Pulpit Today Sermon
Robert D. Pace
Exodus 40:17‑19; 33-34
Years ago, cultural anthropologists understood that man’s basic desire is to worship whatever he perceives to be his god. But more recently these anthropologists discovered another equally important fact. Their research has revealed that man not only desires to worship his god but man has an innate desire to enter into his god’s presence and experience and interact with him.
That’s amazing, because I don’t believe these anthropologists were attempting to confirm the Bible when they made their discovery. But incredibly enough they disclosed a divine truth: God indeed created man with the yearning to know Him and fellowship with Him on a deeply personal level. This is precisely what God ordained in the Garden of Eden when He walked with Adam. In fact, walking with God is vitally important to our personal welfare, and God used OT Israel to teach us this lesson.
I want you to recall the time in Hebrew history when God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage. After 400 years of captivity, God opened the Red Sea so that Israel could make their Exodus toward the Promised Land. And what a miracle that was! But once they passed through the Red Sea, they had another series of problems to surmount. They had to overcome the elements of the wilderness. Here were 3 million Jews trying to survive a forty-year journey through a place with no paved road system, no natural water supply, no supermarkets, no covering from the blazing sun and no trained military to guard them from hostile nations. Israel was doomed unless God’s presence traveled with them.
And this brings us to the last chapter of Exodus where God is ready to teach Israel how to maintain the glory that they saw radiating from the Tabernacle. God’s instruction to Israel was so important that He ordained a divine process to teach Israel this lesson. You see, there are times when God’s instruction to us requires no more than a simple word. But there are other occasions that are destined to become life-changing, transformational experiences, and they require a process to impact us. And that’s what we see here. Let me show you:
When Israel escaped Egypt and passed through the Red Sea they camped at Mount Sinai for one year. During that year Moses received the Ten Commandments and the instructions for building the Tabernacle.
That word Tabernacle means, “dwelling-place of God” and that’s what happened immediately after the Tabernacle was constructed. God’s glory instantly rushed into it and the people saw His presence pulsating from that place. A visible cloud of glory hovered over the Tabernacle as proof that God had entered their camp. And Israel wasn’t the only nation to witness it. Any nation that drew near could see this phenomenon. It was a message to Israel saying, “Draw near, I am your God.” But it was also a message to the nations saying, “Back off, these are my people.” However, once God’s glory filled the Tabernacle, Israel needed one more vital piece of information. God making a guest appearance in the desert wasn’t enough; Israel needed to know how to maintain God’s pronounced presence in the desert. And this is what the book of Leviticus reveals.
Leviticus describes, in meticulous detail, how Israel was to worship God and what type of sacrifices He required. It outlined the instructions of ministry for the priests and Levites. Leviticus deals with dietary laws, social laws, and personal hygiene. Leviticus is arduous reading, but there is a purpose for it all. As Israel complied with these stringent guidelines, God pledged that He would dwell among them. This is what makes Leviticus important. It told Israel how they could maintain God’s living presence. Notice the Lord’s words in Leviticus 26:3. “If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my command . . . (11) I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you, (12) I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people” (NIV).
I’m sure after camping a year at Mount Sinai Israel was eager to travel. Nothing seemed to be changing, the scenery stayed constant and they were tired of camping at that dusty desert spot. But God wouldn’t let Israel take one more step toward the Promised Land without showing them how to maintain His presence. And that’s why God ordained one more month at Sinai! The Lord held Israel in check for thirty more days, so Moses could write the book that held the secret to God’s presence resting among His people.
Moses wrote Leviticus during that one month window, from the time God’s presence rushed into the Tabernacle in Exodus, to Israel’s march toward Canaan in Numbers. In total, the process was one year and one month. But the waiting process, regardless of how long it is, can radically alter your life. One more day, or one more month, or one more year of learning and discerning from God can transform your life forever! We may be ready to soar but God says, “Stay at Sinai and I’ll show you a truth that will totally transform your life.” If that’s the case, don’t move an inch until God imparts the instruction.
(Harbinger) It is not enough for you to accept Christ as your Savior and then merely exist. As the anthropologists discovered; God wants you to experience Him and live with His dynamic presence in your life. There is more to Christianity than having your bills paid, driving a nice automobile, carrying a mobile phone, and having 300 channels of television to entertain you. The greatest experience in life is walking and communing with God!
I want to clarify something before continuing this message. We can’t excuse ourselves from pursuing God by saying, “God is omnipresent, and that means He’s always with me.” While that’s true, we must understand something more: While God is omnipresent, He is not always experientially present! God’s omnipresence fills this room, but there are varying degrees of His presence that each person experiences. Perhaps some here have already been deeply touched by God, while others have had no sense of His presence.
That’s why the apostle James said: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”
We have to pursue God like the Psalmist says the “deer pants after the water brook.”
The Bible asks us to “seek Him” and “long” for Him and “search for Him” and “cry out” for Him.
(Transition) So how do we live in a way that attracts God’s presence into the tabernacle of our lives? We’ll answer that, but first I want to assure you that it is possible to walk with God.
I. It is Possible to Walk with God!
We’ve heard the promise of Leviticus 26:3 that God would walk among His people but this is more than an OT promise. When you open the New Testament you see that Jesus gave Christians the same promise in John 14:23. Jesus said: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
Think about these promises! God tells OT Israel: “I will walk among you”; and Jesus tells NT believers that He and the Father will: “make their home with us.” But notice there is a caveat to walking with God. In both Old and New Testaments there is a stipulation that God issues. God “walks with us” and “makes His home with us” as we obey Him and practice His Word.
You see, we can’t assume God will share His secrets and let us lean on His chest like the Apostle John did at the Last Supper, if we ignore His commands and live as we please. We have to commit ourselves to His will and ways.
But this is the very issue that creates such problems. Many people lament that the Bible calls for a standard of living that is too difficult to obey. They don’t believe they can live the Christian life because the Bible requires resisting temptations that are irresistible. They believe the world’s pleasures are too difficult to surrender, but that’s not so!
(Example) I have a friend that faced this very dilemma. Bill lived in New Jersey and was a successful business owner. He wasn’t raised in church and wasn’t a Christian, but God had given Bill a desire to share his blessings with others. As he searched for a way to do so a friend told Bill about a Men of Action mission’s trip to South America. Amazingly enough, without knowing anyone on the mission’s team he signed up! During the day the team built a Christian school and at night they held worship services. By the week’s end the Holy Spirit had deeply convicted Bill, but he still couldn’t make a profession of faith. As Bill shared his post-conversion testimony with me, he related his primary stumbling block. His heart was ready to accept Christ, but his mind told him he couldn’t forsake his sins. He simply couldn’t envision himself overcoming a worldly lifestyle to which he had grown accustomed. So on the final day of the mission’s trip Bill sat in a worship service telling himself he would not “walk the isle” and surrender to Christ. But when the minister gave the invitation, something happened. In his own words Bill said, “Against my intentions, I found myself stepping into the isle and walking toward the altar where I accepted Christ as my Savior.” But Bill explained another aspect of this story that is equally amazing. After several years of serving Christ, he said: “When I was wrestling with my decision to accept Christ, I never once considered that the power of the Holy Spirit would help me overcome temptation! I thought I had to overcome my sins through my own power. But I didn’t! God gave me the power to overcome them!”
That’s what the Holy Spirit does! He furnishes assistance to resist sin, overcome it, and obey God. The Bible couldn’t be clearer in assuring us of that. Let me show you.
(Bible Example) Just before Moses died he assembled Israel before the Tabernacle so they could renew their pledge to keep the Covenant. Get this picture. Here was Israel standing before the Tabernacle where God’s presence was literally radiating. And Moses says, “Israel, if you want this glory to remain among you, you must obey God!” I’m sure Israel felt challenged to obey God’s Law just as we feel challenged to obey God’s Word today, but Moses went out of his way to give them a great promise. Listen to his words in Deuteronomy 30:11: “What I am commanding you this day is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach.”
Did you hear that? Moses assures Israel that God will supply the necessary assistance to obey any command He issues. “What I am commanding you this day is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach.” And that promise God gave Israel is God’s promise to you too!
It means, you don’t have to fail in the Christian life. The power of the Holy Spirit, that compels you to believe on Christ, will also empower you to cling to Christ!
It means, “Where sin abounds grace does much more abound”!
It means, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world”!
I like what Ephesians 1:19 says. Paul said God furnishes “exceedingly . . . great . . . power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power (20) which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.”
The Bible didn’t say that a trickle of power is available for overcoming temptation.” The Bibles says there is “exceedingly great power” available, and it’s the same power that raised Jesus from the dead!
Don’t believe Satan’s lie that insists sin is incontestable. God’s grace to resist sin is greater than sin’s power to lure you. His grace to overcome sin is greater than sin’s power to defeat you. “What God commands you this day is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach.” You can walk with God!
(Example) Let me share with you my strategy when I am faced with temptations and challenges. I have a title I have ascribed to the Holy Spirit. I call Him the Unfair Advantage. I call Him the Unfair Advantage because, as the third person of the Godhead, He is omnipotent! No power in the universe is equivalent. So when I am challenged or tempted I sometimes pray, “Father, here’s the situation. I’m unequal to the task. But I ask for the Unfair Advantage—the Holy Spirit—to provide all that’s needed to deal with this situation and overcome it.
If God has freely offered us the Unfair Advantage of the Holy Spirit, we should claim Him!
In Luke 24:48 Jesus commanded believers to: “be endued [clothed] with power from above.”
In John 20:22 He said: “receive the Holy Spirit.”
In Acts 1:8 Jesus said: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”
In Ephesians 5:18 Paul said: “be filled with the Spirit.”
(Transition) Do you believe you can walk with God? Absolutely! Since that’s the case, let me show you how you can attract God’s presence. You will attract God’s presence as you identify with Him.
II. Walking with God Requires You to Identify with God
There is a spiritual principle that says God identifies with men to the degree that men identify with Him. The Apostle James put it this way: “Draw near to God and He will draw near you.” What that means is, God will draw near us as we adopt a standard of living that matches the glory of His Name. You see, sometimes we hinder God’s presence because He cannot identify with our behavior. Think about this way:
(Illustration) When someone joins the military it comes with certain requirements. One of the chief requirements is that the recruit fully identify with whichever branch of the military that’s joined. When a recruit joins the military, the officers drill into their recruits that they are no longer part of the civilian rank. They are separated from the masses into a special organization. The military issues a handbook of regulations that describe codes of conduct and dress. And if the recruit wants the full support of the military, he/she must be willing to fully identify with the military.
(Illustration) Awhile back a pro golfer signed a contract to advertise for Ford Motors. Do you think Ford Motors would appreciate that golfer driving a Chevrolet to his sporting events? Do you think Coca-Cola would approve of its advertising celebrity of publicly drinking Pepsi? Advertisers, paying their spokespersons millions of dollars, want their representatives to fully identify with their product!
And God, who became like us through Christ, wants us to become like Him. The ultimate aim of the Christian life is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ! You see, this is the destiny of every believer.
1 John 3:2 says: “it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
Romans 8:29 says: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.”
One day, when we arrive in heaven, we will be glorified into Christ’s image.
But the process of conforming to Christ’s image needs to start today. Paul said in Philippians 1:20: “[it] is my earnest expectation and hope [that] . . . I will not be put to shame in anything, but with all boldness, Christ will even now be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. (21) For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
No wonder God’s grace and power flowed through Paul in an unparalleled manner. He wasn’t a bold witness just in church services or around fellow Christians. Paul always identified with Christ. Consequently, Christ’s presence was strong upon Paul’s life. And if we want Christ’s strong presence upon us we have to draw near Him and identify with Him. We have to determine to be God’s representative wherever and whenever He needs us.
Transition) I want to make one more point concerning how you can walk with God. You can walk with God when you create an environment where God can dwell. Let me explain.
III. Create an Environment Where God Can Dwell
Remember what the book of Leviticus is about. It’s about maintaining an environment where God can dwell; whether it’s at the sanctuary or in the marketplace; whether it’s religious or social. God wants us to adopt a lifestyle that attracts His presence.
(Example) My favorite tree is the Palm tree. But unfortunately Palm trees cannot grow in any environment. They prosper in sunny, tropical climates. However, white spruce trees thrive in areas where temperatures plummet well below freezing. What is necessary for both the palm and the white spruce is that they are planted in an environment that supports their ability to flourish. When that happens, they will naturally prosper. Our ability to prosper in God’s presence depends upon our environment. The right environment will attract God’s presence and we will flourish.
I want to share a deeply personal testimony that helps illustrate this.
(Illustration) When I accepted the Call to Preach, I also accepted the Call to Pray. I can’t say that God spoke to me and said: “You are called to pray.” All I know is, the Call to Pray coincided with the Call to Preach. Consequently, I have always tried to give prayer a special place in my life. With that said . . . I remember a time in my life when I accepted a ministry appointment. Almost immediately an intense frustration emerged. Although I enjoyed a healthy salary and some perks, I was miserable. I literally despised each day I went to the office. About two months after accepting the appointment the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said: “Can you walk with me?” In all honesty I wasn’t 100% certain this question came from the Holy Spirit, so I didn’t answer. But a couple of days later I heard the same voice repeat the question, “Can you walk with Me?” Now, it wasn’t that I didn’t answer; it was that I couldn’t answer! I thought I would grieve the Spirit by saying, “No!” so I tried to push it out of my mind. But a month later, the Holy Spirit was still repeating the question, “Can you walk with Me?” and I was still struggling for an answer that would dismiss the question. On one occasion I remember the Holy Spirit convicting me with that question and I said in frustration, “Well, Lord, I don’t know, but You know the answer.” But that wasn’t what He was looking for. So after at least two months of this heavenly interrogation I was finally exasperated and ready to tell God the brutal truth. But again, I need to pause long enough to make a confession. From the day I accepted this particular ministry appointment, and for the next five months, I had not devoted one uninterrupted hour to prayer. Oh, I had prayed, but not for one, uninterrupted hour. And I felt like a criminal robbing from God from the time I owed Him! But at this point, I was so exasperated I was ready to answer the question and disappoint God, the angels, and the “great cloud of witnesses” that surrounded me! So when I heard the Lord ask that question one last time, I was jumped at the opportunity. I said: “No God, I can’t walk with You”! And in an instant, I felt a burden lift, and to my amazement I heard the Lord say, “That is the only answer I was willing to accept! In fact, you can’t walk with Me in the place where you are serving.” And the question that had “tried me like fire” for weeks was resolved and I instantly knew the course of action to take. God was more important than the job!
I want to ask you something. Can you walk with God where you are? If not, you should do whatever is necessary to walk with Him because there is nothing that compares with His glory resting upon you. And remember, we aren’t out of the wilderness yet. We desperately need God’s glory and grace to help us conquer the elements around us.