Exodus 33:15 – 23.
Every week, when we gather for church, we are doing something so important that quite literally lives are at stake. Can you imagine being a surgeon, coming to work every day with people’s lives resting on you? I want to suggest to you that it is even more important for you and I to have this understanding when we think about how we gather for worship, whether it is online, like it has to be right now, or in a building, I believe there is more at stake than we realise. Lives are at stake, eternal lives.
In Exodus 33, God told Moses that He was done with the Israelites. And I believe He was sending a dire warning, one which you and I need to hear. Because of their wickedness, because of their laziness when it came to how they followed God, the Lord had declared that He would fulfil His promise, He would see them safely into the Promised Land, but He would not go with them.
Moses responded by saying:
15Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. 16How will anyone know that you look favourably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.” (Exodus 33:15 – 16)
Only when they were faced with the very reality of the absence of God, did they realise how vital it was that God was present with them. Because if He wasn’t, then they would be simply no different to any of the other peoples of the earth.
And that is so true for us today, and it causes us to pause and ask a vital question. Is God visibly at work in our lives and in our church fellowship today? Is the signature of God on our life and the life of our church? Is God so evident in our lives, that people will see us and say, there is something different there, something powerful. God is at work! And I want to be a part of that, I want to be where God is working, and I want God to be working in me.
What is the word that describes what I am talking about? What is the best word to describe God’s Manifest presence in the church? I believe that Psalm 19 gives us the answer:
The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. (Psalm 19:1)
Glory is the supernatural signature of God. Glory is what is seen when God is present. When lives were changed, when sick were healed, when lost were saved in the 1st century Christian Church, God’s Glory was seen, His glory was witnessed. It is exactly the same in His church today. So we must be hungry for the presence of Jesus, we must be hungry for His glory. Moses was! Look at what happened next:
18Moses responded, “Then show me your glorious presence.”
19The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. 20But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.”
How amazing! Moses said, “God show me your glorious presence!” And God did! God answered Moses deepest need and desire.
You know I often wondered about this passage, why was it that Moses couldn’t look upon the face of God and live? God was protecting Moses from something that would happen if he looked upon God’s face, but what was He protecting Him from?
And I think I discovered something that helps to answer that for me when we understand the meaning of the word glory. The word for glory in Hebrew is ‘kavode’ – and the root word from which it is derived is ‘kavad’ which also means glory, but it also means weight or heaviness. And so I wonder, that if Moses were to look directly on the face of God, he would quite literally be crushed under the weight of God’s Glory.
When we behold a glorious sunrise, we behold something of the glory of God’s activity in the world. When we behold the splendour of the milky way, we behold something of the Glory of God’s activity in the universe. When we behold a life that is changed, or a sickness that is healed, or activity that points to the fact that only God could have been at work here, then we behold something of the Glory of God’s activity in the church. But that is the evidence, it is Jesus Himself that we must seek, it is Him and His presence that we must be hungry for.
I would like to suggest to you three things that are of vital importance, so important, in fact that I believe lives are at stake.
- We must be focused first and foremost on Jesus. Our eyes must be on Him, and let that fuel our ministry to others and not the other way around.
We must never be so accustomed to activity for Jesus that it has been replaced by the far greater work of activity in Jesus and by Jesus. We must always be conscious of those around us, we must always looking to reach out and love our neighbour, but that must always as a result of the first great commandment: That we love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength. (Mark 12:30)
So we must be focused first and foremost on Jesus glory. Secondly:
- We must be zealous for the glorification of Jesus in our lives and in this church.When I first articulated this statement, I used the word jealous and I have to admit that I was a little uncomfortable because it didn’t quite sit right. Someone suggested that I should change one letter. It made all the difference. Unfortunately people can get zealous for all the wrong reasons, but the one thing that we must be zealous about is God’s glory. From time to time we will honour people, their effort and their service, but only Jesus gets the glory. It is right that we are passionate about that, it is right that we are zealous for that.
We must be focused on Jesus Glory. We must be zealous for Jesus glorified and thirdly:
- We must come to church conscious that every action and motive promotes or discourages the glorification of Jesus.
This is a challenging one because we are all happy to look critically at others, but not to look critically in a mirror. Did you realise that your action and your attitude in how you come to worship, your sense of expectation, your commitment, your whole-hearted response, your love and respect for others, all this will have an effect of how Jesus is glorified here.
In other words our actions have the power to encourage or to hinder God’s manifest presence in this church, God’s glory in this church. And the good news about that is, if it begins with us, if it is about what we see in a mirror, then we have power to do something about it.
We can’t change other people’s actions or behavior, but we can work on ours. God’s manifest presence in this church, God’s glory in this church, begins with me, and as we all personally give ourselves to seeing God glorified in this church, it will happen. It is even more certain than the sun rising every morning.