23nd Sunday after Trinity November 3, 2002

INI

Surviving the Wait

Exodus 32:15-20

Scripture Readings

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5
Luke 17:20-30

Hymns

231, 245, 600, 655

May the love of God the Father fill you with wonder, may the sacrifice of the Son fill you with gratitude, and may the gifts of the Holy Ghost fill you with faith and zeal. Amen.

Dear Fellow Christians:

Waiting is an art. It is also an art that many of us have a hard time mastering. Some are obviously better “waiters” than others, but the fact is we all assign a reasonable time limit on waiting. The length of time varies with each situation and each individual. I remember working the graveyard shift of an all-night service station during the summer while I was going to school. The garage where I worked was located on a main highway through town. When customers left our location they had to wait at a traffic light to get back onto the highway. Unbeknownst to most of those poor souls, the light didn’t change unless you tripped the in-road sensor, and to trip that sensor you had to approach the intersection at just the right angle.

It was a rather fascinating study to see just how long folks would wait for a traffic light to change at 2:30 in the morning before they could go through the intersection and turn onto what at that time of the night was a deserted highway. Some would wait so long we would eventually walk out and tell them that they would be there until sunrise unless they backed up to trip the sensor. Most eventually just went through the light—like the local police always did. (The key was to go through the red light after the police cars did, not before.) The point is that everyone ascribes a certain reasonable “wait time” to the different situations in life. We usually don’t mind waiting for that preprogrammed time. If it goes past our acceptable window, that’s when we have to make decisions. How long do we wait for the fish to start biting? How long for the mechanic to get around to fixing the car? How long for the Cable guy to fix our reception? How long before you blow your horn at the guy ahead of you for not going when the light changes?

Waiting. Every situation is different, but no matter who you are, everyone has to learn to wait—and yet I know of no one who is particularly fond of it. We wait anyway because, as they say, there are some things worth waiting for.

Problems arise when we forget just what it is we are waiting for, and give up. So it was with the Children of Israel as they watched Moses and Joshua head up onto Mount Sinai. They set a certain time limit not only for Moses and Joshua, they set a limit for God. When the wait-time exceeded their wait-limit they simply gave up and gave over. They gave up on God, Moses, and Joshua, and gave themselves over to sin, Satan, and eternal destruction. Our text is a description of part of that sad account. It is also our intention to use this account as that for which it was intended—as an example for our own warning, strengthening, and growth. Our text is found in the Old Testament Book of Exodus, the 32nd Chapter:

And Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand. The tablets were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other they were written. Now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraved on the tablets. And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” But he said: “It is not the noise of the shout of victory, Nor the noise of the cry of defeat, But the sound of singing I hear.” So it was, as soon as he came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses’ anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. Then he took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder; and he scattered it on the water and made the children of Israel drink it.

So far the words of God himself! May you recognize and accept them as God’s words. Blessed are those who hear the word of God and treasure it! So also we pray, “Sanctify us through the truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.

Hard to figure those Children of Israel, isn’t it? One thing is for sure, they were not good waiters. These were, after all, the same people who had not long before seen the glory of the Lord revealed against Pharaoh and the rest of Egypt. These were the same people who had physically walked through the Red Sea on dry ground. They were miraculously fed day by day with manna and quail directly from the Lord God. They had seen water flow from the rock at Horeb when Moses struck it with his staff. They had seen the glory of the Lord on Mount Sinai and had watched Moses walk up and disappear into that cloud. This means that both the goodness and the judgment of the Lord God was seen, and heard, and tasted directly by these people. Yet they were just no good at waiting for the One who provided them with all things.

Moses and Joshua were on the mountain forty days and forty nights. In little more than a month, the people gave Moses up for dead. The God who had done all of these things for them—freeing them from the Egyptians, working all of those miracles before their very eyes, and continually feeding them with manna and quail—was abandoned in less than forty days! When Moses and Joshua came back down the mountain, as our text says, they were greeted by the appalling spectacle of a people who had grown tired of waiting.

What would Moses see, what would Moses think, if he came down from the mountain and saw how we are living our lives, how we are spending our time while waiting?

The Children of Israel had commissioned the High Priest, Aaron, to make a golden calf for them, fashioning it from their jewelry. How in the world the Children of Israel could have turned to such an idol after having witnessed the hand of God Almighty, the only True God, is beyond logical explanation. And yet what do we read: “This is your god, O Israel,” they said, “who brought you up out of Egypt(Exodus 32:4).

Aaron, the High Priest, is hard to figure out in all of this. He reminds us that God uses sinners for the talents he has given them, despite their weaknesses. Here we see Aaron sinning badly to please the crowd in Moses’ absence. He first fashions a detestable idol for the Israelites, and then declares a festival for the Lord God. “When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD’(Exodus 32:5). What kind of a day’s work is that—carve an idol and then announcing a festival to the true God? Yet that is just what the people did. “So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry(Exodus 32:6 NIV).

How could they do it? How could they hold a sacred festival worshipping the One True God, and then turn around and indulge their sinful natures with anything and everything their wicked hearts desired? Perhaps a look in the mirror would lead us to ask that very same question of ourselves.

When Moses saw what his people were doing in his absence he hurled the tablets of the Ten Commandments down the side of the mountain where they shattered into pieces. The message was clear. The people had broken God’s covenant. Their conduct had nullified God’s unique conditional promise to protect and provide for them. That particular covenant from God hinged on the obedience of his chosen people. The people had rejected God and had thus broken his covenant.

We find it very easy to sit in judgment over the Children of Israel, to scoff at how they could turn so quickly against the One who had done so much for them right before their eyes. And yet before we scoff, perhaps we ought to look at our own situation, our own lives.

Our “Moses,” Christ Jesus, has ascended to the “Mountain of God.” He has promised to return, and to return quickly. Therefore we wait, or at least we are supposed to be waiting. It is hard not to look around and wonder why so many seem to have given up on Him. Their apathy, their impatience, and their unbelief are contagious. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, our resolve to worship none other but the Lord God deteriorates. We grow spiritually sleepy. We really don’t expect Him any time soon. It’s not that we actually abandon God, at least not in our own minds. We just add something to God, and justify ourselves accordingly.

Remember the Children of Israel? Sound familiar? In some warped way they probably thought they had God’s blessing on what they were doing. After all, hadn’t God’s High Priest made the calf for them? Hadn’t they just finished celebrating a festival to Jehovah God? Weren’t they God’s chosen people?

I can’t speak for you, but that sounds a lot like me. How shameful to find myself “taking off” my Christianity with my Sunday clothes and hanging it in the closet until next Sunday. We today call ourselves “God’s people,” but how often we seek out a “man of God” like the weak-willed Aaron to form our own golden calf. We do this when we seek out those who will justify our sin—who will say what our itching ears want to hear—rather than what God so clearly teaches us in His Word. We seek out our own personal Aaron to justify that which we know from God’s Word to be wrong.

Thanks and praise to our merciful God that we are not waiting for a second Moses under another conditional covenant! We are waiting instead for the Lord Jesus Christ, and the New Covenant under which we operate is truly unique. God has not placed the burden of the payment of our sins on our shoulders. He placed the entire debt upon his Son, Jesus. Our Lord Jesus did not come to hurl the tablets of the Law at us; he carried them Himself to the cross. Our Lord did not come the first time in righteous anger to make us eat our sins, as did Moses. He came to feed us with the Bread of Life. He came announcing peace between God and man—a reconciliation won by Jesus’ perfect life and innocent death! We are waiting now for that same loving Savior to return as He promise as He will. He promises to take us with Him the next time He comes.

Now then, what we need is an example of how and where to wait for our dear Lord’s return. Our text shows us where that special place is to be found. It is with Joshua. We may not be able to be with our Lord Jesus right now, but neither do we want to join with the world in its dance of defiance and sin. There is a place in-between, with Joshua.

Joshua too must have wondered what had become of Moses, and yet he waited for forty days and forty nights! In his service to the Lord he gave up the pleasure of sin and the temptation to go with the crowd. Even so, dear Christians, our Lord is coming again. It is that same Lord Jesus who was born so humbly in a stable and laid in a manger. That same Savior who came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom(Matthew 20:28). For that reason He suffered for you. He died for you. And He will come again for YOU. This time, however, He will not come as servant, but as Master. He will not come to be mistreated and killed, He will come in triumph and judgment. “For the Son of Man in His day will be like the lightening, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other!(Luke 17:24 NIV).

Even so may we be ready and waiting, learning this morning, not only from the negative example of the impatient Children of Israel, but also from the fine example of Joshua. We place no limit on our waiting, O Lord. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Come quickly, preserving our faith until that Great Day. Amen.

—Pastor Michael J. Roehl

Sermon Preached November 11, 2001
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Bismarck, ND


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