19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it. 21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?” 22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, ‘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.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewellery, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” 25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughing stock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.
25 Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them He said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters - yes, even his own life - he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29 For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. 34 Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
In Exodus 32:26 Moses says, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.”
Older translations put it as a question: “Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come to me.”
In these words, we have one of the great challenges of the Bible. In a world which is becoming more confused and darker with each passing day, we need to decide whether we are going to stand on the side of truth and light, or of lies and darkness.
The setting of this question asked by Moses to the Israelite nation was during one of their lowest moments. Moses had been called by God to Mount Sinai where he was given the Law, but having grown tired of waiting for Moses to return, the people made and worshipped a golden calf. When Moses returned and saw what they were doing, he issued his challenge to them – who is on the Lord’s side?
And that same call has been echoed down through history, and remains just as valid today. Our world is so different from the time of Moses, yet in so many ways, nothing has changed. We are still surrounded by ignorance, superstition and paganism.
Before we respond to the challenge of standing on the Lord’s side, there a few things we need to be absolutely clear on. We have to understand just what it means to take a stand for truth, because there is a cost. There are many sacrifices we need to make, because true discipleship of Jesus is not easy. If we are going to be serious about embracing truth and resisting the lies of the world, we need to know what it will take, and how to get there.
Not only that, but once we make the choice of choosing the Lord’s side, by His grace and in His strength, we need to stay on His side. We can’t keep chopping and changing, relying on our circumstances and spiritual health or lack thereof to decide where we want to be on any particular day.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” I have a commentary which says this about those two verses: “In the original Hebrew, ‘in all your ways acknowledge Him’ is more literally ‘in all your ways know Him.’ This fundamental statement of how to relate to God implies more than mere reverence. Nodding in God’s direction is not enough: you must know Him by living closely with Him, relating to Him personally in every aspect of your life.”
In other words, before responding to Moses’ challenge, we need to know that we’re either all in for Jesus and truth, or we’re all out, and we stand opposed to Him. The call to discipleship is a serious call, and so is our response.
So just what does it mean to be on the Lord’s side?
Firstly, it means to have done with the world’s side. When we give in to the pressures of the world and modern society’s emphasis upon materialism, we are on the world’s side. When worldly things consume our thoughts, desires and passions, we are caught up in the darkness of the world. The Israelites in Moses’ time wanted a god they could see, so they made a golden calf. Again, not much has changed all these years later. Modern man wants gods he can see, such as hard cash and status symbols. We simply have to learn to see life and the things of this life from an eternal perspective. Once we learn to do that, we will find it easier to let go of worldly things for the cause of Christ.
Secondly, being on the Lord’s side means dying to self. God looked at His people and told Moses He saw them as “a stiff-necked people.” This means they were hard-hearted, obstinate, going their own way and self-reliant. Has anything changed today? Not really. We are still a stiff-necked people. We believe we can manage on our own in any and every situation. We are fiercely independent, and we admire people who can do great things in their own strength. Surrendering to God and His will for your life is regarded as a sign of weakness, but Jesus says we are to take up our cross and follow Him instead.
This statement of His has created much confusion, so what exactly, did He mean?
Let’s begin with what Jesus didn’t mean. Many people interpret a cross in this context as some kind of burden they must carry in their lives: a strained relationship, a thankless job, or a physical illness. With self-pitying pride, they say, “Well, that’s the cross I have to bear.” But this is not what Jesus meant when He said, “Take up your cross and follow me.”
When Jesus carried His cross up Golgotha to be crucified, no one was thinking of the cross as symbolic of a burden to carry. To a person in the first century, the cross meant one thing and one thing only: death by the most painful and humiliating means possible.
Two thousand years later, Christians view the cross as a cherished symbol of atonement, forgiveness, grace, and love. But in Jesus’ day, the cross represented nothing but torturous death. Because the Romans forced convicted criminals to carry their own crosses to the place of crucifixion, bearing a cross meant carrying their own execution device while facing ridicule along the way to death.
So, “Take up your cross and follow me” means being willing to die in order to follow Jesus. This is called “dying to self.” It’s a call to absolute surrender. This is what Jesus meant when He said in Luke 9:23-25, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?”
If we’re going to take the Lord’s side, we need to die to self.
And thirdly, we need to understand just how pervasive and destructive sin is.
Three times in Exodus 32, after the tragedy of the golden calf, Moses says to the people that they had committed a great sin.
Today we don’t like to hear that word. We blame all our badness and wickedness on our circumstances or on others.
God asked Adam and Eve a profound question in Genesis 3:13. “What is this you have done?” He wanted them to see what their sin had done to them, and how it had destroyed their lives. As I said last Sunday, until such time as we are as appalled by our sin as God is, it will be very hard for us to stand on the side of truth. We’re always annoyed and upset by the sins of others, but generally speaking we’re not really that bothered by our own sin, because we’ve become so used to it. Spend some time in the Bible though, and you’re soon given an insight into how God regards human sin. The Bible always emphasises man’s sin. We were born as sinners and we have continued to practice sinful habits.
To truly be on the Lord’s side means to turn away from our sin – that’s the definition of repentance – and to turn towards God instead. We need to reject our self-reliance, the things of the world, and as Hebrews 12:1 puts it, we must “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”
But that is really just the beginning, because we need to be aware of some of the costs of being on the Lord’s side.
Jesus always urged would-be disciples to count the cost before following Him. This is what He was talking about in our reading from Luke 14.
When we were little, most of us grew up going to Sunday School, hearing the well-known parables, miracles and other stories in the Bible. Sadly, for many, there has been little or no spiritual growth since those days. Jesus is just a nice man who did some wonderful things.
But we’re meant to grow beyond the cute pictures in the kiddies’ Bibles and see just what God is calling us to: A life of self-denial and discipleship, understanding that there is a cost involved.
In verse 26, after Moses posed the question, it says, “all the Levites rallied to him.” The old KJV says, “All the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.”
This is the ancient equivalent of taking one pace forward like volunteers in an army. When soldiers step forward in response to a call for volunteers, everyone sees them. The Levites, when they responded to Moses’ call, became conspicuous as they stepped over the line, confessing that they were willing to be on the Lord’s side.
Being on the Lord’s side means siding with the minority. The people of God in the Bible were always fewer than those who opposed Him. He has always worked through minorities. And we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we are, or were living in a “Christian country.” Christian disciples, those who really are on the Lord’s side, have always been in the minority.
This means that we should be willing to stand alone if need be, yet not alone, but rather, with Him!
And then we need to become engaged in the battle for truth. Christianity is not a passive religion. It is an active, and interactive life of love, truth, faith and witness. We are to be the Church. This is not a clubhouse that we come to for weekly meetings.
The Greek word for Church is “Ekklesia”. It means quite literally, “called out ones.” When we take the initiative in taking one pace forward in response to the question, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” we do so understanding that we are being called into Christian ministry and action, which comes in all kinds of different shapes and sizes. God will equip you when you respond in faith, because you don’t do this alone, but you do need to respond.
The Church is God’s chosen and called vessel to take the message of hope into the world. The hope that the hopeless need is the hope that their golden calves cannot offer them. There is so much emptiness and false hope out there, but we have the answers to all of those questions and so much more.
One of the costs of being on the Lord’s side is obedience to the Great Commission, to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
So, in keeping with our military analogy, just how do we volunteer and enlist on the Lord’s side?
Firstly, we need to accept the invitation given to us. Moses said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” In those days, Moses fulfilled the role of the priest. He represented the people to God, and God to the people. Today, we have Jesus, our great high priest, who makes the same call. Jesus asks each of us today, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” And in John 14:6 He tells us what the condition of enlisting on the Lord’s side is: “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
As Moses was God’s representative, so now Jesus is God’s representative. We have to accept the invitation through Jesus.
Secondly, we need to answer the invitation and challenge to be on the Lord’s side.
Look carefully at how Moses asks the question, and his very next statement: “Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come to me.”
It was a general question, posed to the entire Israelite nation, but the response was to be personal, and nothing has changed since then. You cannot believe on behalf of someone else, and neither can their belief and faith in Christ save you.
Although the entire Levite tribe accepted the invitation and answered the challenge, each man had to decide for himself after weighing the pros and cons of standing on the side of God.
You alone can answer the challenge for yourself. Your parents can guide and advise you, and you can guide and advise your children when your turn comes, but the choice to take a stand for Jesus has always been a personal one.
And the third crucial step in deciding to take the Lord’s side is to receive the Saviour. Moses was the Old Testament saviour or deliverer of God’s people from the bondage to slavery in Egypt. He was a picture of what was to come in Christ, as Jesus frees us from our bondage to sin.
In Exodus 32:23, after the episode of the golden calf, 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.” In order to understand the implications of the word atonement, it helps to break it down to at-one-ment. Just as Moses pleaded with God to make atonement for the Israelites, so the death of Jesus brings atonement (At-one-ment.)
Jesus made the atonement between sinful man and a holy God when He died on Calvary’s cross. 1 Peter 3:18 says, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”
When you are in Christ, and Christ is in you by His Spirit, you are standing on the side of truth. You have responded to the ancient question, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” with a resounding “yes.”
Remember, that there are no grey areas when it comes to a life of faith. Jesus said in Luke 11:23, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.”
Before we close, I’d like to ask a rhetorical question: Have you chosen to be on the Lord’s side, but instead of stepping out in faith into the battle you’ve found yourself cowering in the trenches looking for cover, or have even deserted your post? Remember that the God we love and serve is a God of grace and mercy. He died for our sin, and included in that are the empty promises we make to Him, but it is never too late to re-enlist, so to speak. Peter denied three times even knowing Jesus. He lied. But Peter received grace and mercy, and did great things for God in the days of the early Church.
God understands your weakness and your struggles. He understands them far better than you do. Come to the Table this morning, and choose once more to be on the Lord’s side. It is only in and through Jesus that your life will have any real meaning and purpose.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Exodus 32:19-26
In verse 21 (and again in 30 and 31) Moses refers to the idolatry of the people as a “great sin.”
We have heard many times that in God’s eyes there are no “big or little” sins, so why is this particular sin of the people singled out?
In which ways do we commit “great sins” against God today?
“Who is on the Lord’s side?” is one of the great and timeless questions in the Bible. It is a question we are each called to answer for ourselves.
As Christians we know what our answer should be, but we all struggle with our weaknesses, temptation and sin.
How have you struggled to remain on the Lord’s side, and how has your faith in God grown through these times?
Read Luke 14:25-35
The term “carrying your cross” has lost much of its true meaning.
For many people, it is used to describe a particular burden or struggle in life, but seeing a person carrying a cross in the 1st century had a completely different meaning.
Discuss what it means to count the cost of discipleship of Jesus.
What does the Bible mean when it says we should die to self?