In the Presence of God
A sermon based on Exodus 33:12-23
Tuesday, December 31, 2013 — New Year's Eve
"Be careful what you wish for. It just might come true." There's a lot of truth in that expression. I wish I could lose a few pounds. And maybe God will grant that at the expense of hard work on my part. Or maybe an extended hospital stay will help me lose weight. I wish I had a few more dollars. And that may come by me spending less and saving more. Or a life insurance policy of one I love might give me the cash I wanted.
"Be careful what you wish for. It just might come true."
That's sound advice you or I might have given to Moses. Moses was frustrated with the job God had given to him. He was frustrated with the rebellious people who made an idol of a golden calf while he was up the mountain. He was frustrated that God had told him, "Forget it. I'm not going with you anymore. I'll send an angel, but my presence will not go with you." And Moses prayed a bold prayer to God, "Go with us or I won't go."
But then Moses took it a whole step further. It almost seemed like he was pushing his luck. When God graciously granted his request, he said, "Now show me your glory." And we may want to cry out, "No! Moses! Be careful what you wish for. It just might come true."
And it did! Moses got to see what few others have ever seen: He saw God. Well, sort of. He saw his back. But he saw God and lived! What grace God showed to Moses to grant his requests!
And what grace he's given us! As we look back over 2013, we see clearly how God has gone with us, his presence with us every step of the way. We have seen his glory! And as we look forward to 2014, we know that his presence will go with us. He will continue to give us rest.
Our text for this evening is from Exodus 33:12-23…
12 Moses said to the Lord, "You have been telling me, 'Lead these people,' but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, 'I know you by name and you have found favor with me.' 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people."
14 The Lord replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest"
15 Then Moses said to him, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?"
17 And the Lord said to Moses, "I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name."
18 Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory."
19 And the Lord said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live."
21 Then the Lord said, "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen."
I. A Look Back
I don't think I would have done it. I wouldn't have asked—no, demanded—of God, "Now show me your glory." Why not? Because I've seen Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. I've seen the Hollywood special effects of what happens when a sinner is in the presence of God and think that they weren't that far off. Indy even alluded to Exodus 33 when he gave the warning not to look when they opened the ark, because no one can look on the face of God and live.
You see, the problem with looking on the face of God is that God looks back. Would you want to look eye to eye at God with God peering into your soul? The Israelites had just been worshipping a golden calf, but Moses wasn't without sin himself. And when God told Moses to move the tent of meeting away from the Israelites so he wouldn't have to be so close to those rebellious sinners, Moses surely knew that he was a rebellious sinner himself.
Sometimes I think we want God to stay up there where he is and we'll stay down here where we are because we've spent plenty of time trying to avoid God and not get too close. "You go over there, God, while I do some more sinning." And if God should get to close we often cry out like Peter did: "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" (Luke 5:8) We know that we have sinned against God. And we know that all who have sinned fall short of the Glory of God. (Romans 6:23) So demand that God show you his glory?! Well… "Be careful what you wish for…"
And yet, Moses did get to see God's glory! And his face didn't melt away like the Nazis chasing Indiana Jones! He saw God and lived! How? Because he found favor with God. But how could that be? How could a sinner find favor with God? Remember when we encountered that phrase last week? The angel told Mary that she had found favor with God. Remember what the Greek word really meant? Charis means grace. Mary found grace with God. Likewise, here in Exodus 33 it literally says that Moses found hesed with God. Hesed is the Hebrew word for… you guessed it: grace. Moses found favor with God not because of anything he did, but because of God's grace. And so, when he looked back he saw God's back and lived.
And you and I aren't that different from Mary and Moses. Sure you may not have been visited by an angel or seen God's back. But you too have found favor with God. He knows you by name. And he's shown you his glory! Look back over 2013. You've seen the way that God has cared for you, not just in giving you food and clothing, shelter and safety, health and friends. But so much greater than the physical blessings, you've seen God's glory! Not in a cleft in a rock, but in the Word. What John wrote in John 1:14 is true of us: "We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." We have seen God's glory in his Son, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead and buried. We have seen God's glory in the empty tomb and the promise of sins forgiven. We have seen God's glory, not on a mountain top, but here, at the communion rail where we are in God's presence again tonight. And so we have found favor with God as the angels announced to the shepherds: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:14)
And so you may have still struggled financially in 2013, you may still have problems in your marriage or with the kids. And you maybe still haven't lost the pounds you resolved to lose a year ago or gotten more organized. But… you still have God's grace, his forgiveness, his rest. A look back leads us to rejoice! We've seen God's glory and we live! Give thanks to him! And in thanks to him, look forward with new resolve to make 2014 a year of spiritual growth.
II. A Look Ahead
The little boy was struggling to tie his shoes. He was growing in his independence and assured dad that he could do it by "hisself." But his little fingers couldn't get the laces to move where he wanted them to and in frustration he finally admitted, "I can't do it by myself. I need help, daddy!"
Well, Moses was smart enough to not even try to do it by "hisself." He knew the Canaanites were too powerful, his resources were too limited, the Israelites were too whiny. "I can't do it by myself," he told God, "I need help, daddy!"
"If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?"
In other words, "Just an angel won't do. We need you, God. And if you won't go with us, we won't go." And God granted it! "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest… I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name."
What will 2014 bring? We tend to think "more of the same." Until something happens. A loved one dies. A job is lost. A diagnosis is made. And some of that or all of that may happen in 2014. I don't know. But I do know this: We can't do it by ourselves. We need help, daddy! And he gives it. We don't go into the unknown future alone. God's presence will go with us. Because he is pleased with us (through Christ) and he knows us by name, because he knows the very number of hairs on our heads, because he loves us enough to live and die for us, God's presence brings us comfort, not fear. He is still Immanuel, God with us, and will be in the New Year.
And God gives us rest—not just Promised Land comfort or mere physical blessings, but true Sabbath rest, rest from sin, from guilt, from fear. So rest in the knowledge that your sins are forgiven. When you're scared to look God in the eye, he reaches out and lifts up your chin. He looks you in the face and says, "It's okay. We're okay. We're more than okay." And in that rest, get excited for 2014 and a new year of God's grace, in God's presence with the certainty that he will go with us!
And resolve to make 2014 a year of spiritual growth.
You know, Moses saw God in a burning bush. Moses did miracles by God's power. He witnessed the ten plagues. He crossed the Red Sea. And still he asks "Show me your glory, God!" Really?! What more could you ask for? But he did ask for more. Because he wasn't satisfied with what he'd seen. He always wanted more, more of God, more of his glory, more of his promises. That's a godly dissatisfaction.
And I hope and pray that God give that dissatisfaction to each of us that we're not content with what we've seen, but want more! Pray as Moses did: "God I want to see more of your glory." And know that he offers it to you in the Word! Grow in your faith in 2014! Resolve to be in worship or Bible class more! Resolve to read the Bible on your own, to work through a book or two! Resolve to improve your devotional life. Resolve to see more of God's glory!
"Be careful what you wish for. It just might come true." But don't be careful about wishing… make that praying… for God to be with you, to see more of his glory. And know that by his grace it will come true. He promises it: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9) "God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.' So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:5-6) And as you continue to look back and see how God has revealed his glory to you, you can also look forward in the New Year confident that his presence will go with you. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.