Kevin DeYoung / Mar 5, 2017 / Exodus 24:1-18
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Sermon Summary / Transcript
Follow along as I read from God’s holy Word:
Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar. Moses alone shall come near to the Lord, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”
Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.
The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses rose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. And he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you. Whoever has a dispute, let him go to them.”
Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. Exodus 24
This is one of the most important chapters in the Old Testament—one which you probably never think of as an important chapters. Instead, we think of Exodus 20 (the Ten Commandments), Genesis 1 (creation), Genesis 3 (the Fall), or Isaiah 53 (the great passage of the suffering servant). But Exodus 24 is one of the most significant points in the Old Testament. It’s a high point, literally and figuratively, because it gives us both a glimpse of what God looks like and of what worship should look like.
Before we get into that, let’s try to understand what’s going on here. The difficulty with Exodus 24 (one found elsewhere in Exodus) is that it’s hard to tell when Moses is up or down the mountain. It doesn’t give us every cue for when he’s going down. More often, it just tells us when he’s going up. So, what’s happening here?
The Two Scenes
Basically, there are two difference scenes in this chapter. Scene 1 (vv. 1-11) is the 74 going up the mountain. That’s Moses; his brother; and his brother’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu; plus the 70 elders. These elders are most likely those who were set aside back in Exodus 18, where Jethro said, “Moses, you’re wearing yourself out. You can’t do this anymore. Appoint some lower magistrates to oversee the people and handle their disputes.” They appear several times throughout the Pentateuch.
The 74 going up is mentioned in verse 1—”Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel…”—but the action is not recorded until verse 9: Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up…” So, in verses 3-8, they have not yet gone up. You can think of verses 1-2 as a thesis statement, or a title. Some scholars even argue that the beginning should be translated, “Then he had said to Moses…” However we translate it, though, we should understand that the action isn’t picked up again until verse 9.
What we have between those verses, before this ascent up the mountain, are the instructions for the people back down the mountain. We’ll come to those later. So, that’s the first scene: a total of 74 people go up the mountain.
The second scene starts in verse 12: “The LORD said to Moses, ’Come up to me on the mountain…’” It appears that some time has passed, and that Moses has gone down the mountain. It’s just like the end of Exodus 23, where Moses was on the mountain getting the Ten Commandments and these other laws from the Lord. He must have come down then, because Exodus 24 says, “Come up.” Then, after verse 11, he must have come down again, because verse 12 says, “Come up.”
This time, he comes with his assistant, Joshua. We’ll hear much more about Joshua later in the Bible, of course. He succeeds Moses, but here he’s his assistant. This time, Moses would be up on Mount Sinai for a long while, so (v. 14) “he said to the elders, ‘Wait here for us until we return…’” He began to set people in motion for his absence: “Aaron and Hur are with you. Whoever has a dispute, let him go to them.” Moses had been the Supreme Court, so when people had a dispute, what could they do? They had to go somewhere, so he established Aaron and Hur. He knows that he’s going to be on the mountain for a long time.
First, in what may be an echo of the six days of creation, Moses on the mountain for six days, before the Lord calls him up on the seventh. Did it take six days for him to ascend the mountain? Was he just waiting for a voice from heaven? We don’t know. However, on the seventh day, he’s finally called to enter the cloud. Joshua waits at a distance, while Moses is in the cloud of glory with the Lord for “forty days and forty nights.” As you know from your Bibles, forty days could be a literal number (forty 24-hour days), but it could also be a Hebrew way of saying that Moses was up there for a good old long time. In other words, it was 40 days—or thereabouts.
Turn to Deuteronomy 9 for a moment. Let’s get a sense of what Moses was and wasn’t when he was up on the mountain.
When I went up the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord made with you, I remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water. Deuteronomy 9:9
Some will wonder, “Well, how did he survive without water?” It must have been some sort of miraculous provision or sustaining grace, since he was there without food and water for forty days and forty nights.
We don’t have time to trace it all out, but perhaps you can already hear echoes of the New Testament. Jesus, in Matthew, was showing himself to be the new Moses, who was establishing a new Israel. He passed through the waters—though not of the Red Sea, but of the Jordan River. Then, after his baptism, he went into the wilderness, where he fasted and was alone with God, while the Devil tempted him for forty days and forty nights. That’s just one of many connections in the opening chapters of Matthew that show that Jesus understood himself to be the new Moses, who established a new Israel—not centered around the Torah or the temple, but around the person of Jesus Christ.
And the Lord gave me the two tablets of stone written with the finger of God… Deuteronomy 9:10a
Of course, Moses smashed those. Many people have remarked, tongue in cheek, that the Lord wrote the first ones, but when Moses smashed them, he said, “Okay, you’re doing the second ones.”
…and on them were all the words that the Lord had spoken with you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. And at the end of forty days and forty nights the Lord gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant. Then the Lord said to me, “Arise, go down quickly from here, for your people whom you have brought from Egypt have acted corruptly. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them; they have made themselves a metal image.” Deuteronomy 9:10b-12
…which leads into the golden calf. Now go back to Exodus, just to get your bearings. Moses is on the mountain. After coming down in scene one, he goes back up in scene two for forty days and forty nights. What’s he getting while he’s up there? The instructions for the tabernacle: how to build it, and how to attend to its service. That’s what’s recorded in Exodus 25-31. Then, he comes down from the mountain again, which is what we just read about in Deuteronomy (and what happens in Exodus 32).
When he comes down from the mountain, he has the tablets. There are two tablets: one for the people, and one as a copy. That’s what you did when you established a covenant in the ancient world. You had two copies: one for the sovereign, and one for the people. So, even though we tend to see artistic renderings of the first tablet having commandments 1-4 (the first table of the law) and the second having commandments 5-10, that’s not why he got two. The copies would have been identical: one for the Lord, and one for his people. That’s what Moses comes down with in Exodus 32.
So we have the incident with the golden calf, and all that surrounds it. Then, beginning in Exodus 35, all the instructions for the tabernacle are repeated again as the Israelites actually build it. That comes to an end in Exodus 40, when another glory cloud fills the tabernacle. This time, it’s in the midst of the people, not on the mountain. That’s where the narrative is heading, and that’s being set up in this second scene, as Moses is on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
I want us to focus on the first scene: the ascent of the 74 up the mountain for the ratification of the covenant. That’s why they are going up: to have a ceremony in which the covenant will be officially, formally ratified.
The Fundamental Goal of Worship
I want you to think about corporate worship (this will lead us back to Exodus, I promise)—what we’re doing in this hour and twenty minutes, every Sunday. Have you ever stopped to consider we’re fundamentally doing when we gather on Sundays for this thing we call a “service of worship”? How you answer that question will go a long way towards establishing what you do and don’t do in a worship service, and how you do it.
There are a number of ways in which churches today answer the question. Some people would say, “What we’re doing fundamentally in worship is hoping that people will be entertained. Are you not entertained?! Aren’t you getting something out of this?” Though churches probably wouldn’t use those words, that’s what it comes down to. If what we’re fundamentally doing is just entertainment, then the goal (above all) is that you must not be bored ever. The audience is sovereign. We have to figure out what you as an audience like. What works well for you? What are you into? What resonates with you? At then end of the day, we want people to come back to the movie. The box office receipts, and who’s coming, is what matters. That’s entertainment. Of course, we want to have a service that’s filled with excellence, but I think we can all recognize that that’s not what we’re fundamentally trying to do on Sunday mornings.
Others think that we’re ultimately after inspiration: “We don’t just want you to feel happy, and feel like that was a great experience. We want you to be inspired. We put these services together so that you leave with an impression, a feeling, a challenge, and an uplift—so that you walk out the door feeling like, ‘That was good. Oh boy! I have something inspiring that gets me into the next week.’” That’s closer. Yes, we hope that when you leave, you do feel a sense of inspiration: “I’ve learned something new. I’ve seen my sin. I’ve seen Christ.” There’s an element of inspiration, but that’s not fundamentally what we should be doing.
Other people think of worship as an opportunity for God’s people to use their gifts. I’ve been on worship planning committees in other church contexts, and very well-intentioned people fall into this de facto mindset: “Okay, what are we going to do with this Sunday?” “Well, we have a really good opportunity. This sister has really been working hard, so we want to give her a chance to use her gifts. This brother really put a lot into this juggling act. It’s really going to be a blessing to some people. The puppets were dynamite last year.” You give an opportunity for people in the church to use their gifts. At worst, it’s a kind of amateur talent show. At best, it’s an excellent opportunity for people to use what God has given them.
Of course, there’s an element of truth to that. We know that God has given gifts to us that they might edify the body. But if that’s what we’re fundamentally doing, then we really have no stops except for our own personal preferences on what we do here. We might say, “That dance troupe may not be meaningful for you, but it would be really inspirational, and it would give them an opportunity to really use their gifts.” Fill in the blanks. Worship, in this mindset, is an opportunity for people to showcase what God can do through them.
One more answer gets even closer. Some of us might even give this answer. We think of worship as fundamentally a teaching time. Now, we do a lot of teaching. I’m going to go on for a few more minutes. Yes, this moment of preaching is central. But it’s not the fundamental goal. If it is, then we think of Sunday as a sermon with bumper material. Some guy gives a talk for as long as he wants, and there’s a little bumper at the front that eases us in (also for people who come late), and another at the end to wrap things up. That’s not capturing the heart of worship, either.
Fundamentally, worship means taking part in a service of covenant renewal. What do I mean by covenant? A covenant is a contract or agreement between two parties—a commitment which establishes a relationship between two people. As one author says,
…a covenant is an agreement between God and human beings, where God promises blessings if the conditions are kept and threatens curses if they are broken. Jonty Rhodes – “Covenants Made Simple”
It’s a bond which joins two parties, and (in the Bible) was usually sealed by some kind of blood ritual.
In simplest terms, covenants are any sort of contractual obligation that you enter into. Think about all the papers that you have to sign when you buy a house, take out a loan, or purchase a business. Think of the promises that you make when you get married. These are kinds of covenants—marriage explicitly so—and they’re accompanied by ceremonies. With marriage, there’s a great big ceremony. People spend their whole lives dreaming of this ceremony, and parents spend the rest of their lives paying for it! It’s a big deal.
When we gather for worship we’re performing a service of covenant renewal. We see that here in Exodus 24. The elements that form the basis for worship services follow in this chapter’s footsteps. When we gather for worship, in one fundamental sense, we’re renewing the covenant that God has established with us. Thus, we need to look at this covenant confirmation by Moses and the Israelites. The 74 are going up the mountain as representatives of Israel, since you can’t fit 2 million people on a mountain. We want to see what this ceremony looks like, and that will help us understand why we do things the way that we do in our own services.
Notice three elements in this covenant ceremony: first, the Book of the Covenant; second, the blood of the covenant; and third, the bread of the covenant. That has to be the right answer—there are three “B”s right there in the text! I’m getting “bread” from verse 11, which says that they “ate”. I’m going to assume that they were eating bread, so it’s almost there. The other two words are explicitly used.
The Book of the Covenant
The Book of the Covenant was explicitly mentioned in verse 7: “Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people.” What was contained in this book? Verse three: “Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules.” Those could be synonyms, but I think they’re hinting at two different aspects of the book. Remember, the Ten Commandments were literally called “the ten words.” That’s why they’re sometimes referred to as “the Decalogue.” “Logos” means “Word”; thus, “the ten words.” “words” here likely refers to the Ten Commandments.
Moses also gave them “the rules.” What are the rules? They’re all the statutes that we’ve been looking at in Exodus 21-23. That’s what was found in the Book of the Covenant: the Ten Commandments, and these elements of case law from Exodus 21-23.
Notice that they heard everything twice. First, Moses told the people what he had heard (v.3). He came down from the mountain, presumably, and said, “Let me tell you all that God has told me.” But he also read from the Book of the Covenant (v.7). Moses took pains to write down what he had heard: “And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD.”
It cannot be emphasized enough that, even at this early stage in the history of God’s people, they were already guided by a written revelation, not merely an oral tradition. They wouldn’t have to go back and ask, “Moses, remind us again: what did you hear?” “Well, let me think. That was a few years ago, but he said something like this.” It’s not oral tradition, or even prophetic guidance. To be sure, there were many prophets in the Old Testament who gave an authoritative word from the Lord, but they will be hemmed in, guided, and led by something written down. It cannot be emphasized enough the significance of the words being written down. There was a fixed, objective, trans-cultural standard of truth that would outlast them. As Luther referred to the Bible, it’s “the norming norm” that norms all other norms. The word sets the standard for everything else, and everything must be measured against it.
I emphasize that because it’s so easy to be fooled by spiritual-sounding talk: “You evangelical Christians. You’re locked into words on a page. You’ve put God into a box of little markings on a scroll somewhere. I live by the Spirit and by the Word (Jesus).” It sounds so spiritual, but it’s utter nonsense. From the very beginning, Moses wrote this down. There is not just a Word; there’s a book. Unlike the nations around them, they would be a people of the book.
In later history, there would be a priest to read from the book and teach the people:
For a long time Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest and without law… 2 Chronicles 15:3
[Ezra and the Levites] read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. Nehemiah 8:8
What we have recorded in Exodus 24 a simple reading of the Book of the Covenant. Perhaps we can assume that there was some explanation involved, but later in Israel’s history, they had priests, Levites, and scribes, whose designated function was to read explain, and give the sense of it. This covenant renewal ceremony (well, here it’s the covenant confirmation ceremony) is focused on the Book of the Covenant—and not just on the reading of it, on the people’s response to it. Verse 3: “All the words that the LORD has spoken, we will do.” Again in verse 7: “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”
Here we come to the very heart of worship. It’s not just about feeling the heart of worship. It’s about this book. In this service, the book must be read, and the people must respond to it. That’s why, in a worship service, we don’t typically say, “Sermon. Amen. You’re dismissed.” There’s a lot of thought given to having a song that gives you some opportunity to voice a response and praise God in light of what you’ve heard—to express your desire to serve him, follow him, and go out and love your neighbor as yourself. You can’t just hear it. You must respond to it.
God’s word is read and taught—all the stipulations, promises, blessings, and curses. God’s people hear it, receive it, understand it, and respond to it. That’s what you do in the ratification of the covenant: focus on the Book of the Covenant.
The Blood of the Covenant
All of this is made possible because of the blood of the covenant. Verse 8: “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” In the contract between God and these people, they’re bound together by a book—by something written down. But they’re also bound together by the blood of the covenant. One author defines covenants in the Bible as “a bond in blood, sovereignly administered.” That’s why the phrase “cut a covenant” has still come down to us, as people talk about “cutting a deal.” You cut a covenant because establishing a covenant between two parties involved physical, literal cutting.
You’ve probably heard many times of the ceremony in Genesis 15, where Abram has a vision of a smoking fire pot, which is a kind of theophany (just like the pillar of cloud on the mountain). This is a picture of God’s presence This smoking fire pot goes between two animals, torn in two.
This was very common among the Hittites and the other Canaanite people. It was how they established covenants. You would take an animal, cut it in two, and walk through, with the animal strewn on either side. It was your way of signifying, “May I be torn in two if I am not true to the covenant obligations that are established today.” Abram has that vision—but, of course, he sees God himself (in the form of that smoking fire pot) walking through. God would establish his own oath of malediction: “May it be thus to me, your Lord and sovereign, should I fail to keep this covenant and its obligations.”
In this case, blood not only accompanies the administration of the covenant, but makes possible the provisions of the covenant. Follow along in verses 4-6. In verse 4, “He rose early in the morning and built an altar…” In verse 5, “he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offering and sacrificed peace offerings…” Finally, in verse 6, he “took half the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar,” and then he sprinkled some on the people. Altar. Sacrifice. Sprinkling. These three things all have to do with the blood of the covenant.
So what does all of this signify? The altar speaks of substitution. That’s why Moses also has 12 pillars erected: to stand for the 12 tribes of Israel. On this altar, the sins of the people will be paid for by a substitute: a bird, a bull, or a sheep. This covenant is only possible on an altar.
Then there is a sacrifice, speaking of propitiation: the good theological term which refers to how God, who has every right to be against us, is now for us. That’s what it means for God to be “propitious” toward us. He’s pro-us. Why? Because sacrifices have been offered in our stead, so that we can enter into a covenant.
It’s an amazing act of condescension that God would allow the Israelites to have a covenant with him. Remember, just a few chapters ago, they were saying, “Look, if we even get close to the mountain, we’ll die,” and God said, “You know what? That’s right. Don’t get close to the mountain. Put up some boundary markers. You cannot come near me and live.” But in just a moment, God is going to show himself to them. How is that possible? How can you come near a holy God? You need an altar, and a sacrifice. You need substitution, propitiation, and consecration.
That’s what the sprinkling is: consecration. Half the blood is put in basins, and the other half is thrown against the altar. Then, in verse 8, “Moses took the blood and threw it on the people”—or, as some translations say, he “sprinkled” it on the people. He’s not immersing people in the blood (he didn’t have that much), but tossing and sprinkling it.
Think of the physical mark this would make. It’s hard, I’m told, to get blood out of your clothes. I remember a Jerry Seinfeld skit where he wondered, “What’s the deal with these detergent commercials? They tell you how to get blood out of your clothes. If you have blood on your clothes, you have bigger problems than laundry!” Anyway, Moses is sprinkling it on them. Blood smells like something else. It stains. All of these people literally have the blood of the covenant sprinkled upon them. Why? To mark them out as ones who are set apart and made holy—holy in the sense that they are separate, set apart from the nations, and consecrated. They have received initiation into the covenant by the sprinkling of blood.
I know some of you don’t agree with this, but I think it’s worth mentioning: when we sprinkle a child in infant baptism, it’s not a concession to keeping the baby’s clothes dry. It’s deeply rooted in redemptive history and theology. Just as these people were sprinkled with blood at the ceremony of covenant confirmation, so we believe (in the Reformed church) that children are welcomed in, set apart, and consecrated as members of the covenant, so they receive the sign of initiation into the covenant community by being sprinkled with the waters of baptism.
The Bread of the Covenant
The final element is the bread of the covenant. Verse 11: “…they beheld God, and ate and drank.” I’m going to assume that they ate bread, the staple of the people, or some sort of manna that was provided for them. There are lots of things we don’t know, actually. What kind of food did they eat? What did they drink—water? Wine? Milk? Coke? Where did they get the food? Did they bring it, or was there a miraculous provision? How long did the meal last? Did God eat with them? How did God eat with them? Did Moses play the part of God, or was it just a meal that they ate themselves? What happened when they were done? There are lots of things that we don’t know about this curious phrase.
What we do know is that eating and drinking were a sign of fellowship. It’s a sign of fellowship today, but it was even more so then. Often, covenant ceremonies concluded with a meal. In Genesis 26:30, Isaac has a feast with the Philistines after a covenant was made with Abimelech. In Genesis 31, a covenant was made between Jacob and Laban, and it concluded with a meal. This was common. You’d do something similar today. When you have a covenant of marriage, you have a meal. If you have a merger between two companies, you might celebrate it by going to have a meal together. The fellowship of eating and drinking is the confirmation, ending, and celebration of what this covenant was bringing together.
It was also a sign and seal of their closeness to each other and their nearness to God. You see in verse 11 that “he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel…” Very likely, that means that God did not lay his hand on them to strike them. Remember all the warnings: “Don’t go to the mountain. Only Moses goes up the mountain. Don’t get too close to the mountain.” The people even said, “Moses, you speak to us, because we’ll die if God speaks to us.” Now they have come, but they didn’t die. How do you come into the presence of a holy God and not die? That’s the question of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, but it’s not the question that people are asking today. That’s why they get answers that they don’t like: they’re not asking questions that the Bible asks.
The questions that the Bible asks is: how can sinful people dwell in the presence of a holy God and not die? Because of a book and because of blood. If you have that, you can have bread with this God, and he feeds you. He prepares a table before your enemies, and your cup runs over. God did not stretch forth to kill them as they deserved, so they beheld God—the God that no man can look upon and live! The God whom John’s Gospel says is invisible and cannot be seen! They saw this God. Of course, they didn’t really see this God; and in seeing him, they didn’t see much. There’s some sort of pre-incarnate manifestation of Christ here, and some sort of grasping at a description, because of course they didn’t see God directly.
We see this in the phrase “under his feet as it were”, and later (when Moses goes back up the mountain) “was like”. They’re grasping at, “What was this like?” But they don’t get to far up in seeing God. They don’t even get above his feet. They are so prostrate before the Lord that when they “see God,” all they can describe is pavement. That’s what it’s like when you’re in the presence of a holy God. They beheld God, and they came back. “What was it like? You saw God!” “I’ll tell you about the pavement, because that’s as far as my eyes got. It was down there. It was sapphire. It was this deep blue, clear as crystal—clearer than heaven. But I didn’t get above his feet, because I didn’t dare to look.” They beheld him, and they ate and drank with their God.
This is, in effect, the first formal worship service in the Bible. As one commentator says, “Exodus 24 is the story of a worship service—the first one fully described in the Bible. It contains nearly all of the basic elements of a public service, and thus it sets the pattern for biblical worship. There was a call to worship, the reading of God’s word, a confession of faith, and the sharing of a sacramental meal.” We didn’t come up with this basic template because some holy men were sitting around one day, saying, “Well, we’ve got to have to have a service. What should it look like?” It has its roots in the service of the synagogue, and in this first covenant ceremony for all the people of Israel.
Do you see the call to worship? “Come up…” We start with a call to worship, because God himself is calling us! What could make this more important than God himself? We aren’t just gathered here to have a good teaching time. God has called us to this. The people can approach God only because a bloody sacrifice has been made. Then there’s a reading from and a response to God’s word; there’s a confession of faith in the God of this word; and there’s a meal of fellowship that’s shared.
This ceremony all circles around the greatest of all the covenant promises: “I will be your God. You will be my people. And I will dwell with you. I’ve given you a book, and I’ve made a way by the blood. I’ll give you bread, so that we can eat and drink together.” That’s the promise of the covenant. There’s nothing less than that every Sunday, when we gather to once again say, “This great God of heaven has once again entered into covenant with us. Who are we that he should enter into a covenant with us? Once again, we’re going to renew this covenant together, because he calls us to worship.”
I love what Michael Horton says in his book on worship. After describing the nature of covenants, he says:
It is in this context that we talk about the “covenant renewal ceremony.” Whenever we gather for public worship, it is because we have been summoned. That is what “church” means: ekklesia, “called out.” It is not a voluntary society of those whose chief concern is to share, to build community, to enjoy fellowship, to have moral instruction for their children, and so forth. Rather, it is a society of those who have been chosen, redeemed, called, justified, and are being sanctified until one day they will finally be glorified in heaven. We gather each Lord’s Day not merely out of habit, social custom, or felt needs but because God has chosen this weekly festival as a foretaste of the everlasting Sabbath day that will be enjoyed fully at the marriage supper of the Lamb. God has called us out of the world and into his marvelous light: That is why we gather. Michael Horton – “A Better Way”
Let me just finish by connecting these dots as the New Testament does. I’m thinking of the book of Hebrews, which pulls together all of these strands from the sacrifices in Leviticus, the tabernacle in Exodus, Moses on the mountain (and his experience and the patterns there), and the new covenant to come. It brings this all together, and says, “We have something even better: Jesus, the high priest of a better covenant—a new covenant which will supersede and replace this Mosaic covenant.” (Hebrews 8)
Hebrews 9 speaks of the earthly holy place: the tabernacle, which was given to Moses on the mountain, and then made by the people of God. It also speaks of the redemption that comes through blood. Of course, the author of Hebrews is saying, “We have a much better, greater sacrifice. We come, not by the blood of bulls and goats, but by the blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Hebrews 10: “This sacrifice is once for all, so that there is no need for any further sacrifices or other priests. We have no other altar, because it was all paid for at Calvary.”
Listen to Hebrews 10:19:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus [Old Testament language], by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near [as God called the 74 to do] with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled [just as the people gathered there had the blood sprinkled on them] clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope [just as they said they would surely do] for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:19-23
Do you see the connections? Do you see how what we’re doing is the New Covenant expression of this Old Covenant worship? Now, it’s far better because we know Christ. But like them, we gather to rehearse the gospel, and to engage in this ceremony of covenant renewal.
When you make that connection and then read Hebrews 10:24-25, it should strike you with a new sense of urgency:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25
That’s a pastor’s favorite verse. We put it on every membership letter, and we might as well have it on a sign in East Lansing: “Don’t neglect meeting together! I didn’t see you at church! Hebrews 10:25!” But do you see how this is so much more than a “Tsk, tsk. You should have been at church today”? If what we’re doing is what Hebrews says we are—this grand service of covenant renewal, whereby we enter into the holy places by the blood of Christ, having been sprinkled clean to gather around the Book of the Covenant; and, by the blood of the covenant, sharing together the bread of the covenant—are you going to neglect that? Will you sleep in, watch football, or go on a walk? We have this one day where we can go up the mountain together and behold God, and he can speak to us, and we can respond to him. How can this gathering not be the highlight of our week? We have a better covenant, a better redeemer, a better sacrifice, and a better book, and we go to a better mountain.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Psalm 95:6-7a
We get to be worshipers at his feet.
Let’s pray. Oh Lord, what a privilege is ours. Forgive us for scoffing and being bored with such a great privilege. Remind us again and again of what we’re doing here, though these days can seem ordinary and plain. We’ve all had to sit through boring sermons, but there’s nothing boring about you calling us to worship—the renewal of this gracious covenant, week after week. Give us the heart, the head, and the sincerity to respond and follow, that we may know you, that we would be your people, and that you would be our God. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Transcription and editing provided by 10:17 Transcription
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