When we see a text like Exodus 19, we might stop to ask ourselves if God changed since then. The people of Israel receive warning to take three days to prepare themselves, washing their clothes (no small task for them), stay away from the Mount Sinai, and even abstain from sex with their spouses. The strictest, most formal church looks presumptuous by comparison. After all, if you enter the sanctuary or auditorium too early, no one throws rocks at you or fires arrows into your back. The people needed to prepare themselves to meet with and hear from the Almighty God. Giving them just a glimpse of his power, he descended upon the mountain supernaturally displaying nature’s fierceness with what would appear to us a raging storm. All the while, Moses moves in and out of proximity to God in order to deliver instructions to the people.
These people likely never heard anything so loud as God’s display of power at this location. Where we grow used to the existence of loud noises from sirens, airplanes, concerts, and the like, these people never heard so much as an amplified voice. Perhaps the loudest thing they heard before arriving at Sinai was the water rushing back into place to drown the Egyptian army. Where the Psalms speak of seeking the face of God as a way of communicating the desire to know and worship God, Exodus 19:21 records the instructions for the people not to attempt to approach God in a way so intimate. Doing so would cause God to break forth on them, that is, for the awesome power he wielded to come against them. Such a person would find God directing his power against him.
So why do we approach God in a way showing such familiarity when God prevented the people of Israel from doing such a thing? Recall the penalties. Touching the mountain meant a terribly painful death, attempting to break through to gaze at God meant finding his power aimed at them. Scripture says God does not change, so do we do something wrong when we gather to worship?
While God does not change, Christians today approach God differently, with familiarity and an expectation of intimacy with good reason. The people of Israel in Exodus 19 readied themselves to covenant with God. Exodus 20 reveals the Ten Commandments, but more importantly, the old covenant begins to be established. God reveals the Law in order that his people may understand him and walk in his ways. God also brings the Law to his people to increase their transgression. The Law of the old covenant will continue through Leviticus, and Moses will restate it in Deuteronomy.
Reading Exodus 19 now, one should understand God does not change, but he has indeed changed the covenant. Christians live between the comings of Christ. He came and fulfilled all the Law stipulated, and when a person receives the justification of Christ, he receives the perfect Law-keeping righteousness accomplished by Christ in space and time. Christ accomplishes the righteous life, and the Christian believer receives it when he believes in faith by grace.
Based on the merits of Christ who has made a new covenant with his people, the Christian receives welcome to boldly enter in to God’s presence. Jesus’s high priesthood, one of understanding of the Christian’s struggles, means God’s people may come to him in their worst moment. Hebrews 4:16 states, “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The God of the old covenant is the God of our new covenant. He is the infinitely powerful, unstoppable, and mighty Triune God. The person of the Son came to earth as a man and established the new covenant according to the plan of the Father, and the Holy Spirit applies it to and indwells Christians believers. The mighty God of Sinai gives true righteousness to his people that they may approach him to worship in spirit and truth. He beckons the sinner to come to him as he called Thomas to see his wounds for himself. He is holy; he is good. He is wholly good and full of grace.