Pastor Gary Wong July 19, 2020
Which country has the most dedicated workers? One measure of a nation’s work ethic is to count the number of vacation days taken each year. The idea is the fewer vacation days, the more dedicated the worker. Maybe you’re thinking Germany has the hardest workers. No—of the nine nations surveyed, the workers in das Vaterland come in with the third fewest vacation days, averaging thirty five per year. What about the Japanese? The workers from the land of the Rising Sun take about twenty five vacation days per year. So who’s the winner? The gold medal goes to the good old U.S.A. The average American worker gets a measly thirteen vacation days per year! You would think that after putting their shoulders to the wheel and their noses to the grindstone for fifty out of fifty-two weeks, most people would use their well-earned vacations to get some well-deserved rest. Some do; some don’t. Some fill every minute of every hour with something to do. Some people’s vacation plans make the invasion of Normandy on D-Day look like a lazy day on the beach! After a vacation like that, you would need another vacation just to recuperate. You might say, “I need some rest!”
Today’s lesson also speaks about getting rest—not just rest from the pressures and problems of work, school, or home; but rest from the guilt of our sins that weigh heavily on our hearts. Through the inspired words of Moses, we are reminded, comforted, and encouraged that our merciful and compassionate God gives us rest for our souls. He invites us to come to him when we are weary and burdened and promises that he will give us rest. The Lord assures us that he will be with us as we journey through this life and he will take us to heaven where we will enjoy a glorious rest for all eternity.
In our lesson, Moses wasn’t on vacation, nor was he looking for time off from his work. However, Moses was feeling the pressures of the mission that the Lord had given him to do. The Lord had appointed Moses to lead God’s people to the Promised Land. Our text places us at the beginning of that journey. Specifically, the Israelites had been encamped at the foot of Mt. Sinai, waiting for Moses to return from the top of the mountain where he had been receiving the Ten Commandments. So what had the Israelites been doing while Moses was spending forty days and forty nights on that holy hill? Rather than praising and thanking the Lord for their miraculous deliverance, some of them had been worshipping a golden calf!
When Moses saw that open idolatry, the Lord commanded that those Israelites still faithful to the Lord to take up their swords. God destroyed three thousand idolaters that day and struck many others with a plague because of their sin. Moses then called for God’s people to repent, which they did. God forgave them for their wickedness. The Lord was not going to take away the inheritance that he had promised to Abraham and his descendants. However, there were consequences for their idolatry. While the Lord had promised that he would send an angel to drive out the hostile nations that were inhabiting Canaan, he himself would not go with the Israelites. The Lord said, “Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you along the way” (Ex. 33:3).
How did Moses respond to God’s declaration? He pleaded with the Lord—not on his own behalf, mind you; Moses pleaded on behalf of his fellow Israelites. He wanted more concrete information as to the Lord’s intentions. Moses was saying to the Lord, “If I am to be the leader of these people, please ‘teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you’” (v.13). Notice that Moses was not dictating to the Lord what he must do. Rather, Moses was pleading to the Lord in all humility, reminding the Lord that “this nation is your people.” After hearing this impassioned plea, the Lord reassured Moses: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (v.14). Moses received what he had asked for! Rather than a created angel leading the way, God promised Moses that the Lord’s own personal presence would continue to be with his people.
So, how did Moses react to the Lord’s promise? No doubt, his heart was filled with joy. Yet, Moses wasn’t quite through with the Lord. He still felt the need to press on with the Lord. In fact, Moses went on to hold the Lord to his promise: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (v.16). Now, as you heard Moses’ words, it might have seemed that Moses was expressing doubts that the Lord was going to follow through because Moses’ words were stated as questions. That, however, was not the case. Actually, Moses was expressing the confidence of one who trusts the Lord completely, who knows that the Lord is absolutely faithful and will not go back on his word. The Lord did not let Moses down. Once again, the Lord reassured Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name” (v.17).
So, how did Moses react to this latest promise? If Moses had been filled with joy knowing that the Lord would be going with the Israelites, his spirits had to have been sent soaring into the stratosphere with this latest revelation! After all, God had granted every one of Moses’ requests. We might think that Moses would have been satisfied at this point and not ask the Lord for anything else. But, no—for some reason, Moses made one more daring request. Moses asked the Lord, “Now show me your glory” (v.18). Had Moses crossed the line with the Lord and gone where no man should go? Couldn’t he have left well enough alone? After all, Moses was already enjoying the rarest of privileges in his relationship with the Lord. The Bible says that “the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (v. 11). The last man who was able to communicate with God so directly had been Adam before the fall. To be sure, Moses only saw some outward manifestations of the Lord’s glory whenever God spoke with him, such as the burning bush and the pillar of cloud that stood at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting whenever Moses would inquire of the Lord. Yet, the fact remains that Moses was the only one who heard the word of God with his own ears.
So, would God grant this bold request? The Lord would not and could not comply for this reason: God said, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (v.20). But even though Moses could not look directly at the Lord’s glory, the Lord graciously makes another promise. The Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you …I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and compassion on whom I will have compassion” (v.19). The Lord then granted Moses a unique experience. God himself put Moses into the cleft of a rock and “covered” Moses with his hand. After his glory had passed by, he allowed Moses to see his “back”, that is, a reflection of the glory of the Lord. Bolstered by that close encounter of the divine kind, Moses descended from the mountain and gave the people all the commands the Lord had given him.
Friends, there is much that we can learn from this lesson. Just like Moses, we often feel the pressures of living in this sin-filled world. We have been dealing with the COVID 19 pandemic for over half a year. The physical, emotional, and financial problems associated with the coronavirus have been taking their toll. Businesses and schools have been shut down. Then there is the civil unrest and riots that have wreaked havoc in some of our communities. As bad as those problems are, however, they are nothing compared to the burden of our sins. There’s no amount of overtime that will pay the debt that we owe God; there is no vacation spot where we can get away from our guilty consciences. We long to be in God’s presence, but our sins have separated us from him. Because we are sinners, we deserve to die and suffer eternity in hell for all eternity.
Because God is loving and merciful, he had compassion on us. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to remove the guilt of our sin. Jesus gave up his divine glory by becoming a human being. Jesus lived a sinless life, keeping all of God’s commandments perfectly, giving glory to his Father in everything he thought, said, and did. Jesus then gave up his life on the cross so that we might have eternal life.
What, then, is our response to God’s grace? We thank and praise him for the gift of his Son, our Savior. Then, out of gratitude for what he has done for us, we live our lives to his glory. How can we do that? How do we know what is pleasing to God? He tells us in his Word. Like Moses, we ask the Lord to teach us his ways so that we might know him better and better and that we might continue to find favor with him. And God is pleased to do just that. He causes all of his goodness to pass in front of us. Even though we cannot see God face to face, his presence is with us in his Word and the Lord’s Supper. Jesus promises to be with us always, to the very end of the age. Finally, this lesson encourages us to be bold as we go to the Lord in prayer. Because of Jesus, we can speak to the Lord as a man speaks with his friend. Because of Jesus, God is pleased to hear and answer our prayers according to his good and gracious will.
Dear friends, because we live in a sin-filled world, we will always have trials and temptations. And though we long to see God’s glory, our sinful eyes cannot gaze upon that glorious sight. Yet God promises that his Presence is with us in his Word and the sacraments. Jesus invites us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). May the good news of our Savior comfort, encourage and motivate us to learn his ways, to live our lives to his glory, and to proclaim his holy name till the day that he takes us to our eternal, glorious rest in heaven. Amen.