God's Glory In Our WorshipErwin W. Lutzer | February 7, 2010
Selected highlights from this sermon
The only thing that really matters is the glory of God. All that we do and all that we think should reflect God’s glory. Moses didn’t seek the power or provision of God, he sought God’s presence—His glory. We must do the same.
But if we have sin in our lives, we can’t possibly see God’s glory because the two are utterly incompatible. So we have to biblically take care of sin, and the only way we can do that is through Jesus Christ. Once our sin is confessed and Jesus has cleansed us, only then can we approach God and know His companionship.
Why should I live and not die? That’s a question a woman asked me right up here after a morning service as she came to shake my hand. It’s an excellent question. Now she was going through a time of depression but actually it’s a question that all of us should ask. Why live and not die? Well, we’re going to find an answer to that question, and we’re going to find an answer to that question by showing you how you can have a life of fulfillment and meaning and at the same time bring glory and honor to God.
Let me tell you how this sermon series came about. I was in a group of perhaps five or six people. We were meeting to discuss the topic of renewal or revival in America, and one of the members of the group who has a very close walk with God and a good grasp of the Scriptures began to talk about the glory of God, and what he was saying wasn’t exactly new, but it was so powerful and so overwhelming that we began to sing together, and then we began to pray. I leaned back in my chair and I just looked up to heaven and these words came out: “Oh God, at last I get it. Nothing matters except your glory.” If you wonder how sermon series come about, well there it is. Nothing else matters!
A couple of days later I woke up in the morning, and I sometimes do my best thinking before I roll out of bed. I thought to myself, “That would be a great sermon series,” and I immediately sketched out eight messages on the topic of the glory of God, and nothing else matters.
Now I can imagine that there is someone here; maybe you are a teenager. And by the way, when I was a teenager I used to take notes when I would hear the pastor preach because I had this strange idea that someday maybe I would preach and I’d need something to say. But if you are here today and you are a teenager and you think to yourself, “Well, the glory of God is a philosophical and theological discussion that has nothing to do with school; it has nothing to do with whom I marry; it has nothing to do with the pressure that I have at home,” let me say it has everything to do with it.
Let me tell you three results that I am trusting God for as a result of these messages. First of all, I want this to be an idol smasher. These messages are going to smash idols. They are going to be everywhere, and they are going to be toppled.
I remember a woman saying, “The reason I got remarried so soon after I was divorced is because my identity as a woman was wrapped up in having a man on my arm.” We’re going to put an end to that kind of nonsense. We’re going to put an end to the idea that you have to earn a lot of money in order to get status. All of these idols are going to be laid at the feet of Christ, and once and for all we will be finished with them. We will smash these idols.
There’s something else. (And thank you for those “amens” because I’ll take anything when I am up here, especially an “amen.”) Let me say something else. We’re going to do away with anxiety. Aren’t you tired of thinking the same thoughts over and over again until your mind has certain pathways where it always goes? We’re going to be done with that. This is going to be a stress-reducing series of messages. And finally, and most importantly, for many of you it is going to introduce you to the companionship of God, which is what it’s all about.
Let me say a few words regarding the word glory. In the Old Testament the word occurs a couple hundred times and there are about a dozen Hebrew words, all of which are translated glory. However, the one that is used most often is kabowd, and kabowd means heaviness, weightiness, and therefore the word glory can be applied not just to God, but also to a temple. The Scripture says the temple had glory. Men can have glory. Women can have glory. But when the word is applied to God, one theologian says, “It means he possesses weight, gravity, honor, fame, dignity, splendor, preeminence.” That’s what we’re talking about when we are speaking about the glory of God, because there is no one else like Him, and just to think, we get to know Him and walk with Him.
Now the word glory has to be understood in two senses when it is applied to God. First of all, it is clear that God intrinsically has glory. He would have glory whether He decided to create something or not, because God is inherently glorious, and he has glory the likes of which you and I have never seen, and we cannot see until after we die. God has inherent glory, but it’s also true that God sometimes reveals His glory. This is God reflecting His glory. It is reflected in what we see. For example, Psalm 19 says that the heavens declare the glory of God, and so we sometimes think of the whole universe as being a statement regarding God’s infinite glory. Isn’t it wonderful that scientists believe that the universe is infinite? And God is infinite. No wonder, with all of those billions of stars it declares His glory.
But there’s also such a thing as the glory of God being experienced by human beings. And when we experience the glory of God, we generally think of it as the presence of God.
Now before we move any further I need to do a little bit of theological work, and then we are going to see how this plays out, and we’re going to end here today with our lives changed.
When we speak of the presence of God, we have to understand it in two senses. On the one hand, God is present everywhere. In fact, the Psalmist said, “If I make my bed in Sheol, thou are there.” God is everywhere. He is omnipresent, that is, present everywhere, but we’re talking about something else now when we talk about the presence of God. We are speaking about what theologians often call His manifest presence. His manifest presence means that God is among his people and they know it, and they connect with Him. It is when you say to yourself, “Surely God is in that place,” and you know that God is connecting and the glory of God is among His people. This is the revealed, experienced glory of God.
So much by way of definition! Now I’d like us to see revelations of His glory, and I’m going to ask you to turn to a few passages of Scripture in the book of Exodus. We’ll begin at chapter 24, and look at a couple of other references and then we’ll put it all together for you, and I promise you it will all come out well in the end.
Now, Exodus 24–just so we get a glimpse of what we mean when we’re talking about the manifest presence of God. It says in Exodus 24:15, “Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered into the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.”
I want to say it. Wow! Forty days and forty nights, and I have to tell you that Moses still didn’t have enough of God’s glory. You get to a few chapters later as we shall see, and he’s still asking, “Show me your glory.” He couldn’t get enough of God. It is impossible for us to understand what this must have meant, and then Moses, who couldn’t enter into the land, you remember, ends up finally getting into the land at the Mount of Transfiguration, and getting more glory. Moses was with God forty days and forty nights.
Now let’s look at another passage. Turn in your Bibles to Exodus 29 because this helps us to understand what the glory of God and the presence of God meant among the people of the time. Exodus 29:42 says, “I will meet with you, to speak to you there,” and verse 43 says, “There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it (that is, the sanctuary and the altar) shall be sanctified by my glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests.” Notice–oh, this is so beautiful. You came to church for many reasons today. May it be said that you came for this: “I will dwell among the people of Israel and I will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” Wow!
Notice that the manifest presence of God involves the dwelling of God among his people. It means the communication of God. God says there, “When I manifest myself I’m going to speak with you.” It means the leading of the Lord because you discover that the cloud led them by day, and the pillar of fire by night, and therefore the people were constantly led by God. It says that when the cloud didn’t depart the Israelites stayed there, and then when the cloud departed they followed it. Imagine such nearness to God that you know what the next step should be based upon His revelation and His glory. Israel had all of that.
Now, if you ask the question, “Why is it that you have all of these regulations regarding altars and sacrifices and tabernacles and altars of incense, etc., etc. What in the world is going on?” Remember this: The reason for all of that is God says, “I want to dwell among my people without contaminating myself and without compromising my holiness.” And so for that, God instituted what we call the sacrificial system so that He could dwell with His people despite their sin. His presence would always be mediated. Nobody would be in His presence directly except the high priest in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. That was it, because God says, “There’s a part of me that can dwell with you, but because of sin, there’s always going to be a barrier that needs to be crossed,” and the sacrificial system in the Old Testament was intended to take care of that barrier, at least temporarily.
So what we can see here is the definition of God’s glory, His revelation, and now we get to the very sobering reality, the withdrawal of God’s glory. There are times when God left because He could no longer put up with the people’s sin, their unrepentant sin.
Now notice this, and now we’re in chapter 33. I want to read the first few verses and then explain to you why they are there. In chapter 33:1, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Okay!’ (That’s a Lutzerian translation. That’s a footnote I threw in.) ‘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.” 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 (and the Megabytes).’ I’ll give you my blessing and my protection, because He says, “If I go up among you (I’m in the last part of verse 3) I will perhaps consume you because you are very, very stiff-necked.”
All right, everybody be a Bible student right here. Why is God threatening to take away His glory and His visible presence among His own people? And the answer, of course, is because of idolatry. You’ll notice in chapter 32 the story of the golden calf. The idols in our lives will always cause the glory of God to be diminished, and because the people turned aside and wanted a god that they could quantify, a god that they could follow visibly, they wanted a god who was able to allow them to have sexual rituals because Jehovah was very strict about those things, and so they made their own god. And like Calvin said, our minds are idol factories, and that’s why I’m saying that this series of messages is going to demolish our idols, because we can’t experience this presence of God as long as there is sin in our lives that competes with God. Idols always compete.
I have never seen the show American Idol. I just can’t seem to get into the excitement of it all, but isn’t it true that idols always compete?
And by the way, what did Moses say? Oh, this is so beautiful and we have to read verse 11 of chapter 33: “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” What a beautiful statement! Now I’m telling you more than you really need to know about me, but I am not on Facebook. I get all of these invitations. You know. Would you be my friend on Facebook? And I’m thinking, “Life is so short.” Well, for my father it wasn’t exactly, but most of the time, life is so short, and I say to myself, “One of these days I guess I’ll be on Facebook,” but why is that we like to have face-to-face? It isn’t enough to simply phone somebody. Nowadays you want Skype, because you want to see people directly, and imagine. Moses did, like a man speaks to his friend. What an honor Moses had. Do you think he had greater honor than we do? Listen, if you listen to this series of messages, I am going to prove to you Scripturally that we have an honor as great as his, but that awaits another message.
Now, Moses says, “If you don’t go up with me, leave me here.” He says, “If I have found favor in your sight consider too that these people are your people,” and God says in verse 14 of chapter 33, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And Moses said to him, “If your presence doesn’t go with us, do not bring us up from here.” Moses said, “I’d rather be in the desert and have your presence than in the Promised Land with all of its bounty without your presence.” God said, “Moses, I’ll give you my provision, and I’ll give you my power, but my presence won’t go up.” And Moses said, “I don’t care about your provision and your power. I don’t care if you sent an angel to destroy our enemies. If you do not go with us, we’re not going anywhere because,” Moses said, “how else are we going to be known as the people who are distinguished from the other nations?”
And how are we, as believers in Jesus Christ, to be distinguished from all other peoples? The answer, of course, is very clear. It’s because of the dwelling of God among us. It is the distinguishing mark of God’s children. And then later on Moses again says to God, “Show me your glory,” and you know the rest of that story. He couldn’t see God directly, but God said, “I’ll give you a glimpse.” He hid him in a cave. The story is there, and Moses saw God at least partially. Wow!
Now, so much for what it is that causes the glory of God to depart. Sin! Ezekiel has a vision of the temple in Jerusalem that was built by Solomon, and was destroyed by the Babylonians. In chapter 9 he sees the glory of God–the Shekinah glory–the shining glory. He sees it go to the threshold of the building. In chapter 10 he sees it on the eastern wall of Jerusalem, and then in the next chapter, chapter 11, he sees it at the Mount of Olives and it disappears. The glory of God left Israel. When they came back they built the temple under Zerubbabel, you remember, but did you know that the glory never returned?
It did in Solomon’s temple, but not in Zerubbabel’s. Did that stop them from having meetings? No, and there may have been some really good believers among them, but there are plenty of churches that continue their ritual, even if the glory departs. See, that’s what Jesus was referring to in the Gospels where he said to the Pharisees, “You honor me with your lips. You’ve got the ritual down but your heart is far from me.” And so the glory of God departs. Its presence departs because of sin.
How is this glory restored? How do we pursue the glory of God? For this I’m going to ask you to turn to Exodus, Chapter 40. Now in the fortieth chapter you have this summary of all the things Moses did in the building of the tabernacle. And for example we find in verse 29 a reference to the burnt altar–the big altar where the sacrifices were made. In verse 30 you have a reference to the basin. When you came into the tabernacle area you were there at the altar, and that represents to us Jesus Christ and receiving Him as Savior. But that wasn’t enough for the priest to enter into the Holy of Holies. He had to wash himself too.
Let’s talk about you today, you who are listening, which I hope is all of you. If you didn’t wash yourself through confession of sins and make yourself pure before you came to church this morning, you’ll not sense the presence of God. No, no, no. I remember a man said to me, “Sunday morning I was singing all these hymns and I had in my mind all the images of the movie that I saw Saturday night.” Where’s God in that? You can’t say, “Well, you know, I’m saved. Therefore, I can walk into church unprepared and worship.” No, you can’t. You can’t. Why? Because in the Old Testament they had to go to that altar, but then they had to go to the laver and then after the laver they were able to go into the holy place, and then the high priest into the very Holy of Holies.
You see, that’s the way the glory is restored. The glory is restored by Biblically taking care of sin, because sin always causes the withdrawal of the glory of God among His people, and the presence of God, and that’s why sometimes you can go to church services where they sing all the right things, you listen to all the right things, but there’s just no God there.
Now, look at what happened when the glory was restored and they took care of the sin question. Chapter 40, verse 34 says, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” And then throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up over the tabernacle the people of Israel would set out, but if the cloud was not taken up, they did not set out until the day that it was taken up, for the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night in the sight of all the House of Israel throughout all their journeys. The glory of God, the presence of God, the manifest presence of God was among them.
And where was it localized? I mean, the real localization was in what we call the Holy of Holies. You have in your mind, I’m sure, a picture of the tabernacle. You have the holy place that had three different articles of furniture, and then after you are in the holy place, only the priest could go into the Holy of Holies and it was a cube. It was a room that was a cube–the same distance for length and breadth and so forth.
Let me ask you something: Where else in the entire Bible do you have a cube? The only other place is the New Jerusalem, and the statistics of the cube are given to us. And isn’t it interesting that when the New Jerusalem comes from God, out of heaven there is a voice that says these words, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them, and be their God.”
You have the very same reference, too, in Exodus and Leviticus–the dwelling of God–but at last without having to worry about sin. Face to face with God! And that’s why it says regarding the New Jerusalem, “I saw no temple therein for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb were the temple of it.” Why? It was because the whole New Jerusalem is the Holy of Holies. We dwell in God’s presence forever. Bless His holy name. (applause)
What are we going to be doing throughout all of eternity? Many assignments are given but the thrilling thing about it all is that it is the dwelling place of God. God finally gets to dwell with His people without the need for mediation.
Now where does this all leave us and why should our lives be changed, and what does this have to do with tomorrow–bills that can’t be paid and jobs that are threatening to be extinct? Let me give you the bottom line.
First of all, number one, only the glory of God really matters. Only it really matters. Nothing else really matters. The issue in your life and in mine is not whether or not life is easy. The issue is not whether or not we get the advancement that we think that we deserve, or whether or not we get the partner that we think we deserve. And when we do, we take comfort in the fact that things could be worse. The real issue is more fundamental than that, and that is what does God want me to do and how do I glorify Him in this situation? It’s an entirely different question.
Let me ask you something. Let’s suppose that God says, “Okay, you can go to heaven. Heaven will have everything that you want to eat. It will have various things that you can do–enough games and projects to keep you from being bored, and that’s what heaven is going to be like.” Would you say, “Well, you know that sounds pretty good to me?”
No! Imagine heaven without the presence of God. It wouldn’t be heaven if God gave us that. I remind you of the words of Moses: “Lord, if your presence does not go with us then do not take us up from here,” and I might say that it is indeed better to live in poverty with the presence of God than to dwell with riches without His presence–getting them dishonestly so that you lose favor with God and you don’t sense His presence.
Nothing else really matters. It doesn’t matter whether or not you get all your prayers answered. It doesn’t matter whether or not life works out well, and I’m not talking about passivity here, but I am saying this–that at the end of the day, really nothing else matters. Our egos don’t matter anymore in the presence of God. It doesn’t matter whether we get all the accolades that we think we have coming to us. It doesn’t matter whether or not we are thanked properly. All of the pettiness of life, all of the gossip of life, all that is washed away because nothing else matters except God and His glory.
Second, you can see that it is clear that the fact that the presence of sin and the presence of God are incompatible. Whenever you desire that the presence of God be manifest (be evident) and whenever that happens, you always know that God begins by cleaning up his people. And God asks us to come as it were to the altar, and that is to say (I’m using Old Testament terminology) to receive Jesus Christ as our Savior, and after we’ve done that, to go to the laver (the basin–1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins) and put sin away so that God’s presence can be very, very evident among His people. God loves to dwell with His people. He wants to talk to them. He wants our companionship and we should desire His as well. You cannot live in sin and know the companionship of God and His presence.
Many years ago in Leadership Magazine there was a long article by a man in Christian work who struggled with pornography. When Leadership Magazine published this article they had more responses to it than to any other, I suppose, that they had ever had. And the article ended with a lot of hope and a lot of deliverance. Five years later the same man, who was writing anonymously, wrote a piece and in it he said the thing that turned him around, the thing that never let him just stay in that pit as a Christian was that he so lost his fellowship with God. The companionship of God was gone. He could not look into the eyes of God and walk with God and say, “God, I desire your presence; I desire your blessing,” because the Bible says, “The pure in heart will see God,” and that’s what gave him the motivation to say, “I’ll do whatever I need to do to get rid of this so that I get the presence of God back.”
You cannot have the presence of God in the presence of unconfessed sin. When God wants to clean us up and restore His presence, He always does it by asking us to deal with issues that we’ve shoved under the rug for a long time so that His glory can return to our lives.
And let us keep in mind that that is exactly what we want to have happen here at The Moody Church. There are certain streams that are coming together of prayer and commitment and planning, and we believe that God wants to do something wonderful among us, but remember, this presence of God withdraws when you and I choose sin. But can you imagine how freeing it is once and for all to live for God’s glory alone?
Let me share with you what I am doing in my own life, and I’ve been doing this for several months. As I say, when I wake up in the morning, you know, during that period of time when you ask God one more time, “Do I really have to get out of bed?” and you are wondering what the day holds, I usually pray, “Lord, today I give you my day. I’m going to trust the Holy Spirit to be in me all that I need. I want to walk in the Spirit today.” But for the last three or four months I’ve been praying this as I still lie in bed, trying to get the nerve to get up, though I don’t have that difficult a time getting up, you understand. But this is what I pray. I say, “God, today glorify yourself in me at my expense.”
How many of you would pray that prayer every morning? You’re going to commit to pray that prayer. “Today, oh God, glorify yourself in me at my expense.”
There’s a final lesson, and that is that we cannot know the glory of God except through Jesus. To the temple of Zerubbabel, the glory didn’t return. Herod built his big temple and the glory doesn’t return to the temple. But while Herod’s temple is still standing there is somebody who does return. He comes to earth, and it says in John 1:14, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is the one who came to restore the glory.
Some of you can’t relate when I speak of the companionship of God because you never thought of a personal relationship with God. You say, “What about his companionship?” When you look into the sky and see all that is up there and say, “I know Him and He is my heavenly Father,” you can only connect with the Almighty through Jesus Christ. Nobody else out there qualifies to do that. Nobody else has the glory of God. Nobody else offers the forgiveness of God, and then remember what Jesus did in anticipation of doing this. He said to the disciples as they were having the Passover, “This is the cup of the New Covenant in my blood. This, do in remembrance of me.” And he took the bread and broke it and said, “Take eat. This is my body, broken for you.” And Jesus was saying thereby, that through faith in Him, through confidence in what He did on our behalf and a transfer of trust to all that He did, we come to know Him, love Him, and our relationship is personal, and we have the unmistakable privilege (could there be any greater?) of walking with God in companionship, which is exactly what He desires, because the sin issue has been taken care of through Jesus Christ.
Do you know God in that way? Do you know God only as an abstraction, or do you know God personally? You can only do that through Jesus Christ our Lord. Remember to pray every morning, “Today, glorify yourself in me at my expense.”
Can you imagine how you can handle your day differently because the issues aren’t those issues now? The only issue is how does God get glory from this? How do I glorify God in this? Not how I can get even, how I can take care of this. No, no, no. How you glorify God is the only thing. Nothing else really matters. (applause)
Father, draw us close to Your heart, I pray. Help us to know that life isn’t what we think it is. Things are not the way they appear to be. The issues that we consider the big issues are not the big issues. The big issue is Your glory. Deliver us from all other concerns and putting those idols in the place of your glory and your holiness.
If you’ve been listening to this message and you’ve never received Christ as Savior, even where you are seated just say, “I want to know God personally. I receive Christ as my Savior. I receive His sacrifice on my behalf, believing that he died in my stead.” You tell Him that right now.
And if you have prayed that prayer, come and tell one of us. Tell one of the staff or one of the prayer partners that will be up here. At the end of the day nothing else matters.
Lord, we love you. Glorify yourself at our expense. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.