All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself, and we will listen; but let not God speak to us or we will die.” Exodus 20.18-19
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous; and he himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for our only, but also for those of the whole world.
1 John 2.1-2
Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.
The way that Israel responded to Yahweh in the wilderness is often stunning. They hear the Ten Commandments (including that one about not crafting a graven image) and in less than two months they make a golden calf to represent Yahweh. They are delivered out of slavery and complain and want to go back into their slavery. Something that could be added to this list is their fear of God’s presence and word: Moses has dealt with God speaking to him since the burning bush, but now the Israelites encounter Yahweh’s speech and the thunder and smoke that accompany it in the giving of the 10 words, and Israel has this freak out moment. They don’t want to approach or hear Yahweh’s speech.
This reaction is hard to completely come to grips with. What makes Moses and Aaron, the prophet and priest, suitable for the job? All of Israel was supposed to have prepared themselves and to be both ceremonially clean but also holy to Yahweh. They should have been ready for this third day, but it seems as though only Moses is up to the encounter. Moses reassures them that God has come to test them, which makes sense. The 10 words reveal their utter depravity that they will break the most basic of stipulations that God graciously gives them. The presence of God reveals to them their sin and reminds them that they are not right with God. They ought not to stand in his presence. In fact, meeting God often implied entering into his judgment. When Amos says, ‘Prepare to meet your God,’ he is not saying that Israel should leap for joy, but that they should be in sackcloth and ashes repenting of their utter wickedness.
This whole picture stands in vibrant contrast to the New Testament. Yes, in the Old Testament, priests do enter the holy of holies once a year. Yes, prophets enter the court of God and hear his words, but this is not the norm, and they are able to stand only by God’s gracious and merciful hand. In the New Testament meeting God is in a whole different key. We celebrate advent this season and we remember how Jesus, the Son of God, took on flesh and dwelt with humanity, and it wasn’t simply God bringing judgment on his people. Instead, God in his son brings salvation even though as the warning of judgment for sin still persists. Jesus often refers to judgment of sinners even when he talks about salvation through grace.
One of the most glorious things about the incarnation of the Son of God and his life, his death and resurrection, however, is the barrier he broke. If you have repented and believed, there is no longer terror of God. In fact, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. How much better is Jesus Christ as an advocate for us than Moses? Jesus is better! And so we can approach with boldness the throne of grace and it is there that we find mercy and grace in our time of need.
So in this season that we celebrate the advent of the Son of God, rejoice in the advocacy of Jesus, and no longer live a life of fear and trembling. The Christmas season is one of hope and joy because of what Jesus’ coming means. May we not neglect this.