Introduction: In Hebrew, the building of the golden calf is called “ḥēṭ’ ha‘ēggel” or “the sin of the calf”. To some, the golden calf account might seem out of place in the book of Exodus. It falls right in the middle of God’s description to Moses on how to build the Tabernacle. Indeed, most commentary books about the Tabernacle omit the golden calf story as if it were entirely unrelated. But God does everything for a reason. For every good thing that God creates, the devil creates a counterfeit. While the Tabernacle represented God’s perfect system of worship at that time, the golden calf represented mankind’s counterfeit system of worship. The Tabernacle represented a faith-based system of worship. The golden calf represented a “seeing is believing” type of worship that merged God’s Word with the traditions of the world. God recorded the Jews’ mistakes in the wilderness for your instruction (1 Cor. 10:11). From this chapter, God provides seven important lessons to keep your worship holy, faith-based, and focused on Him.
First, true faith requires patience in God’s promises. Second, true faith requires trusting God, even when you cannot see Him. Third, true faith produces the fruit of obedience to God’s Word. Fourth, true faith trusts in God’s compassion and forgiveness. Fifth, true faith produces the fruit of holy conduct. Sixth, true faith trusts in the promise of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Finally, true faith trusts in the Holy Spirit, which brings life and salvation from the curse of the Law.
The rebellion of God’s people after Moses’ 40-day absence. Before he left to receive God’s Commandments, Moses told the others to wait for his return (Ex. 24:13-15). He was gone for only forty days (Ex. 24:18). Yet, by that time, the people had given up hope that he would return: “1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’” (Ex. 32:1). Moses left without any food or water. Many assumed that he died from hunger or thirst. Others assumed that he died in God’s holy fire. Yet, the people did not wait long before rebelling. The complaints amongst the people needed time to slowly grow until Aaron could no longer ignore them. Aaron then needed time to: (1) conceive of a plan; (2) collect a gold offering; (3) melt the gold; (4) form and refine the gold into a large golden calf using crude tools; and (5) organize worship around it. While it is impossible to know how long each task took, the people’s complaints must have begun shortly after Moses left. The number 40 in the Bible is associated with testing. The Jews spent 40 years in the wilderness, and Jesus was tested for 40 days. God tested the Jews to see if they would be patient for Moses’ return. They failed His test.
The rebellion of God’s people after Jesus’ absence. Just as the Jews did with Moses, the Bible warns that people will grow tired of believing in the promise of Jesus’ return: “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’” (2 Pet. 3:3-4(a)). Yet, those who fail to show patience for His return may miss Him: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,” (2 Pet. 3:10(a); Matt. 24:43-44). Those who are not filled with the Spirit (symbolized by the parable of the virgins who failed to fill their lamps with oil) may be left behind (Matt. 25: 1-13). Are you living every day ready for Jesus’ return?
True faith produces patience, which God will bless. Throughout the Bible, God promises to bless those who are faithful to wait for Him. This includes patience in His provision, His revelation, and the fulfillment of His promises: “Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” (Is. 40:31). “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” (Gal. 6:9). There are many stories in the Bible of people who suffered for failing to wait for God’s promises. For example, Abraham brought strife upon his family when he failed to wait for God’s promise of an heir and slept with his wife’s maidservant. His lack of faith still has consequences today in the form of the Israeli Arab conflict. Likewise, if Aaron would have waited for Moses’ return, he would have learned that God wanted him to lead worship in the Tabernacle. The lesson is that true faith requires patience. Are you being patient for God to fulfill His promises in your life?
True faith does not trust the heart, which can be wicked and deceitful. At first reading, it might seem absurd to think that the people would have rebelled so soon after Moses’ departure. Yet, Moses had many enemies. Even though God guided them by a visible pillar of light (Ex. 13:21), they blamed him after every trial that they faced in the wilderness. The moment that many had reason to question Moses’ return, they rebelled against him. God cannot tempt you (Jam. 1:13-14). He will, however, test you (Jer. 17:10; 20:12). He tests you to show you where your heart is evil (Jer. 17:9). David, someone who committed adultery and then tried to cover it up with murder, later invited God to search his heart to expose his sins (Ps. 139:23). His openness to learning from his sins is what made him a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22). When God reveals wickedness inside of you, you must repent of it (Acts 3:19). If you do, He is faithful to forgive you (1 Jo. 1:9; Eph. 1:7). Has God shown you any hidden sins in your heart that you need to repent of?
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Aaron faced a rebellion from his people. His first mistake was failing to seek God’s will in addressing their complaints. He instead gave into the people’s desires for a visible way to worship God by building a golden calf: “2 Aaron said to them, ‘Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’” 3 Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” 5 Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” 6 So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” (Ex. 32:2-6). “Aaron was flattered by the enthusiastic response of the people. When he saw their devotion to this idol, he built an altar before it. He began to organize the worship of the idol he just made. It was bad enough to have a golden calf the people praised for their escape from Egypt. This second step of Aaron’s was worse. He honored and sanctified the idol with animal sacrifice. He made the calf, and then he made the altar to worship it.” (David Guzik on Exodus 32).1 He did not believe that he created a new god. He believed that he was helping the people to worship God in a way that was more comfortable for them. He was sincere. But he was sincerely misguided. When you choose to ignore God’s Word, your worship is no more acceptable to Him than the Jews’ worship of the golden calf.
God’s people gave their valuables to create the golden calf2
Aaron then made a golden calf for worship3
Nicolas Poussin (1593/94 – 1665) “The Adoration of the Golden Calf” (painting 1665)4
Seeing is not believing. The Tabernacle was set up in a way that prevented the people from seeing the Ark of the Covenant. It was hidden from public view behind a veil. People had to pray in faith without seeing God. For this same reason, God’s Second Commandment prohibited all forms of idols or images to worship Him (Ex. 20:4-6; Dt. 5:8-10). After giving the Ten Commandments, He repeated His warning not to use idols of gold and silver in worship (Ex. 20:23; Lev. 19:4). After witnessing all of God’s miracles, the people promised that they would obey (Ex. 24:3; 24:7; 19:8). Yet, because their hearts were wicked, they would not keep their word (Jer. 17:9). They needed to see what they were worshiping to believe. This same tragedy played out hundreds of years later under King Jeroboam. As the first king of the Northern Kingdom, he wanted to prohibit Jewish pilgrims from going from the north to the south to worship in the Temple. King Jeroboam feared that this would cause the kingdoms to be united again under King Rehoboam, the King of Judah. Thus, to keep all worship in the Northern Kingdom, he made two golden calves for the people to worship, one in the city of Bethel and the other in Dan. He then claimed that the images depicted the god who brought them from Egypt (1 Kgs. 12:26-33). Likewise, at a different point in time, the Jews worshiped a bronze serpent that they called “Neshastan”. King Hezekiah, however, broke the bronze serpent into pieces (2 Kgs. 18:4; Zech. 12:10). Like Thomas, the weak faith of many Jews required proof of God that they could see and touch. Thus, they begged Aaron to create a physical depiction of God. Yet, faith that requires something that you can see or feel is not faith at all: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1). “[F]or we walk by faith, not by sight—” (2 Cor. 5:7). “[W]hile we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18). Moreover, without faith (which must be unseen), it is impossible to please God: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). If you believe what you cannot see, God will bless you: “Jesus said to [Thomas], ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.’” (Jo. 10:29). Yet, if you need to see God’s response to your prayers to believe, your faith is no better than Thomas. The Bible warns that the person who prays with doubt is “double minded” and should not expect to have their prayers answered (Jam. 1:5-8). Does your faith exist even when you cannot see God answer your prayers?
True faith in Christ should not be limited to physical images. Today, many believers also feel the need to use religious icons or pictures of Christ to worship Him. Most artists attempt to portray Jesus as handsome. Yet, this was not who He was: “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.” (Is. 53:2). Likewise, as a Jew who kept the Law, He wore both phylacteries and tassels (Dt. 6:8; 11:18; Nu. 15:38). Yet, most artists depict Him in non-Jewish dress. Christ lived in a time before pictures and movies because He wants you to worship Him in faith without having to see His image. Does your faith require images of Christ?
True faith does not rob from the resources meant for God’s Kingdom. Aaron told the people to take off their wives’ gold earrings to build the golden calf. Yet, God intended for the people to donate their gold to build the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:3). When a person turns to idolatry, the money spent on idols (alcohols, drugs, prostitution, etc.) is money that is robbed from God’s Kingdom. Are you misusing any of God’s gifts for the idols of the flesh?
True faith does not mix worship with worldly public opinion. While in the Memphis region of Egypt, the Jews would have experienced worship to an Egyptian bull god called either “Apis” or “Harpis”. As a counterfeit to Moses, Apis served as an intermediary between humans and an Egypt’s all-powerful god (“Ptah”, “Osiris”, or “Atum”). In an effort to create an image of God that suited them, the Jews borrowed from what felt comfortable from the world around them. The assimilation of two different sets of religious ideas is called a “syncretism.” Similarly, the first statutes of Christ may have originated out of the need for converted Roman pagans to look upon what they were worshiping. Today, the lesson is that believers cannot change their image of God based upon trends in popular opinion. For example, many churches have changed their teachings on premarital sex, divorce, marriage, and other matters based upon popular demand. True faith rejects public opinion when it conflicts with the Word. Will you trust the Word even when you are ridiculed?
The modern counterfeit golden calf (covetousness instead of Covenant). Idolatry is anything that takes God out of the center of your life. An idol does not need to be a physical object. Indeed, the Bible correctly warns that the idols of the last days will stem from the vanities of the self: “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these.” (2 Tim. 3:1-5). Has your lust for other people taken your eyes off God?
God does not want corrupted worship that fails to follow His Word. Although the people believed that they could worship God any way they wanted to, God found their worship to be revolting. He demands obedience: “7 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. 10 Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” (Ex. 32:7-10). A faith that does not produce obedience is also not a living faith: “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’” (Jam. 2:17-18). “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?” (Matt. 7:16, 20; 12:33; Lk. 6:43-44). Is your faith evident by the fruit of obedience to God?
Jan Havicksz. Steen (1626 – 1679) “The Worship of the Golden Calf” (painting 1672-75)5
Leaders must be obedient in their faith to restrain others. When Moses left, he entrusted Aaron and seventy elders to help run things in his absence (Ex. 24:9). Neither Aaron nor the elders played any role in restraining the people. A leader bears great responsibility in reassuring those they oversee not to grow weak in their faith. Where, as here, the leaders played no role in encouraging the faith of the masses, the people revolted against God’s Word. ‘“God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” (Matt: 26:31). Are you using your circles of influence to encourage those in their faith?
Obedience does not allow believers to pick and choose which verses to follow. Another important lesson of the golden calf story is the failure of the leaders to insist upon obedience to God’s Word. The Jews were not allowed to create idols. The casual interpretation of God’s Word allowed the Jews to feel fine ignoring God’s Word if their intentions were well meaning. Yet, their loose interpretation of the Ten Commandments was blasphemous to God. The Bible is clear that every verse is inspired and good for teaching: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;” (2 Tim. 3:16). Are you picking and choosing which verses to follow?
Moses’ invocation of the promises of God. After learning of the Jews’ rebellion, Moses showed that He was a man of faith by appealing to God’s compassion to spare the Jews: “11 Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.” (Ex. 32:11-14). Critics point to the verse “so the Lord changed His mind” to suggest that God acted in a hasty or mercurial manner. Yet, that is an incorrect reading of that verse. God was testing Moses’ heart as a leader to see if he would disown his people. Moses passed God’s test by appealing to Him in faith to have mercy upon the Jews. God knew His promises. By repeating them, Moses showed his faith. He also provides a template for how to pray for others. When you pray, God also wants you to repeat His promises to bolster your faith. When others sin around you, do you distance yourself from them? Or, like Moses, are you invoking God’s grace to show compassion on them?
God’s abundant grace almost always precedes judgment. Skeptics of the Bible also point to God's later judgment of the Jews to suggest that He was wrathful and unfair. Yet, God had forgiven six earlier rebellions in the wilderness without any threat of judgment. First, the Jews rebelled as Pharaoh pursued them to the edge of the Sea (Ex. 14:12). Second, at Marah, they rebelled when they complained about their water (Ex. 15:24). Third, in the wilderness of “sin” (which means “rebellion” in Hebrew), they rebelled about the absence of meat from their diet (Ex. 16:2-3). Fourth, also in the wilderness of sin, they sinned against God by trying to hoard their manna (Ex. 16:13-21). Fifth, also in the wilderness of sin, they rebelled against God’s instructions not to search for manna on the Sabbath day (Ex. 16:22-30). Sixth, the Jews again rebelled about their water at Massah and Meribah (Ex. 17:7). Finally, only after the seventh rebellion did God judge the Jews. Moreover, He was ready to forgive them all if they repented: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9). All believers have been spared judgment from many of their past sins. Are you thanking God for His abundant grace and His mercy? Or, are you misusing His grace as a license to sin?
The faithfulness of Joshua in waiting for Moses. When Moses descended, he found that only Joshua had stayed faithful and waited for his return: “15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets which were written on both sides; they were written on one side and the other. 16 The tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing engraved on the tablets. 17 Now when Joshua heard the sound of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, ‘There is a sound of war in the camp.’ 18 But he said, ‘It is not the sound of the cry of triumph, nor is it the sound of the cry of defeat; but the sound of singing I hear.’” (Ex. 32: 15-18). Having waited 40 days, Joshua would have also been weakened by a lack of food and water. Moreover, unlike Moses, he was not miraculously sustained by being in God’s presence. In addition to waiting for Moses, he also assumed the best in God’s people. He assumed that their noises had to have been for a noble purpose of war instead of assuming the worst. Are you living like Joshua, faithfully waiting on God even when others around you don’t? Also like Joshua, are you giving people the benefit of the doubt instead of being quick to judge them?
With unfaithful conduct, you will reap what you sow. Even if God forgives you, there are still consequences to sin. As a consequence of the Jews’ rebellion, they had to drink the ashes of the golden calf: “19 It came about, as soon as Moses came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses’ anger burned, and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf which they had made and burned it with fire, and ground it to powder, and scattered it over the surface of the water and made the sons of Israel drink it.” (Ex. 32:19-20). “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Gal. 6:8). “For they sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads; it yields no grain. Should it yield, strangers would swallow it up.” (Hos. 8:7; Lev. 26:20; Jer. 12:13(a)). “Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed?” (Ro. 6:21(a)). The message for believers is simple. Sin will not undermine the foundation of your salvation in Christ. But it still can cause misery, depression, and despair if you embrace it.
Gustave Doré (1832 – 1883) “Moses Showing the Ten Commandments” (engraving 1865)6
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606 – 1669) “Moses Smashing the Tables of the Law” (painting 1659)7
Moses smashing the Ten Commandments8
Cosimo Rosselli (1439 – 1507) “Moses and the Tables of the Law” (fresco 1481-82)9
Moses also destroyed the golden calf
10The fruit of an unfaithful heart includes lies and deception. Rather than repenting of his sins, Aaron sought to conceal his role. Like Adam, he first blamed others for his sins. He then concealed the extent of his role in the planning process by claiming that the golden calf popped out of the fire on its own: “21 Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘What did this people do to you, that you have brought such great sin upon them?’ 22 Aaron said, ‘Do not let the anger of my lord burn; you know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil. 23 For they said to me, ‘Make a god for us who will go before us; for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them tear it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” (Ex. 32:21-24). When caught in sin, the Bible tells you to repent so that God can forgive you (1 Jo. 1:9). A sinner who responds with further lies and deceit does not “know God”: ‘“They bend their tongue like their bow; lies and not truth prevail in the land; . . . And they do not know Me,’ declares the Lord . . . Your dwelling is in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know Me,’ declares the Lord.” (Jer. 9:3-6). Although Aaron’s position suggested that he was close to God, his lies and deceit showed that he did not really know God at that time. The lesson is that every believer must remain humble, repentant, honest, and never assume that they are closer to God simply because of a title. A second lesson in this account is God’s grace. God showed undeserved grace and mercy toward Aaron by both sparing his life and selecting him to be high priest. If any human were recruiting for the position of high priest, Aaron would have been immediately disqualified. Yet, God kept Aaron humble by selecting him for a position that he did not deserve. If God has elevated you to a position of influence, are you staying humble and remembering that your promotion comes from above? (Jam. 1:17).
Aaron minimized his role in building the golden calf to Moses11
A person of true faith is dedicated to serving God as a living sacrifice. As a foreshadow of the second coming of Christ, Moses came down from God’s presence to judge those in rebellion against God. Moreover, just like Christ has done, Moses first gave anyone the chance to repent of their sins and embrace God to escape judgment. Only those who refuse to repent will face God’s ultimate justice: “25 Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control—for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies— 26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him. 27 He said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.’” 28 So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day. 29 Then Moses said, ‘Dedicate yourselves today to the Lord—for every man has been against his son and against his brother—in order that He may bestow a blessing upon you today.’” (Ex. 32:25-29). The Levites were saved from their sin because they repented and dedicated themselves to God (Ex. 32:26-29). God will also forgive even your most heinous sins if you will turn and repent of them: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jo. 1:9). ‘“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.’” (Ex. 33:19(b)). Yet, because God is holy, He must judge unrepentant sin. Thus, He had to also judge the Jews who refused to repent and turn to Him. He “keeps lovingkindness for thousands, [He] forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” (Ex. 34:7). Is there any hidden sin or rebellion in your heart that you still need to repent of?
Moses gave God’s people the chance to repent and return to God12
Be holy and consecrated for God at all times. In addition to repenting, God calls upon every believer to follow the example of the Levites to volunteer as part of His nation of priests: “you . . . are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood . . .” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6). As part of God’s nation of priests, you are meant to be a light to the lost: “You are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5:14(a)). To be a light, however, you must be holy: “‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Pet. 1:16; Lev. 11:44; 19:2; Ex. 22:31). “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Cor. 7:1). “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48). “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (Jam. 4:17). Being holy in part requires that you separate yourself from the unclean things of the world (Jam. 1:27). Are you living a life that is holy and dedicated to God, serving as a beacon of light to others?
Moses’ offer to sacrifice himself to save God’s people. Also in a foreshadow of Christ, Moses offered to sacrifice himself to save the rest of the people: “30 On the next day Moses said to the people, ‘“You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the Lord, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.’” 31 Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. 32 But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!’” (Ex. 32:30-32). Because the Torah does not explicitly talk about an afterlife or the test for salvation, the Sadducees mocked Jesus for preaching about heaven (Mk. 12:18-27). But the New Testament reveals that the book of life that Moses referred to is the book that contains the names of all who will be saved in heaven (Rev. 20:15). Moses offered to give up his place in God’s book of life if his sacrifice could bring salvation to the Jews. Paul also offered that he would give up his own salvation if he could bring salvation to the Jewish people: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh,” (Ro. 9:3). It is easy to imagine sacrificing yourself for your child. But it is entirely different to offer yourself up for people who hate you. That is an example of Christ’s unconditional love. Do you love strangers enough to make sacrifices for them?
Jesus’ sacrifice to save God’s people. Jesus’ love for us is so strong that He offered Himself up for a brutal death even for those who hated Him: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jo. 3:16; Phil. 2:8). Out of gratitude for what He did for you, is your faith strong enough to offer up your life as a “living sacrifice” for Him? (Ro. 12:1-2).
The judgment of death under the Law. Finally, in a foreshadow of God’s final judgment at the end of time, He warned Moses that He would ultimately judge those who refused to repent and turn to Him: “33 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book. 34 But go now, lead the people where I told you. Behold, My angel shall go before you; nevertheless in the day when I punish, I will punish them for their sin.” 35 Then the Lord smote the people, because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made.” (Ex. 32:33-35). The Ten Commandments showed the Jews their sins (Ro. 3:20). None are righteous under God’s Law (Ps. 143:2; Gal. 3:11). Only by faith can you be saved: “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” (Gal. 2:16; 3:24; Ro. 3:22). If you could earn God’s favor through your good works, Christ’s death for you would have been unnecessary (Gal. 2:21).
The promise of life through the Spirit. Exactly 50 days after leaving Egypt, Moses received the Ten Commandments. Through the judgment under the Law, exactly 3,000 Jews died (Ex. 32:26-28). Exactly 50 days after Jesus’ death, the Holy Spirit poured out at Pentecost. At that time, God saved approximately 3,000 persons (Acts 2:38-41). God advises that: “the letter [of the Law] kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:6; John 6:63(a)). Are you giving thanks for the Spirit of life that Jesus has placed inside of you?