June 14, 2020 “God’s Treasured Possession”
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
If you want to get to know someone, one thing to do is ask them some ‘leading questions.’ How they answer those questions tells you something about their personality. This often happens in group-games called ‘ice-breakers.’ I was reminded of one such question by the OT reading today from Exodus 19. The question is: ‘if my house caught fire, after saving my family, I would grab…..’ (what?) The way you finish that sentence would show what you think is really an important or valuable item in your life. You would rescue your most ‘treasured possession.’ That’s what God did; He rescued His people ~ His most treasured possession. *Why? Because He chose to love them; and they were specifically chosen to testify to His mercy & love for the world; so that many more would see, believe, trust & be saved by Him from the disaster of sin & eternal death. The message of Ex.19 is a valuable reminder to each of us.
YOU are God’s chosen & treasured possession. He knows you, & found you, & brought you the gospel message & baptized you with His name. He has saved you thru Jesus Christ, and has included you among His people in this world. That kind of loving attention moves us to respond to Him == that response is called ‘faith’ = faith is trust & obedience. God instructs our faith-responding by His Word, His Holy Scripture; just like He did with the OT Israelites.
The fact that we are God’s Treasured Possession is nothing new to our ears; that’s the Gospel message, which is the central focus of our church & worship life, our liturgy & hymns & preaching. However, our response to that message, our living as God’s treasured possession, is what we most often struggle with. Keeping ourselves ‘on course’, and living obediently to Him, is as hard now as it was for His OT people. Just as they wandered from God’s ways, WE have too. So, any encouraging word to them will also encourage us.
So generally, let’s ponder God’s choosing and our responding. In Exodus 19, the Israelites had just arrived at the foot of Mt.Sinai. When the people of Israel =the descendants of Abraham/Isaac/&Jacob= had first gone into Egypt, they were just a large family of Jacob’s 12 sons & their households trying to escape a famine. In about 400 years, the Lord had grown them into a large group, & into their own cultural nation within Egypt.
Out of fear, Egypt oppressed & enslaved them. But, God had made promises to Ab/Is/&Jacob. So, out of all the many people-groups of the world, God chose Israel to be His Treasured Possession. God rescued them out of brutal slavery and certain genocide. The Gospel’s promise of a Savior had already been made -long ago- to Adam & Eve.
But now the people of the earth were scattered into many separate nations of culture & language; and all had turned away from their Creator to their own made-up gods. So, God renewed the special promise He made to Abraham. He had made a covenant with Abraham, (a sacred agreement) that he & his descendants would be God’s chosen people. Thru them, the true worship & knowledge of the One True God would be preserved in the world; and then thru them, God would fulfill His promised rescue man from sin & hell = that rescue would be for ALL peoples, nations, tribes, & languages.
Now, in leading up to Exodus 19, this generation of chosen people had just experienced a pivotal event in that salvation history. As God said, “I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to Myself.” God showed Himself to the world as He rescued Israel. He displayed His miraculous power & attention to mankind for both punishment and for help. There would be punishment for those who continue to rebel against God & who still trusted in their false gods, despite what God had shown to them. Yahweh had afflicted them with those 10 terrible plagues, and the passover of death, and then -even- the drowning of the world’s mightiest army in the Red Sea. The Egyptians witnessed all of that, and still most refused to acknowledge who the one true God is.
But, at the very same time, those punishing miracles were also helpful miracles. By them, God saved His treasured possession, and it was an awesome display of His powerful kingship & love for any&all who would turn to Him, & trust in Him alone as the one true God So for Israel, the Lord was making an unbreakable promise to them; the same promise He had made to Abraham. It is THIS: that by God’s own grace & His own choosing, they had become His own valuable possession. At times, the Israelites didn’t appreciate all that it meant to be God’s treasured possession; and at times WE don’t appreciate it either.
God’s plan was that He would make them to be a visible example of His mercy & grace to the rest of the world. By forgiving them, by not holding their sins against them, that would show that God was willing to pardon ALL people; whoever would turn to Him would receive the same mercy. It wouldn’t matter what was their nationality, language, or location in His world, for Yahweh is the Creator of ALL human beings. At Mt.Sinai, God renews His covenant with Israel, as a sign for all people of the world to see & understand. God would demonstrate with this chosen people His attention & mercy; He would provide for them, He would defeat their enemies for them, teach them right from wrong & bring them into the land of Canaan, just as he promised. As He did that, His people were to trust Him in all things, & have no other gods besides Him.
So then, what God demonstrated with the earthly nation of Israel & earthly blessings, that would be the sign of the heavenly things God was promising to the whole world of people, and the covenant He had made to Adam & Eve for all of their descendants = all mankind. That covenant was to send the world’s messiah or savior to pay for all sin, and to offer His forgiveness to all humans, and to bring all who trust Him into the eternal & heavenly Promised Land.
So, if God was doing all of this for Israel, *why did they so often turn away from Him? Because they had what we have = a sinful nature; which can be rebellious, doubtful, & slow to learn & slow to believe. So, when we read of them, we see ourselves.
Israel had 3 main troubles: 1st, was that they were short-sighted, and often treasured earthly things above heavenly things. So, when they suffered a little, or got impatient with God’s timing, they got mad at Him, & rebelled & did things their own way. Their 2nd trouble was while they were learning from God, they were still living in a world that did everything opposite of God’s ways. They didn’t like being different than the world around them; they were made fun of & persecuted for living by God’s holy rules. So they often just gave up trying. And 3rd, they often underestimated the power of their own sinful natures & worldliness. They were constantly tempted to do what comes naturally to all sinners = sin. Disobedience is the first & easiest thing for us to do. And the world is going to say that’s okay, but it’s not okay with our Holy God.
So, this is what we read about God’s people in the pages of Scripture. They are often a struggling, failing people. +Even while God was preparing for their freedom thru those 10 plagues, the people doubted God, and their life got harder for a time. Then, when God freed them, they thanked Him & obeyed Him -for a while. +At the Red Sea, when they were sandwiched between the water & the army of Egypt, they were fearful & complained. But God delivered them, and then they sang His praises -for a while. +In the desert they complained about the lack of food & water, and blamed God & said that they’d rather be back in slavery where at least they had food. But God was patient & loving, He provided for their needs. Then they -again- repented, and put their trust in Him -for a while.
Thru all this ‘back & forth’ movement of Israel’s trust in God, God reminded them of all that He’s done for them. He wanted them to not doubt, but base their lives on everything He promised would come true. He was teaching them to be patient, and to trust Him thru all ups & downs, and to seek first the lasting kingdom of God, and not the passing earthly things.
God had decided they were His treasured possession, and thru their rescue He was revealing His eternal life & forgiveness & rescue for the whole world. When they learned to first trust His promises & covenant, then with confidence they could live their lives according to all
His Word. WE can learn a lot from how God dealt with the OT Israelites.
And now, even tho WE are living in a different time, we have the same promises and same gracious & holy God choosing us. With the advent of the promised messiah, God’s own Son, Jesus of Nazareth, God’s salvation plan has advanced with His OT promises fulfilled. So, His NT promises have become that much more certain for you & me so that we would trust Him fully, and respond in a faithful life. Now everyone who believes in Jesus Christ is His treasure possession, and is the new Israel of God.
That was the message Jesus sent His apostles out to proclaim, as Peter does in 1Peter2, speaking to all who believe & are baptized in Jesus as God & Savior. He says “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, and holy nation, a people belonging to God… once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have receive mercy.” This is true; & it is purely out of God’s Fatherly, divine goodness & mercy, without any merit or worthiness on our part.
The Bible says this about the marvelous love of God. ‘For you see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly… He demonstrated His love for us in this: while were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We have been justified by His blood and reconciled with God for eternal life in heaven. …>
….> How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called ‘children of God…and that is what we are. We are not children of natural descent, nor of human decision, or of man’s choice, but born of God.’ This means YOU are part of His treasured possession.
God’s choosing to carry us -as on eagles wings- then moves us to respond to Him, and to LIVE like His holy people. The value He has place on us is the same value He place on the OT chosen people = it is with a spiritual purpose. Which is: to bear witness to Him in the world by our obedience and willing worship & service. This response fits with what He has called us to BE: a holy nation, which is on a journey thru a desert-dry & unholy world, and into His eternal promised land.
So now we come back to the reason that the Israelites are standing at the foot of Mt.Sinai. They are there, as God’s people, in order to receive His 10 commandments for life as well as the rest of the Law & Covenant that God had first made to Abraham; which is also for all of Abrahams’ descendants of the same faith = including us. With His own written word, God would direct Israel to respond & behave & serve him as His holy people should.
Those 10 commandments would direct & shape the life of God’s people in the fallen world, both back then and now. His people live in faith & trust in Him. We love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind & body; and we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. With God’s own instructions, we are like priests among pagans, a holy congregation in an unholy world. And just like Israel found out, to live according to God’s Words we will be made fun of, because we will be living differently than the world does. It will be a harder life, because it will go against even our own inner desire & sense of things. At times, it will even go against what our friends or family want, or against what a watered-down Christianity thinks.
But like the faithful Israelites, we value God’s eternal things more than earth’s temporary things. We are forsaking this world because of the promises of the next one. That’s what our Lord Jesus taught us when He said that -as His disciples- we would be willing to lay down this life, and take up our cross & follow him. We can respond that way because He has put before us His promises of much greater things to come. And then, as His people, our purpose in this faith is to be His own light & salt to show Him to the world; because He is calling others out of spiritual darkness and into His light of eternal life.
One purpose of this message today is to show that the OT is not an outdated part of the Bible; it’s not just ancient history. It’s the history of God dealing with people; it’s a vital part of our understanding of the faith, and of God. It is there for our learning & strength & salvation as the people of God for today.
*How do we -the NT Israel- compare to the OT Israel? 5 things:
+The people of God have always lived by faith in God’s promises.
+They have always looked forward to the promise of Eternal Life in heaven over & above any other blessing in this passing world.
+They have always been assured of rescue from sin & death thru the promised forgiving-work of the messiah Jesus Christ, whether before He was put on the cross or after.
+They have always been saved by God’s grace alone; and that gracious choosing has empowered them & us to respond to Him by living a life worthy of being called a kingdom of His priests, and a holy nation.
+And finally, God’s people, them & us, have always been in need of constant reminding & learning so that, in view of His love for us, we will not wander away from Him, and be lost again.
God chose you & me to be His treasure possession; and that shows that He loves and has rescued the whole world in Christ Jesus. It’s because of His love, our lives will respond with the people at Mt.Sinai in Exodus 19, who said: “we will do everything the Lord has said.”