Creating A Holy Community
God’s heart was to create within Israel a holy community of peace and well being that would embody the truest sense of the word ‘shalom’. In so doing, they would reflect the character of the compassionate and holy God they served. We need to recover the community life that God desires for us as His covenant people, for we were saved to be a people for His name among the nations. In the closing verse of Exodus 20, we are given Israel’s response to seeing God’s glory and hearing his Ten Words from Mount Sinai. These truths will teach us what I believe to be the attitudes that are necessary in cultivating holy community. Make no mistake, people today are earnestly searching for holy community. Exodus 20:18-21…And all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.” And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.
You may recall that Exodus 19:10-13 elaborates on the preparations that had to be made before God and Israel took their covenantal vows together on Mount Sinai. The people were to consecrate themselves by washing their garments. Moses was instructed to set up secure boundaries at the foot of the mountain, lest God’s holiness break out, causing instant death. Israel was crowding in around the Mount Sinai, as they wanted to catch a look. But now they’re at a distance, trembling, and very much afraid. The presence of God can be frightening! This passage reveals what happens when He who is ‘wholly Other’ breaks into our common world. God’s appearance throughout the Scriptures is frightening and attractive, daunting and fascinating. These apparent opposites seem to appear whenever a person senses the immediate presence of God. On the one hand, one feels a disturbing distance of infinite proportions between our frail broken humanity and the majestic glory of what is seen. So vast is the chasm it is immeasurable, fearful, and terrible. On the other hand, God’s appearance is so attractive and fascinating it draws us inexplicably towards it with fervour and urgency. We find it difficult that something can be good and terrible at the same time.
God was impressing upon His people that so ‘other’ is His holiness, it is dangerous. It is raw and ragged…wild and untameable. It is not available for domestication. Get too close without proper protection and it will break out like radiation and destroy. Israel was scared to death when God came to meet with her. God’s nearness can be a terrifying for sinners. This is not just an Old Testament idea, but is also in the great New Testament passage that says we have come to Mount Zion, not to the frightening display of God’s power on Mount Sinai. In Hebrews 12, at the close of that great comparison God says…‘Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service for our God is a consuming fire.’ Today we long for intimacy with God, but we miss out on the reverence and awe of God in that intimacy. Here the children of Israel got the message loud and clear of God’s holiness, glory, might, power, sovereignty and transcendence. This massive display of sight and sound causes Israel to recoil in fear. She has clear sense that venturing too close to the Holy One will be fatal. So Israel wisely keeps her distance, but even then she is not sure if her frail senses can endure any more revelation after hearing the Ten Words…so she pleads with Moses to take on the role of mediator.
Only God can make God safe for sinners. It is an insightful request that the people make of Moses. The voice of the Lord prompts the people to appeal to Moses to mediate. They want Moses to stand between God and them. They want Moses to relay God’s words to them. God’s presence and His thunderous voice is too overwhelming for us…we are not safe. ‘Moses, you venture into that dangerous realm of God’s presence – you listen to His fearsome voice – and we’ll remain here at a safe distance.’ Everything you hear you can speak to us and we will obey,but we cannot endure God’s voice directly. In Deuteronomy 5:25, we read: “Now then why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer, then we shall die.” So clearly, the people recognised they needed a mediator. They also knew that God had appointed Moses as a mediator. How gracious God was in doing this, for the people had been questioning his role time and time again. Now, having been spoken to directly by God, they can’t wait to hear Moses. He’s exalted Moses in their eyes, just as He promised Moses.
We cannot endure the unmediated presence of the holy God – we need a mediator. Many people think that they can traipse into the presence of God and everything will be just fine. Moses himself needed a mediator as he moved back into the unspeakable privilege of entering the presence of God. His ability to serve as the mediator was grounded in the mediation of greater mediator, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the Saviour of sinners. He is the True Mediator, stretching forward from our day into the future glory, and stretching back in time covering Moses and the children of Israel. You see, only God can make God safe. Your righteousness can’t make God safe. You can’t redefine God to make Him safe.
The only way God can be made safe is in His Son Jesus Christ and through His miraculous work at the cross.
There He gave His life to stand between God and His people, so that we could remain in God’s holy presence and not die.
The wonder of it all!