Friendship With God

Exodus 33

Ascent March 10, 2002

Okay, so where do we stand now? The people are still camped at the foot of Mt Sinai but we have come to a major, and I mean major crisis point. Two weeks ago we had them camped and God comes down in fire and smoke and the people are freaked and Moses says, don't freak out; just respect the fact that our God is awesome. But he wants you guys as his people and he wants to draw near to you.

Then last week, Moses went up the Mountain to get God's instructions for how to prepare for God to come near... very near - to dwell in their midst, to "pitch his tent" with his people. While God is preparing to draw near in a right way, the people have their own way: They bring God near by making God small; they bring God near by changing his character to suit them; they bring God near by making Him their servant who provides for their needs; They bring God near by fashioning God's character out of what they value. All of this was the idolatry of the golden calf. They wanted a God near, but it was a cheap nearness, it was "God in a Box," God in their back pocket.

Tonight's message is much more positive - If last week we saw cheap nearness, tonight we get to see a picture of the valuable kind. If last week we saw counterfeit nearness, tonight we get to see the real thing. Tonight we get an intimate and accurate glimpse into what it means to be God's friend.

But in order to appreciate what it means to be God's friend, we need to see what a crisis Moses has on his hands. Look at Chapter 33 verse 3. This is God's response to the people's idolatry:

(Exodus 33:3-4) "Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way." {4} When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments."

Whoa, all bets are off. God is saying, "I will not dwell with you after all. I'll get you into the promised land but I will not draw near and be in your midst as I was planning."

The people are saddened by this, as they should be. This is huge. In a book about the mighty God coming near, this is crucial. Will God come near after all? Right now he is saying, "no." Moses' response to this crisis gives us a look into what real nearness, real friendship with God looks like.

Look at verses 7-11:

"Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the "tent of meeting." Anyone inquiring of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. {8} And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. {9} As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the LORD spoke with Moses. {10} Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to his tent. {11} The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent."

What is odd about this passage? (besides, the "face to face" part). Here is this thing called the "tent of meeting" and it says that anyone who wanted to inquire of God could go to the tent. But nowhere does it ever record that anyone except Moses, (and Joshua here) even gets near it. What do the people do? When Moses goes near to God, the people stand at their tents and then bow to worship. There's your choice: Drawing close to God or religiously worshipping from afar. God's friends draw near.

(James 4:8) "Draw near to God and he will draw near to you."

Drawing near to God means doing more than just observing, more than just pew sitting. So many of God's people just go through the external motions of what is called Christianity, but they don't seek out God himself. They do religious things. They keep rules and act reverent. You can be a religious person or you can be a friend of God. A friend of God wants to be near God - wants to meet with God.

You know, even being in ministry I struggle with this. It is so easy, especially after having been a Christian for a while, to reduce the Christian life to all these things we do - For me, being a Christian can just become a job, my career. But it’s about meeting with God. Moses lived the life, but at the heart of that life was meeting with God. It says in verse 11 that God spoke to Moses as a man speaks to his friend. In the next section we get an inside look into how these friends spoke together. From it we learn at least 4 things about what it means to draw near to God, what it means to be God's friend.

1. Be honest with God (33:12-18)

(Exodus 33:12-18) "Moses said to the LORD, "You have been telling me, 'Lead these people,' but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, 'I know you by name and you have found favor with me.' {13} 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." {14} The LORD replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." {15} Then Moses said to him, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. {16} 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?" {17} And the LORD said to Moses, "I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name." {18} Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory.""

The other night, at bedtime, my son, Ryan asked LaShawn that famous question that many of you have asked me: "If God knows what we are going to ask for, why do we need to pray?" You know, the answer to that is a lot simpler than many people realize. Maybe this helps: when you ask for things, why do you say please? To some, please is a magic word, to others it is a useless word. As a magic word, it is merely a tool you use to get what you want. If it’s a useless tack on, then why not drop it. It is neither. "Please" is a relational word - it is meant to honor the person you are asking. It is not meant to manipulate the person and neither is it a useless tack on.

Prayer is the same - sure God knows what we will ask for before we ask, but Prayer is not our tool for getting God to do our bidding. Prayer is not just about getting things from God, its about relating to God... honestly. God is loving what Moses is saying. God loves his honesty. God wants people who will wrestle with Him like Jacob did. Job's friends were very religious, and were very concerned about protecting God's reputation; Job was just mad at God and he said so. But in the end, God spoke to Job and blew off the friends; Job had a relationship, the friends had a theological system. God loves the honesty. But not just any ol' honesty. It is the things Moses is so passionate about that so pleased God:

Moses is passionate about 3 things and those are our final 3 points:

2. God's friends want to please God by doing things His way (33:13)

(Exodus 33:13) "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.""

The friend of God wants to know God's ways. God's ways means God's will for life. Not which college to go to or which person to marry, but God's law, what God values, how God would have us live our lives. The friend of God wants to walk in God's footsteps. This contrasts with the people who molded a god out of what they valued. Moses does the opposite - he wants God to mold him out of what God values.

Why? "So I may find favor in your sight." Moses wants to know God's ways because Moses wants to please God as much as he can. This is a funny verse. Moses says, "if you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so that you will be pleased with me." Someone asked me earlier this week just how this whole thing works with our relationship with God and doing good works. Do we earn anything by doing good? Basically it’s this - God's free gift is to let you have a relationship with Him. You can't earn that. But the quality of the relationship is a two way street. Moses knows God loves him. He knows God is pleased with Him, but he also knows he ain't perfect and he doesn't want to settle for that - He wants God to have his best as any good friend would. When you get married, you’re married. But you want to please your husband or wife and you want them to be pleased with you. You aren't earning their love (or at least you shouldn't be), but your are building a quality relationship.

Why do you do the Christian things you do? And are we determined to do better? God's acquaintances just keep religious rules so that they won't get in trouble or to get God to owe them. God's friends want to bring a smile to God's face by walking in His ways.

4. God's friends are hungry for God's presence (33:15-16)

(Exodus 33:15-16) "Then Moses said to him, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. {16} 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?""

I love this. Moses is as honest as you can get - almost sounds irreverent. "If you won't go with us, then don't even bother sending us out from here." - but it’s not irreverent, it’s the opposite - Moses is showing great humility and deep respect here.

Moses knows exactly who he is. He is God’s friend, but God is holding all the cards. This is a bold plea but it is a humble plea because he is expressing his total dependence and trust in the nature of God. He says, “God, I’m like this (weak) and you are like that (strong), and you say I’m your friend. So I need you, so don’t even ask me to do what you want if you will not give me more of yourself. I need more of you!” That’s what God is after: an honest dependence. The people just say, “God is scary. We don’t want any more - you talk to him, Moses.” Moses says, I know He’s scary - He’s a whole lot bigger than us! But He’s awesome! You don’t know what you’re missin’!” Moses is bold yet reverent, he talks to God like a friend, but remembers that God is God.

Why? According to Moses, it is God's presence that will distinguish the people of Israel from the rest of the world. We have been talking about how God wants us to be set apart from the world in order to be a light to the world. Remember? We are to have a difference that makes a difference. Moses is saying to God, "you are the difference that makes the difference." Yes, I want to walk in your ways, but that isn't going to happen if you aren't with us. It's not enough to just know God's ways. We need God's indwelling power to actually walk in those ways:

The ultimate "tent-pitching" occurred not when Jesus came and "pitched his tent among us" as it says in John 1. No, the ultimate drawing near is God's gift of the Holy Spirit.

(Ezekiel 36:27) "And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws."

(John 14:23) "Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him."

But Paul said, "if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit."

There is still a cooperation involved. We haven't been "possessed" by the Holy Spirit so that we no longer make choices. It's as if the Tent of Meeting has been pitched right in our hearts, and we have a choice to either draw near or never visit.

God has come near, but do we want him near? Do we care? Do we seek that presence throughout the day? Do we recognize our dependence and lean on Him throughout the day.

God isn't the tax lawyer that we visit once a year; God isn't the dentist who cleans us up twice a year; God isn't the spiritual gas station that we gas up at once a week; God is God and God is a friend, both of whom you want around 24-seven, to trust in, rejoice with, rely on and cling to throughout life.

4. God's friends want to know God better (33:18)

God says, okay, I'll go with you. But Moses hasn't finished:

(Exodus 33:18) "Then Moses said, "show me your glory.""

That's the bottom line. Perhaps this isn't really a 4th point so much as it sums it all up:

"God, show me your ways so I can walk in them... God, dwell with me 'for apart from you I can do nothing.' God, show me who you are! I want to know you better."

Moses cannot get enough of God. God has already revealed so much to Moses, but Moses wants more. Contrast that with the people: The people don't want to know anymore about God. "You talk to Him," they said, "we don't want to talk to Him." We'll do what he says, but we don't want to get too close.

Paul said that his chief aim was "to know Him and the power of His resurrection."

This is the difference between religion and a relationship. "Religion" is no more than trying to bargain with God - if I'm good, God, then bless me. But a relationship with God goes far deeper than that: "because you have blessed me God, I will give you all that I can give." Which describes you more? On the one hand we have observers, people who call themselves God's people, but whose Christian life consists of lots of external duties. Reading the Bible daily, going to church, saying grace before meals, all that nice stuff. But do you read your Bible just because that's what Christians do? Do you read your Bible in the morning because that's step 1 in having a good day. Or do you read the Bible because you are hungry to find God there. Do you read it because in it you get to discover more about your friend, the God of the universe. When I was dating LaShawn, one summer we were apart doing the long distance relationship thing. Let me tell you, when a letter came from her, I didn't read that letter because "that's what good boyfriends do." I read it because it was from her!

And the list goes on: why do we come here on Sunday night? Many of us come just to avoid the guilt we'd have if we didn't. Or do we come to draw near to God, through the praises of His people and the preaching of his word?

Now we get to worship together. It’s an opportunity to draw near. If you are feeling dry, like you are going through the motions, ask God to rekindle your passion for Him. If you are struggling in the Christian Life, say to Him, "God, I want my life to bring you pleasure - teach me your ways and I'll walk in them! God, if your presence doesn't go with me, then it’s no point for me to go on! I need you! So God, give me more of you! The High School version of things isn't cutting it - I need a fresh view of you. You are huge and I have only scratched the surface: blow me away!

Let’s pray.

God Draws Near

Exodus 34

Ascent March 17, 2002

Defining Moments:

Sept 11 and everyone involved - Bush, Guliani, people on planes.... At those moments we see who people are

My marriage at year 5 - a defining moment

We have come to THE defining moment in the book of Exodus and one of the most important defining moments in the whole Old Testament. We have talked about Near and Far over this quarter. The book of Exodus is a book about deliverance - God removing one barrier after another that stands between Him and his people, so he can draw near to them and they to Him. The golden calf incident is a crisis because it points to a problem and a barrier far greater than any God has had to overcome so far in this book. It is a problem that is at the very root of our natures as human beings. Our problem as humans is not outside us, it is not circumstantial, as we many times would like to think. Our problem is not ultimately with Egyptian Slave drivers or professorial slave drivers, or bad roommates; our problem is not a lack of food and water, or any of the other necessities of life. Our biggest problem lies right here (the heart). We sin; we are unfaithful in our love for God. The barrier that sin creates is the barrier above all barriers. God has thus far practically destroyed a nation, parted a sea, rained down miracle bread, brought water from a rock and thundered his glory and his law from the mountain, but it all comes down to this... This defining moment. What will He do, what can He do with the problem of sin?:

(Exodus 33:5 NIV) "For the LORD had said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites, 'You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you. Now take off your ornaments and I will decide what to do with you.'"

Everything else so far has been nothing more than a metaphor for this, the real problem. Sin brings real slavery. Sin brings spiritual death, sin promises to fill our needs but instead leaves us spiritually sick, and worst of all, sin is the ultimate barrier between us and God - it is the enemy of near - it puts distance between us and a Holy, perfect God.

Moses knows a lot about God at this point, but he presses to know more. Moses is such a great example in this way. As challenges come, he goes straight to God. Doesn’t it seem strange that Moses would be saying to God in chapter 33, “teach me your ways, show me your glory.” This is Moses saying this! Hasn’t he seen enough? He speaks to God face to face as a man speaks to His friend! He received the 10 commandments right from God! He has seen all the fire and smoke on the mountain. “Show me your glory?” What more is there to know or see? Whatever Moses knows about God to this point, it isn’t enough to deal with the current crisis. In Exodus we have a progression of revelation. As God meets challenge after challenge, he reveals more about Himself. What does Moses know so far? What have we seen so far?

1. That God is Who God is! Well who is that?

2. God is a deliverer from bondage

3. God is a savior from death

4. God is a provider of our needs

5. God is Holy

6. God wants to be near us.

But what will God do with sinners? With rebels? With idolaters? Ultimately, it is a question about the kind of God we serve. Moses needs to know and God is going to tell Him.

(Exodus 33:18-19 NIV) "Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory." {19} And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence.”

Moses will get to see God’s goodness. And God will proclaim His name - that means he will “explain” his name. Remember, names have significance because of what they say about the person. Remember, God is in control of the whole thing. God has their attention. Now God gets to reveal something essential about Himself as He faces this ultimate barrier that stands between Him and His people. What is He going to do with Sin and a sinful people?

So Moses goes back up the mountain to a special place, a cleft in the rock and here is what happens. Look at chapter 34, starting at verse 5.

(Exodus 34:5-7 NIV) "Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. {6} And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, {7} maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."

This is THE pinnacle self-revelation of God in the Old Testament. It is quoted over and over throughout the OT and it is the truth that makes all the difference.

So what do we learn about God from this? What is God going to do about sin?

1. Mercy: God is going to forgive sin.

The passage breaks down into 2 parts, reflecting 2 things God wants us to know about His nature: In the first he speaks of his compassion, grace, patience, love, faithfulness and forgiveness. God’s answer to Israel ’s sin and all of our sin is that he is ready to forgive.

I mentioned that this passage is quoted all over the OT. One of the best places is Psalm 103, where David doesn’t just quote it, but he explains it:

(Psalms 103:7-14 NIV) "He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel : {8} The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. {9} He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; {10} he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. {11} For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; {12} as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. {13} As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; {14} for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust."

He is compassionate - the metaphor used in vs 13 is that his compassion is like that of a father for his children; he cares about us; we are dear to him, he wants us as his very own.

He is Gracious - he does not treat us as our sins deserve (that’s the definition of grace) and he does not always accuse; “he drops the charges.”

He is Slow to Anger - He is patient with us; in vs 14 it says he remembers that we are but dust. He is patient because he knows how weak we are.

He is abounding in love - how abounding? Immeasurable - As high as the heavens are above the earth.

He maintains love to thousands - that’s how wide his love is in its effects.

He forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin. What does it mean that he forgives? It means that as far as the east is from the west, that’s how far he has removed our sins from us. They are gone.

What is wickedness, rebellion and sin? Other translations read: iniquities, transgressions and sins? This triplet appears all over the Bible and covers the whole range of what separates us from God. The first word, “wickedness” or “iniquities” is the sweeping term that covers the next two - it just means our overall guilt before God; what separates us from God. The 2nd word, “rebellion” or “transgressions” has to do with our willful disobedience of God’s law. Some of you have heard the term “sins of commission.” It’s the things we actually choose to “do” against God and God’s ways. The Third word, “sins” is used to refer to what some call sins of omission, or even sins of ignorance. It’s the idea of falling short or missing the mark, even when you give it your best try. It is a “transgression” when after getting angry at someone I say a mean-spirited word to them to hurt them. It is a Sin of omission, when, because I am so pre-occupied with myself, I don’t think to _______ . Those are the “I didn’t mean to....” Sins that still hurt people. My kids say that all the time, as if “not meaning to” means it wasn’t wrong. Many terrible things have been done in this world by people with good intentions.

But God stands ready to forgive all of it - to remove it completely away from us and not hold it against us.

2. Judgment: God is going to punish sin.

In the second half God says that He is Just. Sin will be punished. As usual, there is tension in this passage. God is saying I am merciful... But I am just. But how can he be both? “I forgive wickedness, rebellion and sin. But if you are guilty of wickedness, rebellion and sin, I’ll punish you.” But doesn’t forgiveness mean he will not punish you? So how can God have it both ways? How can we have it both ways?

By the way, for those of you who are a bit troubled by this statement that God “punishes the children for the sins of the fathers...” Let me give a brief word of explanation. First of all the use of the word “punish” is unfortunate. Every other translation reads “visiting the iniquity of the fathers...” And the Hebrew word is literally, “visiting.” That is how it is normally used, as in someone visiting someone else. God does not hold the children guilty for the sins of their parents, but he visits the consequences of those sins onto them. God will not halt the effects of sins but allow them to play out in people’s lives. We were created relational beings and our sins have relational consequences; we have all seen the effects of our parents sins in our own lives. That is the short answer, if you have more questions about it, come talk with me.

But the big question is, how can God have it both ways?

3. "Yet mercy triumphs over judgment." James 2:13

How so?

- First it is clear from the passage that God wants to stress his love over his judgment. He gives 7 descriptions of his love and two to his justice. The effect of his love is described as extending to thousands, while the effect of his judgment extends only to “the 3rd and 4th generation.” While sin’s consequences are destructive for up to 3 and 4 generations, God’s love and mercy spill out onto thousands.

- Second, what the passage is in effect saying is, “I stand ready to take away your guilt; woe to you if you don’t take me up on my offer.”

- Finally, and most importantly, In Jesus Christ, God has resolved the tension between mercy and justice; The death of Jesus fulfilled both halves of this revelation of God. There is no difference between the Old and the New. The death of Jesus is the vehicle of God’s compassion, grace, abounding love and forgiveness. How? By fulfilling the second half. In dying he absorbed the punishment of the guilty. In one act Jesus expressed both God’s love and God’s justice - justice and mercy met on the cross and mercy triumphed over justice.

How does one respond to this? Well, how did Moses respond?

(Exodus 34:8-9 NIV) "Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. {9} "O Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes," he said, "then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.""

He worshipped and that is what we are about to do. But what was the substance of his worship. I think verse 9 is connected to 8. Moses worshipped by acting upon, living within, trusting on, the truth he just received; or better, the God He has come to know better. Moses bows in reverence and says, “wow, you are a God who forgives. Then please go with us, forgive us and take us as your own.”

And of course, God does all three. Immediately after this he renews his covenant with them and takes them as His own people; He forgives their sin, and then after 6 more chapters of preparation of the tabernacle, in the last few verses of the book God comes into their midst and it says he was with them in all their travels.

Tonight we have the opportunity to respond to our God who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness; who has forgiven our sins by taking the punishment on himself.

That is what the elements before you represent.

Jesus said this:

Matthew 26:26-28 "Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is my body, given for you" {27} And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you; {28} for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."

Bound up in both are the 2 halves: His blood is the blood of forgiveness because it is blood spilled on our behalf; He didn’t just die; he died a very special death. He died the death of the guilty, so that we could have the forgiveness that God so longs to give.

How can we respond? You can rejoice or you can repent and then rejoice. That’s how we can, tonight, live with the God we love. If there is known sin in your life; confess it to Him, because He wants to remove it as far as the east is from the west. But remember, he covered even the sins we are unaware of and unless you had a perfect day and a perfect week, you have much to be thankful for. Because it is all covered. We are forgiven. We are His possession and He dwells with us. Tonight we remember and give thanks for what made that possible: the sacrifice of his Son.

Let’s pray.