God is not a safe God (Exodus 12).
There are many aspects to who Jesus is and it’s easy to overemphasise one at the expense of another. The result can be an imbalanced, even distorted, picture of Him. Too much burning anger and destruction from the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua and you forget the amazing tenderness of the mother hen who just wants to gather her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37). Too much of baby Jesus ‘meek and mild’ and you neglect the confrontational sword-bringer (Matthew 10:34) who could be ferocious in His words (Matthew 23:13-36).
There is so much to Jesus, so much depth and such a wide variety of characteristics that it’s hard to have anything other than an incomplete picture, an imperfect grasp. Nevertheless, I think today that the church and many Christians have forgotten something of the power of God and the authority of Jesus. In leaving behind the atrocities and religiously-motivated evils of the past have we thrown the baby out with the bath water?
Sitting in many sermons and hearing many Christians talk you could be forgiven for thinking that the deity they worship is just a tame cosmic vending machine, there to provide convenient parking spaces and help keep our manicured lives nice and neat. Whether it’s the meek-and-mild portrayal in the Victorian carols that we still love, the overly soppy ‘Jesus-is-my-girlfriend’ songs, the preaching of the ‘prosperity gospel’ or the predominance of femininity in many aspects of church life, something is definitely lacking. We seem to have conjured such a safe image of a cuddly deity that I can’t help agreeing with Dorothy Sayers when she said:
“We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah [Revelation 5:5], certifying him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggested a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand.”
It’s easy to forget quite how awesome, quite how powerful, and quite how terrifying God really is.
God is not safe.
He is a holy, consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). His purity and transcendence is such that anything impure that comes near Him is destroyed. It’s only by an act of extraordinary grace that we can come near Him at all. The wonder is not that we can’t come closer to God but that we’re allowed as close as we are.
Given how much evil humanity has done for so long, and how each and every one of us has rejected Him at some stage or other, it’s amazing that He didn’t wipe us out completely long ago. It’s astonishing that He saved Noah out of the flood to start again. It’s even more incredible that He started a relationship with the nation of Israel and allowed them to dwell next to Him in spite of their sins. Most flabbergasting of all is how Jesus has made a way for us to come into direct contact with God, anywhere, all the time and with the privileges of adopted children (Romans 8:15).
Let us not forget how amazing this is, or how great those privileges are. It was not always like this. Exodus 12 takes us back to a time when things were very different. Pharaoh is holding out against God, holding on to his Hebrew slaves and the ten plagues are reaching their climax. In the midst of these momentous events Moses passes on to the Israelites the instructions he has received from God:
“Go at once and select animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and He will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.” (Exodus 12:21-23)
In these verses we are forewarned about a powerful God who is about to exercise righteous judgement. He employs a ‘destroyer’, a lethal angel, who strikes people down. The Egyptians fully deserved what was about to happen to them because they had all sinned against God, not just Pharaoh. No one was innocent in this scene, not even the Israelites. That is why they are warned not to go outside.
To go outside on this night of judgement was to invite certain death. The power of God was abroad to strike down the sinful. Since all people at that time, like now, were sinful, the distinction was not between righteous and sinners but between those covered by blood and those not. Staying indoors and obeying God’s precautionary measures the Israelites were safe. Animals died on their behalf to temporarily take away their sins. Not so the Egyptians. They were not covered – their sins were in full view of a God ready to punish.
This wasn’t a protection the Israelites could take for granted or on their own terms. The protection was based on the blood, not on their own merit or worth. Therefore as soon as they left the cover of the blood they were at risk. If any Israelite had stepped outside that night, they would have died, no less deserving of that fate than the Egyptians.
Only by making use of the protection offered to them were they safe. God was not safe back then, and He’s not safe now. No one can approach Him on their own terms. Without something to cover our sins, we’re all as good as dead. The centuries have moved on but the covering is still the same: the blood of the lamb. Only now we have the ultimate and permanent protection of Jesus, the Lamb of God. That blood is not smeared on our door posts but on our very lives. God still sees that blood and passes over, not just on one night but every night. We have unending protection from divine wrath.
But only in Jesus. Reject Jesus and you won’t benefit from that protection. When God next comes down in the final night of judgement, the covering grace of Jesus will mean the difference between eternal life and eternal damnation.
Nor is it only protection. It’s transformation. Wrath replaced with love, grievance with grace, distance with intimacy, danger with safety. This unsafe God is completely safe to those with whom He is reconciled. All these wonderful privileges go far above and beyond what the Israelites enjoyed during the original Passover. But where there is no atonement there is no safety.
So while we enjoy and flourish in this extraordinary grace, let us not forget what we’ve been saved from. Let’s not forget what things would have been like without God’s merciful intervention. You can’t appreciate what you have if you don’t contemplate the alternative.
So yes, God is love, Jesus is the lover of our souls, humility is good and gentleness should be a fruit evident in our lives, but let’s not forget the power. Let’s affirm the Almighty. Let’s have a bit more reverence, a healthy respect for the one who could justly have destroyed us but didn’t.
To take away:
Is your view of God a bit too cuddly, a bit too comfortable, or a bit too convenient? Ask God to give you a more complete and balanced picture of who He is.