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Why Worry About the Temple: Can’t we live without God?
Exodus 33:14-21  

(c) Copyright 2008 Rev. Bill Versteeg

We have started a series on the temple.  And we have already noted that at the heart of the temple is the theme that God is with us, through the temple, God is present with us, a with-ness that was designed to be throughout creation.

But do we really need God with us.  After all, we live in a culture that once used to acknowledge the need for God.  But in the last 50 years, our culture has progressively told us that there is more than one equally valid god.  And now our culture has started coming full circle.  It is starting to tell us that religion, the belief in God is the source and heart of societal problems.  So Richard Dawkins and company are very vigorously suggesting that we would do far better without God.

Can we do without God?  Can we do without the temple through which he is present with us?  Can we do without what church is all about?

To answer that question, I invite you to think back in history - go to biblical history for just a minutes and put yourself in Moses shoes.  God called him to lead a ragtag group of between 100, 000 and 2 million people, who had without a single weapon just plundered the greatest nation of earth - Egypt.  

“Lead them!” God said.

A group of slaves.  These people had always been ruled.  They had never governed, they had never led, they had always been led.  How could Moses lead these people by himself when his followers had little knowledge of structuring society, very little awareness, they were rich and weaponless - heading into territory where powerful armed marauding bands would be ready to strike at any opportunity.

“Lead them!” God said.

12 Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
15 Then Moses said to him, “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?”
17 And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
21 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” 

    God’s answer to all of Moses fear filled questions was simply this: 
“My Presence will go with you!”

    Presence here is a very significant expression in the scriptures.  In Hebrew, it literally means “before my face” or “in my face.”  It is from which the Christian tradition and Abram Kuyper took the phrase “Coram Deo” - to live all of life Coram Deo - before the face of God.   And throughout scripture and in this passage, we see 4 reasons why we cannot live without God’s face aimed at us every minute of our lives.

    Moses first request is for Help!  Moses begged God for help.
    Again, he knew that Israel had no weapons to speak of.  They had cattle and women and children.  They would need help, they would need protection, just to survive.
    God’s answer

“My Presence will go with you.!”
God’s presence means protection, help in the journey of life. 

    Remember the story of Cain in Genesis 4.  Cain killed Abel and Abel’s blood has cried out to God.  God’s judgment against Cain was that the ground would be his enemy and he would be a restless wonderer throughout the world.  Listen to Cain’s complaint:
    13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (Gen 4:13) Lord if I am not in your face, whoever finds me will kill me.
    The Lord’s face, the Lord’s attention, the Lord’s presence was Israel’s strength and protection. 
Listen to Deuteronomy 4:37 37    
    Because he loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength, 38 to drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you and to bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance, as it is today.

    Who of us here is big enough to face life by themselves?  Maybe when we are young, we can afford to say that we can handle the challenges of life, maybe if we are arrogant, we think that no challenge is bigger than we are, but as we age we discover that stresses can be far larger than our capacity to handle them, our bodies are fragile, our relationships are subject to influences beyond control, marriages that we thought were going to last for forever suddenly decay and we don’t know where things started going wrong, the economy we thought was strong suddenly becomes profoundly weak and we lose large percentages of our net worth.  Who of us is big enough to handle life without God? 
God’s answer
“My Presence will go with you.!”   
As the psalmist wrote: (Psalm 46:1)

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble. 

Second, notice that Moses needed knowledge, understanding, wisdom in order to face the challenges of leading the people, just like we need the same in the challenges of facing life.
 Moses words were these:  13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
    There are two themes in this request for knowledge.  First, knowledge was needed to know the right way to face challenges.  How could Moses lead without infrastructure, the infrastructure of law and order, the infrustructure of culture, communication, leadership groups, council.  It was an impossible task to lead 1000s, let alone millions of people by himself without needed infrastructure.  Some of us have enough difficulty running our own lives.  Most of us have enough difficulty in running our own families, let alone a nation.  Jesus only mentored 12 and in so doing he was creating the structure of the church.  Moses was thrown into leading 1000s.  How could it be possible?
God’s answer:
“My Presence will go with you.!”
    You see, with God, the impossible becomes possible. 
     The Hebrew phrase “qal peni” depicted not only the presence of God, but the presence of God as ruler.  A person who came into the presence of a King or a Judge would recognize right away that the presence comes with rule and authority and power.  And so we see this same expression in scripture of coming into the presence of a king.  Even the High Priest who made decisions for the people with two rocks of different colour in his ephod was only to make those decisions in the presence of the Lord. (Exodus 28:30) When the leaders of Israel later on were judging difficult legal cases, they were called to do so in the presence of the Lord. (Deut 19:16).  And so the presence of the Lord the Judge was feared by those who rebelled against him, but it was a refuge to those who were pure in heart.  God would go with Moses, secure justice and orderliness among the people he was leading. 
    “My Presence will go with you.!”   
    Not only that, Moses request for knowledge was a request for intimate knowledge of God.  In a world where gods did not reveal themselves, where unknown hidden spiritual entities subject to humanities wildest imagination, God choose to reveal who he was, and what his character was.  

And so the Lord revealed who he was to Moses, intimately
“I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
    Can we afford to live without God?  To lose God is to lose any ground for morality, and foundation of justice.  Truth becomes nothing more than a firmly held opinion.  Judgement and justice will decay without God.  And with the decay of Justice will be the decay of society.  Can we live without God?  If you have tasted how good God is, by the revelation of his word and the presence of his Spirit in your hearts, could you live without God. 
 Or must you say with the Psalmist (16:11)

You have made  known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

    You see, because of the temple who is Christ, the joy of the presence of the Lord in our lives starts now.  I have moments of doubt, as I am sure you do.  I don’t know about you, but I have found that even if my faith is a delusion, the joy of knowing the Lord in my life has been worth every minute, every trial, every hardship.  I have had the privilege of knowing him, even if eternal life does not follow.
    “My Presence will go with you.!”  

    Third, Notice that Moses hungered for favour, to be distinguished in this world as people belonging to God, a distinguishment that was determined by the Lord’s very specific favour.

    15 Then Moses said to him, “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?”
    Remember the story of Jacob wrestling with God.  Jacob the liar, who had gone before the face of, into the presence of his own father, lying about his identity to get a blessing from his father, his father’s favour.  Now wrestling with God, before the face of God, literally in Genesis 32:30 “face to face”  he would not let God go until God blessed him.  And so God did bless Jacob with a new name, to become Israel a great nation.  The power of God presence to bless, to pour out favour and grace is life giving and eternity shaping.  Jacob, who spent his life striving would end his life resting on the staff he had carried for years as he blessed the future of his own sons. 
 God’s presence secures our future, so we can rest.
God’s answer to Moses
14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
    God favours us.  Do you know that?  Can you live without it.?  Our world tells us that God doesn’t favour anyone.  But the truth is, if we are in Christ, our temple, God’s presence, his favour is with us and in the world, as difficult as it may get, he will never leave us or forsake us. 
14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

A story from Ravi Zacharias brings out this point well.  Let me conclude with it.
Ravi Zacharias, National Day of Prayer Address, He delivered the following keynote address at The Cannon House in Washington, DC, on May 1, 2008

“Of all the stories I’ve told after thirty years of traveling, this one is nearest to my heart, probably the most moving to me. In 1971, I preached in Vietnam. I was in my mid twenties; my interpreter was seventeen years old. His name was Hien Pham. We covered the length and breadth of the country. The American troops carried us around or we went by motorbike. How our lives were rescued, I don’t know. But we came back safely. A revival broke out in the country through the preaching of these two young men.

Hien was my interpreter. In the city Natrang, I held him close, embraced him, and said, “Goodbye, Hien. I’ll probably never see you again.” I flew to Saigon and on back where I was living at that time in Toronto.

Seventeen years later, my phone rang. I was in Vancouver speaking and the phone rang at 11:00 p.m. The man said, “Brother Ravi.” There’s only one person who called me with that intonation that way. I said, “Hien, is that you?” he said, “Yes.” I said, “Oh my word! Where are you?” He said, “California.” I said, “What are you doing here?” He said, “Have you got a few minutes?” I said, “Yes.”

He said, “After Vietnam fell, I was imprisoned by the Viet Cong because I’d worked with the Americans, worked with people like you. They put me behind bars, they took away all English from me, took away my Bible from me, tried to knock faith out of me. I was only allowed to read Marx and Engels in French and Vietnamese. After about a year in there, so worn out, I said, ‘Maybe you don’t exist, God. I’m giving up all hope. I don’t believe in you. Tomorrow when I wake up, I’m not going to pray.’”

That morning, he was assigned to clean the latrines. He said, “Brother Ravi, it’s the dirtiest place on earth you’d want to be. I bound a handkerchief around my mouth cleaning the wet floor, and I saw a little bin with dirty pieces of paper, with human excrement in it. But something told me as I looked there, there was one paper, a piece of paper with English.” He said, “I hadn’t read English for so long. I washed it off, put it in my hip pocket, waited for everybody to go to bed, to sleep. Lights were out.

I took out my flashlight under my mosquito net. I flashed it. On the right hand corner it said, Romans chapter 8.” He said, “I started reading and cried. ‘Oh, my dear Lord, you didn’t leave me one day without you.’ ‘For all things work together for good to them that love God; to those that are called according to his purpose. For who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Neither things present, nor things to come, nor life nor death.’”

Hien said, “Next morning I went back to the commanding officer. I said, ‘Do you mind if I clean the latrines again today?’” He went there every day. He found another page from the New Testament. The commanding officer had been given a Bible a long time ago. He was tearing out a page every day using it as toilet paper. Hien was washing it and using it for his devotions every day.
I said, “Where are you now?” He said, “I’m at Berkeley doing my business degree.” I said, “I can’t believe this, Hien.” He said, “I’m in America.”

I said, “How did that happen?” He said, “I was released and I built a boat with 52 others. Four days before my release, before our escape, four Viet Cong came armed to the teeth and grabbed me and said, ‘Are you trying to escape?’ I lied and said, ‘No.’ They said, ‘Are you telling us the truth?’” He said, “Yes.”

They let him go. He got on his knees, and said, “God, I lied. I’m running my own life. I lied. If you really want me to tell them the truth, let them come back again.” He said, “I sincerely hoped that prayer would never be answered. Hours before we left, the four of them came with their machine guns, grabbed me by the collar, rammed me against the wall. ‘You’re lying, aren’t you?’”

Hien said, “Yes, I’m escaping with 52 others. Are you going to imprison me again?” They said, “No. we want to go with you.’”

“Brother Ravi, if it weren’t for them we would never have made it. They knew how to navigate the ocean on that boat, get us safely to Thailand. I was then listed as a United Nations refugee. I’m here in America now doing my business degree.”

Ravi Zacharias is founder and president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.  Annecdote copied from


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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