Then Moses said to the LORD, "See, Thou dost say to me, 'Bring up this people!' But Thou Thyself hast not let me know whom Thou wilt send with me. Moreover, Thou hast said, 'I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.' Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found favor in Thy sight, let me know Thy ways, that I may know Thee, so that I may find favor in Thy sight. Consider too, that this nation is Thy people." And He said, "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest."
Then he said to Him, "If Thy presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Thy sight, I and Thy people? Is it not by Thy going with us, so that we, I and Thy people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?" And the LORD said to Moses, "I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight, and I have known you by name."
Then Moses said, "I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!" And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." But He said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!" Then the LORD said, "Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen."
Seeing God's Glory
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Moses was one of those unique individuals in the history of the Church - and of all of mankind, for that matter. He was chosen by God to do the most amazing things. Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt and away from slavery while the man who was arguably most powerful man on earth in his day stood by helplessly. Pharaoh had done everything he knew to do and had been brought to submission by a preacher who didn't even do most of his own talking. He spoke to his brother, and Aaron spoke the words of Moses to the Pharaoh. Even when Pharaoh repented of his submission and sent his army out after Moses and the slave people, his army was crushed and destroyed by God, seemingly at the hands of Moses, at the Red Sea.
Then Moses brought down to the children of Israel the most comprehensive set of instructions for religion, for justice, and for health and hygiene. He single-handedly led the tribe of several million people through the desert, and encamped in the Sinai peninsula for forty years. And Moses spoke with God as, as the verse before our text describes it, "Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend." Although Moses may not have known it, the Bible tells us in the New Testament, that Moses and the children of Israel were acting out the story of salvation which came to reality and its full meaning in Jesus. Their lives, although real, were also object lessons and illustrations for the people then, and for us now, of the love of God and the salvation from sin which He promised in the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve, and which He proclaims to us today in every faithful sermon.
In our text, Moses is at Mt. Sinai. He is conversing with God. God has explained how Moses has found favor - the Old Testament word for 'grace' - and Moses is trying to bargain with God. He is trying to spend the capital of his grace with God for blessings for himself and the people of Israel - bargaining with God in prayer.
Much of what Moses is asking is God pleasing. He asks God to be with His people Israel as they journey to the promised land -"the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, 'To your descendants I will give it.'" God graciously promises to go with His people, even though He warns Moses that they are a stiff-necked people and that His presence with them will be hard for the people to bear. For the sake of His servant Moses, God will go with the people, and He promises Moses rest.
Then Moses makes the request that our theme focuses on - he says, "I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!"
Moses was asking for something he did not understand. First of all, the glory of God is not what Moses expects. He was wanting to see something humanly comprehensible. God explained that what Moses wanted wasn't possible. He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." But He said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!"
What Moses wanted to see was God as He is in His essence. He wanted to look upon God and understand Him, or at least form a mental image. What God meant in response was not that no one could see Him, but that no one could see Him as He is, in all His power and glory and holiness. God has shown Himself to various people in many ways. When those people saw God, they saw what God wanted them to see - so that they would understand and believe what He said to them. None of them, however, saw God as He is. Even the angels hide their eyes from beholding God directly according to His glorious divine nature, or so says the Bible.
So God offered to show Moses just a small part of His glory - what God called His "back", but His "face" - the fulness of God as God - no man could witness and survive. It doesn't say so explicitly in the Bible, but I suspect that confronting the full glory of God as God would simply cause us to cease to exist, literally blown out of existence by the glory of God. God gave Moses what He could comprehend, and what He could behold and live. Even at low power, the glory of God made the face of Moses shine with an unearthly light!
But Moses did not see what you have seen - the true glory of God. St. Paul speaks of it in 2 Corinthians 4, where he writes of "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ". You haven't seen that glory with your eyes, but with faith, and heard of the glory of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus is, as the writer to the Hebrews was inspired to put it, "the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature."
Because no man can see God's face and live, God veiled His glory in the flesh of Jesus Christ. Jesus is no less His glory, it is just filtered through His human nature so that we human beings can behold Him. The glory of God is not chiefly in His power - although that is awesome and incomprehensible and glorious. His glory is in His love, His grace, His forgiveness, and what He has done on behalf of such insignificant creatures as us.
His love is such that He set aside all that it is to be God and took on human limitations and human flesh and blood and became man. Of course, at the same time, He was fully God and maintained the world and all that is in it, and the whole universe around it, but He suffered Himself - that means He permitted Himself - to endure being bound up in an infant, to growing slowly as a child, to living humbly as a man, a man who was none too wealthy or influential in the circles of His day. He endured human sin and unbelief and hatred. He endured the pollution of all that He had created so very good by sinful men around Him as He lived an ordinary life in a time and in a place which we would have found grindingly poor, and terribly ordinary, and unbearably dull, and monstrously violent and unfair and uncomfortable.
And all of that was to come to the point where He could suffer ridicule and torture and be cruelly executed on the cross for us and for our sins to satisfy the justice of God and to endure the wrath of God against sin - and the sinner! He died in your place and mine. He paid for our sins, our evil deeds, our wicked thoughts, our hurtful words, our spiritual lethargy. He died to save us. He redeemed us from our sins to set us free from sin and enable us to live holy lives as the holy people of God.
I don't know what Moses saw, when God uncovered Him and allowed Him to see the 'hindparts' of His glory, as the King James Version puts it. I wasn't there and the Bible doesn't say. I can imagine he heard wild noises and saw bright light and felt enormous fear and awe, but that is just my imagination. I am sure, however, that he never heard or saw what you have heard this morning, and every Sunday when you come to worship. He never heard the Gospel, or saw the cross and knew what it meant, or tasted the Lord's Supper and knew that with the body and blood hidden beneath the outward element, Jesus has entered you and cleansed you and strengthens you for life as His child in this very dark and evil world.
Moses never knew, at least until God brought Him home from the top of Mount Nebo, that Jesus Christ is the true glory of God, and that the forgiveness of sins, purchased and won by the Son of God for you at such a tremendous price, is God's glory - a glory that transcends the power to create a star and keep it burning through the millennia. God loves you. That is your glory - and His. He loves you enough to do whatever it takes to save you from death and hell. He has promised that He will raise your tired bodies from your grave and give you eternal life of both body and soul.
God said to Moses, "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest." "Rest" is the meaning of the word "shabbat" or "Sabbath". He went on to command the 'rest' of the Sabbath for the people of Israel as a sign which pointed forward to Christ. We live in that Rest. He gave Moses rest from his uncertainties and fears, and showed him that He, God, was faithful, and was going to be with him all the days of his life. And God finally brought Moses to rest on Mt. Nebo, and brought His servant home to Himself in glory.
He has also given us rest. Jesus said, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." It is not rest from this world or its troubles. We have those around us. We have plenty of work to do. We have mission field outside this place where we worship, filled with people who have no idea of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus. They think they have to earn heaven, or, worse yet, that they have no need of heaven. Some of them still expect a triumphant savior who will give them worldly glory and riches and power - and the demonic scam artist are out there fleecing the flock for all their worth. We have to tell them. We have to show them. We have to reflect the glory of God by lives of holiness and by confessing Christ and the glory of God in forgiveness and love.
But we possess the rest - the shabbat - of forgiveness. We do not need to try to earn heaven - it is a gift! We have no minimum duty or required measure of holiness to accomplish. We don't have to look like we deserve salvation, nor do we have to acquire the stuff of this world to know the love of God is with us. We need only look to the cross, and take God at His Word, and trust in is promises. He will give us the things to do, laying those holy works in our path for us to accomplish as we come to them. No worries, as they say in the outback of Australia. We have the rest of salvation and of the love of God in Christ Jesus. "for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father."
So, if you want to see the glory of God, as Moses did — and who doesn't? — then look at the cross where God did the unimaginable and endured the unendurable for you, and look back at the Baptismal font, where God called you by name and adopted you as His own in Jesus Christ. Then, look at the altar and the holy Supper there, where God feeds you with His true body and gives you to drink of His very blood. Finally, look around you at this holy fellowship into which He has gathered you. Don't be deceived by appearances or the size of the crowd, just look and believe all that God has spoken about these things, and promised about them, and you will be seeing God's glory!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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