Selected highlights from this sermon.
Prayer can sometimes feel pointless, especially since God can do as He pleases, with or without our prayers. But prayer is designed to develop intimacy between us and God, so that we will reflect God’s character.
Moses is an example of someone craving deeper intimacy with the Lord. God responded by displaying His glory and compassion to him. And we, too, can meet with God and pray, “show us Your glory.”
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During the past several weeks as we’ve been speaking on the topic of prayer, I’ve emphasized the need to pray for one another, to pray for our city, and lastly to pray for the world. But behind the doctrine of prayer there is a question that all of us have asked at one time or another. The question is this: Why is it that we should bother praying anyway? If God wants to do something, He certainly can go ahead and do it without us asking Him to. If He wants to bless your friends, He can bless them whether you pray or not. If He wants to take the city of Chicago and bring it out from under its evil forces, He can do that whether we pray or not. I mean obviously God can. We pray for missionaries. Why can’t God just go ahead and take care of their needs whether we pray or not? Isn’t He able to do that? I want to say, “You bet,” but then I remember I’m a pastor, and so I’ll just say, “Yeah, that’s right. Of course He can.”
Why do we pray? I want to remind you of something that is very central and that will change your prayer life if you lay hold of its implications. The real purpose of prayer, you see, is a stepping stone for us to develop intimacy with God. That’s the real purpose of prayer. That’s why God gives us so many needs. It is because He knows that only desperate people pray, and He makes us desperate a good part of the time so that we pray and we come to Him with our need, and we leave realizing that our needs are not nearly the ones that we thought we had, and that our biggest need is our need for God.
Listen to the way George MacDonald, who greatly influenced C. S. Lewis, put it: “What if the main object in God’s idea of prayer be the supplying of our great, our endless need of Himself? Hunger may drive a runaway child home, but he needs his mother more than he needs his dinner. Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other needs. And prayer is the beginning of that communion.”
You see, that’s why, to many people, prayer is something that is, at best, a duty. It’s because they don’t understand that the real purpose is for us to get beyond all of the needs that we have—the unemployment, the emotional turmoil, the difficulties of life—and get on with the business of intimacy with Almighty God and knowing Him. That’s really the purpose of prayer, because we need God more than we need our prayers answered.
Now I want you to take your Bibles and turn today to the experience of Moses in Exodus 33. In Exodus 33 Moses is on Mount Sinai communicating with God. He is receiving the Law. All of the details are being spelled out for him. And then before he leaves to come down from the mountain, the Lord lets him in on what is happening in the valley below. And God says, “Moses, I want you to know that your people, the Jews, are an obstinate people.” He said, “They have made a golden calf and they are worshipping it,” because that’s exactly what happened.
And it says in Exodus 32 (I asked you to turn to chapter 33, and we will be there, but notice in chapter 32), verses 9-11: “They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.’”
God tests Moses. God says, “Moses, you know what we could do? Let’s obliterate them. Let’s vaporize them and I’ll begin again with you.” Moses might have been tempted to say, “Hey, it sounds like a great idea because I’m a very important person,” but he didn’t. To his everlasting credit he prayed for his people.
Now there are three prayers that Moses utters that we are going to look at today, and the first prayer is the prayer for pardon! It’s in verses 11 through 13. The prayer for pardon! You can write that word in the margin of your Bible next to verse 11. “But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, ‘O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and you promised to send us.’”
Notice that when Moses prays to God he appeals, first of all, to the reputation of God as it relates to the heathen Egyptians. He says, “Lord, you can’t wipe these people out because think of what the Egyptians are going to say about You. They’re going to say that God was incapable of bringing them into the land.” And Moses was concerned about the reputation of God among pagans.
Should we be concerned, by the way, about God’s reputation in the world? And the answer is yes. Do you realize that many people are going to make up their minds about God based on the way in which you and I live? And that’s why when you have a scandal in the evangelical community there is great harm done to the reputation of God. As God said to David, “It is because of you that the enemies of the Lord are blaspheming and making fun of my name.”
So Moses appeals to the reputation of God, and then he says, “Lord, not only Your enemies have a problem with the fact that You would exterminate the whole group of people, but also, oh Lord, what about your covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Remember it.”
In fact, Moses so pleaded for forgiveness that it says in verses 31 and 32 of this chapter: “So Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will, forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.’ But the Lord said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.’”
Many people think that this is the book of life that is referred to later on in the New Testament, but I don’t think so. Not for a moment do I believe that it is. It’s probably the census of the children of Israel. Do you remember they took a census as to who came out of Egypt so that then they might determine who it is that came into the land? Moses is saying, “Blot out my name. Don’t let me enter into the land. You can even kill me, not that I might be out of Thy eternal book, but this book that numbers Thy people.” So the first prayer that Moses offers is a prayer of pardon.
Now I want you to turn to chapter 33 where he offers another prayer to God. It is a prayer for the presence of the Lord. It says in verse 12: “Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, you say to me, “Bring up this people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.’”
I should say that in the intervening verses the Lord said, “I’m going to send an angel but my presence isn’t going to go with you.” The presence of the Lord was encompassed in that cloud that we referred to as the Shekinah Glory, and if we had time to read the first part of chapter 33 we’d find out that the Lord says, “I’m not going with you. My cloud is not going to accompany you. I’m going to send an angel.”
Moses is very dissatisfied with this. He says in verse 13:
“Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” So the Lord relents and again responds to the prayer of Moses and says: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
And notice what Moses says in verse 15: “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.” Moses is saying, “God, we don’t want to go anywhere unless You accompany us. If Your presence is not with us, we would rather stay in this wilderness than to be in Canaan without the presence of God.” So he says, “Lord, please go. It is an absolute necessity.”
Do you feel that way, by the way, regarding the decisions that you make as a Christian? Do you pray and say, “Oh Lord, if you are not in this, if this is not your will, prevent it? Close the door. Slam the door on that relationship. Oh God, if this doesn’t have your blessing, don’t let it happen.” So Moses stresses here the necessity of God’s presence, and he says the mark of God’s presence (in the last part of verse 16) is that we might be distinguished people, different from all the other people on the face of the earth.
Now the Lord has given Moses an answer to two of his prayers. “Lord, pardon Your people.” The Lord says, “Okay, I will pardon them. I will not wipe them off the map.”
“Lord, we need your presence to go with us because if You don’t give it to us, we’re not going.” The Lord says, “Okay, Moses, I’ll give you my presence. I personally will accompany you. The cloud will return.”
You’d think Moses would be satisfied. You’d think Moses would say, “Well, now that God is with us it’s time to get going again. Let’s get moving.” Oh, Moses is not yet satisfied. He has a third prayer. In verse 18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” My friends, this is the Moses that already has been on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights the text says, “speaking face to face with God as a man speaks with his friend.” Moses is saying, “I still don’t have enough of God. Show me Your glory.”
What an amazing account that there is in verses 19 to 23: “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. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.’”
What’s going on here in the text? It says, “No man can see me and live,” and yet people in the Bible saw God. When Jesus was on earth people saw Jesus, and Jesus is God. There’s a very interesting verse in John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.” How do we put those two together? Nobody sees God, yet people see God. Is it a contradiction? Nobody can believe the contradiction. It’s not a contradiction. It simply means that nobody can see God as God. You can’t see God and live. It would be like standing a few yards from the sun. Who could stand in the presence of God as He is and live? No one! You’d be wiped out and incinerated by His holiness and His greatness.
But we do see manifestations of God. Moses saw one. You see, it’s like saying this. This is not a contradiction. I can say I saw my face this morning. That’s perfectly true. I did. I looked into the mirror. I even shaved. I saw my face this morning. And yet, it is also true to say I did not see my face this morning. It is unthinkable that anyone could ever see his face directly. Could you imagine that—having your eyes come out and then turn around and look at your face? Nobody can see themselves that way.
I saw only a reflection, and yet we say, “I saw my face.” So there are people who saw God, yes, but nobody has ever seen God in His greatness and in His essence, for to see Him would be instant death. “Nobody can see me,” God says, “and live.” Moses is saying, “God, show me as much of Yourself as I can take. Show me Your glory.”
What is it that Moses was praying for? We don’t have experiences like this today where we are hidden in a natural rock in a mountain when the glory of God passes by. When we speak of the glory of God we are talking about the attributes of God. We are speaking about all of His attributes of beauty. The actual word glory in Hebrew means heavy—that God is heavy. You know, we use that expression even today. We say, “Man, you know, that’s heavy.” And we mean, “That’s deep. That’s weighty.” That’s the word glory. And so to see the glory of God is to see the beauty of God. It is to see the attributes of God. That’s why it can say in Psalm 19:1: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” That’s one way that God’s glory is seen among many, many, many other ways, because wherever you have God’s work, you always have a tinge of His glory.
And so notice the attributes right here that are listed in this passage. The Lord says in verse 19: “I will make all my goodness…” That Hebrews word goodness really means beauty. It’s a word that was used of Joseph who was handsome. “I will make my beauty pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’” That’s the first thing. Intimacy with God!
Notice in verse 12 Moses is speaking and he says: “Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’” Now just think a little bit about this. In verse 12 Moses says, “God, you know me by name.” Obviously God does.
I preached on the subject of heaven at a camp this summer, and when it was over someone came to me and said, “Do you think that Jesus, when we get to heaven, will know us and call us by our first names?” I don’t know why it took me so long to think about that, because the obvious answer is yes. “He puts forth His sheep and He knows them by name,” the Bible says. We are so important that He remembers our names. Just think about that—walking into heaven, seeing Jesus, and He looks me in the eye and He says, “Erwin, so good to see you up here.”
But now, what God is saying to Moses is, “I know you by name, but I want to reveal now My name to you. I want to trade business cards. Let’s know each other.” Is it correct to say that we can know God on a first-name basis? The answer to that is it depends on the way you understand that phrase. If first-name basis means that we are equal with God, obviously not. But if first-name basis means that we have fellowship with God, and we can talk to Him as a man speaks to his friend, the answer is yes, we can know God on a first name basis. Paul says, “We can call Him Abba Father.” We can say to Him, “Daddy, Daddy!”
Moses is saying, “God, I want to know You as far as it is possible for a human being on earth to know You.” And the Lord says, “I’ll declare My name to you. We’re going to become intimate. We’re going to know one another well. I already know you, but you’re going to get to know Me better.”
Furthermore, the Lord says, “I’m going to show My compassion to you.” He says, “I will proclaim my compassion, My grace.” The Hebrew word means to stoop down. God stoops, as it were, to cover us. That’s the imagery that is in this passage of Scripture. And the Lord says, “You’re going to see my attributes, Moses.” And so the Lord very graciously asks Moses to hide in the cleft of the rock, and the glory—the Shekinah Glory and all of its brightness passes by. But, of course, he cannot see God directly, but he does see a glimmer of God—a glimmer of God.
Do you realize what happened 1,500 years later? Moses, you know, isn’t able to enter into the land. He’s buried there on Mount Nebo on the other side of the Dead Sea, and God has a burial place for him there, and his bones are rotting there on the hill. And then Jesus steps onto history, 1,500 years after the time of Moses, and He is born in Bethlehem, and He has disciples. And one day He says to the disciples, “Come, let us go to a mountain.” And Peter, James and John are able to go with Him. And Jesus, who is the glory of God, but that glory was veiled… That’s why we sing at Christmastime, “veiled in flesh the Godhead see.” But there on a mountain just north of Caesarea, where some of us were this summer, Jesus is there and the glory of God suddenly just breaks out. And you have the transfiguration scene as the whole top of the mountain is engulfed in light. And who in the world has the privilege of showing up for the occasion but Moses and Elijah?
Moses prayed 1,500 years ago, “Lord, show me your glory,” and God gives him a little glimmer, but Moses still isn’t satisfied after 1,500 years in heaven. And he’s on the Mount of Transfiguration, and the Lord says, “Moses, I’m continuing to fulfill the prayer that you offered 1,500 years ago. You can be here for this event.”
Don’t get too discouraged if God doesn’t answer your prayers right away. Some of them may have to wait until after we die. But the Lord says, “Moses, you will see My glory.”
Now I want you to understand something. The purpose of prayer is to develop such intimacy with God that the glory of God, which we in ourselves have none of, will be reflected in our character. Just like the moon has no power in itself (It has no light; it has only the reflection of the sun.), your purpose in life and my purpose in life is to reflect God as far as human beings are able to do that to the full extent that we are able to on earth. And that’s the whole purpose of prayer. And that’s why God doesn’t do things unless we pray. Of course, He could, and sometimes He does. But He says, “I want you to get beyond your need. I want you to get beyond your financial reverses, your disappointments with other people. I want you to get beyond the frustrations of broken relationships. I want you to understand that your greatest need is fellowship with Me, for Me to reveal My glory to you, and that you will reflect My glory because of your intimacy with Me.” That’s the real reason why we keep on praying about things that God is interested in, and could do without our prayers.
What are we supposed to be doing? We’re supposed to reflect the worth of God. How valuable is God to you, by the way? Whenever you are in trouble, the person that you go to reflects something about where your values are. Some people go to a bar. Some people go to drugs. Whatever! We’re supposed to go to God, who wants to develop that friendship with us, and we’re to reflect His worth. People should be able to look at us and say, “You know, God means more to that person than any other thing. He is consumed with God.” I wish it could be said of me. I don’t think it can be, but I want it to be said of me, “He’s intoxicated with God; he can’t get enough of Him.” Show me, oh God, Thy glory!
By the way, did you know that the Bible says that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us? And Paul also says in Corinthians that our suffering in this present time is but light affliction. It is as light as a feather in comparison to the eternal weight of glory that we have waiting for us. If you were to have a scale and on it you put all of your afflictions, all of your trials, all of your struggles, and all of your heartbreaks, and on the other side you were to put the glory of God, the scale would go plunk, just like that, because the weight of the glory of God is of such more great value and weight than any trial we can possibly have on earth. That’s what the Apostle Paul teaches. And you and I are supposed to spend our lives reflecting that glory.
So we reflect the worth of God. We are to reflect the beauty of God. His goodness was to pass by Moses. His beauty! People should look at us and say, “You know, there’s something about God that is attractive. God is beautiful.” And I hope that in our witness we always draw attention not to ourselves but to God because we’re not beautiful, but He is. And sometimes He likes to use people that aren’t beautiful at all to show all the greater how wonderful His beauty is. That’s why it says that we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us. And so that’s why God uses people who are so incredibly ordinary—so incredibly ordinary.
But I am reminded of the person who said to a friend, “You know, I pointed to the moon and all that you saw was my finger.” And sometimes we’re very bad at pointing people beyond ourselves to God, but oh, I hope that people are never impressed with us, but impressed with the God whom we have come to know.
Finally, we have to understand something of the transformation of God. You know, if we had time we’d read the next chapter (chapter 34) where it says in verse 29 that Moses goes back up to the mountain, and when he comes back his face is shining. This is that unconscious godliness that we heard a message about this past summer—the unconscious godliness—and Moses puts a veil on his face. And the reason that he veils his face is that the children of Israel might not see that this glory that was in his face was fading away. Many people don’t realize that that’s actually what the Bible teaches. And that’s why Moses veiled his face, because his glory was only passing. The people saw Moses, and they saw in him a representation of God.
Now, I know what some of you are saying. You are saying, “You know, I wish I were Moses. Oh, if only I could see the glory of God. If only we had that privilege of being there in the rock before Him.” If only, if only, if only! Well, I want you to know today that if you were really serious about thinking about it, neither you nor I would ever exchange places with him. Really? Yeah, really.
If you don’t believe me take your Bibles and turn to 2 Corinthians 3. What the Apostle Paul says is that we have advantages that Moses did not have. We have advantages that Moses did not have. He’s talking about Moses. He’s speaking about the fact that his glory was fading away in 2 Corinthians 3:11. For example, “For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.”
He’s contrasting the Old Testament with the New Testament, and then this is what he says in verse 18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Very quickly, notice four advantages we have over Moses. The first is we have a greater opportunity. He says, “But we all with unveiled face have this privilege.” In the Old Testament only Moses had that privilege. You read the Old Testament and what was God constantly saying to the people? In many respects He was saying, “Stay away, stay away, stay away!” When Moses was on Sinai the people were supposed to stay away. In fact, even if an animal touched the mountain it says they should shoot that animal with a bow and arrow so that they wouldn’t touch the animal that touched the mountain. God says, “Get away.” Just Moses!
And then when the tabernacle is built there’s a huge veil. Some people have said it was seven inches of cloth dividing the holy place from the Holy of Holies. Again God was saying, “Stay away, stay away!” And Jewish historians say that when a person went into the Holy of Holies, as the high priest could do only on one day a year, they actually tied a chain around his leg so that if he did something wrong and was struck down by God, they could drag him out without anyone having to go into the Holy of Holies. God was saying, “Keep away because I am holy.” So one day a year the priest got into the Holy of Holies.
And now the Apostle Paul says, “And we all with unveiled face…” He’s saying, “Every single believer, now that the veil has been torn in two, has the privilege of drawing near to Jesus Christ, and near to God the Father, through the blood of Christ, to enter into the Holy of Holies.” And he’s saying to the teenagers who are present, “You all are welcome.” And to the children who are present, and to the new Christians, and to the old Christians he says, “We all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are transformed.” Greater opportunity! If’s for everyone who is a believer. A greater boldness! As I mentioned, they were barred from the Holy of Holies, but here we read that we all are welcome.
Notice greater clarity. We behold in a mirror the glory of the Lord. A mirror is a rather accurate representation. The Old Testament’s representation was not that accurate. Even Moses, with all of his knowledge of God, didn’t know all that we know because of the coming of Jesus Christ. And as we read the Word of God we understand God better than Moses was able to understand Him. As the words of the hymn go: “Beyond the sacred page I see Thee, Lord.” And that, by the way, is why the Bible was written. It was not written so that we’d have some tenses in the Greek language to argue over, though that sometimes is important.
“Beyond the sacred page I see Thee, Lord.” A greater clarity! A greater transformation! We are transformed. It is the same word that is used for the transfiguration. We are transformed from one degree of glory into another degree of glory. We are slowly made over by God to reflect more and more glory. And I hope that there is more glory coming from my life this year than last. I hope so. That’s what it’s supposed to do at least.
And so we have the privilege today of understanding that the reason that God says, “Come and pray,” is not just to get our needs met, though that is part of it. It is that we might thirst for a greater need, and a greater desire. And that is to know Almighty God and to reflect His glory, and that we might say with Moses, “I am not satisfied, even if You have answered all of my prayer list. Oh God, show me now Yourself. Show me Your glory.”
As C. S. Lewis says, “In the Psalms, God is presented as the all-satisfying object.” I think my need is for a new job. My need is for this and my need is for that, and by the time it’s over I realize that my need is for God. And all the other needs seem so small now that I’m intimate with the Almighty.
Remember Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story of the great stone face? On the side of the mountain there were some rocks that had been thrown together by nature in such a way as to constitute the features of a man. And there was a little boy by the name of Ernest who was told by his mother that there was a legend that had gone through the village for many centuries that someday a man would come who would look like that great stone face.
Little Ernest would spend all of his waking hours sitting there across the mountain, looking across the valley to the great stone face, and noticing the kindness and the compassion, which seemed to be evidenced by that man’s features.
One day a man came to the village and everyone said, “This is a fulfillment of the prophecy.” But the man was not a kind man. He did not seem to have the qualities that everyone had hoped he would have, and it was clear that he was not the fulfillment of the man who would look like the great stone face.
Other candidates came. Ernest, as an adult, even would stand and sit and contemplate that great stone face. And when he became an old man, one day when a poet came to the village and there was a discussion regarding who the fulfillment of that representation would be, suddenly all the people in the village noticed the striking similarity between Ernest and the great stone face. And they said, “You are the fulfillment of that prophecy.”
Do you know why we’re supposed to spend time in prayer? Just to get our needs met? That’s part of it, but not the whole of it—not even the major part of it. It is to so behold God that we begin to reflect His glory. That’s the whole purpose of it so that we might be transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ, overcome by God’s majesty and greatness and wonder, with intimacy with the Almighty.
I’d like to pass on a suggestion to you. In the last two weeks I’ve been doing something that I’ve not done before. In addition to my regular prayer time, I’ve been trying to spend at least 15 minutes every single day doing nothing but waiting before the Lord in silence. All that I do is quote verses of Scripture that come to mind about God. I don’t ask Him anything. I don’t request anything. It’s not a time even so much of praise. It’s simply to be in the presence of God. I’m only in the beginning stages of this, but I’m beginning, I think, to understand that my thirst for God becomes greater. The more time you spend with the Almighty, the more likely you are to be like Moses, who says, “God, we’ve been together for 40 days and 40 nights. You’ve communed with me, but God, I’m not satisfied. Show me your glory.”
I hope that it can be said of every single person who is listening to me, whether in this service or by radio, that your greatest desire is to know God as far as He can be known by a human being on planet earth. We’ll never know Him exhaustively, but every little bit that you know is precious and becomes a building block for something else.
Oh God, whatever the cost, whatever sin and golden calves I need to get rid of in my life, oh God, show me Your glory.
Forgive us, Father, for being satisfied with prayers for pardon, or even for Your presence. We pray that we might take a note out of Moses’ book, and say, “God, help me to get beyond it all to see You.”
We think, Father, of those who perhaps have never taken 15 minutes, a half hour or an hour out of their lives recently to just say, “God, I want to see Your glory.” Overwhelmed by the concerns of life, distracted by the pressures, with no time to see the Almighty as far as He can be seen in this world, forgive us, Father.
And here at The Moody Church how we desire that we shall see Your glory. May there be such a reflection of God that people will be attracted to Your majesty, Your greatness, Your love. And may we point that finger, and may they not see the finger, but may they see the Almighty. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
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