You and I live in a culture of image makers. We live among people who are often more concerned with the image than with reality or substance. We use the trappings of power to intimidate, and to remind people of who we are and you better not mess with me because I have power.
People who live for image often have very little intimacy with others because they will not allow people to get close enough to know the real person. They use their power to isolate themselves from others, not to serve others.
God is not in the image making business, nor is He in the special effects business...but God is in the business of reality. He reveals Himself for who He really is. Thus we have before us the God of Mount Sinai and the God of Mount Zion. Not two different Gods, but the same God revealing two different aspects of His nature, and two different aspects of His power.
I. THE DREAD: MOUNT SINAI (Verses 18-21)
When we come to Mount Sinai, we come to that which is untouchable, blazing fire, a thick dark cloud, dreadful sights, a fearful voice, a howling tempest, and a trumpet (shofar) blowing. There were loud peals of thunder and violent trembling of the earth. There was smoke and lightning. All of this without the presence of any Hollywood special effects. All of this because God Himself was present on the mountain.
Understandably the people were terrified. Exodus 19:16 says that everyone in the camp trembled. The manifestations of divine power were enough to send chills through the bravest person. Even Moses said, "I am trembling with fear." Moses, who had met God at the burning bush and who had proved God's love and grace in countless ways, ascended the mountain with quaking limbs...his whole body shaking with fright. Everything was designed to impress upon God's people the awesome holiness of God. God was not to be trifled with! The experience was not designed to produce intimacy, but a healthy reverential fear of God.
You see, God led His people out of Egypt with a strong arm and with mighty acts. He took a group of slaves and made free people out of them. Next, He brings them to Mount Sinai to meet with them and to give them His law, because they must learn that free people can only stay free if they are responsible. When people cease to be responsible, they soon lose their freedom.
There really is no true freedom apart from responsibility. Or, as Dwight Pryor says it: "Deliverance must lead to discipline. Freedom must be accompanied by obedience to be real, to be complete, and to be authentic." This was true at Sinai and this is also true today for God's redeemed people.
So God's people had to learn that God is the One who freed them and that only God knows how to keep them living in that freedom so that they do not become enslaved again; this time to the taskmaster of sin. Freedom without responsibility is one of satan's lies.
Exodus 32 tells the story of what happens when people refuse to walk responsible in their freedom and to be on the Lord's side. The people are camped at the mountain of God, but some are refusing God. We read that about 3,000 died on that sad day of divine judgment.
At Sinai the people of God came face to face with God. They also came face to face with their sinfulness with no place to hide. They were totally dependent upon God for everything and they had to learn how to obey His laws if they wanted to survive. Refusing God meant death either at the mountain or in the desert.
We might wonder, "why did these things happen, what was God doing?" God was building a nation. And nations that survive must live under laws. So this is not a nation where every person lived by their own code of conduct, but a nation of free people, where God wrote the law and His people accepted responsibility for obedience to that law. All of this was fearful and strange to these former Egyptian slaves. It was filled with dread.
We might wonder, is this the God revealed in the New Covenant? Is this the God of love and mercy? Is this the God of grace and redemption? Yes, for even the New Testament when warning us of judgment for disobedience and refusing God, teaches us that it is a fearful and dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31)
However, there is another picture of God, lest we think of Him as a father who cannot be pleased and who somehow delights in our trembling before Him.
Just as there is the dread, there is also the joy.
II. THE JOY: MOUNT ZION (Verses 22-29)
Mount Zion represents the heavenly Jerusalem. At Mount Sinai we saw the expectations of God concerning His people. At Mount Zion we see the heart of God toward His people.
We need to see both!
We need the fear of God. It is sadly missing in some of the flippant attitudes of today's church. In Exodus. 20:20 Moses told the people that they needed the fear of God to be with them to keep them from sinning. We also need the love of God to motivate us to obedience. We need to see His awesome holiness. We also need to see His approachable Fatherliness. We need laws to live by, but we also need grace so we can obey. We need to know that God is not to be trifled with...God will not be mocked (Gal. 6:7), but we also need to know that God is inviting and gracious and He calls us to Himself. We need to know that their is judgment and death for the unrepentance sinner. But we also need to know that there is forgiveness and life for those who come to Mount Zion.
In coming to Mount Zion we have joined our voices with tens of thousands of angels in joyful praise to the God of heaven. In coming to Mount Zion we have joined ourselves with all those from all ages of time who have been redeemed by the Lord and birthed anew into the church. We have joined ourselves to all those whose names are written in heaven.
In coming to Mount Zion we have brought our lives before God. He is our judge and we have accepted His judgment that we are sinners and that only He can make us righteous through Jesus. In coming to Mount Zion, we are coming to Jesus the One who saves His people from their sins...the One who is the mediator of the new covenant.
In view of the marvelous position now occupied by God's people, we must be aware to not ignore or refuse God by disobeying Him or being stubborn with Him. The warning is clear; if judgment fell on those who refused the law and 3,000 died...what will happen to those who refuse Jesus...and to those who refuse to respond to what God has spoken?
You see, because the Lord has redeemed His people, He now has the right to rule His people. Redemption means that we are obligated to God. Thus His reminder to us..."do not refuse Him who speaks."
God did not refuse your cry for mercy. Do not refuse His Word spoken into your life! God did not turn His back on you, don't turn your back on Him. God did not refuse you and say, "you can't be my child", let us not refuse Him by saying with our words or with our lives, "you can't be my God and you can't rule over me."
It is a cry from a Father's heart; "do not refuse my speaking to you, do not reject God's Word spoken to you, do not excuse yourself as if what is spoken does not apply to you."
If you are a parent you know that your children do not refuse your gifts, rather they welcome them. And as a parent, you also desire that your children will welcome your counsel and words of instruction just as they welcome a gift. So we have the heart of our Heavenly Father who has given good gifts to His children saying, "do not refuse me when I speak to you." Consider Him who speaks. This is not a child speaking, or some infirm weak harmless person. This is the God of Mount Sinai still speaking. When God speaks, let all be silent before Him! When we come to the great joy of Mount Zion, let's be careful to not become irreverent or flippant and take God for granted.
1. We must not insult the person of God.
2. We must not refuse by turning our back and going our own way. For a person to turn his back upon a ruler, was to invite wrath and sure judgment.
3. We must not ignore God's power
1. Let God shake you through His sieve so that all which is not of God can pass away, and all that is of God can remain for His glory and praise.
2. Let us say "yes" to God and come with reverence and awe before Him. He calls us to intimacy, let us answer that call with a "yes". He calls us to grace, let us answer that call with a "yes". He calls us to a work of the Holy Spirit which consumes the flesh and empowers our soul to serve. Let us say "yes"
Our God is a consuming fire. O, let us be consumed by His Holy Spirit, His love, His grace, His purpose....rather than being consumed in judgment. Let us invite the fire of the Spirit and the wind of the Spirit to fall upon our lives today. Let us invite the voice of the Spirit to be spoken through us. Let us say "yes" to all that God has for us and let us not refuse Him.
On the day of Pentecost God's people came to Mount Zion and again there was that reminder of fire and wind, only this time God was brining a spiritual shaking and empowering into the souls of His people.
The same Holy Spirit who fell on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem in Acts 2, and the same Holy Spirit who was received in Samaria in Acts 8, and the same Holy Spirit who came on all those in Cornelius' household in Acts 10, and the same Holy Spirit who came upon the church in Ephesus in Acts 19...is the same Holy Spirit who still falls.
He falls, He comes, He is received, He empowers, He anoints, He comforts, He purifies, He comes with wind and fire blowing away spiritual apathy and burning up spiritual pride....to blow away our fears and fire us up for serving Jesus....to blow away our doubts and burn up our sins...O COME HOLY SPIRIT and fill us with the glory of the Lord!
The greatest lack in the church and in our personal lives is a lack of the power of the Holy spirit. We sit in our pews talking about being "burned out", but not because we have served God too diligently. Rather because we have lost the power of the Spirit and relied on self effort. And we have traded the agenda of the Holy Spirit for our own wants and needs. And then we get burned out...when what we need is burned up. We need all that hinders Jesus from working in and through our lives to be burned up at the altar of the Spirit.
You see, fire can warm you and fill your face with a glow. But if you get in a wrong relationship with the fire...you get burned and blistered. God is the same: He never changes. It is us who change. But if we get in a right relationship with God...we get spiritually heated up, our souls catch fire with a new love for Jesus...our witness is empowered...our light burns brightly.
As our four-year old grandson Brendon so aptly put it: "If you hide your light under a bushel, the devil will get you."
Do not refuse Him, because the same fire that blesses us, can also be the fire that judges us!
Do not refuse! Why even mention the possibility? Because God does not force your heart to open to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit. There must be a receptive mind and an obedient will.
Do not refuse, because you will miss the blessing of God prepared for you. It was this blessing which resulted in the saving of 3,000 souls during the first Feast of Pentecost to come after the resurrection of Jesus. You see, God knows how to judge (Exodus. 32), but God also knows how to save (Acts 2).
How difficult and energy draining and debilitating it is for our souls to resist God and fight against Him and go our own way and do it our way.
When our children were still at home they all had chores to do. And at times I would say to them, "If you spent the same amount of time and effort doing your chores, that you spend trying to get out of doing them, you would be finished by now."
If we expended the same effort toward God that some of us expend resisting God, we would be miles ahead spiritually!
What a relief and what a simple step of faith to just open our hearts and receive!
What a wonderful, blessed, joyful, glorious step we take when we say "yes" and we receive. When we allow God to move in lock, stock, and barrel...and self moves out! When we welcome the Holy Spirit to fill us with the glory of God and to empower us to serve Jesus!
You are invited! As Jesus said, "many are invited, few are chosen...few qualify by responding with a yielded heart and life." May we be among the responders rather than be among the refusers!
Other sermons by Pastor John.