Exodus 19 – 5th March 2006, am The evening was almost over.

I had spoken just a little earlier, explaining how God paid for our sins through Christ’s death on the cross, and now offered us free and total forgiveness – all we have to do is ask. The meeting had ended and I was just finishing my cup of tea and thinking about heading for home when an animated figure loomed into my view.

“Its all too easy” she said. “This talk of free forgiveness, of grace, of God’s love and mercy. What about obedience? What about obeying rules? The way you put it, it sounds like I could just ask for God’s forgiveness now and then go off and lead my life as I want. I want no part of a religion like that.”

Her accusation is well taken. Sometimes we talk extremely loosely about God’s forgiveness and grace and love and mercy, when the Bible everywhere talks about obedience too. Where does obedience fit into a Christian’s life?

This is a key issue which faced the Israelites after they had escaped from slavery in Egypt. At the beginning of chapter 19 they arrive in the Sinai Desert and camp at the foot of mount Sinai. The rest of the book is set at this point and consists almost entirely of God’s instructions to them. Chapters 19-23 especially are devoted to instructions about their daily life. This morning then, we are going to begin to look at what God says to Israel about their obedience and especially what place it has in the life of faith.

The first thing that we must notice is that salvation is not earned by obedience.

Salvation is not earned by obedience

Exodus could have been written differently. These laws could have been given to Israel while they were still in slavery. God could have given them these laws, and then said “If you obey me I will come down and deliver you from Egypt”. But he didn’t.

Peter Comont

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Exodus 19 – 5th March 2006, am He told us back in chapter three why he had come down to deliver them.

Exodus 3:7-8 7 The LORD said, “I have 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. 8 So I have come down to rescue them

He rescued them because of their misery, because they cried out to him, because he was concerned for them. He rescued them, not because by their obedience they had earned their rescue, or made themselves acceptable to him, but because they were poor and helpless and enslaved and cried out to him for mercy and deliverance.

Chapter 19 here gives a beautiful picture of what God had done. 19:4 Like a great eagle scooping us up and setting us on his back as he soars over the earth, so God lifts us up out of our desolation and carries us to himself.

Our obedience will never save us, only God’s grace will. That is absolutely central for us to understand. You may be here thinking that you need to do a whole number of things to get your life in order before you could ever ask God for forgiveness. The Israelites didn’t. They just cried out to God – and he delivered them.

It is a shocking message. I was not surprised that young woman came up to me and protested – she had seen how disconcerting God’s grace is. The New Testament is full of people who are angry about grace and for understandable reasons.

Everywhere he went Jesus was mobbed by prostitutes, and swindlers, and outcasts and he offered them free forgiveness. The respectable people who prided themselves on their obedience hated it. In fact they hated it enough to murder him.

But obedience is not irrelevant for Christians. Indeed both the Old and the New Testaments make it plain that a pattern of disobedience in someone who claims to belong to God reveals that claim to be a lie. In a couple of weeks we are going to see Peter Comont 2 09/02/2008, 5:07 a2/p2

Exodus 19 – 5th March 2006, am how the Israelites were in fact disobedient and some of them are struck down.

But that must wait for another day. The next few chapters explore what obedience looks like. They set out the fruit, the dynamic, and the scope of Christian obedience. And this morning we must look at the first to of those, and then come back next week to explore it further.

First of all the fruit of obedience.

The fruit of obedience.

As they settle by Mount Sinai they are promised some extraordinary things if they obey. They are promised a special relationship with God. 19:5 Of course the whole world, the whole universe belongs to God. But we will be special to God. Like the crown jewels in the midst costume jewellery, like an original Rembrandt in an Athena shop, like one of Juliet’s gloriosa lilies amongst daisies, we will be special – God’s treasured possession.

And we will have a glorious role. 19:6a A priest in the bible has a mediating role. He has unique access to God. But also has the role of mediating the presence of God to others. Israel’s role was to be a priestly nation. They were not saved from Egypt simply to privately enjoy that salvation. They were saved as part of God’s great plan for the whole world. His purpose was to forge a nation that knew him, that obeyed him, and would therefore be so attractive to other nations that they too would come and find him and he would become the God of all nations.

Peter Comont

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Exodus 19 – 5th March 2006, am The sad truth historically is that Israel failed in that role, but that great purpose was not lost. In 1 Peter 2 God’s church is described as “a royal priesthood” formed to “declare God’s praises” and

Live such good lives among the pagans that… they… glorify God

That is the fruit that we can expect to see – indeed that we are seeing in the world. God’s church is enormously in our world at the moment. In China there is a massive and continuing growth in the number of Christians. In African and Latin America the church is growing. As in every age God’s people are often weak and sinful and stories of embarrassing failure abound, but the goodness and passionate faithfulness of his church is the dominant theme – and people want to know their God. They are a kingdom of priests.

In this country too, though the remnants of our old cultural Christianity continue to decline and fade, there is a growing movement of passionately faithful believers across the denominations whose lives together and as individuals draw people to Christ.

And here? Well once again, though I know the failures in myself, and there are sometimes failures amongst us which must grieve God, I also see wonderful faithfulness and humble obedience, sometimes at great cost. And it is those things which will determine our real fruit – not our evangelistic strategy, not our social action policy, not the quality of our building, or the strength of our staff team, or the depth of our bible knowledge, or the quality of our public teaching. It is our humble daily obedience. 19:5-6 The rest of chapter 19 explores what we might call the dynamics of obedience.

The dynamics of obedience

Peter Comont

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Exodus 19 – 5th March 2006, am By that I mean what drives our obedience, what empowers it, and motivates it. The bible has a lot to say about that. We could talk about our love for God empowering obedience, or thankfulness to God for his grace, or our eager desire for treasure in heaven. But Exodus 19 explores another thing which drives us towards obedience. It is the awesomeness of coming into God’s presence.

God announces that he is going to visit them in a new way on the mountain top. His presence will be so powerful that his voice will be heard. 19:9a The sheer awesomeness of this visitation of God requires urgent obedience. Note that the first thing they have to do is obey some rituals associated with forgiveness. 19:10 In other words it is expected that God’s people will not be perfect. The Old Testament sets up an enormous array of rituals to train the people that they need constantly to be turning away from their sins, and seeking God’s cleansing forgiveness. Washing their clothes was part of that. Sin makes us dirty. We need to be cleansed.

They needed as well to be deeply aware that coming near to God is dangerous because of our sin. 19:12 An when God did come it was awesome. 19:16-19a Imagine the sight. A terrible thunderstorm with lightning flashing at the top of the mountain. And over it all to make it absolutely plain that this was not natural phenomenon – a trumpet blast. Everyone trembled. Then a solemn procession head towards the terrifying sight. Imagine the children crying and pleading to be allowed to run back into their tents. Imagine tender souls trembling with heads lowered as

Peter Comont

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Exodus 19 – 5th March 2006, am they try to hide in the crowd. Imagine others with their eyes riveted in awe as they feel themselves irresistibly drawn towards the mountain. There is smoke, the earth trembles and that trumpet just keeps sounding louder and louder.

This is what it means to enter the presence of God.

The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that in some ways our experience as Christians has superseded this Old Testament experience.

Hebrews 12:18-22 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 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, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
18

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly,
22

In other words there is a joy, a fullness and a liberty for Christians that these Israelites just did not have as they quaked at the bottom of the mountain. But there is still a fear says our writer just a couple of verses later.

Hebrews 12:25-26 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? 26 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.”
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One day we will face the God who will roll up the heavens like a scroll, who will cleanse the whole earth with fire, who will judge every human being who has ever lived, who has eyes of fire, and a sword for a tongue. The sight of whom - at least for those who have refused him – will be infinitely more terrifying than the sight for those Israelites on that cold morning by a mountainside.

Peter Comont

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Exodus 19 – 5th March 2006, am Should there not be awe in hearts? A little fear perhaps? Shouldn’t we feel that urgent need to wash our clothes. Shouldn’t we fear lest we thoughtlessly blunder over the fence around the mountain and stumble unprepared into the presence of the living God?

I have to confess I don’t see much of that attitude in today’s church. I see lots of celebrations of joyfully assembly which of course is entirely appropriate. God’s church has been greatly enriched by a rediscovery of the sheer abandoned joy which is found in the New Testament. There is a wonderful freshness and depth of delight in so many of the new songs we sing which I love and I think is deeply biblical. But by and large you have to go back a couple of hundred years in British hymnody to get hymns of deep awe. Is it a coincidence that by and large they came out of the greatest Christian revival that these islands has ever seen – the evangelical awakening of Wesley and Whitfield.

A few years ago many churches were seeing spiritual experiences in which people fell to the ground and were gripped with holy laughter sometimes for long periods. I don’t doubt that sometimes the joy of the Lord sometimes does overwhelm us. In the great revival of the eighteenth century – especially as it manifested itself in America – people were regularly struck down in awe and fear of God. I hear of none of that today. Is it any wonder then that divorce, and immorality and greed and spiritual halfheartedness dogs God’s church today?

Similarly I see a lot of well taught and well organised churches today. They know their bibles. They know the gospel. They know how to organise good evangelistic events. They know how to do church. But do they know the fear of the Lord?

And us? We must surely be deeply aware of the poverty of our experience of God as we meditate on this chapter. Perhaps there are a few of us with a morbid fear of God, an obsessive fear of sin which needs to tempered by that glorious sense of New Testament joy and liberty which Hebrews speaks of. But it is much rarer than it was a generation ago in evangelical circles. Today the dominant theme is a blithe lightheartedness, which actually cuts the root of true humble awe-struck heart-ravished

Peter Comont

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Exodus 19 – 5th March 2006, am joy.

The clothes we choose to wear reveal what we want to say about ourselves to the world. Most of us want to present ourselves as relaxed and casual these days. We want to cultivate an air of quiet confidence. We are not perfect but hey that’s cool – the jeans may be a little frayed and faded but actually we bought them like that – it’s the fashion didn’t you know? The collar may be unbuttoned but that is because we don’t need to impress. Spiritually we want to present ourselves as not perfect but at ease with God.

Now imagine God dressed you as you really are spiritually this morning. What is that stain that you have so casually left all over your shirt? How could you wear trousers like that in public? I am not the smartest of dressers as my family reminds me regularly, but for me at least it is a horrific thought to be dressed with clothes that match my spiritual state. God says “wash your clothes”.

Peter Comont

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