The Law is Good but We Are Not

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(Exodus 19-40, Leviticus)

Even though they could not obey it, the Law was good. God’s commands, God’s character, and God’s presence are always good. The problem was not the Law, but the people.

Moses ascended Sinai amidst the smoke and fire of God’s presence, and he remained there for 40 days. The people could see the smoke and the fire, but they were rightly afraid to draw too close.

During those days, God told Moses who He was and what He wanted from His people.

God is holy. 

God is powerful. 

God is present. 

God is good. 

It was clear to Israel that they could not approach God too closely. Yet it was also clear that He was present. He was with them. He cared about the details of their lives.

We look back to the Law and are tempted to see oppression and unreasonable regulations. They looked at the Law through the lens of God’s grace.

As they sought to follow God’s commands, they remembered that He was always there. He cared about the details: the clothes they wore (Dt 22:11), the food they ate (Lev 11), the way the treated their neighbors (Lev 19:18), and the way they worshiped Him (Lev 11:44-45).

At the heart of the Law was the simple concept that we were made to love God and others. No area of life was excluded. Everything they did reflected their hearts and revealed what they loved. The Law made that clear to the nation of Israel.

The Law spoke about the God who made them and wanted to know them. No other nation had the privilege of seeing God’s presence among them, of hearing His voice, of understanding how to worship Him.

No, the problem wasn’t the Law. The problem was the people. People like you and me, who are incapable of obedience. Even while Moses was on the mountain, even when they could see God’s glory emanating from the smoke and the fire, they chose to make an idol of gold.

We’re tempted to believe that if we only saw God, we would worship Him wholeheartedly. If only He showed up in power, if only we could see fire and smoke and miracles and hear His voice, we would always believe. The history of God’s own people tells us otherwise. The problem is not that we can’t see Him; it’s that we don’t trust Him.

We fail to believe what was at the very heart of God’s Law, which is that He loves us and wants to know us. We don’t believe that His way is best, so we set up our idols. It’s the same problem Israel had. We are incapable of obedience.

The problem with the Law was that it revealed God’s character but provided no power for them to obey. The history of Israel would make that painfully clear.

One day, though, God Himself would arrive in our midst, as a man, determined to bridge the gap. His death and resurrection would pave the way for our rebellion to be destroyed and for His Spirit to move in. The day would come when God would empower His people to obey.

Meanwhile, the people learned the painful lesson that God was good, but they were sinful. In His holiness God showed them how far they were from what He wanted of them. In His mercy He still moved closer to them. In His grace He forgave, and anticipated the day when He would send salvation.

We now live in the day of salvation and praise the God who showed us who He is and paved the way for us to know Him.

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Weeping as Jesus Wept

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(John 11)

When Jesus saw Mary’s tears, He was angry. His indignation was not directed at her, but at death itself, that terrible thief who had stolen Lazarus away far too soon.

He burst into tears and wept, because death destroys what God creates. Jesus hated death then, and He hates it now. Death was His enemy and it remains His enemy.

He already knew that He too would pass through the valley of the shadow of death. Our Resurrection and Life would experience a terrible death. So He wept with his friend and allowed the grief to penetrate His heart, even while He knew He held the cure. Lazarus would rise again, and so would Jesus, but death still hurt.

We are not weak when we weep for the dead. Our strong Savior weeps with us, because He hates death. Death is always an enemy, and we still wait for its destruction.

Sometimes we even cry for those we’ve never met. “Why do you weep for the man in the movies? For those who live far away? For friends of friends and those you do not know?”

We cry because death is always terrible. We cry because we will die too, unless we live long enough to see the very death of death. We cry because we’ve felt the hopelessness of those who lack the strength to face life. We’ve felt the despair of the persecuted, the sick, the desperate, and the dying. Our common humanity means that we share a common fate. So we weep because death is unbearably sad. And Jesus weeps with us.

Some suggest that hope is found by digging deep inside, by simply remembering that our Creator made us for life and hope. Those men forget that we live after the Fall. Death swallowed our hope and distorted our nature. Sin and death have marred God’s creation, and every one of us feels the despair of hopelessness.

So there is no hope in us. There is only hope in this: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Our Savior became angry and wept, and in his anger and pain He crushed death. Lazarus came forth from the grave because Jesus hates death. He won’t accept it or abide it. He will not live at peace with death, because death is His enemy.

Lazarus died again, of course, and he still lies in his tomb. Jesus tasted death and came back to life, the first fruits of all those who will rise again. “Whoever believes in me, though He die, yet He shall live.”

Meanwhile, though, death makes us weep. Our tears are not borne of weakness but instead from the recognition that we are still waiting for our redemption to arrive. So do not be ashamed to cry for the dead. Do not be ashamed when you struggle to find hope in the midst of despair. If Jesus wept, then we can weep too. And as we weep, we remember that our Savior weeps with us. Death will be destroyed, but meanwhile it is a terrible enemy.

Resurrection is our only hope.

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The First Commandment is the Hardest

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(Exodus 20)

The First Commandment is the hardest. 

“You shall have no other gods before me,” He told them. Even then, God knew they would choose other gods. Under every tree on on every hill, they would build their images and bow down to gods they could manage, gods they created out of stone and silver and wood.

The gods we build are small, and completely unable to promise what they deliver. We like them because we can control them. They don’t threaten us, because they are utterly powerless.

God’s jealousy is not borne of insecurity. He insists on exclusivity because He is the only living God. He is jealous for us because He loves us. He knows — and we so easily forget — that Life is only found in Him.

To put it plainly: There are no other gods. Anything we worship besides God is a product of something He made. We worship the creation rather than the Creator. Every time we bow to a foreign god, to an idol, to our own desires, we lose a little bit of the life He has given us.

No other god can deliver life, or love, or security, or peace. The gods of the Canaanites promised so much: sexual pleasure, abundant crops, victory in battle. They promised so much, and they delivered nothing but nothing. Their gods were not much different from our own.

The First Commandment is the hardest, but it’s an immeasurably good gift. The God who made us wants to know us. He wants to give us Eternal Life that can never be taken away. He simply insists that we recognize its Source. “Seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all of these things will be added to you.” We try to reverse that order and wind up with empty hands and broken hearts.

To worship God alone is not to abandon Life, but to receive it. But it’s so hard to do. Like the Israelites, we construct our own gods and believe their false promises. We are as unable to obey as they were, as desperately in need of help as our ancestors. We need help, so God provided it.

We would not return to God, so He came to us instead. He came, God in the flesh, the only Son, to show us the Life that only He could provide. He swallowed death and sin in victory and promised to live with us and in us forever. To wash away the idolatry and rebellion that corrupted our hearts. To demonstrate that His jealousy is good, because He is the only God who can promise Life and then deliver it.

Yes, the First Commandment is the toughest, but it is good. Like the One True God who gave us Life.

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The God Who Never Sleeps

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(Exodus 1-14)

Never mistake God’s silence for indifference. He is patient, but He never sleeps. 

For 400 years, Jacob’s children felt the whip on their backs. They lived under a cloud of fear and oppression, slaves in a land far away from the home God promised. Generations came and went, all of them desperate for liberation. They cried to God in the middle of their suffering and heard nothing at all. The silence of God felt deafening, but He was never asleep.

Pharaoh forgot about Joseph, but God never did. The One who never sleeps or slumbers was waiting patiently. Not wanting any to perish, He gave the Amorites of Canaan 400 years to repent. When the time had come, He stretched out His mighty arm to crush the king of Egypt and set His people free. God is patient, but He’s never late.

We look at our world and we look at our lives and wonder if God sees the suffering of His children or hears the cries of His people who live under the ever-present shadow of death. We wonder when He will judge those who manufacture evil and perpetrate it without shame.

We cry to the heavens, and we wonder why God stays silent. But know this: God’s silence is not indifference, and the Day of the Lord will arrive right on time. God is patient, but He’s never late.

He waits for even the worst sinner to receive grace, but meanwhile He hears every cry for freedom. His eyes see the dark corners of our world and take note of every injustice. Rulers and kings may deny Him, and wicked men may mistake His patience for approval. But the day of judgment and liberation will come swiftly and surely.

Just as he did for Jacob’s children, God will move to set the slaves free and crush the proud in heart. The resurrected Redeemer will one day part the sky, just as He once parted the sea. Those who fall on His grace will be saved, delivered to the land He promised us, a land no evil can touch.

Meanwhile, we wait and pray and cry for deliverance. Our hope rests in the God who delivered His people from Egypt and delivered His Son from death. He is patient, and He is sometimes silent, but He is never asleep.

Wait for His coming.

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