Sunday, November 25, 2007

Exodus 33: The people, the prayer, and the Presence

Contextual Notes:
The fallout from the Golden Calf lingers in the air. It has caused a real problem. There is a real stalemate in God’s relationship with His people and the air is thick with tension. Reconciliation between God and His people is by no means complete.

Sin in the camp has caused distance in relationships – tension between Moses and the people of Israel, distance between the Lord and His people, tension even between Moses and the Lord.
Instead of a great celebration at the return of Moses from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, God’s personally written copy of their mutual covenant, there is a soupy silence. A silence imposed by the aftertaste of ground metal from the Golden Calf that Moses made them drink.

Here they are at the mountain of God, and God has moved outside the camp and is threatening to send them to the Promised Land on their own.

Pray and Read: Exodus 33:1-23
Sermon Points:
1. A stiff-necked people (Exodus 33:1-6)
2. A distanced relationship (Exodus 33:7-11)
3. An earnest prayer (Exodus 33:12-17)
4. A glorious Presence (Exodus 33:19-23)

Exposition: Note well,

1. A Stiff-necked people (33:1-6).
a. Note the sarcasm “the people you brought up”
b. Note God remembers his Promise to Abraham
c. Note that He will even send an angel, but He will not go.

d. APPLICATION: If you want to go on your own, the Lord will let you. He doesn’t require that you lean on him. O, how many churches in our association, how many congregations in our county here, if the Lord threatened to leave them, how many would go on without even knowing it? How many have already done so? Would we go on, assuming our own self-sufficiency, and move forward without the Lord’s presence or approval? How many of us in our own lives go forward every day in our own strength? How many of us can’t even remember what it is like to lean on the Lord, keeping our eyes fixed on Him, not moving until He moves?

e. Note the sadness of the people; and God’s estimation of them: stiff-necked.
f. The removal of their ornaments was permanent. Ornaments they were given in Egypt on their departure were used to fashion the Golden Calf. The ornaments were an enabler to their sin.

g. APPLICATION: The effect of sin is mourning. Sin always causes sadness and regret. Some would see here the mandate not to wear jewelry. That is not the issue here. The issue is that anything which causes you to sin, strip off that ornament. Is it alcohol? Strip off that ornament. Is it gambling? Strip off that ornament. Is it an illicit attraction? Strip off that ornament. Strip off any ornament that distances you from your Lord.

2. A Distanced Relationship (33:7-11)
a. His location strongly communicates His displeasure and broken relationship with His people.
b. The Tent of Meeting here is not the Tabernacle. It has not yet been built. This is a place where Moses meets with God, but God has moved out of the camp. In His graciousness, He still remains accessible.

c. Note the desire and focus in the people, indeed their need, to worship. Note their inability to do anything about what their sin did to them.

d. APPLICATION: Our sin distances us from the Lord. It can happen individually. It can happen in a family. It can happen in a church body. It can happen in a nation. The people had no options at Mount Sinai. No direction. No future. No certainty. The good news is that we have a great opportunity. Jesus Christ has bridged the divide that sin caused between us and Him.

3. An Earnest Prayer (33:12-17).

a. v. 12: Whom you will send with me? Moses’ trust in Aaron is shot. Now the Lord has moved outside the camp. Moses is swimming in uncertainty.

b. So far, God in His grace has relented by taking responsibility to assign an angel to prepare the way for Israel to the Promised Land, but He Himself would not go.

c. Moses reinforces his intercession that without YHWH, Israel has no reason to exist.

d. APPLICATION: Without the presence of the Lord with us, the church has no reason to exist, you and I who proclaim ourselves Christian have no reason to exist.

e. 1 Cor 15:32-34a: Paul said, “If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, ‘let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ (quoting Isaiah 22:3). Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning.

f. The relationship between the Lord and Moses remains at a crisis, but through this prayer time, they grow closer to one another.

g. APPLICATION: The goal of prayer is a closer relationship with the Lord. Moses’ intercession mended the relationship. Christ’s intercession does the same for us in salvation. Your prayer and intercession on your own behalf, on your family’s behalf, on your church’s behalf, on your nation’s behalf works the same way.

h. APPLICATION: The same is true on a lesser level in human relationships. Is there a broken relationship? Communication, heart-level talking with one another, not at one another, not to one another, but with one another. That means listening more than talking. That means being honest when you talk.

i. Illustration: I have been hours in rooms with representatives from people groups and cultures who have wronged one another. It might have been Native peoples and whites. It may have been blacks and whites. Once in southern CA after the 1992 South-Central riots it was Koreans and blacks. Once in Indonesia it was pribumi Indonesians and transplanted Chinese, then pribumis and Dutch colonials. You know what I have found? Talking together, understanding one another, and then going in prayer together to God really works. Paul dealt with the same problem in Ephesians 2.

4. A Glorious Presence (33:19-23)
a. Moses boldly asks for a revelation of God’s divine glory (v. 18). Why? Assurance of restored relationship.

b. The Glory: His goodness: His acts and character, His Name: personal relationship, His attributes: grace and mercy entirely His prerogative.
c. God’s back: description of His essence after He has passed, a partial revelation of glory. Moses could not see God’s face, the full revelation of His glory, b/c it would kill him. One day, though, we will see Him in His fullness.

d. 1 John 3:2: Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

e. Same cleft of rock as Elijah? 1 Kings 19:9-18. I wouldn’t doubt it, since Elijah is portrayed as a new prophet like Moses and both point to Christ the perfection and author of Law and the Prophet to come.

f. APPLICATION: God longs to show us His glory, but our lives are often such that we cannot handle it. He desires for us to know Him and the fullness of His presence. That same desire is in human beings. Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10-11).

The sheer joy is that sin can be overcome. Relationship with God can be restored. Jesus Christ died on the cross to prepare the way for us, to open that gateway to salvation. The choice remains yours. Do you want to know Christ? Do you want to grow in your experience and relationship with Christ? Today I invite you to that new place in your life. Won’t you respond?