4Rev Dr Edgar Mayer;
For more sermons and other writings check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org
Something strange is going on in the book of Exodus. God cannot seem to get any respect. No matter how scary he becomes in plagues of judgement and glory presence no one really takes much notice of him. Neither the greatest hailstorm nor the worst plague of locusts made a lasting impression. How can this be? Reading the book of Exodus makes no sense. With all of the action that was going on how could people both: friend and foe always feel safe ignoring God?
It is only in the first chapter of the
book that some women modeled what should have been the natural response to God for
everyone. I read Exodus 1:15-17: The
Right now as we are sitting in church do we fear God like the midwives? What goes through your head when you hear the word fear? Have you ever trembled in Gods presence? How do you feel about facing him in worship? Does the fear of him determine what you do? Right now I am feeling relaxed. Are you relaxed? Good but and we will expand on this if you are always feeling nothing but relaxed in church, chances are that we are missing God the true worship of him like so many others in the Bible book of Exodus.
Moses was Gods chosen leader but at their very first encounter he ended up insulting God provoking him to anger. The Bible says Exodus 4:14: Then the Lords anger burned against Moses What went wrong? Moses failed to be impressed by God. At first when God spoke to him from a burning bush that was not consumed by the fire and told him from within the bush Exodus 3:5: Do not come closer Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground Moses at that time showed a healthy reaction. I read Exodus 3:6: At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. Seeing the bush burning but not being incinerated, hearing the voice of God and then standing there without shoes on holy ground all of that was unsettling and unnerving for him.
Then, God introduced himself, explained
the mission to deliver his people from slavery in
There was further talk on strategy but
Moses needed more assurance, saying
What if they do not believe me or listen to me
God then said Exodus 4:2-9:
is that in your hand? A staff, Moses replied. The Lord said, Throw it on
the ground. Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran
from it. Then the Lord said to him, Reach out your hand and take it by the
tail. So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into
a staff in his hand. This, said the Lord, is so that they may believe that
has appeared to you. Then the Lord said, Put your hand inside your
cloak. So Moses put his hand into his cloak and when he took it out, it was
leprous like snow. Now put it back into your cloak, he said. So Moses put
his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like
the rest of his flesh. Then the Lord said, If they do not believe you or pay
attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second. But if
they do not believe the first two signs or listen to you, take some water from
Put yourself into Moses shoes. How would you take to these miracle demonstrations? A wooden staff became a snake which made Moses run away from its poison. This was a scary experience which was not made better by having to pick up the snake by its tail before it became a staff again. Then, seeing your hand covered with incurable leprosy was also confronting a shock to the system and water turning into blood was not a feel-good phenomenon either. Moses had asked for authentication as Gods messenger and God provided him with these three power miracles involving a snake, leprosy and blood. What would we now do in Moses situation? Would we be satisfied? Would we have learned anything?
God is not to be trifled with. If you know how to run away from the miracle snake, you better watch your step around the God who made the snake in the first place. Agreed? Moses did not think so but continued arguing with God Exodus 4:10: O Lord, I have never been eloquent I am slow of speech and tongue. God answered him Exodus 4:12: I will help you speak and will teach you what to say. But all of this to no avail. Moses felt safe to keep resisting God and ignoring all of Gods demonstrations. He said Exodus 4:13: please send someone else to do it. Then the Lords anger burned against Moses.
Why was Moses not afraid of God and of
his possible anger? Why go to the limit of his patience? Why are we doing it?
Moses only saw the circumstances and his fear of them the skeptical slave people, a hostile Pharaoh, the
supreme fire-power of
Are we coming on board with this or do we keep thinking that we worship a God that is always in a good mood always positive around us. He wont mind any of our backchatting because after all he is so loving with inexhaustible grace. Yes, he is. God is extremely loving but there is also a side of him that is to be feared. Moses was risking judgement we are risking judgement when we keep objecting to Gods plans for us.
A Christian teacher writes [abbreviate and retell in your own words]:
have a board member who is a dear friend and pastors a thriving church in the
southeastern part of the
The church grew rapidly through much prayer, strong preaching, and hard labour, and they built a beautiful building to accommodate the large numbers of people. After several years, my friend observed a distinguished white-haired gentleman, always well dressed, attending the services. He also noticed that this man would sit in service after service and watch with tears running down his face. However, the pastor felt these werent tears of joy.
Finally, this gentleman approached one of the associate pastors and shared that in 1981 the Lord spoke clearly to him that he was to start a church in this city. A few days later he had a dream of the building this church would meet in that he was to pastor. The dream was so vivid that he got a professional to draw a rendition of the building he saw in his dream. He then said that he ran into some resistance and backed off from starting the church. After a while, he traveled and ministered in other cities for a short time and eventually ended up back in the business world.
He then opened up a carefully folded paper and told the associate that
it was the artists rendition of the building he had drawn up on 1981. When the
associate looked at the drawing, he almost went into shock. It was the exact
building my friend had built years later in which they were now meeting. My
friend has since ministered comfort to this man, but the gentleman has shared
the difficulty hes had in getting over it
(John Bevere: Driven By Eternity,
Moses was close to suffering the same fate as the white-haired gentleman. He was afraid of Pharaoh. He feared his own people as the gentleman feared the opposition to starting up a new church and therefore he struggled with obedience but it is God that is to be feared the most. He may not immediately throw us into hell we dont always face the ultimate judgement for disobedience but he may simply move on use someone else with the consequence of us missing out. How tragic would it have been for Moses never to see the freedom of his slave people? The white-haired gentleman was grieving for a very long time. Here at Living Grace we dont want to miss our calling and therefore we are careful that our worship knows something about the fear of God.
The next person in the Bible book of
Exodus, who never seemed to learn, was Pharaoh. The plagues kept coming God kept carrying out his threats of judgement
against him and his nation but he kept
thinking that it was safe to ignore God and what he wanted from him. How could
he? Listen to what he experienced how bad it became Exodus 7:20-21:
This is what God then did to him and the
nation Exodus 8:17:
came upon people and animals
Dense swarms of flies
God warned Pharaoh about the next
plague, saying Exodus 9:18-22: .
at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen
Yet, the plague was devastating Exodus 9:24-25: It was the worst storm hail struck everything beat down everything growing stripped every tree. Finally, Pharaoh called for help again. Yet, Moses said to him Exodus 9:29-30: I will spread out my hands in prayer to the Lord. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lords. But I know that you and your officials still do not fear the Lord God.
How can this be? How could Pharaoh fear all of the plagues but not the one that caused the plagues God? Exodus 9:34-35: When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts he would not let the Israelites go Yes some of the hardening of Pharaohs heart was caused by God which more easily accounts for the kings self-destructive behavior but Pharaoh himself was also responsible. Given the opportunity he chose to harden his own heart against the God of the plagues and against all common sense refused the request of setting Gods people free.
Are we by any chance the same? The plagues keep coming and the worst plague is the suffering in hell (and there is the evidence of present-day suffering and countless testimonies) but we somehow against all reasonable thought dig in against God. Why? Because we are less governed by the brain than we think. Pharaoh loved his slaves the comfort of cheap labour the self-pampering which slave ownership afforded to him. He was not willing to give that up the life-style of a king (and he was not willing to give up the pride of being Pharaoh being the most powerful person around) and therefore driven by more primitive desires and emotions (such as pride, cf. Exodus 10:3) he chose to shut down his brain (or and this is more likely made his brain serve his emotions and come up with a case supporting his desires). You and I test your thinking. If we live without any fear of God, we are not terribly smart.
There is more. This goes deeper still.
In the end God achieved what he set out to do and rescued his people from
slavery. Then they came to a mountain (in
Listen to the account I read excerpts from Exodus 19:10-20:21: . the
Lord said to Moses, Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow.
Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day
the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all people.
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
When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die. Moses said to the people, Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning. The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
This is what went wrong. The people became scared of Gods powerful presence the smoke, the dense cloud, the fire, the trembling mountain and the trumpet blasts which made them choose Moses as a go-between as some sort of buffer person between them and God so that they would not have to face God themselves. But they acted on the wrong kind of fear and therefore ended up losing the right kind of fear.
I repeat one verse Exodus 20:20: Moses said , Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning. The whole exercise of God coming close to his people was not meant to harm them. No one had to become afraid but at the same time and this goes also for us God meant to test them. God means to test us. God means to make us uncomfortable confront us with what is hidden in our hearts (the resentment and unforgiveness and pride) so that we get a fright about our sin in his presence and this is healthy. The fear of him will keep us from sinning because we have learned that it is a most scary experience to have your life tested by God as will happen for everyone on the day of judgement (2 Corinthians 5:10: We must all appear before the judgement seat of Jesus Christ ).
Yet when Moses became a buffer person
for the people, they felt safe again to ignore God. Before they disobeyed a
specific command of God, they were mulling over what Moses was doing not God. I
read from the Bible Exodus 32:1: When the people saw that Moses was
so long in coming down from the mountain
As for this fellow Moses
who brought us out of
Even for us it is easier to set up mediators buffer people between God and us because then it is far safer to grumble against them and contradict them rather than God himself. When they are gone for a long time like Moses (when no one seems to visit or chases after you) then they are to blame for what happens next. When they point out sin, we can argue with them and even choose to be offended, saying: Who does he think he is? Hes not God and hes not better than me. And then the flaws of our human leaders can also keep us at a safe distance from God. We feel so justified saying: I have walked away from God because I got so hurt by my pastor.
This is not good. Meet God for yourself. Come to the prayer meetings get deeper into worship encounter God for yourself so that he may test you and the fear of him keeps you from sinning.
At the foot of the mountain the people of God employed one last strategy to avoid any fear of God. It was effective but also extremely sinful. The very first instruction that God gave on the mountain top was this Exodus 20:1-7: I am the Lord your God You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God When Moses ascended the mountain a second time, God immediately repeated his instruction Exodus 20:23: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.
But the people did not want to listen. I read to you what happened Exodus 32:1-6: 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 Aaron answered them, Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf Then they said, These are your gods the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and then got up to indulge in revelry. I read you again the last bit in the Message translation: The people sat down to eat and drink and then began to party. It turned into a wild party!
Right. The golden calf was not intended to be a substitute for God. The people did not want to worship an alternative god but they were more comfortable with shaping their own version of what God was like [and it was not even cheap personal jewelry was sacrificed; they rose early to sacrifice]. The truth is that we are the same. The temptation is there. The real God is fearsome. On top of the mountain was smoke and fire, tremors and trumpet blasts. For many of us this is too full-on. We want our worship a little more accessible nice and peaceful. We want to be confirmed in our habits and therefore at least in some quarters of the church we have shaped our ideas about God accordingly, saying: God is not going to do anything weird or noisy. And God is always loving. There is no eternal judgement because God understands your sin. Dont worry. If you feel that you cannot obey his commands if it is too hard (and sometimes it is hard to love each other despite the hurts) then dont feel too bad. God loves sinners.
Do you recognize the talk? How full-on do we allow God to be? Could it be that our version of God is also one of our own making an idol? Do we find our version of God in the Bible? Maybe this is how we find out: Do you fear your version of God? If there is no fear, then almost certainly it is an idol.
At this point many Christians feel like objecting because we like to relax in worship and we like a less fearsome God and what about the one Bible verse that is saying this 1 John 4:18: There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment If the Christian faith is about love and if according to this verse there is no fear in love, then so we may be tempted to argue we may avoid all the mistakes of others like Moses, Pharaoh and the people but at the same time join them in being always comfortable around God.
However, this kind of logic is not better than anyones in the book of Exodus and misunderstands the Bible verse. Yes perfect love drives out fear but perfect love is also perfect in obedience to God. Whoever is absolutely in love with God does not want to go against any of his wishes and therefore is absolutely committed not to sin. My guess is that none of us is enjoying this level of perfection yet and therefore we better learn something about the fear of God.
Then chances are that when we talk about perfect love, we dont even include pleasing the one that we love. A Bible teacher writes: I will never forget the time I visited a famous evangelist who was serving his last year of a five-year prison sentence. His case was made known to the world and brought much reproach on the kingdom. However, in the first year of prison he had a genuine encounter with the Lord. When I walked into the prison four years later, one of the first things he said to me was, John, this prison wasnt Gods judgement on my life, rather his mercy. If I would have kept going the way I was living, I would have ended up in hell for eternity.
He now had my attention. I knew I was speaking to a broken man of God, a true servant of Christ. I knew he started out in the ministry very much in love with Jesus. His passion was evident. I wondered how he ended up so far from the Lord while still in the height of his ministry.
So I asked him, When did you fall out of love with Jesus? He looked
at me and answered without hesitation, I didnt! Very puzzled, I replied,
But what about the mail fraud and adultery you committed in the past seven
years, all that youre in prison for? He said, John, I loved Jesus all the
way through it, but he wasnt the supreme authority of my life. (He didnt
fear God.) Then he said something that riveted me, John, there are millions of
American Christians just like me. They call Jesus their Saviour and love him,
but they dont fear him as their supreme Lord.
(John Bevere: Driven By Eternity,
The evangelists love fell short. He loved Jesus but not enough to please him because he also loved his sin and therefore needed to relearn the fear of God to stop sinning. According to the traditional teaching of the church we are all the same. We need to be confronted by the holiness of God by his holy standards and his judgement (his holy wrath on anything unholy). Martin Luther writes: the chief function or power of the law [the pure nature of God in holiness] is to show people to what utter depths their human nature has fallen and how corrupt it has become Thus he is terror-stricken and humbled This function of the law is retained and taught by the New Testament. So Paul says in Romans 1:18, The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of people, and in Romans ,20, The whole world may be held accountable to God, for no human being will be justified in his sight. Christ also says in John 16:8, The Holy Spirit will convince the world of sin. This, then, is the thunderbolt by means of which God with one blow destroys open sinners and false saints. He allows no one to justify himself. He drives all together into terror and despair This is what the beginning of true repentance is lie (Smalcald Articles, II The Law & III Repentance).
There is a function in the nature of God which leaves people terror-stricken. This is a strong word but for any sinner this is where the encounter with God the Christian life begins. Even the most mature Christians among us like the most mature people in the Bible need assurances when God comes close to us. For instance, when the apostle John had a vision of Jesus, he fell at his feet like a dead man. Then according to his testimony in the Bible Revelations 1:17: . Jesus placed his right hand on me and said, Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last When an angel greeted Mary, she was greatly troubled at his words but immediately the angel said to her Luke 1:30: Do not be afraid This is also what Moses said to the people of God at the foot of Mount Sinai: Do not be afraid.
The truth is that all of us begin by
being terror-stricken but then the fear of God matures into loving reverence
and respect (while being very careful
not to offend God with sin and to approach him in the right way). We learn that God loves us (he only
came to his people because he wanted to rescue them from slavery in
When God appeared to Moses at first, Moses Exodus 3:6: hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. But later after experiencing so much of Gods goodness he became bold in his growing appreciation of God. He asked him Exodus 33:18: show me [more of] your glory. At this later stage Moses could not get enough of God. There were no longer any scared feelings. He had submitted. He was humble and obedient and finally so taken by God that now God had to warn him not to look, saying Exodus 33:20: you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.
God is going to grow on us and our fear of him will mature. Moses became so enamored with God that his own face began to glow with the glory of God. God remained awesome to him and fearsome but he was not one little bit afraid of him. He progressed so far that others even shied back from his face because it reflected the presence of God Exodus 34:30: When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.
I close with pointing to the cross of Christ. When we understand that his tortured body suffered the wrath of God on our behalf, we understand something about the fearsomeness of God. He is holy and he judged sin in the body of his son for us. God is not be trifled with. Yet at the same time the cross also explains to us that God made provisions for us to come near to him. He loved us so much that he did not spare himself for us. The Bible teaches Ephesians 2:4: because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ Ephesians 1:7: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of Gods grace [The cross unleashed more power than the ten plagues in Egypt combined. The suffering was worse. The victory was greater over Satan.]
We give God some respect. Much happened on the cross. In the beginning Moses feared the circumstances more than God. Pharaoh refused to think clearly because he did not want to give up on his desires. The Israelites chose a buffer person to keep some distance between them and God and then from a distance they shaped their own version of God (an idol). This morning we are not following them but give God some respect. We fear him in worship for obedience. We are not exactly scared he loves us (forgiveness is a free gift to the humble not earned) but we know enough about our sin to fear his holiness. Amen.
 One Bible book contemplates the meaning of life and then finishes up by saying Ecclesiastes 12:13: here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments Another Bible book begins by saying Proverbs 1:7: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge