Faithfulness in and of itself is neither good nor bad, but what someone is faithful to makes the difference. Over the past year, you might have been faithful to a new workout routine or a more nutritional diet because you wanted to be healthier. If you were faithful to your plan, then you are likely enjoying a healthier life. On the other hand, if over the past year, you were faithful to a list of 365 reasons not to go to the gym and ate 365 meals from a brown bag of grease, faithfulness might not be your friend and it might be time for a change.
As we close out another year, we will remember God’s faithfulness. We will find that it is both scary and comforting because our God is compassionate, gracious and loving, but he also punishes the guilty for their sins. God’s faithfulness may seem contradictory, but Moses’ meeting with God on Mount Sinai reveals why God’s faithfulness punishes and forgives.
Moses had to have been amazed at God’s faithfulness standing before him on Mount Sinai. Moses must have been amazed because he did not deserve it. Moses expected God to remain faithful to people who were faithful to God and Moses was not. Moses was born an Israelite, one of God’s chosen people, but he did not grow up with his fellow Israelites. Instead, Moses grew up in the palace of the Pharaoh of Egypt, while the rest of Israel lived as slaves under the Pharaoh. It took a long time, but Moses did finally choose to accept his ancestry and allegiance to Israel. He did so by killing an Egyptian because he was beating an Israelite. Moses thought he might be seen as an ancient Robin Hood for defending one of his own, but instead his people rejected him along with the Pharaoh who saw him as a murderer and traitor. If Moses expected anything from God, he expected God to be angry at him for all he had done. And Moses was right, he should expect God to be angry over such sins.
All of us should expect God to be angry over sin. Sin is bad. Sin has ruined the beauty of God’s creation. The year 2017 has more than enough evidence for the havoc sin causes. This was one of the worst years ever for hurricanes and wildfires, costing the United States billions of dollars in damages. The worst mass shooting in the United States happened this year in Las Vegas, plus for us Texans the horrible shooting at the church in Sutherland Springs. This year might go down as the year of #metoo revealing all the sexual harassment in business, politics and the film industry. This world is lost in sin and we expect God to punish the world for sin.
However, we also expect God to be good. Which leads us to wonder why God punishes us for something we cannot escape. Adam and Eve first sinned in the Garden by disobeying God and now all of us are stuck in our sins. Our world suffers from this inescapable condition and yet God still gets angry. If God wanted to be faithful in the good way, then why isn’t he faithful to helping us?
Moses could have asked God this same question. Moses could have asked why God allowed such a wicked ruler to rise to power in Egypt that would put Israel into slavery. He could have asked why God allowed the Pharaoh to forget that it was an Israelite name Joseph who had acted wisely to preserve Egypt during seven years of famine by storing up food during seven years of good harvests. Moses could have asked God why he did not put him in charge of Egypt. If Moses had been Pharaoh, he could have legally punished or even prevented the Egyptian’s mistreatment of Israel. Moses probably had lots of questions running through his mind, but he could put all of them to rest because of what God told him on the mountain.
Exodus 34 is the second time Moses went up Mount Sinai to speak with God after Israel was freedom from Egypt. The first time Moses went up the mountain, he was gone 40 days. During that time, the people of Israel became restless and asked Aaron to cast them a golden calf to worship as their new god. When God saw the golden calf, he sent Moses back down the mountain to the people. Moses was so angry by what he saw that he threw down the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them shattering them to pieces. Moses had the people punished, even putting many to death, but then God called Moses back up the mountain for a lesson in faithfulness.
5 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
God’s declaration on Mount Sinai revealed that God’s faithfulness to who he is does not change. God is always faithful to his promise to punish those who are sinful and always faithful to forgive his people.
After what God told him, Moses did not question God as to why he allowed sin to continue to ruin the lives of his people. Moses’ only reply was to ask for God to be faithful to forgive. In the past, God had not allowed Pharaoh to capture Moses and put him to death, nor had God wiped out all of Israel for the creation of the golden calf. Instead, God allowed Israel and Moses a second chance.
In the past year, you had many second chances. You may have had the chance to return to a restaurant you never thought you’d make it back to. You may have celebrated a second or maybe third 29th birthday. You may have had a second chance to start that new job, the one you need to support yourself and your family. You may have survived cancer or some other terrible disease that gave you a second chance at life. You and I had many second chances this past year, but we don’t get a second chance at sin. We cannot undo our birth into sin nor the sins we commit, we can only follow Moses example and appeal to God’s faithfulness to forgive.
When Moses went up Mount Sinai the second time and heard God speak,
8 Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. 9 “Lord,” he said, “if I have found favor in your eyes, then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.”
Moses’ response to God revealed a heart of faith. Faith in God both admits to sin and asks God to forgive. We all must admit to our stubborn love for this fallen world and the things in it that are not good for us. In some cases, we know what is good, but in our weakness, we choose the bad like Moses wanting to defend an Israelite, but doing so by murdering an Egyptian. At other times, we know what is bad for us and we don’t think twice about the consequences, like Israel wanting to abandon God to worship an idol in the shape of a calf. Yet, God was faithful to Israel, like a shepherd who goes out and searches for his lost sheep. God was patient with his people and forgave them for their sins.
God has done the same for us. We are not good at faithfulness. In our struggle between sin and serving God, it feels like we fail more than we succeed, but God is always faithful to forgive. He reached out to us with the good news that his plan to take away our sins did not depend on our faithfulness, but his.
The good news is that we are no longer lost in our sin because of Jesus. Jesus was faithful to the plan. He came at just the right time, right place and was born into the right family. Through his faithfulness to God’s law, he was able to walk to the cross as the innocent sacrifice for our sins.
Faithfulness in and of itself is neither good nor bad, but what someone is faithful to makes the difference. Over the past year, you might have stumbled or even willing walked into sins, but God has freed you from the guilt of your sins through Jesus. On the other hand, you might have grown proud of how faithful you have been to God, to the point of forgetting it is only by his grace that you are forgiven. Whether you hope to grow stronger in your fight against sin or to humble yourself before our gracious God in 2018, God’s faithfulness forgives now and always. Amen.