23rd May, 1999

  Discovering the Character of God
  Exodus 34:1-10

God had revealed Himself to Moses through the burning bush in the wilderness. Then again on the top of Mt Sinai when He gave Moses the Ten Commandments and established the Covenant with the Hebrews. But what kind of a God was this who was dealing with Moses? The ancient gods of Egypt were worshipped but they did not reveal their character and nature. The gods of the wilderness, worshipped as bulls, calves, and totem poles never revealed their character.

But the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was a God who revealed Himself, His nature, purpose, motivation, and character. But first Moses had to make good the damage he had done when he had smashed the two stones to the ground when he had come down from the mountain and had seen the Hebrews worshipping the Golden Calf.

Exodus 34:1. The LORD said to Moses, "Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. 2 Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. 3 No one is to come with you or be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain." 4 So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the LORD had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands."

Since Moses had broken the former tablets 32:19 which "were the work of God" 16, it was appropriate that he "chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones".

God was revealing his nature and character to Moses. But what of us? We have no mountaintop, no tables of stone, and no divine appearance. Is it possible for us to understand the character of God? If we have no revelation, can we know God's character from experience? It is important to stop along the way we have travelled and share our observations, for from our experience we can discover the character of God. On this day when we celebrate nearly 200 years of history as a congregation of the people of God, what is our experience of God's character?



This was the first thing that Moses understood. 5"Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed His name, the LORD." Then the Lord "passed in front of Moses". 6The Lord's self-disclosure is prefaced by the repetition of his name: "The LORD, the LORD" repeated perhaps to emphasize His unchangeableness. What God was doing for Moses, was making Him think about what he knew of God, of how had treated him over the past years and in the slow revealing of His nature.

Moses could easily have thought of God's power in the way the amazing miracles occurred when Moses faced Pharaoh and said that the Lord demanded of Pharaoh that he let the Hebrews go from slavery. One plague followed another. That amazed Moses and confounded Pharaoh. Surely God's almighty power was the first attribute of God's character.

But the character of God is more than His power. Behind power lies grace, God's essential goodness. This God was not a God of evil to be feared, but a God of goodness to be loved. These verses 6-7 are essentially repeated over and over in the Old Testament. Num 14:18; 2 Chron 30:9; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 112:4; 116:5; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jon 4:2; Nah 1:3. In response to Moses' request to see God's "glory," God said that He would "cause all His goodness to pass" before Moses. 33:19 By His "goodness" is meant His whole character and nature, His grace.

We have worshipped God's grace and goodness as the first and primary response to the Lord. From 1812 when some farmers, freed convicts and soldiers gathered in a house in the area now under the approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, there has never been a Sunday in war or peace, in times of affluence and depression, during building and rebuilding, and in the times of both Sir Alan Walker and myself, during times when the Lyceum Hall was ravaged by fire, there has never been a Sunday when our people have not gathered and sang the praises of His grace.

"Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!"


Moses discovered that. "And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, 6 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin." The name of God includes his nature, character, person Ps 20:1; Lk 24:47 John 1:12 doctrine Ps 22:22; John 17:6, 26 and what He expects of our standards of living Mic 4:5.

His name includes His "mercy", that is, His "grace" and His "compassion", that is His deep-seated feelings for us. We see His compassion and grace, His love, mercy and forgiveness most clearly in the coming of Jesus among us. The life of Jesus, His teaching, care for people, death on the Cross for the sins of the world, and His resurrection and ascension all demonstrate God's great compassion. The person of Jesus has dominated our preaching and teaching. Jesus Christ has been the centre and focal point of all our preaching for He best demonstrates the compassion of God. For one hundred years we have sung:

"O Love of God, how strong and true,
Eternal and yet ever new,
Uncomprehended and unbought,
Beyond all knowledge and all thought.
We read you best in Him who came
To bear for us the Cross of shame,
Sent by the Father from on high,
Our Life to live, our death to die.
Eternal love, in you we rest,
For ever safe, for ever blest."
Horatius Bonar.


Yet God's compassion is balanced by His justice. As Moses heard: 7 "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." 8 Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. 9 "O Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes," he said, "then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance."

We know God's justice. Hence we preach sin. The "gracious God" bestows his unmerited favor on those who have no claim whatsoever on it. He is "slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin." Yet His grace "does not leave the guilty unpunished." The other side of our merciful and loving God is His justice and righteousness.

We speak boldly on social issues and matters of justice. We are committed to social welfare, but also to social reform. The focus of the current Drug Summit has been on making it easier, cheaper, cleaner, healthier, for people to continue to inject drugs. These people have compassion but it is a foolish compassion. It does not take into account the impact of drugs on the lives of people injecting them, their families and the community at large. Continuous use of drugs, no matter how easy, cheap, clean, disease free... will still lead to death. Major Brian Watters is quite right when he states, however much people do not want to think of end consequences: "The wages of sin is death". God allows people to behave how they like. But it must be understood that all wrong behaviour has a price that is ultimately paid. A person may think they are getting away with it, but in the end, justice is done. "The mills of God grind slow, but they grind exceeding small."

Those who think they can make a wrong act easier, more comfortable, and more acceptable, have been fooled. God is a God of justice as well as mercy. We rejoice to see people changing their lives, being rehabilitated, being forgiven and finding new life.


For nearly 200 years, our work has continued to grow. God has been faithful throughout all this time. We have undertaken during this past twenty years of my ministry hundreds of millions of dollars of buildings in order to do the work of ministry. No church in the world has spent so much on new buildings as we have. There is no church in the United States, for example, that has over 2,200 paid staff. How can we possibly afford all this? It is solely what I was taught when I accepted the call to be the next Superintendent in 1977: "You will find that this ministry sees on a daily basis the miracle of money. God's work, done in His name, never lacks God's supplies!" Over all the years, God has been faithful, and enabled us to accomplish great works. We are a people of commitment, personal discipline, obedience to the Word, proclaiming the Gospel and serving those who cannot repay. We pray for God's provision, and He is always faithful.

Moses heard God say 10 "I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you." The revelation of God's person and character humbles us as it did Moses. The knowledge of God's character caused him to once more plead for God's grace to be given to his people, stiff-necked and wicked though they be. V9 That is why we have taught the scriptures in classes, groups and the pulpit for 187 years. For in them we find God's faithfulness to His people and this is an encouragement to us in our day as we do His will.

Every football team has its own song. Every college has its own motto. In 1884, Rev William George Taylor, the then young Superintendent who brought remarkable new life to our ministry, discovered at the end of his first sermon, a slogan for our ministry. It was a wonderful service with many commitments to Jesus Christ, and a new breath of spirit into the old work. It came to him in a flash. The sentence was "A Living Christ For A Dying World." That sentence is inscribed beneath the memorial window to Rev Taylor in Wesley Church, just over our large baptistry.

That motto has guided our work ever since. It has been the pole star of our ministry. We believe this is a dying world. The deliberations of the Drug Summit this week have indicated that is true for so many people. But there are also those people who never take drugs who are just as lost and just as part of this dying world. Many sitting in the Summit themselves, who do not know God, also may not know they are part of a dying world. For those who find Christ as a living Saviour, find in Him a life that is abundant, free and eternal. For in Christ they have discovered the character of God, our God the Lord who is gracious, compassionate, just and faithful. Her forgives us our sins, and does wonders before our eyes. Such is the Lord God, who requires us only to believe, and trust and obey. His love calls from us a response of love that wants to follow His will with all our being. Will you now give your life to Christ? When you accept Him as Lord and Saviour, you discover the wonderful character of God who loved you so much as to give His only Son to be your Saviour. What a wonderful God, so full of grace, compassion, justice, faithfulness.

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes

Send an e-mail to Gordon Moyes - gkmoyes@wesleymission.org.au

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