The Gospel at the Foot of Mount Sinai
Reading: Exodus 19:1-6
Last year I started a Bible study with a few men at the park where I run. It is somewhat inconsistent, with spurts of consistency based on either my schedule, the weather, and their sleep schedule. We began in Genesis and find ourselves in Exodus now. The other day as we read Exodus, 19 I was reminded afresh just how relevant the whole Bible is to the Gospel.
The Israelites have arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses went up to the mountain and the Lord calls to him (much as He had from the burning bush which got this whole thing started). This is where the Mosaic Covenant, the Law, is about to be established with Israel. Listen to what the Lord tells Moses to say to the Israelites.
4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations [lit. peoples] you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Exodus 19:4-6)
1) Salvation comes before holy living.
The sequence of things is important. Salvation came before the Law was given. This is Exodus 19; not Exodus 1. God has already rescued or delivered Israel from Egyptian slavery. That is the picture of salvation. The Lord has already brought them out of slavery and to Himself. God is not giving them the Law so that by it they may be saved, but has delivered them from captivity to the cruel Pharaoh (see Exodus 1–5) in order that they might be YHWH’s servants in the world.
2) Obedience to God involves Israel in God’s mission to the world.
If obedience to God was never about salvation for Israel, then why did the Lord give them the Law? … why did the Lord teach them how to live if it didn’t save them? We could find numerous reasons and benefits to the Lord teaching them how to live (freedom from slavery to so many other things than just Pharaoh, for instance), but here right before the Lord gives them the law, the Lord makes the key purpose clear. Obedience to the Law would position Israel to serve a unique role as God’s treasured possession in a world of people groups, in relation to those people.
What kind of role will this obedience to God allow them to serve? They, the whole nation of them, are being invited into a mediatorial role between God and all peoples of the world. They are being called to be priests, those who are set apart (holy) to both bring God to the peoples of the world and to bring the peoples of the world to God. They were chosen and saved by God for this glorious purpose of bringing God’s mercy to others!
Their obedience was never about their own salvation, but it certainly had something to do with the salvation of the nations… the mission of God.
3) The church has been given this same invitation.
Peter, in 1 Peter 2:9-10, grabs language right from Exodus 19:4-6 and calls the church this royal priesthood and holy nation. For what purpose are we a set apart (holy) people from all the peoples on earth? “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Peter brings this up in the context of calling us to obedience (1 Peter 2:8, 11-12), and makes clear that we have already received mercy (so this obedience is not intended to earn the mercy of salvation) (1 Peter 2:10).
As the people of God, we have been saved from slavery to sin and the kingdom of darkness that we might serve another. Although that obedience cannot have a role in rescuing us, it is a requirement for effectively joining God in His mission to making His name known in all the earth (ref. Matthew 28:20). At least making it known in a way that doesn’t dishonor His name among the peoples, but honors it. Your obedience has never been about your own salvation, but it is about God’s name being hallowed among the nations. It is about joining God in His mission to the world.