Exodus 33: 12-23
1 Thessalonians 1: 1-10
Matthew 22: 15-22
The folks who sat patiently in their cars in the Bethel parking lot in the rain to experience worship, this past Sunday, narrowly missed hearing me sing these four verses [as I had forgotten to bring the words outdoors with me]:
Come, sinners, to the Gospel feast;
Let every soul be Jesus’ guest.
You need not one be left behind,
For God has bid [invited] all humankind.
Sent by my Lord, on you I call;
The invitation is to all.
Come, all the world! Come, sinner, thou!
All things in Christ are ready now.
His love is mighty to compel;
His conquering love consent to feel,
Yield to His love’s resistless power,
And fight against your God no more.
This is the time, no more delay!
This is the Lord’s accepted day.
Come thou, this moment, at His call,
And live for Him who died for all.
Charles Wesley published this poem, along with twelve other verses I’ve omitted here, in 1747.
I understand that it may feel unnerving, to be addressed as “sinners.” I hope you understand that, from God’s point of view, we are all sinners, except that through the love of Jesus He graciously chooses to forgive our sins. And this invitation in this poem is to not only come to be forgiven, but mainly to come enjoy the presence and abundant hospitality and generosity of God— a feast!
I want to give you a heads-up about the Old Testament lesson for this week. It contains some difficult and probably contradictory sayings, which I feel we would all do well to ponder. Specifically, we will be considering Exodus 33:12-23. In my sermon, last Sunday, I touched on the fact that Moses had been up onto the mountaintop with God seven times, by the time we got into the middle of Exodus 32. What was he doing, up there? Exodus tells us that God spoke to him there (Exodus chapters 19 – 34). Moses went up that mountain to meet with the LORD for the ninth and last time in Exodus 34:4-29 when he made and wrote on the stone tablets the laws of God.
The thing that bothers me and countless Bible students, down through the past three thousand years or so, about the story of Moses is, Did he actually see God, or not ? Why does Exodus 33:11 say, “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another,” but Exodus 33:23 God says, “you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen” ? And the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy which tell stories of Moses contain numerous other examples of this contradiction. Check out Exodus 24:9-11 !
The desire to see God’s face is deep and widespread across the world. The old Negro Spiritual says,
If I could I surely would
stand on the rock where Moses stood.
— that is, to see God, up close.
When we come together for Worship, there is a yearning to see God’s face as well as each other’s. That’s one reason it seems so strange on a Sunday morning, to look out at cars in the rain with their windows rolled up: can’t even see the human faces.
May we somehow see the face of God ?
In Exodus, just before that ninth and final trip Moses made up onto the mountain, the LORD said to him, “you have truly gained My favor and I have singled you out by name.” (Exodus 33:17) Immediately after this, Moses sought and received permission to “behold Your [God’s] Presence.” Wow! If that’s the key to being allowed to see God, can the rest of us receive permission, too ?
In our lesson this week from 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul says to the people in that church, “we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that He has chosen you....” (verse 4) Paul went on to say what the Thessalonians had done right: “you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead— Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming." (verses 9-10). In the same way, God chooses us.
Also, in 1 John 4:12 we read, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us.”
I believe this is the key to seeing God.