September 16 & 17, 2017 Pentecost 15 (Moses Series #11) Moses 11 Exodus 32: 1-13, 19-32; 34: 6-7
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
Cancer is an awful disease. If we know we have it in our body, we immediately do something about it. We cut it out, we poison it, we try to burn it out of our cells. If we treat physical cancer with such aggressive means to eradicate it, we need to do the same with the spiritual cancer of syncretism. Syncretism is putting two different things together. We live in a syncretic society that says, “You believe what you believe, I’ll believe what I believe, and we’ll all get along just fine. We all have different interpretations but we will all end up in heaven.” People take offense when we as a church say, “This is what the Bible says and what you are preaching is wrong.” Today we will see that the Lord doesn’t take kindly to the mixing of his worship and Word with false worship and teachings. In Exodus 34 he says that his name is Jealous. He is jealous of his glory for only he is God. Today we’ll see how Syncretism Doesn’t Mix With Jealousy.
Three times the Israelites promised the LORD that they would do everything the LORD told them to do. But it didn’t take but 40 days for the Israelites to break their promise.
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” . . . All the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.” (Ex 32:1-5)
It seems incredible at first glance to think that the Israelites would actually have a golden calf made and claim that it led them out of Egypt. How could they be so blind to the many miracles they had seen? How could they deny the LORD so quickly? Were they that influenced by the Egyptian bull god Apis? And Aaron was so weak he tried to appease the minority of the Israelites who wanted the idol by combining God’s worship with this calf god. By building the altar in front of the calf and proclaiming a festival to the LORD, Aaron was trying to use this bull as a visual representation of the LORD, to claim that they were actually worshiping the LORD through the bull.
The question is, did it work? Did the LORD accept this “new religion”? How did God respond to their syncretism? Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 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, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ “I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 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.” (Ex 32:7-10) God was angry because he is a jealous God. He doesn’t share his glory with anything else.
Unfortunately, every day there are literally millions of people who call themselves Christians who are trying to do this very thing, to mingle Christianity with the religions of our world. The golden calf of our world is materialism and the self. So we have many “Christians” who claim that God is number one in their life, yet try to mesh their sinful wants with their faith. How can you claim to be a temple of the Holy Spirit and use your temple to have sex outside of marriage? How can you say God is your God if you aren’t even willing to worship him once a week or pray to him or seek his guidance on a daily basis? How can you say you are controlled by the Spirit when in reality you are unwilling to curb your temper and anger? How can you say you’re a God fearing man when you ignore your spouse and verbally abuse your children? Yet the world is full of these kinds of “syncretic Israelites”, who think they can call themselves God’s children while living a lifestyle that is obviously against God’s Word, trying to combine Christianity with the religion of the world.
Then there are the many “Christian” religions today who are catering to syncretism. If the people want homosexuality, they find preachers who claim that they can worship God with that lifestyle. If people are too “smart” for creation, they create a doctrine to try to combine evolution and creation. If kids want to be entertained, then they are willing to throw away any mention of sin. If people don’t want to hear about hell, then they don’t talk about it. Instead of asking, “What does God want me to do?”, the question is asked, “What can we do to cater to you and keep you in our worship service?” In the name of peace, today’s religion has ignored any Word of God that might offend people or cause divisions. And the saddest part is that they actually claim to be worshiping God by preaching humanism, ignoring God’s Word, babying people and fearing their wrath instead of God’s. In reality they are only worshiping a golden calf.
But what about those who haven’t done this? What if you have refrained from worshiping the calf? First of all, be careful, because there’s another test that comes to the innocent. It’s the same as what Moses was tested with. What is the test? Did you notice what the LORD said to Moses? He said, “YOUR people, whom YOU brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. . . . 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.” Moses could have said to himself, “Yes, God, I have been faithful to you. I have been a great leader. I deserve your deliverance. But these people have done nothing but complain and moan. You want me to be the great nation. I like that a lot!” So the test for Moses was to use this for his own glory.
What did Moses do? But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. “O LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 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. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” (Ex 32:11-13) Moses reminded the LORD of three things: the Israelites were still his people, his reputation was at stake and his promises had already been made. Instead of going along with God’s suggestions of destruction, he held God to his promises of salvation and begged for his patience.
But this wasn’t the end of what Moses did. 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. And he took the calf they 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. . . . 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. 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 neighbor.’” The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 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.” (Ex 32:19-29) On coming down the mountain, Moses showed complete outrage at their behavior, smashing the two stone tablets at his feet. He wanted everyone to know this type of religion was not acceptable. He then called the people to fight, not sit back and act as if what was being done wasn’t that bad. Think about what he asked them to do. If your friends, neighbors, or brothers are continuing to worship this calf, then put them to death.
After Moses did this, he once again sought the face of the Lord. 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.” 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. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” (Ex 32:30-32) After having tried to deal with the sin, Moses returned to the LORD and offered to go to hell in their place! What a mediator.
We can learn a lot from Moses in the way he dealt with this problem. He showed both humility and strength. Instead of using this as an opportunity to build himself up, he prayed for God to have mercy on the Israelites. In the face of their disaster, he held to God’s promises and wouldn’t let go of them. He was firm with the sinners and dealt with them, yet he also showed a great compassion for those who were repentant of their sins.
We can sit back and shake our heads in disgust at the “Christian” community that is attempting to syncretize Christianity with sinful humanity. But we also have to confess that we probably aren’t guiltless in this situation. Like Aaron and the Israelites, we have been living in the middle of blatant sins and often remained silent. If we simply sit back in our lives and condemn others while never praying for them or confronting them personally, we have fallen prey to arrogance. God calls on us not to take on physical swords but the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. These “syncretic Israelites” need not only our prayers but also to be confronted with God’s law so that they can repent of their sins and false beliefs. This takes courage to openly stand up against evil or false beliefs or sinful lifestyles in your friends or family. If you think about the compassion of Moses and compare it to yours, where do you stand? How many of us would offer our very souls for people who hated us and accused us of being unloving and uncaring people? Dealing with these kinds of sin takes great humility, love and help from God. And it takes forgiveness for where we have failed. Thanks be to Jesus for dying on the cross and paying for these sins.
This, of course, brings us to the climax of the story, the response of the LORD. How would he respond to these Israelites who both committed the sin and allowed the sin? Would he go ahead and stick with plan A and wipe them off the face of the earth? Or would he take up Moses’ offer to blot his name off of God’s book of life instead of the Israelites?
The answer is really simple. The LORD would be the LORD. Who is the LORD? He described himself to Moses as “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex 34:6-7)
So this is what the LORD did to the Israelites. Those Israelites who refused to repent of their sins when Moses came down were put to death by the Levites. Since they wanted to live without the LORD, God let them live that way eternally. As for those who ignored their brothers’ sin, he also disciplined them by bringing a plague on them for allowing the sin. But after the plague, what did the LORD do? In his compassion and grace, the LORD maintained his love for the Israelites as he continued to accompany them on their journey into the Promised Land. He remained faithful to his promise to keep the Israelites alive so the Savior would eventually be born. In reality, the LORD could do no other thing because that’s who he is. He doesn’t change.
It’s this same LORD, then, who revealed himself in the same way over a thousand years later at Mt. Calvary where he said, “Moses, I can’t accept your offer to go to hell for your people. You just aren’t good or great enough to pay for the sins of the world, I’ll have to do it myself.” At Mount Calvary God the Father said to Jesus, “You are no longer my beloved Son. You are now going to become the worst sinner of the world, and I am going to punish you for it. I am going to erase your name from my book of life!” Even though he knew why this happened, as Jesus hung there, he cried out “Why?” And you know why. It’s your fault and it’s my fault. It is our sins that put Jesus on the cross and made him suffer hell. Yet after Jesus was thrown into the depths of hell, he rose again from the dead. God accepted his sacrifice. God wrote your name in his book of life with the blood of Jesus Christ as the ink. Through faith in Jesus your sins are forgiven. That’s why God did that to his Son. When we look at the cross we see the most visible picture of the LORD being himself. We see a just LORD who threatens to punish sin, but also a gracious LORD who paid for our sins. What a God. To him alone belongs all glory and worship. Amen.