All right: we have now officially passed the halfway point of the Book of Exodus. It has taken us 46 weeks to get this far. But it is not going to take us 46 weeks to finish. Including today, we have 14 Sundays left together in Exodus. We will be moving much faster through the second half!
And the reason for the change of pace is because of the ceremony we witnessed last week, in which God adopted, married, and enthroned himself over his people all at once. And the reason that ceremony required such a long, slow buildup is because getting to that ceremony was the whole point of the first half of the book.
See, way back at the beginning of Exodus, God made two promises to Moses.
First, he said, “I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt. So I have come down to rescue them and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land.”
And when Moses said, “Eh, are you sure I’m the right man for the job?” then God made a second promise: “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will all worship God on this mountain.”
Well, that second promise is the promise that was fulfilled last week: Moses — the man who represents God — and the 70 elders — who represent the people — climbed halfway up Mount Sinai. And there they ate and drank with God. They worshiped God on that mountain.
Now, we do not feel the weight of that moment in the quite the same way the ancient people of Israel did. For us, eating and drinking with someone is wonderful, but it does not have any special lasting significance. But for many ancient people, eating a meal with someone created a long-lasting covenant bond of peace.
Until fairly recently a shadow of this custom still existed in the bedouin cultures of the Middle East: if someone was dehydrated and starving in the desert, and they came to your tent, then the laws of hospitality demanded that you give them food and drink. They became your guest, and you were responsible to make sure no harm came to them for at least three days — which is how long food remains in the body. And this was true even if that guest was a mortal enemy.
Of course, the guest also had a responsibility to honor the host by being a good, respectful guest. If the guest dishonored his host by seducing his daughter or some other serious breach of etiquette, then the host would stop eating meals with his guest, and three days after their last meal together…there would be consequences.
In short: last week God invited the people of Israel up into the front room of his house on Mount Sinai. They saw God, and they ate and drank. And so the people of Israel officially came under God’s care. Contracts were signed. They became his guests, his adopted children, his bride; he became their King, their Father, their Bridegroom.
So the whole first half of the Book of Exodus was working toward that moment we witnessed last week.
But now what? What is the rest of the book about?
Well, this passage here today is a bit like the morning after the engagement party. The groom is telling everyone: “She said ‘yes’!” The bride is posting a thousand pictures of the event on instagram. All their friends are “liking” and “loving” everything they see. In a sense, God’s status with Israel has gone from “in a relationship” to “engaged”.
So there is a great sense of accomplishment here at this point!
But at the same time this is also the point in the book where the bride and groom look at each other and say, “…oh, we have so much work to do now to get ready for our wedding day!”
The engagement is not the end of the story, it is really just the beginning. God’s second promise to Moses — to bring them to Mount Sinai — has been fulfilled, yes, but that was the easy part. Getting engaged is the easy part. But God’s first promise — to bring them into a good and spacious land — this is the hard part. In this way, God’s preparation for his marriage to Israel is just like any man’s preparation for marriage: before a groom can marry his bride, first he must provide a house for her: a safe place where they will be able to build a home — a family — together. And that costs a lot more than just buying a ring — doesn’t it, guys!
So that is apparently what the rest of Exodus is going to be about: God preparing for his marriage, God preparing a house for his bride and leading her to it, that good and spacious land where they will begin their married life together.
But now, as we think through all this, we realise that there is a fundamental problem now that needs to be resolved before the relationship can proceed.
Because, look: God’s house — God’s holy ground — is on Mount Sinai. As Phil described it for us last week: God’s innermost private chamber, his throne room, is at the very top; only Moses has been up there. The lower part of the mountain is God’s living room, his reception room; that is where the 70 elders are now, celebrating their engagement dinner with God. And the lands right at the bottom, surrounding the mountain, are like God’s front yard, his garden; that is the camp of Israel. And outside the camp of Israel is the wilderness that is the rest of the world; that is where all the other nations of the earth live: outside the walls of God’s garden.
At the same time, God has made it clear that he is preparing a new home for his bride somewhere else. How is that a problem? Well — correct me if I’m wrong here — mountains do not travel very well. They are pretty much fixed in place. So if God’s house is on Mount Sinai, but his bride’s house is somewhere else…what kind of long-distance marriage is that going to be?
Ah: but if you have been worshiping with us over the last few weeks, you are going to say, “Hang on a minute! God already solved this problem. Two weeks back we heard him promise to send his angel with them, and the angel is — somehow — God himself. So it’s all cool! The pillar of fire is going to lead them to their new home just like he led them to Mount Sinai in the first place. No problem, right?”
Mmmm, actually: yes, big problem.
See, Israel’s relationship with God has changed.
On the way to Mount Sinai, the people of Israel were God’s rescued refugees. They had been born again as they passed through the Red Sea, but they were still just babies in their relationship with God. So it was enough for them to just follow the pillar of fire across the desert. And it was during that time — through all those tests in the wilderness — that God was proving he has the ability to feed and protect a wife. Which was only fair: every man who wants to get married has to go through the same process of proving himself to his beloved and his beloved’s father.
But now Israel has officially accepted God’s marriage proposal; they have been officially adopted as God’s future daughter-in-law; they are officially betrothed to God. They have been guests in God’s living room, they have eaten with God.
So now to go back to just following a pillar of fire like before is not enough! As God’s official fianceé it is now their right and their duty to keep on visiting their new Father’s house, eating with their Bridegroom, drinking with him, talking with him, getting to know him. After all, they are going to get married, they have a lot of planning to do!
But God’s living room is there, half-way up Mount Sinai. How are they going to travel to the house God has prepared for them while also continuing to eat with God in his living room while they go?
This issue is very much on God’s mind. And so this is why, as they come to the dessert course of the engagement dinner,  the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”
Last week we saw how Moses wrote down everything he heard from God in a book called The Book of the Covenant.
Well now we are discovering that God has also written down his own copy of The Book of the Covenant, in his own handwriting. And he wants to present this very special copy of the book to his bride as an engagement present.
So Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. But before he left the dinner, he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you.”
So apparently the elders are supposed to wait there, in God’s living room, half-way up the mountain, while Moses enters God’s inner-most private chamber at the top of the mountain.
But God did not say how long Moses is going to be gone. He just said, “Come up to me and stay here,” which suggests that this is more than just a single day’s trip. So what are the elders going to eat while they wait? And who is going to govern the people?
“Not to worry,” Moses says, “Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”
Ah, yes: if you recall from last week, Aaron and his sons — who are all priests-in-training — were also invited to the engagement dinner, along with a man named Hur, who was Aaron’s aide. And now we know why: these priests-in-training are going to act as messengers between the elders and the people; they will be carrying supplies and helping the elders govern the people while Moses is gone.
So  Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered it,  and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, while Moses waited somewhere near the top with Joshua. And then, on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud.  To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.  Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
But why so long? How long does it take to hand over an engagement present? Surely a single day and night would be enough?
Well, as we read on, this is where we find out that God definitely has more on his mind than just giving his bride a book:
 The Lord said to Moses,  “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give.  These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze;  blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair;  ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood;  olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense;  and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.”
Okay. God wants to give his bride a gift. But he also wants his bride to give her groom a gift — if she is wants to.
But why? This is a very specific list of materials here; what is it for?
The Lord goes on:  “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.  Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.”
Now it all becomes clear: God is going to leave Mount Sinai. He is going to shift houses. His holy property on the mountain is going to revert back to just ordinary rocks and dirt. The Bridegroom really is going to travel with his bride through the wilderness to the good and spacious home he has been preparing for her.
But even while he travels, God is not going to be homeless. His inner-most chamber, his living room, and his garden are going to go along in the form of a tabernacle.
What is a tabernacle? A tabernacle is a tent where God’s fianceé will be able to keep on meeting with him, eating with him, drinking with him, speaking with him, getting to know him.
What is this tabernacle going to be made of? It will be made of these materials that will be the bride’s gift to her groom.
What is this tabernacle going to look like? How is it going to work? This we do not know yet. Come back next week — and for the next eight weeks — and then we will know. But one thing we can say at this point: the tabernacle is going to be shaped according to a particular pattern that God is going to show Moses. And that pattern is going to, in some way, reflect the pattern we have already seen on Mount Sinai: there will be an inner-most room, then an outer reception room, then a yard or garden of some kind, and then some kind of boundary between the garden and the rest of the world outside.
So…at the beginning of Exodus God promised to bring his people up, out of the land of slavery into his house on the mountain. This has been the primary goal of the first half of the book. And it has been accomplished.
But now, and for the rest of the book, there is an equal-but-opposite problem to resolve: how to bring God down into Israel’s house at the foot of the mountain, so that they can move on to the home God has been preparing for them.
In short: the people have been brought up to where God is, but they cannot stay there. Somehow God needs to be brought down to where the people are.
This is the goal of the second half of Exodus.
And today’s passage has given us a hint at how God plans to resolve this issue: his people are going to build a tent for him, a mobile home that will in some way resemble the house of God that was on Mount Sinai. Over the next 14 weeks we should expect to learn a lot about the details of this tent: its structure, its furniture, its layout. And at the end we should expect to see God himself come down from the mountain to take up residence right in the midst of his people.
Which all sounds great for the people of Israel. But what does it have to do with us?
Well, fairly early on in Exodus, we realized that the details and general flow of Moses’ life actually set the pattern for Jesus’ life. Or, to put that another way: we realised that the details and general flow of Jesus’ life actually repeated and perfected the pattern of Moses’ life:
Like Moses, Jesus was set apart as Messiah from birth, then hunted by an evil king, then raised in the heart of Egypt with his true identity concealed. Like Moses, Jesus grew up to be powerful in speech and action. Like Moses, Jesus’ true identity was revealed just in time for him to be driven away into the wilderness where God had him tested. Like Moses, Jesus passed those tests. Like Moses, Jesus went on to preach to the people of Israel in his generation. Like Moses, Jesus was given great miracles to perform, some that pointed forward to God’s judgement, others that pointed forward to God’s salvation.
So fairly early on in our series we realized that the overall flow of Exodus is repeated in the four gospels of the New Testament. Exodus outlines the ministry of Moses the messiah for Israel’s nation; the gospels outline the ministry of Jesus the Messiah for all the world’s nations. So we have been able to draw connections from the Book of Exodus to the books of the gospels, and then from the gospels to our lives.
And that is what we are going to do again today: we are going to review where we are in Exodus, see how that matches up to Jesus’ ministry in the gospels, and then we will know what all this has to do with us.
So, where are we in Exodus?
We have just finished the first half, which was focused on the great deliverance of God’s people from slavery, bringing them up to worship God on Mount Sinai. So the first half of the book was full of amazing signs and wonders.
Today we started into the second half, and we have already discovered a major change of focus: preparing to bring God down from the mountain so he can lead them to the homeland he has prepared for them. So the great signs and wonders that marked the first half of Exodus are basically over; the need for them has passed: the people have recognised who God is, they have accepted Moses as their messiah. So the second half of the book will be full of God’s detailed instructions on how to prepare a mobile home for him so he can travel with his people.
Well, halfway through the four gospels we see the same shift in focus.
The first half of all four gospels are full of Jesus’ signs and wonders. But then, at the halfway point in all four gospels, the disciples recognise Jesus as God’s Messiah. And so, in the second half of the gospels, the signs and wonders pass away, replaced by Jesus’ detailed instructions on how to prepare a mobile home for him, so that he can come down from heaven and travel with his people through the wilderness of the world to the new home he is preparing for them.
He outlines this plan very clearly in the Gospel of John, Chapter 14. This is what he says: “My father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
Now, all that is actually marriage preparation language. We do not recognise it very well because our marriage customs are so different. But in those days it was common for a man to visit his girlfriend’s father in his house and prove that he has the ability to support a wife. Then, if the father found the young man worthy to marry his daughter, they would all sign a marriage contract together. Then the bridegroom would go back to his father’s property and build some extra rooms onto his father’s house. And only when those new apartments were ready would he come back, marry his bride, and carry her home to begin their new lives together.
Now if the groom’s property was just across town, no problem: the bride and groom could continue to see one another during the renovation process. But if the groom’s inheritance was far away…that was a lot less fun. Those of us who have experienced a long-term long-distance relationship know that it is very hard to wait for all the preparations to be completed.
Jesus was telling his disciples that their engagement period was going to be a long-term long-distance relationship. And in all four of the gospels the disciples respond with some version of, “Mmmm, no. That’s really not gonna work for us.” In essence, they were experiencing the same tension we experienced today in Exodus: if God’s house is way up there in heaven, while we are way down here travelling through the wilderness, what kind of relationship is that?
Well, the good news is that, in each of the four gospels, Jesus goes on to tell his disciples not to worry, he will be with them even while he is not with them. Which is confusing, right? But again, in the Gospel of John, Jesus explains his plan very clearly: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you,’ and you got upset. But if you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father!”
Because if Jesus never leaves, then the renovations will never be completed, and the wedding will never happen. But if Jesus’ disciples can let him go, then the final preparations can begin. And in the meantime, the Father and the Son are going to send the Holy Spirit down from their house in heaven to travel with Jesus’ people on earth, to lead them to the new home Jesus has gone to prepare for them.
And this is why Jesus spends the second half of the gospels teaching his disciples how to prepare a house for the Holy Spirit. He has gone to prepare a place for his disciples; but while they wait, his disciples are also to prepare a place for the Holy Spirit. The Bridegoom will be in heaven, making his preparations for the wedding and the marriage, but he also wants his bride to be making her own preparations for the wedding here on earth.
Now, what does that have to do with us?
Well, as Christians, we are the descendants of the disciples, we are the bride of Christ. We have inherited the long-term, long-distance relationship that Jesus promised, and we have inherited Jesus’ instructions on how to prepare and maintain an earthly house for his Holy Spirit.
So just as God called upon the people of Israel to build a sanctuary for him, Jesus has called upon us to build a sanctuary for him. That is the general application of the second half of Exodus, and the general application of the second half of the gospels.
But now we have to ask: what is the nature of the sanctuary Jesus wants us to build and maintain?
Jesus’ sanctuary is not a physical tent, it is the Church. Jesus’ instructions in the gospels make that clear: we are the tabernacle, the temple of the Holy Spirit; as the apostle Paul says in the New Testament: we together are that temple.
But then we might want to ask: what is Jesus’ Church supposed to be made out of? What is its structure, its shape? What furniture should it contain? How are we supposed to build it?
Those questions will be answered for us in more detail over the next eight weeks. As God describes the various pieces of furniture he requires and how everything fits together, we will be seeing how every element of the tabernacle points forward to Christ and to his Church, and what it all means for our lives here in modern Malaysia.
But for today’s application, we are going to limit ourselves to God’s specific command in this passage. What does he say? “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering.”
So: we are also to bring God an offering.
But now we have to ask: what kind of offering? Is this the list we should follow: precious metals, textiles, wood, leather, precious stones?
No. Jesus’ Church is not a physical tent, so we are no longer called to give these particular physical items. As the apostle Peter points out in the New Testament, we, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Jesus’ Church is a spiritual house; building it requires spiritual offerings.
Well, a few verses later Peter goes on to say you are a royal priesthood that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. So our praise — our corporate worship here — is an offering that our Saviour uses to build his spiritual house.
At the same time, however, Jesus’ Church is not just a spiritual house. It is true we have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn. We have come to God and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. So right now we are worshiping in the spiritual mega-church stadium of heaven. But we have also come to KL Trillion, level 2, unit 9, 2200 sq/ft of space. We aren’t seeing angels here, we are seeing human beings. Which suggests that Jesus’ Church also requires physical offerings as well as spiritual offerings.
Physical offerings like what?
This is how the apostle Paul answers that question in his letter to the Roman church. He says: I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.
So proper worship is more than just praises, it is also offering our bodies. But what is that living sacrifice supposed to look like?
Paul goes on: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Our first living sacrifice is the renewing of our mind.
Like the ancient Israelites, we have all grown up in slavery to some kind of Egypt: we have all been taught by our childhood cultures to think and live according to certain patterns. To put that in modern terms: we have all been colonised by foreign powers, raised to live in ways that are actually disobedient to our Creator and degrading to us as human beings. And that colonisation brainwashed us so completely that we came to believe that these were our own native habits. We have all been Chinesized, Indianized, Malaysianized, internetized, Hollywoodized, Bollywoodized, Korean dramaized — at this point in history it is almost impossible to list the number of “influencers” that have colonised us, corrupted us, enslaved our way of thinking.
Paul is saying that our fundamental living sacrifice is to let God’s Word and God’s Spirit recolonize our minds. This means we are all called to give up values that are precious to us, beliefs that we have been brainwashed into believing are natural, essential — even godly! That is painful.
But the pain will be worth it, Paul says, because then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Basically, as our minds are renewed, we do become more effective at understanding God’s will in the world. Peter said we are living stones being built into a spiritual house. Paul is saying that, as living stones, we need to be shaped to fit. And that shaping comes through the renewing of our minds.
And one fundamental bad cultural habit we all have to get rid of is this, Paul says: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.
Even though we have all been raised in tremendously diverse cultures, we all have one thing in common: pride. Self-love. And that is because, underneath all the million-and-one nations of the earth, there is really just one great kingdom ruled by the one ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He is the one who led Adam to believe he could rule the world according to his own wisdom, and our universal pride is the result.
What is the antidote to our pride?
Well, Paul says, instead of doing that, think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
The antidote to our pride — the key to our shaping, our transformation — is learning to recognise our proper place in the Body of Christ.
Now, brothers and sisters, we need to be aware that this Christian idea — that our ultimate happiness comes from learning to see reality and then learning how to fit ourselves into that reality — this idea is the exact opposite of the idea taught by the rest of the world. From the beginning, every other nation and culture on earth has wanted humanity to believe that true happiness comes from seizing control of reality and shaping it to suit us. But today! today, modern science has given us powers undreamed of in previous ages, and the effect on our modern, globalizing culture has been profound:
It used to be that we worked to shape reality to suit us, and us was usually defined ethnically or culturally. But more and more today I have the power to shape reality to suit me; the problem is me is an increasingly fluid concept. We have the power today to change even our bodies to suit some idealised vision of who we think we really are; the problem is: visions change as our bodies change. The human spirit and the human body are a unity; what I do to my body changes my spiritual self-perception, which in turn drives me to change my body even more — an endless cycle that can end only in the despair of completely losing track of who I am. And, friends: a complete loss of identity is not the key to happiness, that is the key to slavery.
All you have to do to enslave another human being is deny them a name, deny them a firm identity, and they will have no power to resist you. That is exactly what Satan is doing to the nations, has been doing from the beginning. And his deception is so complete that the nations have come to believe that their slavery is actually happiness.
Brothers and sisters, that is a lie. Happiness does not come from shaping reality, happiness comes from being shaped to fit reality.
And this is reality: there is a mountain growing in the midst of the nations. Its top touches the floor of heaven, where Jesus Christ is seated in a throne at his Father’s right hand. Renovations are in progress there, preparations for the wedding and a marriage that will fill the universe with life beyond life. Through the Holy Spirit we have access to God’s reception room — even his throne room at the very top.
But at the same time we live here, now, in the garden at the foot of the mountain, surrounded by hostile nations. And so we have been called to build, to maintain, to expand Jesus’ earthly Church so that there is a place where people can run to escape from the all-consuming fire of Judgement Day.
And how are we supposed participate in this building project?
This is how it all works, step by step: we begin, as children, or as new believers, by joining together each week to declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness. That is our first offering.
Then, over time, as God’s Word works within us through the Spirit, we learn to offer our minds to be renewed. We learn more and more how to test and approve what God’s will is. That is our second offering.
And then, as we mature, we learn more and more how to recognise the Body of Christ…along with our proper place in it. Over time we learn what unique physical offerings our Father wants each one of us to contribute to the ongoing project.
This is how Paul goes on to describe it in his letter to the Romans: We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Now look: this is not a complete list of the gifts our Father has distributed among us. So if you are here today and you are wanting to respond with some sacrifice, some offering, some expression of your gratitude to the God who has saved you from slavery to despair, but you do not see anything you can do on that list, do not worry! On a most basic level you are the offering. Your life is precious! We know this because the Father sent his Son to purchase you at the cost of his own life, and there is no higher price that can be paid. So if you do not know what to give…offer your whole self as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.
But if you are wanting to know more specifically what you can bring to the table, if you are wondering what God’s good, pleasing and perfect will is for your life, then do this: ask your brothers and sisters in the faith what gifts they think our Father has given you. You are good at something! You do have something essential to offer this particular church, some way to contribute to the building and maintenance of these community relationships. And as you discover the gifts our Father has given you, please give them back whenever your heart prompts you to give.
That is our application for today.
Brothers and sisters, we live in our Father’s garden now, we have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. That is already Good News! But now, here is more: as we grow in our ability to recognise the Body of Christ, and as we learn to serve the Body with the gifts our Father has given us, our pride will begin to die. We will instead begin to experience the humble joy of fitting in, of being just one small but effective part of a temple that has been built — that is being built — to house the Holy Spirit.
We have a long way to go. But our salvation is also nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here; and the mountain is growing up to meet us.
Let us press on toward the goal.