Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Chapter 5 ~ Sunday, March 29, 2020
A burglar broke into a home and was looking around. He heard a soft voice say, "Jesus is watching you". Thinking it was just his imagination, he continued his search. Again the soft voice said "Jesus is watching you". He turned his flashlight around and saw a parrot in a cage. He asked the parrot if he was the one talking and the parrot said, "yes." He asked the parrot what his name was and the parrot said, "Moses." The burglar asked, "what kind of people would name a parrot Moses?" The parrot said, "the same kind of people who would name their pit bull Jesus.”
That story is fiction, yet in real life, that’s the impression many people have of Moses and Jesus. Moses, the guy who carried the 10 commandments down the mountain from God, is essentially saying to the world, “Jesus is watching you!” The message is meant not to comfort, but convict. In other words, a popular perception of God is that he applies this strict set of standards you must keep, and he never tires of watching and waiting to catch you messing up.
And maybe as you read chapter 5 of The Story that idea of God and his rules is the image that forms in your mind too. Even though we’re currently living in days of isolation, it’s important that we not read chapter 5 as though it were isolated from the rest of Scripture, forgetting what comes before and after in the rest of The Story! Remember, God’s vision when he originally created humanity. The whole point was for God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit to have this close, personal relationship with Adam and Eve in the beautiful garden. God’s grand vision is to be with us. This is what God wants but Adam and Eve rejected. When they ate the forbidden fruit, humanity turned their collective back on this heart-to-heart relationship with God. In violating God’s command, they did so much more than just break a rule. They broke faith with God, shattering the intimate trust between them. Adam and Eve acted like a spouse who cheats on their marriage partner when they sinned, they trampled on the beautiful bond of sacred love God had with them.
That’s the real story and it also properly frames what God is doing when he gives Moses and the Israelites the commandments in chapter 5 of The Story. Listen to how this unfolds in Exodus 24: “When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord (the visible sign of God’s presence) settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud” (vv. 15-16).
Now really focus on this because this helps make sense of everything else in chapter 5 of The Story. Exodus 33, verse 17 reports: “To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” Why fire? Consuming fire depicts God’s red hot, pure, passionate, committed, all-in kind of love for his people, like the heart of a groom for his beloved bride!
Embrace that picture of what God and his love for us are like and the purpose of God’s rules comes into clear focus. Pure love, godly love is like fire. Fire is powerful. When we treat it with respect, interact with it appropriately we enjoy its blessings and benefits. A family sits beside a campfire and enjoy its warmth. A child roasts a marsh-mellow over the open flame and enjoys the ooey-gooey goodness But if you don’t respect its God-given properties, when you abuse it or misuse it, if you interact with it carelessly or use it recklessly, you will get hurt and you’ll hurt others too. A child is fascinated by the fire’s glow and pulls a long stick out of the fire and starts waving it around, accidentally burning his little sister who couldn’t duck out of the way. A careless fire is set and sparks a massive wildfire destroying homes, displacing hundreds, even thousands of people.
So how do we have a beneficial and blessed relationship with someone whose love for us is so pure so passionate it is described as a ‘consuming fire’? Think about it like this. Sometimes when Christians talk about marriage we call it “holy matrimony.” That is 100% accurate in describing what a relationship with the holy God must be like. It must be holy, consisting of pure and perfect love. Pure and perfect love is precisely what God defines for his people in the 10 commandments. In the New Testament, Jesus summed up the heart of the commandments like this: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with God’s rules for what pure and perfect love is like between people and God, and how people are participate in and practice godly love for another, the people of Israel vowed to love God and love one another faithfully!
Their commitment, however, soon wore thin. Their excitement for God was very soon replaced with attraction and flirtation with other gods. While Moses was on the mountain with God, the people traded their golden opportunity for a golden calf. Do you find yourself asking, “How could they cheat on God like that? And so quickly too?” I mean they’ve seen some amazing things. The 10 plagues and the power of God, walking through the Red Sea on dry ground, they see the glory of the Lord, this consuming fire on Mount Sinai, yet just like that they turn and forget. How is that possible?”
But let me ask you, “Are any of us all that different?” How many times has it happened that you worship God and you have an experience of the goodness, the grace, the love of God. In response, you commit yourself to making good changes, godly changes in your life. “This bad habit I have, I’m going to stop doing that!” “When annoyances, irritations, disagreements pop up in my life, I’m going to handle them differently. I’m going to live out pure love, trusting God.” And your intentions are truly good. But give it a little time and move from an environment of worship or bible study and into taking the real actions needed to actually change that bad habit, or find yourself quarantined at home and it’s been a few days and somebody does something that just really aggravates you, or you’re surfing your social feed and somebody posts something that just really gets under your skin, and what happens? How quickly do you revert back to the ways of speaking and acting that you had vowed you were going to differently, you had promised you were going to change? Maybe that’s true for your life with God during this time of isolation. You commit to being online for virtual worship, singularly focused. But then your phone dings, or the dark barks, or someone else in the room says something and your focus goes elsewhere. Your heart-level commitment comes up too weak to change the bad habits, the old patterns.
Why is that? In other words, what does our disobedience to God’s commands demonstrate? Disobedience reveals the places and ways in which we don’t completely trust God, right? If we did, if we fully believed that he put these limits in place, that he gives these commands for our good, for our protection, wouldn’t we follow every command he gives through and through? Since God is good through and through and so are his commands, what really is at the heart of disobedience? It’s a failure to truly trust God!
So what can we do about that? That question exposes our deeper problem. The deeper problem of sin is that it has this gravitational force that has a way of drawing us in, and once it has us, usually we’re not quick to let go of it, repent of it, and run away from it. In other words, when I’m caught in the gravitational pull of sin, I’m not going to get out of it by my own power because the biggest problem is so often I don’t want to. If I’m going to get free from a sin, I need someone to intercede and break sin’s power over me. I need someone to reconcile me to a right relationship with God, to plead for me before God, repair the damage I’ve done and pay the debt I owe to God.
That’s what the Israelites needed. That’s what they got in Moses, whose words and actions in so many foreshadow the coming Christ.
Moses was the intermediary who comes down from the mountain to speak the Father’s will to the people. Jesus is our intermediary who came down from heaven to fulfill the Father’s will perfectly for us.
After the Israelites’ disobedience, Moses fulfills his role as intercessor by passionately pleading with God for Israel, and bolding asking God to show how good He is by keeping his promises to His people even when they have broken theirs to Him!
After Moses destroys the golden calf, he goes back to the Lord and, and in a third way he foreshadows the coming Christ, interceding again asking God to “blot me out of the book you have written” (Exodus 32:31) as a proposed payment to save his fellow Israelites. Jesus became that payment for the sins of all people for the salvation of the world when he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Mark 15:34).
Is there greater love than this? The Israelites messed up, big time. And Moses steps up and steps in for them, willing even to offer himself if it will result in their being spared from God’s wrath. Yes God’s love is like a consuming fire. But his jealousy for us is a holy one, a protective one. He knows that every other so-called god leads to sin, killing our love for the one true God, just as was happening among the Israelites as they cavorted with the golden calf. While Moses foreshadowed the coming Messiah, only Jesus Christ, true man and true God in one person, could make full payment for the sins of the Israelites and the sins of you and me! Such is the great grace of our Holy God: a God who doesn’t just hand down commands for us, but intercedes with his own hand to save us. His chief desire isn’t to restrict our lives, but to redeem them, reconciling us to himself, so we can enjoy an everlasting relationship with Him!
That’s what Moses wants. And he asks God’s presence to go visibly with him and the people of Israel because he knows when God is down in the middle of our lives, we will receive blessing. He wanted that for himself, and he wanted that for the people he leads. And that’s what God wants too! God wants to live in relationship with us…but not just to dwell among us, he desires to call our very bodies his Temple, and our hearts his own home. That’s how near he wants to be to us. That’s how dear we are to him.
I offer you the words of Moses, the Parrot – “Jesus is watching you.” Not to bite you in the behind for being bad or catching you making a mistake. He is watching over you because he loves you, he is blessing you, and he wants to protect you. Thanks be to God! Amen.