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Sunday, October 16, 2011

More and More of God (Exodus 33:12-23)

A spark … something deep within my heart. It’s God. The Holy Spirit of God has spoken. I know God is real and loves me. Because of what Jesus has done on the cross, the penalty for my sins has been paid. The Holy Spirit is at work in me. I am forgiven. I am born again; a new creation.

I tell my church-going friend who introduces me to her pastor. We all agree that my experience with God is real. I have been saved from by Jesus. Do I want to be baptized by immersion and thus publically announce my faith and become a member of the church? Yes, I do.

The day arrives. I come to church. My story of coming to Jesus is read to the congregation. I am baptized. The people applaud my second birth, the work of Christ in my life. I sing the worship songs as one who knows Jesus, a son of God. I am a new believer!

Now what? This is the first day of your new life. Now what?

When we come to faith in Jesus, we are rescued from slavery to sin.

Israel was a new community – called out of bitter slavery in Egypt. Israel was completely under Pharaoh’s heel. Powerless. God overwhelmed Pharaoh and freed his people.

We are baptized. As new believers we become members of the community of faith, the church.

Israel also came out of water, the Red Sea, which led to death for their Egyptian pursuers, but life for them. God saved Israel and then God commissioned Israel as his people and gave them the law to show who He is, what sin is, and who they were to be as the people of God, the worshipers of Jehovah.

They’re saved. They have the law. They need to know what we need to know. Then what?

Israel was to be a separate people, different from all other peoples around them. They were not to worship nature gods, fertility goes, or weather gods. They were to let go of all superstitions and look to the only true God and live in holiness. God put a special calling on His people.

It was too much. They fell into crisis, a disaster of their own making. God clearly distinguished himself from the idols and man-made gods of the ancient near east, but as soon as Israel found themselves of waiting on God, they couldn’t sustain their faith. They created the golden calf and in this sin of idolatry, they found out some things.

They found out God sees them even when they didn’t see Him. And they found out that God takes sin with deadly seriousness. If they would rebel, God would respond with holy anger. What is the nation to do? How can they follow such a terrifying God?

Moses became Israel’s mediator who talked to God on behalf of the people. They were paralyzed by the crisis of their sin and God’s wrathful response. Moses stepped in and showed what is next for the people of God. Moses talked to God, and God listened. The more Moses realized that this mighty God would pay attention to a human, a small, flawed man, the more Moses talked. And the relationship deepened.

Israel went from conversion to crisis to conversation (Moses conversing with God on behalf of the nation). When the moment of salvation happened for Israel and they stood on the far side of the Red Sea. Newly saved, they were right where we are today. They sang songs extolling God’s virtue. They celebrated God’s victory and proclaimed their faith him. They committed themselves to God’s ways.

We clap our hands with joy at the baptisms and celebrate the work of God in the lives of these who have announced their faith. We sing our songs of faith with joy and great energy. We commit our lives to God’s ways. We not only celebrate with these who have been baptized. We who have been believers for a long time are also reminded of our joy and our commitment to the Lord and of the day we were baptized.

Israel moved from that salvation moment into terrible crisis, and then from crisis into something deeper, an actual relationship with God.

As we see our own faith story on this baptism and draw parallels with Israel’s call into relationship with God, not all connections are direct. Israel went from salvation to crisis to new relationship. Crisis is not always immediate after baptism, and we don’t predict it. Part of what makes crisis of faith a crisis is the unpredictability of it. It does come.

Jesus said it would. Trials come. Through our own mistakes, as happened with Israel in Exodus, or through something that happens to us, we all face dark days. I think one of the ways for new believers of for veteran disciples to be ready when trials, persecution, and crises of faith visits is to constantly work on growing in our relationship with God. And again we turn to the Israelite community and the relationship of God and Moses.

In Exodus 33, God said to Israel, “I will not go up among you.” (verse 2). The the Sovereign of the universe was so angry, so flustered with the sin of the people, He distanced himself.

I think God takes our sin as seriously as he did Israel’s. God does not like it when do the wrong thing whether we sin with our eyes, our words, our thoughts, or our bodies. He’s as holy today as He was 3000 years ago. God has always given grace – even in the Old Testament. God has always been wrathful – even in the New Testament. God forgives and God punishes.

God pulled back from Israel in Exodus 33. “I will not go up among you.” At the same time, God drew near to Moses. Verse 11 says, “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face as one speaks to a friend.” Moses was unique in history and no one will ever be like Moses or be Spirit-filled as Moses was. Not me, not you, not the Pope, not anyone.

However, though we can’t know what Moses knew or be who Moses was, we are promised the Holy Spirit. The Spirit does not visit each person in the same way, but each who has put trust in Christ will receive the Spirit. The Spirit will come on us and fill us. This is a crucial part of the new life in Christ that’s come to these who were baptized today and to all who have been baptized. Our speaking with God may not be “face to face,” but because of the Spirit, we don’t need a mediator. We don’t need a Moses to speak to God for us while we wait at the foot of the mountain. You don’t need the preacher to speak to God on your behalf. We are invited into a relationship, a spiritual relationship with God.

In relationship with God, how did Moses proceed?

He said to God, “Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may find favor in your sight” (v.13). Moses asks for favor, and his credentials for asking is that he’s already found favor. He also asks to know God’s ways. Through the previous 10 chapters God has shown his ways. Was Moses getting a little loopy in that the thin mountain air? What was he asking?

He talked about favor with God. Next, he asked God to go with Israel. But, isn’t God already with them? As we read earlier, God did say, “I will not go up among you, or I would consume you the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Instead God promised that an angel of God would go before the people. Apparently that was not enough for Moses. He knew what God said, but he wanted something different. He wanted God, not God’s angel.

And God gave in! “My presence will go with you,” said God (v.14). “I will do the very thing you have asked” (v.17). In this conversation, I am struck by the smallness of Moses and the magnitude of God. Moses has nothing to stand on, nowhere to go, no escape, no other option. It was him and God and he just kept digging, asking for more.

When God said, “I will do the very think you have asked,” Moses responded, “Show me your glory, I pray.” Moses had audibly heard God’s voice. Moses felt the mountain shake when God thundered. Moses had held the tablets that God inscribed. But he wanted more. He wanted to see God with his eyes.

This is where we want to be as baptized people, ones born-again, new creations, adopted sons and daughters of God, worshipers of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Whether we made our commitment to Jesus in the past year or decades ago, this must continue and be a constant. Like Moses, we yearn for more and more of God. We want to see God’s face.

The desire for God leads people to passion-filled participation the worship service of the gathered church. The desire for God leads people to deep, full-involved worship in solitude, in the quiet prayer closet or the walk in the woods, a retreat into nature, or the quiet prayers lifted while one drives down the highway. The desire for God leads a disciple to commit to serve God on mission trips; in service projects; spontaneously in everyday life as opportunities arise. The desire for God drives a believer to scripture, to scour God’s words and drink God’s truth. We live out our faith the way we do out of desire for God. We might not always name it that way, but underneath our sense of calling, underneath those “mountain-top experiences” that happen on retreats, and underneath the passions in us we can’t quite understand except to know they drive us on – underneath all that we would define as compelling and as spiritual – underneath it all is in us a deep longing to know God.

My prayer for each one of us here is that we will in the highs and lows of life, pursue God and desire of God. In some seasons we thirst to know all we can about Jesus and to hear him speak in the depths of our hearts; these are seasons of learning. In another season we seek experiences with the Holy Spirit. We receive the power of the Spirit and the comfort of the Spirit; these are seasons of new insights and new experiences. In yet another season you are in awe-struck worship at the throne of the mighty Heavenly Father; these are seasons of wonder. Or, as we go through times of great pain, wounded, we fall into the tender arms of that same one we call Mighty; seasons of trust. There are seasons of growth, of endurance, and quiet seasons where it seems not much is happening but we remain faithful as God is always faithful. Following the example of Moses, one of the great pioneers and archetypes of faith in scripture, all of life is spent seeking more and more of God.

When seeking God becomes the essence of life, we are blessed beyond measure. We begin living the existence we will have in the afterlife, eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven. We begin understanding Heaven now as we pursue God with a worshiper’s loving heart.

As we seek more of God, we have to be ready to hear God say “no” sometimes.

Moses asked for so much. God kept saying yes. Then Moses asked to see God’s glory, and God said, “You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live” (v.20). It seems odd because we heard earlier that the Lord spokes to Moses face to face as one speaks with a friend. How can that be true if one dies upon seeing God’s face? I think the answer lies in who God is. God can come to us in a relationship of love and spiritual intimacy, but even in that closeness, we don’t see all of God. God is so great, to see all of God would consume us. We’d just be gone.

So we ask God for it all and then we joyously receive however much God decides to give us.

If, like Elijah, we get a quiet whisper, that is enough. If, like John of Patmos, we are given a spectacular vision, we receive it as John did. If like the disciples and Paul and James, we see the resurrected, glorified Jesus, we rejoice. And if, like Moses, we see God’s after glow, his retreating glory, then we shine. His light is reflected from our faces so that others look to us and see Him.

As we near the end of our time of worship and come to the conclusion of six weeks spent in the book of Exodus, we reflect on what it means to be called the people of God. That’s what Israel was. And that’s what we are – baptized people, people who put complete faith in Jesus Christ, and people who are because of Jesus sons and daughters of God. As the people of God, we are always to be seeking our Father, living for His glory.


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