Moses tells God to take responsibility of His people, a bold request. But Moses follows it up with an even more daring request, a he asks to see God's face. In this sermon on Exodus 33:18-23, Pastor Jason shares what God's answer to Moses teaches us about God's presence and how we can experience His presence in our lives.
This sermon is Part 2 of 3 in a series titled "Show me your face." Here is the link to the other sermon in this series:
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**not a word for word transcript, but the sermon manuscript**
SHOW ME YOUR FACE
Part 2 of 3: Show me
Text: Exodus 33:18-23
In the summer of 2011, I found myself divorced, single, and certain that any future girlfriend was not going to be in my hometown of Martinsville, Indiana. Especially at M1 Naz. I had tried that on multiple occasions. The bar scene was not for me. And I had learned that 10 out of 10 random girls liked food, but 0 out of 10 wanted to get food with me, despite this common interest.
One night I decided to try online dating. Through a site called Christian Mingle, I found a chatroom where I could interact with single ladies my age. A month in, I decided to have fun by waiting for a random and unknown lady to enter the chatroom so I could test as many pickup lines on her as possible. To shorten this story, Nicole came into the chatroom and survived three hours’ worth of the best lines I could come up with.
From that point, we began dating. The downside to our relationship was I lived in Martinsville, Indiana and she was living in New Castle, Colorado. We wanted to see each other in person, but over 1200 miles separated us. While I did drive out for a visit and we also flew together so I could meet her parents, our relationship was built on the only presence we could have. Text messages, Skype sessions, and nightly phone calls. Often our phone calls would be sitting in silence together on the phone, or even one of us falling asleep. It was not our preferred presence, but we found contentment and love in the presence we could have.
This is how we experience God’s presence this side of heaven. Moses decides this limited experience is not enough. In our passage today, Moses is going to ask God for more.
READING OF THE TEXT
18 Then Moses said, “Please let me see your glory.” 19 He said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim the name of ‘the LORD’ before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” 20 But he added, “You cannot see my face, for humans cannot see me and live.” 21 The LORD said, “Here is a place near me. you are to stand on the rock, 22 and when my glory passes by, I will put you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hands until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take my hand away, and you will see my back, but my face will not be seen.” (CSB)
Remember what is happening as Moses makes this request. God has told the Israelites, “I will not go with you” in reference to their journey to Canaan. God was giving them the Promised Land, but because they were “stiff-necked” and prone to sin, God would not go with them. This was out of mercy; God was distancing Himself from the people so His holiness would not destroy them.
Moses does not like these words from God, so in verses 12 through 17, he pleads with God to go with them. He also reminds God that none of this was Moses’ idea, nor were these his people. God had called Moses to lead God’s people. If they had any hope of reaching the Promised land, God had to go with them.
God responds to Moses, agreeing to go with them. And the text we are studying today is a continuation of the same conversation.
God’s response to Moses in verses 12 through 17 embolden Moses to make an even bolder request. He essentially asks God, “will you show me your face?”
Moses experienced God’s goodness when the LORD responded to go with them. He had experienced God at the burning bush. With every plague and every step to Mount Sinai, Moses experienced God’s presence in ways beyond most people. But Moses still craved more. Their was a desire to draw closer, to see God without figure or veil. His request was to know God as knew him.
God answers in verse 19, “I will cause all my goodness to press in front of you, and I will proclaim the name ‘the LORD’ before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” In this response, God is letting Moses know He is God, and God owes nothing to anyone. The Apostle Paul quotes this verse in Romans 9:15, then explains in verse 16 that God’s grace, mercy, and goodness is not experienced by anyone based on human effort. Yes, God is holy and just, but His desire is to show mercy. Matthew Henry said it this way, “For His grace is always free. He never damns by prerogative, but by prerogative he saves.”
The Lord’s response continues in verse 20, “You cannot see my face, for humans cannot see my face and live.” Sinful human beings are not worthy to see God’s face unveiled or without figure. While God is agreeing to let Moses see all His goodness, Moses would have to be content with what his human limitation would be stretched to experience. Moses must wait for his full desire to be experienced in what is next after this life.
In finishing His response, God simply tells Moses, “Stand here.” Here being in the crevice of a rock. The rock and the hand of God would hide and protect Moses from being harmed by God’s presence. When it was safe, Moses’ ability to bear as a man was reached, God would let him see His back. God was only really allowing Moses to see the afterglow of His presence. The afterglow of God’s presence was all that this yielded servant of God would be able to survive.
HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO ME?
Can you and I see God? The writer of Hebrews penned, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature.” (Hebrews 1:3) Jesus is God, so to see and experience Jesus is in a sense seeing God. As a matter of fact, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8) But these verses seem to contradict God’s words to Moses, and the words written by the apostles. John and Paul saw Jesus, one journeyed with Jesus and the other saw Him in a bright light, but both said, “No one has seen God.” Confusing, right?
God is holy, the fullness of His face would be too much for any of us to handle in this life in this world. Revelation 20:11 says, “Then I saw the great white throne and one seated on it. Earth and heaven fled from His presence, and no place was found for them.” A sinful creation cannot face God. If earth and heaven flee, what chance do people have? Now for those who have faith in Jesus, this moment will be different for us. All that is sinful in us and about us will be melted away and by the blood of Jesus we will fully see God. Paul affirms this in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.” Fully seeing God as He sees us is the reward of faith.
God is good though. Even though you and I are unworthy, there have been moments when we got to see His afterglow. I saw the miracle of a McFlurry leaving McDonald’s. There are people here today in answer to prayer. These altars testify to victories found in Jesus. Those moments are His afterglow, the maximum amount of God’s fullness our human conditions will allow this side of eternity.
If anything, these glimpses leave us with a desire for more. In his commentary on this passage, Matthew Henry shared this good news, “If we faithfully improve the discoveries God gives us of Himself while we are here, a brighter and more glorious scene will shortly be opened to us.” This certainly is pointing to the day we cross from this life to the next, but I do no think that is what Henry is referencing here. If we desire to see more of God, He is good and will share more of His afterglow with us.
Maybe you experienced Jesus at VBS when you were a kid, that is great, an important experience. But if you have not experienced God since, oh if you would desire to be in His presence again. Perhaps your experience was at the altar during revival 20 years ago. Jesus saved you and the Holy Spirit sanctified you, real and powerful experiences of God. But if you have not experienced God since then, oh if you would desire to be in His presence again. Your teen camp and mission trips were awesome, and I have no doubt you experienced God in a mighty way. But oh, if you would desire to be in His presence again.
God will show you and me more if you and I will seek more.
Season 1 Episode 33, "Most important question." The text for the message is from Mark 8:27-30, part 1 of a series called The Son of Man. The question we are trying to answer is "What is the most important question?"