Evening fell in the desert. Moses was on Mount Sinai, speaking face to face with Jehovah. Down in the valley, his brother Aaron had made a golden calf for the Israelites to worship. They all “sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6).* Suddenly God told Moses, “Go down! Your people … have corrupted themselves” (32:7). When Moses “saw the calf and the dancing,” he became angry and broke the stone tablets (32:19). Then he ground the golden calf into power, mixed it with water, and made the Israelites drink it (32:20).
One would think that Moses, like God, would wash his hands of the Israelites. Faithless, they had grumbled and complained from the moment they’d left Egypt. And now they had added idolatry to their sins. Yet Moses told them, “I will go up to the Lord. Perhaps I can make atonement for your sin” (Exodus 32:30). When he entered God’s presence, Moses confessed, “These people have committed a great sin and have made for themselves a god of gold!” (32:31) Then he said the unthinkable: “If you will forgive their sin – but if not, I pray, blot me out of your book which you have written” (32:32).
Moses was a devout, humble man. He saw and spoke with God. Unlike the Israelites, Moses also did what he was told. He wanted to enter the Promised Land too. When later told that he couldn’t, having been provoked by the Israelites, Moses pleaded with God for forgiveness and found none. Yet here he was telling God, “If you don’t forgive these faithless, thankless, and idolatrous people, then blot me out of your book.” In other words, Moses said, “Don’t forgive my sins and don’t remember my name. Let me go to hell in their stead.”
Who would offer to do such a thing for sinners? Who would do it for saints? The apostle Paul was right. “Scarcely for a righteous man will one die, yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die” (Romans 5:7). Sadly, the Israelites weren’t even good. But in the eternal sense, Moses was willing to die for them anyway.
Paul understood. He offered to do the same thing for unbelieving Jews. They had refused to accept Jesus Christ as their Messiah and had handed him over to the Romans to be crucified. After Pentecost, the Jews had harassed the church “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). They’d threatened to kill Paul from the moment he was converted in Damascus. Much of the torture he endured from Gentiles was instigated by these Jews. They later mobbed and beat Paul in Jerusalem, leading to his arrest by the Romans. After Paul gave his testimony, they cried, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!” (22:22) Yet Paul told Gentile believers in Rome, “I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3). Their unbelief had produced “great sorrow and continual grief in [his] heart” (9:2).
Paul instructed the church in Corinth and Philippi to keep their eyes on the prize, just as he was doing (Philippians 3:12-14, 1 Corinthians 9:23-27). He disciplined himself so he wouldn’t be an eternal castaway (9:27). Yet here was Paul telling the Romans that he was willing to be cut off from Jesus Christ and heaven for all eternity for the sake of violent, unbelieving Jews.
Who would offer to do such a thing for sinners? Moses and Paul were more than willing. They didn’t go through with it, but someone else did. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus, the pure and holy Son of God, died a painful and publicly humiliating death on a cross for sinners. He died for unbelievers, idolaters, fornicators, liars, thieves, and murderers – everyone from Adam and Eve to ourselves and our neighbors. Jesus was cut off from the Father for the sake of these sinful wretches for six hours (Matthew 27:46). He could have called “twelve legions of angels” to rescue him, but Jesus refused to save himself (26:53, 27:40-43).
We love to instruct fellow believers in showing more compassion for sinners. We want others to meet their physical and spiritual needs, just like we claim we ourselves do. But this is where we stop. We won’t give up a minute in heaven for them. I think our selfish, hard-hearted selves would almost rather enter heaven alone than take a single sinner with us. So hearing believers say no to Jesus Christ and heaven for the sake of sinners must astound us.
“God, if you don’t forgive ___, then blot me out of your book.” “God, I wish I were accursed from Jesus for ___.” Until we can pray such prayers for lost family members, friends, and even enemies, we haven’t begun to love them. We haven’t begun to learn the heart of God either. Where are the believers today who are willing to “go to hell” for the lost?
* All Scripture verses are NKJV, unless otherwise noted.