Into God's Presence With Joy
Pastor Oliver meditates on the grace that has been granted to us to be in the presence of a holy God. We may not always feel this way, but the reality of this truth grounds us and changes the way we live.
In response to Moses' reluctance to obey God's call and accomplish the task of rescuing the nation of Israel out of Egypt, God promises His presence with Moses (Ex 3:10–12). What a remarkable promise; the transcendent God promises to dwell with His people. The divine presence of God with His people is a significant theme that runs through the book of Exodus. We see the promise of God's presence first made to Moses in Exodus 3:12. On Israel's exit from Egypt, God went with them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Ex 13:20–22). After Israel's sin in the golden calf incident, God showed mercy and relented from obliterating them but refused to enter the land of promise with them (Ex 33:3). Moses pleaded with God: "If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here" (Ex 33:15), asking for God to be with the nation of Israel. God relented, and His divine presence accompanied the Israelites. God's presence empowers and guides His people to accomplish God's task for them and also brings delight and joy:
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence, there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
—Psalm 16:11 c.f. Acts 2:28
In God's presence, there is gladness and joy. Believers should desire God's presence in their lives. I want God to be with me for more than His empowering, guiding, joy-bringing presence, but also just being in His company means a relationship and friendship with God.
God is Holy
But the big question is, "How can a holy God dwell with His people without His holiness breaking out against us?" Our God is holy. Exodus 3:5–6 indicates God's holiness and how sinners cannot freely enter His presence. Exodus 3:5 reads, “Then he said, ‘Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’"
God gives instructions to Moses not to come nearer. The reason is that the ground before the burning bush is holy ground. God's presence makes the ground holy. God is holy, and He is the one who makes or declares places and people to be holy—and each is appropriately understood or treated as holy only in its relation to God. Holiness refers to moral purity or righteousness and also points to God's distinctiveness, uniqueness or otherness. Moses, in his song celebrating God's deliverance through the Red Sea, sings,
Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
But the holiness of God's presence overwhelms Moses—he hid his face and was afraid to look at God (Ex 3:6). Moses was in awe and frightened, for God's holiness could break out against a sinner and destroy him, but God cares. The God who calls Moses also makes provisions for Moses to draw near. God tells Moses to "take your sandals off your feet" as a sign of awe and reverence, enabling Moses to enter into God's presence. We recall Isaiah's experience in Isaiah 6 when Isaiah was overwhelmed by God's holiness; God provided one of the seraphim to use burning coals to touch Isaiah's mouth to atone for his sins (Isa 6:5–7). God provided for the searing touch of the coals to atone for Isaiah's sin so that he could be in God's presence.
God provides a way
Without holiness, sinners cannot be in God's presence and see the Lord (Heb 12:14). God has provided a way for sinful man to enter His holy presence. Something more permanent than taking off our sandals or being touched by searing coals. In these last days, God has provided His Son, Jesus Christ, to atone for our sins so that we can be in the divine presence of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." On the cross, Jesus Christ took on our sins and bore God's wrath and judgement. When we placed our faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross, there is a great exchange: Jesus Christ takes on our sins, and we are credited with Christ's righteousness. Because we trusted in Christ and are hidden with Him, God now sees us as righteous and holy. Now, we can go boldly into God's presence because of Christ (Heb 4:16), without fear of being overwhelmed, and enjoy His divine presence, empowering and leading forever and always.
Gratitude and Worship
Beloved, this should lead us to gratitude and worship. Gratitude first because we now get to enjoy God's presence at a cost: God sending Jesus Christ in our place for our sins. What God has done is the good news of the gospel: our transcendent God has made a provision through Christ for sinners like us so that we can be in His divine presence, enjoying friendship with God. Beloved, have we been thankful for the gospel? Do we think about it daily and be amazed at what God has done for us? Has this permeated our hearts so that we carry an attitude of gratitude in our lives and interactions with family, friends and colleagues?
Gratitude to God should then overflow into worship and service of God. Do you prioritise gathering as a church on Sunday for corporate worship? Do you come eager to worship and serve God? Worship is more than the Sunday worship service; it should embrace all of life. As a church scattered throughout the week in the world, are we worshipping and serving God? Is your work, interactions with friends and time with family worship? Do you live and interact in ways that honour God? Do you make much of Jesus Christ in your conversations? Does your lifestyle reflect someone who makes following God a priority? Beloved, thank God for providing us with Jesus Christ so that we can enter into the joy of His presence and then worship and serve God!
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