If you’re visiting with us today for the first time or you’ve joined us through our online or television of radio ministries, welcome. We’re especially glad to have you with us. It is our custom here at First Presbyterian Church to work our way through the teaching of significant portions of Biblical text together because we believe that God speaks to us uniquely in Scripture. And for some months now, we’ve been working through the message of the book of Exodus. If you don’t have your own copy with you, you will find copies of the Bible in the racks in the pews in front of you or possibly under the seat if you’re at the end of one of the sections in the pews, and if you would turn there to pages 64 and 65 of the church Bibles. At the bottom right-hand column of page 64, you’ll find Exodus chapter 24. In a moment, we’re going to read that chapter together, but because this is the Word of God, we make it our pattern and our habit before we read first to pause and pray and ask God to help us understand and to believe its message. So let’s bow our heads together as we pray. Let us pray!
Lord, to whom else shall we turn? You have the words of eternal life. Help us to hear them with clarity, speaking in this portion of Your Word. Send us the Holy Spirit to give us ears to hear and hearts to receive and to rest on Christ as He comes to us and is offered to us in it. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
Exodus 24 at verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“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.”
Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy, inerrant Word.
George Mallory and Sandy Irvine attempted the first ascent of Mount Everest. They disappeared only 800 feet from the summit on the eighth of June, 1924. To this day, the question of whether they actually attained the summit or not before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay finally managed it in 1953, remains unsettled. Among those who have doubted their success is Hillary himself who famously said, “If you climb a mountain for the first time and die on the descent, is it really a complete first ascent of the mountain?” And then he adds with wonderful British understatement and irony, “I’m rather inclined to think personally that maybe it’s quite important the getting down!”
This morning as we turn to Exodus 24, we come to an account of the scaling of another mountain, actually a far, far more dangerous mountain than Everest could ever be. Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel are summoned to climb Mount Sinai. And even with regard to their expedition Hillary’s words could not be more correct, could they? “I’m rather inclined to think personally that maybe it’s quite important the getting down.” It’s a dangerous climb, and making it back is significant. In fact, a great deal of the wonder and no small measure of the message of our passage has to do not just with going up on the mountain of God but coming back again in one piece.
Let’s look at the story together then, shall we? God has given Moses the Ten Commandments in chapter 20 and then in chapters 21 through 23 in a section of the book of Exodus called in our text, the “Book of the Covenant,” he has applied the general principles of the Ten Commandments to the particular circumstances of Israel’s national life in a series of case laws and in a body of civil code. And here in chapter 24, we have a multi-faceted ceremony in which the covenant that God was making with Israel would now be ratified and confirmed. Many of you will have heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP. The United States is a major player in the formation of it. It’s an international treaty for trade. And the treaty still has to be ratified. Six countries need to approve the agreement before it comes into force. Similarly, the covenant that God was making with Israel required ratification by the parties involved – God and Israel. And that’s what’s taking place in our passage. But all the action takes place, I wonder if you saw, either on the slopes, on the summit, or in the shade of Mount Sinai. If you were with us before the summer when we worked through Exodus chapters 19 and 20, you will recall that Moses had been summoned up onto the mountain once before and God had come down on the mountain with dramatic, fearful manifestations of His majesty and glory. The mountain shook, a trumpet sounded. There was thunder and lightning and thick darkness. And into that maelstrom, into that vortex, Moses was required to ascend, there to receive the Law and the Book of the Covenant.
Moses Ascends Mount Sinai
And in our chapter, in verses 1 and 2, he is called to make another ascent of that mountain. “Come up to the Lord,” he is told, and this time he is to bring Aaron and Nadab and Abihu in tow and since God is a Presbyterian the meeting required that the elders be present as well! Those are the instructions. They don’t actually make the climb until verses 9 to 1,1 and before they do the covenant has to be ratified. It has to be confirmed. That’s the first thing that I want you to see in our passage - covenant confirmation in verses 3 to 8. Twice, notice, Moses reads God’s Word to the people, once at the beginning and once again at the end of the ceremony, verses 3 and 4 and again in verse 7. Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules, he read them the Book of the Covenant, read it in the hearing of the people. Both times the people respond with a word of personal commitment and submission to the royal law of God the great King who makes the covenant with them. “All that the Lord has spoken,” they say, “we will do.”
Notice just as an aside there, the doctrine of divine inspiration to which these words, I think, give eloquent testimony. Moses wrote down the words that the Lord had said, he told them to the people, the people hear the words of the Book of the Covenant read to them, and clearly, identify it as the very speech of God. “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do!” That is the uniform stance, actually, of the whole Bible regarding the question of Scriptural authority and inspiration. “All Scripture is breathed out by God,” 2 Timothy 3:16. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” That means that when we read the Word of God and as we hear it preached, we are hearing the voice of God addressing us in His glory and in His grace. And so they hear God’s speech in Scripture coming to them through Moses. And as they do, they take, as it were, the pledge of allegiance, don’t they? They make a vow, an oath, to commit themselves, to submit to the Lord and to obey His Word. It’s a personal promise of commitment.
And between those two readings of the Law and their vows to commit to the Lord, Moses performs this fascinating, rather gruesome ritual. Do you see that in verses 4 through 8? He builds an altar at the foot of the mountain, twelve pillars all around it, according to the twelve tribes of Israel, we are told. The arrangement of the altar and the pillars mimics the arrangement, the formation of the tribes of Israel on the plain at the foot of the mountain. The altar represents the presence of God, much as the mountain was the place where the Lord’s glory dwelt. And the twelve pillars are the people of God assembled, symbolic of the people of God assembled around him. Then in verse 5, God sends or Moses sends young men to make sacrifice – burnt offerings and peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. Half of the blood, notice, is collected in basins and the other half is thrown against the altar. And then after the people renew their vows, the rest is applied to them. And then Moses says, verse 8, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord is making with you in accordance with all of these words.”
The Need for Atonement
Blood sacrifice was the mechanism by which a symbolic atonement was made for sin. A substitute was offered to die in the place of the people. And listen to this! I think this is critical that we understand. Half of the blood is thrown against the altar. That is to say, half of the blood is applied to the symbol of the presence of God in the midst of the camp of His people. The primary referent of the blood is not the guilt and sin of Israel, but rather the wrath of a holy God that burns against the sin of Israel. The Bible calls it propitiation. It means a sacrifice that satisfies the holy wrath and righteous condemnation of Almighty God that burns against us in our disobedience and sin. Atonement, you see, is first of all about God. It is God-ward and then secondarily the blood is applied to the people. Here now is cleansing. Here the theological word is expiation. A sacrifice that deals with the guilt of sin in us. And both must be held together if we are to understand the Bible’s teaching on the way in which even we must be put right with God. Ours is not, first of all, a sin problem, you see, as though all that were required was some remedy to an internal problem in us. No, ours is first a God problem. God is angry with us for our sin and He must be satisfied in His justice.
There Is No Neutrality
The first and great concern of the Bible is to help us, make us look up to the holy majesty of God like Israel did on the plain looking up to the summit of Mount Sinai, seeing there the lightning and hearing the thunder, beholding the glory cloud of the majesty of God and being excluded from His presence and understanding that our sin has alienated us from the Lord, that He is hostile to us in our sin and guilt and we to Him. “The mind that is set on the flesh,” Paul says in Romans 8 verse 7, “is hostile to God.” “We were once alienated and hostile in mind doing evil deeds,” Colossians 1:21. “Friendship with the world is enmity against God,” James 4:4. There is no neutral ground! You can’t have a foot in both camps. You’re either a child of God reconciled to God by His grace as we will see or you are His enemy and by nature a child of wrath. You have a profound God problem! He is angry with you in your sin.
But we also have a sin problem, don’t we? The reason for the righteous anger of God is our disobedience and rebellious hearts and lives. If God is to be propitious toward us, our sin must be expiated. The blood that satisfies the wrath of God covers our guilt and sin in His sight. And so it is in this ritual the same blood, did you see that, applied to both objects – to the altar and to the people; both the altar and the people. The blood is applied, as it were, to God and to man. The same sacrifice ends the enmity and reconciles us to God. The blood of the covenant that the Lord makes with us binds God and His people together as Forgiver and forgiven, acquitted law breaker and satisfied heavenly Judge. The grounds of Israel’s right relationship to the Lord is not the vow they make to obey the Lord, as vital and important as our response, their response to God’s grace really is. No, the grounds of their right relationship to the Lord is what happens not at either side of this ceremony, the vow they make, but what happens at its heart – the blood of the covenant applied to the altar and then to them.
Reconciliation In Christ
The great Gospel significance of this extraordinary ceremony becomes clear when we realize that it is actually to this text and to this very moment that our Savior, the Lord Jesus, was referring. Where on the night in which He was betrayed, to die as the Lamb of God who expiates the sin of the world, it was to this moment and this text Jesus was referring at the Last Supper when He took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” He Himself, as we read earlier from 1 John chapter 2 at verse 2, “He himself is the propitiation for our sins.” His blood satisfies the wrath and curse of God. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23, “and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.” Here’s the molten heart of the Christian Gospel! This is the great burden of our message; God’s Word to you. God Himself has acted to deal with our God problem and our sin problem. God was, in Christ, “reconciling the world to Himself,” 2 Corinthians 5:19. God put Him forward as a propitiation by His blood. He sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to pour out His blood of the covenant to satisfy God’s justice and to cover your sin. This is the only path to peace with God, the only path.
The only way to enter into saving, covenant union with God, no other route to a right relationship to God for you than to listen to the instructions of Moses in verse 8. You must “behold the blood of the covenant.” You must come, as Hebrews 12:24, puts it, “to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood.” You must look at Jesus Christ, bearing the dreadful burden of your sin, enduring the horror of divine condemnation. You must look at Jesus Christ crucified in your place, in your room and stead; the judgment of God you have deserved rolling down upon Him. Look at His blood of the covenant and apply to God that it might once again be thrown on the altar and applied and poured on you to make you clean, to satisfy the wrath of God on your behalf. Make the cross your only hope. Make Christ crucified the sole foundation of your confidence before the lightning capped mountain of the perfect righteousness of God. There’s nothing else to do. Nothing else that can give you peace with Him. You need the blood of the Lamb. You need the blood of the covenant. You need the blood of Jesus Christ. No goodness of yours, no vow you could make, only Christ crucified whom God Himself has put forward as a propitiation to be received through faith. God Himself offers His Son to be your refuge and only hope. “Behold, the blood of the covenant.” Look in faith to Jesus Christ. The covenant here is being confirmed.
And then I want you to see, secondly, what happens in the wake of that covenant confirmation ceremony in the remainder of the chapter in verses 9 through 18. First, covenant confirmation; now, covenant communion. The ceremony complete, Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders, obey the divine instructions and climb the slopes of the mountain for what may well have been the most extraordinary presbytery meeting in human history. And look at what happens when they arrive in verse 10. “They saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven of clearness.” Most likely they’re looking up from a vantage point below, through the crystal clear sapphire pavement into the throne room of heaven. Here is the true danger of this mountain, far more deadly than Everest. God would later tell Moses in Exodus 33 at verse 20, “No one may see Me and live.” Being in the presence of the glory and majesty of the holy God is a deadly, deadly thing. And yet here, instead of their immediate and total destruction, we are told, verse 11, He did not lay His hand on the chief men of the people of Israel. No, in fact, they beheld God. They saw God. And more even than that, they ate dinner in the presence of God engulfed in the glory cloud of divine majesty with the sapphire pavement overhead and the throne towering above them.
You may know that in the ancient world when you had a meal with someone you are establishing a profound social bond. Here, God invites His people, signified by their representative leaders, up into His presence to eat with Him, to commune with Him. Here is the great result and effect of the atonement, the sprinkled blood poured out on their behalf. Not condemnation! “There is therefore now no condemnation” for them. Now instead they have fellowship, communion with one another and with God in the presence of the Lord; not shut out but welcomed in. That’s what we have when Christ’s blood makes us clean. We’re not excluded but He comes into us and eats with us and we with Him. There’s communion, intimacy, fellowship.
The Glory of God
The same thing comes out again in verses 12 to 18. Look there with me! Moses himself, this time, is summoned up onto the mountain to receive the two stone tablets on which God’s Law is transcribed. He leaves the elders behind, he puts Aaron and Hur in charge of the people, and taking Joshua his assistant with him, he makes the ascent to the summit. And we’re shown the scene from the perspective of the people of Israel on the plain watching as Moses climbs out of sight into the cloud on top of the mountain. We’re told in verse 16, “the glory of God dwelt on the mountain,” and four times in these three verses we’re told that it appears as a great cloud enveloping the summit and in verse 17 the glory of God is described as a devouring fire. Cloud and fire that led Israel through the wilderness to this point now rests on the mountaintop and there Moses enters into the nearer presence of God and remains there for forty days. This is the unique privilege of Moses. No one else is permitted to enter so nearly into God’s presence. Nadab and Abihu and the seventy elders had come close, but Moses goes all the way into the holiest place. Moses, you see, is the mediator of the covenant. He goes up into the presence of God representing the people before him and he descends from the glory cloud of God’s presence to the people to speak His word to them.
A Better Covenant
And again in that role we are pointed to Christ, aren’t we, who mediates, Hebrews 8 and verse 6, “the better covenant.” The covenant that the glory of God gives, the covenant in His blood is better because when Jesus came down to us He came down to open access to the glory cloud of the divine presence to everyone who believes that we, like Moses, may go all the way in to commune with God. “We have seen His glory,” John 1:14, “glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” And he goes on to say, “No one has ever seen God, but the only begotten God who is in the Father’s side, He has made Him known.” We see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. In Jesus we have communion and access to God, surpassing anything that Moses or the elders ever knew. We have fellowship with the living God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The covenant is confirmed in our passage and then covenant communion with His people begins. We need to have the first if we are to have any hope of the latter. Maybe you find your religion to be cold and dry and formal and stiff. You pray, perhaps; sing. Maybe you read your Bible, but you have no joy in it. You go through the motions but you have little personal acquaintance with supernatural power and none of the comforts of the grace that is taught us in the Scriptures. If that’s you, one reason may be that you have reversed the Biblical order of things. You are looking for communion with God without having first the blood of the covenant applied to you. You’re worshiping but you have not yet been pardoned. You have the mere practice of Christianity and none of its power. What is your problem? You have skipped the cross. You need the blood of the new covenant, the blood of Jesus Christ to be applied in your case. You are not rightly related to God.
There’s a reason, you know, that the covenant confirmation ceremony takes place on the plain at the base of the mountain. Before you can go up to enter the presence of the Lord, to eat and drink with Him, you must first have the blood thrown against the altar and applied to you. “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord but he who has clean hands and a pure heart?” You need to be made right with God. You need the cleansing only the blood of Jesus can give. “In him, we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Are you rightly related to God? Do you behold the blood of the covenant? Has the sprinkled blood of the Savior made you clean? Don’t you long to know personal, intimate, living, vibrant, real communion with the God of infinite glory? It is offered to you in Jesus Christ but you will never have it until you bow before Him, who bled and died for sinners, and have Him wash you clean.
Would you please stop the empty exercise of formal religion? What a useless thing it is. The empty exercise of merely formal religion – it is a useless thing. God never will allow you to climb the mountain into His presence unless first, on the plain, atonement has been made for you. So get yourself to the cross. Get yourself to the cross. Trust in Jesus Christ crucified and you’ll begin to say with Wesley, “His blood can make the foulest clean; His blood availed for me.” I wonder if you can say that today – clean, forgiven. God is satisfied and my sin is covered beneath the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Behold, the blood of the covenant,” Moses says. Look to Christ and be reconciled to God and a doorway of entry into communion with God will be opened wide to you that like the elders on the mountain, you may ascend into His presence and eat and drink with Him there. Behold, the blood of the covenant. Let’s pray together!
Lord our God, we bow before You praising You for Jesus who bled and died for sinners. As we bow down we cry to You that You would apply in the power of the Holy Spirit all that Jesus did at Calvary to each of us and that in our case You may be satisfied and we may be clean. Deal with us by Your grace. Help us to get back to the cross and there on the plain, as atonement is made, call us up into Your presence, up into the glory cloud, to have communion with You. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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