12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain. Wait there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commands that I have written, so that you can teach them.”
13 Moses set out with his assistant Joshua and went up onto the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, “Wait here for us, until we come back to you. Look, here are Aaron and Hur. They will be with you. Whoever is involved in a dispute can go to them.”
15 Moses went up onto the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The Glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered the mountain for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses out of the middle of the cloud. 17 The appearance of the Glory of the Lord looked like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered into the middle of the cloud and climbed up the mountain. Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.Exodus 24:12-18
“The glory of the Lord!” What in the world is that?! If someone asked you what it was how would you answer them? “The glory of the Lord!” is really very familiar to us. We hear it all the time in our worship. When we use the “Common Service” and hear, “In the peace of forgiveness let us praise the Lord!” and then we sing, “Glory to God in the highest!” or when we use page 15 we sing, “Glory be to God on high!” Before reading the Gospel we often sing, “Glory be to you, O Lord!” In the service of Word and Sacrament we sing, “O Lord, our Lord, how glorious is your name in all the earth!” We sing or speak about “The glory of the Lord!” all the time. My goodness, even when you hear Handel’s Messiah aren’t you lifted off your chair when the choir sings, “And the glory, the glory of the Lord!” Just what are we all singing about?
To get a handle on this wonderful phrase so often repeated in God’s Word and in our worship, let’s think of this phrase in terms of fire! So you can get an idea of where I’m going with this let’s try this little experiment. Let’s stuff a nightclub with people with a super popular band. They are quite the sight to see with all their lights and pyrotechnics blasting during the songs. But, then the Styrofoam and stage decorations catch fire and explode into deadly flames. “Fire!” and watch all the people running for the door. If you would witness this you’d start to have an idea of what the “The glory of the Lord!” can be like and what it can do to people. But, there’s more to it! You see, fire can be bad and good. Fire is bad if it burns up things you like or even burns you. But, fire can also be good if it’s used to cook your T-bone steaks or smokes your BBQ. It also provides warmth to our homes and even romance on Valentine Dates. So, let’s take a look at the fire in today’s Word of God that illustrates “The glory of the Lord!” to see how it works and what effects it has on people. You heard about Mt Sinai in Exodus 24 and saw it in your mind as you listen to find out:
There’s Fire on The Mountain
The Fire Means Danger
God was leading his chosen people from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. Along the route God lead them to Mt Sinai so he could talk with them about what to expect if they were going to be connected to him. He called to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain. Wait there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commands that I have written, so that you can teach them….15 Moses went up onto the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The Glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai.” Don’t you get chills thinking about how awesome this was? The people were all gathered around the mountain and all too happy to let Moses climb up the mountain, because truth be told, they didn’t really want to get too close to God! Physically—yes, but even more so spiritually! Imagine that! The people God had just delivered from Egypt, through the Red Sea and called “the people of God,” probably didn’t want to get close to God and didn’t want God to get too close to them, either! 13 Moses set out with his assistant Joshua and went up onto the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, “Wait here for us, until we come back to you. Look, here are Aaron and Hur. They will be with you. Whoever is involved in a dispute can go to them.” Really? Would they start being unrulily once Moses was up on the mountain? It didn’t take long for that to happen once the cloud covered the top and obscured God’s presence. You can almost hear the Israelites breathing a sigh of relief! “I’m so happy Moses is going up there. Sure am happy God didn’t call me to climb up there!” Why? Because “17 The appearance of the Glory of the Lord looked like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.”
You know they all felt that way because they were human. It is normal for sinful humans to want to escape the glare and glory of the holy God. Just ask Adam and Eve hiding in the bushes! Anyone who breaks God’s law wants to stay away from the consuming fire of God’s anger. It’s no different than those folks in California who were watching the forest fires from a distance—that’s okay. But, then the winds shift and they wonder how long they can last before they have to flee for their lives! The fire of God’s holy and just anger is nothing to fool with. It is powerful and all consuming. You might catch a fingerprint of God’s glory if you’ve ever experienced lightning striking right next to you. Yeah, no wonder the Israelites were afraid when they saw “The Glory of the Lord” appear on the mountain as a dangerous fire!
So, God called Moses up the mountain, into the fire itself, because God had some super important words to speak to Moses for his people. Even our Kingdom Kids know how powerful God’s Word is—like “a double edged sword…judging the thoughts and intentions of a person’s heart” (Heb 4:12). From God’s mouth came the standard he demanded from his people, “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy!” (Lev 19:2). And fail to meet up to God’s holiness meant God’s consuming fire! Yes, there was Fire on The Mountain!
That “glory of the Lord” that fire on the mountain of God wouldn’t be so bad if our sinfulness didn’t make us like kindling wood. The fire danger from God is extremely high because the bad guy or bad girl we are likes to play with matches! When God says, “Don’t” our sinful nature says, “Why not?” Our sinful nature loves to fiddle with the forbidden and strike the match that lights God’s flame that should consume us. Perhaps your match is your filthy tongue when you say, “I love God, but I love my filthy mouth more!” Maybe your match is your hands that would rather grasp the drugs, drinks and dirt of this world as you confess, “I love God, but I love what my evil hands, eyes and thoughts do even more!” Then it is time to gaze on the Fire on the Mountain and repent. Realizing full well that the Fire on the Mountain is God’s just judgment to those who reject him. And left to us we would be reduced to ashes. For there is Fire on That Mountain! But listen again! There is Fire on That Mountain, and because of God’s mercy
The Fire Means Deliverance
When you sing “Glory to God in the highest” I don’t think you have God’s burning judgment in mind. Otherwise you wouldn’t be yawning while singing. Indeed, you wouldn’t be singing at all! You’d be screaming! God knows this. He knows what you deserve. You know it too, because you’ve compared your life to his holy law and realized how desperate of a situation you’re in. Indeed, God’s people compare their lives to the mirror of God’s law and recognize their sin. Unbelievers have no knowledge of God’s law, have little or no knowledge of their situation, therefore it’s no wonder unbelievers think they’re ok. But, you recognize what the people around Mt Sinai recognized. Listen: “I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commands that I have written, so that you can teach them.” We know God gave Moses his holy commands, but there were other words God gave to Moses. They are the words that rise from the ashes to bring deliverance to God’s people. That message from God pointed them to the Messiah—to Jesus Christ.
True enough, when Jesus came there was no fire and lightning, or even a forest fire to call attention to his arrival. However, this doesn’t mean Jesus came without fire. It was a fire burning in his heart for the deliverance of all people. It was a fire burning in his soul to offer his perfect life and substitutionary life to wash away all our sins. Jesus came to fulfill his Father’s will to save us all by taking upon himself the fires of hell from the wrath of his Father. Yes, the fire Jesus endured brough us deliverance!
About six months before Jesus would suffer and die he also climbed a mountain—the Mt of Transfiguration. There we see the “glory of the Lord.” Today we celebrate the glow that comes from “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the person of Christ Jesus” (2 Cor 4:4). Jesus climbed that mountain before he began the active, intense suffering for our sins. Jesus climbed that mountain as true man, knowing full well the intense pain he would endure. Before he would enter into this season of suffering, pain and torture the Father in heaven gave him a “fire of deliverance.” You heard it, “2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus” (Matt 17:2-3). God the Father opened a window of heaven and sent these prophets down to earth on the rays of heaven to appear with Jesus who allowed his glory to shine forth as true God. Would all this suffering and pain be worth it? Yes! God the Father reinforced his Son that all the Old Testament prophets had foretold where about to be carried out through Jesus Christ. After Jesus experienced the fiery wrath of God the Father on the cross of Calvary, he would once again enter into the glory of the Lord at the right hand of God the Father almighty. That trip up the mountain into the fire of God’s glory was a great encouragement for Jesus, his disciples and for us! In Jesus the fire of suffering means deliverance for us all!
This fire still means deliverance for you. On the one hand you might react like the disciples on the Mt of Transfiguration and be fearful of God’s glorious fire. Let it be so, if you are living in rebellion against God. But, when you are living in the joy and peace of Jesus’ forgiveness, his promises of peace and eternal life with him in heaven, then another fire is burning within you. It was the same fire the disciples who walked with Jesus the day he rose from the dead expressed: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). The Holy Spirit still uses the same Word of God to speak to our hearts so the warmth of God’s deliverance burns in you.
Today we have stood on two mountains. On Mt Sinai a fire was burning that convicted us of our sinfulness according to God’s law. On the Mt of Transfiguration another fire burns within us—the fire of God’s deliverance through Jesus Christ. From these two mountains—the mountain of fire from God’s law and the mountain of fire from God’s gospel we can view another mountain. Can you see it? It is Mt Zion in heaven! Rejoice! Glory to God in the highest! There’s Fire On the Mountains! Amen!