Sunday’s Sermon — Exodus 32:15-24, Two Responses to Sin

30 Oct

On one episode of The Andy Griffith Show, as Barney is leaving church he compliments the pastor on preaching a great sermon about sin. The only problem is the pastor wasn’t preaching about sin at all. He was preaching about God’s love. Barney hadn’t been listening. Well, this morning, if you will listen, you’re going to hear a sermon about sin. So I hope you’ll be able to leave this morning honestly able to say with Barney Fife that you heard a great sermon about sin.

A sermon on sin is at once offensive to some and so familiar to most. As much as our culture might want to deny that sin is real, it is easy enough to see, in ourselves and in others. Nobody quite ever does as well as we think they should and we all fall short of our own hopes too. And then when we see something of God, well then we know we’re really in a fix. His perfection makes our best efforts look so weak. So we know we need His mercy. This is kind of our day to day existence, if we’re honest: we are aware of our failings and of our need for God’s mercy. “O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be.” And the Lord’s will for us is that over the course of our lives we might never outgrow our need for His mercy but might with it have a supply of the power of His Holy Spirit so that we would live a holy life. The grace of God teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, as Paul tells us in Titus 2. So the goal of God for every follower of Jesus is a steady, fruitful life. And I’m sure many of you can attest to that reality. You are different, more holy, more loving, than you were before you walked with Jesus. But for some of us, I would say most of us, there has been in our lives one or two areas of besetting sin. Some particular challenge that drives into your soul and seeks to root out the work of God. Some temptation to which you are prone to fall. And you pray and you plead and you fight and still it is there, seemingly always there to drive you crazy. Maybe it’s anger. You just can’t seem to control your anger, lashing out at people around you when things go wrong. Maybe it’s despondency. You have many blessings but you begin to look around at others and you feel your hope fading away. Maybe your besetting sin is fear. You are afraid of what others think of you, afraid of what might happen to you. This fear leads to worry and it shuts you down so that you never take a chance. For many, it is pride. You are confident in who you are and what you have and in your own abilities and you see no need for God. For others, it is lust. Maybe for women or men, maybe for alcohol, maybe for success or money. Something drives you that you want to pursue with all your heart but in the end it is an idol, just like that golden calf Aaron and the gang were worshiping at the base of the mountain.  

In these besetting sins, we may feel without hope. We may feel that we will never make any progress, that we will always fail. So many people give up. I am convinced many people give up on coming to church or being involved in church not because the church is full of scoundrels or hypocrites, but because there is some sin area they have never dealt with in their lives. Maybe a long-standing bitterness, maybe some shameful thing they have done that they don’t want anyone to know about, maybe some area of sin they think others would not understand. Whatever the case, the church should be the place we can deal with sin in a constructive way, a way that leads to our lives being put back together. Instead, the church is often the place of whispers and fake smiles and false handshakes. This should not be, and today’s passage gives us a way forward in dealing with sin which will be redemptive and good. And the reason this is important is because sin affects our relationship with God and brings terrible consequences in our lives and the lives of others. You can’t lose your salvation if you really have it. I believe with all my heart that is the testimony of Scripture. But boy, can you make your life miserable by wallowing in sin and never really dealing with it. So this morning, I want us to deal with sin so that we can see and rejoice in God again. God is the goal. 

We’re going to come at this from two angles, just as the passage lays it out. On the one hand, we see a positive example of dealing with sin from Moses. And on the other hand we see a negative example of dealing with sin from Aaron. So we’re just going to make some observations about these two and then draw out some applications for our own lives at the end.  

Let’s look first then at . . .

Moses: The GODLY Response to Sin       (32:15-21). 

          A Godly Response to Sin Includes . . .  

Reverence for God’s WORD (32:15-16).

15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. 16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

Moses has already been told by God that the Israelites have rebelled at the base of the mountain. God told Moses to go down to them. Moses begged God for mercy toward the Israelites but now he will have to go down and deal with their sin. What is so important to note is how Moses does not go down in his own authority. He takes the two tablets of the Ten Commandments down the mountain with him. In other words, as Moses goes down to deal with the Israelites’ sin, the Word of God is front and center. And the way this is written, it seems that Moses was trying to tell us two things about the Word of God. First, by saying it was written on front and back and that the tablets were filled, it seems that Moses is pointing to the sufficiency of Scripture. The Word of God gives us everything we need for life and godliness. Second, Moses really emphasizes that these tablets are the Word of God. He calls them the work of God and the writing of God and emphasizes how God Himself had carved out the letters.

When we deal with sin, the Word of God must be central. If we do not keep God’s standards at the front of our minds, we will easily rationalize anything and everything under the sun. “Well, I’m not hurting anybody.” “Everybody else is doing it.” “Times have changed.” I remember when I first came here, EB Elmore was here, and I asked him for advice about being a pastor because I had never been one before. And I’ll never forget what he told me. He said, “Just stick with preaching the Bible and you’ll be fine.” We need to preach and live the Bible. If you really giving yourself to knowing the Bible and reading the Bible and meditating over the Bible you may become a puffed-up egghead full of knowledge. That is a risk. But you will more likely become a God-shaped lover of truth whose life will be directed by the Holy Spirit through the Word. But if you don’t put the Word front and center, you will definitely become a cultural Christian swayed by every blowing wind of culture and easily and quickly falling into sin which will hinder your walk with God and the quality of your life. Are you in the grip of some sin? Are you distant from God? Ask yourself two questions? Do I believe the Bible is the Word of God? Am I giving myself to regularly feeding my soul on the Bible? If the answer to one or both of those questions is “no” you have right there the reason why sin is big and God is small in your life.

Second, we see that a right response to sin includes . . .

ANGER Over Sin                  (32:17-19).

17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” 18 But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.” 19 And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.

Moses was hot about the sin of the people. He knew already that they had rebelled, but when he saw it with his own eyes, he was incensed. Their rebellion against this God who had been so good to them, delivering them from Egypt feeding them in the wilderness and now making them His own people through the law and the tabernacle, it was all more than Moses could stand. The offense against God of these people worshiping a golden calf and engaging in sexual immorality at the base of the mountain produced in Moses a righteous anger that was seen in his breaking of the tablets at the foot of the mountain.

I believe Moses’ anger was righteous for two reasons. First, there is no record here that God was displeased with what Moses did. Later on, Moses will get angry at the Israelites again in the wilderness and he will strike a rock with his staff and water will come out. And in that passage the Bible is very clear that God was displeased with Moses’ anger and will not permit him into the Promised Land because of it. But here there is none of that sense of God’s displeasure with Moses. The second reason I believe Moses’ anger against Israel was righteous is that the Hebrew phrase “Moses’ anger burned hot” is exactly the same phrase used to describe how God felt about Israel’s sin in verse 10. This shows me that Moses’ anger is a godly anger. I don’t believe that Moses’ throwing down the tablets was an impulsive thing. I believe it was a controlled and symbolic thing. By throwing down the tablets, Moses was saying to Israel, you have broken covenant with God by worshiping idols.

When was the last time you were really angry over your sin? Over the sin of another person? Instead what do we get angry about? “My car won’t start! They put mustard on my hamburger in the drive through when I told them not to! The football game is on instead of my favorite show! They ignored me! I didn’t get my Sunday School quarterly in time! They changed the schedule at church! The pastor’s not wearing a tie!” We get tied up in knots over the most inconsequential things and ignore the life changing sin that’s right in our face. Or if we don’t ignore it, we’ve just grown accustomed to it. We’ve just resigned ourselves to always being angry or bitter or lustful. Maybe we’ve even softened it a little bit in our thinking. We’ve made our sin part of who we are. “Well, I’m just an intense personality.” “Well, I was born this way.” “Well, you know, I my grandpa gave me a drink when I was twelve so I just can’t help it.” We need to recapture a hatred for sin. We will never really deal with sin rightly until we’re mad about it. There is a good kind of anger. Anger over things that anger the heart of God can be constructive and helpful. Do you hate your sin? Until you do you won’t really deal with it.

Next, we see in Moses’ right response to sin a . . .

WARFARE Against Sin                  (32:20).

20 He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it.

Moses burned the calf and put it in the water to make the people drink it for two reasons. First, he wanted Israel to personally taste the bitterness of what they had done. He wanted them to see the ugliness of their sin. Second, Moses wanted to obliterate the idol. He burned it up. He did away with it entirely. He made war on the idol. John Owen, the great Puritan writer, said long ago, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” And of course, he was just paraphrasing Romans 8:13, “For if you life according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Kill it. Put it to death. Deal with it strongly. So many of us are in the grip of some sin because we have never really made war on it. We are not willing to get radical in our fight against sin. We don’t see how our sin is hindering our life with God and the quality and power of our daily life. We are ashamed to admit that we have had a long-standing problem that needs to be addressed. So we stay silent and ashamed. Let me urge you today to make war. So many of you here were in the military. Have you given yourself to knowing God and hating sin with the same degree of discipline you gave yourself to the Army or the Navy or the Air Force or the Marines? Your aim ought to be to root out every enemy of your soul. When you see an area of sin, declare war. How do you fight the war? Two ways. First, you fight by the Spirit through the Word. You renew your mind and fill it with thoughts of God and your soul is shaped so that your thoughts are directed by the will of God rather than your own feelings or what is popular. Second, you fight the war by joining with others. Just as you don’t go onto the physical battlefield alone, so it is spiritually. If you are struggling with pornography today and you won’t open your life up to anybody, you are always going to struggle with pornography. If you don’t find somebody who can fight the battle with you, you will never defeat lust in your life. Church ought to be one big fight club. A group here who struggles with anger joins together to make war. A group over here who struggles with alcoholism joins together to make war. A group over here whose marriages are falling apart or have already fallen apart joins together not to complain about what dogs their spouses are but to make war, to say, this will not be my destiny. We will walk out of this more determined to know Jesus, more satisfied in Him, more committed to rooting out sin in our lives. Christians too often fight about all the wrong things. We fight about theology. We fight about how to grow the church. We fight about what kind of music to sing. We ought to be fighting sin. Because if you’ve got a group of people who are living with a pure heart and a sincere faith before God, you can get up here with a kazoo band on Sunday morning and play Amazing Grace and they will love it. Because the only time my personal preferences take center stage is when I am in the center rather than God. Be like Moses. Make war on your sin.

Finally, there is here from Moses . . .

A Call to REPENTANCE               (32:21).

21 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?”

Moses comes to Aaron and basically says, “What were you thinking?” Moses is strong with Aaron, but that is not a bad thing, it is a good thing. The problem in our day is that we would get so offended with Moses we wouldn’t listen to a thing he had to say. In reality, Moses is not being mean to Aaron, he is giving Aaron an opportunity to repent. And Moses would have surely interceded for Aaron and God would have forgiven Aaron. So Moses’ words to Aaron were not mean, they were loving. Sometimes strong words are loving. Sometimes nice words are damning. We need to call ourselves and others to repentance. Too often I have sat on the sidelines and remained silent in the face of sin. That is wrong. Sin needs to be called out. But what is the goal? Angry denunciation of sin so I can feel better about myself? No. Repentance. All we want is for ourselves and others to be reconciled to God so that God can be honored and so that their lives can be enriched. Anybody who responds to sin in a godly way will make repentance a big part of the story. We are not here to punish people. Our ministry, as it says in 2 Corinthians 5, is reconciliation.

So this is how a godly person responds to sin: reverence for the Word of God gives her understanding of the Word by which she then develops an anger over sin and from that hatred of sin makes war against that sin with the goal of being reconciled to God. Our relationship with God is not broken by our sin. Our fellowship with God and fruitfulness for God are very much broken by sin. If we will respond like Moses, holiness will flow into our lives and we will find ourselves changed. Sadly, all too often, we don’t respond like Moses. We respond like Aaron. I am not going to take as long on this part because I don’t believe Aaron deserves much of our time but I do want to point out a few things about his response because we may be able to better understand our own hearts better if we see what he did.

So let’s look briefly at . . .

Aaron: The UNGODLY Response to Sin          (32:22-24).

          An Ungodly Response to Sin Includes . . .

 BLAMING the Messenger               (32:22a).

22 And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot.

Aaron responded to Moses’ question by being offended. “Don’t be angry with me Moses. What are you so uptight about? Relax, Moses.” It is a very typical response to blame the messenger when we are confronted over a sin. Nobody likes to be confronted so when it happens we tend to get defensive and we tend to blame the messenger. This happens all the time in marriage. The wife points out some way the husband is falling short and the husband is like, “Well, I don’t like your tone.” Or in the church, if we confront someone over their sin, they are like, “How can you judge me?” The problem is no longer the sin but the judgmentalism of the other person. This is a typical wrong response to sin we have to be aware of in ourselves and in others.

Second, we see in Aaron’s ungodly response . . .

Blaming Others Participating in Sin WITH You                 (32:22b).

You know the people, that they are set on evil.

This is a real mark of an ungodly response to sin: blaming others. If I didn’t hang out with those people I wouldn’t have done it. They are such a bad influence on me. I’m sorry, did they light the joint for you and put it in your mouth? Did they give you the dirty joke on a cue card for you to read? We can’t blame others who are involved in sin for our own sin.

Third, we see that an ungodly response to sin involves . . .

Making EXCUSES      (32:23).

23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’

I couldn’t help it Moses because the people were pressuring me. And besides, you weren’t here. You were up on the mountain so you were making the people nervous. So do you see what Aaron has done? He has made excuse after excuse for his sin. If only these things hadn’t happened, everything would have been alright. It reminds me of brothers and sisters. “I wouldn’t have hit him if he hadn’t made a face at me.” “I’d obey you if you wouldn’t be mean to me.” It reminds me of the person in school who says, “I’d do better in school if the teacher weren’t so unfair.” It’s not my laziness or my anger or my obeying that’s the problem. It’s something outside of me. So on come the excuses. When it comes to your sin, if you are going to deal with it in a godly way, you must tell yourself, “No more excuses.” You must be done with using what has happened to you or what you naturally desire or any other thing as an excuse to give yourself a free pass to disobedience.

Finally, we see that an ungodly response to sin involves . . .

Minimizing Your ROLE in the Sin (32:24).

24 So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”

Now you remember in verses 1-6, how Aaron told the Israelites to bring him their gold and he formed the calf and carefully made the idol and then declared a day of worship to the Lord. But here, in his explanation to Moses, he acts as if it was just kind of “poof!” Here’s a calf. Aaron was very detailed earlier in talking about what the people said and what they were doing. But when it comes to his own role, he is very vague and minimal.

Aren’t we so often able to describe the sins of others so much easier than our own? We know what the other guy did and why, even though we can’t see into his heart, while our own actions are much less clear, much more clouded by mixed motives and after all we didn’t mean to offend God or hurt others. It just kind of happened. Sin just never kind of happens. We choose it because we prefer it to God. When we do this, we need to not minimize our actions or try to put them in the best possible light. We need to own our failures. Don’t try to follow the example of the politicians here. Don’t spin. Don’t say, “Missteps were made.” We need to own our sin fully if we are going to deal with it in a godly way. And remember, our goal is repentance and restoration. When we confess or sins, God is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse. But when we try to minimize our sin, we are pretending that we have not sinned and 1 John says this is akin to the truth not even being in us. It is as close as a believer ever comes to being an unbeliever when he minimizes his sin.

So there we have it. A godly response to sin and an ungodly response to sin. One marked by reverence for God’s Word and hatred of sin and warfare on sin and a desire for repentance. The other marked by anger at the person who pointed out sin and blaming fellow participants in sin and making excuses about sin and minimizing one’s role in sin. What a vastly different picture between Moses and Aaron. The godly response brings the short-term pain of honestly dealing with sin but the long-term blessing of peace and reconciliation and restoration. The ungodly response brings a short-term freedom from responsibility and a false sense of security but it ends with long-term uncertainty, broken relationships, unspoken hurts and lack of intimacy with God and people. So I have a really simple question for you this morning . . .Are you a Moses, or an Aaron? Are you living for God’s glory or for self-preservation? Are you open or in hiding? Honest or deceitful?

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