Now take your copies of God’s holy Word in your hands and turn with me please to the book of Exodus, chapter 20. In the church Bibles, you’ll find it on page 61. We are concluding this part of our series working through the message of the book of Exodus. We’ve been in the Ten Commandments, and so today we’ll be thinking about the scene unfolding in verses 18 through 21 of the twentieth chapter of the book of Exodus where, as it were, the cinematography which has zoomed in to focus on the details of each of God’s commandments, now pans back out to take in the extraordinary scene as the vast assembly of the people of God surrounding the base of the mountain tremble, as the mountain itself shakes under the thunder claps and lightning strikes and the sound of the mighty trumpet blaring as God speaks His law.
The story is told of a Highland minister in the Highlands of Scotland in the 19th century making his way, by horse, traveling down through the central Highlands to Edinburgh for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. And on his way south, he stopped at a farmhouse for the evening and there he met a servant girl in deep spiritual distress. The Lord had been dealing with her, she was under profound conviction of sin, and knowing that the houseguest was a minister she asked for spiritual counsel. And the minister told her, “Here’s what I want you to pray. Pray, ‘Lord, show me myself.’” And he left and he went off to the General Assembly for the week. And every day she prayed, “O Lord, show me myself. Show me myself.” When he came back on the return journey he stopped at the same farmhouse and found her in even greater distress as the Lord answered her prayer and showed her herself. And then he said, “Now I want you to pray, ‘Lord, show me Thyself.’” And she began to pray. And when next he passed that way he found the servant girl trusting in Christ and at peace as the Lord revealed Himself to her not only in His holiness, but in His marvelous grace in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the verses before us, in verses 18 to 21, that is what God is doing. He is showing us Himself, He’s showing us ourselves, and He will also show us a glimpse of judgment to come and then He will show us His mercy in Jesus Christ. Before we read together, however, let’s bow our heads as we pray!
O Lord, now as Your Word is spread before us, we make that servant girl’s prayer our own. O Lord, show us ourselves and show us Thyself in holiness and in infinite grace in Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ from this portion of Holy Scripture, for we ask it in His name. Amen.
Exodus 20 at verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“And God spoke all these words, saying,
‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.’
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.’ The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.”
Amen, and we praise God for His holy and inerrant Word.
I want you to see four things – I mentioned them earlier – four things in verses 18 to 21. The Law of God here shows us God Himself, the Law shows us ourselves, the Law shows us at least a glimpse of the future judgment, and the Law shows us Jesus Christ.
- The Law of God Shows us God Himself
First of all, let think about how the Law shows us God. These verses, you know, are a kind of dramatization, a sort of visual aid to teach and to underscore the truth about God’s Law that has just been given to Israel through Moses. And the single most important point made in the Ten Commandments reinforced here with stunning clarity in the thunder claps and the trumpet blasts from the top of Mount Sinai, is that God is the transcendent, holy God. Who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity again and again in the Scriptures! Actually, the seismic and meteorological phenomena that shroud the mountain are used whenever the holiness and the righteousness of God in His dealings with sinners are spoken of. So, for example, 1 Samuel chapter 2 at verse 10, Hannah’s famous prayer, Hannah declares, “The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces against them. He will thunder in heaven.” In Psalm 18, David spoke of God answering his prayer for defense against his enemies. “The Lord thundered in the heavens. The Most High uttered his voice. Hailstones and coals of fire, then He sent out his arrows and scattered them, He flashed forth lightnings and routed them.” The prophet Isaiah similarly spoke to Judah of impending judgment in very similar terms. “In an instant, suddenly you will be visited by the Lord of hosts with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with whirlwind and tempest and the flame of a devouring fire.” And in Revelation chapter 4 at the fifth verse, John saw the throne of Almighty God and “from the throne came lightning and rumblings and peals of thunder.” When God reveals Himself in His majestic holiness as the sovereign Judge of all the earth, again and again in the Scriptures, thunder and lightning, and earthquake and smoke, and tremblings attend His appearing.
God’s Law Is a Transcript of His Character
And so, as we read here in verse 18 of these same phenomena shrouding the mountain, it’s more than just a display of supernatural pyrotechnics. It’s more than just a flexing of divine muscles. God is teaching His people that as He speaks in His Law, He speaks as the majestic, sovereign, infinite in holiness, and majesty. He is the God who is holy, holy, holy, the Lord God Almighty, and the whole earth is full of His glory; before whom, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us in the sixth chapter of his book, even the angels must veil their faces in adoration and in praise. “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings; ascribe to the Lord, glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name and worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.” We are, as we read these verses, to get a sense of the infinite holiness of the triune God of glory. We are to see in His Law a transcript of His character, an exposition of His purity, and these visual and auditory signs on the mountain are there to underscore and to highlight that fact, and that truth. Before we see ourselves and our sin, before we see our world and its dysfunction and brokenness, before we see our desperate need of grace, we are to see first His brilliance and His majesty, His lofty grandeur, the permanent purity and solid glory of His person and His work. Let’s discipline our hearts not to look too quickly for practicalities when we come to the Scriptures, to search to impatiently for answers to the “So what?” question. It’s an important question to ask, we ought to ask it, but let’s not move too quickly to search for the answer to it. We need to be more suspicious than I suspect that we are of our predilection for directions for living as if the main use of Scripture terminated upon us and our needs and our wants. The main use of Scripture is to display to us the glory of God, to flood our darkened minds with His light, to drench our dry, parched, shriveled souls with His greatness. The Law of God, like the Bible as a whole, like all creation, like our own lives, have been given to us that we may know God and see God and adore God. God is the main use of Scripture. God is the answer to the, “So what?” question. Behold, your God! That’s what Israel are being taught here as they tremble under the mountain. Behold, your God! Infinite in majesty, working wonders, and glorious and to be praised.
And there’s a sense in which that’s precisely what Moses tells the people in verse 20 as they come to him in their fear. And did you notice the intriguing apparent contradiction in his words to them? “Fear not, for God has come to you to test you that the fear of God may be before you that you sin not. Fear not, for God has come to you that the fear of God may be before you. Don’t be afraid. God has come to you to give you the fear of God.” What does that mean? God, in His glory, dispels worldly fear with an infinitely superior fear, a holy awe, a God-besoughtedness, which when we grasp it makes us self-forgetful and enables us to tremble in horror at nothing so much as the thought of betraying His holiness, makes us long for nothing so much as living for His praise. God has come to you to teach you to fear Him rather than the self-absorption of introspective shame which so many of us live with day after day. He wants us to behold your God, to see His majesty, and to bow down before Him, and as we trust Him to begin to live for His praise. The Law here is given to show us God, not first to make us constantly aware of ourselves but first to make us bowed down with the weight of the sense of His presence.
- The Law Shows us Ourselves
But then secondly and consequentially and inevitably, as we behold our God we’re also made to see ourselves. The Law shows us ourselves. In 2010, you will probably remember this, there was a volcano in Iceland that erupted and it spewed vast plumes of volcanic ash into the atmosphere and it grounded flights all over the world. Do you remember that in 2010, that Icelandic volcano? There was a journalist who was standing there on the slopes of that volcano as it began to erupt and he said this, “Except for the odd, heavy fall of snow and flood, we are hardly inconvenienced by natural events in my country. But in Iceland where they live on the surface of what sometimes seems like an entirely different planet, you become aware of nature’s power to assert itself,” listen to this, “over our miserably self-important affairs and to dispose of life in a few seconds.” Did you notice that last line carefully? When you watch this incredible display of seismic power, this journalist says “you become aware of nature’s power to assert itself over our miserably self-important affairs.”
There’s a moral judgment there, isn’t there? This is a throwaway line in a longer essay really talking about this volcanic eruption. He’s not talking about ethics. And yet confronted by this extraordinary moment, he passes sentence, he makes a moral judgment. It sort of escapes his lips. He can’t help himself! There’s this moment of confession in his article talking about our miserably self-important affairs. He passes a moral judgment! There’s an echo of Sinai here, isn’t there, not just in his description of the volcanic eruption, there’s an echo of Sinai in his conscience from which he is unable to hide. And when confronted by his own mortality, he is aware that he is a moral creature. And there is, in the conscience of every one of us, that same echo. As we hear the Law of God thundering from the mountain, the trumpet sounds in our own consciences echoing back the accusation. We are shown ourselves in the light of God’s purity.
That’s what happened to God’s people here in our passage, isn’t it? If you’ll look at it, notice how the people react to the lightning and the peals of thunder and the trumpet blast and the smoke on the mountain in the presence of God. Actually, at the sound of the voice of God, more than anything they see, what do they see? How do they respond? Verse 18 – they’re almost overcome, and it’s the voice of God, the Law of God that they hear that makes them say, “You speak to us, Moses, and we will listen, but do not let God speak lest we die.” They’ve become profoundly aware of the vast difference between themselves and the infinite holiness of God. As each commandment sounds from the mountain, it’s as though a hot knife were piercing their hearts, their consciences, over and over and over. Idolatry, blasphemy, Sabbath breaking, rejecting authority, hatred, lust, theft, lies, greed. That’s me! That’s a description of me! What an ugly sight to see my heart in the blazing purity of the light of the holiness of God. Like the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah chapter 6 that we reference earlier, here too the people cannot bear being in His presence, hearing His Law, seeing His holiness. “You speak to us. Don’t let God speak anymore. We can’t bear it. Don’t let Him speak lest we die!” “Woe to me! I am undone!” Isaiah said. “I desire to do what is right but I do not have the ability to carry it out. I do not do the good that I want but the evil that I do, the evil that I do not want is what I keep on doing. O wretched man that I am!” That’s what they’re saying. They’ve suddenly seen themselves and it’s an ugly sight. The Law shows us God, and the Law shows us ourselves falling short of the glory of God.
- The Law Shows us the Future
And then thirdly, the Law shows us the future, just a glimpse of the future. “The tremendous scene at Sinai was, in some respects, a prophecy if not a rehearsal of the Day of Judgment,” writes Charles Spurgeon. “If the giving of the Law while it was yet unbroken was attended with such a display of awe-inspiring power, what will that day be when the Lord shall, with flaming fire, take vengeance on those who have willfully broken His Law?” There is a glimpse, a terrible, awesome glimpse but a glimpse nevertheless of the last day here as the people gather at the base of the mountain. The phenomena that shrouded the mountain will reappear when the clock at last finally runs out and the Lord returns to judge the living and the dead. Matthew 24, Jesus said, “On that day, the last day, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from heaven, the power of the heavens will be shaken. All the tribes of the earth will mourn and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angel with a loud trumpet call and he will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to another.” 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4 at verse 16 also speak of the trumpet blast that first sounds here at Mount Sinai sounding again at the last day to signal the end of the great probation when all people who have ever lived will have their lives tested against the standard of the holy Law of Almighty God.
As we watch the people here draw back in horror at the sight of themselves exposed by the Law of God at Sinai and we find the mirror of that same reaction as we see ourselves in God’s light in our own hearts, we do need to know the consequences of the sin that is being unmasked. The awesome display of might and power that covered Sinai will one day be seen again by all people everywhere and the Lord shall descend with that same trumpet sounding again and the earth shaking and the lightning flashing once again. And on that day, the books will be opened and a final reckoning made and the habits of your heart and the omissions and the transgressions of your life will be placed alongside the commandments of God’s holy Law and a final judgment rendered in your case. If the people drew back at Sinai in shame and fear, begging that God speak to them no longer, what will be the response of your heart when the greater day dawns and the dread Judge of all the earth descends to execute His justice? Will you find yourself perhaps like the lost in Revelation chapter 6 at verse 16 on that day saying to the mountains, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come and who can stand?” The Law shows us God and the Law shows us ourselves and it shows us the future judgment to come that all who do not have a remedy for their sin condition must endure.
- We Urgently Need a Good Lawyer
Which is why, in the last place, as the title of our sermon suggests, we urgently need a good lawyer. We urgently need a good lawyer. If there’s a judgment coming, if we’ve sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we need a good lawyer to plead our cause. The people in our text immediately recognize that, don’t they? “You speak to us and we will listen. Don’t let God speak anymore lest we die. You be our mediator, our advocate. You go in to the darkness where God dwells and speak for us and come from His presence and speak to us.”
I read a story this week, you may have seen it, about a special forces veteran who had served multiple tours in Afghanistan, Sergeant Joseph Serna, decorated combat vet. And like many veterans, he had an extremely hard time reentering civilian life and leaving the battlefield behind - suffering from PTSD, was convicted of driving under the influence, fighting to stay sober. Appearing before district court judge Lou Olivera of Cumberland County North Carolina some twenty-five times, fighting for sobriety, when at last he confessed that he had lied about a recent drug test, Olivera the judge, sentenced him to twenty-four hours in prison. And then the judge himself drove Sergeant Serna to the jailhouse in the neighboring county. And then he walked him to his cell and when Serna went in and sat down, the judge came and sat beside him. And then the prison guard came and closed the door and turned the key and Judge Olivera, knowing the frailty and fragility and delicate psychological condition of Sergeant Serna, Judge Olivera spent the night in the cell beside this man over whom he had passed sentence. Himself a veteran, they spent the night swapping stories about their time in the military. It’s a beautiful story. The judge is a man of great compassion.
But we need a better lawyer even than that, a better lawyer even than Moses. We need someone who will do more than simply empathize with us in our guilty condition, more than one who will come alongside of us and spent the night in jail with us. We need a Judge who will Himself pay the penalty for us, a good Lawyer who will plead our case and who will make perfect satisfaction for our breaches of God’s holy Law. We need Jesus Christ, a better Mediator than Moses - Hebrews 8 at verse 6; worthy of more glory than Moses - Hebrews 3 and verse 3. The blackness of judgment that shrouded Sinai than that will cover the earth one day at the last day, you remember, covered the scene at Calvary. And as the ground shook at Sinai and will one day again shake the earth when the skies split and Christ comes, shook the earth at the cross as the full fury of the wrath and curse of God was poured out, but not upon us, but upon His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, in our place - who knew no sin made sin for us, who died the just for the unjust to bring us to God. Jesus does more than suffer with us like Judge Olivera sharing a cell with Sergeant Serna. He takes the full penalty for us, instead of us, so that all who believe upon Him, seeing themselves in the light of God’s holiness, knowing they need mercy and grace, fleeing to Jesus might find the mercy they need and discover that there is no longer any penalty to pay for them, no sanction left for you to bear, no curse to endure. Jesus paid it all.
The Law show us God that the glory might be His. The Law show us ourselves that we may see our sin and need. The Law gives us a glimpse of judgment to come that we might know how urgent and serious things really are, how badly we need a good Lawyer to plead our cause. And then the Law points us to Christ, our advocate with the Father who is Himself the propitiation for our sins. I wonder if today you can see something of your sin and need here in the presence of God, something of how badly you need a good Lawyer. One has been provided in Jesus and He will take your guilt away having made full payment for all who trust in Him. I wonder if you would come trust Him today. He is the Lawyer that you need, the advocate with the Father you need. Come to Christ and you will be able to say, “Nothing good have I whereby Your grace to claim. I will wash my garments white in the blood of Calvary’s Lamb. Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin has left a crimson stain, but He has washed it white as snow.” Come and trust in Christ and the sin God’s holiness exposes will be washed clean and you will be reconciled to God the Judge but able to approach Him now as God your Father.
Let’s pray together!
O God, would You deal with us in Your grace and continue to show us Yourself and to show us ourselves, to show us the judgment to come and then to show us how Christ has borne it all for each of us who will trust Him. Bring us to Him and then as we cling to Him, teach us what it is to fear the Lord, to learn the joy of that self-forgetfulness that fears the Lord that we may sin not. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
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