February 19, 2023
The Glory of God’s Covenant With His People!
9Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. 11But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.
12The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commands I have written for their instruction.”
13Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”
15When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Were you somewhat surprised when you heard that our sermon text for this Transfiguration Sunday is our Old Testament lesson from Exodus 24? It seems as though the most natural choice would have been our Gospel lesson— Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration. Even our Epistle lesson for today seems like an obvious choice since it contains Peter’s eyewitness account of the importance of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Why did I choose our Old Testament lesson as our sermon text? Because it highlights the truth that I want all of us to take home with us today! That truth is found in our sermon theme for today: The Glory of God’s Covenant with His People!
This portion of Exodus 24 covers just one small part of a much larger event. In Exodus 19 we find God’s people camped in the desert in front of Mount Sinai. God then called Moses to come up on the mountain where God explained to Moses the Covenant that the Lord was establishing with His people. Moses then went back and “summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak” (Exodus 19:7). God’s people responded by saying “We will do everything the LORD has said.” This is when God revealed to Moses that the people were not allowed to go up on the mountain or to even touch the foot of it. If they did— they would be put to death. This also when the Lord told Moses that Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel were to proceed up the mountain to worship Him— from afar. Only Moses was allowed to come near the Lord. After once again listening to the Lord Moses then went and told the people “all the LORD’s words and laws.” Once again the people responded by saying, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” Moses recorded everything the Lord had revealed to him in what is known as the Book of the Covenant. After Moses had built an altar to the Lord at the foot of Mount Sinai, and after they had offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings on the altar Moses took half of the blood from the offerings and put it into bowls. The other half he sprinkled on the altar. Then Moses took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. For a third time they responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” And then we are told, “Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Now why is it important for us to understand the context in which we find our sermon text for today? Because that covenant— a covenant sealed with blood— is what made the event recorded here in our text possible! Because of that covenant— a covenant sealed with blood— we are told, “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites, they saw God, and they ate and drank.”
Let those words sink in, my friends. “They saw God, and they ate and drank.” These men were given the unique privilege of not only seeing the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but they were allowed to enjoy a covenant meal with Him! How was that possible? The only reason it was possible is because God had willingly entered into a “covenant relationship” with His people— a covenant that was sealed in blood! God wanted His people to know that His covenant with them was deeply personal and how better to emphasize that truth then by allowing the leaders of God’s people to see Him and to enjoy a meal with Him!
After God had established that truth, after these men had enjoyed that covenant meal with their God, God had Moses come up even further on the mountain so that God could give him, “the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction.” That then brings us to the portion of our text which makes it unmistakably clear how this portion of Exodus 24 ties in with the Transfiguration of our Lord. We’re told, “When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went up on the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.”
The ”glory of the LORD” gives us a way to at least try to fathom how awesome our God is! He is preeminent over all things in heaven and on earth! His power is limitless! His grace is infinite! His holiness is even more transcendent than the light of the sun! At the same time, however, we’re told, “To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” This reminds us of the power of God’s perfect justice. God does not tolerate any sin nor does He let any sin go unpunished!
The glory of the covenant that God established with His people on Mount Sinai can be seen in the fact that the God of perfect grace and the God of perfect justice graciously provided a way for the sins of His people to be atoned for. Think about it. The glory of God’s covenant with His people was seen in all the animal sacrifices that God’s people offered up to the Lord— sacrifices that served as a powerful graphic reminder to God’s people that sin is so serious in God’s eyes that forgiveness can only be achieved through the shedding of blood. The glory of God’s covenant with His people was seen in the Passover lamb that God’s people sacrificed every year to remind God’s people that only the Lord their God has the power to save them from slavery and death. The glory of God’s covenant with His people could be seen on the great Day of Atonement— the one day the High Priest was allowed to enter into God’s presence in the Most Holy Place of the Temple and sprinkle blood on the “atonement cover” on the Ark of the Lord. All of these sacrifices and all of this blood served to keep God’s people focused on the glory of the covenant that the Lord had willingly established with His people— a covenant that kept God’s people focused on the Messiah whom God promised to send into this world, the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
The glory of the covenant that God established with His people on Mount Sinai— a covenant that was sealed with blood— gives us a clear connection to the Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It’s very easy for us to connect the dots between the “glory of the LORD” on Mount Sinai and the “bright cloud” that enveloped Jesus’ disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration— the cloud from which the heavenly Father proclaimed to the disciples, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). And while Matthew does not include this detail in his account of the Transfiguration, Luke tell us that “Moses and Elijah appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:30, 31). Here we see two critically important aspects of the glory of the covenant that God has established with His people.
First, on the basis of that covenant Moses, who died some 1,400 years before the Transfiguration of our Lord, enjoyed a “glorious splendor” that only the Lord God can give to His people. Second, Luke very clearly reminds us that the Transfiguration of our Lord is our last stepping stone before we enter into the season of Lent. Once Jesus comes down from the Mount of Transfiguration He “resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). The entire season of Lent is our opportunity to prepare ourselves for what God’s Son is going to do for us— offer up Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. His holy, precious, innocent blood seals a covenant between God and us that is even greater and more glorious than the covenant God established with His people on Mount Sinai! Every time we lift up our eyes to the cross (Pointing to the cross) and see the depth of the Lord’s love for us we see the very heart and core of the glory of the covenant that our God has established with us!
Today we have the privilege of experiencing what Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel experienced on Mount Sinai where they not only “saw” God, but they enjoyed a special covenant meal with Him! In the “new covenant” that Jesus has established with us— a covenant that was sealed with blood— in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we not only “see” Jesus in a miraculous sacramental way, but we also listen so our Savior as He speaks directly to us! Concerning the bread He says, “This is my body given for you.” Concerning the wine He says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:17-20). This holy sacramental meal not only emphasizes our personal fellowship with the one and only true God, but it also strengthens our faith and trust in Him!
The glory of God’s covenant with Moses guaranteed that the instant Moses’ body died his soul enjoyed the “glorious splendor” he experienced on the Mount of Transfiguration, the “glorious splendor” Moses will continue to experience into all of eternity! In the exact same way the glory of God’s covenant with us guarantees that when our physical body dies our soul will immediately experience and enjoy that very same “glorious splendor”— for all of eternity!
To Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and the seventy elders of Israel the glory of God’s covenant with His people is found in the words, “God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” For Peter, James and John the glory of God’s covenant with His people can be seen in the fact that while they were “terrified” when the heavenly Father spoke to them from the “bright cloud” that enveloped them, Jesus came to them, put His reassuring hand on them and said, “Get up. Don’t be afraid.” And for us? For us the glory of the covenant that God has established with us is found in the reassuring words we hear every time the Lord’s Supper is celebrated here in God’s house, the reassuring words that bring us peace as we prepare to leave this life and enter into eternity, namely, “Depart in the peace of knowing that your sins are forgiven!”
To God be the glory!