Sunday’s Sermon — Exodus 32:7-14, The Power of God-Centered Prayer

23 Oct

Have you ever had somebody ask you to pray for them? Or have you ever said to somebody who shared a problem with you, “I’ll pray for you.” And we usually just say, “Lord, bless John and help him feel better.” We may pray through the prayer list and just pray one name at a time. Or maybe we pray in a general way for revival or for God’s power to overcome sin or to serve the Lord. But so often, at least in my experience, my life in prayer seems empty. It’s either a duty to check off a list or I am wondering whether anything is really going to happen when I pray. And I am sure that while many people have personal devotions and pray for the prayer list, I am also sure that for many of us prayer is rushed and not very serious. Yet in the Bible prayer is a key element of our life with God. So how do we recapture the importance of prayer in our life with God? This passage in Exodus can help us recapture prayer as a top priority in our life. There is one secret, and only one, if we want prayer to have its rightful place. If prayer will expand in our lives with power, it must be God-centered. This is what we learn from Moses here in this passage. We are going to look very briefly at the events leading up to Moses’ prayer and then we are going to spend the rest of our time looking at Moses’ prayer. So we are going to look at the Setting of God-Centered Prayer and then we are going to look at the Substance of God-Centered Prayer and we will finish by looking at the Result of God-Centered Prayer.

 So let’s look first at . . .

The SETTING of God-Centered Prayer            (32:7-10).

7 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.

God tells Moses to come off the mountain, where he had been getting instructions from God for the tabernacle. And now, in the midst of all this good news, God brings Moses bad news, “Your people have corrupted themselves.” All through Exodus, in chapter 3 and 5 and 7 and 8 and 9 and 10 and 22, God called the Israelites “my people.” But now, they are “your people” Moses. By giving the people to Moses, God is saying they don’t have any right to claim Him as their God, because they have chosen another god in the golden calf and so have corrupted themselves.

They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ”

The key word in verse 8 is the word “quickly.” Only a few days earlier they had heard God tell them, “You shall have no other gods before me.” “You shall not make for yourselves an idol.” Last week we saw that the Israelites couldn’t believe how long it was taking Moses to come off the mountain. This week we see God noting how quickly Israel had fallen into sin.

And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.

Here the Lord uses a phrase that will be repeated often in the Bible about Israel: they are a stiff-necked people. The picture is that of a stubborn animal, an ox or horse or mule that will not wear the yoke and do the work, an animal that will not obey its master.

10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”

“Let me alone . . . that I may consume them” sounds very harsh but it is actually grace cracking open the door. God tells Moses to leave Him alone but He is not closing the door to Moses praying for the people of Israel. God could have slammed the door on Israel by just punishing them. He could have destroyed them and just informed Moses later, “I had to destroy Israel because of their sin, now I am going to start over with you.” But God doesn’t do this. He tells Moses beforehand. I believe this shows us that God desired to show mercy to the Israelites. Also, the fact that  God told Moses to go down to the Israelites shows us that God wanted to Moses to be a mediator for them. Why send Moses down if God was just going to destroy the Israelites? He sent Moses because He desired to show mercy.  When God told Moses “I will make a great nation of you” this would have brought to Moses’ mind the great covenant of God with Abraham at the founding of the nation of Israel. This phrase would have pushed Moses to prayer for Israel but might also have been something of a test for Moses. He would have been the head of a new nation. He would have been able to be rid of these Israelites who had done nothing but complain and rebel all through the wilderness. He would have been the one listed along with Abraham as the founder of the new nation. But Moses resists any desire to be the head of a new nation. It is an amazing thing, the people wanted to do away with Moses more than once, even in chapter 32 they don’t know what’s happened to him. But the one they want to discard is the only one who can save them. It is no mistake that Moses is called the most humble man who ever lived.

So the setting is clear: Israel has sinned, God is ready to destroy them and start over with Moses and Moses is left in the position of deciding whether to intercede for this rebellious people. And Moses takes the humble road and intercedes for Israel. And in his intercession we learn much about how to pray for ourselves and others.

The SUBSTANCE of God-Centered Prayer               (32:11-13).

What I think is most important to see here is that Moses did not try to negotiate with God based on anything in himself or Israel. He was praying for the guilty, not the innocent. He was asking God to save the ungodly. If this is going to happen, it will have to be because of something in God, not something in ourselves. This is the substance of prayer: it must be God-centered. Much of our weakness in prayer is not because we are distracted or discouraged, it is because we are not basing our prayers on the character of God. So watch what Moses does here and let your own prayer life be transformed.

They are YOUR PEOPLE     (32:11a).

11 But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people,

God had said in chapter 4, “Israel is my firstborn son.” Now Moses brings God’s statement back to Him in prayer. God told Moses these are “your people” who have rebelled. But Moses turns right back in intense prayer saying, “These are your people, Lord. These Israelites are your sons and daughters, Lord. Don’t let your wrath burn hot against your kids. They are your children.” This is the first part of Moses’ God-centered intercession. The sin of the Israelites did not cause them to lose their identity as the people of God.

For us, We are GOD’S PEOPLE – We need to remember that all who have trusted in Christ are members of God’s family. It is a salvation we can’t lose. We are the people of God. When we pray, we need to remember the security we have as the children of God because of Jesus. John 10:29 “because they are my sheep, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” Romans 8:39, “Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We always come to God for ourselves and others on the basis of one truth and one truth only, we are the children of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

You Have INVESTED Much in Saving Them        (32:11b)

whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?

The Lord had brought Israel up out of Egypt through the plagues and the Red Sea. He had invested much to save them. Now Moses asks God to protect His investment. God often reminded Israel that He had brought them up out of Egypt. Now Moses is reminding God of the same thing.

For us, God has invested EVEN MORE. John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God didn’t just invest powerful works or great words to save us, He gave His only Son. He sent the glory of heaven to earth to save sinners. And this saving work was not just in coming to earth but in the enduring of great suffering, even death on the cross. So we can and should go to God on the basis of the investment of Jesus Christ. We come then not only in the name of Jesus Christ but also on the basis of His finished work. You have invested so much to save your people, Lord, now come to their rescue today.

In the third element of Moses’ God-centered prayer he says . . .

Your REPUTATION is at Stake (32:12a).

12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’?

Moses appeals to God’s reputation saying that if God destroyed the Israelites it would be dishonoring to Him in the eyes of the Egyptians. They would think that rather than loving and saving Israel, that God hated Israel and had brought them out of Egypt just to kill them. So Moses is telling God that if He destroys Israel His reputation will be damaged. In appealing to His reputation Moses is really appealing to God’s heart of love for all nations. God had told Moses and Pharaoh both that the things he was doing, like the plagues, were done in part so that the Egyptians would come to know that He was the Lord.

For Us, GOD’S GLORY is at Stake.

We want to pray for people and things that will bring glory to God and result in the spread of His gospel to others. We exist for the glory of God, as we read in Romans 15:7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. So we want to pray for ourselves and others that God would do in us and through us whatever would bring Him most glory.

Fourth, Moses tells God that in saving Israel . . .

Your MERCY Can Be Upheld (13:12b).

Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people.

Moses asks Go to relent in His wrath. God’s wrath was not wrong, it was right. It was holy and just and appropriate. The Israelites, who had received all kinds of good gifts from God, were deserving of God’s punishment for their sins. They had no excuse. Moses never tried to make the case that Israel was worthy of His help. He just turned time and time again in His prayer to the character of God and to the promises of God. So he asks for mercy.

We, Too, Must ASK for Mercy.

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Titus 3:3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy

Is this mercy of God, which none of us have ever deserved and is something none of us can ever earn, something we only need once? Do we not stand in daily need of mercy? Have you ever failed to honor God in your heart? Has there ever been a day when you failed to go to God in prayer? When you went half-heartedly? Have you ever gotten angry with your spouse or children? Have you ever been bitter about another person who has mistreated you? Have you ever lied or engaged in gossip? Have you put other false gods before the true God? Have you been jealous of others? Have you been discontent with the things God has given you? Have you lusted after someone not your spouse or watched things on TV or your computer that you shouldn’t have watched? Have you ever gotten drunk? Have you ever been mad at your boss or even at church leaders because they wouldn’t do things the way you wanted to do them? Have you ever come to church looking for what is wrong rather than celebrating what is right? Have you ever cared only for yourself and not for others? So let me ask you . . . Do you need mercy? Do I need mercy? Yes. And here’s the good news. We serve a God who is rich in mercy. Go to Him in prayer, for yourself and others and depend on His merciful character to see you through.

Fifth, Moses says, deliver Israel so that . . .

Your COVENANT Can Be Maintained         (13:13).

13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ”

Moses finishes with his most powerful reason that God should answer his prayer, he quotes God’s own words. He points to God’s covenant, His promised commitment to the people of Israel. He pleads with God not to destroy Israel because to do so would be to go back on His commitment to His people. It is significant that Moses quotes God’s own words because it gives us a real insight into how to pray. If you are stuck in prayer, pray the words of Scripture.

For Us, We are Also UNDER God’s Covenant.

One of my favorite benedictions to give at the end of the service is Hebrews 13:20, Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. We remember the great words of Paul in 2 Timothy 2:13, “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” Let us pray to God on the basis of His commitment to us as His people.

Finally, we see . . .

The RESULT of God-Centered Prayer (32:14).

14 And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

The Lord relented from the disaster He had spoken of bringing on His people. “Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt. Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that will pardon and cleanse within. Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin.” We deserve to be disowned. We deserve to be cut off. But God shows grace, deep, wide, rich grace.

Philip Ryken says that this story in Exodus 32 is really the story of our own salvation . . .

“God is up on His holy mountain; we are down on earth. And like the Israelites, we are floundering in the folly of our rebellion against God. Our idolatry leads to immorality. What we need is someone like Moses. We need someone to come down and intercede for us – someone who will turn away God’s wrath. The message of the gospel is that God has given us a mediator. When He saw our sin, He wanted to save us; so He sent His Son to intercede for our salvation. It is as if God said, “Go down, Jesus, go down. Go down because your people – the ones I gave you from all eternity – have become corrupt. They are living in sin. They have turned away from my law to worship other gods. And unless you intercede for them, they will surely be destroyed in my wrath.”

And Jesus did come down and save us, interceding for us by dying for us on the cross and rising again to prove the value of His death for sinners. And now Christ, ascended to heaven, continues to intercede for us. He intercedes for us not on the basis of our goodness but on the basis of His goodness. As we read in 1 John chapter 1, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Now we as Christians, as followers of Jesus, pray for others as Moses prayed for Israel and as God works in us we develop the very same qualities of God we base our prayers on. We pray, “God, save your people. You have promised not to lose any of them, save your people.” And then we live with the people of God, not as Lone Ranger Christians but in a body of believers, a family of faith, sons and daughters of God. We pray, “God, you have invested so much in saving your people (the life blood of your Son in His suffering, the work of your Holy Spirit, events in our lives), now keep your people in your love.” And then we live as people who are investing much in the kingdom of God, through time in the Word and prayer, through service, through sharing the gospel, through living holy lives. We pray, “God, uphold your glory through your people. Let us live with repentant hearts. Let us not defame your name through apathy or laziness or impurity.” And then we live our lives in a 1 Corinthians 10:31 way, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” We pray for God’s mercy. Having received so much mercy we so easily squander it. It doesn’t have to be any kind of great sin. There probably aren’t many adulterers and murderers and thieves and drunks in here. But there are plenty of us with different struggles: anger, gossip, gluttony, lust, pride, apathy, fear. And we let these things rule our lives. So we need to call on God for mercy. And then, seeing how merciful God is, we extend mercy to one another. We are not quick to punish but eager to see people repent and be reconciled to God and walking with Him in a fresh way. We long to remind each other that because of Jesus God is not against us for our sins, He is for us against our sins. And we pray, “God, keep us in your care because of your faithfulness to your promises. You said, ‘He who began a good work in you will complete it.’ You yourself, Lord Jesus, prayed, ‘Sanctify them by your truth, your Word is truth.’” So Lord, on the basis of your promises, keep us in your love. And then, resting in God’s promises, we point each other to these promises and hope in God.

This morning, let the prayer of Moses become your own. I encourage you to pray these things daily. I encourage you to come to God not on the basis of your own goodness but on the basis of His goodness. I urge you this morning, if you’ve never taken that first step of trusting in Jesus, that today would be the day that you trust Him. Turn away from your sin and call on Jesus to save you, right here, right now, today. If you are holding on to a sin in your life right now, if there is an area of your life where the devil is winning a victory, call on God right now on the basis of Moses’ prayers to set you free. You may want to come up to the altar and pray. I will be glad to pray with you as well. Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save. Let’s stand together and sing #559, Rescue the Perishing.

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