Scripture Reference: Exodus 19, Leviticus 10, 1 Chronicles 13, Hebrews 12
When God ComesDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | June 13, 1993
Selected highlights from this sermon
At Mount Sinai, the holiness and power of God were on full display. The Israelites couldn’t even touch the edge of the mountain without dying.
All the sins that are excused, all the sins that are hidden, and all the sins for which we make so much allowance suddenly become important because God is holy and we are not—and we should tremble. But through Christ, we can draw near to Almighty God.
A. W. Tozer said on one occasion that the most important thing about you is what you believe about God. If that is true, may I ask you today, “What do you believe about God?”
Opinion polls here in America suggest that 90 percent of Americans believe in God, but only ten percent say that their belief affects the way in which they live. Well, I am here to tell you today that if you believe in a God who has not affected the way in which you live, you have believed in the wrong God.
The god of America today is a very tolerant god. He is as tolerant as a talk show host. The god in America today, the cultural god, is a god who is all love and no justice, and He’s also a god who is largely irrelevant.
Well, if you have your Bibles I want you to turn to Exodus 19. We are taking some highlights in the life of Moses and we come to Exodus 19, and by the way, if you’re not in the habit of bringing your Bible to church, you ought to, because it gives you the opportunity to see on the text the passage that we are referring to, and it will cement it more specifically in your mind.
The 19th chapter of Exodus! It’s been three months since Israel left Egypt and they have come now into the desert, and they are camped near Mount Sinai, and what an experience this is going to be. In fact, the Lord is speaking to Moses and calls to him (verse 3) from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel…” God says, I’ve got a message for you, and if you obey Me I’ll bless you.”
And the people say in verse 8: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Of course, they should never have said that as we’ll see in a moment. That was a mistake. They didn’t understand the depth of their wickedness, but in a moment of optimism they said, “Lord, we’ll obey you.” And then the Lord said, “Moses, I’m going to tell you something else. I am going to come onto Mount Sinai, and I want you to prepare the people because I am coming to visit the mountain and to visit you.” When God Comes is the title of my message.
Now, let me ask you a question. What happens when God comes? Well, first of all, there is always a revelation, and I want to say always. There is always a revelation of God’s unspeakable holiness. That word holy means that God is separate. Another word that you should get used to is the word transcendent, which means that God is above and beyond. He exceeds the limits. He is above and beyond anything that you can imagine, and He is independent of the world. And His holiness is the only attribute in all the Bible that is oftentimes given in triplicate. Holy, Holy, Holy—the most fundamental attribute of God’s essence.
Now how is the holiness of God seen in this passage? First of all, it is seen by the instructions that the Lord gives to the people. Notice it says in verse 10: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments.’” God is coming to town, and when God comes you get ready for Him. The Lord says, “Wash your garments. Get ready. Get cleaned up.”
And then the Lord gives another set of instructions. He says in verse 12: “And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot (the idea is with an arrow); whether beast or man, he shall not live.’” Wow!
The Lord is saying, “I want you to come to Mount Sinai, but I want all the people to stand back, and you mark the boundary. And you tell them how far they can come because if one of them so much as touches that mountain, that person has to be killed and he can’t be killed directly because you can’t even touch the person who touched the mountain.” God says, “You have to stone him to death at a distance or else shoot him with an arrow,” because the Lord says, “I am holy.” Now there was an exception made for Moses. God says, “Moses, you can come with Me to the top of the mountain, and Aaron, you too can come so far.” But the rest of the people have to stay back because God is coming.
Now, not only is the holiness of God seen in the instructions which the Lord gave to the people, but His holiness is also seen because of the way in which God is described. He is described as coming from above, descending onto the mountain. You see, what the Lord is saying is that “I exist far up.” Now many people misunderstand that, because they say the world is round and what is up to us is down to somebody else, but that’s not the point. The Lord is saying, “I want to descend on the mountain so that you understand that I am higher than you are, and I am coming from a position that you do not even comprehend or understand. And just as there is a horizontal distance between you and Me, so there is also a vertical distance between you and Me, because I am God and beside Me there is none other.”
Now you need to understand that God exists everywhere. God was at Mount Sinai long before He came to Mount Sinai. God permeates the whole universe. But what the Bible is teaching here is that God, in a very special way, is going to reveal His presence, and that’s why all these preparations needed to be made. God is holy!
When you read the Old Testament you say to yourself, you know, “God seems far too severe. Sometimes He does things and it seems as if the punishment does not suit the crime.” For example, there’s a story in Leviticus 10 of two people by the names of Nadab and Abihu. They were the sons of Aaron, and they went into the tabernacle, which had been constructed under God’s direction, and after going into the tabernacle, they brought some fire with them on a dish. And as they walked in, God smote them like that (snaps fingers), and both of them died. They were struck down right there. Aaron was displeased. Isn’t that, to use perhaps an inappropriate expression, but isn’t that overkill? I mean, is it really like God to smite somebody down? Does God sometimes react in anger, and maybe His anger gets the best of Him and in a moment of uncontrolled anger He just smites people down like that?
Let me tell you another story. In 1 Chronicles 13, there is a man by the name of Uzzah. One day they were taking the Ark of God to Jerusalem. Now the Ark was a box that was about three feet long and a foot and a half deep and a foot and a half wide. And they were taking this Ark to Jerusalem, and they put it on a cart, and then on that cart there were also some other items laid, but they let the oxen take the cart to Jerusalem. That made sense. But you see, this box was on top of the cart, and when they got to a threshing floor and the cart almost upset, Uzzah, who was standing nearby, thought that he would do God a favor. He put out his hand and he touched the Ark to steady it, and instantly, like that, he was killed (snaps fingers), and he was gone. And David was so angry that it took David years to get over his anger and to take that Ark to Jerusalem, because he said, in effect, “If that’s the way God is going to do His business, I don’t want to have anything to do with the Ark.”
Is God guilty of uncontrolled anger? Does God overreact? Well, of course, the answer is no because in the case of Nadab and Abihu, it says that they offered strange fire before the Lord. We don’t know exactly what they did wrong, but we do know they did not follow instructions. And in the case of Uzzah, the Scripture was very clear that nobody was supposed to touch the Ark. After it was built and it was dedicated to God, no human eye was even to see it except the priest when he went into the Holy of Holies. And whenever it was transported it was to be covered by the veil. No human eye was to see it, much less touch it.
Was Uzzah doing God a favor? I mean, after all, the Ark might fall on the ground. God says, “It is better to let that Ark fall on the ground than to touch it if I told you, ‘Do not touch!’” Oh, the severity of God!
You know, you read the Old Testament and you find that there are at least a dozen different sins for which people would be stoned and put to death—adultery, homosexuality, rebellious children, a whole host of things, kidnapping. All of that was the death penalty. We look at it today and say, “You know, if we did that today, where would we find all the rock piles? How could we stone everybody who is guilty of these things? There’d be nobody left around to do the stoning.”
Was God harsh? David Hume, the great skeptic, said that there is evolution in our understanding of God. You know, in primitive times people thought of God as harsh, but today we are more loving. We have evolved to something a little bit better, and we think of God as loving and kind and just, and the Old Testament God is not the God and Father of Jesus Christ.
Well, I’m here today to tell you plainly that the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New, and God has not changed His mind about so much as one single sin. It is not true that in the Old Testament He was a “meanie,” and now suddenly He has become kind. That is heresy. The Bible says, “I am the Lord, and I change not.” God still has the very same opinions. He has never changed them.
You say, “Well, why the difference in this day and age?” Well, there are a number of differences. We are not under a theocracy, where God ruled, as was Israel. That’s part of it. The other part has to do with the coming of Jesus Christ. And then the other part, which is most important, is that God will eventually judge everyone. It’s just that He has chosen in this age not to judge everyone immediately but to wait until the coming final judgment when all of these things are going to be dragged into the open. And the judgment will be final, complete and meticulous. God has not changed. He still hates sin. He still hates all the sins that are listed in the Old Testament, and He has not mellowed with age.
God said, “Moses, I’m going to come to Mount Sinai. Get the people ready. Consecrate them. Draw boundaries around the mountain. And wait. And if somebody touches the mountain it will be instant death, because I want to teach you how holy I really am.” Whenever God comes there is holiness.
Secondly, whenever God comes there is power. It says in verse 18: “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.” Wow!
In 1968 I had the privilege of studying in Israel, and one weekend we took two buses and we went to Mount Sinai, going through the desert, getting stuck in the sand and using the water that we were supposed to use for drinking water to put in the motor of this huge vehicle. What an experience! And then we spent the night at Saint Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai. We got up at 3 o’clock in the morning so that we could walk in coolness, and we walked to the top of Mount Sinai. I need to tell you that we were not absolutely totally certain that this is the same Mount Sinai, because there are several mountains in the area, but this is the traditional Mount Sinai.
What a huge mountain! It took us many hours to get to the top. And when you are at the top you see a whole range of other mountains that are connected, and all of them are solid rock. And now God comes and the mountain shakes violently. Now God can do the same today with an earthquake. He shook San Francisco about five years ago. You do recall that Candlestick Park, I think, during a playoff game was shook. It shook so badly that some people suggested that it should be renamed Wiggly Field.
You see, God is able to shake the earth, and just as He shook Sinai, so He can shake the earth today. After all, He is the creator. Do you realize that all the scientists in the world, getting together at a great conference (whether it is Berlin or any other city in the world, spending all of their resources, even with our government funds of all things) cannot create so much as one single molecule? Not one! Never have and never will, because out of nothing, nothing arises. And yet, God spoke: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and the host of them by the breath of His mouth,” and all of it was created out of nothing. The awesome power of God!
But I want you to notice that the power is not merely physical, not just His ability to shake mountains. It is also moral and spiritual power because God begins now to lay down the law, and that’s in the next chapter—chapter 20, verses 3 through 5: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.”
Jealous? Yes! Jealousy is a sin for us but it is not a sin for God. The reason that jealousy is a sin for us is because jealousy implies that I have something coming to me that is my inherent right, and all of our rights that we hear so much about today are not inherent. They are rights that are conferred upon us by God. We have value by virtue of our creation because God has conferred value upon us as human beings. But the value is derived. It does not arise from ourselves because we are caused beings. But God is the being that is uncaused, and therefore, all the glory of the universe, all the honor, all of the adoration belongs to Him. And when it comes to Him, there is nowhere else that it must be passed on to.
And so God lays down the law, and he gives in chapter 20 what is generally known as the Ten Commandments. I told you that when God comes there is power—physical power and moral power. And what we must recognize is that this means in practical terms that when God speaks, all arguments end.
You see, that’s where our society is. The reason that you have so many different views about so many different things given on so many different talk shows is the fact that nobody thinks God has spoken. So everybody gives his or her own opinion because they do not believe that there is a God in the universe who has actually affirmed certain things. And that’s why society is where it’s at today, because nobody believes that God speaks, or has spoken.
David Hume, whom I referred to earlier, said that it would be absolutely immoral and wrong of God to limit salvation through one person like Jesus Christ. Well, that’s an interesting comment, but it’s totally irrelevant. When God decided to set up His universe, He didn’t say, “Now, before I figure out a way of salvation, I should at least run it past David Hume, just to see what he thinks of it.” God doesn’t run it by anybody. He doesn’t run it by me. He doesn’t even run it by Daryl. God just does it. And when God speaks that’s the end of the discussion—period. And so God speaks.
There’s another thing that you and I must remember, and that is that we are ultimately accountable only to Him, and that has awesome consequences. John Calvin, the great reformer, said that that is the only way in which people can get through life, because do you realize today that you live with a sinner? You say, “Well, that wasn’t a very nice compliment to make about my wife.” I’m not talking about your wife. I’m talking about you, you sinner.
How in the world do we manage to live with ourselves? The only way we do it is by always trying to find somebody else who is worse than we are. And if you live in Chicago that’s no great search. Right? We find somebody who is worse than we are, and that makes us feel pretty good, like a man told me. He said, “As far as heaven is concerned, I think have as good a shot at it as anybody else.” See, that’s the way he survives.
And then if we find something good within ourselves, some act of charity, why we magnify it and we think that it is awesome that you and I should actually do such wondrous things. And that’s how we survive, comparing ourselves with ourselves and with others to somehow manage.
Everyone awake at this juncture! I want you to know today that when God comes, all that nonsense ends. It ends. In Canada there was a man who called a pastor friend of mine. He was sobbing so violently the pastor thought for sure that this man must have experienced a death in the family. He hurried though over to the man’s office where the call came from, and discovered this businessman flopped over his desk, sobbing so hysterically that the pastor had to calm him down, and say, “Just calm down and tell me what your problem is.” And when the man gained his composure what he said was, “For a brief moment God showed me what is in my heart.” And he said, “When I looked into my heart it was as if I was looking into the pit of hell.” And the pastor said, “Well, what are some of your sins?” And he said, “Finally I saw something.” He said, “I am a business man and I’ve been padding my expense accounts.” And he said, “I began to realize that this is dishonest.” And he said, “I know that everybody does it, and you compare yourself with yourself and with others, and you find out that this is commonly done. But,” he said, “I saw God.” And suddenly that little excusable sin, that is really no big deal in American culture, became as hideous as looking into the pit of hell, because a man saw a glimpse of God.
Here’s a man who is attending a university. He’s a student, and the instructor said to him, “I want you to do a paper, and I want you to make sure that it is original research.” And so the man is busy. It’s near the end of the term. You know how it is during those periods of time, and he decides to do his paper, and he uses research that he did on another project. He turns it in and gets an A and graduates with high honors, and at the graduation ceremony is honored. And then suddenly one day he began to realize that God is God. And instead of saying, “Well, you know, things like this are commonly done among students, you must remember,” he saw God. I don’t mean that he saw God physically with his eyes. But suddenly he became aware of the presence of God, and this small sin that is so easily overlooked became so important that he went back to the university years later to make it right so that he could live with himself. You see, that’s what happens when people see God.
I invested about $10 in the book entitled The Day Americans Told the Truth. Do you know what I read in there the other day? I read a great tidbit of information. Ninety-one percent of Americans say that they lie regularly. Now if you have a logical mind like mine, of course, you begin to think about all of these little logical niceties, and to begin to ask yourself if 91% of Americans lie regularly, how do you know they were telling the truth when the poll was told? You know, that’s just these logical Germans that always ask those kinds of questions. But if it is true that they were telling the truth, after all, everybody lies. In fact, they had one of the categories that said, “Can you make it through a day without lying?” X number of people said no. “Can you make it through a week?” X number of people said no. Everybody lies. No big deal—until you see God!
Do you know that during The Great Awakening here in the United States of America when in North Hampton, Massachusetts, Jonathan Edwards was preaching his sermons and Whitefield was preaching during days of revival, it is said that people who actually came into the geographical area of where God was working were already smitten with conviction before they could get any farther? In fact, there was a boat coming from England with something like 40 sailors, and before the boat docked, 30 of them were on their knees repenting and getting right with God, because God had come. And all the sins that are excused, and all the sins that are hidden, and all the sins for which we make so much allowance suddenly become important because God is holy and God is powerful, and when He comes, you and I tremble.
There’s a third thing that happens when God comes, and it is most important. There’s a revelation of His holiness always. There’s a revelation of His power and moral authority always. But thankfully God does not leave us in despair. Wouldn’t it be awful if I ended the message here and said, “Folks, have a good afternoon”? Wouldn’t that be mean of me? It would also be not only mean but unfortunate because there’s another side to this story. When God comes there is grace.
Take your Bibles now and turn to the twelfth chapter of the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 12 refers to this story from the 19th chapter of Exodus. Hebrews chapter 12 refers to the quaking of the mountain in the book of Exodus. Verse 18: “For you have not come to what may be touched (He’s talking about Sinai.), a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them.”
In the Exodus passage they said, “God, if that’s what it is like for You to reveal yourself, don’t show us Yourself anymore. We can’t take it.” The author is saying, “What I’m telling you is not like that.”
“For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.’ (Not only human beings! You get an animal wandering loose going over the boundary and touching the mountain, it had to be put to death.) And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’”
Now notice what he says. He says, “Thanks to Christ, for us it is different.” “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and (Here’s the key.) to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
Just that far! Old Testament Sinai! God is saying, “Stay away.” Why? It’s because Christ had not yet come to mediate man’s relationship with God. “Back up! Holiness! Judgment!” And then Jesus comes to die on the cross, and Jesus takes all the wrath of God directed there at Sinai, and Jesus absorbs it when He hangs there. And He becomes a sinner for us. And He opens His arms wide and He says, “God, let Me take the full blast of Your holy anger (against sin), and let Me absorb it so that it might fall on Me.”
Death and the curse were in our cup,
O Christ, ’twas full for Thee!
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop—
’Tis empty now for me.
And now that Jesus has died and His blood has been shed and God has been appeased, we read in the book of Hebrews, “Now draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” Come through that freshly slaughtered way, which is what the Greek text says. Come through that new and that living way which has been consecrated through the blood. Come! Draw near to God.
Old Testament–only the priest enters into the Holies on one day a year, performing rituals in the tabernacle in the Holy of Holies. Now Jesus dies on the cross and the Bible says that the veil was split in two, and God says, “Enter in. Come into the Holy of Holies, and let us have fellowship one with another, knowing that the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sins.” And God says to you and to me today, “Draw near. Come, come because Jesus has died.”
Some of you say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, if you could look into my heart, the things that you would see would be like looking into the pit of hell. Deceit, dishonesty, lies, not just padded expense accounts, lying to your mate, moral impurity! Oh, if you could see it, it’s awful.”
Yes, it’s awful, but I want you to see today that Jesus Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant, and God says come to Him, flee to Him, depend upon Him. Not only be saved. And some of you need to be saved, but others of you who have believed in Christ, Christ died for your sins, too, may I say to you, Mr. and Mrs. Christian?” Christ has come. Come!
We’ve all heard the story of John Newton, a slave trader who went to Africa to sin to his fill, and actually was willing to give people money if they could think of some new way of sinning that he had not experimented with. And then on the way to England in that boat, when that storm came up, he remembered what he learned in Sunday school. And he cried up to God and was converted. And he gave us a song that we sing so glibly because we like its music. And I want you to know today I love its music, but I also love its words:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found.
I was blind but now I see.
“I want you to know today that within me there is nothing good. I cling to Christ and to Christ alone. I have received Him. My faith is in Him, and were it not for His grace, I would be banished from His presence forever.”
You see, you can’t understand the hill of Calvary until you understand the mountain of Sinai. Sinai shows us how great sinners we are, and the Mountain of Calvary shows us how great God’s grace really is.
I want you to come to Christ today. Some of you aren’t sure whether you are saved. You doubt your salvation. You don’t know where you are at. We are here to help you. We are here because we want you to know where you stand today in the Blood of the New Covenant, and God says, “Come.”
Our Father, we do thank You that whenever God comes, there is holiness, there is power, and there is grace. Now Lord, we are needy sinners, and You need to do a mighty work in our hearts. Many discouraged! Many hurting! Many have given up, but draw us to Your soul today.
And we pray especially for those whose needs are great and overwhelming that they may see that your grace is greater still. Thank You, Father. Help us.
And before I close this prayer, wherever you may be listening, would you at this moment say, “Jesus, be my Savior. Save me,” because I’ll tell you something. To stand before God on your own merit you will be blown away. Bango! It’s over! Would you at this moment believe? Tell Christ that you are believing.
Hear us, Father, for Your Name’s sake, Amen.