Click HERE for an audio version posted on our Facebook page.
Dear Friends in Christ,
God told Moses to warn the people not to come near the mountain. They were not even to get close enough to touch it. The next day they saw why. God descended on the mountain with cloud and fire and smoke. There was thunder, a loud trumpet blast, and the earth shook. Then God himself spoke in a way that the people could hear and understand with their ears. Never before, and never again, would God speak directly to a group of people in this way. It’s not hard to understand the point God was making. “Pay attention. This is important. I’m serious about what I’m about to say.”
The first thing out of God’s mouth at Mt. Sinai was, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” I am the true and only living God. I am the one who promised a Savior to Adam and Eve and their descendants. I am the one who called Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am the one who heard your prayers and sent Moses to deliver you. Moses didn’t produce the plagues that convinced Pharaoh to let you go, I did. Moses didn’t divide the Red Sea and then have it come crashing down on Pharaoh’s army, I did. I sweetened the waters of Marah for you. I gave you manna and quail. I gave you water from the rock. Though none of you were soldiers, I was with you so that you could defeat the Amalekites. I am the one speaking to you from the clouds and smoke and fire on Mt. Sinai. It ought to be very clear to you that I am the one and only, the true and holy, the eternal, almighty God. It ought to be very clear to you that I love you- I, the holy God, am speaking to you, sinners deserving punishment, and you are still alive. I have chosen you to be my people. Just know that I am a jealous God. Because I am the only God who really exists, and because of all I have done for you, I have a right to expect that you will not worship any other god but me. I am jealous for you to give me the honor due me, not because I need it, but because it is what is best for you.
By the way he appeared and spoke to Israel, and by reminding them that he is a jealous God, he is making clear to us that he has not just given suggestions that we may choose to follow, or to ignore. He has given us commandments. He is serious about wanting his commandments kept. Jesus showed how serious he is about his command regarding worship when he made a whip and drove those who were distracting people as they worshiped from the temple courts.
God is serious about bringing punishment on those who ignore him and disobey his commands, and he is equally serious about showing grace and mercy, and blessing those who love him and keep his commandments.
God says, I the LORD your God am a jealous God. To many people, this sounds bad. We think of jealousy as a sinful thing. But take a closer look at what God is saying. Throughout Scripture God uses the analogy of marriage to picture his relationship with his people. He is like the husband, his people are like the wife. If a wife is flirting with another man, or becomes unfaithful, would we not all agree that the husband has a right to be jealous and angry? When Israel, in later times, makes idols and worships other gods while still going through the motions of worship at the Temple, God calls them unfaithful and adulterous, they have become like an unfaithful wife to him. God has every right to be a jealous God
Like Israel we have seen what God has done for us. We have come to believe that he is the only true God and that he has rescued us from the slavery of sin and Satan. At our Baptism he said to us, “I love you, I want you to be mine forever.” And we have said to him, “I love you, I want to be yours forever.” God is justified in being jealous and angry when we are unfaithful to him and let anyone or anything take his place in our lives. In fact, we ought to be jealous for him, being quick to defend him and speak of his loving care for us especially when others put him down.
To many God sounds unfair when he says I follow up on the guilt of the fathers with their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren. How can God punish a child for what their parents have done? He can’t, and he doesn’t. God makes this very clear through the prophet Ezekiel where he says, the soul who sins is the one who will die. He said this because Israel was complaining. They were saying, “We haven’t done anything wrong, yet God is punishing us. He is punishing us for what our fathers have done.” But they were trying to make excuses for their own sins. God makes it very clear to them, “NO, you are not innocent. You have continued in the way of your fathers. You are being punished for your own sins.” We need to be careful that we read the whole sentence. God doesn’t say, I follow up on the guilt of the fathers with their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren “period!” He says that he will follow up on the guilt of the fathers with their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren IF THEY ALSO HATE ME. God makes it clear in Ezekiel that if a child turns away from the wickedness of his father to trust and worship God alone, the cycle is broken. He will not be punished for his father’s sin. Unfortunately, we do know that it is very difficult for anyone to break a cycle, and that wickedness passed on usually grows worse from generation to generation. That’s what happened in the Northern Kingdom when Jeroboam set up his golden calves. Things in that kingdom kept getting worse and worse until God sent the Assyrians to destroy them. It’s what we see happening on our society. Instead of passing on Biblical Christianity to their children many parents let children choose for themselves. The only natural choice any descendant of Adam and Eve can make is to reject God and his word. When there is no foundation in God and his word, then things that God calls evil begin to be called good, and things that God calls good begin to be called evil, and it seems to get worse and worse with each generation that doesn’t know God.
God is a jealous God. He is serious about receiving the glory that is due him as our creator and redeemer because that’s what’s best for us. Giving the glory due him to someone or something else is not only a waste of time, but there will be temporal and eternal punishment for those who continue to do so, who continue to ignore him and his commands. But the good news is that God is also serious about showing mercy. He says, I am the Lord your God . . I show mercy to thousands who love me and keep my commandments.
Consider his mercy and love to Israel. They had just seen the miracles God had performed on their behalf in Egypt, but what did they do when it looked like they were hemmed with Pharaoh’s army behind them and the Red sea in front of them? They lost heart. They complained. After they saw how God brought them through the Red sea and they were out in the wilderness for a few days and food and water were becoming scarce, what did they do? They complained, they questioned God instead of turning to him and trusting that he would provide. Yet God, in love and mercy, still brought them to Mt. Sinai. He still wanted them to be his people. He was going to keep his promise to Abraham and bring them to the promised land, even though we would say they didn’t deserve it. As we look at God’s dealings with Israel we can’t help but be amazed at the patience and mercy of God.
Consider God’s great mercy and love to you. Consider all the times that you have not given him the glory he deserves, when you have not put him first. As we read through the commandments remember how those words convicted you, how you saw that, maybe not in your actions, but certainly in your thoughts and your words, you have broken them many times. Think of how many times, when something has gone wrong, you complained and doubted instead of trusting and waiting on God. Yet God, in love and mercy, comes to you today and says, “I want you to be my child. I kept my promise to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. I showed you what great love I have for you by giving up my only son to live and die in your place even though you don’t deserve it. I want to bring you to the promised land of heaven.” Through the Scripture readings and through the Sacrament, God is saying to you today, “I love you. Your many sins are forgiven.” As we look at God’s dealings with us we can’t help but be amazed at the patience and mercy that God has with us in our daily lives. We deserve his wrath and punishment, but in love and grace he continues bless us in many ways and most importantly to offer us his forgiveness through the word and sacrament.
When we see God’s great love and mercy toward us how do we respond? Luther says, “Therefore we should love and trust in him and gladly obey what he commands.” As we rejoice in God’s love and mercy, as we are filled with love and thankfulness for all that God has done and is doing for us, we ask, “Lord what can I do? How can I thank you for all you have done?” Then when he says, “Here, keep these commandments.” We are glad to do our best to keep them. The Apostle John writes, This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.
God is serious. He is serious about wanting his commandments kept. Praise God that he is also serious about showing us his love and mercy in Jesus.