An Inconvenient Truth
Thoughts: Reading Exodus this morning. It is a striking difference between the explicit, detailed instructions the Lord gives Moses regarding the construction of the Tabernacle, priestly garments, ark of the covenant, etc., and the people's move to the golden calf.
The instructions given for the Tabernacle are incredibly detailed, down to the number of curtain rings and pomegranate balls. The details are important, because Exodus is attempting to convey the weightiness of the Lord's holiness. This God is worthy of inconvenience.
Just imagine the time and trouble necessary not only to build the Tabernacle, but to also move the Tabernacle and set it up again (countless times) as the Israelites move through the desert. Add to that the detailed descriptions of proper sacrifices and worship. Inconvenient!
This inconvenience matters, however, as it is an attempt to display the “worthiness” of the Lord. The worship of the Lord may be exceptionally detailed and inconvenient, but He is worthy of such time and trouble. The purity laws, the separateness of the people—they are all about worth.
Exodus gives eleven chapters to this description (ch 20-31). Bottom line: following and worshipping the Lord may be difficult, but He is worthy. Contrast that with the golden calf in Exodus 32. From inception of the calf to the moment of worship? *Juat six verses! Convenience.
The people are tired of waiting on the Lord to tell them what to do. Sound familiar? (v.1) So the leader (Aaron) tells them to bring jewelry to them. This matters because the ancient world didn't have banks, 401(k) accounts, etc. Jewelry was a large part of family finances.
And, seemingly willingly and quickly, they turn the valuables over, and they make a god that looks like an animal and begin attempting to worship it...AS IF IT IS SOMEHOW TIED TO THE LORD. Verse 5: "Tomorrow shall be a feast day to the Lord." Excuse me?
So, to recap: the true worship of the Lord takes a long time and is inconvenient, but the worship of the golden calf is quick AND WE CAN JUST PRETEND LIKE THIS IS SOMETHING THE LORD WANTS. We'll worship him in any way we desire, since it's convenient, BUT WE'LL SAY IT'S FOR GOD.
We haven't changed much. We still bristle at the difficult commands of holiness. We are still willing to empty our pockets for convenience. We continue to be people who do things contrary to the Scripture and claim it to be done in God's name. We like our golden calves.
Fast forward to the New Testament: You can see why some of the Jewish believers in the earliest churches might have thought allowing Gentiles in would be a sort of "golden calf," as they were not required to participate in all the ceremonial aspects of Judaism.
Salvation by grace through faith certainly seems like a bit of sham when compared to the Tabernacle, et al. Consequently, it makes sense that the earliest believers would continue to emphasize living a life of holiness. So even Gentiles are asked to live the Kingdom in faith.
They are asked to avoid other gods and to hold to a sexual ethic unlike anything in their culture (Acts 15) in addition to the other teachings of Jesus that made up the earliest Christian ethics. Early on, Christians gravitated towards costly and inconvenient obedience.
Even though the earliest gatherings would have been much simpler than the Tabernacle, probably worshiping in homes with singing, teaching, prayer, and the Supper, the Kingdom ethic set them apart. They were living the holiness ethos embodied at the Tabernacle.
Today when we attempt to "downgrade" the gospel and the Kingdom to act as if personal holiness and ethics don't matter, we're simply playing the part of the Israelites in the desert, emptying our pockets to build yet another calf, PRETENDING IT'S WHAT GOD WANTS.
The worship of the Tabernacle may no longer exist, but God's desire for His worth to be extolled has not waned. We worship Him as gathered people each Lord's day, proclaiming His worth, but we also worship Him with our lives. That Way may be inconvenient, but it is good.