“A New Beginning!”

Exodus 34:1-8


            Jimmy Wayne learned to never trust a soul. That’s why he never unpacked his bag. And who can blame him? Jimmy Wayne never knew his father. His mother spent more time in jail than out of jail. When he was a small child, his mother got out of jail again and took up with a troublemaker again. They loaded Jimmy into the backseat of their Oldsmobile Delta 88. For a year, that car was Jimmy’s home. He learned to never trust a soul. That’s why Jimmy Wayne never unpacked his bag.

            After living in the back seat of a car for a year … Jimmy was dumped off at the train station in Pensacola, Florida. His mother and her boyfriend sped away in their Delta 88.

            Jimmy Wayne desperately needed a new beginning.

            As we continue in our sermon series on the book of Exodus, we see that Exodus 34 is all about a new beginning. Aaron, Israel’s high priest, needs a new beginning. So does Israel. And most certainly … so do we!

            A new beginning is absolutely necessary. Why? If you were here last weekend, you remember that in Exodus 32 Aaron and the Israelites were faced with a huge crisis. They hadn’t seen Moses for 40 days and 40 nights. Was Moses dead? Did Moses leave them? Aaron and the Israelites grow impatient so they make a golden calf and they worship it!

            Like them or not, in a huge crisis, the IRS knows exactly what to do. The IRS Handbook states, quote, “During a state of national emergency, the essential functions of the IRS will be as follows; assessing, collecting, and recording taxes.” While everyone panics, the IRS knows exactly what to do! Get our money!

            But when faced with the huge crisis of not having Moses, Aaron and Israelites have no idea what to do! That’s why they build a golden calf and worship it! What does Moses do when he comes down from Mt. Sinai? Moses smashes the Ten Commandments, grinds up the golden calf, mixes it with water, and makes the people drink it!

            We pick up the narrative in Exodus 34:1, “Then the LORD told Moses, ‘Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones. I will write on them the same words that were on the tablets you smashed.’” The Ten Commandments have been smashed! That’s why a new beginning is absolutely necessary.

            And let’s face it, we’re not that much different than Aaron and the Israelites. What do we do when faced with a crisis? We become angry, impatient, faithless, and selfish. We turn to our golden calves and look to them for help and salvation. God, the holy, righteous, and perfect God, this God has every right to dump us off at a train station in Pensacola, Florida and ride off into the sunset.

            But He doesn’t! Our God doesn’t do that! A new beginning is totally possible. “Then the LORD came down in a cloud and stood there with Moses. He called out his name, ‘Yahweh’” (Exodus 34:5). Yahweh, the LORD, frequently comes down in the book of Exodus. Exodus 3:8 says that Yahweh came down in the burning bush. Exodus 19:20, Yahweh came down on Mt. Sinai. Exodus 40:34, Yahweh came down to fill the tabernacle with His cloud and His glory. Do you get it? You and I, we can’t go up to God. That’s why God comes down to us, right here where we are, in the basement of our broken commandments.

            And what does God do when He comes down? Scold us? Shame us? Berate us? Reject us? Condemn us? No! God cries out, “Yahweh! Yahweh! The compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and lifting up wickedness, rebellion, and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7). A new beginning is totally possible!

            Compassionate. This word in Hebrew (rachum) is closely related to the Hebrew word for a mother’s womb (rechum). The idea of compassion expresses the emotional connection that a mother has for a child in her womb. That’s how God feels about you!

            Slow to anger. If God was quick to anger, His compassion wouldn’t last a second in my life. If God threw lightning bolts at me every time I sinned, I would be blown to smithereens a long, long time ago. Actually, none of us would be here, but God shouts from Mt. Sinai, “I’m slow to anger!

            Abounding in steadfast love. “Abounding”, that announces that God’s steadfast love isn’t limited. God is like the federal government. Whenever there’s a need, God just prints off more and more steadfast love. The difference though … God has an infinite treasury of steadfast love to cover all the currency He prints. God’s infinite resources of steadfast love will never run out! God go in debt? God go bankrupt? Never!

            Lifting up wickedness, rebellion, and sin. There are only three Hebrew words for sin and God uses all three of them right here. Why? To show that He lifts up every type of sin. There are no categories of unforgiveable sins. Yahweh lifts up wickedness, rebellion, and sin.

            “Wickedness” means twisted depravity. It means we’re crooked and bent. “Rebellion” refers to treason against our covenant King, against Yahweh. “Sin” means missing the mark. The Ten Commandments are the bull’s eye. We take aim and miss them far too often. Yahweh lifts up wickedness, rebellion, and sin. And if He lifts it up, where does He put it all?

            That brings us to today, to Palm Sunday. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey on Sunday because on the following Friday He is going to lift up the huge mess and place it where? Upon Himself … all wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh. He is “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and lifting up wickedness, rebellion, and sin.” Jesus teaches this love. Jesus lives this love. Jesus demonstrates this love by shedding His blood on the cross for you. Palm Sunday announces it. Good Friday shows it. And Easter Sunday celebrates it!

            One day, while aimlessly walking around Pensacola, Florida, Jimmy Wayne, remember him? Jimmy Wayne spotted a man named Russ working in his garage. Soon Russ and his wife Bea invited Jimmy to live with them. The home was like heaven! A hot bath, hot meals, and even a TV. Jimmy Wayne though … he had learned to never trust a soul. Jimmy Wayne still wouldn’t unpack his bag.

            A new beginning is entirely optional. We can refuse to unpack our bag. We can reject divine love. We can be callous and aloof. But that’s not Moses! “Moses immediately threw himself to the ground and worshiped” (Exodus 34:8). I invite you to follow Moses. Trust that God is who He says He is. Repeat, “Yahweh, Yahweh” till it trumps the voices of fear and shame, guilt and blame! Throw yourself down before Yahweh!

            Think of it this way. Be a sponge and not a rock. Put a rock in a ocean and what happens? Its surface gets wet, but the inside of the rock stays untouched. Place a sponge in the same ocean and what happens? The ocean saturates the sponge. God’s abounding, steadfast love surrounds us like an ocean. Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday … totally amazing! What’s our response? … Rock or sponge?

            Jimmy Wayne had been rejected so many times that he was much more like a rock. He was a hard, unmovable rock. We get that. We really do. That’s why Jimmy never unpacked his bag. It took another month before Russ and Bea convinced Jimmy that their love for him was real!

            So finally, finally Jimmy Wayne unpacked his bag. Jimmy Wayne is now a famous country music singer and songwriter. But his new beginning started when he learned to trust … when he finally unpacked his bag.

            It’s Palm Sunday! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Our past is behind us. God’s grace is in front of us. A new beginning waits for us. So now what? It’s time to unpack our bag! Why? Because we finally have a home. Where? With Jesus! Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.


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