Pentecost 17c

Preached: September 23, 2007

A Believer Pours Out His/Her Heart to the Lord
Exodus 32:7-14

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who pours out his Holy Spirit on us through his Word and Sacraments. That word for today comes from Exodus 32

The LORD said to Moses, “Go down because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have become corrupt. They quickly turned from the way that I had commanded them. They made for themselves a molten calf, worshiped it, and sacrificed to it. They have said, ‘These are your God, O Israel, that brought you out of Egypt.’”
The LORD said to Moses, “I see this people and behold they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me by myself. My anger will burn against them and I will devour them. I will make you a great nation.”
Moses entreated the LORD, his God. He said, “Why, O LORD, does your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out from Egypt with great strength and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent he brought them out to kill them in the mountains and finish them off from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from the harm against your people.
“Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by yourself and said to them, ‘I will multiply your seed as the stars of the sky. All this land that I promised I will give to your seed and they will possess it forever.’”
The LORD relented from the harm which he had said to do to his people.

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints of God:

What a scene at Mt. Sinai in the mid 14 hundreds B. C.! The LORD himself, the faithful God whose word does not change, spoke from the mountain. He spoke heralded by trumpets growing louder and louder. He spoke separated from the people, for the holy God had commanded a barrier around the mountain and death to any, even animals, who trespassed over it. He spoke from the lightening, thunder, and cloud, from the smoke and fire that covered the mountain. He spoke his Ten Commandments for his people to hear: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in any form” (Exodus 20:2-4 NIV).

Having spoken to the people, the Lord then called Moses to come up on the mountain into the cloud to stay there while he gave him the tablets of stone and instructed him in his laws and commands. The glory of the LORD had come down upon the mountain, and to the Israelites it looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. (Exodus 24:12-18)

Our text takes us to the end of Moses' forty days on the mountain. We hear him pour out his heart to the Lord in prayer.

Have you ever struggled in praying? Have you wondered how to pray? Then take to heart Moses' example. He pours out his heart to the Lord, but not just any kind of heart. He pours out a believer's heart. For as a believer, whether Moses or you, pours out our heart to the Lord, we pray for God's glory and we hold him to his promises, just as Moses did.

A. Praying for God's glory

1. How does Moses show great concern for God's glory?

His prayer begins, “O LORD, why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’?” (Exodus 32:11-12 NIV).

Moses gives the Lord the credit and glory. It wasn't Moses' political skill or leadership qualities that brought the people out of Egypt. It was the Lord. His great power had humbled Pharaoh with ten plagues. His mighty hand had divided the waters of the Red Sea. He had given his people water and manna and protected them in the desert. Yes, these are the Lord's people, whom he had brought out of Egypt. Glory and honor and praise to the Lord!

In addition, Moses does not want the Lord's glory dirtied in the eyes of others. He wants the Lord's name and reputation to be good and glorious. By bringing them out of Egypt, the Lord showed that these people were his. What would Egypt and the other nations think if he destroyed them now? Might they imagine that the Lord is unfaithful, that he makes a promise and then breaks it? Why let the Egyptians think that?

2. How did the people show no concern for God's glory?

Now contrast Moses and his great concern for God's glory with the people at the foot of the mountain. They had made a golden calf. They gave it the glory and honor that belonged to the Lord alone. “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Exodus 32:8 NIV), they called out as they bowed down and sacrificed to it. What would the nations think of the Lord now after his people behaved so horribly? How they sullied God's name!

3. How have we dishonored God's glory?

But before we shake our fingers at those people, let's examine our own prayer-life. When you pour out your heart to the Lord, are your prayers filled with longing for God's name to be glorified? Or do our prayers center around seeking a good life on earth for ourselves and our family? And even when we pray words that focus on God's glory, a part of you and me still is thinking, “What will I get out of this?”

Now, God does want you to bring all your cares to him in prayer whether they are earthly or heavenly, for yourself or for others. Cast all your cares on him, he says. He wants you to honestly pour out your heart. It does no good to try to improve your prayer-life by simply dressing up the words to mask what's in your heart. But through the Law the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see that what comes out of our hearts even in our prayers falls far short of the glory we are to give to God.

Yes, you and I, dear friend, are idolaters, for we don't give God the full, complete glory that is his. What comes out of our hearts, even in our most spiritual moments of prayer, proves how earthly minded we are. We rob God of the glory that is rightly his. We do not deserve to be his people. We deserve death and damnation.

And what about when we don't even get around to pouring out our hearts in prayer? For example, we fail to give God the glory by failing to raise our prayers of thanks in all occasions. Instead we give the glory to Luck or to ourselves, thinking “I'm sure glad I made that decision.” We may even deny that God has blessed us, complaining rather than giving thanks. We might not bow down to a golden calf, but are these idols of luck or self or ingratitude any better? We do not deserve to be his people. We deserve death and damnation.

But just as Moses prayed for those idolaters, one greater than Moses prays for you. And this great Mediator has done more for you than praying. He has sacrificed himself on the cross to redeem you to be his people. “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5,6 NIV). Jesus prays for you whom he has ransomed with his blood to be his very own.

B. Holding him to his promises

1. What promises did Moses hold the Lord to?

That brings us to God's promises. His promises are what transform our prayer-life. For his promise go into the depths of our heart. His promises don't just outwardly dress up the wording of our prayers. His promises are the Spirit's tool to inwardly change us and our prayers. For as his promises fill our hearts, then when we pour out our hearts in prayer, we pour out his promises. A believer's heart holds the Lord to his promises.

That what we see in Moses' prayer. “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’”

The Lord had spoken to Abraham and promised him descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky. One of those descendants would be the bright Morning Star who ends the night of our dark sin, who rises with healing in his wings, who shines on us with the Good News of forgiveness in his blood. What would become of that promise if God destroyed these people?

The Savior, the only Savior for sinners like us, was to be born in the promised land, the land of Canaan. That's why the Lord brought these people out of Egypt. That's why he was going to give them this land not because they deserved it or were better than other peoples, but because of his mercy that promised to send the Savior. What would become of that promise if God destroyed these people?

Moses holds God to his promises. That's what a believing heart does. It pours out the Lord's promises that have filled it, holding him to each one. As a believer pouring out your heart to the Lord, hold him to his promises, just as Moses did.

2. What promises fill your heart?

That means if you want a better pray life, if you struggle with how to pray, fill your heart with the Lord's promises. He records his promises in print. Read, learn, study that Word in church, in Bible class, at home. He makes his promises visible through the water and Word of your Baptism and through the bread and wine that bring you his body and blood in the Lord' Supper. Cherish the promise that your sins are washed away, that you have been reborn into God's family by the power of the Holy Spirit. Cherish the promise that the body and blood of Christ sacrificed on the cross pays for your sins and ransoms you to be his very own people.

Yes, his very own people! We, who were aliens, foreigns, and strangers, are now his people through faith in Jesus. He has rescued us, not from slavery in Egypt, but from slavery to sin and Satan. He has brought us over the water from death to life. He has prepared a promised land, a heavenly home for you, his blood-bought people.

So through Jesus, the Lord promises to be with you on this journey. No matter what trials or temptations, what hardships or troubles, his promises will not fail. For the same Jesus, who died for you to redeem you as his own, rose from the dead, just as he had promised. The Apostle Paul writes: “No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20 NIV).

A believer pours out his or her heart to the Lord. As Moses poured out his heart filled with God's promises, he prayed for God's glory and held him to his promises. The Lord kept his promises. He did not destroy the people. As you fill your heart with his promises and pour it out to him in prayer, be confident that God hears and answers, just as he has promised. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313