A sermon on Exodus 24:1-11 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 3 January 2021
In Exodus chapter 24:1-11 we see the gospel in miniature. Like a town in a snow globe, like a ship in a bottle, we see the gospel from Israel’s camp at the bottom of the mountain to the feast with God at the top and in between is the blood of the covenant.
The chapter begins at the bottom of the mountain. The Lord said to Moses,
Come up to the Lord, you, your brother Aaron, his sons, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You are to worship at a distance, but Moses alone is to approach the Lord. The others may not come near. And the people may not come up with him.
The Lord’s invitation assumes a great distance between him and his people. For he is the creator. The Lord of the universe. The maker of even the most distant star. And humans are his creatures, made from dust and fragile. His truth, his love, his glory far transcend us. And he is holy and the measure of all good. We have sinned and do not measure up to his goodness. We do not live by our own standards. We fall far short of his. We have no right to come into the Lord’s presence on our own merit. And we dare not approach him unless it is at his invitation and on his terms. Otherwise, how can we look upon God and live?
And so the Lord said to Moses, “Come up.” But not all the people were invited, but representatives. Much like our athletes represent us at the Olympic Games or in cricket. Is Australia playing India this week in Sydney? Yes it is. But not all of Australia. I’m not playing and you aren’t playing either. Eleven players who represent us are playing. In the same way, Moses and the elders were invited to the top of the mountain. Not all the people, but their representatives.
However, something still stood in their way. An obstacle to the journey from the bottom to the top. Something that becomes clear in what happened next. Moses got up early the next morning. He built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young Israelite men to offer burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the Lord.
In the sacrifice we see the consequences of sin played out. We have rebelled against God. We have rejected his life. We have turned to the way of death. In the sacrifice we see that sin incurs a penalty. A debt must be paid. A sentence carried out. But we cannot pay the penalty personally and live. In the sacrifice a death occurs. A life is taken. It happens in the life of an animal so that the worshiper may live. A substitute is made.
A substitute is different to a representative. A representative acts for us. The Australian cricket team is our team. They play for themselves, but they also play for us. Their good behaviour during the game or their bad behaviour reflects on us. But a substitute acts instead of us. When Steve Smith was hit on the head in England last year, he was replaced by a substitute, Marnus Labuschagne. He didn’t play for Steve Smith. He played instead of him.
In Exodus 24 the sacrifices were offered as a substitute. Not simply for the people of Israel, but instead of them. This was emphasised very graphically. Moses collected the blood of the cattle. And sprinkled half of it on the altar he had built. Then Moses took the Book of the Covenant, which would have included the Ten Commandments and other laws, and read it to the people. As one they responded,
We will do everything the Lord has said. We will obey.
And then Moses took the other half of the blood and 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.
The covenant is the relationship of belonging between the Lord and his people. It is the sacred bond in which the Lord promises to be their God and invites them to be his people. An invitation that they accept by consecrating themselves to his service. His love isn’t earned. It is offered. It is received. And it is reflected back. But that covenant is sealed in blood.
The blood pays respect to the distance between the Lord and his people. That sin is an obstacle between them. It pays the debt of their sin and rebellion. It gives the life that the Lord’s judgment demands. And it affirms that sin is put aside, done away with, and stripped of all its power and that the Lord’s forgiveness is sure. By the blood the past is washed away and a new future is opened up. A new start like being born again.
In the same way, the Lord Jesus at the Last Supper took the bread and said,
This is my body which is broken for you,
and took the wine and said,
This is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Like the Old Covenant, the New Covenant is sealed with blood. But unlike the Old Covenant, the New Covenant is sealed not with the blood of cattle or sheep or goats, but with the blood of Christ shed on the cross. Here is the true sacrifice for sin. Here is the life demanded by the judgment of God. Here is the debt paid that releases us from debt. So that the obstacle of sin is removed and that the people who are far away may come close to the Lord.
Jesus is both our representative and our substitute. What he did on the cross, he did for us and instead of us. It is for our benefit and in our place. So that in the death of Christ we receive forgiveness. He bridges the gap that separates us from the life of God. And in his life we find peace with God.
Only when the blood was sprinkled, sealing the covenant, did Moses, his brother, his two nephews and the seventy elders of Israel go up the mountain. And on the top of the mountain they saw a vision of God. It was a vision for sure because what they saw under his feet was something like a blue crystal pavement like the sky itself. Almost as if they had been transported from earth to heaven and were standing on the other side of the sky. They saw God, the God, their God, but he did not raise his hand against them. They saw him. They ate in his presence. And they drank.
This vision of a feast in the presence of God represents the goal of the gospel and our destiny in Christ, fellowship with God. To eat and drink, to share a meal means family. It means friendship. It means life and joy and peace. We celebrate birthdays with a party. We celebrate Christmas with Christmas dinner. Even when we come together for the sad and solemn moments in life, for the funeral of a family member or a dear friend, we finish with a meal. It is as sacred a moment as any eulogy or prayer. It brings broken people together and starts the healing. Because when we share food, we share life. We belong to each other and we become one.
Near the end of the book of Revelation, near the end of the whole Bible is a beautiful passage that reminds us what we are made for, what Jesus died for, and what we are called to live for.
Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!
We have been invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb, of the Lord Jesus and his bride the Church. And we are told to rejoice and to be glad and to give God the glory. Because we have been made to see God, to eat and to drink with him. God made us for himself. And our destiny, made possible by Jesus, is life with God.
That’s what I meant when I said, that in Exodus 24 we see the gospel in miniature. It starts with the people at the bottom of the mountain, far, far away. And it ends at the top with the feast in the presence of God. And in the middle we find the way from the bottom to top. The blood of the covenant. The sacrifice that brings forgiveness and leads to fellowship.
In the Lord’s Supper too we see the gospel in miniature. We have been invited to the table and the Lord broke the bread and passed round the cup so that the food and drink may be shared. The bread and cup point to the sacrifice of the cross. To Jesus who acted as our representative and sacrifice. For us and instead of us. His body broken in our place. His blood shed to seal the covenant.
But the meal also points to our present reality and to our future destiny. Life in the presence of God. Not just for some of us, but for all of us, for all who believe. This is what we were made for. This is what Jesus died for. This is what we live for. Fellowship and peace with God.