Have you ever been terrified? Today, we come to an awe-inspiring experience in Exodus that literally terrifies—A THEOPHANY!
THEOPHANY is the theological term for a physical appearance of God. Exodus 19:9 introduces the manifestation of God on Mt. Sinai—
The LORD said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” Then Moses told the LORD what the people had said.
The DENSE CLOUD in which God descended from heaven to Mt. Sinai may or may not be THE PILLAR OF CLOUD that has been leading the Israelites since they left Egypt. If it is the pillar, it turned dense and pitch black, perhaps with a roar of thunder and the flash of lightning as God’s voice pierced His creation.
The voice of God speaking to Moses was audible in the camp so that Israel and all descendants would trust in Moses’ words, both then and now. Certainly, this event foreshadows Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John recorded in Luke 9:34-35—
While [Jesus] was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
The terrifying fear that gripped the disciples, grab the Israelite hearts at Sinai. The same voice speaks from the cloud and the message is similar.
At Sinai, the cloud sets the stage for the giving of the Law—the Ten Commandments, the foundation of God’s kingdom on earth. As God came to Sinai in the CLOUD to impart His Law, so He will come again in the CLOUDS to judge those who have broken that Law. Listen to Daniel 7:13-14—
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
This prophecy gives Christ His favorite description of Himself. He calls Himself THE SON OF MAN eighty-two times in the Gospels. Each time Jesus uses this title, He is saying that He is the Sovereign King who will come to judge and rule the earth. Jesus associates His second coming with the clouds in passages like Matthew 24:30—
At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.
Revelation 1:7 asserts—
Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.
In Exodus 19:8, we read “the people all responded together, ‘We will do everything the LORD has said.’” Israel of one accord accepted the role of being a kingdom of priests and a holy nation—the kingdom of God on earth. The next thing mentioned in the sacred text is A DENSE CLOUD, which symbolizes the Kingdom of God on earth to be ruled by a mediator between God and man, who can be trusted—here Moses, later Christ.
The DENSE CLOUD is called the SHEKINAH GLORY. Even though it manifests God’s presence, it separates man from God as seen in Exodus 40:34-35—
Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
The very same thing happen at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple in 1 Kings 8:10-11—
When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple.
The CLOUD—THE SHEKINAH GLORY separates man from God—and vice versa. The combination of the cloud and the Law spell Romans 3:23—
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
In this light, we can understand the instructions of Exodus 19:10-13—
And the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Make them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, `Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. He shall surely be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on him. Whether man or animal, he shall not be permitted to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they go up to the mountain.”
These instructions teach that HOLINESS is required to approach God. Such was the case with Moses earlier, when at this same Mountain, the command came from the flaming bush that did no burn—
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5)
Unless man meets the requirements of God’s holiness, man cannot approach God. To come into God’s presence on man’s terms spells death! There is only one way to approach God—on His terms. On these two occasions, Moses had to take off his sandals; the Israelites had to consecrate themselves, wash their clothes and wait for the long blast of the ram’s horn to be sounded.
The third day in our text is Pentecost. On Pentecost 1446 B.C., God called for consecration and washing of clothes in order to approach Him and live. On Pentecost A.D. 33, God washed the inside of man. Next to Exodus 19:14-15, write Titus 3:4-7—
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified [made righteous] by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
To worship God properly requires both outward and inward preparation. Exodus 19:14-15—
After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. Then he said to the people, “Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations.”
The abstaining from sexual relations was not a matter of sin, but a matter of cleanness and uncleanness under the ceremonial law. These laws separated Israel from the other nations—if obeyed they would be a holy nation.
The THEOPHANY—the appearance of God—took place amid a most impressive display of cosmic disruptions. Exodus 19:16-19 describe what is intended to be a soul-searching experience—
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.
Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.
These sights and sounds terrified the people. Hebrews 12:21 says—
The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
A deep awesome impression was made on the people, for they were in the presence of the glorious majesty of the Holy God who was about to reveal His person and character in His law. The primary purpose of this terrifying experience is bracket by the word COMING in 19:9—“I am coming to you in a dense cloud” and COME in 20:20— Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
This scene points to the key verse of the Bible: Proverbs 9:10—
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
This awesome display at Mount Sinai terrified the people, even Moses. It was intended to produce the FEAR OF GOD—reverence and awe for Him. To be terrified can be good. Consider Paul’s preaching on the second coming of Christ in blazing fire from 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10—
This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.
Paul wrote this warning to terrify those who refuse to listen to Christ—to obey His commands, and thereby love Him. Everyone needs to have an awesome and reverent respect of God and His Word. If one needs to be terrified to get it—so be it!
THE FEAR OF THE LORD is the beginning of wisdom. We cannot begin to understand and know the depth of God and His love, until we grasp His perfect holiness and the wrath that flows from it. God judges sin! He judged it on the Cross at Calvary and the Lamb of God will execute judgment with blazing fire on those who reject the reconciliation He purchased with His blood.
The awe-inspiring phenomena of God’s presence on the Mountain terrified the people according to Exodus 20:18-19—
When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
The people had no desire to approach God’s holy presence. They instinctively sensed their need for a Mediator who would approach God on their behalf. Out of this realized need, one of the greatest revelations in the long line of OT promises of the Messiah came. Deuteronomy 18:17-19 records the LORD’S response to the people’s request for a Mediator—
The LORD said to [Moses]: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.
Are you ready to look at the Holy Spirit’s application to this Exodus Experience for the Christian? It is recorded in the Book of Hebrews as a solemn warning. Turn to Hebrews 12:18-29—
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time, His voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”
Here is the bottom line: Everyone will give an account to God. Failure to heed God’s Word will result in punishment. As the Israelites who rejected God did not escape, so we who have God’s revelation through Jesus will not escape if we fall away.
We are to be building our lives on eternal, unchanging spiritual realities that we have in Christ. Therefore, let us serve God with reverence. Let us heed His Word and not refuse to listen, for His Word is the grace and life that we need.
We are part of the everlasting kingdom of Jesus Christ. By living thankfully, we serve God in acceptable worship with deep respect and reverence.
The author of Hebrews tells us to worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. But if we take note of worship conducted throughout the world, we must conclude that God cannot be pleased with what is called worship.
The Word of God ought to take central place in a worship service, for through the reading and preaching of His Word, God makes His will known to His people. The sermon, then, is the main part of worship. God speaks, and we listen. Preaching must be the proclamation of God’s Word and should never be replaced by entertainment or discourses on unrelated topics. The preacher as Christ’s ambassador delivers the message his Sender has entrusted to his care. When preaching takes place, God’s people worship.
What is good preaching? In 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, Paul offers four characteristics of good preaching: integrity, fidelity, intelligibility and exaltation.
Paul’s FIRST characteristic of good preaching is INTEGRITY—“We do not use deception.” There can be no disguising of the truth. Jesus said to the Father, “Your Word is Truth.” We live in an age when truth is relative. Absolutes do not exist. But God’s says, “If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.” Good preaching always speaks the Truth, without watering it down.
Paul’s SECOND characteristic of good preaching is FIDELITY—“We do not distort the Word of God.” Good preaching tells it to people as it is, every bit of it, without jumping over the awkward verses. Good preaching is faithful to the whole counsel of God revealed in the Bible.
Paul’s THIRD characteristic of good preaching is INTEGRITY—“By setting forth the truth plainly”—Good preaching is straightforward in the language of the people so they can understand it. His preaching is not embellished with entertaining stories that distract from the plain truth.
Paul’s FOURTH characteristic of good preaching is EXALTATION—“We do no preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” Of all forms of bad preaching, the worst is the kind that glorifies the preacher. Good preaching exalts our LORD.
Contrary to what many believe, 2 Corinthians 4:3 asserts that good preaching cannot be measured by results—
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Good preaching is given little creditability today. Preaching that communicates what the Word of God is saying is considered boring.
Communication experts and human psychology claim that monologue does not change anybody; so if you want to be successful, you must stop preaching and use small group techniques or one-to-one dialogue or entertainment.
Of course, if this proposition is accepted, the conclusion that we are forced to draw is that Jesus and the apostles showed a singular lack of the awareness of basic human psychology when they adopted PREACHING to plant the Word of God into the hearts of people and to water it for spiritual growth.
And by today’s standards, God really blew it at Mt. Sinai, when He chose Moses to proclaim His Word through preaching. The man God chose lacked communication skills. He was never eloquent and to make matters worse, he was slow of speech and tongue. Yet, God entrusted this man with the truths and laws that could make a people into a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Exodus 20:21-22 says—
The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: `You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.”
Here we have what good preaching is all about—with integrity, fidelity, intelligibility and exaltation—tell to people what the LORD has said.
If today’s preacher is going to tell what the LORD has said, he must bridge the gap between the biblical and the modern worlds. Understanding the biblical text historically, grammatically and contextually is the prerequisite of good preaching. No preacher can apply a biblical text until he knows what God has said. If he does, he lacks integrity, fidelity, intelligibility and exaltation. Good preaching is not telling what one thinks, but communicating what God has said!
Exodus 19:25 depicts Moses as a preacher—
So Moses went down to the people and told them.
Hebrews 3:5 evaluates Moses as a preacher—
Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future.
Exodus 19:9 endorses Moses as a preacher—
The LORD said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.”
Hebrews 12:25 tells the results of Moses’ preaching—
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?
Good preaching warns people. Look at Exodus 19:20-22—
The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the LORD said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them.”
Good preaching steps on toes! Norman Vincent Peal, whom some considered a good preacher, never spoke of sin or hell in a sermon throughout his many years of ministry. Not once did he warn His large congregation that they might perish. People adored his preaching—it was centered on the power of positive thinking and it was filled with entertaining stories. He told no bad news!
Folks, the Gospel is Good News only when you understand the Bad News.
Not one person will ever force his or her way into the presence of God—everyone will perish who attempts to approach God in his or her own way. The people who counted on Peal’s gospel of positive thinking will perish!
THE LORD WILL BREAK OUT AGAINST THEM—They will perish in the blazing fire of His wrath. Jesus said in John 14:6—
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
That’s the point of Exodus 19:23-25—
Moses said to the LORD, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, `Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.'” The LORD replied, “Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the LORD, or he will break out against them.” So Moses went down to the people and told them.
The limits around the mountain indicate that before the Tabernacle is constructed, the Mountain of God is to be treated as the HOLY OF HOLIES. Moses reminds God that the people are not free to approach Him. So the LORD tells Moses to bring Aaron up with him.
Why are Moses and Aaron allowed to approach God? Both men are types of Christ. Once the tabernacle is constructed, Aaron will be Israel’s High Priest. Aaron (although a imperfect type) typifies Christ’s ministry as our High Priest before the heavenly throne. Hebrews 8:27 says—
Unlike the other high priests, [Christ] does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
That’s the Good News! The Bad News is the terrifying scene at Mt. Sinai.
Not with sweet sound of harp, nor with the song of angels, was the law given; but with an awful voice from amid a terrible burning. Prophetically, the terrifying scene at Sinai was a rehearsal for the Day of Judgment. If the giving of the law, while it was yet unbroken, was attended with such a display of awesome power, what will that day be when the LORD shall, with blazing fire, take vengeance on those who have willfully broken His law?
Look at the flames the Israelites saw and abandon all hopes of acceptance by the works of the law. The LORD God, in this instance, came as near to man as was possible—He came nearer than man could bear! Until a Mediator was found, the approach of God brought nothing to man but terror.
No one knows the brightness of the Gospel until he understands the dense-pitch dark cloud that surrounds the law. When people see how much there is still about them that is akin to hell, when sin becomes exceeding sinful, then they will know what means to FEAR THE LORD.
Do you imagine that you would believe the Gospel if God were to speak to you out of the skies? Do not wish for it. The terror of His voice would overwhelm you, but it would not convert you.
The Israelites were happy with a Mediator, and so will you be. Could you, with all your wisdom, suggest a better Mediator than Christ?
I beseech you, accept the Gospel in Christ, and come to God through Him. As there is no other way, so assuredly there could be no better way. If you had all wisdom and all power in your hands with which to make a way of acceptance with God, could you devise one more pleasant, more simple, more perfect, more adequate, more exactly what you need?
Come, then friend, come at once to God in Christ—for Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Trust Him!