At the morning service I preached on Exodus 32:15-35, “part two” of the story of the Israelites’ worship of the golden calf. The focus of the sermon was on the consequences of sin. As the Israelites learned from their bitter experience, though God may mercifully forgive us our transgressions the sins we commit often result in pain and difficulty for us and others. And God in his sovereign rule uses this bitter fruit as a means of disciplining us that we might be humbled and grow in obedience.
Thanks to Moses’ selfless intercession, the Lord spared the Israelites the utter destruction they deserved (32:14). But God’s people didn’t go on from there to “live happily ever after.” Rather they incurred the righteous indignation of Moses, who in their sight shattered the two tablets containing the 10 Commandments (see Rembrandt’s painting at right) to show them how completely they had broken God’s covenant. He then burned the offending image, ground it to powder, and forced the Israelites to drink water polluted with the pulverized idol. In so doing he not only destroyed the golden calf but desecrated it, because it left the Israelites’ bodies as human waste. It’s as if Moses had said, “There’s the true worth of your cherished idol.”
The discipline became more severe. At the command of the Lord, three thousand Israelites were killed by the Levites. Then God inflicted a plague on the people. The text doesn’t elaborate on this disaster, but a plague is a plague so it must have been horrible.
No one-dimensional explanation of God’s dealing with his people will do justice to the character of God. To use Paul’s language in Romans, here is both “the kindness and the severity of God” (Romans 11:22). God was severe in disciplining the Israelites for their sin; they learned just how wicked their idolatry was in the sight of a holy God. But the Lord was also kind and merciful. Most of the nation was spared the judgment their evil deserved. And even in the midst of this discipline, the Lord through Moses called out to all who would hear, “Who is on the LORD’s side?” (v.26). Those who came over to the Lord’s side were blessed by him.
We hear in this call a summons to Christ – turn from your sin, forsake the unbelief of the world, and come to the side of the One who is both Savior and Lord. No matter how grievous our sin, as long as we live in this world, Christ calls us to come to his side. It is a call to forgiveness, salvation, and life. Sin has consequences in this life that we cannot avoid, but if your hope is in Christ he has suffered for you the eternal consequences of sin – condemnation and death. And he gives you the fruit of his obedience – life everlasting.
Have you come over to Lord’s side?
Our church belongs to a larger church body, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), which is composed of regional presbyteries covering the United States and parts of Canada. These presbyteries include all the OPC congregations within their boundaries (collectively, the churches in one presbytery are called “the regional church”). Grace OPC belongs to the Presbytery of the Northwest, a region that includes Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alberta, Canada. The presbytery consists of ministers and ruling elders of those churches, and meets twice a year to conduct the business of the church that applies to the congregations in our region.
(Just a note if you’re still reading – church government isn’t always exciting, but it is extremely important!)
One of the standing committees of our presbytery is the visitation committee, and the ministers and elders on this committee have the responsibility to visit the congregations in the regional church to see how they are doing, to meet and pray with the session (the elders of the church), and to offer any encouragement and advice that may seem helpful.
Earlier this week we received such a visit from three members of the committee who are pictured here (from left to right): Rev. David Bass of Idaho Falls, ID, Mr. Wayne McManigal of Roseburg, OR, and Mr. Dennis Gettman of Medford, OR. They met with our session on Monday for what was an encouraging and constructive discussion. On Tuesday they joined our family for a drive to Talkeetna. In this picture they are standing in front of what was, at least in person, a magnificent view of Mt. McKinley (officially, Denali). Unfortunately I think the brightness of sunshine wiped out the mountain from the picture. On Tuesday evening several members of the congregation joined them at our house for a meal of soup and bread.
Their visit was a good reminder that though as a church we are in far-away Wasilla, Alaska, we do belong to a greater ecclesiastical body. I appreciate the attention and care we received during their time with us, and it’s good to know we are in the hearts and prayers of the greater Body of Christ.
For our next Theology Class, which is essentially a facilitated book discussion, we’re reading The Reformation – How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World by Stephen J. Nichols. I’m excited (or, in the parlance of our kids – I’m stoked!) about the subject I’ve chosen for this year’s Theology Classes, the Reformation. Since 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation’s beginning, what better way to commemorate that great work of God than by learning about its history and continuing significance?
The date for the class is “TBD”, but we’ll probably meet on some Saturday in February to talk about the first half of the book.
Soli Deo Gloria!