The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany February 1, 2015
276, 270, 458(1-4,9), 363
So [Moses] cut two tablets of stone like the first ones. Then Moses rose early in the morning and went up Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him; and he took in his hand the two tablets of stone. Now the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. Then he said, “If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.”
In the name of the Lord—Jehovah—the God of our salvation, dear fellow-redeemed:
It is an important thing to know who God is. It is important to know who each of us are if we are going to deal with each other and live with each other and care about each other. However, knowing the one true God exceeds any other “need to know” because He is the one who holds our eternal existence in His hands.
So it is that when God told Moses to go to the People of Israel and tell them that he had been sent by God and would lead them out of Egypt, Moses asked God, “…‘when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they say to me, “What is His name?” what shall I say to them?’ And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
The one true God is the only God. He is the only one who exists and has been from eternity and continues to eternity. Another example: When Jesus, the Son of God, came to the earth and was walking among the people, everyone knew His name was Jesus. They further identified Him as Jesus of Nazareth, but who really was He? On one occasion, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” [Jesus then asked] them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-16).
When the Apostle Paul preached in Athens during his missionary journeys he came upon an altar to “the unknown god.” Paul, knew who the true God is so he told the Athenians, “I know who the true God is and I will share that with you. I will tell you who God is and He will be unknown to you no longer.” The Athenians listened up until the time when Paul began to speak about the resurrection.
What we know about someone is clearly connected to the name. Just knowing the actual names of God is good, but it is knowing what lies behind those name—knowing what lies behind the person of God—that is saving, that is truth, that is important.
We can consider some earthly examples to illustrate how a “name” is more than just a name. If I say the name, “George Washington,” a great deal of history and knowledge about our first President immediately comes along with the name—similarly, with Abraham Lincoln, Adolph Hitler, and other persons of note. On a more personal basis, think of someone close to you—parent, sibling, spouse, good friend. Think of that first name. There may well be thousands more people living on the earth with that same name and you may even know a few more with that same name, but none is as close or as dear or as meaningful. Why is this? Not because of the name itself, but because of what comes with the name, the true identity of the person.
Today, we consider God’s name. God commands in the 2nd Commandment that we should not misuse His name: You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we essentially pray that we keep the 2nd Commandment when we say, “Hallowed be Thy name.” We pray that we would honor and use God’s name properly.
Today, using the text of God proclaiming His name to Moses, we consider that petition: HALLOWED BE GOD’S NAME. I. it is a name that is holy all by itself and II. It is a name to be kept holy among us also.
In the events leading up to the text, Moses had been on Mt. Sinai and received God’s Law on the two tablets of stone. The people of Israel, meanwhile, had grown impatient and worshiped the golden calf. On Moses’ way back down the mountain when he heard the singing and saw the dancing and the worship of this false god, he angrily threw down the two tablets of the Law and broke them.
After this, God told Moses to cut two new stones and bring them up to the mountain to replace the ones he had broken. It was during this second visit to the mountaintop that God proclaimed His name to Moses. We read in verse 5 of chapter 34: “Now the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.” Moses was in an unique position in his relationship with God. Earlier Moses asked God, “Please show me Your glory.” God said, “I will make My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you…but you cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me and live” (Exodus 33:18ff). Moses would not live if he saw the full glory of God, but by this proclamation of His name, the LORD would make known to Moses who He is, His work, and all that He does for us.
When Moses died, God added this comment: “Since [Moses] there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses whom the LORD knew face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10). Moses had the unique position of talking face-to-face with God, but as a sinful human being he could not bear to see God in all His glory. What Moses did receive was the proclamation of Jehovah’s name—a proclamation which is recorded for us and our learning in God’s inspired Word.
“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth…” [v.6] The LORD—Jehovah, is the name of God that refers to His covenant nature, the God of promise, the God of salvation. The second name, “God,” refers to His position of power and might—Elohim, the Creator of heaven and earth.
Then in this proclamation of His name, God describes Himself with the words: “merciful” and “gracious.” This is a God of compassion who has mercy on those who need help. He has mercy and compassion on sinners who are in need; and He is also gracious, having love for them—a deep abiding love, a love that is not just mere emotion, but a love that is purposeful. This is a love that doesn’t depend on the object of that love giving love in return nor even being loveable. It is a love that takes action for those upon whom His mercy has had compassion.
Longsuffering is the characteristic of God that would show itself again and again throughout the history of Israel even as it already had at this point in their wilderness journey. God would show incredible longsuffering and patience in the face of His people’s rebellion. He was patient with them as they pursued their sin. He was patient with them as they turned away, came back and repented, and turned away again. How comforting it is to know that the God of our salvation, the God of heaven and earth, the LORD, is longsuffering. Nor is this a short term mercy. It is not a one-time grace and you are “out,” but rather, He patiently deals with us according to His grace and mercy in order to accomplish His goal and desire of saving sinners from their destruction.
Abounding in goodness—God is good, but not just a little. He is abounding in goodness for His people.
God also abounds in truth. If we consider our world that is tainted and broken by sin, we realize how little truth there can, at times, be. How often don’t people mix a little bit of falsehood with the truth. Perhaps, we have done the same. When that happens, it is no longer truth. Something is either true or it is not. It can be considered as a “half-truth,” but ultimately, half-truth is not truth. In addition to compromised truth, there are also the boldfaced, all-out lies. But God, the LORD, abounds in truth. His truth is absolute truth. His truth is abundant which means it’s not hard to find. His truth is in His Word. God revealed His truth through Moses to the Old Testament Israelites and to us He has revealed this truth through Jesus Christ and His written Word. Jesus said to His Father, “Sanctify us by Your Truth, Your Word is Truth” (John 17:17).
God continued in the proclamation of His name: “…keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” [v.7] In this mercy, in this grace, in this abounding goodness and abounding truth there is objective forgiveness of sins. God keeps mercy for thousands, forgiving their sins, remembering it no more, declaring them righteous. This is the fruit of God’s grace. It is the Gospel. However, lest sinful human nature cheapen God’s grace, God is quick to add: “by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” [v.7]
With these words, God echoes words He spoke to the people of Israel when He first gave the Law on Mount Sinai. God proclaimed: “…showing mercy to thousands of those who keep my commandments…visiting the iniquities of the fathers on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me“ (Exodus 20:5-6). The holy name of God is often misconstrued and misunderstood in connection with these truths. In the proclamation of goodness, graciousness, and mercy everyone is ready to hear and accept what God says about Himself. God is a merciful and gracious God who forgives my sins, but then they choose to forget His justice.
God is holy. The LORD’s name is holy, but by no means—none whatsoever—does He clear the guilty. God does not turn a blind eye to sin. If sinners hear about God’s mercy and grace and then conclude that it doesn’t matter what their lives are, if they conclude that sin is “no big deal,” then they are missing the important second part of the proclamation of God’s name. They are missing God’s justice and holiness.
God’s justice does not allow Him to turn a blind eye to sin. He simply cannot do it. Sin is determined by the Law. Sin is lawlessness. Anything that varies in the slightest from what God commands in His law is sin; and God clearly states that sin brings death. “The wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23), “…the soul that sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4), “…if anyone keeps the whole Law and yet offends in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).
What kind of justice would it be if the judge were to say: “Yes, you broke the law, but we’re not going to worry about it.” In our country right now there are all kinds of questions about our justice system, there are any number of complaints about decisions made in recent months. People would be appalled if they could see that a judge knowingly did not punish clear wrongdoing. There would be riots and angry speeches. But at the same time, when it comes to God, many are more than willing to suggest that God will turn a blind eye to sin and not worry about it at all. Make no mistake, by no means does God clear the guilty.
How then can He forgive sins? How can He keep mercy for thousands, forgiving their iniquity? He does this, not by ignoring sin, but because He carried out the punishment and judgment of sin on Christ. He didn’t turn a blind eye to it. He did not clear the guilty. He visited the iniquity of us all on Christ when Jesus was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities (cf. Isaiah 53).
When unbelief rejects Christ, it rejects the forgiveness of sins which Jesus won for all sinners. Where there is no forgiveness of sins, the guilt of sin remains and God will visit that iniquity and judge it even to the third and fourth generation—for as long as unbelief continues.
After this we read, “So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped.” [v.8] God had proclaimed His holy name. God had proclaimed His graciousness, mercy, abundant goodness and truth; but also His holiness and justice. This is the name of God and it is holy all by itself. In truth it does not matter what we say or do, God’s name remains the same. The world can scoff at that name. The world can reject God’s name and cast aside everything that God says, but it does not change the character of God one bit.
The question is not how holy is God’s name. Martin Luther explains in His catechism, “God’s name is indeed holy all by itself.” The question is what will we do with God’s name. Luther continues, “…we pray in this petition that it be holy among us also.”
Consider for a moment the importance of God’s name being hallowed in every way an in every circumstance. Think about how you felt if you have ever been misrepresented. If something you have said has been misquoted, if someone has spread news about you that isn’t true, it doesn’t sit very well…and it shouldn’t. God protects the value and quality of our good name and reputation in the 8th Commandment when He says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
God does not want us to harm anyone’s good name and the world too understands this. There are laws against slander and defamation, and yet, people do not accord the same kind of respect to God’s name. While taking great offense if they are misrepresented, they are more than willing to allow part of God’s name to fall aside. The same people who would sue in a court of law for any kind of defamation of character, don’t seem to care if God’s name and character are defamed, completely contradicted, or completely disappear.
God’s name is holy. We pray that it be holy among us in its entirety, keeping in mind that when we talk about God’s name it includes God’s names themselves, but also so much more. In his explanation to the 2nd Commandment Martin Luther says, “We should fear and love God that we do not curse, swear, practice witchcraft, lie or deceive by His name.” God’s name is misused by foul language and by cursing. It can also be misused by swearing if those oaths are unnecessary or false. This is misusing God’s name, but the misuse goes much further.
Any time that some part of God’s truth is compromised, that is misusing His name. Everything that God has revealed to us is part of His name so if I change one part of it, I’m misusing His name. If I disagree, disavow, forsake one part of His Word I am misusing His name. So all of the false teaching in the world and all of the wrong beliefs concerning God and His Word are misusing His name.
Here we come to an important part of “abounding in truth.” God’s name is abounding in truth. When it is kept holy among us, we also seek to keep that abundant truth. Human logic says, “It is just a little bit of God’s Word that is being taught wrong, or it’s a little part of God’s Word that is being compromised, it’s not that big of a deal.” On the contrary, Yes! It is a big deal. This is God’s name about which we are talking. This is His holy name revealed to us for our salvation. It is abounding in truth how dare anyone suggest it’s not a big deal if we change the proclamation of that name of God? This is a large consideration. We pray that His name be holy among us, abounding in truth among us.
We can misuse God’s name in how we speak. We can misuse His name with false teaching and straying from the truth, but also by how we characterize God. In Romans chapter 1, the Apostle Paul speaks of people making the creation their God instead of the Creator—essentially, making God into what they want Him to be. It is so easy to make God small. Human nature is to make God a little more like me. I want Him to be the “yes man” buddy sitting next to me instead of the holy, almighty, righteous, and just God who has expectations of me and who sent His Son to be my Savior from sin.
When God is downplayed and becomes more like me, it’s a lot easier to get along with Him because of lowered expectations; but if God is small and more like us, then how can He be our Savior? How can He really be a help to call upon in time of trouble?
Even as children of God we at times, inadvertently, make God small. When we worry and act as if God can’t help us, we’re making Him smaller than He is. When we rely on our own wits and pursue our own way instead of going to God and His Word, we make Him smaller than He is. We pray that God’s name be holy among us—let Him live in all of His fullness, let that name be vibrant in your lives in all of its truth which He has revealed to us.
Moses understood this. In the last verse of the text he said, “If now I have found grace in Your sight, O LORD, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.” [v.9] The name of God is revealed to us for our salvation. Moses understood the stiff-necked rebellious nature of himself and his people. Even though this is what we are, Moses pleaded, “Abide with us. Live with us. Lead us. Pardon our iniquity.” The good news is that the very name of God reveals that God does pardon our iniquity through the merits of His Son.
As we consider God’s holy name among us, we come to our Lord confessing with Moses, “We are a stiff-necked and rebellious people.” We come knowing the character of God and pleading for His mercy and grace: “Pardon our iniquity and our sin.” Then trusting in His promises which are also revealed in His name, we pray: “Take us as Your inheritance.”
Hallowed be God’s name among us. Amen.
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