Summary: God reveals himself to us through his Word so that we understand that a wilderness with God is better than a paradise without him.
I want to start this morning with an eye test. If you’re wearing glasses, take them off. Cover or close one eye and look at the eye chart (projected onto the wall). How far down the chart can you read? Now try your other eye. If you can make out the letters right above the red line at the very bottom of the chart, you have 20/20 vision. If not, you better get glasses or update your prescription.
While a pair of glasses will help you see an eye chart more clearly, what can you do if you want to see God more clearly? Squint like so many people without glasses do when reading the menu board at McDonald’s? That’s not going to help you see God better, nor will laser surgery. If you want to see God more clearly then open your ears! That’s what Moses learned in our sermon text today. I invite you now to open your ears so that by the end of the sermon you too may see your God and your Savior more clearly.
Our sermon text is a continuation of the true story from last week. We heard how the Israelites made a golden calf and worshipped this while Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. After destroying the idol and sending his fellow Levites out into the camp to punish those who had continued to worship that false god, Moses climbed Mt. Sinai again to plead forgiveness for the Israelites. God did forgive them, but he also 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 on the way” (Exodus 33:3).
Moses was alarmed at these words and so were the people. While God had promised to send an angel to accompany them, he said that he himself would not go with the Israelites. Think of your reaction if moments before surgery to remove a brain tumor, you found out that the world-leading specialist and veteran brain surgeon was not going to perform the procedure as planned because he decided to stay home that day. Instead a first-year medical student was rounded up to step in and try the surgery for his very first time. Would you allow that man to cut you open? No. And so we’re not surprised to hear Moses plead with God: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with 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?” (Exodus 33:15, 16)
Moses understood something that we often easily forget. Without God we are nothing. Moses knew his limitations as a leader. He knew that the only reason he had been successful in getting the Israelites out of Egypt was because God had been with them. How else would Moses have gotten two million people across the Red Sea before the Egyptian army had ground them into the dirt with their combat sandals as if they were nothing more than a bunch of ants? No, if God wasn’t going to go with them to the Promised Land, Moses would rather stay right there in the wilderness. Better a wilderness with God, than a paradise without him.
Ah, but that’s not what I usually think. If it was, I wouldn’t be envious of those whose life is filled with money and toys, though empty of genuine faith in Jesus. There’s a part of me that thinks life would be fine, just fine if I only had what they had. That’s why I dream of suddenly striking it rich. And I also start to wonder, “Really just how valuable is the Bible?” It’s not like I can feed it to my family or fly it to the beach on vacation. “And what about Sunday worship?” It’s not like it fills my life with experiences that I’m eager to share around the water cooler on Monday mornings while friends are talking about their trips to the lake. Maybe we’ve been fools for not chasing after a fun life because we’ve been too busy spending time here at church? Thankfully Moses’ words are like a hand that grabs the back of our shirt to keep us from taking that fatal step off the edge of a cliff towards riches and joys that are nothing more than a fleeting mirage. A wilderness with God is really better than a paradise without him because those who continue to walk with God through the wilderness now will arrive at a paradise that will never be destroyed unlike any so-called paradise here on earth.