September 9, 2018

A People Marked by and for God’s Power and Presence

Dave Zuleger (North Campus) | (Downtown Campus) | (South Campus) | | Exodus 33:12-19

Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”

And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.—Exodus 33:12–19

A Holy Building Built on Christ and Indwelt by the Spirit

I don’t know if anyone in this room is aware, but in about three weeks, we’ll be meeting in a new building. As I began thinking about what I could say to encourage us as a people on the cusp of entering a new season of life together as a campus, the thought that came to me initially was from 1 Corinthians 3:9–17.

For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.

There the apostle Paul gives a picture of the church as a spiritual building that is built upon the foundation of Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. So, as we enter this season of preparing for the new physical building we must be committed to making sure the spiritual building—the church, is being prepared right along with it.

My prayer is that we might take the next 21 days or so to make preparations in our own hearts to go into this beautiful new building more excited to see, savor, and spread the beauty of Christ more than ever before.

Now that begs the question—how can we do this? And the answer does not come in some new, fancy method, but in the old, simple methods of being people who are committed to the daily reading of the word of God and prayer to God, pleading with the Spirit of God to make Jesus more real to us as our Savior and Master every day. 

Sometimes this can begin to feel like a burden of guilt or shame. Like another pastor telling me I’m not reading or praying enough. But, I want this to feel like a feast spread before you. I want you to take and eat. I hope in this text you’ll see that for those who have been redeemed and marked by God’s grace, there is freedom to continue to seek more of his face. 

Now, some of you feel empty right now and broken and you don’t know where to start. My prayer this morning is that you would see that what your heart is longing for in your brokenness is fellowship with God—and that you can have it and that he will draw near to you in the midst of your brokenness because of Jesus.

A Stiff-Necked People, Seeking Dangerous Pleasures 

So, the first thing we’ll see is the dangerous places our forgetful, foolish hearts sometimes go. Listen to verses 12–13:

Moses said to the LORD, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”

We find ourselves at Mt. Sinai with the people of Israel who have been walking through the wilderness. And here we see Moses pleading for the Lord to tell him if he plans to go up with the people of Israel or not. Why does he need to ask that?

If you were to page back through your Bible in the book of Exodus you would see an amazing story of God hearing the cry of his people that were enslaved in the land of Egypt. He hears their cry and he performs miraculous plagues upon the people of Egypt to free his people. God leads them out of Egypt, he parts the sea so that they can escape the Egyptians, he provides food and water for them as they travel, and guides them with a fire at night and a cloud by day. 

Verses 7–11 of Exodus 33 record how God would meet with Moses face to face and his glory would descend upon the camp, and the people would worship. 

God had shown his presence to be powerful and personal among them, and he was bringing them to a place where they would dwell with him and enjoy his presence in such a way that the nations around them would see God’s mighty hand in protection and provision for them.

And yet, Moses must plead for God to go with them because in chapter 32, Moses had been up on the mountain with God, receiving the very words of the God of the Universe for the good of the people as they enter the Promised Land—something that should have been a thrilling moment for this people—but in their impatient hearts, it was taking a bit too long.

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.—Exodus 32:1

And the sad thing is that Aaron listens. He has them take off their gold, and he melts it and fashions it into a golden calf. Aaron makes an altar, which results in all sorts of sinful behavior. The people bring sacrifices, and they worship this calf. This is high blasphemy and just seems crazy to me when I read it. … Until I realize how much like them I can be, and perhaps you can be too.

Here’s how God responds:

And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, hit is a stiff-necked people.—Exodus 32:9

God says they are stubborn. And later in the chapter we find out that many people died as punishment for this great sin. Sin never pays. So, what’s going on in their hearts? I think at least two things:

  • They are discontent with God’s provision for them even though they have seen it over and over again. The timing is off in their mind. They are wondering where Moses is, and therefore if God is really for them and will still work for their good. 

As they (and we) doubt God’s timing, they begin to forget his goodness, and that leads to another heart problem.

  • They are content to go on after other things without the God of the Universe. They are content to make false gods and run after them if they will get them where they want to go. And the ugliest part of it is that they pretend they are still worshiping the same God.

Have you ever grown impatient with God’s timing in your life and begun to doubt his plan? Have you ever devoted more time to anxious self-protection than resting in God’s sovereign plan? Have you spent more time planning than praying? Have you found yourself trying to control a situation to get the result you want more than trusting the Lord and trying to figure out what he wants? 

Are you discontent with God’s timing and content to go on without him if you get what you want? 

Illustration: Saturday Morning at the Zuleger Home Example

Now—as we prepare to enter into this new building as a blood-bought family—is the moment to check our hearts and ask ourselves if we are falling into either trap. Are we discontent with God’s timing and doubting him in our lives right now? Are we content to go on without God as long as life is comfortable and going how we want it to?

A Distinct People, Marked by God’s Presence 

Now, if you go back to the beginning of chapter 33 you find that after God has punished Israel, and Moses has interceded for Israel, God says that he will keep his promise to Israel. He will clear out their enemies. He will bring them to the Promised Land. He will keep his promise. There’s just one catch—he will not go with them.

God offers to keep his promise of peace and prosperity, just without his presence. What would you say? Isn’t this so much of what our culture is built on? Be comfortable. Be wealthy. Get your little slice of heaven here on earth. If we look at the fears and anxieties in our hearts, aren’t many of them built on our fear of losing that comfort and that prosperity? Would we take the deal of going on without God if we knew prosperity and comfort was promised to us?

What does Moses say? 

And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”—Exodus 33:15–16

This is our cry. “Not one step without your presence and power, Lord. Show us what you want. Our hands are open. We know that we have nothing to offer on our own.” We are a people marked by no power of our own, but by the power of God by his presence in our lives, because he has redeemed us and he has dwelt in us and among us. Do we believe this? Or have we begun to believe we can get some things done on our own if we just pray for the big ones?

As we go about our lives individually, what will make us distinct from the rest of the world? God with us. As we go forward into this new building as a blood-bought family of God, what will make us distinct from the world? God with us. 

Just as the people of Israel were marked by the redemption and then provision of God from Egypt—God with them—so are we. God has poured his wrath for sin that we deserved on his Son Jesus at the cross. He has redeemed us. He has purchased us with the blood of Jesus. And now, he goes with us by the Spirit. We are marked by God’s presence. He initiated. He planned this before the foundation of the world. He sent his Son. He opened our eyes to see and believe. He sent his Spirit to dwell in us. We are a people marked and distinct by the presence of God. 

More amazing than access to a 24/7 fully functional building is that we have 24/7 access to the God of the universe. And the good news for us is that his presence is our greatest joy and our endless satisfaction.

In your presence is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.—Psalm 16:11

I am praying that we will cry as a people like Moses cried. “Lord, go with us. Lord make us distinct by your presence. Lord, move among us for the sake of your Name so that the South Suburbs would know your saving power. Lord, help us not take one step without you.” 

A Distinct People, Seeking God’s Presence

So, how does God respond to this plea?

And the LORD said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.—Exodus 33:17

Christian do you know that you have found favor in the sight of God? Do you believe that he cares for you and knows you by name? Do you believe that when he looks at you he doesn’t see your sin and therefore scowl at you with a furrowed brow, but he looks at you and sees the righteousness of Christ? Do you believe that God isn’t mainly frustrated with you and wishing he chose someone else, but that because of Jesus, because of his finished work on the cross that paid for your sin, you have found favor in the sight of God? He knows you by name.

Moses is a foreshadowing of Christ, one who stands in the gap for sinful people. And we are in Christ—the One who has made a way for sinful people to be with God fully, freely, and forever.

Sometimes, when we feel our failures, I think we don’t seek to be near to God because we feel guilty. We feel ashamed. We want to get ourselves cleaned up first, right? We messed up on Monday. We yelled at the kids. We lied. We got angry at work. We clicked on a link we shouldn’t have. We indulged in lust. We were selfish. We were self-righteous. We made our golden calves because we trusted ourselves more than God. So, if we can just be better Tuesday–Saturday, maybe then we can worship guilt-free on Sunday.

But, here we see God responding with mercy because of one who stood in the gap for sinful people, and Jesus is greater than Moses. So, if you’ve been distancing yourself from God, draw near and know that he knows you by name and you have found favor in high sight because of Jesus. O, that these 21 days would be a time of us confessing our stiff-neckedness more than ever before because we are set free to admit our sin knowing we’ve found favor in God’s sight. And as you do that, I pray that you would experience God drawing near in your pleas for his presence. As you admit your nakedness and brokenness, he will draw near to clothe you with grace and begin to heal up your heart.

And then, finally, notice what people marked by the presence and power of God do: They ask for more. They want more. 

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.—Exodus 33:18–19

You would think God’s presence going with them would be enough and Moses would take this win and leave. But Moses, like anyone who finds his joy and satisfaction in the presence of God, asks for more. And I think he feels the boldness to do this because he knows that God knows him by name and that he has found favor in his sight. As we find rest in the grace of God, our hearts become addicted and we want to see more. 

The heart of the glory of God is revealed most in his sovereign freedom to pour out grace and mercy on undeserving people. We begin to believe this more and more, and then we long to see more and more of it. 

As our hearts seek the glory of God, this cycle happens. We draw near. We see him. Our hearts are exposed. He shows himself merciful. And then he draws us nearer. There is a kind of assurance of our hearts that presses us forward as the distinct people of God.

Notice the beauty of what’s going on here. The people receive grace and mercy. They should be wiped out. They are sinful. God shows off his very nature by his actions, and then his actions toward them glorify his name! Right?

This story makes it so clear that the Israelites have no way to claim they are better than any other nation. They turned from the true God to worship idols. Yet, they live. And yet God goes with them! God’s grace is glorified by continuing to be with his people.

It is so easy to get a ways down the journey of faith and forget that it is all by grace. God is with us because God is gracious. God is with us because is merciful. Every day, we make foolish idols because we are discontent in God’s provision and are content to go on without him. And every day, because of Jesus, he pours out grace. And as we taste and see grace and mercy of God, we keep asking to see more. Our souls find their rest in his mercy and our hearts find their joy in the glory of his grace. 

How Much More Should We Seek God’s Presence and Power in Christ?

Now sometimes we can read stories like this and think, “I wish God was that near to us. I wish I experienced his power and presence like that.”

But, consider these things:

Jesus has redeemed us and stood in the gap to make a way for us to be with God by making a much longer journey than Moses made up the mountain.

Jesus is interceding on our behalf right now.

Jesus atoned for our sins.

Jesus has shown us the glory of God—full of grace and truth.

Jesus has purchased the Spirit to dwell inside of us so that God keeps his promise to never leave us or forsake us. 

Jesus has purchased the Spirit to dwell inside of us so that we are a living, breathing, walking worship center of the living God.

So, we have access to the presence of God. There are unsearchable riches to discover in the word of God and prayer, and so my exhortation to us is to be a people who walk into a new building coming off of 21 days of seeking the Lord more than we ever have before.

If we will do this, we will see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We will find joy and rest in our Savior. And joy in Jesus is what our hearts long for. If you are not resting in Jesus, you will rest in other things. You will find rest in sin. You will be paralyzed by shame. You will find rest in relationships, money, power, productivity, comfortable lives, and popularity. We will make all sorts of golden calves to worship because our hearts are not at rest in the provision we have in Christ. 

But if we will seek the glory of God in the face of Christ, we will be reminded of his favor toward us and that he knows us by name. We will find rest in him and we will be set free to fight sin, walk out of the shadows of paralyzing shame, overflow in self-giving love in our relationships, work for God’s glory, take risks for Jesus, be generous with our money, and overflow to our neighbors about what have found in Jesus. 

So, Bethlehem, would you take these next 21 days to prepare your hearts even as the final preparations are being made in our new building? And as we march toward Lakeville together, would we be known most not for the beauty of our building, but that we are people marked as distinct by the beauty of the power and presence of Jesus by the Spirit as we seek to see, savor, and spread his glory together.

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