God displays His holiness (Exodus 19)

Our God is a holy God, and His holiness requires wrath and judgment against all that is unholy. Therefore, all sin receives His full wrath in judgment. Because our God is holy, we should not be surprised that the Bible presents us with occasions when the wrath of God breaks into time and space.

As the children of Israel fled the Egyptians into the wilderness, they quickly arrived at Sinai where God was going to give them His Law (Exodus 19). This giving of the Law was the first time that God had explicitly manifested His holiness to His people, stating in a moral code the expression of His holiness in commandments and ordinances. As stated, His Law was inflexible and uncompromising, and every violation received a just recompense (Hebrews 2:2). It was a Law of condemnation and judgment that required blood sacrifices if there was to be any forgiveness. The Law was terrifying and awesome and was meant to instill fear and reverence in the people.

When God delivered His Law and displayed His holiness, everything about the occasion brought feelings of awe and fear. The LORD told Moses,

Let the people be ready for the third day, for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:11-12).

Then, in 19:16:

16 So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud over the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.

18 Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the entire mountain quaked violently. 19 When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him with thunder.

The LORD is holy, and whenever He manifests Himself to sinful man, man is overwhelmed and undone (Isaiah 6). But here, not only is the LORD coming down from heaven to speak to His people, but He is also delivering His holy Law, the Law of condemnation, the Law that every one of His people will violate (Romans 3:23), the Law that will result in judgment, the Law that will require the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. So here, on Mount Sinai, everything evokes awe and fear. There is thunder and lightning flashes and thick cloud. There is a loud trumpet sound coming from heaven (19:16), and this eerie, heavenly blare of the trumpet grows louder and louder (19:19). The entire mountain is engulfed in smoke and fire. The smoke ascends like the smoke of a furnace, and the entire mountain is quaking violently. “Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).” Abject terror is the response from the people, which is entirely appropriate. God is manifesting His holiness in Law and judgment, and it evokes terrified reverence.

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. – Hebrews 10:31

But there was another occasion even more awesome than this day at Mount Sinai when God again manifested His holiness. This occasion involved a hill instead of a mountain, and there was no thunder or lightning or fire or billowing smoke like a furnace. There was no eerie heavenly trumpet blast getting louder and louder. The scene was fairly quiet, just some bystanders looking on as three men endured the agony of crucifixion. Then something changed.

When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. – Mark 15:33

Darkness. There was darkness over the whole land, the darkness of judgment, the darkness of condemnation. Darkness as the expression of God’s holiness. And now the Man on the middle cross seemed to be enduring an agony much deeper than mere physical pain. This is Jesus Christ, the Chosen One. This is Jesus, the only One worthy to bear our sin, the only One able to bear our sin, Jesus Christ the Holy One enduring the full fury of the wrath of God against the sins of His people.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. – 2 Corinthians 5:21

So, for three hours on this Friday, Jesus Christ became sin for me and received the punishment that my sins deserved. He encountered the holiness of God in judgment.

At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” – Mark 15:34

But Jesus’ suffering did have an end, for there was a goal in view. By His awesome work on the cross, Jesus propitiated God’s wrath. In John’s gospel, after the agonies of God’s wrath, Jesus shouts a victory cry.

Therefore, when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. – John 19:30

Because Jesus died on the cross, we no longer stand terrified at the foot of the mountain, dreading the wrath of God and His judgment. Now, because of Jesus, God’s holiness is our holiness. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross and our faith in Him, Jesus’ perfect righteousness is our righteousness. Because of God’s grace, by our transformed lives we are now displays of God’s holiness.

SDG                 rmb                 4/7/2021

Will you surrender, or not? (Jeremiah 38)

            There comes a time when surrender is the only wise choice. If all your resources are exhausted and you have no effective plan for escape, and the enemy is just outside the gate awaiting your starvation or your destruction, and that same enemy suddenly offers the option of unconditional surrender to avoid certain disaster, I would suggest that the wise choice is to unconditionally surrender.

            In Jeremiah 38, we encounter just such a scenario. The time is around 589 BC and the geography is the land of Israel. The army of the Chaldeans under King Nebuchadnezzar has again come from Babylon to Jerusalem to besiege the city, and the nation of Judah with their puppet king Zedekiah is beginning to collapse under the strain of the siege. It is apparent that Zedekiah is king of a city doomed to destruction, and Jeremiah the prophet has already told the king this on several occasions. The Chaldeans are visible just beyond the gates of the city and there is the threat of a clear and present danger.

THE PROPHET OFFERS THE KING DELIVERANCE

            We will pick up the story in Jeremiah 38, verse 14. King Zedekiah sends for Jeremiah the prophet and asks him a question about the future of the city. Jeremiah, who has just been rescued from the bottom of a cistern, is understandably cautious to talk to Zedekiah or to trust him and replies with his own question. “If I tell you, will you not surely put me to death? And if I give you counsel you will not listen to me (Jeremiah 38:15).”

            Listen carefully to the king’s reply: “As the LORD lives, who made our souls, I will not put you to death or deliver you into the hand of these men who seek your life (38:16).” Notice that Zedekiah promises to protect Jeremiah from his enemies (for what that is worth), but he makes no promise at all about listening to the prophet’s instructions or advice. How can you help someone who refuses to listen to words of rescue?

            Jeremiah speaks to Zedekiah in the name of “the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life will be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live (38:17). But if you will NOT surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be given into the hands of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand (38:18).”

            When Zedekiah responds to Jeremiah’s offer of salvation with a silly excuse, the prophet graciously repeats his instructions: “Obey now the voice of the LORD in what I say to you, and it will be well with you, and your life will be spared (38:20). But if you refuse to surrender (38:21), all your wives and your sons shall be led out to the Chaldeans, and you yourself shall not escape from their hand, but shall be seized by the king of Babylon, and this city shall be burned with fire (38:23).”

            Here, Zedekiah had heard a clear message of rescue from Jeremiah that he understood completely. There was nothing that Jeremiah told him that was vague or mysterious or difficult, and it was entirely within the king’s ability to do what was required for his life to be spared. Jeremiah twice presented the king with a simple choice between peace and disaster, between life and death. The only way for Zedekiah to be spared was for him to unconditionally surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, the conquering king. If he surrendered, he would be spared, and if he did not, he would suffer judgment and destruction. What will the king do? What would you do?

            In 38:19, we read that Zedekiah is more concerned about a few Judean deserters than he is about the entire Chaldean army. In the end, he refuses Jeremiah’s urgent plea to surrender. Thus, we read in the next chapter, in 39:6-10, of the disaster that comes upon Zedekiah and Jerusalem at the hands of the Chaldeans.

APPLICATION OF THE LESSON

            This story is a fascinating study in human behavior, but there is much more going on in this interchange between Jeremiah and Zedekiah than a dialog about Chaldeans. This passage is a clear portrayal of the gospel of Jesus Christ with the names changed and the circumstances slightly altered. It is not an exact portrayal, but it is a clear portrayal, nonetheless.

            What do I mean by that? Let me try to explain. In the story that we just studied Zedekiah is facing certain doom. Nebuchadnezzar has come to Jerusalem to be an instrument of God’s judgment on the king and on the city, and there is no avenue of escape. Then, just when things are looking blackest, the LORD’s prophet, Jeremiah, tells Zedekiah of a way of escape, of a way of salvation that is available to him, if he will only take it. If Zedekiah will SURRENDER TO THE CONQUERING KING, then he will be spared from the coming destruction.

            What does the gospel say, and why has God made the gospel available to us? “The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16),” but what does it declare to us? In the gospel, we discover that all people are sinners and are under the judgment of God for their sin. All people are, therefore, facing eternal condemnation. In a very real sense, we are all facing certain doom. We are all like Zedekiah, in that we are facing God’s judgment and there appears to be no avenue of escape. By ourselves, there is nothing that we can do to remove the guilt of our sins, and so we justly DESERVE GOD’S JUDGMENT. We have all sinned, and the Bible declares that “the soul who sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4, 20),” and “The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).” Things appear hopeless.

            But just when things are looking blackest, the LORD Himself provides a way of salvation, for the gospel declares that, if ANY SINNER WILL REPENT OF THEIR SINS and TRUST IN JESUS CHRIST AS THEIR LORD AND SAVIOR, they will be saved. As Jeremiah came to doomed Zedekiah and explained to him that the only way of salvation was to SURRENDER TO THE CONQUERING KING, so a Christian witness brings good news to doomed sinners and tells them that God’s ONLY WAY OF SALVATION IS TO SURRENDER TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. If Zedekiah had listened to Jeremiah and just obeyed what the prophet told him to do, he would have been spared, but if he refused to listen and to obey, he would surely be destroyed. In the same way, if ANY SINNER will listen to the good news of the gospel and will SURRENDER TO JESUS, they will certainly be saved from God’s judgment; but if they refuse to obey and if they reject the only way of salvation and forgiveness, they will certainly perish in the Judgment.

            When Jeremiah told him about the simple way of escape, Zedekiah hesitated and made excuses and ignored the pleas of the prophet. As a result, he met with disaster and his city was burned with fire. You have heard the good news about God’s only appointed means of salvation – surrendering to the Lord Jesus Christ. What will you do?

SDG                 rmb                 7/2/2020