Exodus 20:18-19. 18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
At Mount Sinai God invited his people to come to meet him. God had graciously rescued the Hebrews out from bondage in Egypt, brought them through the Red Sea, guided them across the wilderness, and settled them at the base of the Mountain. God didn’t free his people so that they could be left to their own devices – which is just a new form of slavery. God set them free so that they could be holy unto him – his holy people, his holy possession, his holy priesthood.
But, of course, they aren’t holy. And neither are we. We don’t want to worship God; we want to worship ourselves. We don’t want to be free from our idols; we enjoy our addictions too much. We don’t want to give up control of our own lives. We all think we’re the one person who can cheat the death of the law.
So what does it look like when a holy God and an unholy people meet? Exodus describes it in terrifying terms. Thunder. Lightning. Blasting trumpets. Earthquakes. Fire and smoke. Thick darkness. It was so terrifying that the people actually beg Moses to keep God away – do not let God speak to us, lest we die.
Have you ever felt this way about God? “Get away from me God.” “Depart from me, Lord.” “Where’s the fig leaves?” “Which way to Nineveh?”
What makes us push God away like this? Is it guilt? Shame? Fear? Frustration? Self-righteousness?
Moses tries to encourage the people – Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.
Wait what? “Don’t be afraid, but be afraid of God, and then you won’t sin.” Is this supposed to be helpful, Moses?
Moses says that God is revealing his holiness in front of them as a test (remember Abraham and Isaac on the mountain?). But isn’t this a test we will all fail? Besides our shame pushing God away, it’s really hard to fear (respect and worship) a God who looks like he wants to kill you.
But what about a God whose holiness must expose your shame, but whose love must also cover it with grace? Then what? What would that God say?
Exodus 20:23-24. 23 You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. 24 An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.
That kind of God would still say, “worship me,” but then he would immediately add, “and build an altar.” God says, “yes my law will expose your guilt, but my altar will cover your shame.”
What did it look like when a holy God met an unholy people on a mountain 1500 years after Mount Sinai? It looked like Jesus. It looked like God’s holiness colliding with God’s mercy and grace in the God-man. The law exposing our cursed state. But then the altar covering our shame forever with Christ’s own blood.
“To live is Christ” means our impurity and shame collided with God’s holiness and love at the cross, and God won. God’s holiness and his love both still remain, just like at the bottom of Mount Sinai. How? Because Christ in us is the perfect collision of God’s holiness and love now destroying all our guilt, and covering all our shame and leaving only Christ’s righteousness and goodness in its place in our hearts. No more “get away from me, God.” No more “Jonahing.” No more fig leaves. Just Christ’s perfect grace on display in us for the world to see.
Have there been times when the thought of God coming near to you has been scarier than comforting?
You in Christ
How does knowing that you are in Christ allow you to always draw near to God with confidence?
Christ in You
What is one specific way that you can invite God to come near you today?
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