The Mount that Burns with Fire
February 22nd, 1959 @ 8:15 AM
THE MOUNT THAT BURNS WITH FIRE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-22-59 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message from the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, and if you will turn in your Bible to Exodus 19, you can follow the message with great ease and felicity. The nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, and the title of the message is, The Mount that Burns with Fire. Exodus 19:7 and thereafter, Exodus 19, the seventh verse:
And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him.
And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the Lord.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes.
And be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai.
And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death:
There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live: when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.
And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes.
And he said unto the people, Be ready against the third day . . .
And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.
And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.
And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire [Exodus 9:18]: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly [Exodus 9:18].
And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.
And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the Lord called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish.
And let the priests also, which come near to the Lord, sanctify themselves, lest the Lord break forth upon them.
And Moses said unto the Lord, The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai: for Thou chargedest us, saying, Set bounds about the mount, and sanctify it.
And the Lord said unto him, Away, get thee down, and thou shalt come up, thou, and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the Lord, lest He break forth upon them.
So Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them.
That is the immediate preceding introduction to the giving of the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17].
Now I do not know whether you have followed the story closely enough to sense that when you come to this nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, you enter an altogether new world, and this is an altogether new thing. As you have followed the pilgrimage of God’s people out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land, He has led them in all mercy and tenderness and compassionate sympathy.
He delivered them by a strong arm out of Egypt [Deuteronomy 26:8]. He led them through the Red Sea [Exodus 14:15-31]. He guided their steps by the pillar of fire and of cloud [Exodus 13:21-22]. When they came to Marah, He healed the waters [Exodus 15:23-25]. When they came to Elim, He blessed them with refreshment [Exodus 15:27]. When they came to Rephidim, He gave them water to drink, out of the flinty rock [Exodus 17:1-6]. And there the banner of the Lord brought salvation and deliverance to His people [Exodus 17:8-16].
How different is this, when we come to the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus. These thunderings and these lightnings in the sixteenth verse:
There were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; and all the people in the camp trembled…
And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.
Heretofore, the Lord’s dealings with the people, even in their murmurings, is one of great compassion and mercy, and here that terrible mount quakes and smokes and rocks and shakes and the lightning flashes and the thunder roars, and then, as though that were not enough, there are the sound of the trumpet waxing louder and louder. And even Moses, who had been accustomed to the great, startling, majestic manifestations presence of God said, even Moses said, “I do exceedingly fear and tremble” [Hebrews 12:21].
And not only was that physical sight a terrible spectacle, but the actual presence of the Lord God in all-consuming fire was itself an awesome thing. This God who has heretofore been so gracious and merciful and compassionate with the people, with their murmurings, their rebellion, their sin, their shortcomings, their frailties, and lack of faith, now, this same Lord God, sitting on top of that mount that burns with fire, Himself an all-consuming fire [Hebrews 12:29], He says:
Thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about. Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall surely be put to death:
There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall die.
Even if one brushes the edge of that mount, a foothill of that mount, a rising elevation of that mount, if he brushed it with his hand, he would die. This is a terrible scene. When you turn the page to the twentieth chapter of Exodus, the terror of that scene is manifest in the attitude of the people. Look at the eighteenth verse, Exodus 20:18:
And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.
Instead of even going nigh where they might brush the mount, might touch it, they did the opposite. They withdrew to the other side of that Sinai amphitheater and got away from it in terror and fear, as far as they could:
And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.
And the people stood afar off, far off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.
Not only that, I want you to look at this Lord God of Mount Sinai and what He has to say. And no wonder the people stood afar off, trembling before the consuming, thundering, quaking presence on top of the mount, afraid lest God break forth upon them and they die, withdrawing as far as they could from the mountain that smoked and burned [Exodus 20:18-21].
And now I want you to see what God says. You turn to Deuteronomy, the twenty-eighth chapter, and we are going to read a few verses, beginning at the fifteenth verse. This is the God of Mount Sinai. He starts off, “Cursed be every one that continueth not in the words of this law to do them” [Deuteronomy 27:26]. Now listen to the words of that law, Deuteronomy 28:15:
It shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:
Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field.
Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store.
Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the flock of thy sheep.
Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out.
And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron.
And the thirty-fifth verse:
The Lord shall smite thee in the knees, and in the legs, with a sore botch that cannot be healed, from the sole of thy foot unto the top of thy head.
You just break one of these laws, you fail to observe all of these commandments, you fall short of this divine word, and damned shalt thou be in the city, and damned shalt thou be in the land, and cursed shalt thou be in the morning, and cursed shalt thou be in the evening.
That is the mount that smokes with fire [Exodus 19:18, 20:18]. It is a terrible spectacle. Any man that supposes that he can walk into the presence of God, he does not even realize that just to touch the mount that smokes with fire is to be damned; it is to be lost; it is to be shot through; it is to be stoned; it is to be killed dead [Exodus 19:12-13]. And the one who does not obey that law in perfection is cursed in the morning, and cursed in the evening, and cursed in this life, and cursed in the life that is to come.
The moral law of God is just and rigorous and right, and law in itself has no other obligation or responsibility than to enforce itself. This is the law.
Rudyard Kipling wrote it in his jungle tales,
This is the Law of the Jungle —
As true and as high as the sky;
The Wolf that shall keep it may prosper,
But the Wolf that shall break it must die.
[“The Second Jungle Book,” Rudyard Kipling, 1895]
And he caught the spirit of the mount that burned with fire when he wrote the law of the jungle. That is it.
Now I have just said that you come into a different world. It is an altogether different scene, atmosphere, spirit, horizon, earth and heaven, when you come to the giving of the law. Now, there must be some reason in this, some purpose. There must be some thing that God has in His heart. This is not the final word, surely. If men are to live by this law and in breaking it must die, how then can we live? If our Lord God is a consuming fire [Hebrews 12:29] and even to touch the mount on which He descends is to die [Exodus 19:12-13], how can we approach God, all of us who are sinful men?
Now if there is somebody here this morning that can stand up and say, “Pastor, I have lived the perfect life. I have never made a mistake. I have never fallen into error. I do not even know what sin is,” you can approach. You can touch the mount. You can walk into the presence of God. There will be no lightning stroke for you. There will be no judgment for you. There will be no death for you. You can walk full into the presence of the living God and stand on your own. You are perfect, never made a mistake, never sinned, do not even know what it is. The law does not touch you.
But I would say to my soul and to your soul, if you have sinned, if you know what it is, if you have fallen into error, if you know what it is to make mistakes, if you know how the feeling is when you fall short of the glory and expectation of God, if you know these things, for you to touch the mount is to die, and for you to walk into the presence of God would be to be consumed by the fire that breaks forth from the purity and holiness and majesty of the Almighty [Hebrews 12:29]. If there is anything for us, there must be another chapter, another story. God must have some better thing and some other way.
Now these next two sermons, this one this morning, the remainder of this time, and the sermon next Sunday morning concerns just that, what is this thing that God has done, making His Word so just and so righteous. Like a plumb line they deflect not to the left or to the right. In absolute holiness and justice there is God and God’s Word.
And His very presence is surrounded by flame and furrow and fury and lightning and thunder and darkness and cloud [Exodus 19:16-18, 20:18], so much so, that the very earth dissolves under His feet and smokes in flames, and the very heavens quake and shake, and even Moses said, “I exceedingly fear and tremble” [Hebrews 12:21].
There must be some other way by which God makes it possible for us to approach Him. Now, the remainder of the sermon this morning is that, and then next Sunday morning, it will be altogether that. I want to show you here—now, this is by way of introduction, and in the little time that remains, we are going to look at it—I want to show you here three things, three things in this mount that smokes with fire, that burns and flames, in the darkness and the lightning and the thunder and the roaring of the trumpets and the consuming word of the living God. I want to show you three things, even here, even here.
All right, you turn with me to the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Exodus. Turn to Exodus 24. I am going to read three verses from Exodus, 9, 10, and 11. Now you have to keep in mind, for you to see these things, you have to keep in mind that mount that burns and the all-consuming presence of God who comes down in glory upon it and who says even the hand that touches the mount, that hand shall be slain [Exodus 19:12-13].
All right, now look, Exodus 24:9: “Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel”: representing the whole people of Israel, the seventy elders, they went up into that mountain. Why, God had just said the hand that touches it shall die, the foot that brushes it shall die [Exodus 19:12-13]. They went up into that mountain [Exodus 24:9]:
And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.
And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.
All right, there is the first one. I have just got through reading in your presence and in your ears these commandments of God, cursed in the morning and cursed in the evening. And if somebody even so much as brushes that mount, whether he be a man or a beast, he shall die [Exodus 19:12-13].
Our Lord is a consuming fire [Hebrews 12:29], and yet here are the representatives of the whole people, up there in that mount, sitting down with God, and they ate and they drank and they saw God, and upon them God laid not His hand [Exodus 24:9-11]. No stroke for them. No judgment for them. No breaking forth of the anger and judgment of the Almighty upon them. Well, why? All right, here is why. Look up in that chapter, and we are going to start reading at the fourth verse:
And Moses . . .rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.
And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the Lord.
And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basins; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.
And that blood of sacrifice and atonement he sprinkled on the people [Exodus 24:8]. And under the blood they walked into the very presence of God, and they sat down with the Lord and did eat and drink, and they saw His face and lived [Exodus 24:9-11]. That is the first intimation you have, and what a glorious one!
And can’t you see it, just for me to read it out of the book is to see it perfectly? There on the mount, the God that burns with fire. Just to break His law is to be damned in the morning and damned in the evening. Just to brush the mount where God seats Himself is to die [Exodus 19:12-13]. Yet here these representatives of all the people come and look upon His face. They see God, and they eat and drink in His presence [Exodus 24:9-11], under the blood, under the blood, with blood of atonement, with blood of sprinkling [Exodus 24:8], with blood that speaks better things than that of Abel [Hebrews 12:24], washed in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 1:5].
That’s you. That’s you. All of us who have trusted in Jesus, through His blood an atonement and sacrifice [Romans 5:11], the pouring out of His life on the mount. All of us through the veil of His flesh enter in to the very presence of God [Hebrews 10:19-20], and some day, the Book says, we shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and we shall be together as His bride and His church at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:6-9]. We shall eat and we shall drink in the presence of God our Savior. We shall live in His sight. That’s one.
All right, I said there were three. Now, let us turn to the second one. In order for me to do this the easiest and quickest way is just for me to read it out of the Book. Now turn to Hebrews 12. Turn to the twelfth chapter of Hebrews. This eloquent author says it in the most beautiful language and in the most eloquent way. Hebrews 12, the twelfth chapter of Hebrews. Now I am going to begin reading at the eighteenth verse, and I shall read through the twenty-fourth verse. Hebrews 12:18, now listen:
For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,
And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more:
(For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:
And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)
But ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
And to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
Mount Sinai, smoking and burning with fire [Hebrews 12:18]. If a beast just touched it, even the beast died, and the words of the commandment unendurable and unbearable, no man could live up to that commandment, and yet if he break it he would die [2 Corinthians 3:6-7].
Then here is this other mount, Mount Calvary. Anybody can come to Mount Calvary, couldn’t they? Anybody. Anybody can approach the Lord Jesus, anybody. Says here that if a beast touch the mount, he would die [Hebrews 12:20]. Why, when the Lord was born, there was an old cow, chewing her cud, in perfect peace. There was a donkey, eating hay out of the manger, in which manger the Lord God Himself was laid. There was a sheep over there and a little lamb [Luke 2:7, 11-16].
Why, think of it. Anybody could come and bow in the presence of Jesus. Anybody could touch Him, anybody, anybody. The woman with an issue of blood, sick for so many years, came behind Him and said in her heart, “If I just touch the hem of His garment, I will be saved” [Matthew 9:20-21]. And as He sat at meat, a woman of the streets came and bathed His feet with her tears and dried them with the hair of her head [Luke 7:38]. Anybody could come to Jesus. Anybody could kneel at the cross, just anybody. There, ah, there, we can kneel at the cross. And in heaven, we have a great King and High Priest who knows and is compassionate with all of the foibles and weaknesses of our own lives [Hebrews 4:14-16].
Ah, what a contrast! Sinai, so terrible, so mandatory that’s the law, that’s law. The soul that sins shall die [Ezekiel 18:4]; that’s the law. And who will by no means clear the guilty? [Exodus 34:7]. That’s God. She was taken in sin; the law said stone her [John 8:3-5]. That’s the law, stone her. And we all have sinned [Romans 3:23]. Isaiah cried, “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” [Isaiah 6:5]. And Job cried, “I have sinned: what shall I do?” [Job 7:20]. And Paul said, “Until the law came I lived, but when the law came, sin was revived, and I died. And the commandment, that was given unto life, came unto me, and became a commandment unto death” [Romans 7:9-10]. What shall I do? The terror of the law, the mount that burns with fire [Exodus 19:16-18, 20:18].
Man, man, if you think you are going to heaven on your goodness, where have you been in your mind and in your heart and in your sensibilities and in your understanding? What would you do in the day that God applies the law? The soul that sins shall die [Ezekiel 18:4], shall be damned, cursed in the morning, cursed in the evening, cursed in this life, damned in the life that is to come! What shall you do? Ah, blessed Calvary. Blessed Savior. Blessed Jesus. Come unto Him, the Mediator of a new covenant, of a new hope, of a new way, of a new forgiveness [Hebrews 12:24].
Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
[“Are You Washed in the Blood?” Elisha A Hoffmann]
How we need a mediator [1 Timoth 2:5] and a sacrifice [1 Corinthians 5:7] and an altar, and an atonement [Romans 5:11] and somebody to expiate our sins [1 John 2:2], somebody to be our advocate and savior and to present us someday to God, without spot or blemish [Ephesians 5:27]. How we need the Lord! Now we must haste. There is one other. I want you to look at this.
I want you to see what became of that first law. I want you to see what became of it. I want to turn to the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Exodus. Exodus 32, Exodus 32, and we are going to read the fifteenth, the sixteenth, and the nineteenth verses. Up there in that mount that burned with fire. Now Exodus 32:15:
And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other side were they written.
And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.
Now in the nineteenth verse:
And it came to pass, as soon as Moses came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.
That mount that even if a beast brushed it, it would die. If a man approached it, he would die [Exodus 19:12]. And those tables in Moses’ hands that God had written Himself [Exodus 31:18], they were broken at the foot of the mount [Exodus 32:19]. All right, now I want you to turn to the thirty-fourth chapter of Exodus. We are going to get another table. We are going to get another law, Exodus 34. Now look at it:
And the Lord said unto Moses—
Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: you do it, and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest, which thou brakest, we broke.
And Moses hewed two tables of stone like unto the first; and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone.
Now the twenty-eighth verse—
And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And He wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
Then what did he do with them? What did he do with them? When he got that second tables and written on there the commandments of God, what did he do with them? You remember what he did with them. He put them under the mercy seat [Exodus 25:31], isn’t that right? Under blood of atonement; he put them under the mercy seat. When you turn to the last chapter of Exodus, when you turn to the fortieth chapter of Exodus and the twentieth verse, “And he took and put the testimony, those tables of stone of commandment, into the ark, and set the staves on the ark, and put the mercy seat” on top of it [Exodus 40:20]. And he took those tables of the commandments of God, put them underneath the mercy seat [Deuteronomy 10:1-2, 5]. And there, blood of atonement was sprinkled by the high priest in the great day of the fast and the confession [Leviticus 16:15].
Now I must conclude rapidly. You need not turn to this. You do not have time. I am just going to read it. I am just going to read it. In Jeremiah 31:33:
This is the covenant that I will make with them: I will put My law in their inward parts, I am going to write it in their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
And in Ezekiel 36:
A new heart will I give them, and a new spirit will I put in them: I will take away the stony heart out of them, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and to keep My judgments.
And all of that is in fulfillment of this marvelous and wonderful passage “Wherefore the Holy Ghost is also a witness to us,” in Hebrews 10:15, following:
This is the covenant that I will make with them . . . saith the Lord, I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write it;
And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more….
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,
By a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh…
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.
Ah, bless His name! [He] took those commandments that were broken, put them underneath the mercy seat, sprinkled the blood of atonement on top [Leviticus 16:15]. And by that blood we have boldness to enter into the very presence of God [Hebrews 10:19]. Oh, what things does the Lord teach us in this old Book and in these blessed Scriptures!
Now we have gone over the time again, as usual. But the Lord is here, and He blesses us, as we just read this precious Book together. While we sing our song, somebody this morning to give his heart to the Lord [Romans 10:8-13], somebody to put his life in the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], a family you, to come today, at this precious hour, at this moment of appeal and invitation, to give your heart in faith to Christ, or to put your life in the fellowship of the church, while we sing this song, would you come and stand by me? While we stand and sing.
THE MOUNT THAT BURNS WITH FIRE
I. Covered by the blood
1. Mountain could not be touched
2. Presence made possible by blood
3. God is not less holy nor man less sinful when man is in His presence
II. Pointing to Calvary
1. Mt Sinai – unapproachable and terrifying
2. Mt Calvary – precious, anyone can come to Jesus
III. New law under the mercy seat
1. First tables of stone broken
2. Second tables of stone under the mercy seat