By Simon ManchesterSunday 15 Jul 2018Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 17 minutes
There is a key to Christianity. A clue or a secret to Christianity which most people miss and some people get. And the clue is very simply that God is a God who rescues before his people ever become religious. If you want good things for your children, if you really want them to be eternally safe they need to know God’s rescue before they ever become religious. If you want good things for the country, people need a rescue before they ever become religious.
It’s in the first half of the Book of Exodus that we read about the rescue and it’s in the second half that we begin to see what it means to be religious. So there are 20 chapters in the first half describing the rescue, and we’ve spent 9 Sundays on the rescue. We’ve now come to the religious section, and we are going to spend just 3 on the second half. The second half has 20 chapters as well. God is a God who rescues, and then his people may become religious.
God did not look down on his people in Egypt and say ‘well you’re being tremendously religious, I’m so impressed, I’ll rescue you’. No he looked down on his people, and he saw a sad bunch of slaves, and he said ‘I will rescue you’.
It’s precisely the same in the New Testament, Paul says in chapter 5 of Romans “while we were sinners Christ died for us”. Or the most famous verse in the Bible, “God so loved the world that he gave his son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life”. God rescues, then we may become religious.
We’ve followed Exodus and watched God bring them out of Egypt, take them through the Red Sea, unforgettably parting the Red Sea, guide them through the desert providing them with food and drink and bring them to the mount called Mt Sinai and it’s at Mt Sinai he gives them all the family rules, all the instructions for being his people.
I want to look at it this morning under three headings, this will help you, it will help you to help your children, and it will help you to help your country because there is some instruction here on practical living. Then there is what I am going to call ultimate living where God takes some up and actually has a meal with them, that’s his goal and then there is what I am going to call intimate living where God shows how it’s possible for him, a holy God to live with an unholy people.
There are three chapters of rules, 21, 22 & 23. They say that if you walk around a school in term time after about 20 minutes, you can work out what the Headmaster or Headmistress is like just from walking around the school.
If you read Exodus 21, 22 & 23, you learn a lot about what God is like. God is a God who is very tender towards the needy and is very tough towards the foolish.
There are some very practical laws in chapters 21, 22 & 23. Remember they are given to Israel, the nation. They have no homeland. They have no police. They have no schools. They have no hospitals, but I’ll give you some examples in Exodus 21, God says “is there anyone of my people who has a servant, an employee, you are to free him or her after 6 years unless they want to stay with you.”
“Is there anyone who is doing damage to other people?” “Well,” says God “if it’s accidental, be protective. If it’s deliberate, they need to be punished” And he says in these famous words “Don’t escalate the damage, tooth for a tooth, eye for an eye”. What he means by that is he’s not offering compulsory revenge, he is ordering a compulsory restraint.
In Exodus 22 he says
- “Are people stealing?” ”Well, they must make restitution in some cases, double”.
- “Has anybody seduced a girl?” “Well, he must man up and marry her”.
- “Are there widows and orphans among you? Are they calling out for help?” “Well look after them,” says God “or I will punish you”.
Exodus 23 says,
- “If you are in court as a witness. Don’t show favouritism.Even if the person is poor and especially you are to be careful for the alien and the stranger because you” says God “you were aliens and strangers once in Egypt”.
- You are to work 6 days, not 7 because life is not all about work
- And you are to keep the feasts and festivals which thank me for my goodness
- Don’t start serving false gods
- Don’t start serving false idols, an idol is something you just can’t do without and if there is something that you just can’t do without and it’s not God, it will fail you. “Don’t fall for idols” says God “they are an insult to me and they will collapse under you”.
So you see as read these three chapters, some of the laws are pretty tough, but God had no place among his people for rebellions or for white-anting the nation.
Some of the laws are pretty bizarre; one of them says in chapter 23:19 “Don’t cook a young goat in its mother’s milk”. Now some people have thought ‘well that’s just weird and ridiculous’, but archaeology has actually shown that this was a Canaanite fertility rite and so God is saying to his people ‘don’t copy the pagans around you who think that they can become fertile with some kind of nonsense. God says I am the one who will provide everything for you’. So we need to be careful not to dismiss laws too quickly which appeal to us to be a little unusual.
Let me make three quick comments about the law.
First of all, it was given to the people of God as a nation. Israel was a church, yes, but it was a political nation. The days of Israel being a political nation are over. God’s people are not spread throughout the world. There is no border of a nation of God’s people. So Christians who read these Old Testament laws, we can learn from them, and we can appreciate them, but we are not obligated to national laws. How often the people of Sydney get this completely wrong and write to the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) saying “well look how inconsistent Christians are because here’s a law from the Old Testament and they are not keeping it”.
Then they bang on about some law in the New Testament and that’s because these people who write to the SMH (and my letters of reply never get into the Herald!) but these people who write to the Herald they just don’t understand the history or their Bibles because that time of national Israel is over. Therefore we read the Laws, we appreciate them, we are helped by them, but they are not binding on us.
The second thing about this Law (please notice that God is interested in ALL of your life) it’s excellent news to know that God is interested in your work, cares about your work, he’s interested in your health, he’s interested in your relationships and the struggles, he’s interested in the hard times and the poor times and the needy times because he is interested in your welfare.
But these laws also are very challenging because they teach us that faith is meant to go everywhere. You can’t just have faith for an hour on a Sunday. God is interested in the whole of your life.
The third thing about the Law is that it comes from the love of God. God is in charge, but he is for his people. He is the God who rescues and takes them all the way to the Promised Land. We read in chapter 23:27 that he is the God who is going to take them carefully and surely through to the Promised Land and he says this very interesting thing in chapter 23 and from verse 29. He says “as I take you into the Promised Land I will not drive out the other nations in a single year because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines and from the desert to the River”.
So God is going to go before his people and look after them, and you can be absolutely sure that his Law is good. The Law is not meant to be a burden. It’s meant to be a blessing.
I was reading that when Abraham Lincoln was President, he was travelling once and he came across an auction of a slave girl and was appalled, and he stepped out of his vehicle and joined the bid. And he joined the bid until he bought the girl. And when he bought the girl, he said to her ‘you are now free to go’.
She turned to him, and she said ‘Am I completely free?’ He said ‘yes, you are completely free’.
She said to him ‘can I go anywhere I want to?’ He said “you can go anywhere you want to’.
She said ‘can I do anything that I want to?’ He said ‘yes you can do anything you want to’.
And after a little pause, she said ‘someone like you is somebody I’d like to serve’ and she went with him.
This is the response, you see, to a good person. The Law is a response to a good person, a rescuing God, practical living.
Suddenly the chapters of Law are over, and Exodus 24 tells us something remarkable, and that is that God invited Moses and 73 others to come up the mountain and have dinner with him. Yes, have dinner with him chapter 24 verse 11. The leaders saw God, and they ate, and they drank.
What’s going on? Well in the New Testament when Jesus had explained the cost of discipleship to a crowd once, he then took 3 disciples, and he went up another mountain, and they saw a preview of Jesus in glory. He became glorious, splendid and bright. And it was a way of saying to the disciples, this is the future. Hang on the future will come.
And here in the Old Testament, it is as if God does the same in the Old Testament. He takes Moses and some others and asks them to come up the mountain, and he gives them a preview of his goal, of his destination which is that they will be with him in his heavenly home at his table. They will be in his company, they will be in his fellowship, they will live in his house and they will be totally safe, and they will be totally blessed, and that is the goal of the Bible, that is the goal of the plan of God, the people would be eternally safe and eternally joyful.
You may remember a TV documentary a few years ago about the troubled life of AFL player Ben Cousins which I didn’t myself see but I read about it and I read about it in the paper and one of the journalists said this; “This is an AFL player caught up in serious drugs, taking his family through a tough time”.
And the journalist summed it up like this; “Ben Cousins had the best life but he had no moral compass, and when he reached a fork in the road, he took the wrong path”.
It’s easy isn’t it to sit on a slightly high horse and say ‘well I would never do that, I have a moral compass’ and with a certain amount of self-righteousness we say ‘well isn’t that tragic and of course I’m going to give my children a moral compass as well so they won’t make mistakes like that’.
But friends is it not true that even when you have a moral compass, and you know right from wrong, you often don’t have the power or the strength or the courage or the willingness or the common sense to chose the right path. Don’t we want for ourselves and our children more than just a moral compass? Don’t we want for ourselves and our children that they would have moral energy, a pure spirit?
That’s why Exodus 24 is so important because God doesn’t just give Law and say ‘here’s your Rule Book’. He wants people to have himself. He wants people to have fellowship with him. Not just religion, not just ritual, not just rules but himself. And he makes it possible to have fellowship with him which humanly is impossible because he’s huge and he’s perfect, and we’re little, and we’re sinful, and therefore there’s no way that light and darkness can be friends but God makes it possible.
If you look at Exodus 24 verse 5 you’ll see that before anybody went up the mountain to meet with God, they offered a sacrifice, a sacrifice was offered and this was the key to their safety. Fellowship with God is not automatic. You don’t just climb a hill and say ‘God here I am’.
Sinners and God don’t just get together. The Bible tells us that fellowship is possible when a payment is made that removes a barrier, and the payment is blood. In the Old Testament, the animal sacrifices taught this lesson. In the New Testament, Jesus’ sacrifice solved the problem forever because he took our punishment on himself at the cross so that we would go free and be forgiven.
And here in this Exodus 24 preview with a sacrifice in place, they go up the mountain, and we read in chapter 24 verse 10, ‘they see God’s glory’. It says ‘they see God’, but of course they don’t really see God because we are told later that no-one sees God and lives – they see his glory and verse 10 says they saw something like a brilliant, splendid, beneath his feet, pavement. They saw his glory.
But I want you to notice that Exodus 24 is a preview of the goal of the Bible. It captures the very heart of God’s plan which is that he has made people for fellowship with himself. He wants you in fellowship with him from today and forever. He wants your children in fellowship with him from today and forever. He does not want separation. He doesn’t just want people wandering around the earth being ethical. He wants people to be in close fellowship with himself, and this feast is the sign.
Jesus described heaven as a feast on many occasions. When he sat at the Lord’s Supper just before he died, he said I won’t eat this or drink this until I drink it anew in my Father’s Kingdom and in the Book of Revelation which we had as our second reading this morning, there is this wonderful picture of arriving, all Christ’s people arriving, at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb where Christ and his people will be in celebration beyond what we can imagine for eternity. This is the ultimate plan of God. It’s previewed here in Exodus 24, and it begins when we put our trust in Jesus who said: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no-one comes to the Father but by Me”.
The third thing this morning is Intimate Living – Exodus 25-31. This is a long section of Exodus 25-31 where God plans a tent. The feast on the mountain must have been wonderful for Moses. It must have been absolutely thrilling, it must have heartened him, strengthened him and boldened him. It must have been unforgettable, but in chapter 25 he heads down the mountain and then he goes back to the real world because, in the end, you have to live in the real world before you get to heaven and life in the real world is messy!
Someone sent me a story once of a priest who was having his 25th Anniversary of being in a Parish, and he was retiring, and they had asked a Politician to come and speak a few words and present him with a gift.
The Politician was late so the Priest decided he would say a few words himself to fill in time and he began by explaining that he had come to the Parish 25 years ago and he had been quite appalled by his first experience because his first experience was a man who came to confession who basically confessed that he recently attacked and injured somebody, that he was regularly stealing from his work, that he had had an affair with his secretary and he was beginning to dabble with certain drugs and drink. But he said you know ‘after the shock I realised that other people in the Parish were really quite nice and lovely and so I got on with my work, and I continued’.
Just at that minute the Politician turned up, stepped onto the microphone and quite breathless and said “I’m very sorry I’m late, but it’s a great honour to be here, and I feel quite qualified to speak today because I followed his career for 25 years, in fact, I was the first person who ever went to Confession with him”!
Life is messy! Life is messy and because life is messy people are sinful, and people have no human hope, and the only person who can give hope for a sinful world is God, and he provides a hope which is all that we need.
Now the hope which God gives to his people in the real world of the Old Testament is a tent, a portable temple where he will meet with his people.
When they get to Jerusalem, of course, it will become a real building temple, but on the travels, it is a tent. And we read in chapter 25:2 that God asks the people to give offerings, metals and materials so that they can build this tent and by the way, the tent was probably the size of this building. Not as high but probably as wide and as long, it was a bit tent.
And the first thing they made to put in the tent was an ark, a box, a wooden box covered with gold and this would be a symbol of the presence of God.
Inside the tent, there would be various curtains and one of the curtains would separate the Most Holy Place where the ark was to be kept.
And then they built an altar for sacrifices, for sacrificing the animals. This altar was made of wood, and it was covered with bronze. And then they picked priests, and they chose them to offer the sacrifices, and they carefully chose them, and they prepared them, and they dressed them. And all of this was to teach what it meant for a Holy God to live among an unholy people.
If you look at chapter 29 verse 44 you see a summary of this “I will consecrate” says God “the Tent of Meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests and I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the Lord their God who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God”.
There was another altar in the tent, and it was an altar of incense. It was not for offering sacrifices but for putting incense on, and the incense would send a fragrant smoke of thanks, praise to God for this wonderful privilege of fellowship and forgiveness and hope and living with the real universal God. And God chose some workers who would put all this together very skilfully.
Now at the back of our church, we have a small model at the moment which is a model of some buildings which we need and are planning so that we will have rooms for our work and renovations for buildings that are crumbling. It’s a model of a much bigger plan.
This Tent, although it was big, was a model of the glory of God. It was to teach the people the greatness of God. That he was holy, that he was forgiving, that he had a plan for them, that he wanted to be with them, that he wanted to live with them, that he wanted them to live with him. It was a model of the glory of God.
Why did they go to all the trouble in Exodus 25-31? Because God desired to live with his people. He wanted to make costly fellowship possible. God is not interested in distance. It’s possible you are. It’s possible you are prepared to have distance between you and God. If you commit yourself to that of course, that’s what you get, but God is interested in intimacy. He has had in the Old Testament world a tent in the midst of his people to show that he wants to be in the midst of his people.
Now we have no tent today. We have no tent in our midst. We get intimacy with God through Jesus Christ. It’s Jesus Christ; the Bible tells us in John 1 who tented among us. John 1:14 literally says ‘he camped out in the world’. He tented, he tabernacled in this world. And when he came and tabernacled in this world, he did the work of the priest, and he offered a sacrifice, and he did the work of the sacrifice because he offered himself. And when he offered the sacrifice of himself, the curtain in the temple split down the middle because there was an opening, a way to have close fellowship, intimate fellowship with God.
And that’s the key to a person’s eternal life, fellowship with God through Jesus. That’s what our children need for eternity. That’s what we need for eternity. That’s the way people in Australia will begin to have eternal life to take Jesus seriously. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” and if you welcome him into your very heart, he promises that he will welcome you one day into his very home.
Well let’s pray, Our gracious God, we thank you today that in the very midst of these complex chapters, you teach us that you’re a gracious, rescuing God. You’re concerned for our welfare in all of our life. You aim that we might fellowship with you in glory and you’ve made it possible in the very present of our messy lives to still be in intimate relationship with you.
We thank you this morning for the coming of the Lord Jesus. We thank you for his offering of himself. We thank you for the way in which the curtain was torn and it was possible to enter into your very family.
We pray that you would help us each one this morning to not only have but enjoy that fellowship with you. We pray that you would help us to communicate it to young and old. We pray that you would cause the good news of eternal life to speed on in this country. We pray that you would look in mercy and power so that many would enjoy what you have sent your Son to give. We thank you for this time to think and dwell on these things and pray that you would send us out this morning with the joy and the peace of being your people forever.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen