Sermon Options: October 15, 2023

August 7th, 2020

Moses, the Advocate

Exodus 32:1-14

In John's Gospel, Christians read about Jesus sending the Advocate when he departed from his disciples. In truth, though Jesus is understood by the community of faith as the premier advocate, there have also been advocates for the Hebrew community of faith—primarily Abraham and Moses. Our text contains a remarkable drama of a leader's intervention on behalf of a sinful people. The drama begins with the first act.

I. A Leader Delayed

We all know the story of Moses going up to Mount Sinai and receiving the tablets of stone "written with the finger of God." In the meantime, the Israelites become impatient with Moses' absence and go to Aaron saying, "We do not know what has become of him" (v. 1). These people, who seem to think that they are now leaderless because Moses is out of their sight, are not different from other anxious people about which the Bible speaks.

Matthew, alluding to a comparable assembly, says of Jesus, "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matt. 9:36). Sheep without a shepherd are in danger from wolves as well as the self-inflicted chaos that may put them into danger. It is this anxious state in which the children of Israel find themselves.

II. A People's Sin

Aaron bounds to action and encourages the people to "take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me" (v. 2). With the gold, which may have been part of the booty from the Egyptians, Aaron fashions an image of a golden calf. This act is in direct violation of God's command, "You shall not make for yourself an idol" (Exod. 20:4). This is an uncertain moment for the Hebrews. The people persuade Aaron to act in a way that puts them in grave danger.

Idolatry is a constant temptation for all who call on the name of the Lord. The amount of biblical material warning against this violation of God's law should convince all of us about the danger of the temptation to worship other gods. That was one of the issues with which Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness.

Even for us modern, sophisticated twentieth-century Christians, the temptation to place something above or beside God is always before us. The temptation to read the newspaper or to attend a youth soccer game or to watch television in the privacy of our homes on any given Sunday morning remains strong. This temptation flies in the face of the Christian obligation to gather as a community of faith and worship God. Idolatry is ever with us.

III. An Advocate Intercedes

To Moses' credit, however, as the Lord's anger rises against Israel, Moses becomes their advocate. Even though his sojourn with them had been a difficult one at best, he prevails upon God not to follow his initial intention; namely, "I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation" (vv. 9-10). Even though God promises not to cut Moses off from making him a great nation, Moses will not forsake his people. This willingness to intercede for them illustrates a great leader.

Moses, in this transaction with God, becomes a true advocate for the people of Israel. By not forsaking his people, Moses shows his leadership ability—this in spite of having every human reason to do so. His compassion is amazing and, in the end, redemptive. All Christians are called to be leaders. In Christ and in Moses, we have models of leadership to follow. These leadership guides show us to what length and breadth godly leaders are willing to go on behalf of their people. (David Neil Mosser)

Here We Stand

Philippians 4:1-9

Let us for a moment ignore the chapter divisions in this book. It is, after all, a letter. Verse 1 of chapter 4 is as surely connected to chapter 3 as it is to the rest of chapter 4. It appears that Paul's "therefore" in verse 1 begins a specific application to the "joy and crown" referred to in chapter 3. Paul called for the Philippians, especially Euodia and Syntyche, "to be of the same mind"—to be controlled by the truth in one's whole being. With this mind, the Philippians could stand as soldiers holding their position in the face of the enemy. Paul emphasized that such a stance could be theirs only in the Lord. This is especially pertinent since God calls us "to will and to do"—a phrase used three times in chapter 4. What does it mean to have the "mind of Christ"?

I. We Recognize the Real Enemy

The challenge is no different for Christians today. As soldiers of Christ, we must hold our positions in the face of the enemy. The true enemy of Christians, as Luther said, is our ancient foe, the devil, who doth seek to work us woe. Each of us, with our feet of clay, needs to be of one mind in Christ to withstand the allurements of the world.

Sometimes Christians think that other Christians are their chief enemies. That was the case in a quarrel between Euodia and Syntyche. Rather than mocking the leadership of the two women, Paul praised them as fellow workers (v. 3). His appeal to them was on the basis of their being in the Lord. He called on them to humble themselves by taking on the mind of Christ and to promote unity. He called on an unidentified yokefellow to assist the two women in their reconciliation.

II. We Rejoice in One Another

Paul's mention of their names being in the book of life refers to Luke 10:20. Because their names were written together in the book of life, Euodia and Syntyche were out of Christian character in their argument. As good Christians, they should be of the same mind; they should "rejoice in the Lord always" (v. 4). Rejoicing was to replace petty strife. This rejoicing is done as we have the mind of Christ in us. Paul called them to forbearance. Paul called for them to meet halfway, to emphasize grace over insistence on who was right and who was wrong (v. 5). Being of the "same mind" and having the "mind of Christ" are worthy goals that require a lot of effort on the part of Christians. The "mind of Christ" calls for us to be humble before God, to be servants rather than masters, and to extend grace rather than insist on justice. When we are striving toward this, the resulting fellowship is both beautiful to observe and too powerful to resist.

III. We Resist the World's Power

Paul encouraged the Philippians to stand fast against the problems they faced. In addition to the rift between their leaders, they were worried about Paul's imprisonment, about people who insisted that individuals become Jews before becoming Christians, about the immoral lifestyle so widely accepted in the Roman Empire, and about the increasing persecution of Christians. Paul's advice was, "Don't worry! Pray!"

Finally, Paul called for the Philippians to think (v. 8) and do (v. 9). We are to think on things that show the world that Christ lives in us. And as the mind of Christ becomes our minds, we are to live according to the ways of Christ. The thought is akin to that of James 1:22. Where do Christians stand? The general answer to such a question: here we stand, arm in arm, linked together with the same mind—the mind of Christ. (Al Fasol)

Crime and Punishment

Matthew 22:1-14

American revivalism has historically been characterized by hellfire-and-brimstone preachers. One of the most popular of these preachers was an ex-professional baseball player for the Chicago White Stockings, turned evangelist, named Billy Sunday.

Sunday was known for his dramatic "Gatlin' gun" preaching style. He challenged the men in his congregations to be "man enough to trust Jesus." On occasion he would chase the devil around the church, running wildly through the aisles, and slide home into the pulpit, "into the arms of Jesus." Although his theatrics received criticism in his day and since then, Sunday did take sin seriously. The evangelist was known for hanging a huge banner over the stage of his evangelism crusades: "Get Right with God." For Billy Sunday, being a Christian required living a Christian lifestyle.

Matthew the evangelist could be called a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher. Matthew's Gospel provides vivid imagery of the threat of judgment to motivate disciples to do good works. The theme of judgment is found in at least sixty sections of the Gospel. Matthew warns of being burned in fire (3:10; 7:19), an unquenchable fire (3:12), a fiery furnace (13:42, 50), eternal fire (18:8-9; 25:41), or a fiery Gehenna (5:22; 18:9; see 5:29); being delivered to the tormentors until the last penny is paid (18:34); being dismembered (24:51); entering the way that leads to perdition (7:13); and being consigned to eternal punishment (25:46).

One of the places that speaks of judgment is found in Jesus' parable to the chief priests concerning the wedding banquet (Matt. 22:1-14). There is a problem about the punishment of a wedding guest. A man is bound hand and foot and thrown into outer darkness, where there are weeping and gnashing of teeth—usually symbolic of eternal damnation—simply for showing up at a wedding improperly dressed (v. 13)!

Images of judgment and punishment are controversial in today's society. Two years ago, a teenage American boy was convicted of spray painting cars in Singapore. The story drew international attention in response to his sentence, a severe form of physical punishment known as caning. Some applauded the sentence as appropriate, and others deplored it as excessive. The debate over the issue concerned the appropriate amount of punishment for the crime.

I. What Does Jesus Mean by Clothes?

How are we to make sense of Jesus' parable where the wedding guest is sentenced to what seems to be eternal damnation when he has committed no crime? To make sense out of this story, it is vital to understand the type of biblical literature that we are dealing with—allegory. An allegory is a story in which people, things, and events are used as metaphors to carry symbolic meaning.

Today, we may have a problem with what seems to be an unfair judgment of a man failing to have proper attire when he has just been called in off the street corner. In the New Testament, however, clothing is often used as a metaphor, frequently as an apocalyptic image for moral worthiness (Rev. 3:4-5, 18; 6:11; 7:13-14; 22:14-15). On at least one occasion (Rev. 19:8) , clothing is used to represent the righteous deeds of the saints.

II. We Are to Be Clothed in Obedience

Throughout Matthew's Gospel there is an emphasis that grace does not cancel the reality of judgment. The vivid imagery in this story is used to shock the chief scribes. God requires his people to be clothed in good deeds. God requires a changed life that results in fruit (21:43). At a recent wedding in which I officiated, two of the groomsmen showed up with their cummerbunds on backward. They had never worn tuxes before and weren't sure where and how everything was supposed to fit. One day all of us will be called to a wedding party. On that day will we be appropriately attired by our good works?

When we stand before St. Peter's pearly gates, the sign in the window might read, "No shoes, no shirt, no service." This allegorical parable reminds us that the true picture of God must include wrath as well as grace. (Scott Salsman)

comments powered by Disqus