Pentecost 10

Preached: August 2, 2015

The Sacrificial Blood Brings Us into God’s Presence
Exodus 24:3-11

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus is Exodus 24:

When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said.

He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.”

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.”

 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 a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.

(Exodus 24:3-11 NIV11)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

How close are you to God? That’s not an easy question. Some who feel very close to God and seem to be quite spiritual can in reality be very far from God and his truth. Sometimes when we feel abandoned by God and all alone, he is closer than we ever imagined, for he’s carrying us in his arms. On the other hand, sometimes God feels far away because we’ve turned our back on him and sometimes he feels close because we’re focused on him. The more we think about it the more confusing that question becomes: How close are you to God?

That question confuses because it puts the focus on yourself. It draws us to look inside ourselves. How close am I to him? Such internal examination is only beneficial when it leads us to see how much we need our God. We confess with the Psalm writer, “As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1, 2 NIV84).

Then we ask a better question: How does God bring me close to him? Let’s see what insights the text before us gives to that question.

The text takes us to the time of Moses about 1500 B.C. Place yourself among the people of Israel standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai. You have heard the voice of the Lord God himself, who rescued you from slavery in Egypt. You have heard him speak his commandments: “You shall have no other gods … You shall not misuse the name of the Lord you God …” and so on.

Out of all the peoples of the earth, he has chosen this people. Not because he thought they were better or stronger than the others. Not at all! In fact, like us, they were stubborn and rebellious. He chose them because of his mercy, his grace, his love. He had freely made his promise to their ancestor Abraham, and he faithfully kept it. His mercy rescued them from slavery in Egypt. His grace, his undeserved kindness, claimed them as his own people.

In love he made a covenant with them at Mt. Sinai. He would be their God and they would be his people, as long as they kept his commandments. How did the people respond? Would they agree to follow the Lord and obey his word? You heard their response in the text. “Everything the LORD has said we will do” (Exodus 24:3 NIV11).

This solemn agreement, this two-sided covenant, was put into effect with blood. With an altar representing the Lord and twelve pillars of stone representing the twelve tribes Israel, sacrifices were offered. Then Moses took some of the blood. He sprinkled it on the people, declaring, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Exodus 24:8 NIV11).

Then Moses, and his brother Aaron, who would become the high priest, and Aaron two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, who would serve as priests for a time, and seventy elders of Israel went up the mountain side. There they saw God, not in the fullness of his glory, which sinners cannot endure. But God hid the greatness of his splendor, so that they could see his presence and eat and drink with him.

Do you see how fervently God desires to bring us close to him? He wants to bring you into his presence. He wants you to have fellowship with him. He wants to feast with you in his glory. How his love reaches out to draw you and me close to him!

But do you remember what happened next, dear friends? The Lord called Moses to come up Mt. Sinai to receive further instructions on worship and the design of the Tabernacle. For forty days Moses was with the Lord. And what did the people do? They had Aaron build them a golden calf. How quickly the ignored those words: “You shall have no other gods …”! They broke the covenant. And if you follow the history of Israel in the Old Testament, you see that they broke the covenant again and again. They even rejected God’s Son when he came. God finally said that they were no longer his people. And so today Israel as a nation has no special status before God.

As wonderful, marvelous, and amazing as that covenant at Sinai was, it could not bring sinners closer to God. For we fail to obey. We fail to keep our end of the agreement. How many people and things haven’t we placed before God in our lives! Each one is a golden calf. Money, popularity, comfort, carrier, family, friends, security, self—all want to be first. We have disobeyed. We need a new covenant, a better covenant, a one-sided covenant that depends entirely on God and not on us. We need God’s gracious, unconditional promise. Only such an unconditional promise, such a new covenant can bring us close to God.

And the Lord God has provided such a covenant. Remember the blood that Moses sprinkled on the people? This new covenant required blood as well, but not the blood of animals, no matter how many bulls, sheep, or lambs could be slaughtered. But rather the blood of God, poured out from the veins of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. For you see, Jesus’ holy precious blood, truly pays for all your sins, all your lawlessness, all your disobedience, every breaking of God’s commandments. It’s all paid for in full by Jesus’ blood. He is the one and only sacrifices that brings you close to God.

How does God bring you close to him? Through the sacrificial blood of Christ, shed for you. For he died for all. That’s his grace, love, and mercy in action!

He has chosen you, dear Christian, not because your better than others. We too are stubborn and rebellious like the Israelites. He chose you because of his mercy, his grace, his love. He has freely made his promise to in his word and Sacraments, and he faithfully keeps his promise. His mercy rescue you from slavery to sin and death. His grace, his undeserved kindness, claimed you as his own. He calls you, “My people.”

In love he made a covenant with you. Not like the old covenant, but a new covenant, and unconditional, one-sided covenant. He has provided all, even the blood for the sacrifice. As he institutes the Lord’s Supper, Jesus says of the wine in the cup, “This is my blood of the new covenant.” Yes, dear friends, the new covenant of full and free forgiveness! The new covenant of eternal life! The new covenant of fellowship with God! Believe this Good News. Believe the new covenant, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And as you receive the Lord’s Supper today, remember the Lord’s mercy that paid the price to ransom you from slavery to sin. Remember the blood poured out for you. And anticipate the heavenly feast. Picture the rainbow encircled, upon a pavement as sparkling blue as sapphire or lapis lazuli, clear as sky. Picture the heavenly table filled with food for our hungry soul. No more will we pant like a dear for water. For here at the heavenly banquet our thirst is quenched. We are with our God. We are close, oh, so close, to him.

Until then, why would we not follow him and obey his commands? Say with the Israelites: “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey” (Exodus 24:7 NIV11). Say it, not because you wonder how close to God you might be. Rather say it because God keeps drawing you close to him. The sacrificial blood of Christ brings you into God’s presence. Stand their with joy and confidence in Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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