************ Sermon on Exodus 33:14 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 1, 2006
Subtopic: Of God
A young Scottish seminary student was visiting an old lady who knew her Bible pretty well. I suppose he thought it was his duty to leave a text with her; so he said, before he left the room, "What a lovely promise that is, 'Lo, I am with you alway.'"
She replied, "Hoot, mon, it's no a promise; it's just a fact."
-- J. C. Ferdinand Pittman, Bible Truths Illustrated (Australia Printing & Publishing, 1917), p. 32-33.
Subtopic: Of God
Title: Where God Is
An atheist and a Christian were engaged in an intense public debate. On the blackboard behind the podium the atheist printed in large capital letters, "GOD IS NO WHERE." When the Christian rose to offer his rebuttal, he moved the "W" backwards one space so that the statement now read, "GOD IS NOW HERE."
-- Vernon Grounds, Radical Commitment. Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 7.
We are now in a new year, the year of our Lord 2006. During 2006 do we fully expect God to be here with us? During 2006 do we plan to live and walk in His presence? During 2006 will it be obvious to all that God is with us?
I The Presence of God
A In our text the LORD says to Moses, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." To understand what this means, we need to look at the phrase "My Presence" and at the word "rest."
"My Presence." The actual word in the Hebrew language is "face." So the LORD's promise to Moses is, "My Face will go with you."
In the Bible it is the face that identifies a person. Furthermore, a face reveals a person's emotions, moods, and dispositions. A "hard" face, for instance, indicates hatred, defiance, ruthlessness. A "shining" face is evidence of joy. A "shamed" face points to defeat, frustration, humiliation. "A "flaming" face is one convulsed by terror. An "evil" face is a face marked by distress and anxiety. A "fallen" face stems from very strong anger or displeasure. To make a person's face "sweet" is to seek his favor. The phrase "to hide one's face" means to show disgust or displeasure. And, "to turn away the face" is to reject. Conversely, "to raise the face" of another is to show favor, respect, acceptance.
When it comes to God, His Face stands for His whole being, character, attributes. All that God is – eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty, wise, just, good, compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, forgiving wickedness and rebellion and sin (Ex 34:6,7) – is represented by His Face. And, all that God does – creation, providence, redemption – is represented by His Face. The Face of God stands for all the fullness of His being and ways. The Face of God shows that He loves us in Christ.
"My Face will go with you." Moses, of all people, realized the awesomeness of this. Among the children of Israel the presence of God was represented by a "pillar of cloud" or "pillar of fire" (33:9; 13:21). It was that presence which led Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground; and, it was that presence which drowned Pharaoh and his army. It was the glory of that presence which made the face of Moses so radiant that all the people were afraid to come near him (34:30). It was a presence both awesome and terrifying at the same time. Don't forget what God said: "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live" (vs 20).
B "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." The Face of God means rest. What is "rest"?
The Biblical word "rest" does not mean an afternoon nap. It does not mean an arm chair at the end of a long day. It does not mean a lawn chair on a sunny Summer afternoon. It does not mean a hot-tub or Jacuzzi after an hour of vigorous exercise.
Rest means shalom, peace from enemies, security, a state of well-being, a place in creation. Think of Abraham. He was called to leave his home, he lived in tents as a nomad, he was not allowed to put down roots; he had no rest. Think of Israel in Egypt. She had no place of her own, she had no security, she was oppressed; she had no rest. Think of Israel in the wilderness. Again, she had no place of her own, she was constantly on the move, she was surrounded by enemies; again, she had no rest.
"My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." It wasn't till she reached the Promised Land that this promise could become a reality. There, each family had its own place and could live in comfort and security. There, each family could live in a state of well-being and shalom.
When it comes right down to it, "rest" points to victory and salvation in Christ. For only then can the people of God have shalom, well-being, comfort, security.
II Sin Breaks Fellowship With God
A "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." In saying this, God shows Himself to be compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin (34:6,7). I say this because you have to realize that Israel has sinned against the LORD. She has sinned terribly. When Moses is with the LORD on Mount Sinai the people make and worship a golden calf.
B The consequences are terrible. First, God threatens to destroy the people; the Lord relents only after Moses intercedes on behalf of the people. Second, when Moses sees the calf and the worship he is so angry he throws the tablets of the law out of his hands, breaking them to pieces. Third, Moses takes the calf, burns it in the fire, grounds it to powder, scatters it on the water, and makes the Israelites drink it. Fourth, Moses issues a call to arms; the Levites respond against their own brothers and friends and neighbors and 3,000 of the people die (Ex 32).
By far the worst consequence has to do with the Presence or Face of God. The LORD says,
(Ex 33:3) Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.
"But I will not go with you." The absence of God's Face is best symbolized by the Tent of Meeting.
(Ex 33:7) Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the "tent of meeting." Anyone inquiring of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. Sad, isn't it!? The LORD is no longer to be found in the camp of Israel. To meet with the LORD the people have to go outside of the camp. To be with the LORD you have to leave the LORD's people. Today, that would mean leaving the church to meet with the LORD. That's how bad things are in Israel.
C It is a serious matter to be without the Face of God. Moses details for us exactly what it means. He says,
(Ex 33:15) If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. Moses and Israel are in the wilderness – a bleak, forsaken place; a place of little water and grass; a place of sand and heat and drought; a place unfit for people and sheep and cattle. They are on their way to a land of milk and honey. According to Moses nothing is worthwhile – no place, no effort, no thing – without the Presence of God. According to Moses, not even the Promised Land means anything apart from the Face of God. The positive lesson: it is only by the Presence and blessing of God that all that we do, all that we have, and all that we are mean something
But there is more, much more. We need to listen to what else Moses has to say:
(Ex 33:16) How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us?The Face of God in the midst of His people is a sign of His grace, favor, good-will. The absence of God's face, instead, means His curse, displeasure, and anger.
There is one more thing that the absence of God's Face means for His people. Moses says,
(Ex 33:16) What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?In the Ancient World, places of worship were usually built a little distance from towns and cities. Men had to separate themselves from their own people in order to seek the presence of their god. But now with the Tent of Meeting outside the camp, Israel is like all the other nations. To seek the Face of God she has to go outside of the camp or city. Israel is no longer unique, different, distinct from the nations.
D Do you know what all this tells us? This tells us that sin breaks fellowship with God. Sin removes one from the presence of God. This is true for each person and for the church too. When you or I sin, we break fellowship with God. When a church tolerates sin or turns a blind eye to sin, she breaks fellowship with God.
Topic: SinThis is a good picture for sin. Unchecked and unforgiven it can only lead to the "outer darkness" of Hell. In that darkness there is no light, no glory, no Face of God. In that darkness there is no hope, no comfort, no security, no shalom, no rest.
Subtopic: Separation from God
Title: Feel the Darkness
Some years ago a family visited a cave in the state of Kentucky. The guide led them through many beautiful and winding subterranean passageways. Suddenly he turned off all the lights and said, "I'm the only one who knows how to get back to the entrance. If I left you here, you'd probably never find your way out. Anyone lost in this cave would no doubt become insane within a week from the oppressive loneliness. Be quiet for a moment and feel the darkness!" After about 30 seconds, someone in the party could stand it no longer and cried out, "Turn on the lights! I'm going crazy now!"
During 2006 we have to make a choice. We have to choose between the presence of God and the presence of sin. You see, God and sin cannot coexist. Where there is sin there cannot be God; and, where there is God there cannot be sin. So we have to make a choice between the presence of God and the presence of sin. We have to make a choice between righteousness and wickedness, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, the temple of God and of idols.
"My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." If you want the Presence, the Face, of God to be with you during 2006 then you have to choose against sin and for God.
III The Presence of God in Spite of Sin
A Israel sinned. She broke fellowship with God. So God said, "But I will not go with you." Yet, in our text God says the opposite: "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." How is this possible? On what basis does God change His mind?
As I said before, God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin (34:6,7). Sin breaks fellowship with God, but grace restores that fellowship. Sin puts a barrier between God and man, but grace breaks that barrier down. Sin makes man unclean, unfit for the presence of God; but grace cleanses and enables man to live and walk before the LORD. It all comes down to grace.
And grace, of course, has to do with Jesus. Which means that the Presence of God and the rest it brings is ours only in and through Christ. We can't forget what Christ said:
(Mt 11:28) "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."It is only in Christ that we have the Face of God and can experience rest.
Boys and girls, do you want God to go with you during 2006? Then you have to believe in Jesus. Young People, do you want the almighty and glorious Presence of God in your life in the coming year? Then you have to confess Christ. Congregation, if you want the rest only God can give, then you have to have faith in Jesus.
B By grace and through faith during 2006 every sinful person can enjoy the Face of God and the rest it brings. By grace and through faith during 2006 all sinful people can enjoy the personal Presence of God. Yet, I can't help but observe that some have a far closer walk with God than others. Consider Moses, for instance. "The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend" (Ex 33:11). No one else in Israel had such a relationship with the LORD.
Why is this so? How can we have as close a relationship with the LORD as Moses did?
All of you know the secret to a close or a closer walk with God:
devotions - how regular are you in Bible reading and prayer; a closer walk with God requires devotions.
worship - do you faithfully attend worship; do you look forward to worship; do you come to meet with God or do you come to be entertained; a closer walk with God means faithful worship attendance.
Bible study - are you part of a Bible study group; a closer walk with God means involvement in Bible study.
Christian music - what kind of music do you listen to; does it draw you closer to God or does it pull you away; in our music God should be glorified and we should be edified.
I can also mention books, magazines, TV, sports - do they help or hinder your walk with God?
"My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." During the coming year will the Face of God be with you? During the coming year will you strive for a closer walk with God? During the coming year will you experience shalom, well-being, comfort, security, rest?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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