Pastor Joel Leyrer - The Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany - Sunday, February 5, 2023

Text: Exodus 19:1-8

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Dear Friends in Christ, You may be familiar with the old French proverb that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

That is especially true when we read the Bible – and perhaps even more so when we read the Old Testament. We’re separated from Old Testament historical events not just by thousands of years, but by differences in geographic location, social customs, daily dress and diet, religious ceremonies and observances, general expectations in life, etc.

Yet, human nature hasn’t changed. Neither has God in the way he interacts with his people. Today’s text is a good example of this. We’re transported back in time more than three thousand years to a place where few, if any, of us have ever been, where we’re witness to a personal encounter with God himself that none of us have ever experienced.

Yet, there is a sameness and a present-day message for us that transcends all those differences. How can this be? Because God and his Word is timeless. Because the more things change, the more they stay the same. This morning we’re going to see just how true that is as we consider:


As we work our way through this text those lessons will become apparent.

On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.

Our text is date-stamped. This all happened three months after Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. Three months ago they had been a nation of slaves; now they were a free nation enroute to the Land God had promised their forefathers. A lot had happened in those 90 days, which we’ll touch on in just a minute.

Geographically they had made their way to the southern part of what today we call the Sinai Peninsula. The mountain mentioned in our text was (and is) Mt. Sinai, the location where God would soon give them the Ten Commandments. It was also where God first appeared to Moses in the burning bush and commissioned him. At that time God told Moses he and the Israelites would worship him on this very same mountain. That time had now come.

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 

God wants his people to remember what he had done for them. He uses an image they must have been familiar with. As an eagle spreads its wings to provide a safety net for its young when they are first learning to fly lest they plummet to the ground, so God carried Israel.

Over their last three months he provided them with ample evidence of his care and loving kindness, often with stunning miracles. He delivered them the world superpower of the day, Egypt, by parting the Red Sea. He provided them with water and food throughout their journey. He gave them victory when they were attacked by a nation who felt they were trespassing.

Each of these occasions was an act of pure grace – grace that God expected his people to gratefully remember and not take for granted. Then and now, grace understood naturally leads to an ever deepening and informed faith – which reveals itself in willing obedience. Such obedience, says God, would result in even further blessings.

Now 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.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

A covenant is essentially an agreement. God had already made a covenant of pure grace with his people long before this when he told Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation, and that through the nation he began (the Jewish nation, i.e., the people in our text) all the people of the world would be blessed. How? Because through this nation the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, would come into the world.

So when God says “if” you obey me, he didn’t mean he would ever withdraw from them the promise of grace he made long ago. Rather, he is calling them to obedience so they might enjoy the privileges and benefits of being God’s people.

And what privileges awaited them! Listen to the three beautiful terms he uses to describe his people: “my treasured possession… a kingdom of priests…a holy nation.” We’ll reserve comment on these magnificent descriptors for just a minute, because Israel isn’t the only one they describe; they apply to us as well.

So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.

The people remembered. Reminded of God’s grace to them and for them, and in recognition of their privileged position as the people of God, they responded with renewed commitment and zeal. But in full disclosure, and because we know the rest of the story, this zeal and commitment ebbed and flowed over the days and years and even centuries to come.

Nevertheless, the events of our text end on a high note. Let’s now turn our attention to the timeless lessons presented to us by this event from long ago.

Timeless lesson #1: God is good and gracious in what he has and continues to do for us.

God reminded his Old Testament people of the many ways he delivered them. From Egypt. From starvation. From enemies. Eventually, he would deliver them to the Promised Land.

God continues to be the great Deliverer. The ultimate act of God’s deliverance, of course, is found in the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus Christ, we have been delivered from the rightfully damnable consequences of our sinful state. Sinful human beings like us have been cleansed and forgiven.

The path to our Promised Land – eternal life with God in heaven – is open to us because of Jesus’ perfect life of obedience in our place, his sacrificial death as the substitute for our sins, and his glorious resurrection which proves his mission of saving us was complete and accepted. “Because I live, you also will live,” says Jesus.

In our text God intimates here and says even more plainly elsewhere that he had chosen Israel to be his own. Not because of their merit, but because of his grace. That’s another present-day connection. Not only has God provided us salvation in Jesus, but through the working of the Holy Spirit he also chose us to be his own and given us the ability to believe in Christ.

The words of Martin Luther’s explanation to the Third Article come to mind here: “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts (faith!), sanctified and kept me in the true faith…”

And if all that is not enough (and it certainly is), while we are on this earth our good and gracious God promises to never leave us or forsake us. Even in the hard stuff in life.

Like when a doctor pronounces on us or a loved one the diagnosis of cancer. Or a health issue suddenly and permanently alters our life. Or we lose a loved one unexpectedly and wonder if we’ll ever recover from the grief and loneliness we feel. Or we lose our job. Or a relationship we thought would last forever doesn’t. Or it finally dawns on us that the dreams we dreamt and worked so hard to achieve are not going to come true.

God saw Israel through some difficult times, and he’ll do the same for us. Because God promises to always be there. Even in the hard stuff. In fact, he uses the hard stuff to remind us we’re not home yet. While we may not always understand the outworking of God in our lives, of this we can be sure: whatever he asks us to endure is undergirded by his abiding presence and his solid promise to uphold us and never abandon us.

Timeless lesson #2: God has given us an identity.

A point that the Apostle Paul makes in his letters is that believers in Christ now constitute and can rightfully be considered the new and true Israel; not in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense. Which means we fall under the blessed designations God states about his people in our text. Let’s go back to those three terms we touched upon earlier:

“My treasured possession” – Hebrew scholars tell us that behind this word is the idea of a treasure which a king looks upon as particularly his own, kind of like his own private stash.

Now apply that personally. This is what God says about each one of us. So, if ever we find ourselves comparing our lives to others who we feel are more successful or better situated than we are and then find ourselves feeling down or insignificant or irrelevant, remember this: God considers you his treasured possession. And if that’s how God feels about us, we shouldn’t feel any less about ourselves.

“A kingdom of priests” – Priests were the ones who had special access to God, so this description reminded God’s people of the intimacy God had with them and the access they had to him through their prayers. Priests also represented God, so this term also suggests the privileged position God’s people have of representing God before a watching world.

Again, apply this personally. We have a direct connection with and to the CEO of the universe through our prayers. And the line is never busy. We’re never put on hold. He always picks up and listens. Which means we must be important to him.

And he’s important to us. So we embrace the privilege of representing him well before others.

“A holy nation” – holy in the simplest sense of the word as being set apart and distinct – all for the purpose of enjoying God and bringing him glory through grateful lives as the “salt and light” Jesus assigns to us in his Sermon on the Mount.

All of which leads to timeless lesson #3: Such an outpouring of grace calls for the response of willing obedience.

After considering the grace and goodness of God years ago at the foot of Mt. Sinai the ancient people of God proclaimed: “We will do everything the Lord has said.” That was the reasoned and appropriate response – then and now. So today we echo the words of the hymnist (and with this thought we’ll close).

Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord to thee;

Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise.

This is our prayer. And this is our fervent desire as the present-day people of God. Amen.