Jason Free

I Know God

by Jason Free on August 27th, 2023
Exodus 34:5-9

If we could, just for a moment, turn not to our lesson for today, but to the gospel reading from Matthew. You see there Jesus with his disciples, and he’s interested in who people say that he is. He’s been teaching and preaching and doing miracles, and he wants to know what people think about him. And, his disciples tell him, “You know some say you’re Elijah, Jesus, some say you’re John or Jeremiah, or another prophet.” Jesus doesn’t really respond to that, but immediately moves to a far more important question, “Who do you say I am?”  

That’s the question for us today. And, I gotta tell you, this is the one question you don’t want to get wrong. You can bomb your ACT. You can fail a grade. You can be wrong about a lot of things, but if there is one thing in this life that you must get right, it is the answer to this question. Who is Jesus? Well, in that same reading from Matthew, Peter gives us the answer. It’s there in verse 16. Peter confesses, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus loved that answer. He says to Peter, “Peter, that’s right, and on that truth, that I am the Messiah, I will build my church.” 

Now, fast forward about 2000 years, and here we are today, and in every worship service, you and I make this same confession. Like Peter, we confess that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Savior, our Savior. And that’s good, that’s great. I’m sure you mean it and believe it when you say it. I don’t doubt your confession. But, sometimes I wonder, do we actually know the one whom we confess? How well do you actually know Jesus? How well do you know God? 

Right, I can sit here and tell you that years ago for about six hours on a flight from Milwaukee to San Francisco I sat next to Theo Goldin, the owner of HINT water – do you know that brand? It’s okay – and, Theo and I, we talked and had a good time together on the plane and I got to know him; he gave me his business card. I joked that next time I saw him I want one of the cool HINT jackets that he was wearing. So, I could tell you I know him, and I wouldn’t be lying, but me telling you I know Theo is not the same as me telling you I know Michelle Free, my wife. Those are two vastly different relationships…trust me. So, it’s valid then for me to say that in this room – though we all know and confess Jesus as Lord and Savior – that our understanding of God and the depth of our relationship with our Savior, well, it’s going to be different. 

Here then is what I want to do today. It’s really simple:  I want us to know God, to truly know him, but defining and then knowing God is actually pretty hard, and it’s messy. But, in Exodus chapter 34, God introduces himself to us. He gives us his name. And everything you need to know about your God is in that name. All I want then for us to do today is to claim, or perhaps reclaim the glory of that name for ourselves, for you to value it, and to use it, so that you can truly say, “I know God, and he is glorious.” So, let’s dive in.

Now, I’ll be honest, I struggled to decide how much context, how much background to give today. Exodus 34 is the tail-end of a long disastrous period of Israelite history. The Israelite people, whom Moses had been leading, hit a bit of a rough patch, rock bottom, really. While Moses was up on Mt. Sinani receiving God’s written Law, the people grew restless and convinced Aaron to make a golden calf for them to worship. This, as you likely recall, ended with Moses coming down from that mountain, hearing and seeing the idol worship, and angrily casting the two freshly made tablets of the Law on the ground – breaking them. He then proceeded to melt that golden calf down and he made the people drink it. And what follows after that is this long back-and-forth between God and Moses, this conversation. In it, God promised punishment and consequence, while Moses continually pushed God for mercy and forgiveness. 

And, finally, we get to this point, just a few verses before our lesson, Moses says this to God, “God, if you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you…Now show me your glory.” (vv. 13, 18).  And God does…

But before we take a look at God’s glory, we need to understand what Moses is actually asking God for. Moses is asking God for a deeper relationship; he knows God, but he wants more. And you and I get this because if you, at all, have ever been in love with someone, you know what this is like to want more in a relationship. If you’re in love with someone, and that person tells you that he or she just wants to be friends, ouch. That’s crushing. It’s devastating. Not because being friends with someone is bad, but because, when you love someone, you want a deeper connection and an intimacy that you won’t get in a friendship. 

So, what Moses is saying is, “Lord, I love what we have here, I love that I can sit here and I can call on you for mercy and forgiveness – that I can be bold – and you listen, and you answer, but I need more; I want more.” And what Moses is showing us is that there are degrees to our relationship with God. Now, I’m not saying that there are different statuses with God. You’re either a believer or a non-believer, a Christian or a non-Christian, you believe in Jesus or you don’t. However, just like in your relationships on earth where you are closer to some people than to others and there are degrees in which you grow in those relationships, the same thing is true of your relationship with your God.

But here is the thing about getting to know someone better: it leaves you vulnerable. What do I mean? Well, I shouldn’t use my wife as an example, but I warned her about this beforehand (so hopefully I’m allowed home today). But, look, Michelle knows pretty much everything about me, good and bad, and she’s gracious enough to still love me. But she could hurt me, she could use her knowledge of me against me.

That’s the risk of a relationship. There is the possibility that you might get hurt. There is also the possibility that you might hurt someone else. Okay, apply this same thinking to your relationship with God. Isn’t it true that if we know God, and he us, that we can hurt him, sin against him? Likewise, isn’t it true that he could hurt us, that he could leave us with a burdened conscience and guilt and shame? There are a lot of good reasons to keep God at arm’s length.  It’s certainly easier to just know he loves me and forgives me and to leave it at that. But then you don’t really know him. You don’t value who he is and what he did, and you most certainly aren’t using that knowledge in your day-to-day life. And, if you’re okay with that shallow relationship with your Lord, now is the time to leave. (Good.) If you want to know God, here he is. 

He’s right here in Exodus 34. He tells you exactly who he is. He stood there, next to Moses (which is crazy to think about it), passed in front of him, and proclaimed, “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.” 

This is God. This is how he introduces himself to us, to you. And he gives you the two most important aspects about himself. What are they? Holiness and grace. Law and Gospel. Punishment and deliverance. God is so just that he must punish wickedness, rebellion, and sin, but he’s so loving that he had to come up with some way to not punish wickedness, rebellion, and sin. So, what does he do? The convergence of those two things, God’s holiness, and God’s grace…they crossed…at the cross. At the cross of Christ, God found a way to demonstrate exactly who he is, both his perfect avenging justice and his perfect forgiving grace. And, God is both.

So, you can’t sit here and say, “God’s not going to punish sin. God would never allow anyone to go to hell. God will love me just the way I am.” No, that’s not true and if you believe that you don’t know God. And for you that cross and what Jesus did there now makes no sense, because punishment happened there. Hell happened there. God’s love was not found there. Now, hold that thought though, because at the same time, you also can’t sit here and try to negotiate your forgiveness with God or earn it in some way, say by weighing or comparing your good against your bad or against that of someone else’s. You can’t sit here and say you know Jesus as your Savior and still carry around guilt and shame over your sin. If that is what you think, you do not know God and, for you, that cross and what Jesus did there also makes no sense. Why? Because forgiveness happened there. Your sin was taken away there. Your guilt has no place there. This is the place of God’s love for you. This is where he did what was necessary for your salvation so you could be and are righteous, perfect, and holy in his sight. 

In that moment on the cross not only were your sins and mine obliterated by Jesus Christ but the righteousness of God’s one and Only Son was placed on you, so that today, here, right now, God knows…you. He calls you by name. He says that you are his, and, here is the mind-blowing part, he wants you to know him too. He wants a relationship with you. And as you begin to realize this and what God has done to make that happen, incredibly, not only will God matter more to you than anything else in this world, but you’ll start to realize that you matter more to God than anything in this world.  

And here is what this will do: it will lead you like Moses to fall down and worship God in all his glory, because you know him, everything about him – his holiness and his grace – and you love him, which means you want to know him even more. And that is what this life is all about. It’s an opportunity, it’s your time of grace, to get to know God. And, I promise you, the more you get to know God, and the more you understand what it means to confess that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” the more you understand what happened here at the cross, that changes you. It changes your relationships with people here and out there in the world, it changes how you view the ups and downs of life…it changes your goals…because it changes your end. 

You see either there is no God and your life is a sad story (tale?) that really means nothing in the end – you die and that’s it – or there is a God and nothing else matters but your relationship with him. Everything else then is negotiable. Everything else in your life has to be judged on whether it hinders or builds up that relationship because he is the only thing that lasts and through him so too will you as you step into the heavenly home that he has prepared for you. 

And this is God’s glory. It’s you in heaven with him. Moses glimpsed it. Jesus revealed it. Peter confessed it. And God gave it to you on a cross. Take it. By the Holy Spirit dwelling in you claim that glory for yourself, know your God, and let him be your guide through this life into the next. For he is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Amen.

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