By Simon ManchesterSunday 15 Jun 2014Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
Teamwork – Exodus 18-19
Richard James and I went to a movie on Thursday night. We knew it was going to be a very complex plot. It was disappointing to us to find it had begun when we had gone in and it was very difficult for us to follow. When the movie finished after about 60 minutes,we realised that we had been ushered to the wrong cinema and the wrong session and we had missed about the first hour and quarter which made it very very difficult to follow what was happening!
Now Richard and I of course were innocent that evening (well we’re always innocent really!) and you may have come this morning having quite,quite innocently missed the last 7 sermons in the series and I want to help you with the events of Exodus so far. It’s always difficult to ask when you get into a theatre of the people around you,what’s happened so far but this morning I want to help you.
If you have carelessly missed recent weeks,I’m not sure I can help you! No wonder there are so many confused Christians around when they drop in randomly on Sundays but anyway I would need to say that 52 times to make a point but what we are doing this morning,we are following the Old Testament Book of Exodus. We’ve actually come to the 8th in a series of 12. We have seen the people of God escape from Egypt and we’ve seen them make some early steps in the desert and today we see them come to Mount Sinai.
So if you have those two chapters in front of you,these are the ones we are going to look at. I think that God has been showing us very wonderful things from the Book of Exodus in these last weeks. The lesson last week of God testing his people and supplying or being sufficient for his people stayed with me as a lesson all week and I hope it will stay with me forever.
The chapters today both take place near the mountain called ‘Sinai’. If you look at chapter 18 verse 5,they were near the mountain. If you look at chapter 19 verse 2,they were in front of the mountain. The question we want to ask as we begin this morning is ‘why are God’s people stopping at a mountain when they are on their way to the Promised Land?’ ‘Why are they going to stop at a mountain for pretty well a year?’
If you are reading your Bible from start to finish,you get to the mountain of Sinai in Exodus 18 and you stay there all the way through the rest of the Book of Exodus and you stay at Mount Sinai all the way through the Book of Leviticus and you stay there all the way until chapter 10 of Numbers. It’s a long,long time to be at this mountain especially when they are meant to be moving to the Promised Land. It’s not the Promised Land. What are they doing at a mountain?
The answer is that God has brought the people to Himself.
If you look at chapter 19 verse 4 “You’ve seen what I did to Egypt and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself”. God has brought them to him. Even more important than being brought to the Promised Land is being brought to God. And interestingly in the New Testament,Peter says in his Letter “Christ died,the righteous for the unrighteous to bring you (not to church – that may be helpful,not to the Minister – that may be helpful,not to Baptism – that may be helpful) but to bring you to God”.
So God has brought them out of Egypt to meet him.
And this is where at this Mount Sinai he will effectively marry them and he will tell them his plans for them because when you meet God,you come under the influence of his Word. If you want to know what it means to have a relationship with God,it means you come to the God of the Word. And the God who speaks and tells us in the Scriptures who he is and what his plans for us are.
So before the people are going to move off to the Promised Land,God will teach them at the mountain many things. And chapter 18 has to do with Moses and chapter 19 has to do with Israel. We didn’t get to read chapter 18 at all – it’s so unusual,it’s where Moses’ father-in-law Jethro comes and teaches him some delegation skills. It’s tempting to tear the page out and just stick it in a leadership manual! You know spread the load.
And all the Commentaries I have read just jump straight into ‘share the ministry’. I rang my Old Testament Lecturer through the week to find out what he would suggest and he said “I would just skip it and go straight to Exodus 19”! So I want to ask whether there’s more in Exodus 18 than that.
Let’s look at these two chapters briefly this morning.
Chapter 18 under the heading A Man for the People.
Chapter 19 under the heading A People for the Nations.
Look at chapter 18 verse 1 “Jethro,the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses,heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel,and how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt.” Moses has been living with his father-in-law for 40 years. He’s been taken away from home,wife and kids for this remarkable job of leading the Israelites out of Egypt across the Red Sea into the desert on the way to the Promised Land.
And now his father-in-law wants to catch up with him. Jethro is,as we read,a priest. He is a priest of Midian. That means he worships false gods and he probably lives near Mount Sinai. He’s heard about the Exodus because everybody has heard about the Exodus and he wants to come and talk to Moses.
And the key conversation in chapter 18 verses 7 & 8 is where Moses tells Jethro what God has been doing. He doesn’t tell him what Jethro knows,he tells him what Jethro doesn’t know. He tells him what God has done to Pharaoh and how the Lord has helped them through their many,many struggles.
Incidentally,Moses would have nothing to say if there had not been many,many struggles. They would not know God’s faithfulness,God’s power and God’s goodness if they had not had many,many struggles.
So here is Moses doing a little bit of Old Testament witnessing to his father-in-law. Moses doesn’t talk about himself but he talks about the Lord.
Jethro’s response in chapter 18 verse 9 is to praise God – to praise Yahweh – to recognise that Yahweh is greater than all gods. Remember that the purpose of the Exodus and the Plagues was that the whole world would know that God was supreme. Jethro then offers a sacrifice to God and he and Moses sit down and they eat bread in God’s presence.
Now some commentators say that Jethro never gets around to saying “there’s only one God – theirs is only one God”. He doesn’t say that,he doesn’t explicitly say that. He says “now I know that Yahweh is greater than all gods”. As though some people are not sure Jethro really becomes a believer or whether he just thinks of Yahweh being the best of the bunch.
But I think it would be hard to ask for more evidence that Jethro is recognising God to be great,supreme and unique than what we have here in the text. It seems to me that here is an outsider,in fact an idolater,coming to faith in God. And what follows the next day is that there is a conversation between Jethro and Moses and this conversation is because Moses has been sitting around from morning till night for about 10 hours trying to solve the queue of problems that are coming to him from the Israelites and his father-in-law who seems to have a new interest in God and a new interest in the people of God and a new interest in the whole purposes of God,looks and says ‘this is an absolute mess – this is a disaster’.
And he asks Moses to re-think his job. He doesn’t just give him a simple piece of advice on delegation. You see in chapter 18 verse 15 Moses has been saying “the people come to me to seek God’s will whenever they have a dispute,it is brought to me,and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and laws”. Jethro steps in and says “that’s impossible – you cannot possibly carry all the problems of the people. Take them” says Jethro “to God and begin to teach the people so that you become pro-active and you go on the front foot and the people become clear on the will and the word of God”.
I remember when I was at Bible College being taught that if you run a ministry which is just a hand-holding ministry where you sit in your office and you wait for people to come who have problems,you will basically just be reactive. Whereas if you set yourself as best you can to teach and equip and to tell people about what God is like and what his will is like,you will have an increasing number of people who are clear in their head about the Christian life and how they should be living it and also able to help and equip others.
So one is reactive and one is pro-active and I think that what Jethro is teaching Moses here is that he is not to try and be the carrier of the problems but take them to God and he’s not to be the responder to the people but he is to be one who teaches and Moses listens.
And they have blessed each other. Moses has helped Jethro to understand the God of salvation and Jethro has helped Moses in some practical wisdom.
Now what do we make of this? What do we do with this?
Well I want to suggest to you – I think it’s possible that this chapter is sitting here to show that an outsider called Jethro – (a) becomes a believer of some kind – and this is of course what God is planning that all the nations of the world will eventually come to faith because of this nation of Israel. (b) The other thing we can see from this chapter is that there is an outsider who is in a very unique position to comment on Moses and his comment on Moses now that he has a new appreciation for God and a new appreciation for the people of God is “you cannot do the job”.
Your people may think you are great – it’s possible that you will be famous – but you can’t do the job. I think this is highly significant because here in the Old Testament we are coming face to face with one of the heroes called “Moses” and his role is beyond him.
Even the delegation that he’s being instructed in is just a bit of tinkering. Moses can preach pretty well,well,moderately well,he doesn’t have great abilities,he says. He can pray. He can listen to people’s problems. He can make decisions but he will never be able to solve the needs of Israel. The people are not going to properly listen to him. They are going to have too many needs for his prayers. They are going to have too many issues for his brain. He’s an old man. He’s limited in his capacity. He’s sinful in himself. He’s human and it’s just not going to work.
Now Jethro of course is helpful but delegation you see is not going to solve the problems of Israel. This is just a strategy – not a solution,it’s a technique – not a cure. And you see no leader,no human is meant to get in the way of God. No human,no leader,no preacher,no priest,no guru can provide the word that properly comforts God’s people or solve the ache that is inside God’s people or gives the direction which so many are looking for or carry people to salvation. Nobody can do this until Jesus comes.
And when Jesus comes,we find in Jesus one who knows every sheep – exactly what we are like. One who can speak a word which really does penetrate,one who can comfort by his Holy Spirit deep in the heart and one who can give direction which will meet the hour. There is nobody that can do the job but Jesus.
Therefore we need to pity the Christian leader who thinks that he is the messiah and pity the congregation who expects their leader to be the messiah and pity the Christian who looks to the wrong person. There are always people in churches who have not dealt with Jesus. They just deal with the leadership of the church. Pity those people because here in Exodus 18 is a reminder at the foot of Mount Sinai that Moses at best can point people to God. But he cannot be God.
And he knows it but we are being reminded because when it comes to the needs to the people of Israel,Moses is massively limited. Real man for the people – we’ll have to wait for the real man for the people. The real man for the people will be the Son of Man.
Now what this means,friends that you and I can go home from this meeting and we can have thanks to God for gathering,thanks to God for his Word,thanks to God that we could sing and thanks for dear friends. But when we go home,we are actually going to need to look at Jesus for ministry to the aches of the heart and the needs of the brain and the directions of the path because he is not only willing but able – he’s totally sufficient. He can do for us and all his people across the world and all across the Centuries what no human will ever really be able to do.
Let’s think secondly about the people for the world – chapter 19.
I notice that there are some young people here this morning – I hope you’ll hang on for just a few more minutes and there are some old people struggling as well – I hope you’ll hang on for just a few minutes.
The people are in front of the mountain chapter 19 verse 2. It’s a very powerful chapter. God is going to come down and meet with them. I presume the mountain is a reminder to them that they might go up a bit but God must come down a bit. Meeting God,you see,is not on a flat plain. Meeting God is something which is going to be symbolically remarkable.
And God is going to come and tell his people his plans for them. I don’t know if you know this but Moses climbs Mount Sinai 7 times,3 of them here in chapter 19. He goes up in verse 3,he goes up in verse 8 and he goes up in verse 20 – a remarkable 80 year old.
And we realise here in Exodus chapter 19 that God is loving but he is also terrifying. If the non Christian says ‘I don’t believe God is terrifying,in fact I think that God is so weedy that I don’t even believe in him’,the Bible’s answer is that’s because today is the day of salvation,today is the day of invitation – tomorrow is the day of judgment. If you think that God is a fool because he is kind,you have made a terrible mistake. The God who runs the universe could totally scare the people of the world in a flash if he wanted to. But he presents this remarkable grace to the world,invitation,opportunity and salvation. Tomorrow will be the Day of Judgment.
And if the believer says “you know I don’t like the idea that God is terrifying,I just want God to be loving”. Can I say as kindly as I can friends,you need to go home and buy yourself a little pack of Lego and make a god for yourself,or a little pack of plasticine and make a god for yourself for the God of the Bible,the Old Testament and the New Testament is terrifying and loving.
He is transcendent as theologians say and imminent. He is lofty and close. And almost all heresies and all declines in church history have come because the church has forgotten one of the two. They forget that he is transcendent and he becomes the ‘little buddy’ – disease and decline sets in or he is so lofty that he is not personal – terror,fear,law and desperation sets in.
God is unapproachably powerful but he is intimate beyond belief. And if you find yourself in private prayer this week sitting on your bed or kneeling by your bed (and I hope you do take time everyday for private prayer) and you find yourself saying to God ‘dear God,I recognise that you are unbelievably big and I’m just sure that you are really interested in something so little and petty’. I hope your mind will go to the Bible. I hope you will say to yourself ‘no,the Bible tells me that not only does God run the universe but he has promised in his Word to be interested in the hairs of the head and the words of our mouths and the relationships of our lives and he is incredibly personal’.
Or perhaps you thoughts will go the other way as you are sitting on your bed or kneeling by your bed and you find yourself saying to God something like ‘I recognise that you really love me,I know you love me – I’m just not sure you are big enough for this situation’. I hope your mind will go to the Bible and you’ll say ‘not only are you incredibly personal,intimately involved,deeply concerned but you are also mighty and majestic and you can do anything and nothing is too hard for you.
This Diocese that we live in is unbalanced. Some people are leaning to the transcendent,forgetting the imminent. Some people are leaning to the imminent forgetting the transcendent. We are all unbalanced and we need to be balanced by the Bible all the time.
One of the funny things we have done in this Diocese is that we have taken the word “Worship” and in some sense we have rightly said that worship just means the way you live. And there is a great truth in that because we do want to get away from the idea that we only worship God between 10.00 & 11.00 on Sunday. But by leaning over to worship as obedience,we lose a lot don’t we,as worship being spellbound by God.
And so we become casual and a lot of our Diocese is marked by irreverence and casual,disrespectful living and praying. We all need to be balanced. Exodus 19 is a tremendous gift for us because it reminds us that God is not just loving but he is terrifying. One writer says ‘bending the pendulum back to reverence,it is madness to think of church as a safe place. To wear ladies straw hats and velvet hats,we should be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life-preservers and signal flares. We should be lashed to our pews”. That’s just a nice reminder isn’t it that God is great,God is big.
So in the first ascent,chapter 19 verse 3,Moses approaches God and God gives him this remarkable reminder. “I’ve rescued you,I’ve brought you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” and now verse 5 “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant” (this is a covenant that goes right back) “then out of all nations you” says God chapter 19 verses 5 & 6 “you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine,you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nature”.
You see what God is saying as he looks on Israel? I’ve chosen you for a powerful role; I’m going to use you to impact the world. I’m going to set up a nation in the Old Testament which will be so blessed and so ordered and so clear and so loving and so truthful that the whole world will learn about me and put their faith in me. Your role,says God,is to be that nation,to be that kingdom,to be that priesthood.
He doesn’t say ‘I’ve chosen you for this because you are intrinsically wonderful’. He says ‘my choice of you makes you very significant’.
And of course the covenant between God and his people would hang on God’s faithfulness not theirs because the people were not very faithful. But you see the word “if” in verse 5 – “if” you obey,the role will be effective.
And the one who is commissioning the role is described to us in the second ascent verse 8 where Moses goes up again and God makes it clear that the people must prepare to meet him by setting fences around the mountain – don’t go near the mountain – put on clean clothes – no sexual relations. This is not because these things are necessarily good or bad but because they represent to the people what it means to take care and be serious and be devoted.
And it’s very much an outward preparation because the peoples’ hearts are inwardly weak but they are getting ready to meet an indescribably impressive God. And God,we read in verse 16,appears in very great power,in thunder and fire and trumpet.
No-one can prepare you to meet with this God. No Jethro can come along and give you some tips. No consultant charging $800 per hour can get you ready to meet the God of Sinai.
No leadership text book will make you safe meeting the God of Sinai.
And the third ascent is in verse 20 where again Moses goes up and God repeats the warning “Don’t let the people push forward”.
Now you see what’s happening here. God has given his people a very privileged role in the world,he loves them but he is frighteningly holy. And they never succeed in being the holy nation. Israel failed.
And since their God is this very,very serious God,how are they going to escape?
And you know the Biblical answer is that God’s son came,the one man Israel. Israel reduced to one person and when Jesus came,he did it. He lived a holy life. He died a saving death. He arose a powerful resurrection and he made it possible for the unfaithful,for the failure to be forgiven and to be safe.
Jesus played his role perfectly. He became a light to the nations and through his dying and his rising,he created a whole new people. That’s why Peter says in 1 Peter 2 to the church “you are the royal priesthood now,you are the holy nation,you are the people belonging to God. You don’t live in Canaan,you’re not inside a geographical boundary,you’re all over the world but you are God’s people to help the nations know that he is great – and we fail.
And that’s why we give thanks for the Lord Jesus who stands between the failing Israel and the failing church and provides the salvation. Hebrews 12 (our second reading this morning) says “you who believe and trust in Jesus – you haven’t come to Mount Sinai this morning,otherwise you would be terrified – you’ve come to Mount Zion – you’ve come to salvation which is why you can be joyful.
And these two Exodus chapters 18 & 19 – they both tell us to look to Christ you see. Chapter 18 tells us to look to Christ if we want a person who will solve the needs of the people,Christ can do that. And we need to look to Christ if we want to find a nation which will be fit to impress the world. He’s our message,he’s the one we talk about,and he’s the one we direct people to. We are the signpost to Jesus Christ.
I want to close by just asking you this simple question friends – Do you realise that it is possible for the people who trust in Jesus Christ to be incorporated into the victory of Jesus Christ?
It sometimes worries me that when people preach here at St Thomas’ they might give the impression that what they are saying to you is – ‘we want you to go and be good’. We want you to go and be impressive’ but what the Bible is saying is Jesus Christ has achieved the victory and you must step into the victory and when you step into the victory,that’s your confidence and that’s your strength and that’s your answer.
When you have stepped into the victory of Jesus Christ,a new life is given to you which begins to flow in newness of life,not perfection,but newness and from that newness of life we keep pointing people to Christ. The key,the key man for the people and the key people for the world.
Let’s bow our heads and thank him together -Our Father we thank you this morning for giving us these reminders in your word that even one like Moses is not able to save and so we look to the Lord Jesus.
We thank you for reminding us in this chapter that a people given a very precious and privileged job nevertheless failed. And so we look to the Lord Jesus.
We pray that as we your people live for you in this world,you would help us to rejoice in the victory of the Lord Jesus.
We pray that you would make us new with the life and the power of the Lord Jesus and we pray that you would help us to point people who are running out of time and running out of space to the one who is able to bring a victory and a future. We ask it in His Name – Amen.