Stephen Caswell © 2001
Gladstone’s Only Fear
William Gladstone, served many times as Prime Minister between 1868 and 1894. Once he sat in Christ’s Church College and talked at some length about happy changes that had taken place in the lot of the English people. His outlook was so radiantly optimistic that it aroused a challenge. One of the students said, Sir, are we to understand that you have no anxieties for the future? Are there no adverse signs? The grand old Englishman answered slowly, Yes, there is one thing that frightens me — the fear that God seems to be dying out in the minds of men. This even more true today. People have lost their knowledge of God and subsequently their reverence for God.
Last Sunday we answered the question, What is Worship? We saw that, Worship is giving God what He is worth! Jesus said to the Samaritan woman that we must worship in spirit and in truth. Today I want to look at the conditions that the Lord placed upon Israel when they worshipped Him. This matter is so important that God gave Israel instructions in the Law and in the book of Leviticus. The book of Leviticus deals exclusively with how God's people must approach a holy God. In Exodus 19 Israel arrives at Mount Sinai where God has brought them to worship Him. Here, the Lord taught Israel four important things about worship. These four things are. Obedience, Listening, Consecration & Reverence.
Firstly, Total Obedience
Exodus 19:3-6 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 children of Israel: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.
In Exodus 19, God promised Israel that they would be His special people. They would be a kingdom of priests to the Lord; a holy nation. But there were certain conditions upon the fulfillment of God's promises. They had to keep His covenant which is also called the Law. Israel's obedience to God was so important that the Lord sent Moses back down the mountain to set these words before them. If you read the book of Exodus through you will discover that Moses went up and down seven times in all. God had important instructions Israel must comply with if they were to enter into covenant with Him. Many years later, Saul learnt this lesson the hard way. He disobeyed God and lost the kingdom. Samuel told him obedience was better than sacrifice.
How did they respond to God's request? Exodus 19:7-8 tells us: So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the Lord commanded him. Then all the people answered together and said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do. So Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord. Two million people agreed to do all that the Lord had commanded. They promised to obey the Lord in everything.
In the Middle east two kinds of treaties were made. A parity treaty between equals and a suzerain treaty between a conquering king and his vassals. A Suzerain treaty involved both responsibilities and privileges. The king promised to defend the conquered country from other nations that might attack them. In return the vassal state pledged their loyalty to the their new sovereign. They had to obey his laws and respect his governors. They paid taxes and were expected to ally themselves against the enemies of their sovereign. God made a suzerain treaty with Israel. He was not their equal but their superior. They must be completely loyal to Him, their King. They must obey the Lord in all things. Obedience wasn't an option, it was demanded. Obedience was required to receive the promises.
If believers want to enjoy God's blessings they must obey God's commandments. If we want to worship God we must first obey Him. The Lord doesn't reveal Himself to disobedient people. Christians have been given tremendous privileges as members of God's family. 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. However with privileges goes responsibilities.
Obedience is not an option. If we have been saved by the Lord Jesus Christ we must obey Him. Jesus said, Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not the things that I command you? Are you obeying your Lord? Are you serving Him? Are you keeping His commands? You cannot worship God unless you first obey Him. If you are disobedient to God on some point at present the Lord cannot take you on any further. You must first deal with the issue at hand.
Secondly, Listen Attentively
Exodus 19:9 And the Lord said to Moses, Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever. So Moses told the words of the people to the Lord.
Associated with faith is hearing God's Word. God told Moses that He would speak personally to him in the midst of the thick cloud. Why? He was laying the groundwork for good communication. Israel needed to be ready to hear God's voice. God had important things to say to Israel, so He made sure that He got their attention first. The Lord spoke to Moses in such a way that all Israel heard and would believe both God and Moses, His servant. Romans 10:17: tells us: that faith cometh by hearing and hearing the Word of God.
Since faith comes by hearing God's Word we ought to be very careful to listen to the Word. God's people need to be sensitive to listen or they will miss what God wants to say to them. When God spoke to Moses all Israel heard. However normally God speaks through a still small voice as He did to Elijah. We need to be sensitive to listen for His voice. We need to set aside time each day when God can speak to us through His Word. This must be unrushed and in a quiet place. We need to reflect upon the word and write down the things God reveals to us. By doing this we learn more and can refer to our spiritual journal later on. Revelation 3:22 says: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Put negatively, you won't hear God's Word if you don't pay attention to it. We need to be sensitive and listen to God's Word. Christ warns us about not paying attention to the Word. Matthew 13:14-15: And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.
Preacher Was Against Sin
Calvin Coolidge attended church alone because his wife was unwell. When he arrived back home he went up to her room to see how she was feeling. She promptly reassured him she was fine. Mrs. Coolidge then asked him if he had enjoyed the sermon. He replied in a weak affirmative that he had. What was it about? she continued. Sin was his reply. What did the minister say? I think he's against it. Calvin is like many who don't really listen to the Word.
God desires very much to speak to us, but He can't if we're not paying attention. It is our responsibility to spend unrushed time with the Lord each day. It is our responsibility to come and hear the Word at Church. We need to be sensitive and listen for His voice. When the Lord spoke to Moses all Israel heard God speaking. But more often than not God speaks in a still small voice like He did with Elijah. Are you listening for God's Word? Are you attentive to it? Do you believe God's Word? God wants us to have ears that will hear and hearts that respond in faith. The reason God speaks to us is for our benefit. He wants to teach us that we might become more like Christ. We can't worship God unless we listen to His Word!!
Thirdly, Complete Consecration
Exodus 19:10-11 Then the Lord said to Moses, Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.
a. Consecrate The People
Firstly, God told Moses to consecrate the people. The word consecrate means to sanctify, purify or dedicate. Why was it important for the people to be consecrated? Because the Lord was going to draw near them and they needed to be ready. God wanted Israel to examine their hearts and confess any sin. They were also to wash their clothes. Their clean garments were to reflect clean hearts. God is holy and requires His people to be holy too. God stated this intention in verse 6 where He says that Israel would be a holy nation.
In verse 15 Moses told the people not to some near their wives also. Why? So that they could concentrate on the Lord's arrival. God was coming to them in a special way in three days. They needed to be ready. Physical distractions needed to be put aside for a time. Israel needed to be ready to worship God and hear His voice. This meant cleansing themselves from all impurity and sin. It meant preparing their hearts to receive the Lord.
No Access To Devil
If you had a thousand-acre farm and someone offered to buy it. And you agree to sell the land except for one acre right in the center which you want to keep for yourself. Did you know that in many areas the law would allow you to have access to that one lone spot? You would have the right to build a road across the surrounding property in order to get to it. So it is with us as Christians if we make less than 100-percent surrender to God. We can be sure that the devil will take advantage of any inroad to reach that uncommitted area of our lives. We must consecrate ourselves completely to Him. All sin must go and Christ be Lord over all!!
b. Consecrate The Mountain
Exodus 19:12-13 You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live. When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain.
The Lord required Moses to erect a boundary around the mountain so that the people would not come too close. Why? Because this mountain had been set aside for the Lord's use. It was holy ground. God would manifest Himself there soon. Therefore Israel needed to keep a safe distance. The people would die if they foolishly approached the Lord their God. The Lord emphasized this to Moses by restating it three times. God is holy. Israel needed to recognize the great gulf that separated them even though the Lord was near.
Under the Old Covenant the people could not come into God's presence. There was a dividing line that separated a holy God from His people. Today we have access before the very throne of God. However we should not enter His presence flippantly. Christians mustn't treat God like Santa Claus or the Big Daddy upstairs. God is still absolutely holy. He does not run quickly into someone's presence - nor should we thoughtlessly barge into His presence. We must first prepare our hearts before we worship God. This applies to our quiet time as well as the Church services. How can we do this?
1. By examining our hearts and confessing all sin. The blood of Christ provides perfect forgiveness and cleansing from sin. Paul emphasizes how important this is when we share the Lord's Supper to prepare first. 1 Corinthians 11:27-28: Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
2. By asking God to speak to us. The Psalmist prayed this Psalm 119:18: Open my eyes, that I may see Wondrous things from Your law. Samuel said, speak Lord your servant is listening. 3. By reflecting on the purpose of our Church attendance, to worship the Lord. The verses on the bulletin cover say this: Let us not rush into Church ten minutes after we get out of bed. Let us prepare our hearts at home first and then arrive early. Let us prepare our hearts to receive the Lord. Let us determine to obey all that God asks us to do. The Lord won't reveal Himself to people that have already determined to ignore what He requires of them.
Fourthly, Godly Reverence
These closing verses emphasize 3 things, God's Glory, God's Grace & God's Justice.
a. God's Glory
Exodus 19:16-18 Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.
On the third day God came down upon Mount Sinai in majestic splendor. I am sure that Israel was glad that they had time to prepare themselves for this meeting. What a magnificent experience. The sight must have been truly awesome. The way that God revealed Himself spoke of His power and might. Thunder, lighting and earthquakes reveal His power. It spoke of His holiness. The fire, smoke and thick cloud points to God's holiness. The sound of the trumpet spoke of His authority to summon people for worship or judgment. Yes this was a majestic display. God appeared in a glorious way so Israel might fear Him.
b. God's Grace
Exodus 19:19-20 And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice. Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.
Although God is glorious and holy He is also gracious. The Lord Himself came down to speak to sinful man. He spoke to the people. He spoke to Moses face to face. That's grace. Why should God bother to speak to man? Why should He come near sinful rebellious people? Because He loves us and wants to commune with us. That's grace. There were two reasons God met with Israel at Mount Sinai. Firstly, to give them the Law so they could live as God's holy nation and therefore be blessed. Secondly, to give them instructions for the tabernacle so that the Lord might dwell with them. They didn't deserve any of this. But that's grace.
c. God's Justice
Exodus 19:21-25 And the Lord said to Moses, Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to gaze at the Lord, and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them. But Moses said to the Lord, The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai; for You warned us, saying, Set bounds around the mountain and consecrate it. Then the Lord said to him, Away! Get down and then come up, you and Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, lest He break out against them. So Moses went down to the people and spoke to them.
Israel's Response - Fear And Curiosity
How did the people respond to God's appearance? They trembled and rightly so. In Hebrews 12:21 we read that Moses was afraid and trembled exceedingly. God is holy and expects to be treated that way. In fact God sent Moses back down the mountain to remind Israel not to cross the line. They had already been told this twice. Moses replied by saying, but Lord, the people know this command. They won't come through I have warned them of the consequences. Why was this so important to God? Because God knows human nature. He knew they would become curious and break His command. God marked off this boundary because He is holy. In effect the Lord was saying, Do not cross the line. Do not become glib with me. Do not become frivolous in My presence.
If Israel had crossed the line God would have had to judge them for their sin. The words break out against them speak of God's judgment. The same words are found in 2 Samuel 6:8 David was bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem on a cart. The oxen stumbled and Uzza touched the Ark to steady it. God killed him. And David became angry because of the Lord’s outbreak against Uzzah; and he called the name of the place Perez Uzzah to this day. God commanded that no one should touch the Ark of the Covenant but Uzzah disobeyed and suffered God's judgment for his error.
Daring The Almighty
In the early morning of December 28, 1908, an earthquake totally destroyed the flourishing and very beautiful city of Messina in Italy. 75,000 human beings died. We read: Only a few hours before that devastating earthquake, the unspeakably wicked and irreligious condition of some of the inhabitants was expressed in a series of violent resolutions, which were passed against all religious principles. And the journal Il Tleefono, printed in Messina, actually published in its Christmas issue an abominable parody. They dared the Almighty to make Himself known by sending an earthquake! And three days later He did!
Today we need to recapture the fear of the Lord. The Church has lost much of it's reverence for God. We concentrate on God's love so much so that we forget that God's holiness. We have no right to treat Him like our pal or big brother. God is not at our beckon call. He is our Master and we are the servants. We need to slow down before we come into His presence and remember who God is and who we are. Sometimes we get this around the wrong way. Hebrews 12:25-26, 28-29 says: See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.
God told the children of Israel not to cross the line. If we would receive God's approval when we worship Him, we won't presume upon His grace. We will give the Lord the reverence and honor He deserves. Do you remember God's holiness when you approach Him? Do you remember who He is and who you are when you pray? Do you fear the Lord?
Today we have seen four things that God requires from us if we would worship Him. They are, Obedience, Listening, Consecration and Reverence.
Firstly, Obedience - We cannot worship God if we are disobedient to Him. The Lord demands complete obedience from His servants. After all He is sovereign. Don't refuse Him!
Secondly, Listening - God cannot speak to us unless we are listening attentively. We must have ears to hear. Are you listening for God's still small voice?
Thirdly, Consecration - Those who worship God need to prepare their hearts first. God is holy and requires us to be clean before we can share His fellowship. Are you conserated?
Fourthly, Reverence - God wants us to be mindful of His glory when we come before Him. Do you reverence God? Do you serve the Lord with godly fear?
1 Timothy 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.