Good evening from Liverpool, New York! Our reading for this Monday, July 31, 2017 is Exodus 19.
It has been since last Wednesday since I wrote and posted a study. I was helping to lead a Closer Walk retreat for men in Canandaigua, New York. At such events we do not have access to technology, even watches. Distractions are limited to facilitate devotion to worship, teaching, and community. The Closer Walk is a three day course in Christian Living. It was a wonderful time which evidenced the fruit of four men making intentional commitments of faith in Christ and nine others who renewed their commitment to discipleship.
This day our passage opens with Moses and the entourage he led out from Egypt arriving at Mount Sinai where God had promised the people would gather t worship if Moses accepted the call to service from God. This was to be a sign to Moses that God was sending him. Of course he would not know this for certain until he accepted the job. Often our certainty of hearing God is only confirmed in hindsight. We are to live by faith and not by sight. We trust and obey first and only then do we confirm what God reveals is true.
God was faithful to his word as God always is and now the Hebrews were free and camped at the base of Mt. Sinai as God had promised. Moses was commanded to come up the mountain to receive instruction to give the people but before he did so he had to set limits for the people so they would not approach to far up the mountain lest they be destroyed. We are separated from God and cannot see God due to our sin. God is perfect and just and will not be exposed to evil. It is the reason God had to devise a plan for our redemption so we might have access and intimacy with God.
In our damaged state we cannot imagine the perfection of God; it would be too overwhelming and besides the gap between us only serves to feed our longing for God. We must accept the limits of our earthly worship of God. The best of worship experiences serve only as a foretaste of what is in store for us when the gap is closed between God and us. Some feel the gap has been closed now with the coming of the Holy Spirit following Christ’s ascension. While our worship should certainly be deepened now we know Christ and possess his Spirit we remain tangibly separated until our death or Christ returns. We are so close and yet still so far.
This is where many Pentecostals are in disagreement with others in the Body of Christ. They propose that since we have the Holy Spirit the curtain of separation has been torn away as the Book of Hebrews 10:20 states so that we can have unlimited access to God now. Unfortunately sin remains even in the best believer which limits our unbridled access to fellowship. CS Lewis wrote: “The closer we get to God the further away we realize we are.” I find this true in my own experience. There are therefore limits to our private and corporate worship though for certain we should make every effort to infuse our worship with passion and expectation for encountering the presence of Christ.
God informs Moses to warn the people about forcing worship. Rather we must wait, be expectant, and open for God to be revealed. We also find that worship was centered on the receiving and understanding of God’s revealed truth. Moses was to approach closer than the rest of those gathered to receive and then deliver the teachings of God. God was building deeper respect and attention to the leadership of Moses but in similar way the role of pastors and biblical teachers should be to invest in study and comprehension of the truth God has revealed in order to translate and apply for God’s people.
While every believer should be invested in personal study the constraints of time and competing responsibilities limit the depth most can achieve. However, the primary task of the pastor teacher or preacher should be investment in the disciplines of prayer and study in order to “bring down from the mountain” what is revealed in God’s Word. This supplements and confirms the understanding of independent study. This places an onus of responsibility and accountability upon those who presume to teach and preach as well as the believer to prepare themselves to comprehend and discern the truth of what is taught.
The limits also accentuated the importance of the message God was giving through Moses, what we know as the Ten Commandments. They are in fact the core of the truth God wants us to know and affirm. They are the foundation of Jesus’ teaching over against the plethora of commandments rabbis and Teachers of the Law in later centuries contrived and which Jesus contended with. They warped the truth imposing harsh rules of conduct and establishing their abusive authority over the people.
Tomorrow we will take a closer look at the Big Ten but for today we must understand and accept the limits to our worship, personal study and those entrusted to teach and lead us. What we get out of worship and study is determined by what we put into it. Let us become more dedicated and committed to growing in faith and the knowledge of God.
Blessings! Pastor Brian Homan, pastor
Liverpool First UM Church