And Moses said to Aaron, "What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?" And Aaron said, "Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, 'Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' So I said to them, 'Let any who have gold take it off.' So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf." - Exodus 32: 21-24 (ESV)
When we left our story Moses had returned to the camp and discovered the idolatry God had spoken about when they were on the mountain together. In his anger, he smashed the tablets carrying the Word of God at the foot of the mountain. He destroyed them as much as the people had destroyed them through their contempt for the God who had delivered and saved them from so much. He ground up the golden calf into dust and scattered it on the water; making the people drink their own rebellion. When we rebel against the Word of God we too can expect to drink from the cup we pour. As we turn back to the story and the key verses for today we see Moses now turn his attention to who he left in charge of this debacle.
And Moses said to Aaron, "What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?"
In literary terms, this is what is known as a rhetorical question. The definition of a rhetorical question is "a figure of speech in the form of a question that is asked in order to make a point, rather than to elicit an answer." Moses is not truly seeking an answer to this question because there is no justifiable answer. There is nothing sheep can do to warrant a shepherd abusing them. Nothing sheep can do to warrant leading them astray. There is a reason why God says those in preaching and teaching callings will be judged by a higher standard. This is a vital point for those who seek the leadership mantle in contemporary Christianity. This is not a game to God:
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. - 1Timothy 4: 16 (NIV)
Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you.For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.- Acts 20: 26-27 (NIV)
The first verse here is instruction from Paul to his protege Timothy. It is an instruction for leaders today. There are only two things we must guard diligently. Our life and our doctrine. I cite this verse because it reminds us what is at stake. The salvation of those who listen to our preaching and teaching! The eternal destination of the souls of men hang in the very balance every time we take to the pulpit and we are going to waste that opportunity prattling on about purpose, relevance or some other nugget of human wisdom? We are going to take the one chance someone might be able to hear the life changing Gospel of Jesus Christ and instead tell them how great they are? Or how much God loves them? Or what a great plan God has for their life? Seriously? He does have a great plan for this life and that is to grant eternal life. He does love them but speaking about God's love in worldly terms, omitting the cross, is like handing a customer the menu at a fancy restaurant and telling them the kitchen is closed. Their life is on the line. Not this temporal passing vapor but the eternal life that awaits us all in either glory or suffering. The second set of verses here really brings home the point for wannabe leaders. This is Paul saying goodbye to the elders at Ephesus. He declares he is innocent of their blood. Why? Because he did not hesitate to give them all SHAPE applications and plug them into ministries? Because he did not hesitate to attend all the posh leadership conferences and church planting seminars? Because he did not hesitate to preach a seven part series on improving our significance in our communities? No. because he did not hesitate to proclaim to them the whole will of God. Not just the warm fuzzy parts. Not just the feel good seeker friendly parts. The whole will of God. This should be a sobering reminder to leaders that the blood of those we minister to not only hangs in the balance for them but for us as well. God will hold leaders to account for every sheep entrusted to them. Not just the ones that said amen. Not just the ones that they got along with. Not just the ones who agreed. There is a teaching within the purpose driven church movement called blessed subtraction. This says that it is OK to show sheep the door to the sheep pen and let them leave. To even facilitate their leaving. That should be anathema to us as Christians; let alone people who fancy themselves as Christian leaders. Rick Warren boasts this teaching and it is simple unbiblical and un-Christlike. Those sheep we let wander off will still be accounted for by God. He leaves the 99 to pursue that one sheep. Don't we ever forget it.
Back to Exodus, the question posed by Moses shows that it was the responsibility of Aaron to prevent the people from falling into sin. Not encourage it. Not facilitate it. When the people clamored for a god of their own crafting it was not the job of Aaron to give them what they wanted. It was his job to give them what they needed. It was his job to remind them of the one true God. To make matters even worse, Aaron blames the sheep!
And Aaron said, "Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, 'Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.'
Everything Aaron says here is true but it is non-responsive to the rhetorical question posed by Moses. The reality is that every day we have people asking for their own golden calf to be made for them. They seek it out. If they want to hear every Sunday how much god wants to bless their socks off they may seek the Osteen golden calf. Where every day is a Friday and this is your best life now. It better be your best life now because without the true Gospel, the next life will not be so "best." If people want assurance that their sin is acceptable and they have a blank check to do whatever they want they may seek the Joseph Prince golden calf where you are destined to reign and have unmerited favor from god. If people are wanting a quid pro quo monetary exchange they can seek the Robert Morris golden calf or any number of false prosperity preachers. They can gather every Sunday and dance around these golden calves thinking they are serving God but in the end it is merely an idol they have created because they have quickly turned from what God has actually commanded. None of this should be surprising since God has warned us clearly about this:
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. - 2Timothy 4: 3-5 (NIV)
People are no longer putting up with sound doctrine. The mere mention of it draws sneers of derision and accusations of legalism or division. Despite the fact that the Bible teaches us that it is false doctrine that causes true division in the body of Christ. Unity is never for the sake of unity. It is always unity in doctrine. Yet look at these verses from Paul to Timothy. To suit their desire to turn a blind eye to their sin, people will gather around them teachers like Joseph Prince. To suit their desire to improve their temporal life without any real sacrifice, people will gather around them teachers like Joel Osteen. To suit their desire to be entertained they will gather around them seeker friendly preachers from churches across this land beloved. Their itching ears will be scratched and they will think they have done their Christian duty. They will even think they are saved when they are not. They will turn aside to myths. Fairy tales. The myth of earthly prosperity being a sign of God's blessings. The myth of experiential Christianity that discards sound doctrine for emotionalism and carnality. The myth that God always wants to heal you. The myth that God is a cosmic busboy and ATM. The myth that God is never angry with us. The myth that sin does not matter anymore. Whatever myth it is that we seek there is always someone willing to craft that golden calf for us. Paul Washer once famously quipped that he does not blame Joel Osteen because he only gives what the people want. He is the judgment of God upon those willing to sit through his messages and think it has anything to with Christ. Too harsh you say? I am not here to parse words because blood is on the line. Despite what you hear in diabetic sermons across this land the Gospel is meant to offend. It is meant to divide.
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.For I have come to turn "'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' - Matthew 10: 34-36 (NIV)
If it is unloving to warn people of the impending judgment that is coming then write me down as unloving. It is not my job to give people what they want but rather what they need. That was the job Aaron had when the people came to him clamoring for a false god. We see his compromise play out across Christendom today as leader after leader not only gives the people what they want but actually runs focus groups and community surveys to find out what they want so they can give it to them! For the millionth time - preach the Gospel. Do not craft golden calves for the people you have been charged with. They key verses conclude:
So I said to them, 'Let any who have gold take it off.' So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf."