Have you ever watched the show - Grand Designs?
I love it! It's a show that follows couples as they build their dream house.
But these aren't just kit homes. These are impressive houses! Massive; one-of-a-kind; built from the exact specifications of their new owners. These houses are custom made - it's what they call bespoke!
It's one of those words that seems to be thrown around nearly every episode.
The Oxford Dictionary defines bespoke as:
"Made for a particular customer or user"
It's a great word - To have something custom made! It's really a word fit for our age!
A simple kitchen is not good enough anymore - it has to be bespoke.
And its not just in building and design.
Maccas has even become bespoke - you can design your own burger.
Even spirituality has become bespoke: A spirituality that's fashioned to our own liking; created to fit around our lives - not the other way around.
And that's exactly what the Israelites do in these chapters from Exodus.
They custom make a god for themselves that they thought would satisfy their needs more than the God who had saved them from Egypt.
But as we'll see, their bespoke god falls far short from the God who reveals himself. The God who is far weightier than any god we could custom make for ourselves.
THE BESPOKE GOD
God's people are still at Mount Sinai where we left them last week. Moses is up on the mountain meeting with God. But this is not a quick catch up. It's been 40 days since the people saw Moses climbing the mountain.
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder - but in this case, it made the heart go wander.
Have a look at Exodus 32, verse 1:
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron - Moses' brother - and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him."
Israel has the attention span of a gold fish. They haven't heard from God or Moses for a month and they're starting to get a little anxious; feel a bit vulnerable.
The people have enjoyed all the benefits of God - freedom from slavery; abundant food and water; a new nation - they've enjoyed all the benefits, but they're not comfortable with a God they can't control.
And so they trade in the HEAVY WEIGHT God for their own bespoke god.
Redesign God - get together, throw in their gold earrings, and come up with something that'll make them feel connected with God in v2:
Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt."
It's a calf. Made of gold. Israel exchanges the God who created the universe, who has shown power over people, kings, nature - for a piece of metal.
They've benefited from God's rescue from slavery, but they won't trust him to be in control. They want a god of their own making - one who's on speed dial in difficult times but for the rest of life stays quite in the corner.
So the Israelites can do whatever they want. Keep reading from verse 5:
When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord." So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.
Only weeks before, Israel had been standing at the same mountain making a promise to God - a vow - to be faithful; to forsake all others; to love and serve God until their dying breath - sounds very much like marriage vows.
They've had the ceremony; ate the cake; and driven off into the sunset. And now only a couple of weeks later they're flirting - and worse - with another god. A god of their own design; a god more to their liking.
It's like finding your husband or wife in bed with someone else on you're honeymoon.
It's a slap in the face; a betrayal of everything they've promised!
They want God's world and all the perks, but they don't want the exclusive relationship.
Israel want a bit each way. They want the LORD's power and they want their own. They want God to dwell with them and they want an out of control party. They wanted freedom from slavery AND freedom from God.
But that's not how it works.
Israel's not alone in wanting the benefits of God. I wonder if we're not the same...
In a recent book, the Australian social commentator, Hugh Mackay found that 68% of Australians believed in the existence of a God, but only half of them thought God could be defined or personally known.
And though church attendance is decreasing, spiritual beliefs were on the rise - 82% of people claimed some sort of spiritual connection. Most people want a connection with God.
We want a purpose and a meaning, we want to know something nice happens when we die, we want to be able to pray to someone. We want a higher power ... but we want the freedom to do what we want. We want God with us, but not in charge of us.
We want something spiritual without the Christian label.
We want a bespoke god - a god designed for our own individual needs, but doesn't demand anything from us.
I reckon Aussies aren't too different from the Israelites.
But God won't stand for it.
THE JUST GOD
There are consequences for cheating on God; God demands justice!
Have a look back in Exodus to how God responds.
By chapter 32 verse 7 God won't call the Israelites his any more. Moses can have them. From verse 7:
Then the Lord said to Moses, "Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. I have seen these people," the Lord said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them... ."
God wants to destroy them. How dare they think they can replace the God who's saved them and called them - replace him with a golden trinket.
It looks like the end of the road for Israel.
Until Moses tries a game-saving intercept - he steps in and offers himself to sort out the situation. He offers himself to be the one to go and make atonement: A sacrifice that'll make the Israelites back at-one with God.
See verse 30:
The next day Moses said to the people, "You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin."
So Moses heads up the mountain, like the leader of the party, who's going to make a way for God and his people to get back on track.
But God says no.
Step out of the way - I'm not accepting your offer. I'm bringing justice!
God's attitude to sin is that the guilty must be punished. You do the crime; you do the time.
So God says in v 33 of chapter 32:
The Lord replied to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book."
And so thousands die.
It's horrible - a scene from Game of Thrones: men wielding swords cutting down three thousand. Blood everywhere.
It's horrible - but it's justice.
Can you feel the weight of God? He's far weightier than any bespoke god of our own making.
He's the God who demands justice - the God who holds people to account. Not just the criminals and terrorists - but all of us too.
THE MERCIFUL GOD
The camp's full of death; the benefits of God are gone; and the Israelites are feeling the weight of their betrayal.
In chapter 33 Israel are beside themselves, when they realise their connection with God is about to be cut off. Chapter 33 verse 4:
When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites, 'You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you.'"
But finally in the next chapter, Israel are given a reprieve. Although God demands justice, he's also a God who forgives - a God of mercy.
God would prefer Israel were with him than not. God wants the nation he's made to know him - it's what he's wanted all along.
And so in Exodus 34, God reveals his weight - his glory - to Israel one more time. He demonstrates that he is of far more substance than any bespoke god Israel could create for themselves.
Feel the weight of God from verse 6:
The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.
God unpacks who he is - He's a God who demands justice, but he's also a God who loves to forgive - He's a God of mercy.
The God of justice and mercy. The God of truth and Grace.
And though we feel the weight of God's character here, there's this unresolved tension that runs through the rest of the pages of the Old Testament: How can God forgive sin; be merciful, and yet be a God of justice at the same time?
How can he be a God of justice and mercy; truth and grace? It's hard to be both.
And it's a tension that remains until God shows up again. Have a look at these words introducing Jesus in the opening verses of John.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father full of grace and truth.
Jesus is the one who brings the justice and mercy of God together.
And he demonstrates it at the cross.
In Exodus, Moses went up the hill and offered himself. Asked that God would punish him instead of the Israelites. But God wouldn't accept his sacrifice.
Jesus walks up a different hill and makes the same offer - to make you right with God. He walks to the cross, stands in our place - faces the judgement of God - to be blotted out - so that God can show mercy to each one of us.
At the cross of Christ God's anger at the golden calf, and God's anger at me, at you, is focused like light through a magnifying glass onto his son.
So that God could be compassionate and gracious; abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
THE WEIGHTY GOD
I wonder if you're one of the 82% of people who claimed some kind of spiritual connection?
You have, or you want, a connection with God.
That's fair enough, God says people are made for that.
Which god are you connected with?
Are you like Israel who wanted the benefits of the real God but created their own god? A bespoke god... so you can go back to whatever you want.
Do you want God... but won't listen to the real God?
Friends, no god you create can ever match the weight of the true God; no other god will truly satisfy; no other god will offer eternal hope; no other god will offer abundant life.
He's the only God of justice. And he's the God who loves to forgive.
Later on, John would go on to describe it in 1 John 2 from v 1 in these words:
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
If you want to be connected to God, the only way is to take up Christ's offer of atonement. Connect with God, it's what you're made for.
If you follow Jesus already - remember who God is!
He's the God of justice and mercy.
Yes, God is angered by our sin, but he's also forgiven our sin. So as we come to him - do so boldly; confidently, knowing his mercy and love in Jesus. Knowing that in Jesus' death for us, the judgment reserved for us has been dealt with.
I don't know where you're at with your sin. Because there are some people who feel guilty... do you?
Some of us are just hopeless at doing the Christian thing.
Some of us feel like we're on our "L" plates with Jesus... is that you?
You turn your back on God some days? I do.
Know that you have been forgiven by God of the universe!