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Worship Theme: Christians live by faith, finding rest in Jesus
Sermon Theme: We Are at Rest in the Presence of God
Your heart starts racing. Your palms are sweaty. You are afraid of flah-doobering your words and blurting out something stupid, all because out of the blue a famous performer or athlete or politician came up alongside while you’re out for a walk.
If that’s your reaction when you encounter someone famous who is a mere mortal, imagine how you would feel if you walked out those doors this morning, and God appeared in all his holiness and splendor like he did for the Israelites at Mount Sinai or for Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration! In today’s first reading from Exodus thirty-three, Moses met God and learned something very important which is also very important for you and me right now, this day, this week: “we are at rest in the presence of God.”
His glorious Word guides us
I don’t believe that you are gullible enough to get lured into dancing around a golden calf in place of worshiping the true God. But I do worry that the ever-flowing current of ungodly ideas and assumptions in our world might pull you off course as you paddle the stream of life. I recall some years ago hearing an astronaut being interviewed about future space exploration. He stated that it would be a good idea to ramp up our nation’s space program so that human life could be preserved on a space-station since it is likely that a massive space rock will one day smash into our planet wiping out the human race in the same way that a rock rammed into earth sixty-five million years ago and wiped out all the dinosaurs. Did you notice all the false assumptions? First, there’s the assumption that the universe is around sixty-five million years old. In reality, the universe is only to eight to ten, maybe I’d go as far as twelve thousand years old. Secondly, why assume that dinosaurs were killed by a rock hurtling out of the sky? That’s illogical. How could one rock smack into the globe and hit every dinosaur? Wouldn’t the Flood account as recorded in the Bible be a much more logical explanation for the destruction of dinosaurs with the few baby dinosaurs that trundled off the ark becoming extinct after the Flood? Thirdly, do you really think that if God wanted to end life on this planet, as he will on Judgment Day, that he will somehow miss people in a space-station? I can’t imagine people like you biting into that kind of lunacy. There are all kinds of ideas and assumptions floating around that lots of people accept as fact when in reality they are not. Be careful. Before you buy into any theory or assumption, check to see if God has something to say about it in Scripture.
Two and a half million Israelites had been camped at Mt. Sinai for several months. Their leader, Moses, had gone up on the mount for the seventh time to get more rules and regulations from God, but this time it didn’t seem like he was coming back. When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron (Moses’ brother) and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him” (Exodus 32:1). So Aaron melted down their gold jewelry, fashioned a golden calf, and said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4). Worshiping a golden calf might seem foolish and absurd to you, but the appeal came from how they did it. Worshiping the golden calf meant an extended happy hour every day, a big smorgasbord, and then lewd, sensual, late-night groping. Yuck!
God was not pleased. In fact, he was burning with anger. “Leave this place ... and go up to the land I promised ... I will send an angel before you ... But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way” (Exodus 33:1-3). After the kind of behavior they were involved in, how could the Israelites find any comfort or joy standing in the presence of the holy God? How could they expect God to guide them? By all rights, they should have expected to be shoved out into the wilderness to wander until they dropped dead. But Moses stepped in, “[LORD,] you have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me ... 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 ... 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?” The LORD answered his prayer, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Let’s say you are on a business trip in Washington, D.C. You decide to get some exercise after a day-long meeting, but you get lost. All you can see are dark streets and darker alleys. Your gut tells you to go one way, but your brain tells you to go another way. Your confused, scared. Suddenly someone is taking you by the elbow, saying, “This way!” It’s one of the secret service agents who had been guarding the capitol. He leads you back to your hotel so that you can rest easy.
If you want to rest easy in the presence of God, don’t be fooled by feelings. “Pastor, I’ve struggled in prayer on what to do. My boyfriend wants me to move in with him. We love each other. We plan to be married. What should I do?” The answer is captured nicely in the title of a little article someone shared with me several years ago, Stop Praying and Start Obeying! Do you get it? That doesn’t mean prayer is bad. In fact, the Bible says, “Pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). But when you pray for guidance, recognize that God may have already answered that prayer in his Word, showing you the right way to go.
Is it any wonder that we pastors have been encouraging personal and family time in the Word of God, especially during this pandemic? Maybe we all have been taking the presence of God for granted and figured, “He’ll be there when I need him,” but then a virus hits or a relationship goes sour or the money runs low, and worries pile up like billowing thunder-boomer clouds, and we wonder, “Where are you, God?” We pastors pray that you are using this time, even as we begin to “open up,” to develop a pattern that you will never break. “I’m going to listen to my God today, ponder what he says in his Word, and build my calmness, confidence, and cope-ability on his words.” We don’t have to wander through life wondering which way to go. We are at peace, at rest in the presence of God because his glorious Word guides us.
His mercy hides us
The rebellious Israelites didn’t just deserve to wander in the wilderness. They deserved to get stuck in the quicksand of hell. How could they expect to stand before God? They deserved only God’s anger, not his mercy. And when Moses interceded for them, he might have felt like he was taking a risk. Would God call up Moses’ own record of sins – and there were plenty of them?
But Moses was bold, “Show me your glory.” The LORD replied, “You cannot see my [holy] face, for no one may see me and live.” You’ve seen footage of an atomic explosion. The bright flash is too much to bear. People have to cover their eyes or be blinded. When a solar eclipse approaches, we are warned, “Don’t look directly at the sun! It’s too bright!” The shepherds at the first Christmas had enough problems dealing with brightness of the angels. If God himself showed up in all his glory, they would have been toast. But God was merciful to those shepherds and to us. He himself did appear, not in full blazing holy glory but in the form of a little baby in a manger. And God revealed himself to Moses. He hid Moses in the cleft of a rock and passed by, not in full blazing holy glory, but in mercy. “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.”
Has the thought of past sin ever come back to haunt you? Have you ever been troubled by a guilty conscience and wondered whether God could ever forgive you? Are your sins and failures and inadequacies eating away at you right now? Then open the Scriptures and listen to your God speak, “You know those dumb decisions you have made? You know those days when you were not paying attention to me? You know those times when you let worries pile up, and you thought you’d never see sunshine again? You know how your inner instincts have led you to dance around the golden calf of self-indulgent pleasure? You know what you deserve from me. I should shove you away and forget about you. But listen to me! I will not forget you. I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:21-22). God will not blast out at you or me in holy anger. He aimed all of that at our Substitute, Jesus. He does not come at us in blazing holy glory. He hides us in the blood of Jesus Christ. He comes to us in the sweet promises of forgiveness through Jesus’ body and blood hidden in bread and wine. He hides us in the Rock of our salvation like Moses hidden in a cleft of the rock on Mt. Sinai, and says, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” We are at rest in the presence of God because his mercy hides us.
I don’t recall any passage of Scripture indicating that God will bring this world to an end by smashing our planet with a rock from outer space. The Bible does say that this world will one day end, and we will all face God. But that doesn’t scare us. Thanks to Jesus you and I don’t have to be nervous. The struggle is over. You and I don’t have to fight and claw to make God accept us or love us. Jesus did the fighting and clawing. We are at rest in the presence of God. Amen.
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