After God had given the Ten Commandments (the first time), we get to see the reaction of the Israelites as they perceived the presence of God. As we conclude our current study of the Ten Commandments, I want to ask a very particular question. What is our response when we hear from God through His Word and by the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us? Do we only want to hear God at a distance, or do we desire to become holy as He is holy?
Exodus 20:18-23 HCSB
All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain surrounded by smoke. When the people saw it they trembled and stood at a distance. “You speak to us, and we will listen,” they said to Moses, “but don’t let God speak to us, or we will die.”
Moses responded to the people, “Don’t be afraid, for God has come to test you, so that you will fear Him and will not sin.” And the people remained standing at a distance as Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
Then the Lord told Moses, “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: You have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven. You must not make gods of silver to rival Me; you must not make gods of gold for yourselves.
Fear of the Lord
Close your eyes an imagine for a minute (I know, it will be impressive for you to do this as you read), that you are in the city of Sodom. All around you, the people are doing what they have always done, and in so doing they have incurred the wrath of a holy God. As you stand in the city, the sky brightens. There is a blinding white light and the city, the whole city at once, catches fire and burns to the ground. Imagine being there the night that Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit about giving all of their wealth to the church, witnessing Peter point out their sin and seeing them fall lifeless. Imagine being here with the Israelites and seeing the glory of God on Mount Sinai, or feeling the fear in response to God’s anger after seeing our nation build a golden calf. Imagine being in Egypt and seeing the anger of God burn against the Egyptians. Fear is the only proper response. I don’t mean some sort of reverence (I never quite understood why people decided to start saying reverence instead of fear). When we realize that God is holy and that His anger and wrath burns against all that is unholy (including us), how can we do anything other than cower in humility?
This being said, there is a clarification that we need to make. We see, in Matthew 5, that Jesus taught to be angry was to be under the same sort of judgment that one who commits murder is under. Yet, God Himself allows His own anger to burn against people. What is the difference, then, in the anger that God shows and the anger that we often show? In 1886, Charles Spurgeon said this as he defined Christ’s anger: “…it was simply love on fire, love burning with indignation against that which is unlovely.”
As we observe God’s anger (which is portrayed in His wrath), we notice that the starting point is love or grief. Whereas our anger usually burns because of pride, hot-temperedness, or selfishness. There are, then, two different ways to experience the anger emotion. Anger either stems from love and grief, or from selfishness and pride. Such is the case, I imagine, with any emotion that can be experienced by the human facilities that were designed by God.
As we have walked through the Ten Commandments in this study, we have learned that every person is under the full condemnation of the Law. In fact, all people are condemned under the Law and will be recipients of God’s wrath. God’s wrath is then applied to every person with no hope of recovery, no hope of righteousness, no hope of redemption, and no hope of salvation. All people are truly equal and completely depraved.
Equality under God
When we realize that all people are equally condemned under the Law, we realize that, philosophically speaking, there is no system where any strictly human person could ever mediate between God and people because all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). If we are to have some sort of access to God, then, it must be the case that all people have equal access to Him. All of the sudden, as we conclude our current study of the Ten Commandments, we are introduced, in the Old Testament, to the idea of the priesthood of every believer. Exodus 19:5-6 states that all of Israel was to be a priesthood. The Levitical priests were to fill a position whereby they represented God’s redemptive work to all His people through the sacrificial system, served as judges or overseers over the people (Deuteronomy 17:8-13), and taught God’s Law to His people (Deuteronomy 33:10). Every Israelite, though, was to serve God and represent God to all nations, which would be blessed through Israel according to the promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 15.
God’s desire and design is that all of His people be with Him and live in direct relationship with Him. It was this way with Adam and Eve (both before and after the Fall). It was this way with Israel in the covenant that God made with the nation. God’s desire for His people today is the same because God does not change. When I rest in the Lord and when I pursue holiness on my own, I like to listen to other pastors and read. Almost every sermon that I listened to this week expounded on Ephesians 4, and I want you to see what some others have noticed:
On October 11, 2015 at Northeast Baptist Church in Norman, OK, Dr. Preston Collins said this as he expounded on Ephesians 4:11-12: “Some churches see the pastor as the hired holy man… to do all the work of the church… this was never God’s intention for that to happen in our churches… It creeps in and churches are the cause of it… God has called out the pastor and leaders to train all of us, so that we can do the work of the ministry.”
At The Village Church on July 15, 2017, Hunter Hall (Campus Pastor on the Plano campus) drew this idea out more fully by stating that each part of the body must work properly so that the church can grow up in love and in Christ-likeness. God has given us all a role in Christ.
The role of the pastor in the New Testament mirrors nicely the role of the Priest as described in Mosaic Law. In Genesis 1, God wanted to relate intimately with His people. In Exodus 19, God wanted to relate intimately to all of His people and called all of His people to priestly service. In Ephesians 4, the church in modernity receives instruction to all serve God in ministry. He still wants to relate intimately with all of His people! Here, in Exodus 20, we see the people wanting to place all of the burden on Moses. “Don’t let God speak to us directly! We are afraid that we will die!” Moses had to reassure the people, “Do not be afraid, God has come to test you so that you will fear Him and not sin.”
In our day, it seems that so many reject God’s design because of fear just as the Israelites did. We fear that God will reveal what has been wrong in our lives, so we listen or read passively without any real intent to change. We fear that God will ask us to be uncomfortable, to do something that we do not want to do, or go somewhere that we do not want to go; so we place the work of ministry on the few. Like the Israelites, we fear that we will fail when it comes to God’s perfect Law and so we desire the teachings of people instead. We are reassured, here. Do not fear. God has come, given the Law, to test us so that we will not sin.
The Israelites sinned, though. We also have sinned. We are all equally called to ministry. We have all equally sinned. We are all equally in need of a savior. After the nation of Israel made known that they wanted to hear from Moses instead of directly from God, God re-emphasized His commandment for the Israelites not to make gods for themselves. God’s desire is that He be our one-and-only. He yearns to be the lover of our souls. God has never desired that a priest or a pastor mediate between Himself and His people. It is simply not a part of His design.
Victory in Christ alone
John 1:9 states that it is through Christ that every person coming into the world receives light (though most reject that light). This verse seems to include all people of all time. Revelation 5:10, states that all of those who have been purchased by Christ from every tribe, language, nation and tongue have been made by Christ into one kingdom of priests. Moses could not mediate between the people and God in any salvific way. He had a position, but all people were responsible for their own decisions and for whether or not they had faith in God. In the same way, our preachers, priests, elders, and teachers cannot mediate for us. They have positions, but all people are responsible for their own decisions and for whether or not they have faith in Christ. Victory is not found in confession, penance, human doctrine, personalities, or reputation. Victory is found only in Christ and He makes every believer a priest.
If Christ has fulfilled the Law, then He has satisfied God’s wrath against those who are condemned under the Law. By having faith in Christ, we are no longer under the condemnation of the Law, but, instead, are righteous children of God. In response to God’s goodness, let us not be complacent in the faith. Instead, let us approach God humbly and intimately. Let us overcome our own fears and participate in the victory of Christ by fulfilling the role that He has for us all as priests in His Kingdom.