In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: 'You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel."
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Tonight we come to Mount Sinai. It is a mountain that stands head and shoulders above the other mountains of the Bible. It is first in the history of Israel. God brought Israel to Sinai to hand down His Law and to "cut a covenant" with His chosen people. It was on this mountain that God called the great prophet Moses. It was on this Mountain that God certified Moses' leadership. It was on this mountain that God banqueted with seventy of the elders of Israel. You haven't seen anything on your tour of the mountains of faith if you have not seen Mount Sinai.
Our visit to Mount Sinai must be a journey of faith, since we cannot all just pick up and go there tonight. Even if we could, all we could see with our eyes would be rocks and scrub brush and, well, a mountain. What we want to see, what we are going there to see tonight, is simply not there, on the Sinai Peninsula in the modern nation of Egypt.
We are going to see God giving guidance to His people. He has never left His Chosen People without direction, and He has never left them without hope. He not only rescued them from cruel slavery, and set them free to be His holy people, He showed them they way in which they should walk, a way of health and sanity and peace. He made them something when they were nothing. He offered them a future and a hope, just as He has done for us.
God gave Moses a message for the people. His first words from the mountain were invitation and welcome. He said, in effect, 'Look at what I did for you. You have seen My power. I crushed the mightiest nation on earth, for you. You have seen My power and you have seen My love. I have chosen you and shown you how good it can be to have a God like Me." That was "Welcome!'
Then came the invitation. "Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples." That was like saying 'Trust Me and love Me and I will keep you, and I will make you something special among all the people of the earth.' The nature of the relationship, and the way that they were to express their faith and love was laid out for them in the content of the Law.
The Law of God was the love of God, expressed in guidance. 'These are the things which will keep you strong and which will steer you away from the dangers which sin has brought into the world.' These dangers were not all spiritual and moral. Some of them were dangers to their health. God's Law stipulated for the people of God behaviors which modern science has since discovered are medically wise and healthy. For example, the law concerning eating meats sacrificed limited them to eating that meat only the first day or, on rare occasions, the second. They did not know about germs and bacteria, but God did, and the Law of God protected them from these dangers - whether that was the primary purpose of those specific laws or not.
Science has shown that the laws about washing "unclean" things make perfect sense from the point of view of hygiene. The Law of Circumcision has been shown to be wise from the point of view of sanitation for a people who lived in an age when men did not believe in washing too often. The Law of Circumcision also had a theological content, but God is clever enough to do two things at once. Even the timing of circumcision is medically the best time for such a surgery in the life of a newborn. Dietary Laws kept the chosen people from eating things which carried the potential of disease -- pork which might well carry Trichinosis, crustacean seafood which carries botulism and e-coli so swiftly if not preserved just so, and similar things. Then there are the laws of washing, of cleansing after disease, isolation of particularly virulent contagious diseases, and the like.
God's Law for His people cannot all be explained in terms of sanitation and hygiene, but much of it is also effective in preserving the faithful and obedient from certain dangers while it accomplishes its greater purpose. The greater blessing of the Law is simply in how human relationships and human personality work. God's Law is a model of mental health and justice and hospitality. There is nothing that says that one must do those things to get along, but God's Law invariably traces the path of greatest peace and satisfaction, even if one does not believe in God.
Marital fidelity has proven to be a great blessing for centuries for countless men and women. Sure, many chafe under the constraints of morality, but almost without exception, departing from fidelity, chastity and decency have brought pain and sorrow and anger and loss. Our modern epidemic of childhood sexual abuse reflects the loss of this counsel, and the long-term damage that such misadventure and misconduct causes both victim and perpetrator is just now becoming understood. God sought to spare His people these hurts, to guide them around the shoals and reefs of sin that lay waiting unobserved just beneath the surface of some enticing lust of forbidden pleasure.
God was not being the cosmic busybody or the heavenly kill-joy by handing down His Law. He was wise and loving. He saw the hurt, the destruction of will and character that these sins held hidden from sight. Adam and Eve could not imagine what just one bite of the fruit could really do. We see it all too clearly. God, in the same way -- only without sin and the personal experience of the pain and loss of sin --saw the addictions and perversions, the soul-wrenching guilt and joy-destroying sorrows that were hidden behind the Tempter's allurements. He only wanted to spare us.
Let me back up. I was wrong a moment ago. God does have the personal experience of pain and loss caused by sin. He has the experience in ways that none of us can imagine. He lost us, the ones He created to be in fellowship with Himself. He also experienced that loss in a way we will never know, by His grace. He gave His Son into suffering and death upon the cross for the sake of sin. He experienced the sorrows and the agonies which sin can cause. He endured the pains of Hell for us on the cross, as He who is God was forsaken by God for the sake of bearing our sins and dying in our place. He knows the terrible sorrow and suffering which sin causes, firsthand! He would spare us the full truth of the pains of sin by forgiveness and grace. He won it for all men, and he or she who believes and trusts in God will never know that pain and sorrow fully.
There will be those who learn that sad reality, first hand. They are the ones who would not listen to the loving guidance of God. They who do not believe have denied more than just the Gospel. They have also denied the truth of the Law. They have called the bone-chilling threats and warnings which God has proclaimed, almost as though placing warning signs around a dangerous pit, a lie and a bad thing. God meant it for our good, but many do not believe. The Father of Lies has convinced them that the moment of pleasure is without cost, and they will not believe God or His love. They think He is just trying to spoil their fun.
And when they stumble into the pains and injuries which sin inflicts even upon the living, those who will not believe God's love believe instead the lies of the one who seduced them, and caused their sorrows. They believe that sin cannot be of cosmic and eternal significance, even though right now they can feel its deadly power to hurt them in their flesh. If they come to understand the truth of sins poison, they still follow their father below by refusing to believe that, in the face of their disobedience and rebellion, God still loves them and forgives them and has plotted and effected their salvation.
But God has loved them, and us, with a pure and lasting love and has rescued us. It meant getting down in the mud of sin with us to do it. He did not do sin, but He took the burden of it upon Himself and carried it to the cross to suffer and die in our place so that we might have free forgiveness and the gift of resurrection from the grave and eternal life in Jesus Christ. Even when we ignored His wonderful Law and disobeyed it, He found a use for it in warning us, showing us our lost condition, and guiding us when we were ready to listen and learn. What a God of marvelous wisdom, grace, and love!
He gave the Law for our blessing. Even when we turned a good thing into the reason that we must die, He found a way to use it in us and for us to bless us. And over all, He has given us a wonderful guide. The Law of God is filled with wisdom, and health, and love. He intended it for life and blessing, but it holds those blessings only for those who can and do obey it. We cannot do it, but we can learn some things from it. And we can be driven by it to the foot of the cross and discover life there.
Tonight we have come to Mount Sinai. We have come to the place where Moses and the children of Israel received the Law and covenanted with God to keep it, and to be His children. We cannot keep that Law any more thanthe children of Israel did, nor is not why we are here. We here to witness the loving guidance of our Heavenly Father, and to fulfill the promise that ancient Israel never quite lived up to -- the promise of being a holy nation of priests, for God said, "and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." And Peter writes, in 1 Peter 2:9-10, "But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN P0SSESSI0N, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY."
Remember the lessons of Mount Sinai. God gives guidance. And true love and genuine faith works itself out in our lives, in what we do and say, and in why we do it and say it. But we most clearly witness the abiding love of God in both the Law and the Gospel.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
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