10th Sunday after Pentecost
Infamous Atheist and author of the book “The God Delusion,” Richard Dawkins; is quoted in that book as saying this: “Yahweh: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Perhaps you’ve had friends or family members who’ve made similar remarks about God in the OT? Perhaps we’ve even wondered at the God that we see in the OT from time to time. Perhaps we’ve wondered why the OT seems to be so violent or why the OT seems to have so much blood in it. I know I have. Even in the text for today, we hear of those young bulls being sacrificed. And if you let your mind ponder the logistics of that – it can make your stomach turn. Indeed, there is a lot of blood in the OT! Indeed, worship in in general in the OT was an altogether noisy, somewhat terrifying, possibly traumatic and bloody affair. At times, for many of us it is difficult to see a connection between the Lord in the NT and the Lord in the OT –
In the Word of God from Exodus this week, the Holy Spirit helps us to clearly see that connection. He helps us to see the heart of God, our immovable, unchanging from everlasting to everlasting covenant God. In this text from the OT We clearly see our same covenant God: by his Word and by the Sacrament.
Anyway, speaking of terrifying, shocking traumatic things… If you were an Israelite standing there in that mass of humanity 2 million strong, camped out before Mt. Sinai, what you and your neighbors saw would’ve made you break out in a sweat and divert your eyes, and cower down in fear. The mountain was covered in fire, thunder, lightening and smoke and the ground shook. If God were to open his mouth to speak you knew for sure that the whole of Israel would wither and die right there at the foot of that mountain. This was the almighty. The hand of God, the creator of the universe himself resting his presence upon that mountain – of that there was no doubt.
Part I: By His Word
Why did the Lord give the Israelites such a terrifying display? Why would he appear horrible, wrathful, and angry? Why would he be unapproachable, save by one man, Moses? This hardly seems like the covenant God of free and faithful grace! Why didn’t God just take them as they were and love them as they were?
It’s because the Israelites had no inkling, no bearing on what it meant to be the chosen people of a Holy God. They were mortal, he was not. They were fickle, he was not. They were sinful, and he was not. By nature, sinful mankind has no business approaching a perfect and holy God.
God was showing them his wrath and anger at sin. They needed this terrifying display lest they think that there was some way to approach him on their own worth or merit.
Yet, God is driven by an insatiable love. A love that has ever sought to overcome that massive divide between sin and holiness. Enter the Covenant – that binding agreement to allow the LORD almighty to dwell with his people. And where does it all start? It begins with his promise, his Word to his people.
Moses returns from speaking to the Lord and, Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” 4 Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said.
Oh, the Word of God was precious to them! Now they had it! In written form! Something they could look at, and reference and marvel at! That almighty God would go to them! And give them his Word, a document that told them what it meant for them to be his people, that they were to be special, different – a chosen nation a people set apart!
Just in the face of such a wonder that formerly terrified mass of humanity responded in “one voice!” “Everything the Lord has said we will do!”
Do you see God here, our God of the Covenant? A God that has chosen to deal with his people by his Word. A Word that endures, and does not change. Evidence of that is just the simple fact that I’m preaching from this text today. These words have existed since they day that they were written down at the foot of Mt. Sinai. It has survived attacks and those who sought to destroy it. Because it is the very Word of that Almighty God, creator of heaven and Earth – the Holy Covenant God who appeared in fire and smoke and thunder.
The fact that God has given his Word to us, should fill us with a holy awe, just as it did the Israelites! The wonder of having it makes a believer want to respond in the same way Israel did, “We will do everything the Lord has said!”
But do we? Did they? No. We know even after this Israel turned away time and time again from the true God and we’re no different. Even when that Word has told us of how good God has been to us and Lord has lead us through wildernesses of our own. Even when it shows us what it means to be called God’s people. Every time we sin, we raise our fist in rebellion to God and his Word. Saying, “God I know your word says otherwise, but I’m going to do what I want to do! I’ll continue to be the person I want to be, live how I want to live, keep my comfortable pet sins and how dare you tell me otherwise.”
But friends, this is the truly amazing thing. God knows we are like this, he knows that by nature we are divided from him. That as our sinful selves, we are in no way able to ascend the mountain of the Lord. But just as in the Old Testament, Our God is still and always will be driven by his love for us. His one great desire is to draw us to himself and bridge that great chasm that divides sin and holiness. That is why he gives us his Word, it is to remind us of the promise, the Covenant that he has made with us.
Part II: By the Sacrament
Were it not for this Covenant that God had made with his people, he rightly should forget about them in the wilderness that they are in. But this is not just a Covenant made as a light agreement and a hand shake – a thing to be easily thrown aside. It is a covenant that is sealed in blood. See this transaction, this Covenant that the Lord made with his people there at the foot of Mt. Sinai was unique. It set the pattern for what was to be the Old Testament Sacrament. With Moses building the altar, and setting up the stones to represent Israel, the sacrificing of the young bulls and throwing half the blood on the altar and then the rest on the people – Israel was formally set apart as the people of God.
The New Testament writer to the Hebrews helps us in understanding the sacramental nature of this Covenant. This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19 When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20 He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.”[e]21 In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
That is really the chief characteristic of a sacrament. A thing that is connected with God’s Word and reminds the sinner of God’s grace. And oh was there forgiveness, and oh was there grace and it was plain to see. After the covenant was sealed in blood, and the sacrifices made: Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.
These men, these sinful men, the representatives of all Israel go up with Moses, and they no longer see the fire, lightening, or hear the thunder and the ground shake as sinful men tread upon holy ground. No, they see the definition of tranquility. Pavement of sapphire blue and peaceful. This is where they ate. They ate a meal there in the presence of God. Talk about a foreshadowing! This extends beyond foreshadowing the promised Savior! This is the wedding feast of the Lamb! The peace and glory, at the end, with a new heaven and a new earth, when sin has been destroyed and man can dwell in the presence of a holy, eternal and righteous God.
Brothers and Sisters, it is really this covenant that we are reminded of every single Sunday. We are reminded that without the shedding of blood that there is no forgiveness! We really are reminded of a worse thing than a mountain smoking with fire and wrath. But we see the blood of an innocent shed for the lives of the guilty. We see an angry God who poured out all his hatred for sin, my sins and yours, on his very own son. That God made one who had no sin at all to literally be sin for us. He punished one who was full of love for our lack of it. He shed the blood of one who never had an impure thought as though he were guilty for every single one of ours.
But as Jesus said on the night he was betrayed, that blood, his blood, was the blood of the new covenant poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. It is that covenant, that we are reminded of every time we put the wafer on our tongues and the cup to our lips. That just as the elders of Israel ate that fellowship offering on the mountain and communed with holy God, we do the same exact thing. We can literally taste the forgiveness that God has for us. The sacrament really is a foretaste of the wedding banquet in heaven.
The sacrament of the altar reminds us that when someone else shuts our eyes in death, we will open them on our own to see that same tranquility, that same peace that the elders of Israel saw. The savior, the God of the Covenant on streets of sapphire blue and clear and pure as the sky. Where sin is gone, there is no pain or fear or tears.
A service of Word and Sacrament. Sound familiar? I believe that’s the order of service we are following today. I also believe that is the order of service that Moses and the Israelites followed at the base of Mt. Sinai. These are the things by which we see our Covenant God. A God whose always sought to bridge that gap between sinfulness and holiness. Our Covenant God who shed blood, indeed his very own blood that we might be at peace with him and that we can depart, when we depart this life in peace. Amen.