Summary: Sinners can get get close to a holy God only if they we appeal to His grace. Pray that God in His grace would show us His path, grant us His presence, and reveal to us His person, which He has already done in His Son. Get close to Jesus and you will get
On one occasion, Dr. Mortimer Adler suddenly left a discussion group at a tea quite disgusted, slamming the door after him. Someone in the group, trying to relieve the tension, remarked, “Well, he's gone.”
To which the hostess replied, “No, he isn't. That's a closet!” (Myron S. Augsburger, “When Reason Fails” Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 9; www.PreachingToday.com)
How often do we do the same thing when we try to run from God? We end up confined to ourselves, and that’s not a good place to be. When you feel like running from God, the best thing to do is move closer to Him, but how can we as sinful, human beings get close to a holy God? How can we as rebellious people relate to a righteous God? How can fouled up people like us ever hope to be God’s friends?
Well, that was the conundrum God’s people faced in the Old Testament. God had no sooner told them, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3), when less than 40 days later they are worshipping a golden calf. Moses tried to cover for their sin, but God says, “No; everyone must die for his or her own sin.”
Exodus 33:1-3 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 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 on the way.”(NIV)
That’s a very real…
PROBLEM: If sinful people get close to a holy God, they could die!
God’s holy, righteous wrath would blaze out against their sin, and they would be burned to a crisp. So God refuses to go with His people to the Promised Land lest He kill them for their stubborn, willful disobedience along the way. How do the people respond? Look at verse 4.
Exodus 33:4-6 When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you. Now take off your ornaments and I will decide what to do with you.’ ” So the Israelites stripped off their ornaments at Mount Horeb. (NIV)
The removal of their ornaments (or jewelry) is an outward sign of mourning. They’re depressed that God won’t go with them, but they’re also demonstrating their willingness to turn from idols to the True and Living God. You remember: their ornaments had been used to make the golden calf. Later, they will use these same ornaments to make vessels for the tabernacle (Exodus 35:22). This is a godly sorrow that for now has led to true repentance, but God still wants to put some distance between Him and them lest they sin again and He destroy them.
It was a problem for God’s people in Moses’ day, and t’s still a problem for us today. Our sin separates us from a holy God, whose justice demands that our sin be punished.
Now, that’s hard for us to swallow, because most people today have a shallow view of sin. For many of us, it’s no big deal, certainly not worthy of divine wrath.
David Head took a traditional public confession of sin found in the Book of Common Prayer and rewrote it as a satire to reflect the contemporary mindset. Here’s how a lot of people, if they’re so inclined to confess any sin at all, might pray today.
“Benevolent and easy-going Parent: We have occasionally had some minor errors of judgment, but they're not really our fault. Due to forces beyond our control, we have sometimes failed to act in accordance with our own best interests. Under the circumstances, we did the best we could. We are glad to say that we're doing okay, perhaps even slightly above average. Be your own sweet Self with those who know they are not perfect. Grant us that we may continue to live a harmless and happy life and keep our self-respect. And we ask all these things according to the unlimited tolerances which we have a right to expect from you. Amen. (Adapted from David Head, He Sent Leanness, Macmillan, 1959, p. 19; www.PreachingToday.com)