This is a transcript for the sermon linked in the title below:
Scripture: Exodus 32
Before we dive into today’s passage, let’s do a quick review – let’s get caught up to where Israel is at this point in their story. Because we skipped a few chapters. Those of you who who’ve been paying attention know we skipped from chapter 20 all the way to chapter 32. Don’t worry, we’re going to get back to it. You’re not going to miss anything.
So since chapter 20, Moses has been up on the mountain. He’s been hanging out with God. God is giving him the written copy of the Law, and He’s also giving him a plan for the Tabernacle, which we’re going to look at next month, so you’ve got to make sure – just keep coming. It’s going to be great.
So He’s giving him this blue print, and he’s been up there at this point for a little over a month. In chapter 19, God had said to Moses, “Ok, gather all of the Israelites around the foot of the mountain. But what I want you to do is, you need to put a barrier around the foot of the mountain so that they actually can’t touch it. In fact, if even a sheep touches the foot of the mountain, you need to stone it.”
Moses is up on the mountain and there’s a cloud around it, and the people are down at the foot, and they’re looking around like, “Well, now what?. This guy who showed up out of nowhere and told us that God told him to lead us out of Egypt, he’s been gone. Now what do we do?” So what do they do? Well, Ashley read that for us.
We’ve got this problem where, Israel is standing at the foot of the mountain, but they see this cloud, and they’ve been out in the wilderness, and they don’t know if they’re going to live or die. The primary problem they have is that they have never had the opportunity to develop intimacy with God. And that’s a little bit of where I’m going today. So before we really dive in, let’s get everybody on the same page, and let’s really talk about what are the things that happen when we know God really, really well?
The first thing is this: When we have intimacy with God, we know His character. In a couple of weeks – I don’t want to steal the thunder of Benjamin – but in a couple of weeks we’re going to look at my absolute, 100% favorite passage of Scripture where God tells Moses, “This is Who I Am”. Of all the things God could tell Moses, He says “This is Who I Am”. And He says, in part, that He is compassionate. He is gracious. He is full of mercy. He is faithful. But He’s also just, and He cannot stand injustice. When His people cry out to Him, that is when He proves Himself to be compassionate and merciful and gracious.
The second thing that happens when we get to know God really, really well is that we know His intentions toward us. Romans 8:28 – a lot of us know this verse – tells us that God works out all things for the good of those who love Him. Everything God does for us is for our good and for His glory. Because He is omniscient – because He is all-knowing – He knows in any given situation what the absolute best thing for you is. And His promise is that He’s always going to do that. So His intention toward us is for good. And we know His intention toward us because we know His character.
And then lastly, we know His plans for us. John 3:16 and 17 – everybody learns those verses in Sunday School – He sent Jesus to die for us so that we don’t ever, ever have to be separated from Him. His plan for us is always going to be good, and it’s always going to be that we are with Him.
So that’s what we’re talking about today. We’re talking about this idea of intimacy. But what we see in today’s passage is the opposite of that. The people of Israel did not know God intimately. So in verse 1, what we see is the people’s lack of intimacy. God had, again, called Moses, Moses came, led them out of Egypt, but at this point, they didn’t know His character. They didn’t know that He was compassionate, and merciful, and full of grace. Because at this point, all that they had seen of Him so far was this: They came out of Egypt, and He split the Red Sea wide open, and they walked through on dry land. And then they turn around, and He’s putting it back where it belongs, on top of the army of Egypt. Then, they saw Him open up a rock and water came pouring out of it. They saw Him defeat the Amalakite army who had come out to attack them, in crazy ways.
They had seen this cloud with them all the time filled with thunder and lightning. They had seen They had seen this pillar of blazing fire in the night sky. So at this point, all they knew of God was that He was absolutely terrifying. They were scared of Him. So how, if they were scared of this God, how can they be intimate with Him?
Now the other issue was, unlike the gods they had seen in Egypt, they didn’t know what this God looked like. So what they do - in the absence of Moses their leader, in the absence of intimacy with God, in the absence of any sort of belief that He has good planned for them – they decide they need something physical and tangible to lead them. So they go to Aaron and say, “Hey Aaron, can you make us a god? We need, we need something. Can you just do a thing for us?” And Aaron goes, “Sure. No problem. Give me all your earrings”.
The irony again is that they are standing at the foot of the mountain with the very representation of God’s glory hovering over them. They had a visual representation of God. But it wasn’t enough for them. So the Israelites, in their desire for a god they can see and touch, they traded intimacy with the one true God, the God who had rescued them and who had great plans for them. So instead of chasing after Him, they end up chasing after this shiny model of livestock over here. They replaced a God they couldn’t see with a god they could see because they lacked intimacy with God.
What about Aaron? Ok, Aaron had a front row seat to what God did in Egypt. If you remember, Aaron was actually God’s mouthpiece because Moses was over there saying, “Nope, you can’t send me. I don’t speak well. You’ve got to send somebody else.” So God said, “Ok, I’ll send Aaron with you. Aaron can be my mouthpiece”.
Aaron spoke the words of God to Pharaoh, so you would think that Aaron had developed some sort of intimacy with Him. Aaron doesn’t have this intimacy with God, so he doesn’t fear God. When we talk about “the fear of God” we mean like honor of Him, respect of Him, not like we’re terrified of Him like the Israelites were. But what did he fear? He feared the people. Because he saw that the people were rising up, and kind of getting a little bit upset, and so when they said to him, “Hey, come make us a god”, he was like, “Sure. Anything you want. No problem.”
So Aaron trades His intimacy with God. Instead of intimacy, he goes to fear – and as we’ll see now – he lies. Any of you who have kids know, when kids are afraid they’re about to get in trouble, what’s their usual go-to? They lie, hoping that if you can believe they didn’t do the thing that you think they did, they won’t get in trouble. This is what Aaron does. So now, verses 21-24:
21 Then Moses asked Aaron, “What did these people do to you that you have led them into such a grave sin?” 22 “Don’t be enraged, my lord,” Aaron replied. “You yourself know that the people are intent on evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make gods for us who will go before us because this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ 24 So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off,’ and they gave it to me. When I threw it into the fire, out came this calf!”
Weird. Aaron doesn’t know God’s character, so he doesn’t fear the consequences of his sin, but he does fear the people. Aaron doesn’t know God’s intentions, so he doesn’t trust the person He had sent to lead them out of Egypt. And he doesn’t know God’s plan, so he did whatever felt right to him in the moment. And when Moses confronted him about it, he lied.
But let’s look at something really interesting. Go back for a second to verse 5. It says, “When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of it and made an announcement: ‘There will be a festival to the Lord tomorrow’”. Unlike the Israelites, Aaron doesn’t intend for the shiny livestock to flat-out replace God. He just adds it to God. And in doing so, he corrupts the people’s worship of God.
Sometimes the shiny livestock that we find ourselves chasing after is something that is tangible, something that we can hold onto and place our hope and our trust in. But sometimes it ends up being what we call “God Plus”. God plus money. God plus a nice vacation. Something in addition to God, and that’s what we see in Aaron’s chasing after this shiny livestock over here.
Let’s contrast the people’s and Aaron’s experience with God with Moses’ experience with Him. Moses me God for the first time when he was out hiding in the wilderness. He had run for his life, decided “You know what? This being a shepherd thing, totally cool with me. I will be out here, it’ll be great. No one talks to me. Everybody leaves me alone.” That’s kind of how I feel some days. So God meets Moses and calls him out of his wilderness of hiding into what a friend of mine calls “terrified obedience”. And it’s just this idea that, “Ok God, I don’t know what You’re doing, but I’ll follow You, I’ll trust You.”
So God tells Moses, “Leave the mountain. Go down, because the people have gotten completely out of control.” They’re worshipping an idol, and God is just fed up with them at this point. And He tells Moses, “I’m just going to destroy them and start over with you”.
But look at what Moses does, and we’ll look at verse 11. “But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. ‘Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people You brought up out of the land of Egypt?’” Let me just stop us for a second. Do you notice how God and Moses keep putting the people on each other? “’Why does Your anger burn against Your people You brought up out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He brought them out with an evil intent, to kill them on the mountain and eliminate them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce anger and relent concerning this disaster You’ve planned for Your people. Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. You swore to them by Yourself and declared, ‘I will make your offspring as numerous as the starts in the sky, and will give your offspring all this land that I have promised, and they will inherit it forever’. So the Lord relented concerning the disaster He had said He would bring on His people.”
Moses’ intimacy with God allowed him the privilege of arguing for and interceding for the people and changing God’s mind. He knew the character of God so well that he knew that what God was threatening to do was outside of His character. He knew God’s intentions for Israel and he reminded God of them – not that God forgot, but he just brought them to the forefront of his argument. He knew God’s plans and he boldly asked God, “God, keep your promises to Your people”.
Now, I can only speak for myself, but I would be willing to bet that every person in this room would choose intimacy with God over chasing after shiny livestock. And I’d be willing to bet that every person in this room, if asked, would want the kind of close relationship that Moses had with God. I mean, for one thing, to be able to talk God into and out of things? That could come in handy, couldn’t it?
But it’s more than that. To be so close to God that you know His character, and His intentions, and His plans? This provides that kind of peace that Paul talks about that passes all understanding. And this provides a faith that is so strong, it can overcome everything. It’s this faith that, in the face of a sick child or a job loss, we stand firm on that faith because we know that God has good planned for us. That God intends for us to be light in the world for Him. That He’s going to come through, one way or another. We are going to see His faithfulness.
This is the kind of intimacy that gives us as a church the confidence to believe that whoever He calls to lead this church is going to be the right person for us. He knows. This is His church. This is absolutely His church.
So how do we develop the kind of intimacy that Moses had with God? This kind of intimacy that gives us peace, this kind of intimacy that gives us this super strong faith? Any kid who’s been in Sunday School knows exactly what I’m about to say. And I bet all of you do too. This is no rocket surgery. This is really simple stuff.
First thing we do? We develop intimacy through regular conversations with God. This is what Paul meant when he said, “Pray without ceasing”. It’s that regular give and take.
Second, we develop intimacy through studying what He has revealed of Himself in His Word. While Exodus 34 tells us a lot about who He is, there is so much more in there. You could read the Bible cover-to-cover and learn three new things about God. And even what you learn every time you sit down and study Scripture is only going to scratch the surface of who He is.
And finally, we develop intimacy with Him by talking to each other about Him.
Knowing these answers – knowing these Sunday School answers of pray, read your Bible, be in fellowship with each other – it’s not enough. If you want a faith that is strong enough to sustain you through whatever wilderness you end up in, you’re going to need to make getting to know God your first priority. First priority? Yup, your first priority. More important than work. More important than taking your kids to soccer, or the beach, or the Giants game. More important than anything else in your life is your relationship with God.
When your relationship with God is your first priority, what you’re going to find is that everything else – your marriage, and your finances – they start to fall into place. Now, I’m not saying that when your relationship with God is your number one priority, life is perfect. I would never, ever, ever, ever say that. And I can’t say it because Jesus didn’t. Jesus said, “In this world, you are going to have trouble. But don’t worry about it. I’ve already overcome”. And it’s having that faith in the One who has already overcome that gives us the ability to stand strong.
Over the years, what happens is that as you continue to pursue your relationship with God, your Enemy starts to notice and take it seriously. So if this is a commitment that you end up making – “You know what? I’m going to chase after God with everything in me; He is going to be my number one priority” – you are putting a spiritual target on your back. It’s just a fact of life. We’ve seen this when people are growing in their faith, and then all of a sudden, there’s a cancer diagnosis, and they have a choice to make about, “Am I going to trust God or am I going to live in fear?”
We’ve seen it in our church over the years. We’ve seen things happen here that have very, very clearly had some spiritual undertones. We see people get mad and leave when they don’t like a decision that’s been made. We see people stop giving in churches because “I don’t like the color of the carpet that was chosen, so I’m just not going to tithe anymore”. These are things that happen in churches. Already, right now, we’re seeing people divide into camps over who they want our next pastor to be.
This is the effect of complaining and bitterness in our midst. When we choose chasing after the shiny livestock. When we choose not to make chasing after God our first priority. But here’s the thing: Every week there are faithful men, women, students, and children who show up at this campus. They show up to worship this God. They show up to study about God. They show up to intercede for the people in this church and in this community. They show up to talk to each other in Community Groups about what God is doing.
God is doing things in this church. I have no doubt about it. I have no doubt about it because of those things that are happening with the spiritual undertones. If God wasn’t up to something – if we as His people hadn’t said, “You know what, God? We are Your people. We are going to follow You with everything we’ve got – Satan would leave us alone. We could just be whatever church on whatever corner of whatever street that gets together on Sunday morning because it’s the thing to do. We are not that church. We are the church of God. We are His people. We have been bought with the blood of Jesus Christ, and we belong to Him. And there are people in this room who know that with every fiber of their being.
The temptation we face when we choose to chase after the shiny livestock of our own desires – those things that either we want to completely replace God with or the things we want to add God to – is that, like Israel, in our own proverbial wilderness, we get scared. We get complainy and whiny – I’m making up words now. But if we give into that temptation, we’re going to be known as a people who, we complain, we whine, and we’re totally ineffective in ministry.
But that’s not this church. This church is sending out missionaries. This church is feeding the hungry. This church is clothing people who need it. This church has the opportunity this afternoon to meet with some of those missionaries and hear about what they’re doing in the Middle East and in Central Asia.
This church has the opportunity to grab onto God with everything we’ve got and trust Him for this next season. But we can only do that corporately if we do that individually. So we have a decision to make today: Are we going to chase after the shiny livestock that makes us feel good, that gives us the comfort and peace that we want? Or are we going to actively pursue a deeper relationship with God? No one is going to be able to make this decision for you, not even God Himself. I heard somebody say once that God is a gentleman – He will never force His way in. He provides the invitation, but He doesn’t bang down the door. That’s totally up to us to accept that invitation.
If we keep reading in chapter 32, we see that there are dire consequences when we decide not to follow God. I’m going to let you do that reading before you take your nap this afternoon – it’s great naptime reading, trust me. So the rest of 32.
So if you’re ok chasing after the shiny livestock, you guys are done. I’m done talking to you. You can check out. You can, I don’t know, is there a game today? You can check on that. Totally up to you.
But if you are ready to take your faith to the next level, if you are ready to dive in even deeper than you think you already have, lean in. Here’s what you need to do: First of all, start every day with Him. Find a Bible reading plan and read it. But don’t just read it so you can check it off. As you’re reading, ask the Spirit to show you something, to teach you something. And what you might find happens is, you’re supposed to read Colossians chapter 3, the whole thing, and you get to verse 6? And all of a sudden, you can’t get past verse 6. It’s ok. Sit with that. Mull it over. Talk to God about it. Ask the Spirit to show you, “What is it in this verse that You want me to know?” And if you never get to the rest of the verses in that chapter? That is 100% ok. This isn’t about making sure you’ve read the Bible in a year. This is about getting in so deep that the only way up is the grab onto God’s hand.
Read the Gospels. Jesus is God. So when we read the Gospels, we look at what He said, and what He did, and how He treated people, and it teaches us His character. Read the Gospels. And teach your children what it looks like to study Scripture, not just read it, but to study it. Let them catch you first thing in the morning with you Bible, and you just so deep in God’s Word.
Talk to Him about how you’re feeling in the morning as you’re getting ready – getting ready to go to school and to work. Are you anxious, is something frustrating you? Talk to Him about it. He already knows. But maybe as you talk to Him, you’ll get some insight into His character, into His intentions for you throughout the day, into His plan for you in the day. Ask Him to remind you that He is right there. We don’t have to go to the mountain with the big cloud. And teach that to your kids. Teach your kids – even the tiny ones – that they can talk to God whenever, wherever, about whatever they want.
And talk to other people about what God is doing. When a friend comes to you for advice, that is such a great opportunity for you to say, “Let me tell you what God has done for me. Let me tell you how it worked out, and how my faith grew because of that”. When someone comes to you complaining about something, remind them who God is. Change the nature of the conversation by changing the subject of the conversation. Talk to your kids as you’re driving to school, as you sit around the dinner table if you get to do that from time to time, talk to them about what they’re learning about God. Again, modeling this for the next generation, that this is – the God who we serve – we trust Him so completely that He is our number one priority.
The more you do these things, the more they’ll become second nature to you. And the more you do these things, the more you’ll actually miss them when you skip them. Now, you need to know that I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. Not even a little bit. I do not understand why morning has to be so early. And I do not understand why we have to do it every single day. Why? But a few years ago, I decided that I was going to make God my number one priority, and that, as much as I wanted to stay in my cozy bed, I needed to get myself up early, and I needed to spend some serious time with my Father.
Fast forward a few years, now, it’s my favorite time of day, when I get to get up, get my coffee, get my breakfast, and go sit in my comfy chair with my Bible and just read, and learn, and pray. And if I skip it one morning, I miss it later in the day. My attitude is wrong, everything feels off. And I will tell you this: If I had not started doing that a few years ago, I would not be standing here today. The depression and the anxiety that I have dealt with for pretty much my entire life absolutely would have taken over.
Yes, medication helps, and I am so, so grateful for it. But just being on medication could only do so much for me, because I was chasing after shiny livestock. I was looking for things to replace God. I was looking for things to add to God, because in my mind, He wasn’t enough I needed more. But over the last four months – since I got here – God has continued to stretch and grow my faith. And I know that He has got even more for me to do. Because this is the thing about when God starts to stretch and grow your faith: There’s no limit.
We sing this song, Oceans, where it talks about, ya know, “God, bring me out into the water, where my faith is without borders”, all this stuff. For the longest time, I decided I could not sing that song because I did not mean those words. I didn’t want God to stretch my faith. That’s scary and painful, and uh uh, not doing it. But there was a point in my time with Him one morning when He stopped me dead in my tracks on a particular verse. And He made me sit with that verse for three days. I couldn’t get away from it. And at the end of those three days, I said, “Ok, I will trust You with this. Whatever it is You want for me, I will trust You”. And a few months later, I moved to California, a place I had been to for all of 48 hours previous to this, and that was like 10 years ago, moved to a town I had never heard of to a church I had never heard of, that was in transition and change. I moved across the country to this church that, in these last four months, I have fallen so deeply in love with. I feel like I’ve gotten to know about 10 of you. But man, is God at work in this church, and it’s incredible to watch.
When we get to know God, when we trust Him a little bit more every day, when we know Him intimately, when we trust Him enough to tear down the shiny livestock, to take away those things that have brought us this false sense of comfort and peace, and to give us Himself – when we are able to do that, we will find the future He has for us, the plans He has for us, the intentions He has for us are far, far better than we ever could have imagined. And I tell you that as someone who has seen it myself.
This is the kind of life I want to live every single day. There is no greater adventure you could go on than saying “yes” to God. There is no greater adventure He will ever take you on than when you say, “You know what, God? I’m going to choose to trust You 100% with every aspect of my life. Everything”.
There’s this temptation sometimes to say, “Ok God, You can have this, and You can have this. No wait, not that. I need that back”. Believe me when I tell you, if you will choose to live completely open-handedly, if you will take that step toward the mountain, toward the glory of God, He is going to show you incredible things. That is the life I want to live. And my prayer for this church is that you want to live it too.
God, we can be constantly in awe of You because every time we turn around, You show us something new. God, let us not be like the Israelites who trade what can’t be seen for what can be seen because it’s easy. God, let us not be like Aaron who tries to add things to You because You’re not enough. But God, will You help us develop the kind of friendship and intimacy that Moses had with You so that no matter what You ask us to do, we can say “yes” and step out in terrified obedience. God, tear down anything in our lives that is not of You. Anything in our lives that is distracting us from You. God, teach us to trust You no matter what, because You are unendingly trustworthy. God, You are worthy of all of the glory. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.