“God Gives a Mission” (Ex. 19:1-8) | Kevin P. Larson | 11.04.12
Tuesday I had the privilege of joining a group of Karis family members over at the county courthouse. Why were we there? To witness Aaron and Maureen’s adoption of Sarah and Abby and celebrate with them. What a big day in the life of the Harrises and in the life of our church! But this was a life-transforming day for those two little girls. They were once in an extremely abusive household. They at one time had been unwanted and neglected. But the Harrises graciously brought them into their home. They made those girls their own. Everything’s changed. One day, they can look Sarah and Abby in the eyes and say, “I remember the day we first brought you home. I’ll never forget that day in the courthouse. Don’t you ever forget that. We love you. Live knowing that, Sarah and Abby!”
Now this is what the Lord is saying to the Israelites in verse 4. “Don’t forget what happened in Egypt, my children. I swooped down like a majestic eagle and pulled you out of your suffering. I did all of that so you could be close to me. Never forget that! But now I want to use you!” This is what God did for Israel. He rescued them from their bondage so they could experience life with Him. And if we are in Christ, He did the same for us, as well. We were in bondage to sin. He has set us free from that. He has brought us into real life. And now He has great things He wants to do through us, too. He gives us a great mission. Through Jesus, we are God’s beloved people, called to an exciting task and armed with a powerful message. That’s what I think this text is primarily meant to tell us today. We see our identity, our role, and our strategy. Let’s pray and begin.
Covenant and Calling
We’ll get to that mission shortly, but first, I want to give you some background to this passage. First, let’s go back to the beginning. In Genesis chapter 1, the Lord creates the first human and puts him in the garden. He calls Adam into a special relationship with Him.
There is a pledge between him and the Lord. He welcomes Adam into a relationship of loyal love. He is God’s son. God makes a covenant with Him. But the Lord also gives him a calling: He’s to rule over the earth under God’s authority. He’s given a special relationship with God’s creation. Adam is to be a servant-king. He is given a special status. He is given a special role. However, Adam disobeys. He breaks the covenant. He gets booted from the garden.
Later, in Genesis 12, the Lord visits an undeserving pagan in the desert. He doesn’t turn His back on His creation. He makes a covenant with a man named Abram. He calls him into a special relationship with Him. He would be as God’s son. And the Lord calls him into a special relationship with the creation, also. Out of Abraham would come a great nation. He would be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth. He would be as a servant-king, as well. God gives Him a calling. We see that Abraham is frail and fallen, as well. He believes, but stumbles. Yet the covenant God makes in chapter 15 and confirms in chapter 17 indicates that something is happening that’s way bigger than Abraham.
That brings us back here to Exodus. The Lord has just graciously rescued His people from Egypt. Moses ascends the mountain to meet with God, and the Lord speaks to him, giving him His law. He welcomes Israel into a special relationship with him, a covenantal one. They are now His son as a nation, His beloved people. He sends them toward a special relationship with the world. He gives them a great calling, as servant-kings, too. God says, in verse 5, “Obey my voice and keep my covenant.” The Lord says, keep all these rules I give you - the ones we see in chapters 20-23. If you do this, God says, you’ll impact the world. Israel says, in verse 8, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” They say this again in a ceremony in chapter 24. They receive this identity as God’s son and this role as servant-kings over the creation with joy and excitement.
But we see soon in Scripture that they fail miserably. They come to a new garden, the Promised Land, but they, too, get kicked out.
Many, many years later, this man Jesus comes along. He is called the Son of God. He, too, is a King, but He’s a servant-king, as well. He takes upon His own shoulders all of the curses His people deserve for not keeping the law; He dies on the cross. He also is anointed with the Holy Spirit and perfectly keeps the law of God. He earns the law’s blessings for His people. The book of Galatians tells us that Christ is the offspring the Lord spoke about long before to Abraham. And, as we read the gospels, we see Jesus coming and doing everything Adam and Israel could never do. He keeps this covenant with Moses for His people. He initiates the new covenant where all God’s people would have the Holy Spirit. Then they could actually obey and honor their Lord.
And that’s where we fit in. This is what we call the gospel, the good news. We can’t keep God’s law either. We deserve judgment. Yet, if we trust in Jesus, His death pays for our disobedience. His obedient life is given to us. We don’t do anything to earn it. We own up to our sins and turn away from them. We call out to the Father in faith. He then gives us of His Holy Spirit, so we can be changed. We become a part of the new people of God, His Church. Through Jesus, we are God’s beloved people, called to an exciting task and armed with a powerful message. We gain an identity. We receive a role. We’re given a strategy. Look at 1 Peter 2:9-10, on page 1015.
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. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
It’s almost the exact same language here. He’s covenanted with us. He’s given us a calling. Exodus 19:1-8 points to us, His church. Let’s turn back to that passage now. I want you to consider our identity, our role, and our strategy.
Our Identity: His Treasured Possession
First, let’s talk about our identity. What does verse 5 say? It reads, “You shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine.” God owns the whole earth. Yet among that earth and all the people groups of the earth, we are His “treasured possession.” Kings in that day had private vaults where they would store gold and silver and other precious things. That same word for “possession” here is used in 1 Chronicles 29:3 to speak of David’s personal stash. The Lord is saying that’s what we are to Him. We, His church, the ragamuffin group we have here, are His “treasured possession.” That’s our identity.
Another way to put it is that we are now sons of God. Once we were enemies. We were orphans. But the Lord adopted us into His family. He made a covenant with us. His loyal love won’t leave us. He is our Father. We are His sons. Now you might ask, “Why do you keep saying sons? Isn’t that kind of sexist?” Call it what you want, but the reality is that in that day sons were the ones that got the inheritance. So we’re not just family members of God - we’re privileged family members. We’re all sons - even if your name’s Alison or Laura.
That’s our status. That’s our identity if we are Christians. Here’s what I want you to consider: do you feel that? In times of rejection? During seasons of trials? When your body aches? When your heart hurts? When you struggle with sin? Do you feel that? You are His “treasured possession.” You are a part of His covenant people. You have been brought into a special relationship with the Lord. That’s our status, church. Resist lies. Feel this truth.
Our Role: Kingdom of Priests, a Holy Nation
Second, let’s notice our role. The Lord gives us a calling. Verse 6 says, “And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests.” We, too, aren’t just sons. We’re kings, under Jesus of course. But with Jesus, we’re meant to be servant-kings. He gave up His life. We’re meant to do that, as well. Doing what, you might ask? Serving as priests.
Now Wednesday wasn’t just Halloween. It was Reformation Day. We celebrate Luther nailing his 95 Theses on the Wittenburg door back in 1517. An idea precious to the Reformers - and it should be also to us - is that of the priesthood of the believer. What’s that mean? It means that we don’t have to go through a human intermediary to get to God. Nope. Through Christ’s work, in the new covenant, we’re all priests. We can all approach God’s throne and talk to Him. That’s a precious truth we need to remind each other of constantly.
But in another sense, we’re called to be mediators to others. What did the priests of Israel do? They represented men to God and God to men. They would go to the Lord on behalf of the people and pray. They would also go to the people on God’s behalf and speak. They stood between the Lord and people. We are called to be a “kingdom of priests” with the same ministry. We’re to serve the Lord as priests. But we’re to serve the world in our priesthood. Part of our calling is to go before the world, beckoning them to come to God. And we’re also meant to approach our God, asking Him to work among the nations. This is our role as His people together.
But there’s more. We’re also called to be a “holy nation.” Many have debated what the world “holy” means, but the basic meaning, I’m convinced, is “devoted to.” God has called us to be a people consecrated to Him, a people wholly given over to Him. We’re to be saints. As we’re all priests, we’re all saints. The Reformers fought for that, too. Saints means “holy ones,” those devoted to God.
People far from God are meant to look into our midst and see people who are different, people who are devoted, folks who are holy. Gentry and Wellum, in Kingdom Through Covenant, explain that in the first five books of the Bible, key instructions from the Lord are often followed with the words, “For I am holy.” They then say this:
Such statements show that complete devotion to God on the part of Israel would show itself in two ways: (1) identifying with his ethics and morality, and (2) sharing his concern for the broken in the community.
We are to live lives that look radically different to our city. We’re to have a different level of concern for the hurts of our city. That’s what it means to be a “holy nation.”
How well do you know your ancient middle-eastern history and geography? The land God would give Israel was about 30 miles wide and 100 miles long, but it would sit on the main route between the two world powers of that day, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Gentry and Wellum call it the “central spine of the internet in the ancient world.” They were put in a strategic place by the Lord for a critical task. All travel and trade between those two nations went right through their front yard. The Lord wanted the nations to see what it meant to be in covenant relationship with Him. The law here told them how to live. God wanted the world to see something different in Israel. He wants the same of us. That’s our mission, Karis.
Now there are a couple of ways we could think about this. Each of us should have a micro mission and a macro mission. Take micro. You have a job. You have places you work out. You are in classes. There you are called to serve as priests, as saints, drawing people to God. I know there are people here bringing classmates to our Gathering. I know there are some of you studying the Bible with your co-workers. That’s beautiful. But take macro missions. We all band together here in our Missional Communities. You should join one.
There we say we’re going to seek to reach a particular neighborhood or network with the gospel. We seek to live as his chosen people, as priests and saints together. This past month, we’ve had an MC carve pumpkins with neighborhood kids. We’ve seen another hold a basketball clinic for needy children. That’s what we’re talking about. What we want is to pull from our micro missions into our macro ones. We want our macro missions to help encourage our micro ones. This is how we seek to live as servant-kings together.
Ray Ortlund speaks of how we should long to make Jesus non-ignorable in our city. Is that our passion? A “royal priesthood.” A “holy nation.” This is our calling. That’s our role. Here’s the question for us to consider: do you embrace that? At your office? In the classroom? Out on the town? In your MC? Or are you believing lies? Are you living for yourself?
Our Strategy: Telling and Living the Gospel
Third, let’s consider our strategy. How did Adam, Abraham, Israel seek to fulfill God’s call for them? Through making love and making war. That’s how. God told Adam to be fruitful and multiply and cover the earth. He promised Abraham much offspring and land. Israel went about having lots of babies and fighting lots of battles.
Their strategy was primary physical. However, ours is primarily spiritual. We have babies, and we need to have more. But our task is to see men and women become babes in Christ. We take land, but we don’t do it by force. We share the gospel until people worship Jesus among every tribe, tongue, and nation. Simply put, our strategy is to share our message. We do what 1 Peter 2:9 says. We “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called (us) out of darkness into His marvelous night.” We tell and live this amazing gospel of Jesus. We’re storytellers. We tell others about this big story of God and how His has enveloped our little stories.
We’re peacemakers. We live out this story, trying to give glimpses through acts of mercy and justice of that final peace we’ll experience in a new heavens and new earth. Our main strategy is to share this message: through our telling and through our living.
I’ve been reading this magnificent book by Tim Keller called Center Church, and in the book, he argues that there are three aspects of the gospel that need to be told and lived in our culture. The gospel is upside-down, inside-out, and forward-back. Upside-down refers to the reversal that the gospel brings to us and our community. Keller puts it like this:
This reversal is a way of imitating the pattern of Christ’s salvation (Phil 2:1–11). Though Jesus was rich, he became poor. Though he was a king, he served. Though he was the greatest, he made himself the servant of all. He triumphed over sin not by taking up power but by serving sacrificially. He “won” through losing everything. This is a complete reversal of the world’s way of thinking, which values power, recognition, wealth, and status. The gospel, then, creates a new kind of servant community, with people who live out an entirely alternate way of being human. Racial and class superiority, accrual of money and power at the expense of others, yearning for popularity and recognition — all are marks of living in the world. They represent the opposite of the gospel mind-set (Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City).
Inside-out speaks of the way the distinction between religion and gospel. He writes,
Jesus took our place on the cross and accomplished salvation for us, which we receive freely as a gift. Traditional religion teaches that if we do good deeds and follow the moral rules in our external behavior, God will come into our hearts, bless us, and give us salvation. In other words, if I obey, God will love and accept me. But the gospel is the reverse of this: If I know in my heart that God has accepted me and loves me freely by grace, then I can begin to obey, out of inner joy and gratitude. Religion is outside in, but the gospel is inside out. We are justified by grace alone, not by works; we are beautiful and righteous in God’s sight by the work of Christ. Once we gain this understanding on the inside, it revolutionizes how we relate to God, to ourselves, and to others on the outside.
Forward-back talks about our need to let the future new heavens and new earth move us in the present:
Christians now live in light of that future reality. We evangelize, telling people about the gospel and preparing them for the judgment. We also help the poor and work for justice, because we know that this is God’s will and that he will ultimately overcome all oppression. We teach Christians to integrate their faith and their work so they can be culture makers, working for human flourishing — the common good. The “already but not yet” of the kingdom keeps us from utopian, triumphalistic visions of cultural takeover on the one hand, and from pessimism or withdrawal from society on the other.
Upside-down means that we emphasize Christ’s incarnation or his coming to earth and putting on flesh. Inside-out means that we proclaim His atonement, His dying on a cross to cleanse us. Forward-back means that we share His resurrection and what it means for our future. This is our message, our strategy. As we go, empowered by His Holy Spirit, and proclaim this message, God will work. We will fulfill our role. We’ll appreciate our identity even more.
Messing Up The Message: Holidays and Elections
But we employ foolish strategies. I witnessed my 5 year old son playing Madden the other day. He kept dropping back about 50 yards to pass. Of course, every throw was incomplete. I questioned it. He asked me how else was he supposed to throw a long pass. “Well, son, you let the receiver go long, not you!” He tried to not drop back so far, but he kept getting sacked. Therefore, he went back to the same strategy, a bad one. My older son likes to play Settlers of Catan with us. He’s gotten better about it, but he used to think the object was to get the longest road. That’s all he cared about. He didn’t think about victory points. The longest road only gives you two points, when you need ten to win! It’s not a good strategy, right?
But we do the dumbest things if we’re trying to live out this calling God gives us. Here’s a couple of ways I think we can mess this up. Let’s talk about Holidays and Elections.
First, we can make our faith look ridiculous and Christ look unappealing in how we talk about our holidays. We boycott Halloween, calling it Satanic. We bash on Santa and the Easter bunny. We look down our noses on people who aren’t Christians. If we see “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” signs, we go off, expecting to everyone to think and act like us. We make it so they’ll never want to hear from us.
Second, think about election years. So many professing believers get on Facebook or Twitter and say ridiculous things and act like everyone with a brain votes a certain way or supports a particular candidate. I’m not saying the issues don’t matter. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be involved. I’m just saying that the way we talk about politics says something about what we truly believe and can negatively impact those around us.
In both of those, we say we want to be in power - whether we’re telling everyone to celebrate Easter or we’re in the White House bossing people around. It’s definitely not upside-down. In both we work against inside-out. We fight to get people to conform to God’s law without genuine heart change. We want non-Christian people to do Christian things. We want laws that enforce Christian morality. We seek a world where God’s power is not needed. We also work against forward-back. Rather than seeking to heal hurts and point people to the new heavens and new earth, we inflict pain, shaking our heads, wagging our fingers. We mess up the message. And it’s no wonder that we fail in our role.
Let’s think about the foolish ways we engage our city, let’s repent. But let’s also consider whether or not we trust His message. His gospel is so powerful. That’s all we need to give people and show people. Do we really believe that? Will the gospel really work? Will it change lives? Don’t believe lies.
Through Jesus, we are God’s beloved people, called to an exciting task and armed with a powerful message. Take our message. Romans 1:16 says the gospel is the “power of God.” Do we really believe that? Is living out and proclaiming that our best strategy? Take our calling. We are called to “make disciples of all nations,” Matthew 28:19 says. Do we truly embrace our role? Take our status. Ephesians 1 says we’ve been adopted. That’s our identity. Do we really feel that? If we did, it would change everything.
That’s where I want to wrap things up. There are commands in this passage, but notice how they’re framed in grace. It starts with 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.” The Lord then says, “Obey my voice” and “keep my covenant.” He says, “Be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Religion is this: we fulfill our role to earn our identity. Gospel is this: we work out of our identity to fulfill our role. That makes all the difference.
Let me take you back to Tuesday in that courthouse. All the proceedings wrapped up, the judge said, “Congratulations,” and everyone clapped. I looked over at little Sarah, and she had this huge, beaming smile on her face. Her eyes were full of tears. She no doubt felt so relieved, so affirmed, so cherished, so excited. A whole new life is in front of her, one in which the possibilities are more than she can imagine. We’ve been brought near to God in Christ. Let that truth move us, encourage us. Let’s take on His mission together.