A Holy Nation for the Nations

Exodus 19:1-6 On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2 They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3 while Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

Good morning, welcome to Missions Week 2019. If you are a visitor or haven’t been at Grace Church longer than a year, we set aside a week every year to focus and emphasize Missions. Kyle gave us a good introduction to what’s coming up this week.

When we talk about Missions at Grace church we are distinguishing between the mission of the church, which is to make disciples. When we talk about Missions in relation to Missions Week it’s a more specific part of making disciples. We define it this way: biblical missions is crossing a significant cultural or language barrier to make disciples because we love God and others.

I want to do a few things this morning. I’m using Exodus 19 as our text and the main points of the sermon, but I want to use the passage to also look at missions throughout scripture. How do we get from Abraham to Israel to Jesus and the Great Commission and beyond? Think of it as a biblical theology of missions. I hope that this will be not just an overview of missions, full of nice information, but give us a greater understanding and burden for sending and going. And then next week Kyle will preach on more practical ways that we as a church can be a sending church.

As the biblical story unfolds, the shape changes, but the purpose remains the same. God saves people, sets them apart from the world, but then sends us forth to the world as representatives for God. My hope this morning is we would hear again the story of salvation, and we would feel both the privilege and weight of representing God to the rest of the world. As we enter into Missions Week, may we have a greater desire to represent God’s Name to the world.

Would you pray with me?

Father in heaven, we gather this morning because you are worthy of worship. You have revealed your Son to us and delivered the gospel to us. Help us to see what you have done. You routed our enemies. May we desire to see your glory and as a result for others to see your glory. As we focus this morning on Missions, may we not miss the glory of salvation. Will you remind us afresh of what we have been saved from?

Our lives are a vapor. They are like the morning fog that quickly disappears. Would you convict us this morning and give us a newfound burden for the lost? People are dying here and around the world. Help us as a church body to keep missions at the forefront of our thinking and our prayers. Guard us against laziness and complacency. Please speak to us this morning through this broken vessel. Please show us your glory today. Stoke our desire for Missions. And more than anything may these words reveal more of Jesus and his gospel this morning.


Here’s another way to summarize this text: God saves us and makes us his treasured possession. Then we represent God’s name to the nations.

If you have the sermon notes, the sermon breaks down like this:

  1. Seeing God’s Salvation
  2. Hearing God’s Authority
  3. Blessings to the World
  4. The Great Commission

Background

We will spend the bulk of our time in verses 4-6, but let me provide some background first since we are dropping right into the middle of a book.

The immediate setting of our passage is right before God will give the ten commandments to the Israelites. The people are in the wilderness at Sinai and God is preparing Israel to hear the ten commandments and enter into a covenant. Like every other covenant in the Bible, God’s actions come first and are followed by God’s commands for the people.

As we look at our text there are several clues that help provide the background for the heart of the passage. The first is in verse one where it says that Israel is only three months removed from their Exodus from Egypt. God had delivered his people from slavery under Pharoah through many signs and wonders. Everything culminated in the tenth plague and the killing of the firstborn, but God spared the children in the Israelite homes through substitution. Anyone who killed a lamb and put the blood on their doors would be spared. The lamb died in place of the firstborn son in each of their homes. Then they left Egypt in one night, and plundered the Egyptians for all of their treasure and gold. After Pharoah’s army pursued Israel, God split the Red sea and the people walked on dry land while the army got trapped and God sent the water back on top of the army.

After witnessing these incredible wonders of God, the people were led, by God, out into the wilderness. And then another clue is in verse 2. Verse 2 mentions that they came out from Rephidim. Why mention this place? Rephidim is the place in chapter 17 where they grumble against Moses and tested God because there was no water. So God provides water from a rock for everyone to drink. Why does Moses refer back to these events here in our text? This points to the two pieces of salvation God mentions in verse 4. God didn’t merely deliver Israel from slavery. He continued to sustain them throughout their journey. They are thirsty and fear they will die in the wilderness and God gives them water out of a rock.

Remember that this was written not for the people who actually heard God speak in this passage, but for the people who would read this account later. Moses is writing this down for the second generation who will actually enter the Promised Land.

And Moses is helping the original readers, and us, to understand that God has kept his promises. And here’s another: When God called Moses from the burning bush in Exodus chapter 3, God made him a promise too: “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain. (Ex 3:12)”

Only three months in to a 40 year journey and God is fulfilling promises and reminding his people of his faithfulness.

Verse three God instructs Moses to come up the mountain and receive instructions. Moses acts as a mediator for Israel and will relay the details of God’s commission as they prepare to serve the Lord.

I. Seeing God’s salvation

Now, Before we can talk about Missions and going to other cultures, we have to start where God starts. We have to begin with God’s work of salvation. God works, then we respond. The first point of the text is that we must see God’s salvation he has worked, look at verse 4: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”

God reminds the people of what he has already done to bring them to this mountain. He says two things, first I bore you and secondly I brought you to myself.

-I have bore you on eagles’ wings

Kids, if you picture an eagle, what are the things that you see? Eagles are fierce birds of prey. If an eagle locks in on something, whatever they are going after, a fish, snakes, other birds, mammals, whatever prey the eagle is hunting is in trouble. They swoop down and attack whatever their target is. This is what God did to Pharoah and the Egyptians. Whoever is an enemy of God, if God decides to set his sights on an enemy, that enemy is doomed. The enemy gets ferociously torn apart.

There is another aspect to this image of an eagle too. Eagles also protect their young. God protected his children, and still protects his children. It wasn’t Israel who defeated their enemies because of their might. It was God fighting for them.

Listen to how Deuteronomy 32 describes God’s care for Israel:

Deut 32:10 “He found him in a desert land,
        and in the howling waste of the wilderness;
    he encircled him, he cared for him,
        he kept him as the apple of his eye.
11  Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
        that flutters over its young,
    spreading out its wings, catching them,
        bearing them on its pinions, [pinions are part of an eagle’s wing]

An eagle will get between the danger and its young. Is that not what Jesus has done for us by getting in between the wrath we have earned and his chosen people? Further, when a young eagle leaves the nest to try flying, it is the adult that will swoop in and catch it if it falls. The adult bears up the young eagle.

I have brought you to myself

As we saw earlier, the point of salvation is not only to be rescued. Ultimately the point is to be brought into relationship with God. Do you remember the reason Moses asked Pharaoh to release Israel? It was so that they could worship God.

God rescued Israel from slavery so that they could dwell with God. The phrase “I will be their God and they will be my people” is a theme throughout scripture. We are rescued from sin and death, not so we can go and do whatever we like with our freedom, but so we can be brought near to God and dwell with him forever.

Grace, if we fail to see what God has done in salvation, how he has initiated and successfully saved us from sin and death, then we can’t hope to understand God’s desire for his name to be known throughout the earth.

Without appreciating salvation properly, we risk reducing missions into something we ought to do or something that only appeals to people who enjoy other cultures or maybe it’s a nice thing to do for these people who are trying to raise money. Or we could fall into thinking that missions is merely reducing other people’s suffering or increasing their standard of living. But this is about people’s eternal standard of living first. And it results in joy and contentment in this life that is greater than any cleanwater initiative or eliminating AIDS or famine. Those things are all good, but again, if we reduce missions to these things, we are missing the glory and the power of the gospel.

If we aren’t amazed at the gospel and what Christ accomplished then we can’t move forward. So ask yourself, What have you seen God do in your life? List them out and thank God for saving and sustaining you. Tell a friend or your whole DG. We talk about and share marvelous works at Generation 2 Generation for this very reason. Don’t forget what God has done in your own life through Jesus’ atoning work.

II. Hearing God’s authority

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant…

After reminding Israel of how God saved them, he moves to the next part of the commission.

God gives his covenant to the people. While God has saved the people, there are conditions for the people to live by. They must hear God’s authority and obey it. This is how they keep the covenant. In the following chapters God, through his mediator, Moses, will describe the commands and how to obey them.

This idea of covenant picks up on promises God has made before. There are several covenants in the Bible, but one of the most significant when we think about missions is the Abrahamic covenant found in Genesis 12.

Gen. 12:1-3   Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

God initiates and calls Abram to leave everything and follow into a new land. Something that the Israelites are headed towards in our passage. God promises that he will make Abram a great nation and that this great nation will be a blessing to all the families of the earth.

Israel did not meet the conditions of the covenant. They did not, and could not obey God’s voice. And we are just like the Israelites. Sin prevents us from obeying God’s voice. That’s why the gospel is amazing: God had always planned to have Jesus the Son fulfill the demands of the covenant on our behalf. Israel couldn’t obey and had to look ahead to Jesus. We could not do it, but we get to look back to what Jesus accomplished.

I’ll say it again, we can’t begin to understand missions or care about missions correctly if we don’t first appreciate the glorious reality of salvation.

III. Represent God to the world

Based on the conditions God gives, he also gives a number of blessings for obeying the covenant. There are three blessings that are mentioned in verses 5 and 6: you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

All three of these pictures reflect Israel’s relationship to God, and also to the rest of the world. We’ll look briefly at each picture and then how they connect.

a. Treasured possession

God’s plan was for Israel to represent God to the rest of the world. They would be a treasured possession. This idea of a treasured possession speaks to something chosen over other things. Other places in scripture call God’s people a chosen people or a chosen possession. God is the one who decides and defines treasure. God chose Israel from among all other peoples. Why? Not because Israel was so great and mighty. But because God set his love on this people. And because all the earth belongs to God, only God is sovereign to choose what we wants.

Because God chose people, those people become a treasure, not the other way around. Do you see yourself as a treasured possession? Maybe you are tempted to have other things define you or allow circumstances to name you as failure, or invaluable. If you believe in the gospel, God calls you treasured.

b. A kingdom of Priests

A priest goes between a people and God. The idea was for the people of Israel to represent God to the world. Later in Exodus, the Levites will be priests between God and Israel, but then the people were meant to be priests to the rest of the world.

c. Holy Nation

Beyond being a treasured possession and a kingdom of priests, they would be holy. The people of God would be set apart take on the character and holiness of the God they served.

Can you see how the promise made to Abram is beginning to take shape? Abram’s offspring would be a blessing to all families of the earth. Here God has designed Israel to be the means for blessing the nations.

The immediate blessing is for Israel herself. But as the story continues, we will see that God’s idea of a holy nation is actually much bigger than ethnic Israel. Isaiah predicts a future nation composed of foreigners:

Isa 56 “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
        to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,
        and to be his servants,
    everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
        and holds fast my covenant—
7   these I will bring to my holy mountain,
        and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

Do you notice not only the inclusion of foreigners, like almost all of us are, but also the priestly language? They will bring offerings and sacrifices, they will serve the Lord and keep the covenant. This is the promise of the New Covenant. That people would actually be able to obey the commands because they will be written on the people’s hearts. And this covenant is still for a nation, except now it is comprised of people from all tribes and tongues.

All three of these pictures are related, but they come together perfectly in Jesus Christ. Jesus fulfilled what Israel did not, by obeying the covenant.

  • He represented God as his treasure. At Jesus’ baptism, how does the Father identify him? “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The Father treasures the son. Jesus represents the Father perfectly.
  • Further, he was the great high priest who could go into the holy of holies for us and offer a perfect sacrifice to God on our behalf.
  • And when Israel failed to represent God as a holy nation, Jesus became the true Israel and faithfully fulfilled the covenant by obeying the law. Now in light of what Jesus has done, we are sent out to the nations to proclaim God’s glory and the work of Jesus.

Based on this salvation Peter applies the three blessings of Israel (treasured possession, kingdom of priests and a holy nation) to the New Testament church. Listen to 1 Peter 2:9:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

For all who have seen the excellencies of God, now proclaim those excellencies to the world. We do this with sharing the gospel with those around us, but also with holy lives. We represent Jesus with our lives, not just our words. Imagine a missionary calling people to believe in the gospel, but their life was inconsistent with a message of faith and repentance?

IV. Great Commission

As we have seen so far, God has always worked to have his people be a blessing to the rest of the world. It’s not just a New Testament idea. First with Abraham and more fully with Israel, God’s people would be set apart from the other nations. In the Old Testament it was primarily for the people in the Land. There were outsiders who joined Israel, like Rahab and Ruth. Even during the flight from Egypt in the middle of the night, the text says that a mixed multitude-Egyptians and outsiders went with the Israelites. But Israel was intended to live in the land and dwell with God. There were always outsiders but the focus was on being a holy nation in the land, rather than reaching out.

But as the story of the Bible moves to the New Covenant we see the commission develop further. Now after Jesus’ resurrection we fast forward to Matthew 28 and the risen Christ. Turn to Matthew 28, I’ll read it and I want you to listen for the parallels with Exodus 19. Exodus 19 will be up here on the screen.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.

Israel goes up on a mountain, now the disciples go up.

17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.

The disciples saw what Jesus had done to the enemies of sin and death. ‘you yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt’

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

All the earth is mine.

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Now we see Jesus telling the disciples to go. With the promised Holy Spirit empowering this kingdom of priests, we don’t remain in a land, but we go out to the ends of the earth to display God’s glory and teach people to be disciples.

The mission of the church-make disciples, now has this mobile aspect to it. It’s not limited to Israel or Jewish ethnicity. It’s not limited to a particular place. The gospel is to go out to all nations so that people from all over would become part of God’s treasured possession.

Conclusion

The big idea from this text and sermon is to first see what God has done in salvation and second to go out and represent God to the world. Maybe I can summarize this idea with an illustration: There was a famous family dynasty called the Habsburgs that ruled in Germany, Austria and Bohemia for almost 600 years from 1100 to the 1700’s. You can imagine how many precious treasures a dynasty like this might collect. There’s lavish clothing, sculptures of stone, all kinds of beautiful paintings, swords and furnishings of gold. Almost any kind of treasures you could imagine are in this collection. They are now on display in a huge museum in Vienna, Austria. If you were able to get to Austria you could see these things and be amazed by the treasures that displayed the glory of the Habsburg family.

But what has also happened is that the collection of treasures now travels to different museums throughout the world. Now more people see the treasures. I saw this collection several years ago in a museum. I don’t really remember any of the individual treasures, but what has stuck with me is how incredible this family must have been to have accumulated so much splendor.

This is one of the differences between the old and new covenants. In the Old covenant, one would have to find themselves in Israel. But because of what Christ has done to fulfill the law, and the sending of the Holy Spirit, this news is going out.

Isn’t this the mind we should have towards missions? Just like an incredible collection of art and treasures should be seen by as many people as possible, so the gospel needs to to be heard by all.

You might not ever go as a missionary. But you do have a role to play. As you are captivated by the glory of God and his salvation, you will want others to see that glory too. That means sharing the gospel with your neighbors and coworkers. It means sharing the gospel with your kids. Who knows who God would be pleased to send? And we represent our glorious king by living lives that look more and more like our glorious king. We’ll hear much more specifics about Missions throughout this week, but let’s start here: Knowing the gospel and the incredible work Jesus has already accomplished and then pray that God would give us an increased desire to represent Him to the world.