New Years is a time that we often take to reflect on the previous year and make commitments or adjustments. How can we avoid certain things or achieve certain goals? What did we love about last year and what do we want to experience this year?
Do you make resolutions each year?
I want us to return to Israel after the Exodus to focus on the renewal of the covenant between God and Israel.
In the third month from the very day the Israelites left the land of Egypt, they came to the Sinai Wilderness. 2 They traveled from Rephidim, came to the Sinai Wilderness, and camped in the wilderness. Israel camped there in front of the mountain. 3 Moses went up the mountain to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain: “This is what you must say to the house of Jacob and explain to the Israelites: 4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you will carefully listen to me and keep my covenant, you will be my own possession out of all the peoples, although the whole earth is mine, 6 and you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation.’ These are the words that you are to say to the Israelites.” 7 After Moses came back, he summoned the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8 Then all the people responded together, “We will do all that the Lord has spoken.” So Moses brought the people’s words back to the Lord. // Exodus 19:1–8 CSB
The day they left Egypt was the beginning of their year and exactly 2 months later God and Moses had a talk.
4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. // Exodus 19:4 CSB
The first item on God’s agenda for his talk with Moses was the past. Looking back. We often do not value the past as much as we should.
I often find myself looking at the past to see what I did wrong and where I failed. Our past can certainly haunt us, can’t it?
We all fail. We all sin.
10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. // 1 John 1:10 NLT
Our enemy wants to throw our past up in our face to make us think we are not good enough. Well, let’s be honest. We are not. The point is that God is! And it is his good pleasure to make us good enough through Jesus.
It is good to look back at our past, even to our past mistakes so that we can learn from them and avoid making the same mistakes.
Notice that God does NOT bring up the past to bring up Moses’ tainted history. God brings up the past to point out His faithfulness.
We often look back at our past and feel pain, especially if we had a hard year with loss and trials. Some years we look back on and want to forget all together.
Character Sketch: In the book of Ruth, when Naomi returns to her home without her husband and sons and with her foreigner daughter-in-law the people of the town noticed her:
20 “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara,” she answered, “for the Almighty has made me very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has opposed me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” // Ruth 1:20–21 CSB
Have you ever felt that way?
We can look back at our mistakes and our pain. We may also look back at our triumphs and joys! This past year my son Conner got engaged. How awesome is that!?
In all these circumstances, we tend to view our past through the lens of our lives and how we are affected and how we were impacted. It is our emotions and our achievements that we often look back at with joy or regret.
God says to Moses: “You have seen what I did”.
How often have you looked back at the previous year, or even the previous week, and just acknowledged what God did?
There are at least 3 things mentioned in verse 4
- “what I did to the Egyptians” – God not only tortured and plundered the Egyptians – he destroyed their armies and their king.
- DEFENDS: God fights for us. How many battles has god given you victory over in the past year?
- “I carried you on Eagles wings” – Eagles were known for their speed, protecting their young, being mighty hunters and having great endurance. This passage seems to focus on the fact that God cared for them like a father does for his helpless offspring, making sure they do not perish.
- SUSTAINS: God carries us. How many times have you felt overwhelmed and God got you through them?
- “brought you to myself” – God was not most interested in bringing them out of Egypt nor into the Promised Land. His primary longing was to bring them to himself. Out of isolation and into relationship.
- REDEEMS: God loves us. As you look back on your year, how has God revealed himself to you? What have you learned about him? Have you experienced his love?
Living in the NOW
God did not ask them just to look back at the past. God called them to act in the present. Considering the past, do something now.
If we look back at past failures and hurts and fail to take action to change or grow through them, we will probably end up with a complex or feeling victimized (like Naomi).
If we look back at our past successes and joy and see them as our greatest joys with no ambition to see new joys or strive for new successes, we will tend to live in the “glory days” and miss out on much of life’s joys. We will stagnate, or worse, atrophy in our ambitions.
Reflection gains value when we choose to act on it.
We know this, and even have cute sayings like, “learn from your mistakes”. What we are saying is, look back, but make sure that it affects the way you live now and in the future.
5 Now if you will carefully listen to me and keep my covenant… // Exodus 19:5a CSB
As we have discussed before, listening and obeying are two different things. Those are the two things God has demanded from the beginning:
- When he placed Adam in the garden he talked with Adam. Adam listened. He gave Adam a command not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam did NOT obey.
- Noah found favor with God because he heard God AND obeyed.
- Abram found favor with God because he heard God AND obeyed.
But God’s expectation of people hearing him and obeying him is not limited to a few elites or select people like those guys. The command in this passage is for all the house of Jacob – for all of God’s people, to listen and to obey.
Perhaps one of the hardest things for many of us to do is listen: to our spouse, our kids, our pastor 😉 There is probably no one we love to listen to more than ourselves. Listening takes effort, attention and time. God loves to hear from us, but he also wants us to hear from him.
God wants us to listen to him. How does he speak to us?
- Through his Word, the Bible.
- Through his Spirit that lives in every believer in Jesus.
- Through our circumstances (when they do not conflict with the other 2)
- Through other people.
ASK: Do you spend time listening to God?
Perhaps 2019 is the year you should journal your prayers and what you hear God telling you? Or maybe you should try a 90 day or 1-year plan to read God’s Word asking him to help you hear him.
We cannot obey God if we do not hear God. Just like we cannot obey our parents if we do not hear them. We cannot keep God’s commandments if we do not know what they are. Just like we cannot keep the laws if we do not know what they are.
Remembering that what we believe influences what we do, we are encouraged to prove our faith in God by the actions we take. Keeping God’s commandments means making sure that our actions line up with His Words. The book of 1st John talks about this topic a lot:
3 This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commands. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know him,” and yet doesn’t keep his commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps his word, truly in him the love of God is made complete. This is how we know we are in him: 6 The one who says he remains in him should walk just as he walked. // 1 John 2:3–6 CSB
Did you catch that? If you say you know God and do NOT keep his commandments you are a liar. Talk about blunt! Later in this book we read that our actions prove our love:
3 Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. // 1 John 5:3 NLT
The big IF
Going back to verse 5, we read, “Now if….” It is easy to miss that little word.
I think the point is this: God does not FORCE us to follow Him. He wants us to follow him because of our relationship with him. If we have no relationship there is no need to follow. God says, “I drew you to me”, I showed my love for you. Now, you get to decide IF you are going to show your love for me.
Perhaps we need to adjust our perspective.
God said to the Israelites: look at how I defended, carried and embraced you – and now that you can see that I love you and that you can trust me – listen to me and obey me.
** it’s not just that we must keep his commands… it’s that we get to. We have a loving Father who has a much more awesome plan for our lives than we could ever dream up. Obeying him is the key to living life with the intentions our Creator has for us. Why wouldn’t we want to do what he asks?
IF we will see God’s love for us, and IF we will love him back by listening to him and obeying him, THEN the rest of the covenant can take place: He can bless us.
CAUTION: The blessing of God does NOT necessarily mean stuff! He might choose to bless you and me with things like he did Solomon. But the blessing I KNOW he will give to us is a redeemed life and a restored purpose. God’s biggest blessings are restoration and re-creation.
Let’s see what God promises the nation Israel IF they listen and obey:
5 Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6 And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” // Exodus 19:5–6 NLT
IF you love me and follow me, I will do this for you:
Make you my special people (treasure) POSSESSED BY GOD
God called Israel this before:
6 For you are a holy people belonging to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be his own possession out of all the peoples on the face of the earth. // Deuteronomy 7:6 CSB
To be God’s possession is to be treasured by God. The king himself has chosen us to be with him, in relationship with Him. Of all the people of the earth, God picked YOU.
Make you a kingdom of priests COMMISSIONED BY GOD
Priests as those that not only enter into the presence of the Lord, but those that minister to him, do his bidding, teach others about him and intercede for the people they serve. Though the nation had specific people who would serve as priests, this commission extends to the entire nation of Israel. They ALL would get the opportunity to minister to God, serve Him, intercede for others and teach others about God and his Word.
Make you a holy nation CONSECRATED BY GOD
To be holy is to be set apart from the common. It is to be consecrated for a specific purpose. To be a holy nation is to be a nation set apart to display the very glory of God to the world around them. God desired to display His glory to all the earth through the nation Israel. God’s presence with them, his protection of them and his provision for them would show the nations around them who God really is.
THIS PROMISE IS NOT JUST FOR ISRAEL. You and I, if we have believed in Jesus are a:
He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works. // Titus 2:14 CSB
you yourselves, as living stones, a spiritual house, are being built to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. // 1 Peter 2:5 CSB
But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. // 1 Peter 2:9 NLT
Peter understood that the covenant that God made with the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai was not meant just for the physical descendants of Abraham, but also those that NT refers to as “circumcised of the heart” – the spiritual descendants of Abraham. Those that look back on the way God delivered, sustained and loved us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and choose to love him by listening to Him and obeying him.
To US, he has promised to make us a chosen people (his special possession), a royal priesthood (living in service to him) and a holy nation (sharing the glory of God with others).
The covenant was put forth, and it required action. God told Moses to take those words to the people… and God expected a response.
7 So Moses returned from the mountain and called together the elders of the people and told them everything the Lord had commanded him. 8 And all the people responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” So Moses brought the people’s answer back to the Lord. // Exodus 19:7–8 NLT
The people made the right response.:
Right now: what will your response be? Will you listen to him today? Will you make a vow in 2019 to listen and obey? If so, He promises to treasure you, set you apart and partner with you to take the good news of Jesus to the world.
The last 4 months we have seen over and over that you and I were created for relationship and representation. That God’s mission is to restore our relationship with Him through Jesus and re-commission us to his work.
Will you resolve in 2019 to spend your days growing in your relationship with God and representing Him to the world around you?