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Make It a Year of Intercession (Exodus 32:11-14)

January 1, 2023 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2022-2023)

Topic: Prayer Passage: Exodus 32:11–14

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Children's Lesson (click here)

I. Experiencing Intercession

Having someone step up and step into a situation in order to intercede for you, is a wonderful thing. Do you know that from personal experience? Maybe you were in a hard place and someone said, “Let me make a call”. Maybe a higher up at a job gave you a recommendation, or a teacher 'went to bat for you'. Maybe in the midst of family turmoil, someone stepped in to plead your case. Whatever the situation, if you've ever experienced intercession, you'd remember it.

This morning, I want to look together at an incredibly memorable example of intercession. We find that account in Exodus 32. Turn there if you haven't already.

 

II. The Passage: “Moses Implored the LORD” (32:11-14)

Look with me at the opening statement of verse 11:

But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people...

That's a good question in terms of filling out the context here. Why is God angry? Why is Moses seeking God's favor; why is he pleading here with God? Well, Yahweh, the God of Israel, just explained this to Moses in verses 7–8...

...your people [Moses], whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted them-selves. [8] They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’”

Talk about a disturbing and despicable turn of events. God had worked his amazing wonders and brought the mighty kingdom of Egypt to its knees. And He did this in order to liberate the Israelites, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But this powerful and decisive deliverance, and the covenant commitment of the people to God and his laws (depicted in chapters 19-20), has somehow been discarded, like litter on the side of the road. Now the people are worshiping “gods” (plural) and practicing idolatry, in violation of the first two of the Ten Commandments. It's no wonder that God's wrath is burning hot against the people. In fact, according to verse 10, God's plan is to consume them... all of them... except Moses.

This is why Moses is interceding. Now, spoiler alert: if you drop down to verse 14, you will find the result of Moses' pleas before God: “And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” But before we go any further into our main text, I think we need to tackle the issue of what is really happening here. Here's what I mean...

In this episode (and a similar episode of wrath and intercession in Numbers 14) an unfamiliar reader may walk away thinking that Moses is like some kind of god-wrangler or a god-whisperer... because... God is dangerously volatile, capricious; that He's a hothead who needs to be talked down so he doesn't lose his cool and do something he'll regret. But is that really what's happening here?

Frankly, that interpretation insults the intelligence of anyone who (like us) has been reading about God since Genesis 1. This God is not a disturbed deity who needs some kind of handler. No. This God is the all-powerful, all-knowing Maker of heaven and earth. As Abraham understood, this God is “the Judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25), but his judgment are right and true and just, and he knows human sin... and how he will respond. He made that clear to Noah. He made that clear to Abraham. He made that clear to Moses before he sent him to Pharaoh. In fact, the very captivity Moses sought to undo was foretold by God way back in Genesis 15. None of what has happened in terms of Israelite suffering... or sin, whether it be grumbling or graven images, none of it is a surprise to God. The same is true of his responses.

So what is God doing here with Moses? Let me suggest that He's doing three things: first, he's reminding Moses and the people that he is firmly and fiercely opposed to sin and will not ignore it or minimize it. Second, he wants it to be known, both to these newly released slaves and to future generations that they need a mediator because of their sin; that they need intercession. Finally, third, I believe he wants them to have a godly example of righteous, God-centered intercession. It's that last point I hope you will keep in mind as we look at the rest of this text. Why? Because I believe God has called us (you!) to a ministry of intercession as well.

I believe that's true because of the three points I just listed. Think about it: 1) God is firmly and fiercely opposed to all sin... including yours. 2) In light of our sin, God gave us the ultimate mediator or intercessor when he gave us Jesus. As 1 Timothy 2:5 expresses it, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. Hebrews 7:25 explains this in light of the resurrection of Christ: “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” And so 3) if we belong to Christ, we have become mediators through his mediation; intercessors because of His intercession. As is said of the Lamb in Revelation 5:10, “you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God” (that idea is repeated in 1:6 and 20:6).

Believer, being a “priest” means being a mediator, an intercessor for others. It's the very thing God looked for from his people in the Old Testament (cf. Exodus 19:6). As Isaiah the prophet lamented, “...it displeased [God] that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede...” (59:16). Another prophet, Ezekiel, put it this way...

And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. (Ezekiel 22:30)

How is all this connected to our main text? Moses was that kind of man according to Psalm 106:19–23. Does this sound familiar?

They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a metal image. [20] They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass. [21] They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt, [22] wondrous works in the land of Ham, and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.[23] Therefore he said he would destroy them—had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.

The imagery here is of a breach or gap in a city's defensive wall. If that gap is not defended, the enemy will pour in, which will lead to certain destruction. Moses stood in the breach for sinners. Brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ stood in the breach for sinners. And because He did, we also can stand in the breach through prayer, just as Moses entreated God here in Exodus 32. And as we see here, we can do so for those redeemed, and those under God's consuming judgment.

So let's talk about what we see here in Exodus 32:11-14. This time, listen to the whole passage:

But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? [12] Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. [13] Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” [14] And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

Notice what Moses models for us here in terms of being an intercessor:

First, we should intercede in light of one's saving relationship with God. When Moses asked God “why” in v.11, he wasn't ignoring what God revealed to him about the golden calf. No. He was grounding his appeal in the incredible deliverance God had just accomplished and very people God had redeemed. This was not just any people whom God intended to consume. As Moses expressed it to God in v. 11, these are “your people”; and they are a redeemed people.

When we intercede in prayer for a particular believer and a particular need, let us always do so in light of the greatest need that God as already met. Let's intercede in light of that individual's relationship to God. “Father, I'm coming to you on behalf of your son (or “your daughter”). I first want to acknowledge the stunning and incomparable work that you have already accomplished in his/her life. I want to appeal to you in light of the work you've already done, and who they are in your grace.” Friends, God is always exalted when his saving work is exalted.

But the topic of one's saving relationship should also be prioritized when we intercede for those who lack that relationship. This is our God, brothers and sisters; the God “who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) So, yes, pray for others for physical health and healing. But also and always, we pray for ultimate spiritual healing through Jesus. Yes, we pray for employment for the one in need. But also and always, we pray that she would come to serve the true God and delight in his work. Yes, we pray for that neighbor or coworker's family problems. But also and always, we pray for the even bigger problem that they are not yet a part of God's family.

So let us pray for those who are God's people in light of the work he's already begun, and let's pray for those who are not yet his people in light of the work he delights to do. Amen? But Moses' prayer in verse 11 leads to a related idea in verse 12.

Second, when we intercede we should intercede with a genuine concern for God's glory. Not only is Moses asking for God to continue and complete his emancipating work (that He would continue to be their deliverer, and not their destroyer), but he does so with a concern for God's name. Look again at verse 12: “Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’?” To be clear, God would be just in destroying such a wayward people. But Moses argues that God would be more greatly (and widely) glorified if this newly liberated people were able to serve him in that freedom, not suffer the very wrath they avoided in Egypt. Moses is concerned about confusion instead of clarity regarding God's saving purposes.

In the same way, we should intercede with that same heart. You may not like your boss at work, but how are you praying for him or her? “God, make my boss nicer”? No. Maybe pray like this: “Father, I pray that by grace, through Jesus, you would spare my supervisor from the wrath to come; that you would forgive him of his sins; that you would give him a new heart to love and serve you. And I pray this not only for his sake, but that you would be glorified among my co-workers; that they would see a grace-empowered change in him, and honor you because of it.”

Similarly, you can also intercede against a negative outcome. “Lord God, I pray on behalf of these two sisters in Christ, and pray for reconciliation; for unity to be restored. Do this not only for their sake, but for the encouragement of the body, and that those on the outside would not see hostility between those who declare incomparable peace and love in Jesus; that the glory of your gospel, that your glory in the gospel, would be not be diminished among us.”

Let me mention one more principle in light of Moses' example: third, we should intercede as those emboldened by God's promises. Did you see where Moses went in verse 13? He went back to God's covenant promises. Moses reminds God here of the very promises God had reminded him about in the opening chapters of this book.

But let me be clear: if God had justly destroyed these sinners, that would not make him in any way unfaithful in terms of his promises. Why? Because in verse 10 he tells Moses that he will start over with him, since Moses is also a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But that alternate plan is why Moses emphasizes the fact that God has already fulfilled his promise to “multiply [Abraham's] offspring as the stars of heaven”. AND, God has delivered and is leading this numerous people into the land that was promised. Moses must recognize that everything is so close; therefore he grounds his intercession in the promises of God.

Brothers and sisters, why would we do any less? As those who belong to Christ, how could we not be emboldened by the fact that “all the promises of God find their Yes in him.” (2 Cor. 1:20) Therefore, let us intercede for one another in light of God's covenant commitment to us in Christ. “Father, restore my brother, for you have promised that you will complete the good work you began in him.” “Gracious God, reassure my sister in this painful time, for you have promised that all things will work together for her good.” “Lord God, while our brother is away, we thank you that you will never leave him or forsake him. Remind him of this as well.” “As my sister wrestles with regret, Father, help her to rest in the promise that every sin has been covered sin Jesus Christ suffered once for all in regard to our sin.”

But we can also intercede for those outside the covenant in light of God's promises. If God has opened the door of salvation to all people, no matter who they are or what they've done, if Christ has promised us that “all authority in heaven and earth has been given to” him (Matthew 28:18) and that he is “with [us] always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), if he has assured us of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9), and that “in the Lord [our] labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58), then we can plead those truths and promises as we step out in faith and intercede for the lost around us.

 

III. Opportunities for Intercession

Brothers and sisters, friends, consider what God has shown us this morning. Since he is not a God who needs reminders, he must be pleased when we remember his words and his promises. Since he is not a God who needs to be talked down off the 'ledge' of his wrath, he must know that we need to learn how to intercede in light of his wrath. Moses wasn't wrangling God here. No. God was teaching Moses. And this morning, he's teaching us through Moses.

Having someone step up and step into a situation in order to intercede for you, is a wonderful thing. If we keep Jesus' words in mind about it being more blessed to give than to receive, then even more wonderful is being that kind of person on behalf of another; being an intercessor.

So why not make 2023 a year of intercession? Talk about a wonderful way to bless others, to be used by God in the lives of others. No. I don't think God is simply challenging us to do some-thing. I believe he's calling us to be who he's called us to be; that is, to let the heart of Jesus beat in us. As Jesus has stood and stands for us, we can stand for others. With love and gratitude and a heart of worship in light of his mediation, we can serve others, in His name, through mediating prayer. That's gospel-informed and gospel-inspired intercession! And isn't intercession both love for God (the greatest commandment) and love for neighbor (the second greatest)? We come and glorify the only One who can help, on behalf of those in need.

You see, just as God did here with Moses, I believe God has given us, is giving us, and will give us opportunities to step up and step into the breach. Think about it: how might God want to grow you this year in this priestly work? Who in your life is in desperate need of intercession, whether fellow believer or individuals without Christ? Would you take a moment even now to talk to him about these things?

And if you're here this morning and recognize that you're the one who needs an intercessor before God (in light of your twisted worship), then reach out in faith and trust that God has provided for your the perfect mediator in Jesus. Only he can turn God's judgment away from you. Only in Him can we find such mercy.

Let's go to him now with faith and gratitude and worship in light of these things.

 

More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2022-2023)

January 29, 2023

A Pure Worship of God (Deuteronomy 12:29-32)

January 22, 2023

On a Scale From One to Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 4:12-14)

January 15, 2023

Holiness and Love (Leviticus 19:1-2, 18)