God showed His love for Israel through the great lengths that He went to bring them out of the land of Egypt, the house of slavery. The Lord was passionate about Israel the way that a bridegroom is passionate in His relationship with His bride. Having been liberated from Egypt, Israel could now finally show her love for God in worship. But when God talked with His people from heaven they became very afraid and even trembled and they stood far off from God. And they insisted that Moses do the talking from hereon out. God wanted an intimate relationship with His people like He had with their patriarchs from Adam to Noah to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But the people of Israel were afraid that if God spoke to them then they would not live. And so the Lord gave to Israel what we call the “Covenant Code” through Moses. This legal material begins and ends with worship with a variety of rules in between. We will hear today the first part of that code about worship. These laws were designed to help Israel to show her love for her Lord and thus to help Israel to grow in her relationship with her Lord. Israel needed to know how to worship her Lord or we might even say how to respect her husband in heaven without being afraid when she came into the Promised Land, which was supposed to be soon after this. They were not meant to think of these laws in Exodus as something they needed to do in order to be saved. They already had been saved from Egypt and they were to keep these in response. Now laws about making altars may sound rather foreign to our ears but they do illustrate some principles about worship that apply today in every place where the Lord causes His name to be remembered. So I am going to try and unpack these principles for you this morning and explore what they look like today. Thus you will do well to pay attention here so that you too might grow in your relationship with your Lord Jesus Christ. The passage is Exodus 20:22-26.
The first principle about worship in these five verses that I want to highlight is how worship points us to the answer for sin separating us from God.
Take, for example, how on these altars sheep and oxen were to be offered up as burnt offerings and peace offerings. Remember that Israel stood far off from God. She was afraid to die if God spoke to her like He did with Eve because she knew she was not a pure bride. Everyone knew that the wages of sin is death. But these sacrifices for sin were meant to encourage Israel to draw near to God and to grow in her intimacy with her Lord. It is not that offerings of sheep and oxen actually took away the sins of anyone, but they were a picture for Israel. One day God would supply a pure substitute for the flock of Israel who would take away her sin. They were a picture of how God would cover their sin and shame just as he covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve in the garden with animal skins. Until He did this for His bride, these sacrifices were designed to point them forward by faith to the answer for sin and to help them to worship their Lord without being afraid.
Likewise today true worship points us to Jesus Christ for His sacrifice on the cross is the answer to any and all sin separating us from God. It is due to the shedding of His blood that we have forgiveness of sins. Often people feel like they need to clean up their life before they can listen to God speak to them. They may even make jokes about how the roof would collapse if they ever entered a church building. If that has ever been you, then you understand how ancient Israel felt standing near Sinai. But by faith you have ascended onto the heavenly mountaintop this morning, having been bought by the blood of Jesus to be His bride you’ve been brought into His very presence now unafraid, you have heard His words of forgiveness so that you are unashamed in the presence of your holy God. It is because of the cross of Jesus that God can be with us and bless us this morning. So where their worship pointed them forward by faith to the answer for sin so that they could worship their Lord without being afraid, likewise our faith points us back to the cross by faith to the answer for sin so that we can worship Him without being afraid and have that intimate relationship with Him that He wants.
Another principle about true worship in these verses is that it is simple like the patriarchs.
The simplicity of true worship is directly related to the way that the Lord spoke with Israel from heaven. They had seen God speak from heaven for themselves but they did not see any image that they might create an idol and so He reiterates the second commandment in v.23. And He had spoken with them from heaven and so their altars on earth were to be simple. They were to make an altar of earth and if they wanted to make something a little more involved then it could not be defiled with carved stones (likely themselves idols) and made fancy with steps. In other words, the people were being encouraged to worship in Spirit and in truth in response to the experience of God they had just witnessed. The description of these altars is meant to recall the simple altars Abram setup everywhere he went in the Promised Land because their religion was to be the same as that of the patriarchs – with a simple call to faith and every father a priest for his family since they were to be a kingdom of priests. Other religions used idolatry to manipulate a god to come to them. But the God of Israel says that every place where He caused His name to be remembered He would come to them and bless them. That’s as simple as it gets.
True worship today is simple and intimate like the patriarchs. We don’t use fancy altars to meet with God like the Canaanites used for their worship of false gods. We don’t use flashing lights like Las Vegas or anything flashy. We don’t use anything that tries to control God, whether it is to keep Him in a box or to get Him to do our bidding. We worship in Spirit and in truth. One of the great things about this room where we have gathered together to worship is that it is simple. There are not a bunch of statues or other things that make the room fancy. And this makes it easy to move the service downstairs or outside or to a park because we know that we don’t have to be in some kind of special room in order to worship. (This leads me to the third principle I want us to see.)
This worship can take place anywhere and at anytime when God shows up and speaks.
In every place where He caused His name to be remembered He told Israel He would come to her and bless her. This was the way that God wanted it to be when Israel entered the Promised Land. He wanted there to be worship in Spirit and in truth throughout the land using simple altars to meet Him everywhere they went like it was in the days of Abraham. He wanted Israel to be a kingdom of priests who would testify to the surrounding nations through their simple worship of a God who cannot be manipulated or controlled. Because of their sin, this was not exactly how His-story would unfold. For example, He would later limit sacrifices to one place where His name would dwell because of their sin. But God’s ideal was a people for whom worship was normal and intimate and everywhere.
This reminds me of the Piper quote I shared with you on Easter: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” And as you may have heard somewhere: ‘Where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, there He is among them’ (cf. Matt 18:20). Worship isn’t just something that you do for a brief period of time on the Lord’s day. This church service is practice for the rest of your week. So in every place where He causes His name to be remembered He will come and bless you. This means that you can have a simple and intimate time of worship during your breaks at work or at school, and you can have such worship in your homes and you can even get together with other people and meet with God. As I suggested in the newsletter article (available here), which you should read if you haven’t already, you might even take your bulletin with you and look at it for ideas for your daily worship. Prayers don’t only need to be for the sick, but you can offer prayers of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and intercessions for the world. Simple and intimate worship can happen everywhere and help you grow in your relationship with Jesus as well as be a witness to the surrounding world. The goal is to have true worship in all the earth. Thankfully this is what God is doing in and through you – He is causing His name to be remembered in all the earth.