Exodus: The Golden Calf - Why Can't I Feel God's Presence?




July 18, 2021

Exodus Chapter 33. Can you open your Bibles with me there? We’re in the third week of our series on the golden calf, and if you’re not familiar, the Israelites did a very evil, dumb thing. They, by worshiping this golden calf broke the first three commandments and then some, and they knew what they were doing was horrendous to God. And so that’s the context of what we start in and what I want to do in this message is I want to deal with a topic that we kind of dance around in church quite a bit, but I want to deal directly with it. And it’s the topic of the presence of God. So when I ask a question and I want you to see if you can maybe give some vocabulary, what does the presence of God feel like? What does it feel like? Like, how do I, how do I know emotionally or otherwise?

If I am in the presence of God, where is the presence of God? Go back with me to 1999. Some of you weren’t born, but there was a song that came out in the worship world. And the song was the heart of worship by Matt Redmond. And let me just tell you what happened when the heart of worship came out, like Christendom stopped in every church in the world saying the heart of worship. And it was kind of this moment in time where the lyrics and the melody and the message and the style just kind of made sense in this cultural moment. And I was leading different worship teams. And so what would happen? Like we couldn’t go anywhere unless we were actually playing the heart of worship and across congregations, you couldn’t have convinced people, the presence of God didn’t like fall off because I mean, coming back to hands raised, yes, you remember this, like some of you were like, what are you taught?

You’re going to go download and be like that song. Like that song was revolutionary. It stopped the world of worship and church Christians all over were just like, yes. And it captured so much of the idolatry that the worship culture and evangelicalism dealt with. And it just caught this moment in time. And we were like, yes, the presence of God, like you could almost like feel it was that the presence of God, or maybe there there’s this once in a generation pastor that comes along and you have the opportunity to hear them preach. And you’re just like enraptured. You just can’t even believe that somebody could communicate the word of God to hundreds of thousands of people sometimes. So effectively. I remember, I think it was 1999. I think that’s a pretty consistent year. That’s going to come up in my sermon here 1999. It was the passion conference in Memphis, Tennessee, and John Piper preached to tens of thousands of people.

I think there was over a hundred thousand college students at this event. And I remember I’d never heard the guy before and I just listened and he spoke to a generation in a, we could understand. And I remember I was just enraptured in this guy’s teaching. And then I would, I would go home. And do you remember back in the day where if you wanted to get someone’s sermons, you had to get like a catalog and then you had to rip out a piece of the catalog and like check the ones you want and then write an actual check, put it in the mail and hope you got the tax rate, anybody, and then you’d wait right. Two weeks, maybe three. And I remember I’d be getting John Piper sermons in for like a good year. And I was just like, wow. Like every time I listened to him, I’m like, is this, this has to be the presence of God.

Can it ever feel bad? Like, can you be in the presence of God and feel terrible? Can I be in the presence of God and not feel anything whatsoever? And so what I want to do is I want to go deeper to the subject and kind of lay some groundwork, get on the same page. Before we jump into Exodus 33, I want to share with you just four facts about the presence of God. And these four principles and facts are going to be geared and directed at Christians. If you have personally trusted in Jesus Christ, here are four things you can take to the bank about the presence of God. Number one, the presence of God is always a fact and facts, always Trump feelings. Amen. And so whether or not you feel like God is with you, it does not matter if you have personally trusted in Jesus.

God has made a promise to give you his holy spirit and that holy spirit is the most permanent thing in your life. And when God decided to save you, he saved you, knowing all the ridiculous things you would do. And now holy spirit, once he has given to you cannot be undone or gotten rid of because you may be sinned. Beggar had a season of struggle. Now in the middle of sin, let’s be honest. Some of us, all of us, we have quenched the holy spirit, have we not? We have taken the voice of the holy spirit and said, not today. Spirit. I don’t want to hear what you have to say. I’m going to push you deep down inside. I’ve got worldly, sinful indulgent things to do. We’ve done that before, but it does that mean the holy spirit left. Definitely not. In fact, if you have trusted in Christ, this is the most sure thing the presence of God is with you always all the time, no matter what you feel or don’t feel.

Number two, it is often the presence of God is often a feeling. Let me give you a few illustrations. I think one of the emotional responses to maybe realizing the presence of God in your midst is this emotion or experience of wonder. Like I remember the first time I was in Colorado and I got to see an enormous mountain and I just looked up and I was like, whoa, God, you did this. You spoke. And this magnificence unraveled in creation. That’s unbelievable. Here’s another emotion piece. When everything inside of you is riled up and anxiety is winning. And everybody looks at you and says, yes, you should be anxious and concerned. And somehow even just for a moment, there is this overwhelming sense that it is going to be okay. And God has it. It’s the presence of God. That is it new? No, but it’s being realized in that moment in a way that it wasn’t realized before, here’s another one courage you’re petrified.

You’re scared to death to do what you know, the Lord wants you to do next. And you are just not ready. And then all of a sudden you have this moment of courage and you’re like, I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it. And then you actually, by the power of the spirit in you, despite your emotions and your anxiety and your fear and all the what ifs, you actually get the courage to do this. And this is from the spirit of God. And it’s this feeling of empowerment here. Here’s another one conviction. You know, the feeling when you have been pretty disobedient and it’s,
You might interpret it as guilt.
You might interpret it as shame. You just know there’s a weight on you and you would do anything to get the weight off. The presence of God is often a feeling. Number three, the presence of God is not always a feeling. In fact, David, who is one of the most relatable guys in the Bible, you get to read his poetry and he is a very emotional guy. And so here’s what David says in Psalm 13. One. How long a Lord, how long will you forget me? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? And David is having this experience where he’s like, I don’t feel you. I don’t sense you’re with me. In fact, things are getting more and more challenging in ways they never have like, have you abandoned me? I think this is a feeling that probably everybody here can experience or relate to the feeling of no feeling whatsoever. And here’s the fourth fact about God’s presence. It is graciously limited until death. If you and I, I saw, and we’re in the full presence of God in all of his glory. Let me tell you about what happened to us. We would be incinerated. I love it. We’re like, God, show me your glory. That’s hilarious.

You would be incinerated because it is the brain. It is the most beautiful experience a human could ever encounter. Now here’s the problem. Will we see of the glory and the presence of God. It’s like, you’re in a dark room and there’s a door is closed, but there’s light creeping through at the bottom. That’s like the magnitude of what we’re able to experience this side of heaven. Like we see it. We can like, we can, we can, we know it’s there. We know there’s something bright and powerful on the other side of this thing. But, but we are, we do not have access to this side. Heaven. First Timothy says this God dwells in unapproachable, light whom no one has ever seen or can see first Corinthians 13, 12 says this this way. I think Paul’s just so right on. He says for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we’re going to see face to face, whatever, whatever we get of the presence of God, it is not the full thing.
If you will, in all of its glory, there is a reserve to it because you and I would be burnt to toast and destroyed forever. Isn’t God gracious to not expose us to the fullness of all of his glory right now, actually this chapter 33, Israel has sinned, huge big. What they have done is evil and terrible and disgusting. God has had to kill through the Levi’s a few thousand of them, the entire nation who has left, all of them, got the plug. And now the biggest, worst discipline of all is about to happen. God is about to remove his presence from the Israelites. So I structured this message and kind of two sections. One is we’re just kinda, kinda trucked through this passage and we get to see what’s in it. And, and then we’re going to spend a little bit more time than usual on the so Watson, we’re gonna apply this. All right, look at verse three with me, God says to Moses, go up to a land flowing with milk and honey,

But I will not go among you. Lest I consume you on the yay for you. You are a stiff necked people. This is wrath vengeance language. If I get near you, I’m going to have to destroy you because of how evil and sinful you are. But, uh, the first part of this, he says, you go up to the land, flowing with milk and honey, and, and God’s like, listen, I’m going to bring, I’m going to make sure you get to the land. I made a promise to you, but here’s the deal. I’m not going with you. I will keep my promise and get you there. But you guys are far too evil and rebellious. You’re stiff-necked I can’t, I can’t go look at verse five for the Lord said to Moses, say to the people of Israel, you, you are a stiff neck people. If this is very strong language for a single moment, I should go up among you. I would consume you if you were like been around somebody or like if I’m around them for one more minute. So help me. I don’t know if they’re going to live just me.

I was fairly how God feels about, about Israel. Stiff-necked is a strong word. And it’s a combination of arrogance and stubbornness. It’s this idea that are not going to go. I’m not going to listen. I know better than you. And if you have children, you’ve probably experienced stiff neck, at least one time or another, but it’s a really ugly thing to watch just stubbornly and arrogantly, not listen to the authority in their life and I will do what I want. And that’s what it’s like for God. And there’s no dialoguing with the stiff-necked person. Now, one of the questions that I think we need to ask here is, okay, God, if you’re going to remove your presence from the Israelites, what is it? And where is it in the first place? And so in the wilderness, the Israelites would experience God’s presence in two primary ways.

Number one was a pillar of cloud by day. And the other was a pillar of fire by night, and this would lead them and it would guide them. And we actually don’t know how big these were. I mean, these could have been enormous. They could have filled the entire sky. We actually have no categories. What we do know is that they were not normal. They were supernatural. And everybody who saw it, whether they were an Israelite or a foreign nation will look and say something supernatural is happening in the midst of these people. The very presence of God is there. My God says, it’s not like a little dinky, little cloud and flame, like a lighter view. You know, like my God says, it’s something that maybe reflects the glory and awesomeness of God. So what would happen to the presence of God in the old Testament is that if you were in unrepentant sin, then God would physically take his presence, the cloud, or the fire.

And he would leave. And when God left, this would be devastating because God was your protection and God was your provision. He was your energy of big things were going to happen. You needed God on your side. And so for God to withhold his presence was actually a very physical thing. In fact, David prays in the Psalms. He says, Lord, take not your holy spirit from me. David even understood that God’s presence is spirit dwelled on Kings and leaders. But if he sinned unrepentantly that God would actually take the holy spirit, his presence, and remove him from David. Now I want to remind you, based on the principles we learned at the beginning of this message can for a new Testament, new covenant, Christian, if you have trusted in Jesus, can the presence of God ever leave you? The answer is no. The spirit of God is stuck with you and you’re stuck with him forever.

That’s it? But in the old Testament, old covenant times, the holy spirit actually could be removed from you. Two big reasons. I love being a new covenant Christian bacon and the holy spirit can’t leave me. Amen. All right. Verse four tells us that everybody understood how devastating this really was. Here’s what happens in verse four. When the people heard the disastrous word, they mourned. When the people heard the disastrous word, they mourned, and sometimes you don’t feel the weight of how evil something is until you experience the consequence. Now I had about 15 personal illustrations for this, and none of them are appropriate to share here, but you have them don’t you in the middle of your sin, you were blinded to it. But when you had to face it and face the consequences, you finally began to realize, wow, that that really is actually pretty ugly. I think their morning is understandable because Moses and the Israelites knew something that we would do really, really good to remember

Without God’s presence in our life, we have nothing. What is there?
We were designed and created by God, for God, for his presence to be in us. This is what we were made for. And without it, we are sitting ducks in the Israelites. They get this. They’re like, if you, if you don’t go with us, we have no protection. There’s nothing that separates us. When an army comes up to us and they see the fire or the cloud, they take a step back because they don’t have fire and cloud. They have dumb idols made out of stone and wood.
We’ve got fire. We’ve got the presence of God that goes before us. And if you don’t go with us, there’s nothing that stands between them and us. And God’s like, listen, listen, I’ll go before you all take care of everybody. I’ll have whatever. But when you get there, once I clear everybody out, we’re done. And that’s where they stand. And they understand that even if God gets them there, that this is just utterly devastating. And this, this whole thing sets up a really emotional dialogue between Yahweh and Moses. And I want you to remember this y’all went and Moses spoke differently with each other than anybody else in the world. At the time they spoke face-to-face they spoke his friends, speak. Moses had the freedom to talk to God in a way that nobody else in the time did. In fact, Moses has the freedom to speak with God. Like we do.

We have the freedom as Christians with the holy spirit to approach the throne of grace with confidence and to ask our questions and to be bold and ask God for big things and to tell God what we need and what we’re struggling with. And sometimes if you, especially, if you don’t have a spirit of accusation to go up to the Lord and say, I’m frustrated, I don’t know what to do with this. You promised me this, but this is what I’m seeing. Can you help me understand this? You know, that freedom that you had Moses was seemingly the only guy on planet earth at the time that had the ability and freedom to speak to God like this. And look what happens in verse 12. Moses said to the Lord,
See you say to me, bring up this people, but you have not let me know. Can we, I want to, I wanted to stop here. Just do an entire sermon of the sentence. Do you ever feel like God just doesn’t let you know, fill in the blank and you’re like, you tell me, you love me.
You tell me that, like I am your son or your daughter. You tell me that I’m going to inherit the world. I’m going to judge angels. I’m going to have a new body. I’m gonna reign with Christ over all the, and I, and I’m all I’m asking for is information. So like, why, why are you with holding this for me? He goes on, but you’ve not. Let me know whom you’ll send with me yet. You’ve said, I know you by name and you have found favor in my sight to verse 13. Okay? So now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me your ways. How do you work? You’re like a conundrum wrapped in an enigma. I don’t even know what to do with you. You do this. Then you d
o that. I don’t understand appeal. You’ve got a plan, but I don’t get it like what’s going on right now. Show me your ways that I, that I may know you, you tell me, you love me. You tell me I have favor. You give me access, unprecedented access that nobody else has. So now I’m asking, I need you to throw me a bone here. I need, I need to know what’s going on here in order to find favor in your sight.