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In The Divine Presence

A Glimpse Of Our Father's Face

Erwin W. Lutzer | February 24, 2008

Selected highlights from this sermon

False ideas about God are everywhere, but God has revealed Himself in the Scriptures where we see His three faces toward humanity. Those who are in sin experience the angry face of God, but those who have trusted in Christ to settle the sin issue, experience the gracious face of God. Finally, there is a hidden face which was even kept from Moses. 

Art Linkletter said that he was working with some children and he found a boy who was scrawling wildly on a piece of paper. He said to the boy, “What is it that you’re drawing?” and the boy said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” Linkletter said, “You can’t draw a picture of God. Nobody knows what God looks like,” and he said, “Oh yeah? They will when I’m finished.” [laughter]

So how do we draw God? We need to recognize that it is very difficult for us as human beings to have conceptions of God that are worthy of him, especially in a society where God is remade in our own image, where people begin with man and then they reason upward and think that they know that their conception of God is the right one. That’s the society in which we live. 

Let me ask you why it is that Israel made the golden calf. Why idolatry? The Bible says that there are those who make images in their mind. They make images of God in their mind – idols of the mind it says in the book of Ezekiel. Why idolatry? Well, the reason that they fashioned the golden calf is first of all they were impatient with God. He had hid himself on the other side of the mountain, and when God seems to be absent you can fashion him into any image that you want. That’s one reason. The other reason is because they wanted a manageable deity. “Give us a god,” they said, “that we can take into war. Give us something that we can touch. Give us a god that we can control. Give us a god to whom we can attribute any attribute we wish or deny any attribute that we wish. Give us a more tolerant, understandable God,” and that’s the reason for idolatry.

America is sinking in idolatry today. We have the Santa Clause god, the god of the health and wealth. We have the god of self-authentication; that’s the therapeutic god that people have. There’s the god of “my gender,” the god of my “sexual preference,” and on and on it goes and all of these are idols of the mind, and manufactured in the human heart.

Today we’re going to look at three images of God from the Bible and grasp as much as possible (and we never do that exhaustively by any means) that we can from these three images of God – the face of God. The two messages that I’m preaching are entitled “In the Divine Presence.” Next time I’ll preach on the face of Jesus Christ.

Why this message? You may be here today and you may say, “Why should my life be changed forever because I’ve heard this message?” Well, a couple of reasons. First of all, you may be here today and you do not know what to do because news has come to you this week that is so devastating. Perhaps a divorce is on the horizon. Perhaps your children have rebelled, and you don’t know what to do. In Second Chronicles 20 Jehoshaphat was in a situation like that with the enemies of the gates, and he prayed and said, “Oh God, we do not know what to do but our eyes are upon you.” I can’t tell you what you should do but I do know this. What you need today is a fresh understanding of God. That’s what I need, too. We all do, so that’s why I speak on this.

A second reason is that you might understand the reason that there is emptiness in your life. I think of the words of Augustine so famously made. “Oh God, thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their all in thee.” You and I have been born with a raging thirst for God and people fill that thirst with sexuality. They fill it with pleasures of various kinds, and with money and with pursuits and all of those things that drive us, and God is saying, “I want to fill that void in your life.” 

But there’s another reason why I preach it, and that is to honor God because the Bible says we can bless the Lord, oh my soul. Did you know that it is honoring to God, glorifying to God and it is a pleasure for God – yes God has his pleasures – when he sees his people absorbed with himself, understanding to some extent the divine revelation, and as a result of that God is honored?  

First of all I want to introduce to you these three faces of God. The Bible uses the expression frequently, and I suppose, as I got into this, I could spend a whole series of messages just on the faces of God. Normally I ask you to turn to one passage. Today I’m going to ask you to turn to two, but first of all there’s one that I’m simply going to quote for you and then we’ll turn to the other two passages. 

The first face of God is the angry face of God. The Bible says in Psalm 34:16, “The face of the Lord is against those who do evil to cut off the memory of them from the earth.” God’s angry face – the Lord is against those who do evil. Well, you say, “Who does he have in mind? Who does the Psalmist have in mind?” Well, the proud. The Bible says in the New Testament that God resists the proud. It’s a very strong Greek word. It means that God is at war with the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Could I ask you today, “Are you a proud person – self-assured, thinking that you know better than anyone else, and that you know better than God as to what is best for your life?” God is at war with you and you don’t want to be at war with God. So that is certainly encompassed in that term “evil.” I think of violence. I happened to see on television yesterday somebody commenting that there are hundreds of thousands (now this may be worldwide) of people who have committed murder and they’ve never been found. Does that trouble you? Well you say, “Of course it troubles me because I’m a good person.” Let me ask you if it troubles you don’t you think it troubles God? Don’t you think that God knows? Do you think that God is just bypassing it all, whitewashing it all? Oh no, no – the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. God is tracking the criminals that have never been found. God is the one who is doing it and he sees the raping and the molestation and the devastation. God sees it all and the Bible says that the face of the Lord is against evildoers, and that happens in this life, most assuredly, but it also happens in the life to come. In fact, in the book of Revelation when those judgments come, it says that the people on earth cried and they said, “Hide us from the face (there you have the word) of him who sits on the throne, and of the lamb, for the day of their wrath is come and who shall be able to stand?”

Could I ask you today? Is God against you because you are fundamentally independent, proud, arrogant, selfish and living your life according to your own agenda? The Bible says that the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. Now that’s something in our society that people don’t hear about. Whenever you hear these various ______ about God that he is so loving, what kind of God would he be if he were only loving and not just and not holy and not angry with evildoers? Would you want a God like that? I think that the doctrine of God’s wrath and anger is actually a very comforting doctrine. I’m glad that God is on the case of those who are getting by on earth. Aren’t you? Aren’t you thankful that there’s a god who is interested in those who are evil and is tracking them down, and his face is against them, and he will get them?

There’s a country to the north of us called Canada, and it was always said of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that they would get their man. God always gets his man, and his woman. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil. That’s his angry face.

Well now let’s go to a different image, and that is his gracious face, and for this I am going to ask you to turn to Numbers 6:25. What a wonderful passage of scripture this is, and you’ve heard it many, many times from me at the end of a service. This is God’s gracious face, and please find it in your copy of the Scriptures. It says in Numbers 6:22, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.’”

Now, actually in the text there in verse 26 where it says, “lift up his countenance” that’s the very same word. It’s the word “face” but the translators didn’t want to use the word face twice so they changed it to countenance, which is okay because your face is your countenance, but we could read it like this. “The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his face upon you and give you peace,” and that’s the way God says I put my name on my people.

Wow. Now what happened? Were there no evil people in Israel? Was everybody righteous and so Aaron could just stand up there and give this general benediction, this liturgy? The answer is “No, of course not.” There were evil people in Israel for sure, but the reason he could do it at the end of the ceremonies of the Old Testament is that the issue of sin had been done away. You see, you may be here today and you may be an evil person, but if you respond to Jesus Christ and receive him as your savior, the face of the Lord who is against you will turn and be for you and will be gracious unto you. 

When we look at this we realize that here we see the kindness of God toward those whom he has redeemed. You think of the blessing. This is the active kindness of God. It is God’s favor, and God’s face shines upon you. The imagery is being out in the sun and just simply saying, “Okay, God, as the sun shines upon me, so may your blessing shine upon me as well.” It indicates blessing. It indicates ownership. You’ll notice it says, “This is the way God says, ‘I put my name on my people.’” Is there anything as great in the entire world as belonging to God? There are things in life that we own, but imagine things in life that God owns, and we are his people, and God says, “I don’t mind if you’re identified with me and I put my name on your life.”

It involves not only the blessing of God and the ownership of God, but no doubt it is God’s intention, as is clear in other passages, the enjoyment of God. If you realize that God wants you and me to enjoy him – the enjoyment of God – that takes care of that void that I spoke about earlier, doesn’t it?

Many years ago there was a man by the name of George Mueller who began orphanages all throughout England, and he did it in faith. He never asked for money, and God brought it in, and some people think that’s the only way it should be. We should never challenge people to give, etc. No, that’s not true. God led Mueller in that direction, but when you look at the Bible, Paul was constantly challenging people to give, and it is perfectly proper for us to put before the people of God the challenges that he’s laid upon us, but Mueller was led in a very specific way for a specific reason. Actually it was so that he could demonstrate the faithfulness of God within a certain context, but this is what he said, “The first duty of every Christian is to make his soul, or to find his soul, happy in God, contented with God.” I mean if you are there and God’s face is shining upon you, and he’s lifting up his countenance upon you and he’s giving you peace, why can’t you find happiness in your relationship with the Almighty?

Yesterday, Rebecca and I attended a birthday party for someone who is ninety years old. Now that’s pretty old, and we were there, and I’ve known this man for forty years, and the thing that is so striking about his life is how contented he was with God. We knew him way back when. His wife died perhaps twenty years ago, so we’ve seen contentment in the midst of sorrow, in the midst of loneliness, being a widower for twenty years, never complaining, always giving praise to God. In the midst of financial reverses through a situation that was not of his making he lost all of his money and has to live now with one of his children, and so we’ve seen God’s faithfulness in his life there, and in health issues, and all that there is, is this divine contentment because he’s discovered that in the midst of the reversals of life, when things don’t go well, God is there. As I saw him there yesterday at the age of ninety, still glowing with God, I was reminded of this text. “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; may he lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” It was C.S. Lewis who said, “God is the all satisfying object.”

So we have, first of all, God’s angry face. He’s against those who do evil, and we have God’s gracious face. 

Now we have God’s hidden face, and this will take just a little bit of explanation. Take your Bibles now and turn to Exodus 33. The context is this. Moses is on the mountain. The people make the golden calf, and God is angry. By the way, there are some people who teach that God has no emotions because they think that if God had emotions that would indicate there was something that changed within him. The Bible is filled with God’s emotions. Over and over again we read “And the anger of the Lord burned against people,” and it’s right here in the text in chapter 32 where, there up on the mountain were Moses and God, and then down in the valley what’s happening is the golden calf. 

Moses had a temper problem. God does not have a temper problem. When he’s angry it’s in the right proportions for the right reasons, for the right length of time, but sometimes we as people are not quite that sanctified. Moses had an anger problem. He comes down from the mountain in verse 19, and his anger burned hot and he threw the tablets (these are the ten commandments) out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He was mad. By the way, that’s why he didn’t get into the Promised Land the first try either because he was angry and struck the rock when he should have just simply spoken to it.

So in verse 32 God says, “What I’m going to do is I’m going to wipe out the nation and I’ll make you a great nation, Moses.” Moses says, “No, don’t do that.” This was a test. God couldn’t have wiped out the nation based on his promises, but Moses passed the test and said, “Don’t do that because it’ll look bad in the presence of pagans. Let’s remember that many people make up their mind about God based upon the way in which God’s people act, and the pagans might say, ‘You know, God was able to take his people out o Egypt, but he couldn’t sustain them there,’ and they would ridicule God,” and so Moses says, “Because of your covenant and because the pagans are watching, don’t wipe us out,” and God says, “Okay, I won’t.”

So then there is a purging of the rebels and then God says this to Moses. He says, “You know, my face has always been toward you. My blessing has always been upon you, but you know because of what you have done now I have turned my face against the nation and I’m not going to go with you anymore. I’m not going to travel with you.”

Now you have to understand that God exists everywhere simultaneously. There is no place in this universe where God is not, but he is localized in certain places, and in the Old Testament it was in the Tabernacle, and it explains this actually in Chapter 33 as to what used to happen. In verse 8 for example, “Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up and each would stand in his tent door and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent, and when he entered the tent the pillar of the cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses.” And then it says in verse 11, “Thus the Lord used to speak with Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friend, and when Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant, Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.”

What’s going on there? You’ll notice it’s past tense. What he’s saying is “This is what God used to do.” Why? Because God says, “Hey, I’m not going with you anymore. I’m withdrawing.” He says, “If I stay with you (it says earlier in the chapter in verse 3) I might wipe you out, so I’m going to withdraw the pillar of fire. I’m going to withdraw the cloud,” and God says in chapter 33, “I’m going to send an angel in my place, and he’ll direct you, and this angel is going to take care of all of the folks in the land.” It says in verse 2, “Through the angel I will drive out all the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perrizzites, the Hivites, the Jebbusites.” God says, “I’m going to let the angel do it.”

What would you do if you were Moses? Would you say, “Well, okay, we’ll just go into the land and the angel will do it, and God says he’s going to help us, so we’ll go without the pillar of fire, without the cloud, and we’ll manage, because we still have some promises left.” Not Moses. He goes on to plead with God, beginning at verse 12 and says, “Look, you have said ‘Bring up this people,’ and you have not let me know whom you will send with you, and yet you have said you have known me by name.” In the midst of this judgment with God hiding his face, the Bible says over and over again, “And Moses found favor in the eyes of the Lord, and he found favor,” and God graciously said, “Okay, I will go with you.” That’s what the text says in Exodus 33:14. God is speaking and he says, “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.” And Moses says in verse 15, “If you presence does not go with me, do not bring us from here, 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?”

Two comments. First, what Moses is saying is, “God, your presence is absolutely essential. Please don’t just give us an angel.” And what he’s saying is, “I would rather stay here in the desert and have the presence of God than I would to go into the land of milk and honey without God’s presence.” 

Could I ask you a question today? What if God came to you and said, “You have a choice. You have a choice of $5 million for which you don’t even have to pay income tax. The only thing is, is that if I give that to you, I will withdraw my presence from your life. I’ll help you in some other ways, but you’ll never experience my presence and my fellowship.” What would you do? Would you say to yourself, “Well, you know life is tough.” I’ve been living in poverty. Think of all the good things I could do with $5 million (and here’s the justification now). I could give it to missions. I could make all of these choices, and I could feed my family and other families too. I’d be very generous with the money.” Let me ask you something. How much is God’s presence worth to you?

Remember that man (and I tried to find the illustration and couldn’t) who said, “God, I want four pounds of God please – not five, just four.” Is that what he’s worth to you? 

Moses said, “There is no pleasure that can satisfy without the presence of God. There is no money that can take the place of the presence of God. There’s no pleasure, there’s no experience that can take the place. There’s no honor that can take the place of the presence of God, and furthermore Moses said, “Not only that, but your presence is what makes us distinct (I just read the text) from all of the other people in the earth. How are people going to know that we’re God’s people if your presence isn’t there?”

And by the way, the presence of God has always been the distinguishing mark of God’s people from the beginning of time including today. When people come to the Moody Church they sometimes are impressed by the architecture, and I can understand that because this is (between you and me) one of the most beautiful sanctuaries in the entire world. Don’t you think? You could agree with that, but that’s not what they should leave with. When they go out that door onto Clark Street or this door onto LaSalle Street, what they should say to one another is, “Surely God was in that place.”

That’s what Paul says in Corinthians. He says, “When an unbeliever comes in and God begins to reveal the sin of his heart, he should fall on his face and say, “Surely God is among them.” It is the distinguishing feature of the people of God. So Moses said, “No way am I ever going to go anywhere unless you come along, unless you lead the way.”

Now you’d think that at that point that point Moses would say, “Okay, people, up with your tents. Let’s get going. God says he’s going to come back and he is going to travel with us again. His face that was against us is now shining on us. Let’s get with the agenda.” That’s what I would say. Maybe you would too, but not Moses. Moses says, “Lord, thank you for the fact that you are going to go with us, but please show me your glory (verse 18).”

You say, “Moses, I mean think about this. You were on the mountain forty days and forty nights with God, talking to God as a man speaks to his friend. Why don’t you say it’s time to move on?” Moses says, “I still don’t have enough of God. Forty days and forty nights can’t do it, but I’ll tell you what forty days and forty nights does do. It only increases my thirst for him. I want to see him in a way that I’ve never seen him before. Show me your glory.”

The word glory in Hebrew means heavy – the heaviness of God. This is the most weighty thing (if I can use the word thing) in the entire universe. “Show me your glory,” and God graciously said to Moses, “Okay, I will do that, and in the process” he says, “I’m going to tell you my name.” 

Now Moses knew the name of God before but remember in the Bible when you have this reference to names it’s intimacy, but what God is really saying is, “Moses, from now on you and I are going to be on a first name basis.” Is that wrong to say? Well, on one hand, yes, if we’re flippant about that because God isn’t our buddy, but on the other hand, we do call him “Abba Father.” On the other hand, we do have intimacy with God and we have moments with God that we can share with no one else and we do delight in God as the all-satisfying object.

God says, first of all, “Is this going to be a very intimate experience?” And secondly, “You can’t get to know me without understanding my sovereignty.” God says, “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy, and I will be gracious on whom I will be gracious.” I’m reading the text actually. “I will make all of 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 to whom I will show mercy.” Wow. God says, “Moses, the better you know me, the more convinced you are that I am in charge and you’re not.” And then he said, “But you cannot see my face, for no man shall see me and live,” and God said, “Moses, I’m going to hide you in the cleft of the rock over here, and my goodness is going to pass before you, and I will take away my hand. You shall see my back but my face shall not be seen.”
Now you read that and you ask yourself the question, “Is this contradictory?” You’ll notice in the previous text that I read in the very same chapter in verse 11, “God spoke to Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friend.” Contradiction? No. When it says that God spoke to Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friend, it means that God spoke to him directly. I mean they had conversations together. When Moses is asking to see the glory of God he’s now asking for a revelation the likes of which he’d never had before, and God says, “You can only see me partially.”

You can’t see God as God. Nobody has seen God. In fact, it says, “No man has seen me that would live.” It’s like standing one hundred feet from the sun. You would be incinerated if you were to see God, and furthermore God is saying, “Moses, no matter how much you know of me it is always partial.”

The older I get the more I realize that there is much more mystery connected to God than I used to believe that there was. There’s much about God we don’t know. We get glimpses. That’s why I entitled this message “A Glimpse of our Father’s Face,” but “Moses, I will give you that glimpse. You can’t see me directly.”  That’s why the Bible says in John 1:18, “No man has seen God at any time.” The only begotten God who is in the bosom of the father, he has declared him. So in Jesus we see God but he is veiled. That’s why we sing at Christmas, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see.” We can’t see God directly, even though Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father,” but not directly. 

In fact, I don’t think there’s anybody here who’s ever seen his face or her face directly. Now you probably saw your face this morning. You look as if you did, but you saw it in a mirror. You saw a reflection, and all that we can do is get a glimpse – a bit of a reflection – of God. That’s the best we can do.

Now Moses had prayed, “Show me your glory.” Moses doesn’t get into the land, as you well know. He’s barred from it because he lost his temper and struck the rock instead of speaking to it, and the good news is that Moses eventually made it. About fourteen or fifteen centuries later Jesus appears and he’s there on the Mount of Transfiguration, and who in the world comes and finally makes it across the Jordan River but Moses and Elijah. Moses got to the land finally, and what’s he doing? He’s seen the glory of God.

In the next message when I speak upon the face of Jesus, that’s one of the texts I will use because the Bible says that his face shone as he was up there on the Mount of Transfiguration. And so what you have is Moses who prayed the prayer, “Show me your glory.” He was with God all those centuries. Now he saw more glory, and what do you think Moses is doing today? He’s still beholding the glory of God and learning more about God as you and I will do for all of eternity, and so God shows Moses his glory, and then they are ready to go, because the face of the Lord had again turned toward Israel. His angry face had turned to his accepting gracious face, and the nation was able to go on its way.

Well, you say, “Pastor Lutzer, exactly why should my life be changed because of this? Let me give you two bottom lines. First, keep in mind, my friend, this fact that God’s presence is our greatest treasure. You see, think of what God’s presence meant to Israel after the presence of God returned – the cloud and the pillar. God’s presence led them.

Some of you are going through a time of really questioning. You are in a time of transition. You’ve lost your job. You don’t know what to do. You are like Jehoshaphat. God’s presence will guide you. God’s presence fed them. It was because God was with them there in the desert that he provided manna, and he provided water supernaturally. Oh, they went through difficult times and they complained. Oy yoy yoy, they murmured, just like we sometimes do all in unbelief, but God’s presence was there. God’s presence fought for them against their enemies. 

Your greatest treasure is the presence of God, and we must recognize that there is nothing as great and as wonderful as our knowledge of him, no matter what you are going through today. The presence of God is absolutely essential, and the second bottom line is God’s angry face turns to a gracious face when we deal with sin. You see, God, because he is so holy, cannot fulfill that – be gracious unto you, lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace – as long as you’ve got issues with the Almighty that you are unwilling to face. 

It is sin that prohibited the enjoyment and the fellowship with God. It was when sin was put away that then Moses and Aaron were to say to the people, “The Lord bless you and show his favor to you.” Well, you say, “Can the favor of God even be turned away from Christians?” Yes, there are Christians living in disobedience and the favor of God is turned away from them. That’s why the New Testament speaks so pointedly and directly about living a life pleasing to God because it’s possible to live a life that isn’t pleasing to God. I don’t believe that he denies you or that you lose your salvation, but you can be out of the place of blessing. You could be living in a lifestyle right now where you can’t look into God’s face and say, “God, be gracious unto me and lift up your countenance upon me and give me peace.” You know right well God can’t do that considering the issues that you’ve not been willing to confess and to forsake.

Now, look at the Old Testament. Where is it that the presence of God was localized the most directly? That was, of course, in the Holy of Holies, wasn’t it? The priest could go in there on the Day of Atonement, only that one day a year, and Josephus said that they kept a rope on him in case he did something wrong and would be struck down so they could pull him out without going behind the curtain. Wow! This is where God was, and you didn’t play around. You weren’t flippant when you ere in the Holy of Holies for sure.

In the book of Hebrews what the Bible says is that through that new and living way we now enter into that holy place. When you pray in the name of Jesus, coming through that new and living way, with the sin taken care of in your life through the blood of Christ, you then enter into the Holy of Holies, and there you are in the divine presence and God is there. God is there for you and God is there for us as a church. When you enter into this building, I know that this building is only brick and mortar and carpeting and wood, but you know that when you step from the sidewalk and come in here, this is a special place, because this is where God meets with his people collectively, and we say to ourselves that above all (no matter what you are going through today and no matter what need you brought) the answer to your need is the divine presence.

Is it any wonder that the Bible says, “Seek my face,” and the response is, “Thy face, oh Lord, we shall seek,” because the angry face of God turns to the gracious face of God when we deal with sin. And then we can look back and we can lie in God’s presence and say, “God, it’s so hard for me to believe that you love me considering all that I’ve done, but thanks to Jesus, you do, and I just want to absorb your favor. Thank you that your face is shining upon me.”

Let’s pray.

Father, we ask in the name of Jesus that you will make us a congregation that has favor with God. I pray for the leadership of the church. I pray that all of us who love you might have favor with God, and that we might say under no conditions will we do anything if it diminishes the divine presence. We ask, Lord Jesus, that you’ll give us a sense of honesty and hope. For those whose needs seem to be absolutely overwhelming, for which we have no explanation and for which we can scarcely give guidance, today we pray that with Jehoshaphat that we might say, “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are upon you,” and the Bible says that when the choir sang, God gave the victory. There it is in your word. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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