Sunday 12-08-18 Crossing over part 20.
(Assumption, Idolatry and the Mediator.)
Ex 32:1 When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”
Ex 32: 7-12 7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ 9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” 11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.
Ex 32:19-22 19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.
21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?” 22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil.
Ex 19:25-32 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him. 27 Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbour.’” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” 30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31 So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
I put to you that the most horrific events in history have occurred as a direct result of assumption. You may know that in 1588, England under the rule of Elizabeth the 1st defeated the Spanish armada, a force of 130 ships carrying an army sent to invade England. Severely outmatched and outgunned in every way, the English decided to utilise their knowledge of the weather and sail ‘fireships’ into the anchored Spanish fleet and thereby brought heavy losses and defeated the armada. You probably have never heard of the English armada. Far fewer people know that 12 months later, the English thought that in their severely weakened state, Spain would be a pushover, so with Sir Francis Drake at the helm, the English armada sailed to Spain with 150 ships. Spain suffered 900 casualties. The English lost between 11-15 thousand. It was one of the greatest defeats in English history and essentially extended the anglo-spanish war by 10 years. They thought they were invincible….and they got their butts kicked. Assumption begins in the echo chamber of our own minds, or even our own communities.
One of the greatest tragedies in the History of Israel seemed to begin with an assumption. Namely, “Moses has disappeared, he’s probably not coming back so we need to take this god and worship stuff upon ourselves and make an idol.” Replace Moses with Jesus, and it pretty much sums up our current age. Let me bring the main point right up to the front and say it like this: The assumption that God’s mediator is gone for good, and therefore we can worship what we like is the pre-cursor to disaster. Even Death.
Let’s spend some time exploring this event this morning from the perspective of Moses the Mediator and notice how we can apply it to today.
- Your people.
Ex 32:7 7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. Some weeks ago we were talking about how strange it is that God says to Moses at the impasse of the Red Sea ‘Why are you, crying out to me?’ (Ex 14:15) In other words God, blames Moses for the sins of the people because in God’s eyes, God identifies Moses as the people’s representative and mediator. Well, in case you still thought that was a misprint back in 14:15, here we have it again; God flat out tells Moses that they are Moses’ people and Moses brought them out of Egypt. Here, unlike in chapter 19 where it’s all about God carry them on eagle’s wings, God cannot even stand to call Israel his own. I tremble even as I say it.
This is a text to remember when we begin to convince ourselves that sin; or disobedience against God may be just a small matter. It’s no small matter because it is essentially us saying to God, “yes I see the fact that you’ve created me, and I see the fact that you know me better than anyone, and I see the fact that every breath I take is a gift from you and Is ee the fact that you’ve saved me from slavery and you may be the most worthy of my allegiance and praise of all beings….but having said all that I’d rather fulfil my own immediate temporal desires.” That is why God essentially tells Moses to get out of his way as he destroys the lot of them.
But it’s precisely the task of the Mediator to ‘get in God’s way’ as it were. In a most breathtaking scene: 11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Moses sees that God’s attitude toward him is still yet different and he leverages that to bargain for the life of every Israelite ‘downstairs.’
God strikes a deal with Moses and the people en masse are spared. Don’t you see friends? Thousands of years later Jesus, the true mediator stood in the way of God atop another mountain outside the gates of Jerusalem and the full bloody reality of this deal was struck. You see the cost was too great, leveraging favour was not enough: “take this cup from me” he prayed, “No,” came the answer-back, “it will cost you your life.” And the scars testify that even post-resurrection, from our point of view, Jesus is never the same again. When God the father is so hurt and disgusted he can only say ‘your people’, the mediator turns and says, no, your people and I lay down my life to ensure it to be so.
What an extreme cost is salvation to the one we name as our representative. Therefore, how will he deal with those who do not recognize this cost?
- The Elixir of Judgement.
Verse 19-22 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it 21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?” 22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil.
We’ll return to the smashing of the stone tablets in a future sermon, but for now look at what Moses is doing. He is ensuring that they cannot possibly use that gold for idolatry again. When the idol is destroyed, the people do not get their gold returned to them in the amounts that they put in. It’s pulverized, ingested and ends up as sewerage. That’s how idols always end up. They take what you have, give no return on investment, just spiritual indigestion and end up as sewerage, stinking up your life.
And he turns to the priest; Aaron who’s meant to be leading the people towards worship of God and “what did they do to you to make you lead them into such sin?” What’s so embarrassing is the answer is…nothing. It’s such a terrifying passage for two reasons’ 1) the las thing that we see Aaron and the elders of Israel experiencing before we tag along with Moses up the mountain is back in Ex 24:10. That was the last time we say Aaron and the Elders. What were they doing? Eating and drinking in the presence of the Lord. At no point during this disgusting feast of the golden calf have any of them said: “this kind of reminds me why this may not be a good idea.” 2) Aaron’s answer to Moses: “you know how prone these people are to evil.” Aaron thinks Moses should be less angry with him because he knows how evil the people are. Now if you’re Moses, that’s only going to make him more angry…..and heart broken if his brother knew how evil the people were and failed to do anything about it. I wonder if right now Moses is thinking: “I wish I’d never forced God to bring Aaron along way back at the burning bush, he’s here because of me.” I said earlier on in the series that it staggers me that God allows Aaron to tag along knowing full well what it will cost.
Let’s get scary practical: What decisions are you making today that may end in disaster years from now? Even if that’s as simple as ignoring God?
- Death, Atonement and Forgiveness.
So the next day, Moses asks a question: “who is for the Lord” and the great tragedy is, only the Levites, 1 tribe out of the 12 come to him. Less than 10%. Clearly, the lesson hasn’t been learned. Sometimes the only thing that can get us to stop and take notice is great suffering. And so, the mediator commands an army of Levites, to execute Judgement. 3000 people die in one day. Have you noticed that mass idolatry causes the death of 3000 people in one day, and then later in Acts 2:41 a mass repentance results in the salvation of 3000 in a single day? What’s it going to be?
We find something interesting in v29 Then Moses said (to the Levites), “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” Sounds a lot to me like Jesus in Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. The only way Jesus can say things like that and not be a complete maniac is if he is God in the flesh. You see folks, it’s about who has our highest allegiance. When push comes to shove….who’s it going to be?
For Moses, it’s God. The only basis for forgiveness comes from someone else who’s willing to put God first.
30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31 So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
Wow. That friends is intercessory prayer. In the cultural language of the ancient world this is Moses essentially saying, “it’s them or me.” “Lord, forgive them, or erase me from history.” There’s a beautiful line in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings that is spoken by Arwen Evenstar: “that which grace has given to me may it pass to him.” Only a Christian who knows the character of God would ever write that line into a work of fiction.
It’s not airy-fairy fluffy feelings and self-preservation, that motivates intercession and forgiveness but a concern for the glory and character of God. Moses trudged up the mountain to seek forgiveness for the people because of his concern for God’s glory. (In 32:11 he ‘reminds God of what other people might say about him if he brings disaster). Jesus trudged up the mountain to be crucified that you and I might be forgiven because of his commitment to the glory of God and therefore friends, you and I will only ever be able to forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it, because we are more interested in God being glorified than ourselves being vindicated.
Let me ask a final question by way of application: Assuming you have forgiven someone recently, why did you?
Search your heart as the answer to that question will reveal how much you understand the gospel. Don’t just assume.