Readings: Exodus 24:1–11 | 2 Corinthians 12:1–10 | Mark 6:1–13
Text: Exodus 24:1-11
In his day, Jesus of Nazareth made quite a name for himself. As being the one who healed those who were sick and afflicted, and casting out demons. At the very worst there were those like in Nazareth, who didn’t receive him, and he could do no many. Not many mighty works were done among them. But crowds were drawn to where He was, and they did follow. They came in great hope and expectation.
Well, as these crowds were gathered around Jesus at the beginning of his ministry in Matthew’s gospel, the beginning of Chapter 5, it says
“Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him, and he opened his mouth and taught them.”
Well, this is the picture of Jesus that we’re more accustomed to. Jesus, the man who is also the Lord God, may be somewhere in the background. But I’m afraid that something is lost If we start our journey with Jesus with a modern caricature of him: Jesus, the man as our role model, or Jesus the man our life coach. When you struggle to run the race, it’s this Jesus who Pats you on the back and gives you a glass of water and encourages you that it’s OK. You’ve got this.
You can see how absurd this can get when we go in that direction. Well, thank God we actually read our Bibles and we have a clearer picture of Jesus, don’t we? We know that Jesus was no mere equal among men. He wasn’t just the brother of James and Joses and Judas.
We’ve read Exodus, haven’t we? And we’ve seen God from a very different angle.
“Then he said to Moses, come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and 70 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.”
This is clearly different from the Jesus who is surrounded by crowds who were thronging about him and who at sometimes he even had to get in the boat to avoid being crushed. Instead, here on Mount Sinai, God is not to be approached, certainly not touched. The Lord establishes these boundaries around his holy presence. The people could not even touch the mountain lest they die.
The priests could come a little closer. They could handle the holy things of God, but only according to God’s explicit command. Yet, even Nadab and Abihu, who were there that day, later perished when they offered strange incense before the Lord. (Numbers 10) Only Moses was permitted to see God face to face, and even in that, Moses exposure to God and his presence had to be mitigated, as it says in Exodus 33:
“Moses said, please show me your glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness passed before you, and will proclaim before you my name. The Lord and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy, on whom I will show mercy. But, he said, you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.
And the Lord said, behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock. And while my glory passes by, I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand, until I have passed. By then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
But why was this?
God’s presence is deadly. To sinners, as we’ll sing a little later in Holy, Holy, Holy (LSB 507). The Lord also says in Ezekiel 18, “the soul who sins shall die.”
And part of us knows this in our conscience. But there’s also a part of us that has greater say because of our sinful nature. That doesn’t really believe that we’ll die in God’s presence. When we’re faced with something that we know is wrong, we put this unbelief into practice. God doesn’t really mind if I fudge the numbers a little bit on my taxes. After all, they’ll only waste it! Right? How could he care if I made way too much food and had to throw out the rest? It can’t be too important to God. And what does it matter if I go to a church with a little false doctrine? Maybe it won’t hurt me, or I know better than that.
The things which happened to Israel were written down, so we would know how real this is. From 1 Corinthians 10: “do not be idolaters, as some of them were as it is written. The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and 23,000 fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happen to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction on whom the end of the ages has come.”
God gave all of these very clear warnings about sin and the deadliness of sin. And it didn’t seem to reform the people.
But what God did do is he established sacrifice so that he could dwell in the midst of his people. The covenant that he established through Moses. There was a covenant established through death of a substitute: “Behold, the blood of the covenant, that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
These sacrifices that are described in Exodus and Leviticus, in gory detail, show this. These poor innocent animals, having their throats cut their blood drained out their bowels taken out, their fat burn on the altar. And what did they ever do to deserve that? we might ask. Well, it wasn’t preparation for your 4th of July barbecue!
It was the Lord giving this picture of what it takes for sin to be atoned for. We think in our conscience that we can somehow make up for the bad that we’ve done that we can silence that guilty voice in the back of our head by doing more good or just ignoring it. Or maybe following someone who says that we’re good who maybe wears a collar and looks official and seems to act for God.
But the truth is, and the truth that our conscience tells us, is that sin demands a just retribution, and that’s what you see in the animals that are offered on God’s altar.
The difference came though when Christ did. John the Baptist looked to Jesus and said, “behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And Jesus himself said later in the beginning of his sermon on the Mount. “I have not come to abolish the law given by Moses or the prophets But to fulfill them.”
So, behold, Jesus Christ. The righteous one. Who was Scourged, who was made to bear his own cross, bleeding, scorn, suffocating and dying. This isn’t some grotesque Netflix movie; this is what your sin and my sin justly deserve.
The Covenant under Moses was established by the blood—blood that was thrown on the altar and blood which was thrown on the people—and the blood, that of God sacrifice sanctifies what it touches. You have been sanctified by the sacrifice of God’s own son, the Lamb of God, who willingly went to the cross and suffered these things for your sake, so that you would not suffer them for yourself.
And his blood has been poured out on you. You have been baptized into his death and resurrection, and so all of that scourging and flogging, and rejection of Christ of Christ, calling from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was for you.
All of those punishments have already been poured out upon the son of God for your sins. And that is how God wants to receive you through faith in this Christ who was offered up as your lamb as the one who was offered for the sins of the world. And that we may approach him believing and trusting in that Word.
God put all of it on him so that we could receive that piece so that we could stand in his presence in the presence that is even greater than what the children of Israel that day saw, it says in our reading that they saw God, “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 while we might want some heavenly vision, we actually have something better because Jesus says in John Chapter 20, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” and that’s us.
God calls us out of our own imaginations to behold the Lamb of God, Who walked in Nazareth, Who ascended into heaven, and Who will come again in glory. We see a greater glory of God there in the flesh of Jesus Christ.
And even better than the presence of the Moses and the priests and the Elders of Israel. They ate and drank in God’s presence, and he didn’t lay his hand on them.
But we have something even greater than that. When Jesus our high priest, “On the night in which he was betrayed took bread, He broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, take eat this is my body which is given for you. And in the same way also he took the cup after supper, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, drink of it all of you. This cup is the New Testament, the new covenant, in my blood, which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.”
In remembrance of the Lamb of God, who has offered up for your sins. The Lamb of God, who was raised for your justification, who gives you hope when your life is about to end. When the lives of your loved ones end, you know that it’s not actually over, because Jesus says, “whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” And we believe this.
We believe that God has made his dwelling among us in his son, Jesus Christ. And that dwelling place is forever. It will not pass away.
And today we have the privilege of eating and drinking with God in his peace. And receiving that strength that he gives through this blessed sacrament.
And now the peace of God, which passes all understanding. Keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.