from captivity ran into the harsh buzz-saw of reality.  Moses did exactly what God told him to do with the result that Pharaoh forced the Israelite slaves to make bricks without being supplied with the straw to do it.  Now the people’s situation is even worse than it was before Moses showed up on the scene.  What’s up with that!?
             Since we know the end to the story, we might understand where all of this was going.  But when we put ourselves in the sandals of Moses, it is anything but clear about what was happening.  It is quite understandable that Moses questioned God:  “LORD, why have you treated this people badly? And why did you send me?  From the time I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has treated this people badly, and you have done nothing to rescue your people.”  
             There have been many times in my life when I have questioned whether I was really sent by God to be a certain place or to do a certain thing.  Maybe I didn’t really hear God.  Maybe it was my own voice in my head.  Maybe it was an emotional decision.  But there is something we must all realize:  Just because things go from bad to worse does not necessarily mean God isn’t in the thing.  We are not always, even usually, privy to the mind of God in the big picture of what he is doing.  In the midst of trouble we might think God is not at work, not paying attention, and slow to act.  Yet, God knows exactly what he is doing and sometimes we need to discern that things will get worse before they will get better.
             Wise God, I trust you that you know what you are doing even though I don’t see what in the world is going on.  Help me to see all things from your perspective so that I might have the wisdom to move forward in faith and patience.  I’m out on a limb for you; please do not let it break!  Amen.