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Meeting God at the Tent of Meeting

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 TEXT:  Exodus 33

TOPIC:  Meeting God in the Tent of Meeting

Pastor Bobby Earls, First Baptist Church, Center Point,

April 23, 2006

          I love the Old Testament accounts of how God met with His people, the people of ancient Israel.  The book known as Exodus covers the history of the people of Israel as God led His people through the man Moses out of 400 years of Egyptian slavery and 40 years of wilderness wandering into the Promised Land.

          Exodus 33 is a beautiful parenthesis in the middle of the story of God’s dealings with His people.  Chapter 32 records the tragic account of the people of Israel choosing to make for themselves an idol of a golden calf.

          I love the fluid way the Living Bible captures this story.  Set back and let me read the Bible to you.

15Then Moses went down the mountain, holding in his hands the Ten Commandments written on both sides of two stone tablets. 16(God himself had written the commandments on the tablets.)

17When Joshua heard the noise below them, of all the people shouting, he exclaimed to Moses, “It sounds as if they are preparing for war!”

18But Moses replied, “No, it’s not a cry of victory or defeat, but singing.”

19When they came near the camp, Moses saw the calf and the dancing, and in terrible anger he threw the tablets to the ground, and they lay broken at the foot of the mountain. 20He took the calf and melted it in the fire, and when the metal cooled, he ground it into powder and spread it upon the water and made the people drink it.

21Then he turned to Aaron. “What in the world did the people do to you,” he demanded, “to make you bring such a terrible sin upon them?”

22“Don’t get so upset,” Aaron replied. “You know these people and what a wicked bunch they are. 23They said to me, ‘Make us a god to lead us, for something has happened to this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt.’ 24Well, I told them, ‘Bring me your gold earrings.’ So they brought them to me and I threw them into the fire, and . . . well . . . this calf came out!”

25When Moses saw that the people had been committing adultery—at Aaron’s encouragement, and much to the amusement of their enemies—26he stood at the camp entrance and shouted, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come over here and join me.” And all the Levites came.

27He told them, “Jehovah the God of Israel says, ‘Get your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other and kill even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.’ ” 28So they did, and about three thousand men died that day.

29Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers; now he will give you a great blessing.”

30The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin, but I will return to the Lord on the mountain—perhaps I will be able to obtain his forgiveness for you.”

31So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, these people have sinned a great sin and have made themselves gods of gold. 32Yet now if you will only forgive their sin—and if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”

33And the Lord replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me will be blotted out of my book. 34And now go, lead the people to the place I told you about, and I assure you that my Angel shall travel on ahead of you; however, when I come to visit these people, I will punish them for their sins.”

35And the Lord sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped Aaron’s calf.  (Exodus 32:15-35)

          Then we come to the parenthesis of chapter 33.  Why do I call chapter 33 a parenthesis?  Because it breaks the story of Exodus and interjects a refreshing picture of the grace and the glory of God.  Even in the midst of the stubbornness and sinfulness of a cold-hearted and disobedient people, God still chooses to meet with His people.

          This morning I am preaching on the subject, Meeting God at the Tent of Meeting. 

          Notice three beautiful truths in the 33rd chapter of the book of Exodus.  First,

1.     What the Lord – REPEATS, Exodus 33:1-3 

1Then the Lord said to Moses, “Depart and go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ 2“And I will send My Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. 3“Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”  In the first three verses God repeats the promise that the children of Israel would one day go into the land of promise. God said that He would drive out all the occupants of the land. God would give them dominion. God would give them conquest of that land. In the midst of that repeating of the promise of God, God says something very ominous. In verse 3 of the chapter the Lord says, But I will not travel along with you, for you are a stubborn, unruly people. If I did, I would be tempted to destroy you along the way.”              

That was a ominous statement. What a terrible thought that they would go through a wilderness experience without the presence of God. In Ephesians 2 the Bible talks about not being saved -- "Having no hope and without God in this world." It is an awful thought to think about going through this old wilderness world that you and I live in and not having God in our life. What do people do when they don't have the Lord? How do people live? How do people cope with the problems and the difficulties and the heartaches and sorrows of this old life if Jesus is not in their life? So, we have what the Lord repeats in these opening verses.  

2.     What the Lord – REJECTS, Exodus 33:4-6 

Verses 4-6 give to us what the Lord God says He rejects.  4And when the people heard this bad news, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. 5For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the children of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. I could come up into your midst in one moment and consume you. Now therefore, take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do to you.’ ” 6So the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by Mount Horeb.  Now reading from the NKJV, 4 When the people heard these stern words, they went into mourning and refused to wear their jewelry and ornaments. 5 For the Lord had told Moses to tell them, “You are an unruly, stubborn people. If I were there among you for even a moment, I would destroy you. Remove your jewelry and ornaments until I decide what to do with you.” 6 So from the time they left Mount Sinai, the Israelites wore no more jewelry.  What does God reject?  Is it the lavious jewelry that the Lord hates?  No, He rejects the rebellion in their heart -- their inward problem. God also rejects the outward manifestation of that problem in the ornaments that they wore. These ornaments were significant. They were brought by the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt. They represented their attachment to the previous gods where they had been.            

Remember what Moses said in chapter 32:31?  These people have sinned a great sin and have made themselves gods of gold.  One of the great sins of our day is that people have rejected God for gods of gold.  Because we have rejected God, He has rejected us.  But there is good news.  God also tells us that if we will draw nigh to Him, to God, He will draw nigh to us.              

How do we draw nigh to God?  It’s called repentance.  Repentance means we must be willing to turn away from our sin, our disobedience, our stiffneckness.  We must be willing to say to God I'm going to walk a different life, I'm going to be a different person. So, God is saying to the children of Israel -- there are some things I reject. You must give outward evidence indication that your repentance is real. What the Lord repeats -- you are going into the land. What the Lord rejects -- take off those ornaments, get rid of our rebellious disposition. 

Then, in verse 7 we see,  

3. What the Lord REVEALS, Exodus 33:77 It was Moses’ custom to set up the tent known as the Tent of Meeting far outside the camp. Everyone who wanted to consult with the Lord would go there. (NLT) Moses, outside the camp, pitched the tabernacle of the congregation.  This is not the major tabernacle or tent of the Wilderness years.  This is not the one that is given in minute detail in the remaining chapters of the book of Exodus.  This was a temporary arrangement outside the camp. The camp had been polluted; compromised by the golden calf experience. So God told Moses to put this temporary structure outside the city and everybody who wants to hear from me must come outside the camp.            

In Hebrews 13:13 the Bible says that the Lord Jesus Christ suffered without the gate. Jesus went outside the camp. There on an old rugged cross, Jesus died for our sins and that's the only place in God's universe an individual can meet the Lord. You meet Jesus Christ at the cross.  I must needs go home by the way of the cross.There's no other way but this.I'll never catch sight of the gates of light,If the way of the cross I miss. 

During that experience the Lord revealed to Moses two wonderful, spiritual truths. 

First—A REVELATION OF GOD’S GRACE 

In verse 12 it says 12Then Moses said to the Lord,…. You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.’ 13“Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.”  Then God makes this wonderful promise. Verse 14 - " “I will personally go with you, Moses. I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.”  (NLT) And Moses replies to the Lord - " 15 Then Moses said, “If you don’t go with us personally, don’t  let us move a step from this place." To that we too must say “Amen.” 

I wouldn't want to do anything without the presence of the Lord. You are bound for failure if you try to do anything without the Lord.   

I’ve always liked the advice of the Jewish teacher Gamaliel who told his fellow Jews who wanted to stifle the preaching of Peter and the other apostles in Acts 5,  And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; 39“but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.” So, God revealed, first of all, to Moses His grace. Grace tells how we begin in our experience with God. God's first touch on the soul is the touch of grace. It is by grace that you are saved through faith and that not of yourselves.

That's why it just kind of does something to the believer's heart when he sings that hymn Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I am found, was blind but now I see. Marvelous, wonderful, infinite grace of God. God revealed His grace to Moses in what has to be the most supreme moment in the life of Moses.

 Next, God gives to Moses A REVELATION OF HIS GLORY 

After God revealed to Moses His grace, in verse 18 Moses says, "I pray thee, shew me thy glory." Isn't that an interesting thing? He had received a revelation of God's grace. Now he asks for a revelation of God's glory.  In Psalm 84 the 11th verse it says, "The Lord will give grace and glory, no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly."  Those two words go together. Grace is how the Christian life begins.  Glory is how the Christian life concludes. Everything that begins in grace will ultimately conclude in glory.  So, the Lord said to Moses, "Get in the cleft of this rock.." 

I can imagine Moses singing, Rock of ages, cleft for me.Let me hid myself in thee. Moses got in the cleft of that rock and the Lord covered him with his hand and the Lord passed by and then the Bible says, "when the Lord's backparts - that is the afterglow of His regal train came by – God removed his hand from Moses face and Moses got a little glimpse of the glory of God.  What Moses got a little glimpse of the Bible says that you and I see in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

I want to show you how this ties together with the New Testament. John 1:14 - "And the Word was made flesh (Jesus, the eternal Christ) and dwelt among us." It's the word tabernacaled, really. He tabernacaled among us.  "And we beheld His glory. The glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." That Scripture is saying that when God sent His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, men saw the glory of God.

And that’s exactly what we need church.  We need a fresh touch of the glory of God and the grace of God.               Meeting God at the Tent of Meeting means we meet Jesus in salvation and grow in Jesus in sanctification.  Meeting God at the Tent of Meeting always begins with grace and ends in glory!            

Have you experienced God’s grace in your life?  Have you experienced His glory?

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