Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sermon -- 17th Sunday after Pentecost (September 11, 2016)

EXODUS 32:7-14


In the name + of Jesus.

      St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment...” (1 Timothy 5:24)  The wickedness of some people is so obvious and blatant that we expect God to be angry about them.  In fact, when we hear about such blatant wickedness, we get angry with God that he does not respond with immeasurable wrath and immediate judgment.  If God is capable of wiping out Sodom and Gomorrah, we wonder why he does not destroy those whose sins are conspicuous.
     When Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Commandments from God, the Israelites grew impatient.  Moses was gone for 40 days, so the people demanded a new leader and a new god.  The people who had trembled before God now engaged in idolatry without fear.  The people who had vowed to obey every word of the Lord would not even honor the First Commandment.  They crafted a golden calf, called it “the LORD”, and offered sacrifices to it—all right under God's nose.
     The Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people...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!’”  ...Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them....” (Exodus 32:7-10)  The phrase “that my wrath may burn” is more literally, “that my nose may grow hot” against them.  The Lord's nostrils flared with anger.  He was fuming against Israel whose idolatry was blatantly committed right under God's nose.  The stench of their sin and rebellion could not be ignored.  We do not fault the Lord for getting so angry.  Such blatant sins deserve swift and severe judgment.
     “The sins of some men are conspicuous...” (1 Timothy 5:24)  But just because sins are not blatant or obvious does not mean they are not wicked.  We are all idolaters.  Every sin, finally, is idolatry.  Every time you sin, you put your will above God's.  You know what God's word forbids—and if you honestly do not, you had better hear and learn his word—and yet, you still do it.  You want to do what you want more than what God wants.  That is idolatry.  Or perhaps your friends encourage you to join them in sin.  You don't fear God whom you do not see; you fear losing your friends whom you see regularly.  Or you fear hearing your friends tease you more than you fear hearing God's judgment.  So you exalt your friends over God.  That is idolatry.
     It is fairly common today to hear people even turn Jesus into a false God.  People insist, “My Jesus would never judge.  My Jesus would never condemn...” fill-in-the-blank.   People claim to know what Jesus would or would not do.  It sounds so pious, except that Jesus does not need us to dictate whom he will or will not judge.  Or worse, that Jesus will judge no one.  When Jesus says, “The Father … has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22), it is clear that Jesus judges everyone.  Anyone who asserts, “My Jesus...,” is almost always invoking an invented Jesus.  This is idolatry, as bad as anything the Israelites did at Mt. Sinai.  They sacrificed to a golden calf, but they called it the LORD.  They actually believed that they had not forsaken the Lord when they worshiped their hand-crafted god.  Likewise, when we claim that “My Jesus” does what my opinion is, that, too, is gross idolatry.  Such rebellion is a stench in the Lord's nose, and it makes the Lord's nose grow hot.  Who could blame the Lord for his wrath against such blatant and conspicuous sins?
     The prophet Moses acted as mediator between God and Israel.  Moses did not try to excuse Israel's sin at all.  They were guilty.  Moses did not pretend otherwise.  But what Moses did do was uphold God's promises to him.  Moses implored the Lord..., “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.’” (Exodus 32:11,13)  Moses upheld God's promises to him, trusting that God would be faithful to his own word.  He had promised to bring Israel's offspring to the land he had sworn to give them.  He had promised to bless them and bring a Savior through them.  To destroy Israel would be to unfaithful to his own promises.  No Israel = No promise, no Savior, and no faithful God.
     Our mediator upholds God's promises.  But we have a greater mediator than Moses.  We have the Savior who came from Israel.  We have God's fulfillment to his promises.  We have Jesus.  And even though Jesus is a greater mediator than Moses, like Moses, Jesus upheld God's promises.  Jesus did not pretend that we are not guilty of rebellion and idolatry.  Jesus did not sweep away the First Commandment.  Rather, Jesus put himself under the judgment of the First Commandment to suffer God's wrath and judgment for our idolatry.
     When Israel needed to atone for their sins, they offered up sacrifices to God.  They slaughtered an unblemished animal and had fire consume it on an altar.  The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma of the sacrifice.  He turned his anger aside and declared his favor upon the people.  The sacrifice that Jesus made for you was himself.  Jesus is the unblemished Lamb of God which was slain for you.  The cross is where Jesus was offered up for your sins.  The cross is where Jesus was consumed in God's wrath for your rebellion.  Strangely and graciously, God offered up himself for our idolatry.  The Lord was slain for sinners who have not honored and served him as God.  The holy, obedient Jesus died for our disobedience.  He is our sin offering, and the Father in heaven smells the pleasing aroma of his sacrifice for us and relents from his wrath and punishment.
     Our mediator upholds God's promises.  For, he not only dies in fulfillment of God's word, he also makes us participants in his promises.  When you were baptized, you were bathed in the blood of Jesus Christ.  You have been covered in his sacrificial blood so that the Lord no longer smells the stench of your sin.  Jesus has made you pleasing to God.  No longer do the Lord's nostrils fume at you.  You have been found guiltless through Jesus.  And the body and blood that were given into death for your sins have been raised from the grave.  Therefore, Jesus lives to intercede for you, living forever as your mediator and forever upholding God's promises before you.  And your living Savior even gives you his body and blood on which you feast for the forgiveness of your sins.  We do this in remembrance—as we remember Jesus' death for us, as God remembers Jesus' death on our behalf, and as God remembers us as Jesus' redeemed people.  Therefore, the Lord relents from his anger.  He renders a new verdict—that we are pardoned of all guilt for Jesus' sake.  He upholds his promises so that we are saved.
     You do not have to invoke the name of a special Jesus who will not fault people for their sins.  This is the devil's Jesus who tells no one to repent.  Rather, Jesus is the one who has taken all of your faults, your sins, your rebellion, and your idolatry and put himself under the flaring nostrils of God for them.  He is the atoning sacrifice which was offered up for you.  His sacrifice has produced the sweet aroma that covers the stench of your guilt, and his blood covers you so that you yourself are pleasing to God.  The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus were public and conspicuous so that you can know God's judgment upon you—forgiven of all sins, covered in Jesus' blood, cleansed from the stench of sin and death so that you have life and immortality.  It is exactly what God has promised to sinners, and Jesus, our mediator, upholds God's them for you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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