Many things happened on the day Yahweh stood atop a mountain named Sinai. A thick cloud dressed this desert crag in the color of goth. Thunder bellowed from deep within the blackened mist. Jagged arrows of lightning hissed through the sky. Suddenly, the sound of a trumpet blasted through the air, blasted through the ears of the Israelites, and set their hearts to quivering like dead leaves in an autumn wind. I imagine some of them wished they’d have brought a change of underwear. They were so petrified when God began to speak that they pleaded with Moses to ask God not to utter another syllable.
Many things happened on the day God stood and spoke atop Sinai. The Israelites shook in their boots, yes. They fell on their faces, yes. They begged God to stop speaking, yes.
But one thing did not happen: no one doubted that this was God.
Fast forward several generations. Once again the Israelites are at a mountain, only now there are a dozen of them, minus one. The eleven followers of Jesus are in Galilee, at the mountain where Jesus has sent them for one final rendezvous. These men know Jesus. They’ve seen him heal the nastiest of diseases, sat at his feet while he wowed everyone with his wisdom, even eaten some fish with him after his resurrection. Yet on this climactic day, as he prepares to ascend back into heaven, when they approach him atop this mountain, what happens? Matthew sums it up in six words: “They worshipped him, but some doubted,” (28:17).
At Sinai, they worshiped Yahweh, but no one doubted.
On this mountain, they worshiped Jesus, but some doubted.
And in these two instances, we see how we ourselves react to different sides of God.
When we are conceived, Sinai is born within us. The law is inscribed in our hearts as sure as the Ten Commandments were chiseled onto dual chunks of stone. We may deny it. We may bulldoze the law beneath several feet of dirty excuses. But it’s still there. The should and shouldn’ts, must and mustn’ts, shalts and shalt nots are as much a part of our DNA as hair and eye color. We all know and believe the law. Our conscience hears that internal word of accusation and direction every day. It is thunder and lightning and trumpet blasts in our souls. It is inescapable and undeniable. Lie though we may about it, no one truly doubts when it comes to the law.
But on the mountain in Galilee, where we encounter a very different side of God, doubts overtake us. Why?
Because the Lord we encounter here seems too good to be true. All our lives we are warned that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Yet there stands God, in the flesh, offering everything to us with the bill, and even the tip, already paid in full. He doesn’t say, “Do this and I will take care of you.” He doesn’t say, “Love me and I will love you.” There is no deal to be hammered out, no T’s to cross or I’s to dot. He simply stands there, the love of God incarnate, claiming us as his own.
When we are conceived, the Gospel is not born within us. There is no Good News written on our hearts. It is a message that comes from outside us. Not in a thunderous boom, not in a trumpet blast, but in the still, small, weak voice of a dying God upon the cross, who says, “Father, forgive them.”
Forgive them for shattering every commandment that I have ever uttered.
Forgive them for treating each other with such meanness and spite.
Forgive them for making excuses for their loveless words and actions.
Forgive them for fashioning idols of every good gift we have given them.
Forgive them even for hammering these spikes and thorns into my body.
Father, forgive them for doubting, not believing, even denying our existence.
And he does. He does forgive for his Son on that cross bulldozes Sinai. “All the commandments of God are kept, when what is not kept, is forgiven,” (Augustine). The law that God demanded of us, he now demands of himself. And the punishments that God decreed for those who break it, now break out upon his own body. The law giver becomes the law keeper. The Judge becomes the criminal. And us? We do nothing but witness the audacious act of a God who pays the very price he had demanded of us.
We worship this God, but some doubt. Yet even that doubt is covered at Calvary. This Jesus is a God that is easy to doubt because he is a God who tells us what we find so hard to believe: he loves us who are so good at being unlovable, that he will go on loving us despite our ongoing failures.
O Lord, we believe, help thou our unbelief. Flood the fires, or even the glowing embers of our doubt, with the waves of your grace.