Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Walk of Exodus

I believe fairy tales resonate, and certain themes endlessly reappear in fiction because they have to do with THE STORY. J.R.R. Tolkien explained to C.S. Lewis that all man-made stories are stories about truth.

So when we hear of a prince sweeping a commoner off her feet and bringing her as his bride into his palace to live happily ever after after overcoming great obstacles (think Cinderella), then that resonates because God, King of Kings, has sought a bride for His Son, Prince of Peace, among the fallen common race of man. The Church is His chosen bride, betrothed, made beautiful, gifted, and promised a home.

A knight on a white horse racing to slay the dragon to rescue the princess is the story of Revelation. Jesus will come on a white horse, chain the dragon before slaying him, and establish a reign of peace with His people.

We rebel so against characters who marry for money, and cheer for the characters who would leave all their riches rather than give up their love. This too, we studied in Sunday school, is the story of Exodus.

This morning we went through 16 chapters of Exodus - and I know that's a lot; I promise it only took the Sunday school hour; sometimes a bird's eye view of a book is awesome. We started with a proposal made by Augustine long ago: list all the physical, emotional, and spiritual things you would want for an ideal life. Suppose as a good Christian you could have anything. Think big.

Now imagine God promising to give you every one of those things: financial freedom, see the world, good children, saved friends, peace, joy... on one condition. The condition is you will never see His face.

Then from Exodus 19-34, we examined God's offers. Israel could be a special people, a kingdom of priests, with direct access to God on an individual, personal level. All they had to do was keep the commandments, follow God's voice. They said they'd take it.

Then, in their very hearing, God enumerated some of His commandments. After the Ten Commandments, the people were afraid of God's presences (chapter 20). In other words, they weren't so much bothered by the requirements to them as they were frightened of the grace, of what God wanted to give them. They were afraid to be a kingdom of priests. God made allowance for their fear, gradually limiting more and more those who were allowed to go up on the mountain, and how high, until it was only Moses.

The Laws continued, going over all of life, not just religious duties. There were, of course, prescriptions for ceremony: feasts, sabbaths. And to top it off, God said an Angel would accompany them, and they would have to obey whatever He said. Again the people agreed to the deal, despite their hesitance over God's presence, and Moses sealed the covenant with blood. Note the Angel. This indicates a faith beyond the list of rules, following arguably God Himself in a Christophany, day by day.

Then Moses went for more. God described worship, how it would be to be separate from the nations by giving them extra-separate things: priests, a tabernacle, and the contents of the tabernacle. This would be how the people could meet with God since they were afraid of His very presence and voice. God wrote the instructions on 2 Tablets, front and back, with His own finger.

But here we reach the problem. Before they even heard the rest of the instructions, the covenant-sealed Israelites had already wearied of the first two of the ten commandments, setting Moses above God (in that they weren't doubting God; they ignored Him; they were doubting Moses), and making a golden calf.

Symbolizing the broken covenant (already), Moses smashed the 2 Tablets. And He went back to God, asking forgiveness, asking what to do next. Would God spare them? Would He give them another chance?

God poses a new "deal," very similar to the first offer of blessing if they would follow His commands. But there was a primary difference, something new in this offer: Exodus 33:3, "...for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way." He didn't want to risk consuming His people. They could have a partial covenant. He'd bless them, and they could have a religion centered on Him, but without His direct presence.

Moses caught on to this, and perhaps you experienced the same thing when you read Augustine's proposal above. What was the point of any risk if God wasn't right there? Wasn't it better to be consumed than to go without God? Wasn't it better to be stuck forever without the Promised Land and blessings than to lose God's fellowship? The leader of Israel knew that he couldn't stand this, and didn't want the people to settle. He declined. No, Moses refused this plan.

Exodus 33:16-17, " For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? is it not in that thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.
And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name."

So God also revealed Himself to Moses, showing him His glory, 'standing with him there.' Moses worshiped. And God continued leading the Israelites from their very midst. The early chapters of Joshua give account of how frequently the Angel appeared to them to give them direction.

Centuries later, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we [John & apostles] beheld His glory.

The question is, will we settle for a religion of following God's list of rules, accepting blessing and even salvation from Him, while relinquishing the greatest and most dangerous gift? He is a consuming fire. Knowing Him could cost you everything. But it would be a matter of will. Would you gain the whole world and lose Him? Will we take God's gifts or God Himself?

Jesus also loved in this way, emptying himself, leaving glory, to demonstrate His own love for us, purifying for Himself His own special people: Philippians 2:5-8, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."

Like the classic tales, relationship is more important to God than any gifts He could bestow on us.

To God be all glory.

(Thanks to Diane, our Sunday school teacher, for pointing all these things out; it was awesome.)

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