Summary: "Come Closer!" 1) A holy command that frightens 2) A gracious invitation that comforts
Chris, could you come up here? Come closer please. Closer. Closer! Did you notice how hesitant Chris was to come close to me? The closer I asked him to come the more wary he became. That’s only natural because I never told Chris why I wanted him to come close. For all he knows I am going to scold him for something he was doing earlier during the service. If that’s why I wanted Chris up here and he knew it, he would have run the other way. On the other hand, if Chris thought that I had called him up to hang a medal around his neck for being a great guy, he would have bounded up here.
What if God stood before us this morning and said: “Come closer!” Would you do it, or would you take off running the other way? Although we can’t see him, God is urging us to come closer to him. Through an experience the prophet Moses had we’ll see that this is both a holy command that frightens, and a gracious invitation that comforts.
After leading the Israelites across the Red Sea and out of slavery in Egypt, Moses guided them to the foot of Mt. Sinai where the two million refugees spent the next eleven months. The time at Mt. Sinai was no break for Moses. He made numerous trips up the mountain to speak with God and then went back down again to tell the people what God had said. That’s the way the people wanted it because when they first arrived at Mt. Sinai God had spoken directly to them and it scared them to death (Hebrews 12:18-21). It wasn’t just God’s voice that was frightening; the way God appeared was terrifying too. God descended on the top of Mt. Sinai in fire and billowing smoke. The mountain shook. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed while the sound of a trumpet growing louder and louder could be heard (Ex. 20:18, 19). It would have been scary enough to witness any one of those things but when you put them all together it’s not surprising that Moses himself said: “I am trembling with fear” (Hebrews 12:21b).
Why did God appear in such a frightening way to the Israelites? Isn’t he a God of love? Weren’t the Israelites his chosen people? What game was God playing? Was he frightening the Israelites to get them to do what he wanted them to do - like the coach who thinks that if he screams and yells at his players he will get results? No, God wasn’t playing games. He was simply highlighting a couple of his characteristics. He appeared in fire and smoke to impress upon the Israelites his power and his holiness.
If you had been there at Mt. Sinai, how would you have felt if God said to you: “Come closer!” Would you have done it? I might as well ask whether you would run into or away from a fire because that’s what the glory of the Lord looked like (Ex. 24:17). We would run away from a fire wouldn’t we because we wouldn’t want to get burned? So when God says: “Come closer!” this is a holy command that should frighten unholy people because just as fire can’t help but burn straw, a holy God can’t help but consume sinful people.
So did you feel scared when you came to church this morning? Did you fear for your life knowing that you were approaching a holy God? Probably not and that’s too bad. The reason we don’t always fear God is because we don’t always fully appreciate our sinfulness and God’s holiness. Had we murdered someone this week, cheated on our spouse, or gotten so drunk that we couldn’t remember the things we did the night before, we may be afraid to come to church for we see those things as sins a holy God hates. But he hates just as much our dislike for our teachers, our fantasies of what we would like to do with people we’re not married to, and our lack of self-control when we gossip about one another. These sins, any sin should make us scared of stepping forward when the holy God says: “Come closer!” because doing so only brings us closer to God’s wrath over our sins.
“Come closer!” is exactly what God said to Moses and it’s just what Moses did (Ex. 24:12, 18). The Israelites who saw Moses go must have thought he was nuts. Who in their right mind would walk into a consuming fire that was the glory of the Lord? Yet Moses went and he survived to tell about it.
How was Moses able to survive so close to God? Was Moses himself without sin, and therefore holy like God? No. Remember how Moses had murdered an Egyptian. Remember how slow he was to answer God’s call to lead his people. Remember how he had failed to circumcise his sons. So why didn’t Moses die in the consuming fire that was God’s glory? Moses didn’t die because God’s call to come closer wasn’t just a holy command; it was a gracious invitation.