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God's Holy Presence

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Dearly loved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

Coleman lantern -- bright light and heat attract insects, yet kills them

Consider the situation:

Israel is camped at Mt. Sinai.  Their whole camp is under a cloud.  They are camped at the foot of the mountain of God and it isn’t comfortable for them. 

When they arrived and purified themselves, they had an appointment with God.  His glory appeared before them like a cloud and fire and smoke, the mountain shook and there was a noise like trumpets growing louder and louder.  This awesome experience was more than the people of Israel could stand – they told God that they preferred to have Moses go and listen to the Lord’s commands in their place.  The Lord agreed.

Then, while Moses was up the mountain talking with God, the high priest and the people made a golden calf and worshipped the calf in place of God.  God’s anger burned against them and thousands of people died. 

The Israelites remained under that cloud of God’s anger.  God was frustrated with them.  Earlier in chapter 33 (a part we didn’t read), the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place. I’ll send an angel to drive out the other nations, but I ‘will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.’”

Such is the holiness of God.  Sinfulness just cannot survive in his presence.  No one can see God and live.  He’s a holy God who lives in unapproachable light.  His presence within the camp demands purity and holiness.  If his people will persist on being sinful, the Lord will not go with them.

But Moses isn’t satisfied with that.  He’s used to talking with God as a man speaks with a friend.  He’s not excited about losing that connection with God.  In fact, Moses is not willing to go on this journey if God isn’t coming with them.

We’re on a journey too.  As a congregation we’re on a journey, travelling together to the Promised Land.  As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we are travelling towards the fulfillment of the Kingdom.

We’ve been travelling together for the last 6 years.  In 5 weeks, you’ll be without a pastor.  Those periods without a pastor are times of taking stock of who you are, what you’ve done, where you’re going. 

This is a process that we’ve begun already.  As a congregation, we sat down last spring and had some round-table conversations about who we are, what we’re happy with, what we’d like to see in our congregation.

The Council has been giving leadership in this conversation.  The revitalization team and Wil Bootsma have given leadership in this conversation.  Remember one of the first things that was put in place? A prayer group. 

The prayer group continues to meet regularly, praying for God’s presence and direction on the journey of Trinity CRC – and I know many of you also pray for God’s direction and leading for our congregation every day.  In essence we have said to God, we’re unwilling and unable to go on this journey unless you go with us.

Our reasons for begging God to stay close to us are the same as Moses’ reasons. “How will anyone know that you are please with your people unless you go with us?  What else will distinguish your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

We need the presence of God among us or else we get swallowed up in the rest of the culture and people of the world.  Unless God is among us, we are nothing more than a self-help group or a social club.  Without the Lord’s presence within us, we’ll just get swept up in the rest of the community.

That’s Moses’ concern too.  He doesn’t want to see God’s chosen people assimilated into the nations.  Even if God’s angel goes before them and gives them a place to live, it is only God’s presence among the people that will keep them distinct . . . unique . . . holy.  So, Moses is acting as a mediator here.  He is interceding for God’s people, advocating for God’s mercy and presence among his people. 

The best argument that Moses brings before God is, “Remember that this nation is your people.”  Sounds bold, eh?  After all the frustrations that Moses and God have had with the nation of Israel, Moses reminds God, they are your people.  You called them, you rescued them, and they are your people.

That’s our claim as well.  We are God’s people.  He is our God.  And we have a mediator bringing that reminder before God regularly as well:

There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.[1]

Like Moses, Jesus speaks on our behalf before God, urging our Heavenly Father to mercy, compassion, and goodness towards his covenant people. 

In our weekly conversations with God, we confess that we are just as wayward as our spiritual ancestors in the wilderness.  We find it difficult to live holy, committed lives.  The path of righteousness is narrow and difficult for us.  If it were not for God’s mercy and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we also would be unable to walk in the holy presence of the Lord.  His glory and holiness would overwhelm us too.

But Jesus is a prophet like Moses.  Jesus reminds the Lord of his love for us and his promises.  He intercedes on our behalf.  His sacrifice has convinced God not to abandon us.  Jesus himself has promised that God will never leave us or forsake us.

It is a promise that Moses leaves with God’s people in Deuteronomy 31, at the end of Moses’ journey with them:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” [2]

It’s a promise Jesus leaves with God’s people as well

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in  the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”[3]

We have that assurance confirmed to us as we gather for weekly worship services, as we set time aside for daily devotions and as we create habits of regular prayer: taking the opportunity to speak with God as a man speaks with his friend.

We enjoy this close contact and covenant faithfulness with the Lord, because like Moses, we have seen God’s glory.  We have perceived the glory and character of God in the person and actions of Jesus Christ.  The Lord’s character hasn’t changed any since he showed his glory and revealed his identity to Moses. 

As God’s glory passes in front of Moses, the Lord proclaims his Name:

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.[4]

Because of God’s mercy, we can now experience his presence and live. 

·        In Moses’ case, the Lord’s mercy took the form of a cleft in the rock, shielding him from the blazing glory and majesty that otherwise would overwhelm. 

·        In our case, the Lord’s mercy takes the form of Jesus – the rock of ages cleft for you.  You have been hidden in Christ.  As part of the body of Christ, you have become able to stand in the glorious holiness of God. 

We are on a journey – a quest – heading towards the fullness of the Kingdom of God.  We’re on a pilgrimage to the City of God.  It’s a journey we cannot make on our own.

Like Moses, we beg for God’s presence to go with us –a cloud – to go with us.  We experience the presence of God most intimately, most clearly, as we gather in worship, surrounded by a cloud of witnesses – enfolded in the body of Christ.

Without this cloud, we’d be assimilated into the world.  It’s God’s presence that marks us as his people and strengthens us for our journey – the journeyto the Kingdom of light.


[1]I Timothy 2:5-6.

[2] Dt 31:6.

[3] Mt 28:18-20.

[4] Ex 33:19.

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