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March 4, 2018

Sermon Exodus 19:1 . . .“Bible places:  Mt. Sinai”

“Bible places:  Mt. Sinai”

Exodus 19:1

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

The United States Supreme Court is the highest federal court in our land.  While they can’t make law (that’s up to the Legislative branch), or enforce the law (that’s up to the Executive branch), they can interpret the law.  The Court is made of nine justices who, if willing and able, can serve for life.

When the court was first formed back in 1790, they met in the Merchants Exchange building in downtown New York City.  Then when our nation’s capital moved to Philadelphia, the Court moved too, meeting first in Independence Hall, then City Hall.  And when our capital moved again to Washington, D.C., the court moved once more.

For years, it met in more than a half a dozen places, until, finally, former president and Chief Justice William Taft asked Congress to build a permanent home.  So in 1932, construction began.  When the cornerstone was laid, Chief Justice Hughes said, “The Republic endures and this is the symbol of its faith.”  

The main entrance, on the west side, faces the United States Capitol.  There you’ll see the words, “Equal Justice Under Law,” as well as a statue representing Law and Justice, holding a sword and scales, and “The Three Fates,” weaving the thread of life.

But if you could take a moment to visit the east side, you’ll see a series of marble figures that represent the history of Law, like Chinese teacher and philosopher Confucius, and a Greek lawmaker and statesman named Solon.

But at the very center, who would you see?  Moses holding the Ten Commandments.

Step inside the building and you’ll see two huge oak doors, leading into the courtroom itself.  Engraved at the bottom of each door is the Ten Commandments.

Is it any surprise?  It shouldn’t be.  After all, James Madison, fourth president of our United States, once said:  “We have staked the whole of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government…to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, and to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

  In our series so far, we’ve looked at a handful of important Bible places, like Bethsaida, Nineveh, Moriah, and Capernaum.  It’s where God once moved in the lives and the hearts of men.  And now here, at a place called Mt. Sinai, God moved once more in lightning and thunder, darkness and smoke.  It’s a place where even Moses said, “I am trembling with fear” (Hebrews 12:21).

Please turn with me in your Bible to page 76, as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start where it says “Israel at Mount Sinai,” Exodus 19:1.

“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.”

If you remember your Bible history, and I’m sure you do, Israel had just crossed the Red Sea.  Just as soon as God hammered Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt with ten plagues, God’s people were free to go.  And as they crossed the sea on dry ground, Moses sang, (in chapter 15), “I will sing unto the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea.”  Then came manna, bread from heaven, and water from a rock.

So began their forty-year-long journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

But before they would even take one step further, the Bible says they came to a place called Mount Sinai.

So why come to Mount Sinai?  I suppose there are two reasons—for one, it’s the very same place God once appeared to Moses in a burning bush.  For Moses, it was a place of beginnings, of sanctuary and refuge.

And, for the people of Israel, it would be a place of covenant and relationship.  Look at verse 3:  “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 people, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’”

And what would be the basis, the foundation, of their covenant relationship?  The Ten Commandments.

Look at chapter 19, verse 16, with me for a moment—“On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.  Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain.  Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire.  The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.  And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.  The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain.  And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.”

In December of 2014, CNN reported on two atheists who wanted to rewrite the Ten Commandments.  The article began with a question:  “What if, instead of climbing Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God, Moses had turned to the Israelites and asked, ‘Hey, what do you guys think we should do?’”

So they created a contest, and even offered $10,000 for the best ideas.  People responded from twenty-seven states and eighteen countries.

In part, this is what they said:  “Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence…Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true…The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world…There is no one right way to live, and…Leave the world a better place than you found it.”

But that’s not what God said at all.  Instead, He said, (in chapter 20):  “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…”

Josh McDowell tells the story of a young man who lived down the street from a family with an in-ground swimming pool.  And around that pool was a high wooden fence.  And one night, when his neighbors were away, he snuck around behind the house, with his girlfriend, and climbed the fence for a swim.  And as he leaped off the diving board, just before he hit bottom and lost consciousness, he heard his girlfriend scream.

You see, just before his neighbors left, they had emptied the pool.  And in the dark, he couldn’t see.  And because he ignored the fence that his neighbors had built, meant for his own protection, he became paralyzed, from the neck down, for the rest of his life.

Why did God give these Ten Commandments?  

He gave them, first, the Bible says, to reveal His glory and His holiness.  That’s what Moses said in Deuteronomy chapter 5:  “These are the commandments the Lord proclaimed…out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness.  So He has shown us His glory and His majesty, and we have heard His voice from the fire.”

Also, He gave them to reveal our sinfulness.  That’s what Paul wrote to the Romans:  “Is the Law sin?  Certainly not!  Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the Law.”

And God gave the Ten Commandments to show us how to live.  That’s what Moses said in Deuteronomy chapter 5:  “Walk in the way God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.”

And look at the context in which these commands are found.  The Lord said in verse 4:  “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.”  

In other words, He said, “Before you tell the people of My commands, before you say anything else, remind them that I carried them on eagle’s wings.  Remind them that I cared for them throughout their Egyptian bondage, as a mother cares for her children.  Remind them that I heard their cries and freed them from slavery.  And remind them that when the Egyptian army had them backed up against a wall, with no way of escape, I parted the Sea before them.”

Imagine for a moment if, instead of commands, instead of “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not,” God spoke beatitudes, and turned them upside down.  Then they would look something like this:  “Blessed are those who put God first.  Blessed are those who honor God’s name and His day, and who respect their parents.  Blessed are those who value life, who keep their marriage vows, who care for the property of others, who love the truth and who are content with what they have.”

Are the Commandments negative?  Not really.  Not if you turn them upside down.

Or imagine, for a moment, what the world would be like if everyone actually obeyed the Ten Commandments.  Most of our national problems would be a thing of the past.  Murders and crimes of all kinds would plummet and violence would cease.  There would be no corruption in government, leaders looking out only for themselves.  Teen pregnancy, divorce, hate, racism, and terrorism would all come to an end.  You could walk down any street any time without fear, never worry about your car, and never have to lock your doors at night.  There would be no need for police, lawyers, judges or jails.  All crime would be gone, a thing of the past, because everyone obeyed the Ten Commandments.

And imagine if God’s people actually obeyed!  Churches would be lights on the hillside, just as they were called to be, showing the way for all.  Every Sunday, every member would be in God’s house, worshiping and studying God’s Word with God’s people.  We would probably have to launch a building program just to house all the people.  We would live differently, look differently, and act differently, all because we obeyed the Ten Commandments.

And who is the One that spoke these commands?  God is.  And God is the One who not only gave us these commands, He’s the One who holds all power in His hands, who is infinite and holy, far beyond anything we could ever imagine or understand.  He’s the sound of booming thunder.  He’s that still, small voice that whispers to your soul.  He’s shared every moment, every breath, and every heartbeat, and He loves you.  

In fact, He loves you so much, He sent His only Son for You.  He’s eager to hear your joys, your frustrations, your struggles, and your sorrows.  Though billions of voices call out to Him every day, He knows your thoughts, He hears your prayers, and He reaches out in the fullness of His deity.

Why in the world would anyone choose to not obey Him?

 

Dear Father, at a place called Mount Sinai, You gave us ten words to live by, ten commands which we ought to obey.  Grant us the grace to fear, love, and trust in You above all things.  This we ask for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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