Exodus 20:18-19 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.
God’s people were afraid of him, so they begged Moses to mediate on their behalf. Moses represented the people to God, and God to the people. This was a helpful arrangement, because it gave ordinary sinners access to God, without fear of being destroyed by his holy wrath. Priests and prophets were later ordained for a similar purpose, but the ideal mediator came in the person of Jesus Christ. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5), wrote Paul.
As perfectly God, Jesus represents God to humans. As perfectly human, Jesus represents humans to God. Sinners cannot approach a holy God without a mediator and hope to survive. But God has provided the perfect mediator in the person of Jesus Christ. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6), he said. This is why we pray in Jesus’ name (John 15:16).
Exodus 25:8 [H]ave them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.
God’s presence with his people was seen in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). For the additional good of his people, he also ordained a place of worship called the tabernacle. It was an elaborate tent about fifteen feet wide, fifteen feet high, and forty-five feet long. It was not very big, but it was made of expensive materials. God dwelt inside the tabernacle so he could be with his people wherever they went.
The New Testament says something similar about Jesus Christ. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14), wrote John. God lived in a tent so he could be near his people. Then he came in Christ so he could be even nearer.
A friend of mine grew up in a family of thirteen children. They all got married, had children of their own, and no one moved away. Everyone thought it was great except for Grandma and Grandpa. With everyone stopping by all the time, they were so exhausted that they moved to another state.
But other grandparents follow their children because they cannot bear to be away from them. That is what God is like. So after Christ returned to heaven, he sent the Spirit to live within us (John 14:17). Notice the progression: God dwelt among his people in the tabernacle, then in Christ, now by the Spirit, and soon in heaven.
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God (Revelation 21:3), wrote John. Any separation from God will be a thing of the past. We will dwell in his presence forever, and be filled with eternal delight.
Exodus 29:38 This is what you are to offer on the altar regularly each day: two lambs a year old.
Inside the courtyard of the tabernacle was an altar for burning sacrifices. Two lambs were offered every day. Grain offerings, fellowship offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings were also made. They were necessary to stay in a right relationship with God. God was teaching his people that sin is serious, and must be paid for.
The many ceremonies and sacrifices also showed that the way to God was not completely open yet. God was in the midst of his people, but he was not very accessible. In fact, if anyone who was not a priest got close to God’s tent, they were to be killed (Numbers 3:10).
Even most priests were only allowed in the first room of God’s tent, not in the back room, where God’s presence dwelt. Only the High Priest was allowed to go in there, only once a year, and only with sacrificial blood (Leviticus 16). The two rooms were called the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, and were separated by an elaborate curtain (Exodus 26:31-33). God was with his people, but it was difficult to get to him.
In fact, all the animals sacrificed for hundreds of years never really atoned for sin, but only pointed forward to the sacrifice of Christ. The moment he died on the cross, the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51), showing the way to God was opened to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. He is our great high priest (Hebrews 4:14), and our perfect sacrifice, who opened the way to God for us.
Exodus 32:1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.
Moses had been with God on top of Mount Sinai for nearly six weeks. In his absence the people grew restless, and asked for other gods to lead them. Aaron collected gold and melted it down to create an idol in the shape of a calf. He also built an altar and declared a festival the following day. The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry (Exodus 32:6).
Only weeks before they had heard God say, You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth (Exodus 20:3-4). We will do everything the Lord has said (Exodus 24:7), they replied.
They had planned to follow God with all their hearts, and even pledged to do so. But then they went astray. They were truly the people of God, but they were also sinners. And telling sinners not to sin, is like telling roaches to stay out of the kitchen.
This is important to understand so that we will not despair every time we fail. Even the Apostle Paul struggled with sin. What a wretched man I am! (Romans 7:24), he wrote. In fact, Paul described himself as the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:16), even when he was old.
But Paul put his faith in Jesus Christ who saved us from the penalty of sin (Romans 8:1), is now saving us from the power of sin (Romans 6:14), and will save us from the presence of sin (Revelation 21:27). [Y]ou are to give him the name Jesus, [said the angel] because he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
Reflection and Review
Why is Jesus a perfect mediator between God and humans?
What does the sanctuary tell us about God?
How does Jesus save us from the penalty, power and presence of sin?