Kevin DeYoung / Aug 21, 2016 / Exodus 19:1-6
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As we come to God’s Word, would you pray with me? We need thee—oh, we need thee. At this very hour, Lord, we need thee. We need conviction for sin and comfort for us sinners. We need to know ourselves and know you, the living God. We ask humbly and boldly that you attend to the preaching of your word, that we might be as we ought and see you as you are. Draw near to us now, that your name might be hallowed in all the earth. Bless us now, our savior. We come to thee. In Jesus’ name, amen.
On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves 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, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” Exodus 19:1-6
John Calvin famously began his large work of systematic theology (The Institutes of the Christian Religion) with these words: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” True, biblical, Christian understanding and wisdom begins and ends with knowing who you are and who God is.
Wisdom also necessitates that we do not get the order reversed. That’s very common in our day. Many people would say, “Well, yes. I agree with that. It sounds good. We need to know God and ourselves, and the way to know God is to look very deep inside ourselves to find our true self. Somewhere deep inside the well of our own soul we find the divine. Who is this Calvin guy? I thought I didn’t like him, although he’s got some good cartoons with Hobbes.” The order must not be reversed. It is in properly understanding who God is, as Creator, Father, and Triune God in all of his glory, holiness, and majesty, that we can understand who we are.
The book of Exodus, as I’ve said many times, is about the God who makes himself known: to Moses, Pharaoh, the Egyptians, and (over the course of the last 25 chapters) the Israelites. But Exodus is not just the story of the God who makes himself known, but of the God who makes ourselves known. In other words, we not only see who God is, but also who we are in relationship to God.
Do you ever wonder, “Does the Bible have anything truly practical? Is it really relevant?” It doesn’t get much more relevant than this. Whatever you came in here thinking you needed to know this week—for just getting by, for upcoming exams, for preparatory classes, for cooking, for work, for a new job, or for parenting—there is nothing more important than to know these two things: who is God, and who are you? We see these in Exodus. It’s the story of who we are and how we are to conduct ourselves as God’s people.
Exodus 19 is a key chapter in the book. In fact, it’s one of the most important chapters in the Bible. You may think of Exodus 20 as a very important chapter—and it is! That’s where we get the 10 Commandments. The plan is to spend 10 weeks there this coming Fall. But Exodus 19 is just as important as Exodus 20. In fact, some scholars think that verses 4-6 (which we just read) are the heart of the entire book. Others say that they’re the heart of the entire Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). Others go even farther, saying that verses 4-6 form the heart of the entire Old Testament.
Let me give you three ways that Exodus 19 is an important transition chapter. Don’t think that these are my three points of the sermon. I’ve had a lot of time to think about this, so I have three extra introductory points for this key transition chapter.
A Transition from Movement to Staying Put
Israel’s last location (that we know of) was Rephidim, back in Exodus 17. We see it mentioned again in verse 2. Rephidim was probably fairly close to Sinai, because it seems that Moses left the Israelites in Exodus 18, and met his father-in-law Jethro at the important rendezvous spot of the mountain of God (called Horeb or Sinai; it’s the same thing). Then it seems that Jethro went back with him, told him “Hey, you’re working too hard. You need to get some people to help you here”, and then went back to his own people—so it must have been a nearby camp. Now Moses moves the whole mass of people (a couple million of them) from Rephidim to the Sinai wilderness, where they encamp before the mountain of God.
Incidentally, we don’t know where the mountain is. We can read about all sorts of archaeological discoveries, and there’s a traditional location and a couple of other conjectures, but we really don’t know for sure. That ought to give us pause before we make too much of any one location. If it was really important for us to know, God would have given us better directions, but there’s no GPS coordinates or Google Map. We just know that they camped here at the mountain of God.
What we do know is that, since hastily leaving Egypt in Exodus 12, the people of Israel have been on the move. Now they’ll settle down for the better part of a year. How do we know it was that long? Well, it says (verse 1) that they came on the third new moon, so it was the third month after they left Egypt. Numbers 10:11 says that they left Sinai “In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month…” So they came in the third month and left a year later at the end of the second month. It’s a transition from movement to staying put, which tells you something about the significance of what happens here at this mountain. It wasn’t just Moses going up for an afternoon and coming down with some tablets. They were there for nearly a year.
A Movement from Grace to Law
The book now moves from grace to law. I hesitate to put it that way, because (as we’ll see in this chapter and many chapters to come) these two categories should not be pitted against each other. Human beings are often resentful towards and suspicious of the law, especially divine law. If somebody comes to us and says, “I’m running for President. What I want to do is work with Congress, because we need more laws. I want to be a lawgiver!”—we think that’s good for other people, who need laws, but we don’t like to have laws imposed on us, especially absolute law coming from an absolute lawgiver. We often hear, even as Christians: “Law? Bad.”
Some of that, to be fair, is because (when we get to the New Testament) Paul is very conflicted about the law—in particular, about the Mosaic law. It is, on the one hand, that which puts down, puts to death, exposes our sin, and leads to no lasting righteousness. But Paul is quick to say that that is not the fault of the law. It is good, holy, and right. Rather, it’s our misappropriation of it. When I say that we’re moving from grace to law, I don’t mean that we’re moving from good news to bad news. Law, in the Bible, was never meant to be a ladder of merit, but a way of life.
The Mosaic covenant was not: “If you keep the 10 Commandments perfectly, I will give you eternal life.” Salvation has always been by grace. The people were already saved. He did not give them 10 Commandments while they were in Egypt, saying, “If you get the 10 Commandments right for a while, then I’ll come down with 10 plagues and save you.” No, he saved them first and then gave them the law. It’s meant to be a way of life.
The Red Sea was the place of salvation. Mara was the place of testing. Elim was the place of rest. The Wilderness of Sin was the place of provision, with the manna and the quail. Masa and Meribah was a place of warning. Rephidim was the place of battle. Now we come to Sinai, which will prove to be the place of covenant. More on that in a few moments.
From Who God Is to Who We Are
The third transition in Exodus 19 is from an emphasis on who God is to a new emphasis on who we are. The first emphasis isn’t left behind, but is supplemented, that we may see who we are in relationship to who this God is. Exodus 19 begins the “so what”, or the “now what”, part of the story. You can’t live your Christian life without getting to the “so what” part of the story.
As I said weeks ago, isn’t it striking that the story of Exodus didn’t end with Exodus 15—the song of Moses? “The great victory! They made it through the Red Sea! I love this book! What a great story!” Many of us close it there. We’ll teach a Sunday school class on Moses and the bulrushes with Pharaoh’s daughter. That’s exciting. Then we’ve got the plagues, the Red Sea, and a song. Isn’t that wonderful?
Well, that’s Exodus 15. Then you have 25 more chapters. Admittedly, it’s a bit harder to jazz up tabernacle construction for the kids, but you could get some popsicle sticks and do some stuff there. But it says more about our mindset than it does about theirs—that after this great act of redemption and salvation, revealing who God is to save us, there’s the whole rest of the book. What does it mean to follow him, to wander in the wilderness with him, and to have a law given from him to us? We don’t truly know God if that knowledge doesn’t affect who we are and how we live our lives. No matter what you say, profess, and sing, and which creeds you say you believe, if it doesn’t make any difference to what you think, how you live, or who you are, then you don’t really know God. When you really know him, see him, and begin to appropriate the fact that he is the Lord, it cannot help but shape your identity.
Our Identity: a Redeemed People (v. 4)
We, like the Israelites, are a redeemed people. I love how verse 4 begins: “You yourselves…” There’s an emphasis there. An English teacher would say that that’s a bit redundant. Read the Strunk and White manual, college students. You don’t need to repeat yourself like that. Just say “you”. But God wants to emphasize something, and this is a way of putting in bold, italics, and underlining on his ancient computer. “You yourselves have seen this. You know what I did. I crushed my enemies. I rescued my people. You have seen it with your own eyes. You were there. You saw the plagues, the walls of water in the Red Sea, the provision in the wilderness, the quail fall down, and the manna every morning. You saw it. You know who you are. You are a redeemed people.”
If you belong to Christ, you have seen an act of redemption even greater than the one that led the Israelites out of Egypt. You have been given new life when you were dead in your sins and trespasses. Some of you can remember very poignantly who you were, what you were like, what you were chasing, and what you squandered and wasted in those early years. You remember how you used to think and what you used to be like very poignantly. You yourselves have seen what God has done in your life.
Even if you’ve more or less grown up around the church your whole life in fits and starts, and have had a pretty good trajectory of learning more and more about God, and haven’t had a Saul of Tarsus conversion story—you too have seen the redemptive work of God. Which of us, no matter the sort of life we’ve lived—with colossal regrets or just “ordinary” sins—has not felt the sting of conscience, the pain of regret, and the agony of sinful choices?
I have one of those wonderful stories of growing up in a Christian home and going to church for my whole life. It’s no great “on the road to Damascus” conversion story. But I can tell you for certain that I have felt the sting of conscience. Think of many particular sins that have needed to be forgiven. Think of regrets. Think of mistakes. Think of all the times that I have thought that the path I wanted to go down was the best, and God wisely and patiently said, “I’m not going to give you what you want, because I have something better for you.” Do you remember what God has done in your life? Do you remember the experience of peace when you first put your trust in him? Do you remember how God stirred and awakened something in you? Do you remember all the times that you’ve seen him answer prayer, even as you may be thinking this morning: “Well, he’s not answering this prayer!”
Remember the times that you have met him in the Scriptures, even if it seems very dry and distant this morning, and you can hardly spend five minutes in the Bible because it seems so boring. Remember the times when it was so real, and you knew he was there, speaking to you. Remember the sermon that you heard when your ears opened and God himself spoke, and you knew it was him speaking through the Scriptures.
“You yourselves have seen what I did.” Notice that as a redeemed people, they were passive in this deliverance, but they weren’t going to be passive in living for him. That’s key. You have to work as God works in you, but in this initial act of redemption from bondage and slavery, they were passive. You see the imagery: “’I bore you on eagles’ wings…’ You hopped on board this majestic bird, and I flew you to safety.” It doesn’t say that you got on the eagle, pushed up and down, and helped him flap. No Flappy Bird—just eagles’ wings, soaring and bringing you to safety as a redeemed people.
How can you not think—all of the nerds are with me here—about the Lord of the Rings when you think about the eagles coming? Often, in the Lord of the Rings, whether Gandalf is on the tower or the Hobbits are at Mount Doom—right when things look to be at their most dire, the eagles come. Set aside for the moment the question that has plagued many of us: why did they have to walk through Mordor if they could just call the eagles to fly them over the wall, bring them right to the volcano, and drop the ring in? Set that aside for the moment. Think of the beautiful, biblical imagery that Tolkien is drawing from: the eagles will bear you to safety, to testify that salvation is of the Lord. God’s people were saved, not because they were brave, but because they were beloved. They were redeemed.
Remember that God made a promise to Moses in Exodus 3:12. This is back when Moses is in Midian, hearing from the Lord in the burning bush. “I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” Did you realize this? When he was on the far side of Midian, it was actually in Sinai, somewhere at the foot of this same mountain. God said to him, “You’re going to come back to this mountain, on the far side of Midian, in the Sinai wilderness. You’re going to go to Egypt and set my people free, and then I will eventually bring you back here. That will be a sign that you can trust me.” Now God has done it. “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” That’s beautiful.
When God saves you, he doesn’t just bring you out—he brings you in. He brings you out of slavery and in to himself. Remember: what did Moses say to Pharaoh? He didn’t just say say, “Let my people go!” We know that. There are songs about that. He said, “’Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.’ You need to let the people go, Pharaoh, because they don’t serve you. They ought to serve me.” The goal was never freedom in itself, but freedom to worship, serve, and have a relationship with the one true living God.
We have been purchased for a purpose. We’re not only saved from something—from slavery, sin, Satan, and the wrath of God—but saved to something and for someone. Many people—even Christians!—talk about laws, commands, and obedience as if that were somehow alien to the freedom that we have in Christ. “I am free in Christ. Don’t talk to me about what I should do or how I need to obey. Man, you’re really getting me down! Don’t tread on me! I’ve been saved by grace! Don’t you get it?” Yes, that’s very true, but do you understand what grace has saved you from and saved you for? You were redeemed by God through God for God. What does Paul say in the New Testament? “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.”
This is where, in almost any culture and age, people will always get the gospel half-right. “Freedom! Liberty! Grace! Forgiveness! Yes, we love it.” We all love salvation from something, but that salvation is ultimately good news only because it is to something and unto someone. Don’t forget who you are. You are someone who was saved, purchased, and bought. You are a redeemed people. Everything that we’ll see in the weeks ahead when we get to the 10 Commandments is predicated upon this first point: your identity as a redeemed people. Don’t forget who you are, because that’s when law becomes absolutely crushing. If I’m not a redeemed person, I’m someone who has got to climb up, wake up every morning, and cower before God: “Was I good enough today?” And when I go to bed: “Was I good enough today?”
Many of you know the story of Les Miserables. You’ve seen the musical, and listened to the songs. You know the famous illustration of Jean Valjean, who is on the run and staying with a priest. He steals some candlesticks and runs out. When he is caught, the priest says, “I gave them to him.” He essentially gives him grace and forgiveness, instead of more prison. He says, “I bought your soul for God.” You can’t really buy your soul, so there’s a bit of bad theology there, but the big point is still true.
It’s a powerful story of grace and forgiveness that comes out even more strikingly if you’ve read the book. I’ve read parts of the book when Trisha and I were dating. She said she was a literature person, and she said, “Let’s read Les Mis together.” That’s something you only do when you’re dating and trying to impress each other. Now you’d just say, “Hon, I got the songs on my iPhone. We don’t need to read the book.” It’s a really big book! It’s this big and (when you read it) there are fewer songs in there than you might think. I made it through about 500 pages, and she made it through 700 pages—and it’s around 1200 pages long.
But it’s even more striking in the scene there. This grace is supposed to lead to a life of faithfulness and obedience, and it comes back again and again to Valjean. “Do not forget who you are.” The striking juxtaposition, of course, is with Javert who does not and cannot accept grace. He does not understand or know what it is to be redeemed. Do you know? Have you forgotten who you are? You are a redeemed people if you trust in Christ and have been born again by the Holy Spirit. This morning, whatever you did this week, wherever you fear you may be going this coming week, you are a redeemed people. God purchased you, saved you, put you on his back, and flew you to safety on eagles’ wings. You need to know your identity.
Our Command (v. 5a)
Don’t be thrown off by the word “if” in verse 5: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey…” This is the language of covenant. We have, for the first time, the precise language of keeping the covenant. We’re introducing one of the dominant themes of the Old Testament, which then shapes the New Testament reaction to it: namely, the Mosaic covenant. We have a truncated, introductory version of the covenant here. Covenants unfold with a preamble that often gives a history. “I have saved you from the Egyptians.” Then, after the preamble, there are stipulations, followed by blessings and curses. That’s what we’ll find unfolding in Exodus—and, even more specifically, when you study the book of Deuteronomy. Here we have it in just a summary, introductory form of this covenant.
I don’t want you to focus on the “if”, but on the “therefore”. There is always a “therefore” in the Christian life. We see it in verse 5, as we transition. Redeemed people? Yay! Saved from Egypt? Yay! Therefore. We don’t put an end to that. That continues. That’s the foundation for everything that is to come.
After three chapters of blessings in Christ, Ephesians 4 begins: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…” There’s a “therefore”. Most famously, Romans 12, after 11 chapters about what it means to be adopted, justified, chosen, and born again says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Some of us have never really moved on to the “therefore”. When I say “moved on,” I don’t mean “leave behind everything else”. No, keeping all of that, we press on. Some Christians take a long time before they realize that there is a “therefore” in the Christian life. “What does it mean to be a Christian? It means that I believe these things that my Mom and Dad told me about and I go to church. And if I’m really spiritual, I put something in the plate. I use envelopes to put it in there because it helps the account and nobody can see how little it is. It’s what I do.” We’ve forgotten that there is a “therefore”. There is a whole lot more to Christianity than raising your hand and saying, “I believe the right things.”
Our bulletin and order of worship has been like this for a while, so we don’t notice it anymore, but it’s deliberate: praise, renewal, proclamation, and response. You could call it by different words or have three sets to it instead of four. You don’t have to get caught up in that, but the general flow of things is very intentional, because it’s a picture of the gospel. It is a picture of the covenant. It’s a picture of worship in the Old and New Testaments.
First, we realize who God is, and we see him and praise him. Then there is a season of confession, when we understand what this God is like and who we are as sinners in this season of renewal. Then there is a proclamation, as God speaks to us and tells us who he is, who we are, and what he expects from us. Then there is always a response. “Therefore”. That’s what verse 5 is: our command. The rest of the book is going to unfold the nature of these commands, but what we have with the “therefore” and the “if” is an introduction. “As a redeemed people, you must obey my voice and keep my covenant. If you are to experience all the blessings of the Mosaic covenant, rather than its curses, then you will listen and obey.” In other words, identity always leads to responsibility.
Parents, you get this. You do so much for your children, and you love them beyond description. One of the things that’s so true is that you deeply love your mom and dad as a kid, but you really have no idea how much your parents love you until you become a parent. You begin to understand how much deeper (in some ways) that love is. Parents, you love your children, sacrifice for them, pray for patience with them, and would give your own life for them. When you see them suffer and hurt, any last bit of nobility in you is stirred up to say, “Oh, God, that I could feel some of that! That they would not!”
Yet, at the same time, no good parent will try to raise children who never learn to take responsibility, who never learn what is required of them, who never learn what it means to be a part of the family. We don’t pit the two things against each other. Our kids will do that sometimes. “Why do you tell me to do that? You don’t love me!” That’s thinking like children.
How often do we think like children to God? “God, you tell me to do stuff? There are rules in your family? I thought you were grace. I thought you loved people. God is love! Don’t you know that, God?” And God says, “Yeah, I know it. I wrote it. But if you love me, you will obey my commandments.” All of us deeply love our children. We would do anything for them. We want them to understand our identity as precious members of our family. At the same time, that identity leads to responsibility. We don’t say those words in this house. We don’t do those things as part of this family. We go to church every Sunday in this household. There are responsibilities and rules when you belong to this family and embrace this identity.
Our Purpose (v. 5b-6)
Identity leads to responsibility, which leads to our purpose. First of all, we are a precious people, a treasured possession. The language appears throughout the Pentateuch.
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. Deuteronomy 7:6
And the Lord has declared today that you are a people for his treasured possession, as he has promised you, and that you are to keep all his commandments… Deuteronomy 26:18
Sometimes, the order is: “You are a treasured people; therefore, you ought to be holy.” Other times, the order is: “You are to be holy and obey, that you might be considered a treasured possession.” We shouldn’t get too hung up on this order, because it appears in both ways in the Pentateuch. You are to be holy as his treasured possession; and you are his treasured possession, so be holy. The point is that the two things cannot be separated. To put it in theological terms, election is always unto sanctification and sanctification is always rooted in our election.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. Ephesians 1:3-7
We see the insoluble link between election and sanctification—between God setting his affection upon us as his treasured possession—in both the New and Old Testaments. So what does it mean to live as his treasured possession? “…obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession…” As you walk with God, do you know how precious you are? We just sang the song “Precious Children”. The world is trying to get at this with self-talk, self-help, and self-esteem. They’re trying to get at something that (deep within) we know we need. We need to know that we’re approved. We need to know that someone loves us. We need to know that there is something about us that matters—that’s special. The world goes after it, but only has pale imitations. You are precious, treasured possession.
You’ve watched some of the Olympics, I hope. That’s a great thing about having a week’s vacation. We binge-watched the Olympics. We were watching swimming, track and field, people jumping on trampolines, horses jumping over things, and whatever was on. It comes around once every 4 years, and it’s a vacation, so we were just going to watch it. Some of you were camping. Others were watching the Olympics. Some of you camp in such a way that you watch the Olympics. I don’t know if that’s camping—we’ll come back to that.
But when you watch the Olympics, you see these people that have worked so hard—and what do they do when they stand up on the podium with their medals? They bite them. I think it’s a tradition now, as if to say, “This is real. It’s not Cadbury. This is really gold. I worked my whole life for this.” Whenever they do the interviews with Bob Costas, they have to wear the things around their neck. Michael Phelps wears all of his! But they have to wear them, because they worked, and you have to show that “I won an Olympic medal. It’s my treasured possession.” And they’ll show it off for the rest of their life. But do you know what else? They’ll probably keep it in a shoe box. Some of them might have it in a display.
How much more treasured are we to God, our heavenly Father? You know what might be an even better analogy from the Olympics? Not the gold medals, but the parents. The cameramen always find parents who are in the stands, watching their kids on the balance beam, watching them swim, or cheering them around the track. They just go wild with excitement and enthusiasm. “That’s my boy! That’s my girl! They did it!” You can see the pride and joy. They don’t have to say anything. The look on their face expresses “This is my treasured possession”—not because they got a gold, a silver, a bronze, or even finished last, but because “That’s my child.”
Our identity as redeemed people is also an identity as God’s precious, valued people. Don’t you love how it says (verse 5) “for all the earth is mine”. This isn’t a God who is desperate to have some friends or who likes us because he needs us. No, he has everything. The whole earth is his. He’s got the Grand Canyon, volcanoes, Hawaii, the Upper Peninsula—everything! But he says about you, “That’s my treasured possession. That’s what’s really dear to my heart. That’s what I want to show off to the angels. I don’t say, ‘Look down at the Grand Canyon.’ No, we’ll do that later. I want them to look down at these people that I’ve saved.”
We are not only a precious people, but a priestly people—a royal priesthood. What does it mean to be a royal priesthood? It means that we are a kingdom of priests. We have access. In the Old Testament, priests had a privileged position, a unique relationship with unique access to God. The priests represented the people to God in prayers and offerings, and they represented God to the people in making atonement. In other words, to be a kingdom of priests, means that we are a people with a special closeness to God and a special calling from God.
What did the priests do? Intercession, invitation, and imitation. That’s what it means to be a kingdom of priests. We intercede, not only for each other, but for the nations. Part of what it meant for them to be a kingdom of priests was that they were going to be set apart as a holy nation, so that the nations would see and go, “Whoa, what is going on with Israel and their God?” Invitation: “Come and see! Come and look! See our God. See what he has done. We’ve seen it. We want you to see it.” Then imitation: they set an example, stirring up the nations to see. What does it mean? These people, who have received royal, priestly honors, and have this closeness to God, represent God to the world.
Our purpose is also as a peculiar people, a holy nation. The phrase “holy nation”, along with the phrase, “kingdom of priests”, occurs only once in the Old Testament, though they are repeated in the New Testament. Yet this idea of a holy nation permeates the entire Mosaic covenant. Like Israel, we are to be distinct, set apart, and categorically different. As one commentator puts it, “Holiness is a prospect and a present possession.” In other words, holiness is who you are and what you strive after, which is exactly the same logic as that of the New Testament.
The world says, “Be who you are.” That’s is half right. You can only be who you are in your true identity, but not your identity in Adam. It’s your identity in Christ. We’re giving people a false gospel when we tell them that they just have to be true to whoever they think or feel that they are. No, no, no. That’s not right. The gospel says that you can only be who you are as one who is born again in Christ. It’s who you are, not as a slave people, but as a free people, as a holy nation.
“Holy” has such a religious sounding veneer to it, so let’s use a different word: “You are to be a royal priesthood and a different people.” That’s the idea of holiness: set apart. You know, this is ordinary and this is holy. You use paper plates, and then you use your fine china. Holy is not ordinary, but peculiar. We’re a peculiar people.
It’s not easy to be peculiar. Who wants to think, act, worship, and believe differently? It’s not easy to say to your friends, “I’m not going to watch that movie. I’m not going to that place. I’m not going to do that with you. I’m not going to do that on Friday night or Saturday night. I’m not going to be there with you.” No one wants to be a peculiar person. But that’s our purpose. As redeemed people, we are peculiar people.
Do you think it was easy for Israel? You say, “Oh, it’s so hard. The world is changing so fast. Nobody understands anymore. I look at Facebook, and it’s so discouraging. I see all the things that are just in front of us that used to be out of bounds, and now they seem so ordinary and in your face. I can’t do it!” Listen, Israel worshiped one God when everyone around them worshiped multiple gods. Everyone around them had a god that they could see, touch, and worship in front of your eyes. Israel had a God who was invisible! They were a nomad, recently-enslaved, peculiar people who had the audacity to think that their God was the Creator God, God of the universe, and the only God, and that they were his chosen people. That doesn’t sound very easy either.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.Peter 2:9
That’s the point of Exodus 19. That’s the point that the New Testament draws on. All of this, from our identity, to our command, and to our purpose as a precious people, a priestly people, and a peculiar people is not just so people will say, “Well, they’re weird.” “Yay, we are Christians! Everyone thinks we are weird!” That’s not the goal, ultimately. It’s all so that people see and wonder, and by the grace of God, some will repent, believe, and worship. Listen again to 1 Peter:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9
That’s right from Exodus 19. The goal is that we might set forth Christ. It comes full circle, doesn’t it? God makes himself known and shows us who we are. In turn, we are supposed to live in a way that will make God known.
We need a lot of things for an evangelism strategy, but one of the absolutely indispensable things is for the church to be the church—for Christians to be Christians, look like Christians, love like Christians, serve like Christians, and believe like Christians. People wonder, “What’s the relationship of Christ to culture? Do we transform culture? Do we stand above culture? Do we oppose culture?” There is a time and a place to make a case for all of those models, but here’s what we certainly know to be true from this verse: we are an alternative, counter-culture. We say, “Don’t look at us, but when you look at us (because you are) we want you to see God. We are the royal priesthood, but he is the king. We are a holy nation, but he is the holy one. We are a treasured possession, but he is the one who owns us.”
Rather than looking at our world, getting discouraged, and saying, “It’s so hard now. Christianity is under attack,” why don’t you think, “What an amazing opportunity we have. Now, in a way that is more real than it has been in this country for hundreds of years, people are looking.” They may be looking to squint, judge, call you a bigot, or whatever. But people are looking. “What are you Christians about? What are you doing? What are you thinking? What are you believing? What are you doing there? That’s not a bad thing. Every of you has a special gospel purpose. Are you wondering what the purpose of your life is? Well, God has a lot of things for you, but here’s some of them: we are kings and priests. We are different. We are redeemed. We are his. You have seen it. Now live like it, and speak it.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we give thanks for all of this good news about who we are. For all of this good word about who we ought to be, we give thanks. We turn our eyes to Christ, who is for us. He is our wisdom, holiness, and righteousness. As we belong to him, help us to live in him—to stand up and live what we know to be true, to say what we know we have seen, and to be what we know you have called us to be: holy, as you are holy. In Jesus we pray, amen.
Transcription and editing provided by 10:17 Transcription