The Unchanging GodErwin W. Lutzer | November 8, 2015
Selected highlights from this sermon
God is unchangeable. But why does it seem like something changed between the Old and New Testaments? God didn’t change, but His administration did.
We no longer observe all the penalties that were prescribed for Israel, but this doesn’t mean that God has grown lenient. The thunderous God of Sinai will still judge sin, and in order to escape His wrath, we need the grace that was shown at Calvary.
Last night I spoke to a woman. She and her husband had to leave the Chicago area to move to another city, and she told me that when they were looking for a church there throughout the first few months after they left she went to various churches and she said she cried through every service. And the reason she said was, “We were looking for another Moody Church.” Well, there are many fine churches out there, but when I listen to the music we’ve just listened to and the God-honoring way in which God is worshipped, let me say this. There is no church like Moody Church. Alright? (applause) Of course there are other good churches, but when you leave, go on a search. See if you can find another Moody Church. If you do, tell us about it. Okay? (chuckles)
My topic today is the unchanging God. “I am the Lord; I change not,” God said through the voice of Malachi, the prophet. When we study God, we are talking about the most lofty deep subject imaginable. Spurgeon said that we cannot plumb its depths. Our eagle eyes cannot see its heights. We are awestruck in the presence of God.
The Huffington Post said that there are some words that are overused. They are used for all kinds of things and they become common. If I remember it correctly, the one that they said was most overused and most common was the word awesome. Everything is awesome. I suggest that we keep the word awesome for God, and we leave it there. The hamburger that you had at Five Guys might be good; it might even be great, but it’s not awesome. The Chicago Cubs have many good players. They may even have some great players, but they are not awesome, and they have proved that over a period of more than a hundred years. (laughter) Let’s reserve the word awesome for God. He is awesome! Praise be to His name!
You know I’m preaching this series on the mysteries of God for a number of reasons. First, it’s that we might be appropriately humbled and worship God with more enthusiasm and more joy and more understanding. The other reason is that we might seek Him, and the way in which we seek Him is through the Scriptures.
I’ve decided that in the next six weeks I am going to reread the entire New Testament, so I’ve begun this week on the book of Matthew. That’s the way in which we are constantly being washed by the Word, and challenged by the Word. “Beyond the sacred page I see Thee, God.” So I hope that you are involved in the Scriptures and in constant reading.
And then something else, and that is that we want to indeed understand His promises so that we can trust Him better. J. I. Packer, in his book, Knowing God, tells the story of a theologian who visualized things this way. As we think of Christianity he says that there is a path along which people are walking. The people are weary. They are tired. They have various options. But above the path there are people sitting on a hotel balcony, and they are able to communicate with those who walk beneath them, but the folks who are sitting up there in the balcony are having theoretical discussions, and today this is an illustration to all those of you who are in our balcony. I just want you to know that you are eminently welcome, but the point is that these people are saying, “Is it possible for God to exist in three persons?” and “How is one God in three persons?” And we talked about that in one of these messages. And “Did God die on the cross?”
It’s all theoretical. But for the people who are walking along the journey, these things aren’t theoretical. They are very, very practical because what they’re wondering is, “Is anybody going to guide us along the road of life?” And then when they get to the end, “Will anyone be there for me?” That’s the question.
So I want us to know that even though we are discussing this theologically and somewhat academically, at the end of the day, join me because we are on a journey. Some of you have great heartaches. Some of you have great worries. Many of you are going through financial needs and you are in the midst of health issues and family issues and they are so overwhelming. Join us today. We’re on the journey, and we intend that these academic comments that are made at the beginning of the service really come down ultimately to how is it on the trail of life?
Well today it is the immutability of God. That means that God is unchangeable. “I am the Lord. I change not.” I’m going to deal with an issue though that most textbooks don’t deal with. I read a couple of essays on the immutability of God, and none of them touched really on what I’m going to speak about, because when you think about the unchangeability of God, don’t you ask yourself a question like this? Why the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament? In the Old Testament, you know, you got stoned to death for heresy, for sexual sins or for working on the Sabbath. In the New Testament there are no such penalties. It’s all grace. Come! You’re struggling? Well everybody is struggling. Come! You’re welcome!
Some theologians have actually said, “Look, there are two Gods. There’s the God of the Old Testament, the God of law and judgment. There’s the God of the New Testament, the God of grace. “Come,” said Jesus. Is that really true? We’re going to have to deal with that and along with that comes the question, “Is it safer to sin today because we’re under grace? We’re not going to get stoned because we live an immoral life.” And for you young people, when I speak about being stoned, I actually mean you have rocks thrown at you, just to clarify that for the younger generation. (laughter) You don’t have to worry about that. We can do whatever we like and God’s grace covers it. That’s God’s work. That’s His job – to be gracious.
How do we reconcile that? Well, what we are going to do is we are going to reconcile that. To begin with, before we turn to a very key passage, I want to talk with you about God and His unchangeability. First of all, His nature is unchanged – His essence. Can we use that Word? Hebrews 1:10 says: “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” There is no shadow of turning with God. Of course, His nature doesn’t change. We change. We change in our minds and we change in our body. God is unchangeable.
Let me ask you a question. If God were to change would He change for the better? Well, that’s unthinkable because He’s a perfect being. Would He change for the worse? Thankfully that’s unthinkable. Of course, He doesn’t change. “From eternity to eternity Thou art God.”
So God is unchangeable. All of His attributes are unchanged – omniscience, knowing all things, all-powerful. His wisdom that we sang about this morning – totally unchanged. He’s never had to change any plans. He never decided to do one thing and then discovered it was wrong and had to redo things. One time I went to a hospital to visit someone and he already had been discharged. And God never has those kinds of problems. He knows all things. God’s nature remains unchanged – His attributes.
Secondly, His truth doesn’t change. It says in Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God shall stand forever.” It’s unthinkable that somehow God’s standards have changed. Well, what else has not changed is His morality – His standards. They haven’t changed. You know, some time ago (it was actually quite recent) I saw on the news a young woman (and I assume she was a Christian, and I don’t remember her name, and I don’t know who she was) who was arguing in favor of same-sex relationships, and she said this: “We don’t have to go back to the Old Testament because, you know, the Old Testament told us that we couldn’t eat crabmeat, and it had all those laws about what you could eat, and what you can’t, and we certainly don’t do that anymore so we can just take that Old Testament and we can just pitch it there and put it there, but it has no bearing on us today.” Well, one of the things she needed to know is that throughout history for centuries the Christian church has always divided the Old Testament into three categories.
First of all, there are the civil laws. Those civil laws have to do with human relationships. You know, what should you do if a cow that belongs to your neighbor comes onto your pasture, and so forth? All kinds of laws! Those don’t apply to us today, and for reasons that will become clearer. We’re in a new age, with new laws, and so there are those civil laws. There are also ceremonial laws. Bring this sacrifice. If you commit this sin, bring that. All that, of course, disappeared thankfully with the coming of Jesus Christ who abolished all of those things and became the fulfillment of all the sacrifices.
But there is the moral law, and I submit to you today that God has not changed His opinion about the moral law. As a matter of fact, Jesus in The Sermon on the Mount actually deepens it. Before, if you committed adultery that was one thing, and Jesus said that even to look at a woman lustfully is to do that. Wow! Now suddenly we’re confronted with our own heart and not just our actions. And if you hate your brother, you are basically a murderer. Think of that and think of the implications. And so the moral law is still intact, and virtually all of the commands of the Ten Commandments are repeated in different ways in the New Testament except for the Sabbath Day. That was a special category, but the point is that God has not changed His standard.
Well, then, why the difference in punishment? Well, God’s administration has changed. Now I’m going to take you to a passage of Scripture that really, the more I think about it (It’s been in the back of my mind now for some time.), almost blows you away both regarding the Law and regarding grace, and the relationship between the two. I hope that you love this passage of Scripture as much as I do. It’s found in Hebrews 12.
All Bibles open now! I want you to see the text. Seeing the text is very important. The context of the twelfth chapter where I’m going to begin to read has to do with Esau. Esau was a profane man who sold his birthright. You remember that story. Have you ever noticed, parents, how you can have two children (in this case twins: Jacob and Esau) and one goes in one direction and the other goes the other? Rebecca and I even marvel at how different our three daughters are. They are different in aptitude, different in gifting, and we see that in the case of Jacob and Esau.
Alright, that’s the context. Now we are in verse 18 and I take this almost as we come to Hebrews 12 from here to the end, basically the end of the book of Hebrews. To me it is the summary argument of the whole book.
“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’” That’s the mountain called Sinai. There are two mountains in this passage. That’s Sinai.
Could I read just the original version of what happened there from the book of Exodus? “On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. And God told Moses, ‘Tell those people to back up. Stay away. If a beast touches the mountain don’t you dare touch that beast. Shoot it with an arrow or kill it with stones because God is coming.’” Wow!
Can you imagine some enlightened “New Ager” standing there and saying, “I think I can come to God in my own way?” There are multiple paths to God.” Oh yeah? You’d better come in His way. You know, you say, “I don’t like this God.” Ah, it’s not what you like. It’s reality of what is, and there is God. God, here, comes without atonement, basically without a mediator, and here He is. “Stay away! God has come!”
And He’s just as holy as He ever was when He descended in the Shekinah Glory on Mount Sinai. “I am the Lord. I change not.” It should take our breath away if we’re thinking about this, but the passage isn’t over.
Now we come to Mount Zion. Listen to this with all Bibles open. I’m in verse 22 of Hebrews 12: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” I want to give some context to this. It is as if the writer is saying that when you come to Mount Zion (Zion is a poetic name for Jerusalem) all of heaven is open to you. What a mind-expanding concept to those of us who have come to trust Christ as Savior! Now let’s listen.
You’ll notice that “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” You can’t even imagine the contrast between the mountains. Old Testament: Stay away or you’ll be incinerated! New Testament: Come! Come all the way into heaven! And he lists six various descriptions of what we come to.
We come to the heavenly Jerusalem, Mount Zion, the city of the living God. We come to millions of angels in festal gathering. Do you realize that when we sang those marvelous hymns of worship today that angels indeed were almost certainly among us, thanking God for our worship and extending their own worship to God? We come to myriads of angels, when we come to Christ, who rejoice with us in our worship of the living God. We come to the church, to the assembly whose names are in heaven enrolled. I think my text says enrolled in heaven.
If you are a believer here today and you’ve had a hard week, can you just stop for a moment and rejoice in the fact that your name is enrolled in heaven? I was talking to somebody the other day who is enrolling in various colleges so they have their application in this one, this one and this one, in hopes that one of them accepts them. Well, it’s wonderful to be enrolled. It’s another thing to be accepted. Our names are actually written in heaven and we are enrolled in heaven. I love that terminology. Just to think in heaven your name is there! I always feel a little sorry for those whose names are Smith, because I wonder, “God, are you going to keep them all straight?” Lutzer – I mean that’s pretty easy. There aren’t a whole lot of those, but what about the Smiths? (chuckles)
One day Rebecca and I were driving with an old couple, and we were in the back seat of the car, and the woman said, “You know, we have cemetery plots here.” We were driving by a cemetery. She said, “Do you think that God will remember we’re buried there?” And they are buried there. And I assured her even at that time God will remember that you are buried there.
Your name is enrolled in heaven. We come to the judge of all. The veil of the Temple has been torn. Old Testament: stay away. The high priest comes with blood into the Holy of Holies once a year. Today: Come. The veil was ripped from top to bottom. God says, “I’m going to do this, and you come now. Come into the Holy places (plural) by the blood of Christ. Just come.”
We come to the spirits of just men or the spirits of the righteous, and that may be indeed all the dead who have died perhaps Old Testament – New Testament since the beginning of time. We come to them as well. We come to Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant. And then it says this: “To the sprinkling of blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Did you know that Abel’s blood spoke? I looked it up this morning in Genesis 4. When Cain killed Abel God comes and He says, “You know the blood of your brother is crying up to Me.” Crying up for what? For vengeance! That’s what the blood of Abel speaks about. It’s vengeance, but this is so much better. This is the sprinkling of Jesus Christ’s blood, and it symbolizes not judgment but rather welcome, forgiveness, reconciliation. “I’ve atoned for your sins.” So indeed it is a much better message than the message of Abel’s blood. And so we come.
So it’s the earthly versus the heavenly. You say, “Well, God really has lightened up.” Hang on! So let’s look at it this way, and I have to throw this in before I get to the rest of the passage. You must understand that in the Old Testament there was a theocracy. God was ruling over the nation of Israel directly. You know that’s why He would speak to His prophets and they would say, “Thus says the Lord.” I don’t believe that there are any prophets today who speak with that kind of authority, no matter how well known they are, no matter how articulate they are. Nobody speaks the “Thus sayeth the Lord” like the Old Testament prophets and then the inspired Scripture.
But the point is that there was a direct rule of God over His people. And there was no freedom of religion. Absolutely not! I mean if you were a heretic, if you followed a false God, you could be stoned as we pointed out earlier. And so there was a direct rule. Today (and I’m hurrying now to the New Testament), of course, it’s different because we don’t have a theocracy. The church of Jesus Christ is scattered throughout the whole world – the Gentile world – and as a result of that, the church has always been an island of righteousness in a sea of paganism. Therefore, you see, we do not carry over, and we have no right to, some of the penalties of the Old Testament today because we are under a different era, under a new administration, so to speak, under a new dispensation. And that’s why we don’t stone those who commit sexual sins. There may be other penalties and even if we had the authority to do so, we do not have that kind of theocratic authority today, so Jesus, when He said, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” He was instituting a new era in which He said, “You can give to Caesar his due,” and that is fine, “and you can also give to God.” You can do both, and the question of how to do both has been a point of controversy throughout the church throughout many centuries – the relationship of church and state. But the point is now we have a multinational group of people called the church scattered throughout every single country of the world, working out their own faith, and there is no theocratic nation. Not even America is a theocratic nation no matter how deeply our roots were in the soil of biblical teaching. And so we have that difference. But the question still is, is God more tolerant? That’s the question.
Now we come to a breathtaking passage of Scripture that I’m going to read to you. And then after we read it I’ll give a very brief explanation of it. But notice this. If you think that God has kind of relaxed His standards and says, “Well, let bygones be bygones. You know, we’re under grace,” oh really!
Verses 25-29: “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken — that is, things that have been made — in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe (There it is. Let awesome belong to God.), for our God is a consuming fire.” Wow!
Old Testament: you disobeyed, you were stoned! Physical, immediate judgment! New Testament: what you find is eternal future judgment. Here’s the bottom line. You can see the argument that the writer is making. The greater the grace, the greater the penalty for rejecting it. If they did not escape when they rebelled and did not serve God under Sinai, do you really think that you’ll escape when you reject the grace of Mount Zion? Are you kidding? That’s the argument. The greater the grace, the greater the judgment for refusing it.
You know, there’s a verse in Ecclesiastes that I am going to paraphrase for you. Basically it says this: “When the sentence against a crime is not carried out immediately, people feel free to do wrong.” Wouldn’t you say that throughout our nation today people feel very free to do wrong because there is no sentence that is immediately enforced or executed? So we just do what we want and the silence of God is interpreted as the indifference of God, as if God isn’t really… You know, the God of the Old Testament! Wow! The God of the New! Hey, live and let live. It doesn’t matter. Oh yes, it does matter, and the point is this: If anyone here today thinks that the God of the Old Testament is a different God than the God of the New Testament, my friend, today you have not read the book of Revelation. You should read it and then ask yourself, “Is this the same God, or is this some God who is overlooking it all?”
The good news is that when we come to Jesus, we take someone who took the wrath of God. He took the hit for us. That’s the good news of the Gospel so that’s why we are invited to come. It’s because we have a mediator. We have a new covenant of blood that shields us from God’s wrath that invites us into His presence and says, “Come boldly unto the throne of grace now, but come through the blood of Christ.” And so through Him we have access. In the end we will see that none of God’s rules have been (What shall we say?) officiated, taken care, cancelled. No! He is holy, and in this passage what He is talking about is that there is going to be a future judgment when all things that you see are going to be taken away, and only eternity is going to remain. And then He says, “In light of the fact that we have an eternal kingdom,” speaking to believers, “should we not serve God with reverence and godly fear? Should we not be willing to contribute to His work generously and joyfully, and should we not be willing to sacrifice on His behalf, given the fact that we have such a marvelous hope in God that is going to endure forever over against those who are going to experience eternal judgment?”
And speaking of eternal judgment and the justice of God, I think that that’s the next message in this series. But the point is that you just read the book of Revelation, and you will find that God has not relaxed His standards. There is something about grace that can be deceptive. We offer grace to everyone but it could give the illusion that God doesn’t care that much about sin. He cares so much about it that He sent His son to redeem us from it so that we could be in His presence forever. (applause)
A couple of things as we journey together. I told you that this is not just a theoretical discussion. This has to do with our journey along life’s path with our sandals that are broken, with dust getting into our lives, and sometimes not knowing exactly where the turns are in the road, and what road we should take. We want to know a couple of things so let me help you on your journey.
The first thing that we should learn today is that we must come to Sinai before we come to Zion. We must come to Sinai first. You see, it is at Sinai that we see the holiness of God and we see our sin. If you don’t see your sinfulness, there’s really not a whole lot of hope for you because that’s where it begins. You begin at Sinai and you see the holiness of God and your own sinfulness, and then what you do is you go to Mount Zion and you say, “I’m here to receive unfettered glorious grace, and I receive the grace of Mount Zion so that heaven opens for me and I receive an eternal kingdom.”
And you are well aware of the fact that the Bible says here that our God is a consuming fire. That’s who God is. Is He this guy who says, “Oh well, you can come to me whatever way you want and all roads lead to me?” Oh really? You’d better come the prescribed way, the way that He has prescribed.
In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress there’s the story about Christian who came to Mount Sinai and he had a heavy load of sin on his back, and it was like a bundle and he could hardly carry it. He was bent over, and then he came, figuratively speaking, to Mount Zion, and saw Jesus. And this load of sin was rolled from his back onto the shoulders of Jesus, and actually into Jesus Christ’s tomb.
Many years ago, when I was leading a tour to the sites of the Reformation in England, Rebecca and I were at Bunyan’s tomb, and how I wish that we had a picture of this (Maybe we do, but I didn’t look it up.) because on the tombstone there is a picture of Christian with his heavy burden, and you see this burden like a stone roll into the tomb of Jesus – the empty tomb. It’s a story of someone who begins at Sinai but doesn’t stay there. He comes to Mount Calvary, there to receive forgiveness, cleansing – the long reach of God’s grace.
I mentioned earlier this morning a shooter who shot a boy deliberately. He, too, can come to Christ if he wants. There is no limit to what God will do for anyone who will believe in His Son and trust His grace and His forgiveness. That’s the God that we serve. That’s the God of Mount Zion.
That’s the first lesson.
There’s a second lesson, and that is that conversion itself is an event. It isn’t a process. I mention this because this past week I was talking to my brother who witnesses to a lot of people. I have to tell you this story. He went to the table of a pastor who does not believe like we do, let’s just say. And he began to witness to him, and the pastor’s wife said, “We were having a good time until you came over and talked to us.” God bless my brother. But he said that this pastor told him, “Well, sure I’m a Christian. I was baptized as a baby and was born into God’s Kingdom.” No! There has to be a time when you personally receive Christ as Savior. It is then that you turn from darkness to light, from yourself and your sin to Christ who is able to bear it for you if you let Him.
Now, have you received Christ like that? Do you regard God as your Father? Have you trusted Christ? That’s the question. The journey from Mount Sinai to Mount Zion occurred in my heart when I was 14 years old. Has it occurred in your heart today? What’s your plan for your sin?
One time I was in a car place, you know, to get the oil changed, and I went into the waiting room. There were two waiting rooms, and in the back waiting room there was a man reading his Old Testament Bible. How do you talk to somebody who has Jewish roots? So, you know, the first thing I said to him was, “Could I ask you some questions?” He said, “Sure.” I said, “How do you deal personally with your sin?” That was not the question that he was expecting.
So there are different ways to get to the Gospel. How do you deal with your experience that takes place when you are on Mount Sinai in the presence of the Holy God? You hurry to Mount Zion.
There is a final lesson along life’s journey and that is that in this nation when everything is changing isn’t it wonderful to know that God doesn’t change?
I am the Lord; I change not.
Every good and perfect give comes down from the Father of lights for whom there is no variableness neither shadow of turning.
Isn’t it wonderful to know that He’s going to be with us at the end of the journey? Is anybody praising God for that? (applause)
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me, and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” And then he said, “My Father, who gave them to me, is greater than all, and no man can pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”
At the end of the day what we want to know is whether or not God is going to hold us fast, or whether he’s going to let us go and say, “Hey, you know, you’ve been quite a rotten scoundrel; I’m letting go of you.” Not if you are one of His sheep and you’ve come to Mount Zion! He’s there for you.
Years ago in the eighteen hundreds there was a pastor by the name of Reverend [Henry] Francis Lyte in Devonshire, England, and he was ill. It was his last Sunday at the church. He was saying goodbye very tearfully. You know, the idea of saying goodbye to a church does not strike me as an easy task, though at some point in our lives, I suppose, all of us will have to do that. (chuckles) I’m glad there was no laughing there.
He had to go to a warmer climate, and there he died, but before he did he saw the sunset and he thought of the words of the disciples along the road when they said to Jesus, “Abide with me,” so Francis Lyte wrote these words:
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see —
(If you doubt that, look in the mirror.)
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
God will be with us there at the end of the journey if we have come from Mount Sinai to Mount Zion. You come. This is the Age of Grace. Come! Come to Christ. Even as we sing, you come. You say, “Jesus, I want you to be my Savior.” And after you’ve done that, you talk to us. We’re going to have prayer partners up here, and you come and get rid of that load of sin through Jesus, our Lord.
Now, Father, help us because we are blind to our own selves. We are filled with self-justification. We are filled with indifference by nature. Overcome all that and show people Your glory.
And if you’ve never received Christ as Savior and you are listening to this by radio or by Internet, or here in this sanctuary at The Moody Church, would you at this moment say, “Jesus, I come to You; I give You my sin in exchange for Your righteousness?” Tell Him that!
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.