Thursday 2 June 2011

Dinner with God (Exodus 24)

Last night at Rock we came to the concluding section on the giving of the Law at the mountain of God. The Israelites had been saved from Egypt and were now gathered at Mount Sinai where God spoke them from the cloud of smoke and fire. From this event we get the Ten Commandments; God’s own word to Israel on how to worship him and live as his chosen people. We also get the Book of the Covenant (24:7) – a series of case-laws applying the Ten Commandments in the context of everyday life. Here we find instructions on social justice, care for the poor and fairness in the law courts.

So Moses reads these laws out to the whole assembly and everyone responds with verse 7, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.”

But that’s not enough. What we have in Chapter 24 is a signing of the agreement. Like any contract as when you buying a house or signing up for a new mobile phone plan, after the terms have been made clear, the contract has to be sealed and signed. To be clear, the people of Israel didn’t initiate this agreement with God. The unique thing about this contract, or “covenant” as it is referred to in Exodus, is that God sets the terms, spells out the benefits and offers them to Israel. With the other gods, the people chased after these idols offering their allegiances and seeking after their benefits. With the God of the bible, he pursues us and offers us the blessings of salvation.

But as I said before, it isn’t enough for us to simply say, “Yup, it all looks good. I’ll go for it.” The contract needs to be signed and sealed. We see this happen in Exodus 24 in three stages: (1) Through sacrifice; (2) Through sprinkling; and curiously enough; (3) Through supper.

1. Sacrifice

4 Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said. He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar.
Exodus 24:4-6

The altar (which I often like to think of as a really large barbeque pit), the offerings and the bowls of blood were all symbols and reminders of death. This was not an agreement to be entered into lightly. The penalty of breaking the covenant was death. The Thou shalt not’s of the Ten Commandments were an echo of the very first warning given to the very first man, Adam in the garden – “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:17)

Yet death serves not simply as a reminder of what will happen, but what has already taken place. All the blessings Israel would receive came through death. Remember the ten plagues in Egypt. Remember the Red Sea. God poured out judgement on Pharaoh and it was as a result of that judgement that Israel was set free.

The New Testament uses the analogy of a will to describe how we inherit the blessings of God through the death of Jesus.

16 In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17 because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood.
Hebrews 9:16-18

Notice how the author to the Hebrews emphasizes how necessary it is for this death to take place. “It never takes effect while the one who made it is living.” Then he immediate draws a direct reference to Exodus 24, the first covenant signed with blood.

Meaning the sacrifice is not simply a stern warning against breaking the covenant. Rather it is a certain guarantee of the fullness of blessing. All of God’s promises have been paid for in full – through the death of the person who made that promise, God himself.

2. Sprinkling

8 Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.
Exodus 24:8

This is the blood drained from the animal sacrifice on the altar. But verse 6 reminds us that half was sprinkled on the altar; the other half was sprinkled on all the people.

The book of Hebrews again helps us understand that this sprinkling is a symbol of cleansing, of purification and of forgiveness.

19 When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20 He said, This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep. 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
Hebrews 9:19, 20, 22

God is a holy God. Meaning he cannot tolerate sin. God is also a just God. Meaning he will judge and punish all who are sinful. Yet God is a loving and compassionate God who forgives the sin of his people and calls them into his presence.

The blood of the sacrifice reminded Israel that they were sinful. They were not better or more righteous than the other nations. Again and again Israel had rebelled against God and they deserved his punishment of death.

Yet this blood was sprinkled on the people to make them clean; to make them holy and acceptable before God. When we read this yesterday, some of you said, “That sounds silly! How can blood cleanse us? Won’t it stain our clothes and make us look less clean? You would have spots of blood all over us.”

And that’s the point. God sees the blood and that is the basis of our purity and acceptance. To be cleansed by the blood is to be forgiven by God (Hebrews 9:22). It means our sin has been paid for. It means we can enter into God’s presence without any fear of judgement and every confidence of his love.

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
Hebrews 10:19,22

3. Supper

9 Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.
Exodus 24:9-11

This picks up from the beginning of the chapter in verse 1, which is an invitation. God is inviting Moses to join him in the mountain. He tells Moses to bring certain guests – Aaron and his sons, together with the seventy elders. These are representatives of all the people of Israel; the elders as leaders of the community; Aaron and his sons who would later be established as the line of the high priests in the tabernacle – representing the people to God through worship and sacrifice.

Yet, there are boundaries. Moses alone is to approach God, the rest must stay back (verse 2). Verse 11 reminds us how serious it was for the leaders to see God (Well, they saw that it was God; what they saw was the deep blue tile flooring symbolizing the heavens in which God dwelt) and not be struck down (“God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites”). Everyone else in the community still could not come near the mountain. Towards the end of the chapter, we see that even Moses needs to observe protocol. The mountain is covered with God’s glory –seen as cloud and fiery smoke – and Moses has to wait for six days until God calls him up.

Moses is what the bible calls a mediator, or if you like a middle-man. You can’t approach God directly so you approach the mediator, someone who has an inside connection with God. The priests in the temple were mediators. They offered up sacrifices on behalf of the people. You couldn’t perform the sacrifices yourself, only the priest could. In fact, only the High Priest could perform the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the whole nation, once a year on the Day of Atonement. In each and every case, you had to go through a middle-man. You could not approach God directly.

So God invites Moses and these representatives to join him up on the mountain. But what does he invite them to do? To pray? To bow down and worship? To confess their sin and offer sacrifice?

He invites them to dinner.

Now this is quite significant. All throughout Chapter 24 we see God calling his people into relationship, or another word is into “fellowship” with him. He calls Moses – but now he invites the elders as well. There is the sacrifice for sin (the burnt offering), but also the fellowship sacrifice. The blood if sprinkled on the altar (an offering to God), but also on the people (an offering on their behalf, cleansing them and making them acceptable before God).

God is establishing a relationship with his people. And the climax of that relationship was a meal. Moses and Aaron and his sons and the seventy elders ate and drank in the presence of God.

One of the most significant things Jesus did just before dying on the cross was to have a meal with his friends. In fact ever since, for the past two thousand years, Christians all around the world continue to remember the significance of that meal in what the bible calls Lord’s Supper.

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.
1 Corinthians 11:23-25

Jesus was pointing to the cross. His death was a sacrifice, not unlike the sacrifice on the altar. And his blood was the sign; the guarantee of a new covenant. Jesus was thinking of Exodus 24: of Moses and sprinkling of the blood and the meal with the seventy elders on the mountain of God. But this was a new agreement that God was making. It was an agreement sealed in Jesus’ own blood. It was shared with his Jesus’ friends through this meal. In Jesus, God became a man. Through Jesus, God ate and drank with us.

Exodus 24 is God’s invitation to his people to enter into a relationship with him as their God, and them as his people. But the heart of the message of the gospel is God’s invitation to us to enter into a better covenant and a more lasting relationship with God through Jesus. He is the true sacrifice and he is the one and only mediator.

For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 2:5

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