Reclaim the God who Gives Rest

In Exodus 33:12-23, Moses asks to learn God's ways and see God's glory. We, like Moses, need to remember God's promises, take each step of our day in his name, remember the pillow that catches the soul and "Reclaim the God who Gives Rest." July 9, 2017.

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            Humidity and heat; more daylight hours,so many ways to be active outdoors … I don’t know about you, but the head sure seems to hit the pillow pretty hard at night in the summer. We all get it when someone tells us they just need to sit down for a little bit or go to bed because they are exhausted. 

            There’s another kind of weariness that doesn’t have a season which we want to focus on today. I was once driving around with a church member in the passenger seat when his cell phone rang and he had brief phone conversation. I asked him afterwards if that was his wife on the other line. He said, “How did you know?” And I told him about the flippant tone of his voice, almost derogatory way he spoke. Only someone as close as a spouse gets so little respect sometimes. We had a good relationship, don’t get me wrong, so this was a good conversation we had about how we try to treat each other. Now I have the celestial ring tone on my phone whenever my wife calls - “I can hear heaven ringing to me - time to talk to my wife!” 

            We try and try...because we love the God who first loved us. Some get bible verse or cross tattoos to remind themselves who they are. We wear crosses around our necks or keychain, frame bible passages for the home or office and might put a favorite in our email signature. We do it because the struggle is all the time and everywhere. Try living a holy life for an hour and see what weakness you feel. How about ten minutes? Can we guard our thoughts even for a moment to keep the pure, lovely and noble stuff in and the impure, unlovely out (Philippians 4:8)? We have not found that once-and-for-all cure for the disease that follows the lust of the eyes and the sinful desires of the flesh (1 John 2:16). We find again and again that my lips can praise the Lord one moment but the next curse my neighbor, like fresh and salt water coming from the same spring - “this cannot be!” (James 3:11). 

            Over and over we experience (firsthand no less) that all God’s descriptions of the sinful nature indeed describe my nature. I too see there is at work within me a great power of sin - how mightily it wrestles the Spirit. This very beast I aim to kill every day, I keep finding a way to feed. What a wretch I am - I’m such a monster? Is that who I am, the real me? For the believer, all these questions are asked before God and can lead to all kinds of doubts and fears: “Am I a fake? Am I serious at all about Jesus? How can I be if this keeps happening and I can’t seem to grow out of any of it!” 

            So the head, moreso for the believer than anyone else, hits the pillow pretty hard at night. Today, let’s be sure we remember the pillow that catches the soul. As we focus on the great inner turmoil we experience all the time...let’s also learn with Moses to reclaim the God who gives rest

            God had a word to describe his people Israel: stiff-necked. I think you know what that means. You can see the animal stuck on its course, with the owner yanking on the rope trying to move the beast in the opposite direction. But the neck won’t budge, won’t bend to the will of God. So it is with us - all of us. The Israelites were rescued from slavery in Egypt, delivered at the Red Seawith a lopsided victory over Pharaoh’s army without even shaking a stick. Such a wonderful, perfect, promise-keeping God was theirs, yet, by their own fault, their own grievous fault, they took the gold God gave them from Egyptand exchanged the worship of God for a golden calf, the worship of what was worthless. 

            But what’s striking is how God dealt with them next. He didn’t swoop in with an embarrassed chuckle, “boys will be boys” - “stiff-necked will be stiff-necked; now- c’mon kids, on to the Promised Land.” No, it was the opposite - listen - God afflicted them. Having a sinful nature was not going to become some easy excuse to say, “I’m stuck this way, that’s who I am” so just let the lion go.   God threw the rope around its neck and rubbed it raw - he was teaching them to do the same in repentance and to struggle against their own sinfulness. 

            God swung the swords of Levites through the camp and 3,000 died. He sent a plague. He startled Moses on the mountain top saying, “You go take these people away, but I’m not going. I’ll send with you a created angel, but if I go along, I’ll destroy them.” And God had Moses pack up the tent of meeting once situated in the heart of the camp and moved it out and away. God made sin the most uncomfortable, inexcusable, abhorrent, regrettable, sorrowful and condemnable thing. 

            God’s Spirit worked this so that the sinful nature would not be free, but a problem, a disturbing, hell-bent problem. And everything went quiet, and their heads hit the pillow hard; they had fallen again and hit the sinner’s rock-bottom. 

            Moses approaches God as mediator. What could he possibly say? Guess what? He said what God said. You told me, “lead these people.” You said, “I found favor with you and know you by name.”Remember that this is your people.” Notice quickly that Moses makes no claims of his own, no promises from the people’s side. No - at least I didn’t do the golden calf thing” or “we’ll do better next time, promise - we can still show people that we belong to you.” Moses knows the stiffness of his own neck and that of the people too. 

            But Moses made a claim. The only ground where he could stake it was the ground of God’s own Word:

  1. “You, O God, took me despite me and claimed this people despite this people. You said “lead”. You said I find favor with you”. I didn’t earn it. I resisted your call to be the leader!
  2. You spoke to Abraham and said, “Leave your people and I will make you into a great nation. This is your people because you said so.” Is this still your word concerning us or not? If not, we have to burn this Bible, the record of your promises!

            And the God of gods said to Moses - “I will go with you and I will give you rest.”You see how beautiful that is? First, you have to appreciate that God is all-sufficient, entirely independent and free - like standing before such a rich and powerful king that isn’t in the least impacted by what you do because there is no way you could touch his freedom - he’s that rich and powerful. He’ll do what he wants regardless of your best or your worst efforts. God has no needs. He already has everything and more. He just gives, and freely so - as he says later, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy...and compassion on whom I want to have compassion.”

            But this free God also freely bound himself to this word to Moses: “I will go with you and give you rest.” And you read his Word: this free God has created mankind in his own image. This free God freely stepped in and said after the fall into sin, “I will put enmity between you and the woman.” This free God promised Abraham - “all nations will be blessed through you.” And there was the cross Jesus freely bore that stood in the dirt of our time, and “it is finished’ from God’s mouth ringing out through the air of our world. This free God has freely, historically and truly given to us these unchanging words that line our rock-bottom like pillows for sinners like us - that when we fall, we may rest in his peace. 

            Moses clasps his hands over his mouth in joy and takes another daring step forward: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”Moses wants the full assurance of God’s gracious presence with them. Without which they have nothing and are no different than a dead, nameless nation like all the others.  “Unless you go with us, we are the worst version of slave in all the world - slaves to sin and crushed by the oppression of our guilt. But with you we can not only sleep at night, we can walk in the way of your commands with a free spirit.”   

            Moses gets it - our sinful nature is such a threat and danger that we cannot accomplish anything without this God of grace. We would say it this way: “Don’t command me, Lord, unless you go with me. Don’t command me to honor my parents, love my neighbor, keep from greed and worship you alone...unless you surround me from behind and in front and over above and underneath. Unless you cover this sinner with your grace, fill me with your power and wrap me up in your goodness.” 

            Do you see the love of God at the center of each moment we have? Any other orientation to life - like putting ourselves as the focus will only afflict and cause restlessness before God. Christian living only begins with the rest God gives. In the peace of Jesus’ gifts to us, we are freed to take our first and last steps of each day...but only in his name. Perhaps you know the verse that says our life is “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Yes, the real me will always be largely hidden to you. The sin in me is all too visible and evident. But I still have another life, a hidden one with Christ in God. It’s my rest that surrounds my struggle with Christ. Do you remember our opening hymn? “I sing as I arise today; I cry out my Redeemer’s name: Lord Jesus Christ, my hope, my all, today and evermore the same.” 

            Moses didn’t know what he was asking when he wanted to see God’s glory. He didn’t know what that glory would look like. But God knew what his soul needed - God would instead cause “all his goodness” to pass before Moses. It wasn’t so much what the soul would see, but what it would hear: “and I will proclaim my name, the LORD,” the free yet faithful God of compassion, “in your presence.” More words, more pillows...when you fall, fall on them! Amen. 

Preached at GraceLutheranChurch, Milwaukee, WI( on July 9, 2017

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