First Encounters

Exodus 19:1-9

“First Encounters”


            First impressions … first impressions are huge.  First impressions play a large role especially in the world of human resources.  As a Human Resource Manager for a private food manufacturing company before going to seminary and becoming a pastor, how the application looked when I received it made a big first impression on me.  If I noticed that there were a lot of gaps, a lot of substantial gaps in employment or if the application came in dirty, if it came in looking like it had been crumbled up, had something spilled on it, or was all ripped up … the likelihood of me calling them to come in for an interview was slim. 

But let’s say a plant is desperate for workers and so I call this person in for an interview.  How the applicant looks and how they act during our first encounter was important to me.  Even though I was hiring for factory work, appearance and conduct were a big deal.  Now I didn’t expect them to come in wearing a suit and tie, but I also knew that the managers out in the factory didn’t want someone who looked like a slob either.  They didn’t want someone who didn’t really care if they had a job or not.  They wanted someone who would regularly come to work and do their job to the best of their ability.

When it comes to first impressions … the Israelites résumé doesn’t really have a whole lot to offer.  Listen to this from Deuteronomy 7.  “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (7:7-8)

Notice there is really isn’t anything attractive listed on the Israelites résumé.  They aren’t numerous, they aren’t strong.  They don’t really seem to have anything special about them which would make them stand out from any of the other nations of the world.  If you go to the when the Israelites were trapped between Pharaoh’s approaching army and the Red Sea, they seemed to be a bunch faithless crybabies.  Even after the miracle journey through the Red Sea, as they are just starting their trek through the wilderness, the Israelites are grumbling and whining about not having anything to drink or anything to eat.  Their actions are like that of a spoiled little kid not getting what he wants.  Not a great impression.

When it comes to first impressions … you and I … well, I hate to say it but we aren’t very impressive either.  We don’t really have a whole lot to offer, especially when it comes to offering things to God.  Well actually, we have absolutely nothing to offer a holy and sinless God because we are just the exact opposite of Him.  Shoot, we were doomed before we even had a fighting chance.  Psalm 51 tells us that we were sinful from the moment our mothers conceived us.  This original or inherited sin means that when you and I or anyone else for that matter are conceived, we are spiritually blind and dead, we are enemies of God, we deserve nothing but God’s temporal and eternal death sentence, and that we are enslaved in a lifelong sinful condition from which we cannot free ourselves. 

But here is the interesting thing … even though the Israelites of our Old Testament reading had this lack luster résumé, one which would never warrant an interview, even though they were constantly grumbling and complaining about just about everything and anything … God still chooses them.  Can you believe it?  God still chose them!  He chose them over the powerful Egyptians, He chose them over the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites and all the other powerful “ite” like people who were already living in the Promised Land.  He chose Israelites!  And why?  Because He loved them and because of an obligation He made to them.  God was keeping the oath He swore to their forefathers.  Even though there was nothing which warranted God to choose them … He did because He made a promise to them.

So God brings the Israelites up out of Egypt and to the base of Mt. Sinai.  It is here where we find them this morning in our Old Testament lesson.  The people are encamped at the base of the mountain.  Moses goes up the mountain to visit with God.  God gives Moses instructions which he then relays to the people.  The people respond saying, “We will do everything the LORD has said” (Exodus 19:8).  Then comes the interesting part.

The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.”” (19:9).

This is God’s first encounter with the Israelites as a nation.  The Israelites had seen God at work.  They had seen His power.  They saw it firsthand in all the plagues which God did while they were living in Egypt.  They saw it firsthand as God parted the waters of the Red Sea and gave them a dry path to freedom.  They saw the blessings of water, bread, and quail each day while trekking through the wilderness.  The Israelites had even heard the ancient stories of God working through the patriarchs like Abraham and Noah.  They knew of God … but they had never met Him before.

It’s almost like the Israelites were going in for an interview.  Except this isn’t any ordinary interview.  This is an interview with the creator of heaven and earth.  This is an interview with the God of the whole universe. 

Think back to an interview you had to go through.  As you prepare, there is a sense of anxiety, a sense of nervousness.  Will they like me?  What will they think of me when I walk in? What if mess up?  What do I say if this ask me this question?  When the day of the interview comes, you spend a little extra time in the bathroom making sure that you look really good.  You go and pick out the perfect outfit, making sure that your shirt isn’t wrinkled or that there isn’t a stain on it.  And then you head out to meet your potential employer for the first time.

Same thing for the Israelites.  God says that they have three days to get themselves ready for this big event.  The Israelites do everything they are suppose to do.  They consecrate themselves, they washed their clothes (Ex. 19:15).  They get themselves ready.  They want to make a great impression upon God.

And then the big day comes.  The day they have anxiously been waiting for.  The day they get to meet the LORD of heaven and earth.  We’re told … “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled” (Ex. 19:16).  Wait! What?  Here the people are to meet the God who rescued them and the people are petrified, they are scared out of their minds.  God comes down, speaks to Moses, gives him the Ten Commandments.  God doesn’t come down to ask questions or to interview the people.  He comes to speak to Moses so that the people will know to listen to Moses and trust him.  The people’s response after God gets done speaking?  They tell Moses, you “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die” (Ex. 20:19). 

You see, the Israelites here recognize their position.  Despite what they think … the Israelites are not worthy to stand in the presence of God.  And you and I are no different.  It’s easy to think that my life is impressive, that I have it all together.  But there is nothing impressive about us.  Our life résumé doesn’t have any great achievements listed on it.  We don’t possess any outstanding qualifications or job skills.  There is nothing you or I can do which would impress God.  He knows our hearts, He knows all of our sins and our failures. 

He knows them all too well for He took all of those sins and failures and buried them.  Lifted up under a dark cloud, Jesus bore our sins and failures.  Under the awesome and raw power of God, Jesus suffered, trembled, and died.  With his lifeless body, Jesus buried our sins and failures with him in his grave.  But as Jesus walked out of that grave … he left them, he left your sins and failures there.

But why? 

It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery” (Deut. 7:7).  God made a promise to you and He will never turn back away from that promise.  God is with you now, He has been with you through the darkness of the past three months, He will be with you through the uncertainty yet to come, He will be with you up to the day He calls you home, and He will be with you wiping away every tear that comes to your eye in the new heaven and the new earth yet to come.   Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever.  Amen!