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Online Text Sermon - The Pursuit of God, Exodus ch.33 v.18

Date24/10/1999
Time11:00
PreacherRev. Vernon Higham, Cardiff
Sermon TitleThe Pursuit of God
TextExodus ch.33 v.18
Sermon ID36

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"And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory" (Exodus 33, 18).

1. THE PATH of REPENTANCE

2. THE PRAYER of MOSES

3. THE POWER of GOD

What I would like to do this morning is to lead us up to the prayer of Moses. Very often in the Old Testament there almost seems to be a debate between God and the person praying. That was the method that was used then by godly men. But before that I would like to give a little bit of the background - who they are. I know that you are aware that they are God's covenant people and that they belonged to God and I want us to identify ourselves with them from the very beginning because the Bible is for all of us. We are God's covenant people because we are in Christ. The position of a person is that he is either in Christ or he is in Adam. Either he is on his way to the eternal heaven, an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled that fadeth not away or, sadly, he is on his way to hell. That is why our Gospel is so very urgent. We are grateful that there is a time in our lives when we are able to say, "Oh happy day that fixed my choice on Thee my Saviour and my God." By His grace we are drawn to Him and we use the gifts of repentance and faith - "For by grace ye are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2, 8-9); it is the gift of God. Then we know that in that relationship we are forgiven and we belong to God. Whatever this life may hold for us, we know that God is the end of our journey and we are assured in our hearts in adversity, prosperity, sickness and health, whatever it may be, that He thinketh on us and that we are His children, the sheep of His pasture. I must begin there because we are talking about the people of God and what can happen to them sometimes.

Here we have an account, which in a way is a thrilling one, in another way it is a very frightening one. To me it is the nearest to what is happening in my own land and seems to be happening in these islands altogether. We have to know the background and we cannot go over all the details because there are far too many so we will keep to the essentials. It is the time when Moses is called to Mount Sinai and the receiving of the Ten Commandments - that is the background we have and with which I am sure you are all very familiar. Meanwhile, the people are waiting down below at the foot of the mountain, and they become very dismissive of him. He is a long time in the mountain and people's patience can be often times short and true religion can deteriorate very, very quickly. They said they knew not where Moses had gone and that he was not likely to come back. They were really very unkind in their remarks after thinking of the loyalty of this man and how he faced many dangers and brought them to where they were now. However, they are annoyed and their eyes turn in another direction.

May I bring things in that are relevant to our age? In every church there are those in the sidelines who are waiting to change things. It wasn't like that years ago but it is now. Even in a very good church, you will find someone waiting for their opportunity to push other methods, other ways. If you are anything like we are at home, every week we receive some glossy magazines, instructions, offers for free tuition - to be trained on How To Speak To Young People, How To Preach, How To Communicate, What Methods To Use and How To Reach People Today. I do not doubt the sincerity of these people but items of literature just come one after another and I am afraid I don't always read all the material.

There were some people getting at Aaron. Aaron, however, is as guilty as they. They wanted to change things. They were looking at how other people were worshipping - they were having a good time, religion was fun; they were able to dance, jump, skip and have all sorts of orgies. Their own religion was staid, stiff and narrow, and they were weary of Moses, who before long, was going to bring more instructions to them. Consequently, they prevailed upon Aaron and he told them to give all the gold they had and he made a golden calf. In Exodus, we read, "And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the Lord" (Exodus 32, 5). The hypocrisy of the thing! Have you ever noticed that little verse there? He makes a golden calf but, to play safe, he still has an altar to Jehovah. He is going to worship Jehovah via the golden calf. Does that sound contemporary to you? Is that not happening today?

I am getting rather embarrassed at being known as an evangelical because on the media you have the most outrageous behaviour under the heading of 'evangelical'. In one church I went to a woman came down to the front flapping her arms and saying, "I'm the spirit of duck" - ridiculous, blasphemous behaviour! It has gone very far and is under the umbrella of evangelicals. What I fear most of all is not that outrageous behaviour but casual evangelism, happy, clappy little choruses. What we sing we will believe - you know that don't you? We love what we sing and if we repeatedly sing what has no meaning, quite honestly, I believe it is because people are trying to squeeze something out of them. Maybe they will refer to the Bible in the last few minutes of the service - it is a possibility that they may do so. I could bore you and weary you with sad stories.

"And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the Lord" (Exodus 32, 5). So, when the morrow came, first of all, they made peace with God through peace offerings and sacrifice but they couldn't get quick enough to the golden calf. As they got to the golden calf, they performed a different kind of worship. Meanwhile, Moses is with God and God knows that this is going on. Moses does not know yet; the shock is still waiting for him. He pleads with God for Him to be patient with the people. God says that Moses will be patient and He goes so far as to say even, "blot my name out" - he felt so much like that.

When Moses came down, the young man with him thought it was the sound of battle. No, it wasn't the sound of battle but it was the sound of people making merry. As they came near, this is what they saw the people of God doing - dancing, being rowdy, leaping and naked. You say, "That could never happen." Oh yes it does. Christian Unions and churches today will have a 'Christian dance' a 'Christian barn dance' a 'Christian kind of easy-going time'. If you stick the word 'Christian' in front, it seems to give a licence to everything that the world does. Our problem today with our young people is not so much the cinema and those things that we never thought of, but nightclubs. Yet, they will be in church. This is the awful thing and you wonder where we are going and what is happening to out churches today.

You can imagine how Moses felt when he saw God's people and the sheep of his pasture, naked, dancing, being rowdy and bestial. He got hold of those tablets of stone and threw them to the ground. You can understand the dismay in his heart that they would depart from the ways of God so soon. I will just put in a little illustration here. A minister who was a great friend of mine had just retired after a long ministry in his church - an excellent, reformed church. They had a young man who was reformed to take his place. The young man decided, however, he couldn't get the crowds and so he changed everything; the pews and the pulpit were removed. Many people broke their hearts as an entirely different form of service developed. There had been four good churches within a mile of each other, three had already fallen to this grotesque kind of behaviour and finally this last one fell. It broke the retiring ministers heart; for over thirty years, he had laboured there. How quickly things can deteriorate - that is why we must be guardians of the faith.

I recognise that this is a very serious passage but we are living in serious times. When Moses came down from the mountain, he must have felt terrible. Remember, he is only a man. Put yourself in his place when he said, "Who is on the Lord's side?" (Exodus 32, 26). That is what I want to know. Is there anybody left who is on the Lord's side? Will anybody join me? Will there be a single soul that will stand with me? Oh, the loneliness of the servants of God and especially His faithful servants. That is the background very, very quickly like brushes of paint on canvas. I don't want to deal so much with that as with the people having to change their ways and being severely punished.

1. THE PATH OF REPENTANCE

They knew of the displeasure of God and He said He would not be with them because if He was with them, they would be consumed and so there is great distress. However, He would not break His word to His covenant people, He would send an angel to guide them. You might think that was very good. I know that angels do surround us today and have helped us to adore Him - I recognise that - but if we were able to see with a special kind of sight, we would be thrilled to have the presence of an angel with us as some form of approval. You might think the Israelites would have been pleased but no, they had known better and more.

I know the revival people of 1904 in Wales, even though they went to good services in recent years, they never seemed to be so happy about them because they had known better. They had known God Himself with them and there is a great difference.

"And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments" (verse 4). They were very unhappy. They realised that the abuse of the worship of God is serious in the sight of God. He will not have a kind of easy-going, laid-back, casual approach to Him. In prayer, we should not be familiar with the Almighty; we should always remember that He is God. They take off their ornaments and worship God but they knew that what they had done was a great offence to Him. "For the Lord said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee" (verse 5). When they heard that, they threw off everything fancy that was on them: "And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb" (verse 6). May I spiritualise that? What is the first step in repentance? Is it not turning away from all things that are wrong?

Of those people who come to my little room after the evening service seeking the things of God, I have seen many who are ashamed of their sin. They cry over their sin and say they want to believe in God but it doesn't happen because there has not been a change of heart or that secret visit of the Spirit. There is a vast difference between sorrow and embarrassment over sin, and repentance. There is sorrow in repentance, yes, but there is in that repentance a turning away from what we are and a turning to God. A great, spiritual, realistic step takes place. Not only is the emotional there but now also there is a spiritual determination that strips us of all that hinders God in our lives. Everything, every weight that besets us, every weight that spoils our going on with God, every hobby that steals our time - although it may be harmless it steals time we should give to God so out it goes. Every remaining relationship or friendship that drags us down, we throw away. Every trinket that can hold us down must be cast away; that is when we know that we mean business, we get rid of the rubble in our lives. How many times that is said in the Old Testament. Look and see first of all if there is rubble in your life and by the grace of God you can get rid of it. We cannot say, "Please, Lord, we need these things from You." No, we want to say, "Help me to tear it from Thy throne and worship only Thee." That is the negative side of repentance.

Here is the positive side. "And Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass, that every one which sought the Lord went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp" (verse 7). Notice this lovely picture. "Who is on the Lord's side?" (Exodus 32, 26). There are people here who are serious. They get rid of things that hinder them in their lives - which is quite relevant to us today - and they follow Moses into the Tabernacle of the congregation or nearby. Who are they? They are those who "sought the Lord" (verse 7).

Do you remember Caleb? Caleb sought the Lord. We know Him and yet we seek Him. We know Him and yet we desire to know more of Him. The lives of people who have come to a knowledge of salvation in our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ become a pilgrimage and a pursuit of the things of God; they are our chief interest and we delight in them. At home in Wales, we have a Welsh Hymn which says, How is it that I now love the things I once despised? It is the grace of God. How is it, you see, that the person who would be immersed in this other kind of rubbish, suddenly finds the Prayer Meeting to be their delight. They are having quiet time with God, they are reading the Scriptures and engaging in private prayer and family worship - it becomes their delight to honour God in their lives. "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever" (Answer 1 -Shorter Catechism).

Many churches today decide to enjoy themselves and have a fun time. Some evangelical churches in Cardiff dressed up in the Welsh football strip after one of the International matches. Grown up people acting like children, it is a terrible thing. One place that got the World Cup blessed it. One person apparently said to the newspaper that they had never had such a wonderful service for thirty years. Well, whatever had they been having for thirty years? It makes you tremble to think. There is one way; it is a godly way; it is a clean way; it is an honourable way; it is a pure way and it is a spiritual way. God is in our sight, God is our destination and God is the end of our journey. In these verses we have a people who threw away all that hindered them and they were ashamed and sought the Lord. "Who is on the Lord's side" (Exodus 32, 26) in these ghastly days that we are living in? Some went and identified themselves with Moses, just as we should identify ourselves with any godly servant of God. We identify ourselves as belonging in a very special way and it calls for courage and determination.

2. THE PRAYER OF MOSES

Moses prayer is remarkable. Moses now entered the tabernacle itself and God honoured him. We have the Gospel, whereas in the Old Testament we know there were more physical manifestations of God. In Moses time, the presence of God descended in a cloudy pillar upon the tabernacle of the congregation. There would be conversation, fellowship and prayer - God and Moses together.

What did Moses say? Moses came to God and a remarkable, daring debate took place. It is strange that Moses was known as the humblest of all men, quiet and reserved. He wasn't a person who would push himself to the front and yet God chose him to be His servant. Moses needed Aaron to make speeches for him and to help him, yet, when it came to this great relationship with God, he knew how to talk with God and to speak boldly without being blasphemous. Listen! "Thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight" (verse 12) - so he starts with the basics. He says, "Lord, You have told me to carry on bringing these people, yet you haven't told me how I am going to go about it. You haven't precisely said what is going to happen and yet You tell me that I belong to You, that I am a child of the covenant and belong to You." Old people used to pray like this, that we come as His covenant people, as a forgiven people and they would argue their case before God and present Scriptural verses to Him. First of all, we must get the basics right. Who are we? We are the people of God. To whom do we belong? We belong to God Himself. That is when we get God's attention - "I am Thy child. I have found grace in Thy sight." This is how the right to prayerful, spiritual debate is established.

On the grounds of that, what happens next? "Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way" (verse 13). Remember, after all that dreadful behaviour and the golden calf, how could Moses get these people on the narrow way again? How could these people be rescued that they might honour God? How many of them would come and honour God? How harsh would God be with them? "Shew me now thy way that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people" (verse 13). Notice the steps: I am Thy child; I have found grace in Thy sight. It is a good way to start a debate - "this is who I am." "I am praying for these people." Who are these people? "These are Thy people and the sheep of Thy pasture. Lord, You have committed Yourself to them. They belong to you. You have made promises to them." Consequently, he brings down an argument that is allowed and God responds.

In the following verse God said, "My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest" (verse 14). It is wonderful when we can say after a service that there was a presence of God. We are talking here about degrees of the presence of God. The old revivalist, Evan Roberts, used to ask coming out of a Prayer Meeting, not how many prayed or how many were there but what degree of the presence of God was there? Do we think in those terms, not just in the Prayer Meeting? Are we reaching the throne? Have we learnt to agonise? Have we learnt to prevail? Have we learnt, like Jacob, to wrestle with God and not let Him go until He blesses us? God says to Moses, "My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest" (verse 14).

Moses answers in a remarkable way. I would be afraid. "If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence" (verse 15). God's presence is Moses minimum requirement. That is what identifies us from other people. God wants us to be identifiable from other people. Moses goes far but does he go too far? I wonder. "I beseech thee, shew me thy glory" (verse 18). Look at the spiritual area and dimension this man is in and how he cares for the people of God. He not only loved God, he was willing to be blotted out. Paul was the same. They knew that that couldn't happen and wouldn't happen, yet they were willing to say, "I will do anything for Thy people that they might glorify God and honour Thee." This is how Moses feels - "I beseech thee, shew me thy glory" (verse 18). God said, "I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by" (verse 22). I wonder if Moses was satisfied. Whether he was or not I don't know but I think there was a silent and wonderful communication. "And it shall come to pass while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by" (verse 22). That was a kindness, why? Because, "there shall no man see me, and live" (Exodus 33, 20). The kindness of God, yes, "I will answer your prayer. My glory shall approach "and thou shalt see my back parts" (verse 23) and I will answer your prayer." He has prevailed with God. Do you know what he is asking for? He is asking for more of God Himself because he cannot be satisfied with an angel or anything else. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8, 31). That is Moses plea and that is what our aim should be today.

In a religious book, I read a very long article which deeply distressed me. It was in an evangelical production and it reminded me of my days in a liberal theological college. The clever arguments and opening sentences reminded me of modern evangelicalism as it is called today. It said something like this: "Some very good and elderly, pious people will pray for revival but we are concerned with the presentation of the Gospel to the present generation." Do you see what they are saying? "We must adapt ourselves to this generation. We must change, we must bring God down a little and people up a little." I am very used to that language but it is grievous that it has entered into the evangelical scene. However, He has His people - thank God, He has His people and we have a great, great God.

I have an illustration here, which is relevant and I feel constrained to give it. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones called Daniel Rowland the greatest preacher the world had ever known; that was the only thing I ever disagreed with him on. I always felt that John Elias was the greatest preacher that ever was; I read his notes in the library in Aberystwyth. However, they were both pretty good. Daniel Rowland was known as a preacher of judgement and of wrath, and, when he was rebuked by a minister, of the balm of Gilead. He never had less than ten thousand in a country hamlet of about fifty or a hundred people. His congregation was ten thousand, sometimes mounting to thirteen or fourteen thousand. People walked for miles and miles to come under his ministry. Everybody wanted to get to Llangeitho a few times in their lives to have communion and two or three days of this man's preaching.

Rowland had been dead for a hundred years and was in glory and the General Assembly was meeting there in Llangeitho. We used to call ourselves the Calvinistic Methodists of Wales - it is the same as Presbyterian. The real name that we called ourselves was The Order of Calvin. It was being held in Daniel Rowland's church which was hardly ever used because the congregations were always too big. When he did use it he had to have a little door from the outside to get into his church - can you imagine? There would be thousands outside to preach to.

A hundred years had gone by and the chairman of the elders was welcoming the fathers in the faith and the elders to the General Assembly, and he was a bag of nerves. He was trying to write his introductory welcoming speech. He started, "Fathers and brethren," then he would throw it in the wastepaper bin and start again. He had a dreadful time. The night before the day of the opening service, he had a lovely dream. He dreamt that the General Assembly said, "We have delegates from the thirty-six presbyteries of Wales and the four Welsh presbyteries of England but we haven't got a delegate from heaven. Will you go to heaven and ask if we can have a delegate?" Remember this is a dream. When he entered heaven, the first person the elder met was Daniel Rowland. Daniel Rowland said, "Fancy meeting a man from my own village. How are things in Llangeitho today? He said, "We're orthodox but we are pretty dead. There hasn't been a revival for a while. Prayer Meetings are good." "I hear the General Assembly is being held there," said Rowland. "Yes," said the elder, "and they have sent me to ask if they could have a delegate from heaven." Daniel Rowland said, "You stay there and I will enter into the presence of God." In a while he came back and the elder cried, "What's the answer?" What's the answer?" Rowland said, "No, He will not send a delegate to the General Assembly. He said, "Tell them I'm coming Myself.""

When the morning came and this little nervous elder got up he said, "I had a dream" - and he gave them this dream. He said, "this is a promise, He is coming Himself." As he said that, it happened; God came. There was weeping, repenting and seeking the face of God and meetings that went on for hours and hours. Our answer is not methodology or trying to please everybody; our answer is God! Do you agree with me? In your heart, do you agree with me? Our answer is God! "Come Thyself, God, into the midst of Thy people. Thou Who art mighty to save. Thou Whose arm is not shortened."

3. THE POWER OF GOD

Briefly the last point: the power of God. We have then what God can do when He manifests Himself. Moses says to God, "Take us as Thine inheritance." Moses is happy. "Take us as Thy dwelling place. Dwell amongst Thy people." He said, "Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the Lord: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee" (Exodus 34, 10). "I will do things that are terrible in the sight of pagan nations. I will make a covenant with My people. I am coming! I will drive out your enemies. I will make you victorious and you will follow My ways." When we go on a little it says, "Thou shalt worship no other god" (Exodus 34, 14).

I was a schoolteacher. Sometimes children would be playing with something and I would tell them to come out and put it on my desk - all of it - sweets maybe. I would tell them to empty their pockets. That is what God is saying - we must not have anything in us that is a compromise: not what we teach our children, or different forms of services for different people. If we were burned in martyrs' flames would there be different flames for young people and old people? No, we die together to the glory of God and we live together to the glory of God - we are a body. I am not dismissive of being sensible in the Sabbath School but we teach the children the same thing we teach ourselves. "Thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Exodus 34, 14). Don't mistake that word "Jealous", God is allowed; when we are jealous it is a sin. God is saying, "I am God. I am the source of all light and being and your Hope. I will not tolerate competition from any other silly little idol in your life. Get rid of them all and worship only Me."

Listen to how one man gave the agony of his heart.

"Our God, our God, Thou shinest here. Thine own this latter day To us Thy radiant steps appear. We watch Thy glorious way.

Not only olden ages feltThe presence of the Lord,Not only with the fathers dwelt Thy Spirit and Thy Word.

Doth not the Spirit still descend And bring the heavenly fire. Doth not he still Thy church extend and waiting souls inspire? - (are we waiting souls -)

Come, Holy Ghost, in us arise; Be this Thy mighty hour And make Thy willing people wise To know thy day of power.

Bear us aloft, more glad, more strongOn Thy celestial wing; And grant us grace to look and longFor our returning King.

He draweth near, He standeth by,He fills our eyes, our ears. Come, King of grace, Thy people cry,And bring the glorious years."

When He revives His Church, our prayer is, "Show us Thy glory. Don't send an angel or an ark angel, oh Lord, come Thyself."


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