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Show Me Your Glory

(Given at Campus Outreach Samford- 2.27.13)

Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball whoever lived (if you want to argue this, you’re ignorant & clearly did not see him play), is restless. When I was growing up, Michael Jordan was “it” in a way that no other athlete ever has been. Every kid had their favorite teams & favorite sports, but if you asked 8 out of 10 kids in the 90’s who their favorite athlete was, they’d all say, “Michael Jordan.” Was it because of Space Jam? Kid President would argue, “Yes.”

Here he is now, enormously wealthy, maybe the most recognizable & liked face on the planet, regarded as the best ever, as his friend said, “used to being the most important person in every room he enters, and, going a step further, in the lives of everyone he meets… people cater to his whim.” For thirty years, he’s been king. And this MJ said to ESPN last week about his 50th birthday, “I would give up everything now to go back and play basketball,” because he still doesn’t feel like he’s done enough, that he’s truly proven himself & his critics, real or imaginary, wrong: “His whole life has been about proving things, to the people around him, to strangers, to himself. This has been successful and spectacularly unhealthy.”

Wright Thompson writes, “Most people live anonymous lives, and when they grow old and die, any record of their existence is blown away. They’re forgotten, some more slowly than others, but eventually it happens to virtually everyone. Yet for the few people in each generation who reach the very pinnacle of fame and achievement, a mirage flickers: immortality. They come to believe in it. Even after Jordan is gone, he knows people will remember him. Here lies the greatest basketball player of all time. That’s his epitaph.

There’s a fable about returning Roman generals who rode in victory parades through the streets of the capital; a slave stood behind them, whispering in their ears, “All glory is fleeting.” … All that can happen in the days and years that follow is for the shining monument he built to be chipped away, eroded. His self-esteem has always been, as he says, ‘tied directly to the game.’ Without it, he feels adrift. Who am I? What am I doing? For the past 10 years, since retiring for the third time, he has been running, moving as fast as he could, creating distractions, distance.”

Yet he’s still restless: “How can I enjoy the next 20 years without so much of this consuming me? How can I find peace away from the game of basketball?” He spends his days making sure that LeBron knows that he was better than he could ever be- that the world remembers him. He never can rest in the fear that people will forget how good he really was. He gained the world & found that it wasn’t enough. He has a hunger that he can’t seem to satisfy.

As C.S. Lewis once wrote that “a man’s physical hunger does not prove that that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist.”

We hunger in this world for something that nothing in this world seems to satisfy. Lewis continues in his sermon “The Weight of Glory,” that “we are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slums because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

You see, Isaiah 43:7 informs us that what we were created for is the glory of God. I think that this means two things: first, that our lives are meant to reflect back to God in glory; second, that our souls were created to be satisfied on God’s glory alone. But what is glory? The Hebrew word kabod, which we translate “glory,” originally means “weight” or “heaviness.” I think the best way that we can think of it today is sort of like the word “matter,” because it conveys both a weight and a depth of importance & value. All of us want to know that we matter, that we’re valued & loved. We can’t live without it. And “matter” implies a heaviness that must be reckoned with.

But we humans tend to approach everything, even God, very pragmatically. We look at everything & examine it with the question, “Will this make me happy? Will this let me know that I matter?” We imply, of course, that, if (x) doesn’t make me happy or validate my worth, then we’ll find something else that will.

If we ask that question about God’s glory, “Will it make me happy?,” we show that we don’t understand God’s glory at all. Asking that question makes about as much sense as asking, “If a nuclear bomb goes off, will it make me hot?” “Well, yes, I suppose, but that doesn’t really describe it. It’s so much more than that.” Or imagine a kid coming up to Michael Phelps winning his first gold medal and asking, “Are you having fun?” His whole life has led up to this moment! This is not less than being happy, but it’s so much more! When we truly encounter the glorious presence of God, it is so great that you won’t have that question any more. You can either have being happy as your main goal in life & never be, or you can seek God & have everything.

Background (Exodus 1-32)

Now, God had brought his people out of the land of Egypt (with a series of terrible plagues), enabled them to cross the Red Sea, made water come out of a rock, made bitter water sweet, and had now brought them to Mount Sinai on the way to the Promised Land. These were the people who were going to inherit the promises that God had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These people had seen miracle after miracle, they knew that Yahweh was God. And now God has called Moses to come up the mountain to receive the law, telling the people that they will be His treasured possession (Exodus 19:5-6). Beautiful!

But Moses was up on the mountain for a long time, and the people grew restless. They say to Aaron, Moses’ brother the High Priest, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exodus 32:1). Aaron then does the unthinkable: he tells the people to take their gold- which the Egyptians had given them on their way out- and makes for them a golden calf, saying, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4)!

The people celebrate & sacrifice before this calf, before God tells Moses what’s going on. How strange, right? Had these people not, just the other day, heard the thunder, seen the lightning, felt the earthquake, & been told not to make gods of gold?

God says that He’s going to consume the people & make a new nation out of Israel. In a magnificent prayer that we don’t have time to look at tonight, Moses reasons with God that if He destroys Israel, Egypt will mock Him- either as evil, inept, or weak. “Remember your promises,” Moses says, “And do not do this thing.” God, amazingly, relents. Moses comes down, breaks the tablets, and destroys the calf.

The Meat

[30] The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” [31] So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. [32] But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” [33] But the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book” (Exodus 32:30-33)

Moses went to go make atonement for the people. Remember: these are a people who complained as he stood up against Egypt, telling him to back down. They coiled back in anger & fear at the Red Sea. And again when they got thirsty and again and again. And Moses, instead of relenting to God’s previous suggestion, saying, “You know what God? Deal. Kill them. Let’s start over,” he goes up to make atonement for them. Now, he knows what he’s asking here. Notice here that he brought no sacrifice with him to make atonement. Why? Because he was willing to substitute himself for them: “Forgive them their sins, Lord, please. And if not, blot me out of your book. Let me be damned in their place.” Moses is not merely asking to die a physical death here, but for the just wrath due Israel here to fall on him instead of the people- the same people who have questioned Moses at every step. Wow! What love! Nothing but Moses’s bold intercession could have saved the people.

Moses’s words mirror words that Paul says in Romans 9:3, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Do you hear that? Paul here (as Moses does) is saying, “God, if were possible, I would endure hell so that these people could be saved.” Have you ever loved anyone like that?

Remember: Man on Fire… but these were people who hated Moses

But God refuses Moses: “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.”

[33:1] The LORD said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ [2] I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. [3] Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” [4] When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. [5] For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.’” [6] Therefore the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.

-Exodus 33:1-6

God tells them to leave Sinai & that they will be led by an angel, but that He tells them that He will not go with them: “Based on what I just saw with the golden calf, you obviously don’t want me. Don’t worry though, I’m going to give you everything I promised.”

Wow. Now, let’s look at this carefully for a minute. This is exactly what most people, ourselves included, want from God or any other religion. God says, “I’m going to give you a wonderful home, a great family, security, peace, love, and a happy life and you won’t have to go through all of the hard work of drawing near to me, examining your hearts, going to church, praying, and centering your lives on my will. I’ll give you all the benefits of my promises- I’ll give you heaven- just without me.” Most people, in their heart of hearts, would love this. They want God not smack in the middle of their lives, but available & helpful as needed.

We may not quite be able to articulate it like this, but when we really look at our hearts, there’s a lie that creeps in, that there’s something that we need besides God to make us happy. Most people go their whole lives looking for this, something that will truly satisfy, something that will validate the fact that we matter. We think, “If I just got this degree or made this amount of money or if I could just get this guy/girl to notice me or if I just had control of my life or could achieve this, then I would be happy. Then I would know that I have worth.”

And here God offers the Israelites anything they could ever want, and what does the text say? They “heard this word as disastrous.”

Moses says, “God, keep all that if you don’t come. What good would a beautiful wife or loving husband or letters after our names or money or fame or peace or all the power in the world be if we don’t have you? If your presence will not go with us, do not send us. We will not go. We would rather be dead in the desert than in the promised land without your presence.” Moses & the people, though they’d forgotten, knew that all of these other “glories” are fleeting & none satisfy.

You see, God had said that He was going to “tabernacle,” dwell or live, in the midst of the people so that they could truly meet with Him, know Him, and worship Him with intimacy. Moses used to go out of the camp to meet with God regularly. We’re told that Moses used to speak to Moses face-to-face as a man speaks with his friend. He had this vibrant relationship with the Creator built day after day, week after week, month after month, until he really knew God. He knew His character & His promises.

Side note: If you feel that when you pray, you go and get only a very little of God, go get a little! If God won’t meet you in your bed or as you pray in the shower, go get in a closet or go to the library! Wake up early if you need to! You’ve got to declare, “God deserves this much commitment, this much of my time and attention. If it takes 60 minutes, or 60 days, or weeks or months, I’m ready. I’m going to be here, ready to meet with God.”

We see Moses’s intimacy with God in His boldness:

“[15] And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. [16] For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?’ [17] And the LORD said to Moses, ‘This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name’” (Exodus 33:15-17).

Again, God relents. But listen to this, this is the key to understanding Moses’s prayer life: he would not take “yes” for an answer. He always wanted more of God. This Moses, who had just again seen the God of the universe directly answer his prayers, who had been on the mountain with him for 40 days, who’d walked more closely with God than anyone else on the planet, is emboldened further. He wants more of God: “Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory’” (Exodus 33:18).

Like Jacob wrestling last week, we see Moses wrestling with God for a blessing. God’s responses make Moses bolder in his requests. And, get this, God doesn’t body slam Moses here, saying, “Don’t push your luck, buddy.” No, he is encouraged. God grants as long as Moses asks; He gives liberally. Moses is encouraged to pray & not lose heart in light of God’s unfailing goodness, because He is able to immeasurably more than all we can ask or think. He knew that God satisfied & that all of us were created to be satisfied in the glory of God alone.

“[19] And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. [20] But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:19-20)

Now, notice here: Moses asks to see God’s glory, and God says that He will let his “goodness” pass by & “proclaim” his name, but that Moses can’t see his face, because it would kill him. Isn’t that interesting? What does that mean? Let’s read on to see:

[5] The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. [6] The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, [7] keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” [8] And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. (Exodus 34:5-8)

What an encounter! Moses caught a glimpse of the glory of God & it changed him for ever. We are told that his face shone so brightly that he had to wear a veil, because the people were frightened by it. And all he got was a glimpse!

Do you want this? Do you want an encounter with the glory of God? Study who He is, pray & study His word until you sense a presence, like you’re not alone, until some aspect of His character seems to pass by you, “He is gracious! He is holy!” If His wisdom passes by, your fear melts away; if His mercy passes by, your guilt is destroyed.

To encounter the glory of God is to see God grow so ravishingly beautiful in your mind that you can’t help but look at Him in love & wonder. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re not a Christian, but if you’ve ever tasted this, no matter how far it’s receded into your memory, you know that you want more of it.

Now, let’s see what God declared to Moses- His name & His character: “I am a God who is perfectly just and who forgives. I am love, faithfulness, mercy, grace, and justice personified.”

How can this be? To a non-Christian, this makes no sense- either God is merciful or He is just, but He cannot be both. But we have seen differently, haven’t we? You see, in Exodus 32, when Moses offered himself as a sacrifice, offers to have his name blotted out for the people’s sake, but God rejected him. Why? Because the only sacrifice what would do would have to be a perfect sacrifice. And Moses wasn’t perfect. But there would be One who would come, the true & better Moses, full of grace and truth, who would be blotted out so that we, in Him, could receive the promises of God & be welcomed into the final Promised Land.

This God-man, Christ, at the cross revealed His Father’s perfect character, and perfectly displayed His glory. John 1 tells us that He “tabernacled among us,” and 2 Corinthians 4:6 says, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” None can see God’s glory but those who stand upon the rock of Christ and take shelter in Him.

He did not so that we could catch a glimpse of the backside of God’s glory, but so that we could behold Him in all His glory & ourselves be transformed from one degree of glory to the next, as His sons & daughters, His beloved bride-so much more than Moses. So that we would see God’s face looking at us in love & be forever satisfied, dwelling in His presence forever. Let’s pray.

With due acknowledgement (and poor citation): Matthew Henry’s Commentary, C.S. Lewis- “The Weight of Glory,” Tim Keller- “Moses’s Prayer for God” & “Revival,” Joel Brooks-“The Glory of God,” & Wright Thompson- “Michael Jordan Has Not Left the Building