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May 16, 2010

Rules of the Road

Passage: Exodus 19:1-20:26

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Taking It On the Road

Category: Old Testament

Keywords: fear of god, respect, law, love


Before God can move us into a relationship of love with Him, he must teach us holy respect for him. As God begins to train his people how to serve as his nation of priests to the whole world, he must first teach them about holy fear of the Living God. The law of God exists as a minimum to keep us from the precipice of sin. The love of God moves us farther away from the precipice into great relationship with Him.


Rules of the Road

May 16, 2010

Exodus 19-20


INTRO:  Mixing it up together questions—

1.)    Growing up, what was one of your family’s “Top Ten Commandments”?

2.)    2.  How did your family’s “commandments” help you learn to love one another?


We’re entering into a new phase of our ongoing series in the book of Exodus.  We’ve titled it “Charting the Course.”  The part of Exodus we are now entering is all about the spiritual roadmap God is laying out for his newly liberated people, the Jews.  From 430 years of bondage in Egypt, this new nation of 2 million people must now be instructed on everything from civil law to spiritual discipline.  God didn’t want them to just fall back into the way of life and government they had been used to for 4 centuries.  He had better things in store for them. 


So months after they had left Egypt, God tells them to camp at Mt. Sinai where he is going to give further instructions for this new life together.  He starts with what we know of as the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20. That is followed by dozens and dozens of additional laws about everything from how crimes are to be punished to how widows and foreigners are to be treated.  It’s really quite comprehensive. 


Our objective today is not to work or talk through a seeming laundry list of dozens of laws given thousands of years ago.  It’s to encounter God through this text in such a way that we are even more transformed than the original recipients of this word.  While the forever-agreement (Covenant) under which God is working with us today is different from the Old Covenant given Moses and Israel, God has not changed nor has his passion for a holy people he calls his own, a people which the world looks at and says, “Those are God’s kinds!”  God has been in the business of making himself visible in this world through his children for thousands of years.  Whether that is through the chosen people of Israel or the redeemed of the Church in our generation, there are some common truths and similar growth God knows we need to grasp and go through if we are to fulfill the very purposes for which we were created and are still on this earth.


Ever had anyone say to you, “Well, what makes you think you’re SO special?”  It usually comes after we’ve had some amazing display of arrogance or acted like we deserved some sort of special treatment.  God’s not interested in raising children who display that sort of “specialness”.  But God is truly intent upon raising spiritual children who do grasp that they are ‘special’ in this world, but whose grasp of that leads them to BE people who are more and more like God in their character and DO things more and more as God wants them done in this world. 


God’s people are special.  But it is in spite of who we are apart from God’s grace.  It is in spite of what we often act like which can be very much different from God our Father.  What makes us “special” are the 2 things we are going to see in today’s text that set apart the people of God, Israel, to be a light to the world and a blessing to all nations.  Those things were, 1.) their experience with God, and 2.) their obedience to God.  In Exodus 19, God gives this newly chosen nation an experience with Him that is meant to lead them into an obedience to Him. It is very similar to what God still wants to do with each of us in the 21st century—give us an experience with Him that will lead us to an obedience to him that will catch the attention of a watching world in such a way that some of them will embrace that same God and same growth experience.


So, let’s start in Exodus 19:1.

1 In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on the very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. 2 After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.  3 Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, "This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites."


Everything God does is for a reason.  In vs. 4, God is reminding the Israelites that even the way he dealt with their Egyptian slave masters was done for a reason.  “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt….”  What would their response have been to that statement?  “OH YAH!  We saw what You did, all right.  You took them down!  You whipped them out!  You proved your power over every single one of their pantheon of gods.  You left them devastated.  OH YAH!  We won’t be forgetting that for a long, long time.” 


Then God contrasts that with what He did for His own people.  “You yourselves have seen…how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”  God laid waste those who wanted to hold his kids captive, but he lifted up and took care of those who wanted to be known as His own.  It’s the difference between being an enemy and a friend of God.  It was determined by 2 different sets of desires and responses of people to God. 


Then God gives a conditional promise using some terminology we saw last week:  Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'


Wow!  What does it feel like to be someone’s “treasure”?  Well, that depends largely on the person whose “treasure” you are, right?  If an axe murderer calls you “my treasure”, then you’ve probably got problems. J  If Bill Gates calls you his “treasure,” you can be sure you’re probably not going to have any budget issues in the near future.  To be the “treasure” of someone of good character is a wonderful thing.  To be the treasure of God himself, the fountain of ALL good things, is virtually unfathomable and overwhelming. 


Then God tells them why He is making them the favored target of his fabulous attention:   you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'

We touched on this last week speaking of what our role is today in this world as the church.  This is virtually the identical phrase Peter uses when describing what WE are as the church in I Peter 2:  9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

      Priests have a dual ministry—on the one hand their job is to represent God to people under their care by communicating God’s messages and accurately sharing God’s heart for people.  But the other side is to represent people to God—to take to God the decisions, concerns, needs and hurts of people with real empathy and passion. 

      God doesn’t want just a “tribe” or “group” or “club” of priests; He wants a whole “kingdom!”  He wants a whole “nation” of people representing him to the world and bringing the world to Him.  God wants his family, his ‘nation,’ his church to be massive. He wants it to be global. He wants it to be a force on the world scene to be reckoned with.  He wants the world to be able to look at His people and know what God is like—what He does, the humility and power he has, the integrity and purity He has, the love and holiness he is. 

      That’s what’s at stake with our becoming like Jesus.  That’s why, for Israel, God said, “If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then…” you will be able to be my treasured possession.  God doesn’t treasure that which is contrary to his nature; he only treasures that which reflects his nature.  To do less would be idolatry.  God always wants the best for his creation, and the best is always Him. 


So before God instructs them on the specifics of what it will mean for them to live out what He is, God gives Israel an experience with Him that is meant to fire their obedience to Him. In the process, God is going to show them, through Moses, just what the ministry of a “priest” is before God and with people.  In essence, God is saying, “So you can know what this ‘nation of priests’ thing should look like and what it will entail, I’m going to have Moses model for you what you will need to be to the watching world around you.”


Exodus 19:7-8-- 7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak. 8 The people all responded together, "We will do everything the LORD has said." So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD.   

      The first job of a priest that represents God to people is to give them God’s words, not our own.  This is where too many churches in America a failing.  The Word of God is not what is being spoken and taught from pulpits by pastors.  Politics, psychology, contemporary ideas, nice stories—these are filling the hearts of people, not the Word.  You are not going to be accountable for what I think.  You are going to stand or fall on what God says, His word. 

      And notice how the people responded.  They didn’t say, “Well, show us the fine print and then we’ll see if we want to sign this agreement.”  God hadn’t revealed the specifics of the Law yet.  But he was already asking for an answer:  “Will you serve and obey me with the limited knowledge you have of me… or will it be some other, lesser ‘god’ in this world?”  It was as if he were saying, “You can settle for the well-known and worn gods of your day OR you can choose Me, Someone about whom your present knowledge has only scratched the surface but whose “scratch” has revealed more power, majesty, ability and goodness than you need.”  They had seen His power, but there was SO much more they didn’t know about him.  Yet he still asked for their answer. 


APP:  That’s not unlike the decision Jesus asks of every one of us:  Will you opt for the well-known and well-worn gods of your day (self, human knowledge, science, wealth, pleasure, etc.) OR will you, with the limited experience you have with me, say “yes” by faith to this New Covenant/Agreement I’ve sealed with the blood of Christ that makes you my forever children?  Every time God invites anyone into His family, he gives them enough revelation of His true nature and person to exercise faith and say “Yes, I’m yours and I will follow your wise and loving leadership from here on out in my life.”  That’s not a totally foreign experience for us as humans, even for those of us who like to research something to death before we actually commit or buy. 


ILL:  It took me 4 years of watching the wonderful character and nature of Sandy before I pulled the trigger…and you know what a gem she is.  But, in the end, I had more than enough evidence of her tremendous character and person to step out by faith and spend the rest of my life getting to know what I didn’t know about her and still am learning. 


[Challenge to those who have not yet said “Yes” to Jesus.]

Well, the whole nation said, “Yes, we will do everything the Lord has said.”  Then we are told (19:8), “So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.” 

      This was a public declaration.  Everyone could turn and hear their neighbor saying “Yes, I and my household will do everything God asks of us.”

APP:  When is the last time you told God this?  “Lord, I (and my family) will do whatever you ask…everything…no reservations, not holding back anything…even though I don’t know everything that will entail.”  We don’t do enough of this in our day.  Our children don’t see us making these public declarations enough.  Oh, they see us sitting in church, singing songs, maybe even reading our Bibles at home.  But there is something powerful about seeing people making public commitments to God. 

ILL:  my memories of seeing my parents stand publically as a declaration that they were releasing their children to serve God anywhere in the world, should God call us…and He did!

Action:  I’d like to give you the opportunity to engage in a public declaration today.  But since I’m not Moses…and Mt. Sinai is a long way away…I’d like to give you the opportunity to express your heart’s desire to “do everything the Lord asks you to do” in the form of a public prayer.  Here’s how it reads.

      “Loving Father, I choose to publically express today my heart’s desire to do everything you ask of me in this life.  I know my obedience is flawed and imperfect.  But I still want to honor you with daily obedience to your clear commands. 

      By your grace, I choose to obey your written word, the Bible. I choose to obey the promptings of your Holy Spirit living in me.  I choose, by faith in You, to follow you wherever that leads, obey you in whatever that requires, and love you regardless of whatever that costs. 

      You are my God, my Savior, my Lord.  To you I give my past, present and future to use however you see fit for the glory of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

[Invite to recite together.  Don’t do it just because you think it’s expected here.  Do it as if you were having a private audience with God himself and he was asking you to give him your personal reply to his personal invitation to be part of His royal family.]


Let’s keep reading God’s word.  Exodus 19:9The LORD said to Moses, "I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you." Then Moses told the LORD what the people had said.

A couple of things here:

1.)     God is showing the entire nation the kind of leadership they should be following.  It’s the same kind of leadership the watching world should be following—this “nation of priests” who hear God’s voice.  Isn’t that THE best kind of leadership, whether it’s in the home, the church, the state or the nation?  Wives, don’t you want to know that your husband is a man who spends time seeking God and asking God to lead, guide, direct and instruct?  If you know he’s that kind of a man, isn’t it a lot easier to follow his leadership?  Church, don’t you want to be under the teaching of people who you know are spending time during the week seeking God and the words you are hearing them share with you have that ring of authority that only comes from God?  As citizens, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to follow leaders who you knew had their nose in the Word of God during the week and their knees on the floor seeking hard after God’s will on every decision and bill and law they made?  We live in a world where we must put our trust in other people at various times and in differing ways. How much easier it is to trust someone you know hears from God.  That’s the kind of “priests” we are to be to everyone around us—people who hear from God and do what he asks. 

2.)    Why did Moses have to tell the LORD what the people had said?  God doesn’t have a hearing problem.  He hears and knows everything anyway.  Why this intermediary role for Moses?  Let’s keep reading.

10 And the LORD said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11 and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, 'Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. 13 He shall surely be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on him. Whether man or animal, he shall not be permitted to live.' Only when the ram's horn sounds a long blast may they go up to the mountain."

 14 After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. 15 Then he said to the people, "Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations."

 16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, 19 and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

 20 The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the LORD said to him, "Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them."

 23 Moses said to the LORD, "The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, 'Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.' "

 24 The LORD replied, "Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the LORD, or he will break out against them."

 25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.


 3 times God told Moses to warn the people of God not to get too close to His presence.  Why is God’s presence such a danger to most people. 

      We’ve grown SO accustomed to thinking of God in warm, familiar terms that we have lost our awe for the “different-ness” of God. 

  • POWER & VASTNESS:  We are relatively weak, finite creatures who have a hard time fighting off miniscule bacteria and viruses let alone lifting things half our own weight.  God never gets sick, never has a cold and never has created anything he cannot handle any way he chooses.  The universe he has created out of “nothing” has more power and vast expanse than our little minds can fathom.  With a universe estimated at 156 billion light years wide, our earth would be less than the size of 1 invisible proton in a universe twice the size of our Milky Way Galaxy.  His power and vastness is beyond our comprehension!
  • Now try and grasp God’s HOLINESS in comparison to our sinfulness.  Remember Raiders of the Lost Ark?  What was the creepiest scene in that whole movie?  Wasn’t it when the German Nazi fellow opened the Ark of the Covenant and his face melted off him like wax?  How hot does something have to be to burn human skin?  130 degrees.  Not terribly hot.  Skin will ignite at 480 degrees.  Still not terribly hot.  Let’s talk “hot.”  Take our sun.  On the surface, it is a cool 11,000 degrees F.  Go to the core and you will have to put up with 27 million degrees F.  Now, if the sun represents God’s holiness and our flesh represents our humanness and sinfulness (let’s say of fire-retardant Mother Teresa), then what will happen when you try to walk into God’s presence?  God isn’t capriciously choosing to be so “hot” that he vaporizes everything that is morally impure around him.  He simply IS that morally holy.  He must veil his glory from human beings if we stand any chance of surviving an encounter with Him.     

Is it surprising that God appeared shrouded in a thick cloud and that smoke, fire and lightening was present where He chose to show just a glimpse of His glory?  The sights and sounds of that day were so terrifying that it says, “Everyone in the camp trembled” (vs. 16)…and they weren’t even that close to the presence of God! 


What was God doing here?  Just having fun scaring the begeebies out people? 


Over 20 times the Bible talks about “the fear of the Lord.”  Prov. 9:10-- The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding

Prov. 16:6-- Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil.


  • Tell me, what makes you obey the speed limit…or at least drive somewhere near the speed limit?  (Fear of a fine, no?)
  • What keeps toddlers from turning the dinner table into a food fight?  (Fear of a slap on the hand.)
  • What keep teenagers from back-talking their parents?  (Fear of losing their cell phone…or freedom.)
  • What keeps college students going to class and taking exams?  (Fear of their future…or wasting money…or living on the street.)

Without wholesome fear of negative consequences, the behavior of individuals of every age group would probably degenerate into utter chaos.  Rules and laws are very helpful in a world filled with selfish and sinful human beings. 

      As the writer of Proverbs said, “…through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil” (Prov. 16:6).  That is, perhaps, why modern man has reviled, belittled and jettisoned the biblical truth every human being ever to live will one day give account to God.  Do away with God and deny the unchanging reality that a holy God must justly judge every evil and every rebellious free-willed creature he created and you do away with respectful fear that should be training and constraining human behavior.  Our perfect holy God must punish all evil just as heat (at high enough temperatures) must burn physical elements. And that is a very good thing, actually. 


When God launched his chosen people, Israel, into life with him, he needed to teach them the right kind of reverent and respectful fear of his holiness.  So he gave them this very slight brush with his glory in Exodus 19. 

      And when God wanted to launch his world-wide church at the beginning of the N.T. in Acts, he gave them a similar experience.  Remember Acts 5 and the death of Ananias & Sapphira?  Twice in that passage it says that “great fear seized” everyone who heard about it and the “whole church” (Acts 5:5,11).

      Four chapters later, in Acts 9, we’re told of what happened to the new, expanding church when God finally knocked Saul of Tarsus of his donkey and turned him from a persecutor of the Church to a preacher for the church.  “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”


Wherever the true gospel of Christ goes, so goes the true Holy Spirit of God.  And integral to the presence of God’s Holy Spirit is a reverent and holy fear of the Living God. 


ILL:  The First Great Awakening in America (1730-1750c).  Jonathan Edwards, early Puritan pastor and one of the greatest theologians of all times, preached a little-noticed sermon entitled “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God” in the little town of Enfield, Connecticut on July 8, 1741.  He delivered it in his customary monotone voice, reading it line-by-line from his written sermon for about an hour.  But in the course of that message, the Spirit of God fell with such conviction on the people of God that many sank to their knees in repentance.  Others cried out audibly for mercy while grown men ground their fingernails into the pews pleading for God to be merciful. 


Where genuine “fear of the Lord” is lacking among us, God’s people, there will be a corresponding lack of passion for and practice of obedience to Christ. 

So how does the Apostle John’s words fit into all this when he says in I John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love”?  The reason perfect love cast out fear is because love goes far beyond mere obedience to the minimalistic commands of God.  God’s holiness demands that transgressions of his commands meet with judgment.  God’s perfect love at work in his children moves us far away from the precipice of judgment by moving us deep into the rolling hills of God-like love. 


The 10 Commandments of Exodus 20 and the dozens of other commands that follow in the rest of Exodus and Deuteronomy simply mark for us that precipice of judgment.  They are the minimum, a minimum which every one of us fails in numerous ways, repeatedly. 

      So what is the proper response to that failure?  At whatever point we transgress and cross the law of God, a holy fear of God should cause our hearts to melt, our knees to weaken, our stomachs to knot up and our spirits to repent.  A righteous, holy fear of God ought always to lead us to swift and humble repentance. 

      But it is possible to keep every one of the commands of God and never venture into the realm of love, either for God or for people.  And until we fear the holiness of God, we will never really frolic in the love of God.  The reason there is “no fear in love” is because the person really living in the love of God is one who will not be transgressing the minimal boundaries of the law of God.  Love sets us as far away from the precipice of the Law as God is from the practice of sin. 


This is why the Law will never make a person conformed to the image of Christ.  Only the love of God will. 

  • The law says, “You shall have no other gods before me.”  But what does love say? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.”  (Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27)
  • The law says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.”  What does love say? “Practice hospitality (Rm. 12:13), share with those in need, feed and cloth and shelter the needy and alien.” 
  • The law says, “Honor your father and mother.”  What does love say?   “Love them deeply, from the heart” (I Peter 1:22) 

[Ask for more from the 10 Commandments.]



      Is there a fear of the holy judgment of God in your heart?  Has there ever been?  If we are mired in sin, constantly tripping over the minimalist standards of the law of God, perhaps what we need to ask God for is a genuine “fear of God”.  That’s where wisdom begins.  That’s where a vital walk with God begins.  Are you willing to ask God to give you that experience?  Willing to let your heart be gripped by a healthy, holy fear of God?

      Are you ready to move beyond healthy fear of judgment into the holiness of the love of God? 

  • Children, are you ready to move beyond just obeying parents to actually living the love of Christ toward your parents?  Obedience is a form of love, but the love of God goes even farther.  It transforms your heart so that you DO what is in your parents’ best interest, not just your own.
  • Spouses, are you ready to move beyond simply not committing adultery or coveting someone else’s marriage or spouse?  Are you willing to let God give you love that puts your spouse before you, their pain before your pain, their joy before your joy? 
  • Brothers and sisters, the applies to how we live with each other in the church.  Are we ready to move way past just not gossiping and into words that encourage, challenge and build up with each other?  Are we ready to spend ourselves in prayer for each other?  Ready to offer hospitality and our homes for each other?  A church that loves each other is far more than simply one where people “don’t forsake the assembling or ourselves together” (Heb. 10:25)