God’s Promise, Our Response (11am)
Topic: Response to God Scripture: Exodus 19:3–19:8,
Most of you know that I’m a little bit of a movie buff. And believe it or not, I do actually like movies other than just Star Wars. And let me tell you, I love Disney movies. And one Disney movie that I think is criminally underrated is Hercules. It tells the story of the popular demi-god from Greek mythology. In Disney-fashion, the film doesn’t tell the historical account of the Hercules myth but instead a more inspirational, kid-friendly version. But it’s a solid flick.
In the movie, Hercules is born of Zeus and Hera and lives on Mount Olympus with the other gods. Hades, god of the underworld, plans to take over and needs to eliminate Hercules for his plan to succeed. So he sends two of his minions to get rid of the baby Hercules and they try to do it by using an elixir that first would turn Hercules mortal so they can then get rid of him. They foul it up though and he doesn’t finish the elixir. Almost all of his god qualities are gone but he retains his god-like strength. He is then adopted by mortal parents and we watch this poor teenage kid try to have a normal life with super strength. He’s disliked and ridiculed by everyone he meets because of his differences. This is when his adoptive parents tell him the truth about how they found him and send him to the temple of Zeus for answers. I want to actually show you a clip of that encounter. Check it out.
Alright, so in this clip Hercules has it revealed that he has this larger than life identity. He is the child of the gods and belongs with them. He truly does have a higher calling than he thought. And it can be restored to him. It’s his for the taking. But he has to play a part in that. He didn’t choose to be born a god and go through what he did but now he can make a choice to take hold of his legacy. And if he does, if he becomes a true hero, he will have that identity restored. There’s a promise from Zeus and response necessary from Hercules.
It wasn’t just my goal to watch Disney movies in church this morning. It sets up a reality that we see in Scripture and in the next promise of our series. We’re leaving the book of Genesis this time and going into Exodus and the story of Moses. Our promise takes place after the most well-known parts of Moses’ story though. So we’re past the events of the burning bush and the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. Moses has lead the Hebrew people out of slavery and have been in the desert heading toward the land God has promised them. And then we come to our text. It’s the moments that lead up to the Ten Commandments. And it is our third promise or covenant that God makes with humanity. We’re in Exodus 19:3-8.
Ok, so right off the bat we might notice that this covenant is different than the others we’ve looked at. With Noah, God promised not to flood the earth again and set grace at the center of His relationship with us. With Abram, God made a promise of blessing both for Abram but also for all the world. But this promise to Moses has something neither of those promises did: the word “if.” God’s promise to Abram had an element of reaching beyond Abram but it wasn’t phrased conditionally. This one seems to be.
And even how it starts is unique. God tells Moses in verse 4 what to say to the people. And this is what he says first: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” God’s opening to this promise is a testament of God’s strength and assurance. This is really a moving and important declaration by God. And I’m not just saying that because God uses the image of my favorite football team to describe His strength and heart. Before God enters into this promise with the people He puts it on Himself to remind them of who He is and who He has been. It is a potent display of unconditional affection for the Creator of all things to willingly give self-endorsement to the created.
He says, “You just witnessed what I did for you in Egypt.” God reminds them how He carried them out of slavery and bondage and opened up a life of a freedom for them, how He made it possible for them to have an intimate relationship with God Himself. This is a reminder from God to the people that He is a God who cares for them, loves them, and will protect them. In the shadow of his wings, they have rest and safety. One writer said this: “God is one whose wings are always available for refuge in time of attack, for shelter from the destructive elements of the environment, and for loving concern at all times.”
God is not a legal representative here. He’s not a savvy negotiator. And God isn’t looking to “win” in this interaction. God is a compassionate Creator, a Divine Parent, seeking to establish both a lasting relationship with humanity and to impart the beginning of a call to His people. And so, with a reminder of God’s heart and previous action in their lives, a covenant is opened to God’s people: “If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Like I said, this covenant is unique because it moves beyond the space of a simple one-sided promise. God here opens this covenant with a conditional “if.” If you obey me fully and keep my covenant. Right off the bat, we might be tempted to kind of bristle at this. Why is God all of a sudden giving us conditions to His promises? We’ve got to make an effort to dispel that kind of selfish thinking. As Creator and Lord, God has zero obligation to give us anything or do anything for us. And yet, God decides to give and to do. And God opens an invitation to the people.
I think that there is sometimes a struggle within us when we hear that God has expectations of us. And part of it, I’ll admit, is the church’s fault. From the time we’re little we hear this repeating message of God’s unconditional love. That God loves us no matter what. That we can do no action or travel any distance that would separate us from God. We see inspirational posters of the Footprints poem and sing it in our worship songs. And I am overjoyed and incredibly thankful that I can proclaim that message of perfect love is an absolute truth. But we miss the mark if we think that means God’s love is a get out of jail free card with no expiration date. God’s love brings about transformation, not complacency. Max Lucado sums it up well when he says: God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way.
God’s expectations and conditions are not rigid prison bars. They are the parameters for a full and meaningful relationship. Any role in human existence that has meaning also has expectations and conditions. Spouse, parent, friend, sibling, leader, partner, employee…any space of importance that we occupy comes with expectations and conditions. But with that obedience, we are able to enjoy all that those roles have to offer. And that includes being a child of God.
So God lays it out for the people. If they obey and keep the covenant, stay true to the promise, then here is what is in store for them: They will be God’s treasured possession. They will become a kingdom of priests. And they will be a holy nation. The first part sounds good but then the promise gets a little harder to celebrate. We will be God’s treasured possession. Yeah! Awesome. That’s like opening up your favorite toy on Christmas morning. But then being told we’ll be priests and holy. Well, no one would blame you if that felt like opening the socks and sweaters that are under the tree. But, really, there is something profound and game-changing happening here. So let’s look at each piece of the promise.
They will be God’s treasured possession. We covered this last week but there is an undeniable reality that God chooses some for the good of the many. God is not an exclusivist or elitist. It’s not about who is in and who is out. Rather, as we saw last week with God’s promise to Abram, God elects a few so that they can become a blessing to all the world. Here with Moses this reality gets heightened. God’s people become His treasured possession in the light of their obedience and faithfulness. Obedience to the voice of God implies an openness and proximity to God’s voice. And the more we hear and the closer we draw to God the more tenderly we find ourselves in the affectionate hold of our Creator.
The next part is that God’s people would be a kingdom of priests. This doesn’t mean God is telling us all to put on the white collars or robes we generally think of when we hear the word priest. It actually reaches to the core meaning and function of a priest: to be the mediator between God and the people. In the Old Testament, and still to this day in some denominations, priests are viewed as possessing a unique closeness to God and that they serve as a sort of go-between between humanity and the Almighty. When God promises to make His people into a kingdom of priests we are being invited to become the means for the world to encounter God. We join God in His work of healing and grace and justice. We are promised a role in the redemption of the world. Every moment of victory. Every changed life. Every new story of faithfulness. Every time a new person encounters the Lord. We are invited to not only share in but also join in with those precious events.
And then the last part: A holy nation. To really get the reach of this element of the promise we have to understand what the word holy means. It doesn’t mean better than someone else. It doesn’t mean the typical “holier than thou” aloofness we sometimes think of. And it doesn’t mean being “super religious.” To be holy means to be set apart. Set apart for a purpose. And it’s not just about being set apart from other people. It’s not so much about being set apart from. God’s promise is about being set apart for a purpose. For a reason. In this case, God’s people are set apart and called to embody the heart and intentions of God to the rest of the world.
When we stop and consider this promise from God, this covenant the Creator makes, it really is nothing short of remarkable. Before we even get to the promise itself, we have to remember that God’s first words to the people are an assurance of His presence in their lives and His desire to love and protect them. Then we tick through the three parts of this promise.
Treasured by God. Kingdom of Priests. Holy Nation. So with loving assurance in His voice, God promises to hold His people close to His heart. To put them in a position to show the rest of the world God’s love. And to be given a divine purpose. The powerful truth is that this is a promise we are given as people saved by the work of Christ on the cross. Peter, Christ’s most trusted disciple, repeats this promise in 1 Peter 2:9. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” And the text we heard earlier out of Romans shows us how we grab hold of this promise. If we want to know what God’s will is, to know the heart of God, then we are required to go through a transformation of heart. To offer our lives, everything we do, as an act of worship for the Lord. Everything here, at home, at work, at school, in private, in public, everywhere. Every moment becomes a chance to worship God and to obey Him and claim this promise made to Moses and the Hebrews centuries ago.
Hercules had to become a true hero. He fought monsters and saved people in danger. We may not face great serpents but we encounter monstrous things in our lives. Issues of justice and overcoming fear. When we engage those terrors we display the light of Christ for all to see and we live into our role as a nation of priests. We may not swoop in a save people like heroes but every interaction we have – from coworkers to fellow students to neighbors to cashiers – provides us the chance to offer hope and warmth, even if only for a moment, in their lives.
Hercules trained and endured and fought to become a god. We obey the true God so that we can live into the promises He has made to us. It’s interesting. God never says that if the people disobey that He will disown them. Instead, God’s promise is only in the affirmative. If you do this, God will do this. God gives us a choice in how we respond to the promise He makes us. It isn’t forced on us. But if we deny it, if we disobey God, if we choose to go on in the status quo – well, we stay as we are. And we miss out on being a part of God’s work here on earth. We continue simply being a face in the crowd rather than a voice speaking the truest love and grace in existence. We go on living with an inheritance in reach and yet one that goes unclaimed by our own choice.
So, my friends, I ask you this: How can you obey God in your life right now? What space in your life are you doing your way instead of God’s way? Who in your life is God calling you to share His grace and love with? Can you say that you really live a holy life? One that is set apart for God to use? God makes the promise. And now He is waiting for our response. Let’s pray.