Saturday 3 November 2012

BibleCentral: Nine lessons on worship from Exodus 33

1. Idolatry: Idolatry is not simply the worship of a false God; idolatry is often false worship of the true God

Aaron points to the golden calf and says to the Israelites, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:4) Elements from the worship of the true God - the ark of the covenant (which was also made of gold), the feast, the burnt offerings - are faked in their worship of an idol.

What Aaron did was “baptise” their idolatry. He imported elements of true worship in order to make their false worship excusable and acceptable.

Similarly, idolatry is seen today not just in pagan temples or in Asian homes with wooden altars and joss-sticks. It can be present in churches, where elements of the true worship of God are used as a cover-up of false worship or even as as a method of promoting self-worship.

2. Worship: All of us - without exception - are worshippers.

God made us to worship him - to acknowledge our Creator as the source of our existence, our purpose and our identity.

Sin is the rejection of God’s rightful rule over our lives in preference for autonomy - which is self-rule, and which leads to self-worship. At the end of our lives we want to look back at everything we have done and sing, “I did it my way.” That is sin: We want to be God over our own lives.

3. Mediator: We need a mediator who is both like us and unlike us before God.

Moses stands between God and Israel as a middleman. As a mediator.

He represents God to the people by speaking God’s word to them as a prophet. He represents Israel before God in pleading their case and petitioning God for their forgiveness as a priest.

In order to Moses to do his job as a mediator, he has to be like Israel in identifying himself with their sin. When God threatens to judge Israel for their sin, he offers to take their judgement on their behalf (Exodus 32:33) Yet at the same time, he stands apart from Israel in his obedience to God’s word and his passion for God’s name.

4. Temple/Tent: God defines the parameters of right worship.

This incident is sandwiched between two sections on worship which are strikingly similar to one another. If you look at Chapters 35 to 39 (which outline the instructions for the Sabbath, the construction of the Tabernacle, the ark, the furniture and the priest’s uniform) and then turn back to Chapters 23 to 31, you quickly realise that one is a reflection of the other. The only difference is, the first section (Chapters 23 to 31) contain the instructions - the blueprints, if you like - and the second section is the application of the instructions seen in the building of the Tabernacle.

Moses’ encounter with God in Chapter 33 is a turning point. After receiving the blueprints for worship from God himself, it now looks as if God is pulling out of the project. Moses meets God in a makeshift tent - the “Tent of Meeting.”

The point is quite clear. Religion is meaningless without God. These rules for worship are useless if we still stand under God’s wrath. No amount of worship will make up for our sinfulness before a holy God.

5. Blessing: God’s greatest blessing is the giving of himself.

“Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey,” God says to Moses, “but I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way,” (Exodus 33:3)

Here is God’s blessing minus God. At least the Israelites are quick to recognise “these distressing words. They began to mourn.” (Exodus 33:4) They recognise their sin in counterfeiting the worship of God and they repent.

Here we learn that repentance is more than turning away from sin. It is more than feeling sorry for our sin. It is turning to face the true and living God (1 Thessalonians 1:10). The Israelites realise that God’s blessings - wealth, prosperity, security, happiness - are meaningless without God.

6. Judgement: God’s greatest judgement is the separation of himself.

Punishment, death, judgement - all that happens in at the end of Chapter 32. After the golden calf incident, three-thousand people die at the hands of the Levites. The survivors are struck with plague.

But here in Chapter 33, judgement is depicted in a more subtle way. God distances himself from Israel. He sends them off to the Promised Land but tells Moses he won’t be tagging along. Moses has to leave the camp in order to speak with God in a tent he pitches “far off from the camp.” (Exodus 33:7)

You get a sense from Moses’ conversation with God that this distancing of God - this separation of God - from his people is a much more fearful judgement than the death, execution and plague that occurred back in Chapter 32. Why? Because the bible reveals death as a separation. We tend to think of death as cessation - and end of life, existence, purpose. But the bible tells us that death is seen in God separating himself from us. It is a relationship break-up with the one who gives us true purpose, meaning and love.

7. Glory: God’s glory is seen in his goodness.

Moses asks to see God’s glory. God replies, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you...”

God’s glory is not seen in his power, his wisdom or his holiness. It is ultimately seen in his goodness shown to sinners. Supremely it is seen in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

When Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” he immediately speak of his death. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23-24)

8. Sovereign grace: God is sovereign in choosing to forgive and restore sinners through his grace.

“I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Exodus 33:19)

God reminds Moses that his grace is given freely. It means we did not do anything to receive grace, otherwise grace would cease to be grace.

Moreover, grace is an expression of God’s sovereignty even over those who rebel against his rule. It is those who have received such grace - which in this context means forgiveness and salvation - who are most aware of God’s awesomeness and holiness; who are drawn to worship him as their King.

10. Jesus: Jesus is the one and only mediator, temple, sacrifice, high priest and true worshipper who enables us to enter into the presence of a holy God through his death on the cross.

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