Now we're turning within the Old Testament to the book of Exodus, the second book within the Bible, Exodus and chapter 33 - this is one of my favourite passages of Scripture, for it depicts for us the patriarch Moses, the father of Israel. And there he is, and within that great book he is receiving the law from God and, if you like, he has great experiences with God and many of them are recorded for us within the revelation of this book. And here we have one, in chapter 33 and verse 8 - and it says: "And it came to pass, when Moses went out unto the tabernacle, that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he was gone into the tabernacle. And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses" - isn't that a lovely expression? "...the Lord talked with Moses. And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door. And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle".
If you look at verse 18, you find here the prayer of Moses as he stands before God: "And he said, I beseech thee, show me thy glory. And he said", God said, "I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen".
In chapter 34, if you look at it, and verse 5 - you see another experience that Moses had with his God: "And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation".
If you turn to chapter 40 of Exodus, not only was there that answer to Moses' prayer: 'Lord, show me Thy glory', but here we find another instance were Moses beholds - and indeed the whole company sees - the glory of God. Verse 34, and after the tabernacle was formed and built: "...then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" - now don't read over that quickly - "the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle".
The word of God is full, isn't it, of experiences of men with God. Ordinary men, men who were sinful, shapen in iniquity, conceived in their mother's womb in sin - yet we read accounts of how they experienced God, sometimes in extremely supernatural ways and strange ways. We've read about Moses, and that never fails to thrill me, how it says that God talked with Moses - not Moses talked with God, God talked with Moses! Can you imagine that? Walking into a tent and talking with God as a man would talk with his friend. That wasn't enough for Moses - it might be enough for me, or perhaps for you - it wasn't enough for him, and that teaches us a lesson that we should never, ever get to a situation where we have enough of God. And so he cries to God: 'Lord show me Thy glory' - we would've thought we had seen it, to stand talking with God as a man with his friend, face-to-face, it says, with God! Yet he cries: 'Show me Thy glory! I want more of Thee O God!'. So God says: 'Look, you can't behold Me in all My glory, you couldn't take it!' - what did the hymnwriter say? 'In light inaccessible', we cannot approach God without being exterminated by His great holiness, by His great light! But God says: 'I'll do this for you: I'll put you in the cleft of the rock, and I'll cover your face and I'll make all My glory to pass by you - you can't look upon it. But what I'll do is: when I get past you, I'll take My hand from off My eyes and you will see My after-glow - the great Shekinah glory that I leave, it's not even Me, but I leave it wherever I go' - and that is why, when Moses came down to the people, his face shone.
Isaiah 6, if you wish to turn to it, you read: 'In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord' - I saw Him, and what does he say he saw Him like? '[He was] high', sitting on a throne, 'and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke'. What great experiences men had with God. Ezekiel chapter 1, if you wish to turn to it, in verse 1 you read this at the beginning of another great prophecy: 'Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God'.
I've entitled my message today: 'Behold Your God' - indeed the whole series I want to entitle with that, I want us to come and behold, to look upon our God. To contemplate what it means: that word and that Person, that great triunity in one - God Almighty. I want us especially this morning to think of 'The Importance Of Thinking' about God. I think it's self-evident as you look at these passages of Scripture, and you look at these men and their experiences with God Almighty, that it wasn't simply a quick look and then they forgot Him - but it was a look that when they beheld their God, it was life changing. They were never the same man or woman again! If you read Isaiah, you find in chapter 5 a great many woes that describe the situation of the nation at that time, and then all of a sudden the man that was withholding the blessing died - King Uzziah - and at times it takes those that are withholding the blessing, for God to deal with them - and God removed that man and then Isaiah could see God. That's what I want to happen for us in these Lord's Day mornings - for whatever is removing our sight and our vision of God to disappear and for us to stand, like Isaiah, and see the Lord high and lifted up, and that His train would fill this temple!
Ezekiel was downcast, wasn't he? He was disheartened - he was in the exile and there he was sitting at the river of Chebar with all those children of Israel that were brought out at the exile - and he was depressed and dejected! But all of a sudden Almighty God opened the windows of heaven and he saw visions of God! That's why, I believe, the writer to the Hebrews in chapter 12 and verse 1 says these great words: 'Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us' - such a great cloud of witnesses! Great men of God, great prophets and priests and kings who show us their experiences of God - and because of all them, ought we not also to behold our God?
In Exodus chapter 24, if you turn to it please, Exodus 24 and verse 13, we read of a man whom we have already read of in chapter 33. We read: 'And Moses rose up, and his minister', or his servant, 'Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of God'. Moses had a servant called Joshua - and it is the Joshua that you read about in the book of Joshua, and indeed throughout the whole of the Pentateuch - this was the understudy of Moses. Now I want you to see this: what a responsibility it was for Moses to show Joshua God, and to lead him into experiences with God as we see within this book. And that tells us - at least it tells me - that I have a great responsibility to influence others by contemplating God. In other words, when I start to contemplate who God is and what God can do, it will affect my life - and when He affects my life, my life in turn will overflow and affect others. That is exactly what happened with Moses and Joshua.
You find exactly the same happening in the book of Kings with Elijah and Elisha - it was the mantle of Elijah that Elisha took, wasn't it Elijah that Elisha followed and never took his eye off him? He asked for a double portion of his spirit - why? Because he saw the experiences and the blessings that this man Elijah had with God, and he wanted it! There is a great responsibility that not only we be blessed by God for ourselves, but we be blessed by beholding God for the benefit of others. It was the case with Paul and Barnabas, was it not? I'm sure that Paul taught Barnabas a great deal about beholding his God. Was it not the same with Timothy? Paul taught him, as his own son, about God and how to behave in the house of God, which is the temple of God, the church of God.
It's the case with us, isn't it, that often it is the lives of others, and it is the blessings of others, and the walk of others that impresses upon us to go after God. We are surrounded with so great a cloud of witnesses, that we want to press on as they have pressed on, we want to behold our God as they have beheld their God. We read biographies: Murray McCheyne, John Calvin, Martin Luther, D.L. Moody - we read of so many, and we read of their life that it's possible for a man or woman of like passions to follow God and to behold God and to be used of God - it excites us! Indeed I would go as far as to say this: that the greatest effect that you will ever have on others will be through your walk with God. The greatest effect that you will have on other people will be if you are beholding God.
Now, the opposite of that situation is found in the New Testament in Luke chapter 10, if you wish to turn to it, Luke chapter 10 - and we're just laying the foundation this morning as an introduction of why it's important to think upon God. Luke chapter 10 and verse 39, and we find the famous incidence in Bethany, where the Lord comes into the home of Lazarus' sisters, and there He is in a place where He loves. In verse 39 we read this: '...Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word...', and a little bit on, you read: 'But Martha was cumbered about much serving'. So you have Mary who was at Jesus feet and heard His words, and then a little bit later you have Martha who is cumbered about much serving. And then the Lord says: 'Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her'.
It is hard to behold God in a busy world - in fact there are times that I think it's nigh impossible to live as the world lives and to behold God in the way that He longs to be beheld. It can even be in the service of Christ - yes: was not Martha in the kitchen serving Christ, whatever she was doing? But there is one thing that is needful, there is one thing that is primary and foundational - which means that it must come first, and if it doesn't, it doesn't matter how much you serve the Lord, if you don't behold God you can't be anything for God! Yet we may have the prospect, as one writer said, of meeting an unknown God after death. Therefore it is our need - now - to behold God, to be at the Saviour's feet listening to His words, that chosen part that is good and better, that cannot be taken away from us.
In Genesis chapter 24 we find an instance where Abraham sends out his servant to get a wife for Isaac. And we read throughout that beautiful story - and if you're looking for a girlfriend or a boyfriend that's a good story to read, for it gives us what the will of God is for us and how to find it, for Isaac and Abraham were willing to accept God's will, no matter what she looked like! And here we have within this story an amazing verse that gripped me this week as I read it again - it says: 'Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide'. He went out into the field to meditate at evening, and the next time he lifted up his eyes he saw his future bride! And if we go out, and if we meditate, we too will behold the King in all His beauty.
Joshua was the servant of Moses - if you look at chapter 33 that we were reading from, you find in verse 3 at the beginning of the chapter that still there was that promise of the promised land - '...unto a land', they were going to, 'flowing with milk and honey:', God says, 'I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people'. Yet still there was the promise of that land of milk and honey, the promised land. Now at the end of the book of Deuteronomy you find Moses dead, and then the next book you find is the book of Joshua. Now look: Joshua became God's conqueror, Joshua became the man that would stand there at the Jordan and would take the people of God into the promised land. Moses could not go because he smote the rock, you remember, and God said: 'It's not for you, but Joshua's going to go into the land - he is My chosen future deliverer'. Where did Joshua learn his example? With Moses. Where did he learn it? Verse 11. Now I believe that this is a message from God, verse 11: 'And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle' - isn't that beautiful? He was young, he didn't have the responsibilities upon his shoulder of the millions of murmuring, stiffnecked, rebellious Israelites that Moses had - he didn't have that burden. And in the time that he didn't have that burden he redeemed the time, and he redeemed it with God, in God's presence. Now, young people: if you want to be anything for God, you've got to behold Him, you've got to be with Him - and when others leave Him, you've got to tarry in His tabernacle. This is where Joshua became God's conqueror - and this is where anyone will become a conqueror for God: in His presence, where he was remembering now his Creator in the days of his youth, while the evil days came not, nor the years draw nigh when he would say: 'I have no pleasure in them' - he didn't wait till it was too late!
The great human need today is to know God, and my friend if you're here and you're not saved, you've never had a conversion experience with the Spirit of God - you need to know God in salvation! You need to be saved or you'll be lost! It is the only way - Christ, the way, the truth, and the life - no other way to the Father, but by Him. You need to know Him through His death and His resurrection! But Christian: once you have known God in that capacity, you must now know God through contemplating Him, through beholding Him. And that is the importance - we could finish there! - the importance of thinking about God, that is why it is important to contemplate Him, to behold Him. But if that doesn't suffice, we can ask the question first of all: why contemplate Him? Why do it? J. I. Packer in his book 'Knowing God' - which he wrote before he got ecumenical - he gives one reason why we should know God. He says: 'Christian minds have been conformed to the modern spirit', I quote him, he says, 'It spawns great thoughts of man and leaves room only for small thoughts of God'. It spawns great thoughts of man and leaves room only for small thoughts of God - and what he is saying is this: a weakling view of God produces weakling saints of God.
We are in a battle today and it seems that we are downhearted at times because we feel that, as we look around at the world and the church, that we are losing the battle - although the gates of hell will never prevail against the church of Jesus Christ. But one of the pitfalls that we can fall into is to get preoccupied with maintaining the religious practices in a pagan world, and lose sight of God! A W. Tozer says: 'The church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge - and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic'. He goes on in his book to lament that he believes that this is the cause of a hundred lesser evils among us, that we do not take time to wait and to behold God. He believes that this is why there is a loss of spiritual awe in worship, in the divine presence, why we are not struck dumb as Moses was when the cloud filled with His glory the tabernacle. He believes it is one reason why we can no longer say that we are able to 'be still and know that Thou art God'.
What comes to our mind when we think of God is probably the most important thing about us. What comes to your mind when you think of God? The reason why that is so is because no religion, or people, or person, has ever risen above its view of God. I'll give you an example from the Old Testament: you have Baal worship. Baal worship was passed down, right to the New Testament where we look - as we've been studying in Ephesians - at this awful temple of Diana and the ritual prostitution that went on within it. And we may think it's debauched and depraved and terribly immoral, without realising the thought, the religious theology that was behind it. Without going into too much detail, it was simply this: that their gods, many of them, were fertility gods - and they believed that the way they worshiped their fertility gods was with copulation with temple ceremonial prostitutes. Whether male or female, they would copulate with them, and they believed when they copulated that their god would be pleased with that worship, and he in turn would be fertile with regards to the ground and the fruit and the crops and the vegetables. And they believed that through this type of immoral worship that god would be pleased - now when you have a god like that, you have people like that! Isn't that right? Therefore a people, or a person, cannot rise above his own contemplation of God. If you believe in a god, like those in Islam, who is a wicked god, who is an angry god all the time - a god of wrath - you'll dress up women in black, you'll not let them out of the house, you'll have rules and regulations and all sorts of awful things done to your children, because that is the type of god you believe in. If you believe in Molech of the Old Testament, you will take your baby boy and feed him to the flames, because that is the kind of god you have! And that's the kind of person you become.
You see our thought of God determines our spiritual state and also our spiritual future. It is, without doubt, the mightiest thought that the human mind can have to contemplate God. Have you ever thought about that? We think of so many things, but do we behold God? Do we behold Him, realising that in this scene and in this dispensation that we are in in human form, and in the bodies of death that we are in, that we will never have a greater experience than contemplating God? You would know to look at the meetings that we don't believe that! For when we have a chance to stare into the face of God, we're staring into our pillow, or into the television set. When we have time to remember God's Son, we are remembering - lying in bed - what we did on Saturday evening. And then we come expecting the blessing.
In the Psalms, in 48 and verse 9, we read this: 'We have thought of thy lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of thy temple' - we have thought! We read in the book of Malachi, chapter 3 and verse 16 and 17, that God has a book and he says: 'Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him' - those that are Mine are they that think of Me! And I vouch to say that if you don't think of Him, you're not His.
I'm not talking, and in this next few weeks we won't be studying dry theology. 'Theology' literally means, in the Latin: 'Theo' - God, 'Ology' - study. Study of God - and that is what we will be doing, but it won't be dry theology, but it will be [a] life changing - hopefully - study of great God Jehovah! Why contemplate God? Daniel tells us, in chapter 11 and verse 32: 'the people that do know their God shall be strong, and shall do exploits'. Do you want to do exploits for God? Do you want to be strong for God? Do you want to be put in God's book, because you're a precious jewel for Him? Then we've got to learn to behold our God - like Joshua, we've got to learn to tarry when others leave, and when others aren't there, and when others are cumbered about with many things, we've got to learn to tarry in the tabernacle with the Shekinah cloud of God's presence!
I want to read you a portion of a sermon preached by Charles Haddon Spurgeon on January the 7th 1855 in Newpark Street Chapel in the morning. And I want you to listen very carefully to what he says: 'It has been said by someone that the proper study of mankind is man. I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God's elect is God. The proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy which can ever engage the attention of a child of God is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of divinity. It is a subject so vast that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity, so deep that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with, in them we feel a kind of self content and go our way with the thought: 'Behold I am wise'. But when we come to this master science, finding that our plumb line cannot sound its depths, and that our eagle eye cannot see its heights, no subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind than thoughts of God. But while the subject humbles the mind, it also expands it - he who often thinks of God will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around the narrow glow. The most excellent study for expanding the soul is the science of Christ and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead and the glorious Trinity - nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity. O, there is in contemplating Christ a balm for every wound, in musing upon the Father there is a quietus for every grief, and in the influence of the Holy Ghost there is a balsam for every sore! Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your care? Then go plunge yourself in the Godhead's deepest sea, be lost in His immensity and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul, so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief, so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead - and it is to which I invite you to study this morning'.
Does that answer the question why we should study God? We should study Him because it exceedingly improves our minds. Do you want your mind improved? Well, study God, don't study science, don't go to university - not that there's anything wrong with that, but you'll not improve your mind going there! Do you want to humble the mind? It will be through a sight of God that you will cry like Isaiah: 'Woe is me for I am undone!', you'll cry like Peter: 'Lord, depart from me for I am a sinful man!'. Do you want to [enlarge] your mind, expand your soul, enlarge your intellect, magnify the whole of your being? Have you a great wound in your soul this morning that you want a balm for? Do you want a quietus for your grief, a balsam for every wound and sorrow and loss? Do you want to drown your care? Do you want rest? Do you want to be refreshed? Do you want to be invigorated, comforted in your soul? Do you want those swelling billows and storms of sorrow and grief to cease? Do you want peace to be spoken to the winds of trial? Well then behold your God!
Our learning of God will give birth to a life of godliness. We must learn and contemplate upon God not only for that, positively for the help it is, but negatively - because to think wrong thoughts of God is idolatry. To assume that God is other than He is is idolatry. As one said: 'A God begotten in the shadows of a fallen heart will quite naturally be no true likeness of the true God' - it cannot be! And many of us have our ideas of God, and it's not God at all! For we have never beheld Him. He says to many: 'Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself, but I will reprove thee and set them in order before thine eyes'. That's what He said of the Romans - when they knew God they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations and their foolish heart was darkened because they didn't think right thoughts of God - do you see the importance of thinking right thoughts of God?
Finally, as we close: how do you contemplate God? Someone has called the Bible a photograph of the Almighty. That is what the word 'revelation' means - 'reveal', 'reveal-ation', to reveal God, His person. That is how you know God, through the word of God, the written word of the living God - and it is to take the word of God and do something that very few do today, a lost art: it is the practice of meditation. To take time, to take the word and to ask what it means, and to ask what it requires of my soul and my life, and my practices and my possessions, and my family - to take it and to make it yours and to make it part of you, and to chew the cud of the word of God until you inwardly digest it and it becomes part of your whole being. The written revelation of God, that is how you will know how to behold God for the Bible is a portrait of His character and all His ways of His doings, His plannings, His infinite holiness and His unlimited graciousness.
The old Puritans knew their God, the old Presbyterians knew their God - indeed one, from 1643-1647, was part and party to the Westminster Catechism. And it was being drawn up, and there came a point of reverent indecision when those assembly divines wanted to frame a concise but worthy definition of God - they didn't know how to speak within their catechism of who God was and what He was like - and they resorted to special prayer to find out what the mind of God was about this. They requested a young man, the youngest of those Westminster divines, called George Gillespie, to lead them in prayer. Gillespie, one of the four Scottish members of that assembly, prayed these words: 'O God, who art a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in Thy being wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth' - and unanimously it was decided that the answer had been given, and that is the definition that you find within the Westminster Catechism. How did they get it? They didn't get it with a degree in theology, they got it from beholding their God - and God was so much part of their heart, that when that man opened his mouth God could speak through it!
You behold God through the written word, and as we close let us read together from Hebrews chapter 1 as an introduction to the weeks that lie ahead, of probably the primary and indeed the most important way to behold our great God. Hebrews chapter 1 and verse 1: 'God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high'. Do you want to behold God? Listen to the words of God: 'Behold My beloved Son'.
'Strangely I sensed Him everywhere,
The God I ached to find.
Yet could not find Him anywhere,
Above, before, behind.
Mystery amazing, love unknown,
In human form He stands
And calls me with tender human tone,
Uplifting nail-torn hands.
Yes, for in Jesus, God most high
Has come from heaven above,
To answer all my aching cry
With His redeeming love.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
My Saviour, King divine.
For in my Saviour now I see:
Lo, God in heaven is mine!'
May, in these next few weeks, we behold God.
Oh Lord, the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. Oh Lord, we thank Thee that Thou hast revealed Thyself in Jesus Christ Thy Son. But Lord, we are called now to contemplate Thee, to consider Him, to look upon Him in whom the Father dwells and be lost in wonder, love and praise. We pray in these next weeks that Thou wilt bless our study, and Lord that we will not be puffed up with knowledge at the end of it, but that we will be filled with all the fullness of God. In Jesus name, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the first tape in his 'Behold Your God' series, titled "The Importance Of Thinking" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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