UCC 64

God’s Glory

Exodus 34: 5-8; 40: 34-38

 

5Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped.

34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

36 In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; 37 but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. 38 So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.

        Today we come to the end of our series on Exodus. We began this series in March of last year and even when the university was closed due to Covid 19, thanks to the internet we could still enjoy the sermons as a church even though I was in Canada and you were here. Then during the winter break when the students went home, we completed a short series on the book of Titus and also learned about the Apostles Creed, what it means to be the Church, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Overall, this is the 21st sermon that I have preached on this book and hopefully, we have touched upon the main themes. Therefore, as you read through this book in your daily devotions you will be able to say, I know that, or I remember that, and the book will not seem so strange and foreign to you.

 

        First, let me remind you of what we have been learning about God through this book. Who He is and how we should live in light of that. The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews reminds us in Chapters 3 and 4 that we are a wilderness people much like the Israelites. As the new people of God, the church, we too have been redeemed and saved. And we also have yet to enter our promised land, the new creation. We are still on a journey together knowing that God will guide and guard us. He will defend us from our enemies. Like the Israelites, we also have His laws, His commandments, and His promises. Promises that we know, are all ‘yes’ in Christ Jesus. As Galatians 6:14-16 tells us, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God”. We are the people of God made up of Jews and gentiles who believe, and therefore we too are heirs of all the promises and covenants that God made with His people the Israelites in the Old Testament as well as being the recipients of the New Covenant.

 

        Today I want us to focus on the Glory of God and what this book in the Old Testament tells us about it, and how we, as the New People of God, experience it today and how we are to reflect it to the world around us.  In between the passage in chapter 34 and the last passage I read in chapter 40 Moses has done exactly what the Lord has commanded him, he has built the Tabernacle and all its furnishings.

 

        I’m sure everyone here has heard this term ‘Glory’. Maybe you have even proclaimed, “Glory be to God” or “Glory be to God in the Highest”. What is God’s Glory? We see from this final passage in chapter 40 of the book of Exodus that the glory of God fills the tabernacle. This worship place that Moses has been on the top of Mount Sinai for 40 days learning how to build. And now the glory of the Lord fills it.

        Again, let me ask, what is the glory of God? Imagine you were asked by one of your friends or an unbelieving neighbour. Now your neighbour approaches you and says, you’re a Christian, aren’t you. You reply, Yes. And then they say I hear you talking a lot about God’s glory. What do you mean by that? What is God’s glory? What are you talking about? For us, this exchange may be just another example of, how we know what it means, but we don’t know how to define it. It’s like His Holiness, we know what it means but then when we are asked, we can’t seem to think of the right words to explain it. Glory be to God, what do we mean? We say God was glorified by what we did or what we said. But what does that mean?

        The Westminster Shorter Catechism, which is a summary of Bible teachings, that was written a long time ago. asks the question, “What is the chief end (goal) of man?” In other words, “Why was man created” The answer is. “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever”. But how do we do that?

        Here at the end of the book of Exodus, we see God coming in His glory as we just read. The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle as we are told in verse 34 and then again in verse 35. In fact, anytime we see in the Bible something repeated twice or more in a short space of a few verses or even within the same sentence then it is important enough for us to pay attention to. The glory of the Lord came close to the people of God that day. He came close enough to be approached, to be worshipped. Think about it, the glory of God came down from His mountain and dwelt amongst a sinful people. Remember we learned about the implications of that truth when we were learning about the tabernacle.

 

        When Moses wanted to be sure that he was in God’s favour. He asked, to see His glory. Remember in Exodus 33:18 last Sunday Moses said, “Now show me your glory”. Do you remember what God’s answer was? “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” Then in verse 22, God says, “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.” Certainly, this gives the impression that God’s glory is not something to be taken lightly. So, what is God’s glory we still have to answer that question? Now even more so that we have read verse 22 of chapter 33.

 

        Let’s try to answer that question by seeing what the Bible says about God’s glory. If we can get a definition from there, then at least we will know it is the correct definition and we won’t be led astray by all kinds of speculation and false teaching. And then, if we hear someone, even another pastor, give it a different definition then we can say, “well that’s not what it says in the Bible”. That is how we test the spirits as we are commanded in 1 John 4:1 where the apostle John warns his readers by saying, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world”.

 

        We can define the glory of God simply as the Beauty of His spirit. It is not a visual or artistic beauty or even something that is materially beautiful. It is the beauty that comes when we consider all that he is. His all-powerfulness, all-knowingness, His being present everywhere, His gracefulness, mercy, love, etc. When we take all these attributes together, they reflect His glory.

        This is how God’s glory is presented to us in the first of our two passages. Let’s look at that passage now. So, in response to Moses’ request for confirmation that God’s presence would not leave him. God passes by and proclaims His name in verses 6-7, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to angerabounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.

        Here God’s glory is revealed to us through His name. The same name that He revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Only in this passage God also reveals several of his attributes that explain His name more completely.  The first attribute we see revealed is His compassion. God is merciful to those who need mercy. Like Israel, we also need a compassionate God. This attribute was also reflected by Jesus in Matthew 9:36 as He looked at the crowds who were following Him and, “he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”.

          Second, He reveals Himself as a gracious God. This means undeserved favour. I remember when I was a seminary student, I would often ask my professors for some ‘grace’ if I did not have assignments completed on time. One of my professors told me that if he gave me some extra time then it was not really grace. He explained that real grace would be if he wrote my paper for me and then gave me an A+ for it. Of course, he didn’t do that.      

          We need to understand that grace is not, doing something to earn enough favor and then asking God to finish it. Grace is 100% of God’s favour on those who don’t deserve it. That is why we praise God as Christians, because Jesus, did all the work for us and made us right before God. This was not a result of our having done part of it and then He agreed to another part. It was all because of His grace.

        The next attribute that God reveals is His patience. This is what it means when he said he is slow to anger. We have witnessed this attribute of God throughout the book of Exodus. Israel time and again would murmur and complain and rebel but God was patient. I am thankful that we have a patient God.

        In this passage, God also tells us that He is abounding in Love and faithfulness. He always does what he says he is going to do. Like Israel, we also need a God who will remain faithfully loving towards us. We are reminded of this in 2 Timothy 2:13 which says, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself”.

            The attribute of God’s that I am most thankful for is that he is forgiving. As a guilty sinner, this attribute is the one that means the most to me. This word ‘forgiving’ means to ‘lift’ or ‘carry’. This is what God does with our sins, yours and mine. He takes the burden of guilt off of our shoulders and he carries it far away from us. Just like Israel, we also need a forgiving God.

          Let’s look at the three things that God forgives as listed in verse 7. We will gain a deeper appreciation for this attribute. First, He forgives our wrongdoings or anytime that we turn away from doing what is right and good. Secondly, He forgives our rebellion when we betray Him and His covenant with us. Finally, He also forgives our sin which is any type of moral failure.

          We see this forgiving characteristic of God most vividly when Jesus, upon encountering the paralytic in Mark chapter two, said simply in verse 5, “Son, your sins are forgiven”. Only Jesus has the compassion but also the authority to lift your wrongdoing, your rebellion, your sin, and guilt off of you.

          However, we cannot just stop with these attributes we have just mentioned. The final attribute of God that this passage mentions is that He is a just God. We do not have the luxury of choosing which attributes of God we like the most and then ignoring the rest. We could but it would make no difference in the end because we cannot change who God is.

          People who choose to reject God because they do not like some of His attributes will be held to accounts. Just because God is gracious and compassionate does not mean that unrepentant sinners will get a free pass from His just judgement of sin.

          People have often thought that this last statement in verse 7, “he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation. Reveals that God is capricious. But it does not mean that God will punish people for something that their grandparents have done. That would be ridiculous and totally against God’s justice. It simply means that as sin continues then so does God’s justice. There is never any sin that will not be punished by God.

          So how do we resolve this dilemma that many people experience when they are confronted with God’s Love on one hand and His justice on the other. The answer is that it is reconciled at the cross. Because at the cross, God poured out His justice upon Jesus who was innocent and at the same time displayed His love towards us. This is the teaching of the apostle Paul in Romans 3:26 when he tells us that, “he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

          God will not fail to judge and punish sin. For sinful people, this means that either Jesus took your judgement on the cross as your substitute or you will face God’s justice and judgment on your own.

          Then with the revelation of verse 38 still fresh in his mind, Moses does the right thing, the only thing he could do. He responded in worship and prayer. This is the proper response when we encounter the glory of God.

           

          When we compare God’s glory to human glory, we can see even more clearly what the glory of God is. In James 1:10, the apostle James tells the rich person to “take pride (glory) in their humiliation”. James is pointing to a glory that does not mean riches, or power, or material beauty. The type of glory that James is referring to in this verse is the type of glory that can fill the earth. However, it is not from people, it is from God.

          The type of glory that a human has is in their spirit. Human glory is fallible and will eventually disappear and that is why it is humiliating as James tells us. But the glory of God never fades away because it is eternal.

          The Bible also tells us that God created us for His glory. When we read a verse like Isaiah 43:7 that says, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” in the context of other verses it is quite clear that people glorify God. Through people, God’s glory can be seen in thigs such a love, music, heroism, etc. These are all things of God which 2 Corinthians 4:7 tells us, “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us”. This verse reminds us that we are the containers which contain His glory. All the things that we are able to do and behave their beginning with Him.

          Through His creation, He also shows us His glory. Each person can easily discern His glory as we look at the natural beauty around us. Even though different people may react in different ways. I like the mountains and they fill me with wonder whenever I see their majesty. Another person may be filled with awe when they gaze out at the vastness of the ocean. The reason we react to nature in this way is because God’s glory is behind it. Through nature, God is able to reveal Himself to all people, no matter who or where they are.

          I remember when I saw the Ngorongoro crater for the first time. The spectacle also took my breath away and I found myself praising God as I witnessed another example of His glorious creation. Some people can even look at the fine details in a flower or marvel at how things grow and likewise find themselves in awe of the glory of creation.

          This is what it says in Psalm 19:1-4, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world”. Romans 1:20 tells us that God’s revelation in nature will leave people with no excuse, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse”.

          We often hear Christians talk of the death of another Christian as their being “taken up into Glory”. That phrase is borrowed from psalm 73:24 that calls heaven itself “glory”. The picture here is that when a Christian dies, they will be transported into God’s presence. God’s glory is found, of course where He is and, in heaven, the Christian will find themselves surrounded by God’s Glory.

          As I said before God’s glory is the beauty of His Spirit. Heaven is the place where God is, and therefore, where His beauty is. Because God’s glory is the substance of who He is, that means that in heaven, His glory will not need to be observed through His creation, either people or nature. Instead, it will be quite clearly seen as we are told in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”.

          Let me repeat what I have just said just so we are clear about what God’s glory is and is not. The human definition of ‘glory’ refers to that beauty or vitality that we see on the material things of earth. This beauty fades because material things do not last, they are finite. But even though they die and waste away the glory that is In them, which belongs to God, returns to Him when they die or decay.

          Let’s try to understand this by looking deeper into the verse about the rich man I mentioned earlier in James 1:10. The whole verse says, “But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wildflower”. This verse means that the rich should acknowledge that their wealth, their power, their beauty all come from God and therefore be humble. God’s glory is the source from which all the smaller glories which we enjoy find their beginning.

          When we understand that God is the source of glory then we can understand His anger against idolatry. In Isaiah 42:8 we can find an example of God’s jealousy with regards to His glory, “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield (or give) my glory to another or my praise to idols”. The apostle Paul in Romans 1:21-25 also speaks to God’s jealousy for His Glory. “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. In this passage, we see that, as people looked at the objects through which God’s glory was manifest, they did not give God the credit and instead would worship the created things as if the glory or beauty came from them alone. This is what idolatry is and it is a very easy mistake to make as we have all at one time or another “replaced” the glory of God for the “glory of man”

          In fact, we see people continuing to make this same mistake. They continue to trust in material things, relationships in the world, their own power, or talent, or beauty, and even the ‘goodness’ they see in other people. Unfortunately, these things fail and bring disappointment because they are only a reflection of the greater glory that is held temporarily in “jars of clay”.

          The only answer for us is to recognize that God’s glory is infinite and unchanging. As we journey through life, we will see it in people, or nature, or in the story of a heroic deed or a great love, and even in our own lives, but we need to understand that, in the end, it all goes back to its source, God.
           

          This story of the Exodus points to the glory of God that we ultimately see in Christ. This is what the apostle John. Teaches us in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”. The only way to God is through His Son, Jesus Christ. We will find the very source of all beauty in Him. If we are in Christ, nothing will be lost to us as All the things that have faded away in our life, we will find again in Him.

 

          Let’s Pray: Our father and our God we thank you for your glory we thank you for your Glorious being. We thank you that we have been created for your glory and to give you glory. We thank you for all the Words you give to us through the Bible and especially through the book of Exodus and how it reveals Your glory. Father enable us through the power of your Holy Spirit to reflect Your glory as the light we have been called to be to this lost and dying World. Thank you for the hope of glory that we have in Christ Jesus. In Jesus name, we pray.