Sermon: You Can Be Forgiven - Exodus 34

This sermon is an Old Testament illustration of how the relationship of God's people with God is based on God's gracious character, as opposed to law-keeping.

Sermon series: Make Your Life Count

  1. Abraham, Called of God - Genesis 12
  2. You Can Be Forgiven - Exodus 34
  3. What Happens When We Fail? - Josh 7
  4. Fuel for the Journey - Hebrews 11

This sermon is an Old Testament illustration of how the relationship of God's people with God is based on God's gracious character, as opposed to law-keeping. The background is that Moses received the law on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 20) and the people broke the law before he even returned with it (Ex. 32). Moses, although he obliterated the clay tablets in his anger at the people, interceded for them, praying that they would not be destroyed by the wrath of God (Ex. 32:31). Moses then carried the newly hewn tablets back up on the mountain to receive a response from God. While Moses went to the mountain the people waited like guilty defendants for God's verdict. Would God, who had given the law, destroy the people? What God revealed to Moses is that He is a God of grace and mercy.

Have you ever wondered, "Could the Lord possibly forgive someone who has sinned like I have? Would the Lord be willing to forgive me?" I ask you these questions because sometimes people tell me that they don't think that God could forgive them. They say, "Preacher, if you only knew what I have done you would wonder about God's forgiveness too."

If any of us are asking, "Could the Lord forgive me?" we are not too different from those first people who broke God's Ten Commandments. According to the Bible, Moses hadn't even made it down from Mt. Sinai when the Israelites built and worshiped a golden calf - breaking God's new covenant. In anger Moses smashed the two huge stones containing the commandments, but later begged God for mercy on behalf of the people. In Exodus 34, the Bible tells us that Moses ascended the mountain with two freshly hewn tablets to discover God's verdict. The people must have pondered, "Can the Lord of law forgive us?" The message from God, then and now, is there is hope for forgiveness! Today, I want us to examine the reasons we have hope for forgiveness.

Outline

I. We have hope for forgiveness because God is gracious (34:6).

A. God reveals himself as compassionate.

B. God reveals himself as gracious.

II. We have hope for forgiveness because God is slow to anger (34:6-7)

A. God is not quick to act in judgment when we sin against him.

B. God's patience allows us an opportunity to repent.

III. We have hope for forgiveness because God is full of love.

A. God is abounding (full of) love and faithfulness.

B. God maintains love toward thousands.

IV. We have hope for forgiveness because God forgives all kinds of sin (34:8)

A. God's nature is that he is willing to forgive.

B. God's nature is that he is willing to forgive all kinds of wrong.

Conclusion

God revealed his character to His people after they had broken His law. While they may have understood Him initially as a Lord of law, He revealed that He is the God of grace. Have you found hope for forgiveness in your life? You can be forgiven today by the compassionate and gracious God. There is no sin that you have committed that he is unable or unwilling to forgive. Through the gift of His only son, God has shown us His desire to forgive us. In the silence of this moment, tell God your desire to receive his forgiveness.

Illustrations

The Prodigal Should Be Arrested

The law is harsh and cannot help us to receive forgiveness.

In Craddock Stories, a collection of outstanding stories by Fred Craddock, is the following account with one who could understand law, but not grace.

Craddock preached in Blue Ridge, Georgia one Sunday while the pastor was away. He preached on the lectionary text which was on the prodigal son. After the service a man said, "I really didn't care much for that frankly."

He asked the many why and the man said he just didn't like that story because it was morally irresponsible.

Craddock said, "What do you mean by that."

"Forgiving the boy." the man replied.

Craddock asked, "Well, what would you have done?"

"I think when he came home he should have been arrested." answered the man.

Craddock writes, "This fellow was serious. He's an attorney, I thought. I thought he was going to tell me a joke. But he was really serious. He belonged to this unofficial organization nationwide, never has any meetings and doesn't have a name, but it's a very strong network that I call "quality control people." They're moral police. Mandatory sentences and no parole, mind you, and executions."

Craddock then asked, "What would you have given the prodigal?"

He said, "Six years."

(Fred Craddock, Craddock Stories, Chalice Press, 2001, 51)

God Uses Tender Mercies

Tender mercies accomplish what rules never can.

In The Tale of the Tardy Ox Cart, Chuck Swindoll uses the film Tender Mercies (rated PG) to remind us how God uses tender mercy to transform us. The film is about opposites who marry. He has lost a career as a country-western musician and is battling alcohol. His wife patiently looks to God to help her husband, not making demands on him. The climax of the story is reached when, in a bout of depression, he leaves in his truck with a bottle. In the meantime, the wife waits in bed quoting scripture to find strength. He returns and tells her, "I bought a bottle, but I poured it out. I didn't drink anything." His life turns around at that point and he returns to the work he loves - songwriting. God's tender mercies, like that wife's, are used to change lives.

(Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Ox Cart, Word, 1998, 237)

A Wife's Love is More Powerful than Rules

Love results in labor that law could never force.

My wife and I had a long distance relationship before we married. She lived in Atlanta and I lived in Mississippi. After several years of dating, I asked her to marry me. In a nice restaurant in Atlanta I knelt down and asked her to be this preacher's wife. Her eyes filled with tears and she could barely say, "Yes." I did not ask her to wash my clothes, clean my house, help care for my yard, or watch out for my dog. Can you imagine the response I might have received if I had only asked for those tasks to be done? But, she knew I loved her and wanted her as my wife, and I knew she loved me and wanted me as her husband. Now we have children and very active lives. Now she does whatever it takes to make our house a loving home - including washing the clothes, cleaning the house, caring for the yard, and watching out for the dog. And it is all done because of love. Rules could not make you do all that messy stuff, but love can motivate you to do what it takes.

(Personal anecdote)

Additional Sermon Starters

Great Mercy for Great Sinners (Psalm 51)

The sermon addresses how David, who committed a notorious sin, asked for God's forgiveness and restoration. He did not find mercy by granting himself a pardon, by buying it with a generous gift, or by securing it with a huge offering. The law offered him no hope. He found mercy by humbly asking for God's cleansing and restoration. This sermon based on Psalm 51 could be developed using the following outline:

I. We find mercy when we ask for the tender mercies of God (Ps. 51:1).

II. We find mercy when we acknowledge our sin to God (Ps. 51:1-4).

III. We find mercy when appeal for cleansing and restoration from God (Ps. 51:1-15).

How to Put a Crushed Rock Back Together (John 21:15-22)

Grace for a fallen disciple

The thrust of the sermon is to show how Jesus restored Simon Peter after his denial of Jesus. Just as Jesus restored Simon after a miserable failure, He can restore us after we fail. The sermon, based on John 21:15-22, could be developed using the following outline.

I. Jesus helps us to overcome failure by challenging us to love Him (21:15-17). (He inquires, "Do you love me?")

II. Jesus helps us to overcome failure by entrusting us with work to do in His service (21:15-17). (He instructs us, "Feed my sheep.")

III. Jesus helps us to overcome failure by urging us to focus on our own responsibilities not on those of others (21:19, 22). (He implores us, "Follow thou me.")

How Christ Can Make a Difference in Our Lives (John 8:1-11)

The sermon addresses how Christ gives us hope for a new life, while the law only offers condemnation. In contrast to the law (represented in this case by the religious leaders), Jesus offers forgiveness for those under condemnation. The sermon from John 8:1-11 would be developed using the following outline:

I. Christ's knowledge of people exposes all of us as sinners.

II. Christ's willingness to forgive enables us to escape condemnation.

III. Christ's ability to give new life empowers us to live a new way.

Creative Worship Ideas

A dramatic monologue sermon. The sermon is the story of an Israelite with a piece of stone in his hand. The stone represents a piece of the two tables of stone which Moses has symbolically broken. He has held on to the stone as valuable, but it is only a reminder of his failure. When he sees Moses ascending back up the mountain he wonders if there is hope for forgiveness for him. When hears the words Moses has received from God (news about God's gracious character), he leaves the stone behind knowing that God has granted him forgiveness.

A film clip suggestion. The preacher could introduce the sermon using a video clip from Cecil B. DeMille's version of the Ten Commandments. The clip would show Moses hurling the stone to the ground symbolizing the people's breaking of the newly received commandments. The video is paused and the preacher asks, "Is there any hope now? Where do you go from here?"

Dr. Ronald Meeks is Director of Church Relations for Blue Mountain College, Blue Mountain, Mississippi.