Our Greatest Need


Below is a lightly edited transcript of the sermon.


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How Do We Navigate Suffering?

THRIVING IN EXILE

Discover how your Christian identity can enable you to walk through the difficulties in your life well while at the same time point people to the one place they can find lasting hope.

Purchase the paperback version of Thriving in Exile today and I’ll send you the ebook free! Just click the button below to purchase your copy of the book then and I’ll send you the E-Book free of charge. Message me a copy of your order to get your free copy.

Would you settle for the blessings of God without the presence of God? At first thought, you might wonder if that is even possible. But as we are going to see at the beginning of Exodus 33 it is very possible. God is perfect, righteous, and holy. Just like you or I would burn up if we got too close to the sun, nothing impure can stand in God’s holy presence. The Bible describes God as a consuming fire. A few chapters earlier God gave Moses plans for how his presence could dwell with the Israelites, but after they fell into idolatry it seems like God is canceling those plans. Let’s read the first few verses of Exodus 33. If you are physically able I would like to invite you to stand as we read them together. 

Exodus 33:1-3 The LORD spoke to Moses: “Go up from here, you and the people you brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying: I will give it to your offspring. I will send an angel ahead of you and will drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hethites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go up with you because you are a stiff-necked people; otherwise, I might destroy you on the way.”

Now before we continue reading I want you to consider what is happening here. God is saying I will still give you the land. It’s all yours. It is possible to experience the blessings of God without the presence of God. But as we are going to see this isn’t a good deal. Look at verse 4. 

Exodus 33:4 When the people heard this bad news, they mourned and didn’t put on their jewelry.

The blessing of God without the presence of God should mean nothing to the people of God. What I hope to unpack in this post is our greatest need is the presence of God. And I want us to ask ourselves this question. “Where am I settling for the gifts of God without the presence of God?”

The Requirement of God’s Presence

As we saw in our introduction, nothing that is unholy can go into God’s presence. Sometimes we look at this and think it’s too intense, God just seems angry. But God can’t be anything less than this and still be holy. To sacrifice his holiness would make him unworthy of our worship. And because Israel had fallen into sin, God said I cannot be among you, because my holiness would consume you. You are a stiff-necked people. The requirement for God’s presence was and still is holiness. That hasn’t changed. And the bad news is, none of us meet that standard. Israel failed to meet that standard about a hot minute after they committed themselves to it. You and I could never meet this standard. 

Romans 3:10 as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. 

Apart from Christ, we all fall short of the glory of God. But fortunately, God did not leave us to suffer the fate of our sin, he makes a way for us to experience his presence through forgiveness. Like we saw a few weeks ago, Christ met the standard that the law demands so that we can experience the presence of God. The requirement for God’s presence is Holiness, which Christ met for us. However, that doesn’t mean we chuck holy living out of the window. In 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, Paul is calling on the church to rid itself of immoral behavior by calling back to the Exodus narrative. 

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little leaven leavens the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new unleavened batch, as indeed you are. For Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us observe the feast, not with old leaven or with the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Christ has made us holy so that we can enjoy the presence of God, but Paul is challenging us to live lives that reflect that holiness. Our lives should demonstrate the holiness that God has given to us. Holy living does not earn us the presence of God, but it does enable us to enjoy the presence of God. Sin will hinder your experience of God’s presence. Not because it makes God love you less, but because it makes you love God less. It has ramifications that impact you and those in your life for years. Chapter 34 says that the sin of the father will visit his children to the third and fourth generation. Sin has generational effects that can keep you from walking with God and possibly even hinder those in your life. 


Holy living does not earn us the presence of God, but it does enable us to enjoy the presence of God.


Now you may be reading this and you don’t need to be warned about the dangers of sin because you’ve lived them. And it’s hard to hear warnings against sin because it feels like condemnation. I want to ask you to hang with me. We will come full circle this morning. But we have to sound the warning of the danger that sin causes. We have to sound the alarm of the havoc that it will cause in your life. 

That is why Paul warned in 1 Corinthians 5 that even a little bit of sin can have huge ramifications. This is why we cannot settle for a life without the presence of God. It’s only a deep abiding relationship with Jesus that will keep us from that sin. Don’t make the mistake of settling for a life without the presence of God. If you are in Christ don’t just settle for the gifts that he has given you. As great as they are they won’t satisfy the deepest desires of your heart. They won’t keep you from a life of sin, as you continue to read the story of the children of Israel you see this cycle repeated over and over again. God blesses, the people enjoy God’s blessing but neglect his presence. They fall into sin. They suffer the result of their sin. They come to their senses and cry out for the presence of God. God shows up. God blesses them. But as they enjoy God’s blessings, they neglect his presence and fall into sin. Repeat for hundreds of years. Don’t settle for a life without the presence of God. The presence of God will satisfy your deepest longings and the allure of sin will lose its hold over you and you can enjoy the presence of God. 

The Requesting of God’s Presence

Moses wasn’t satisfied with the gifts of God without the presence of God. 

Exodus 33:13-16 Now if I have indeed found favor with you, please teach me your ways, and I will know you, so that I may find favor with you. Now consider that this nation is your people.” And he replied, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” “If your presence does not go,” Moses responded to him, “don’t make us go up from here. How will it be known that I and your people have found favor with you unless you go with us? I and your people will be distinguished by this from all the other people on the face of the earth.”

Moses was begging to experience God and God says he would go with Moses. But for Moses, this wasn’t enough. He wanted God’s presence with the people, not just with himself. So Moses asks God, “Please go with us, how can we be your people if your presence is not with us?” And how does God respond?

Exodus 33:17 The LORD answered Moses, “I will do this very thing you have asked, for you have found favor with me, and I know you by name.”

God said he would answer Moses’ prayer. In his love and grace, God says his people can experience his presence. This wasn’t based on their merits or their worthiness, or because they got their act together. They had already established how short they fell. God in his love and mercy answers the prayer of Moses. 

Now under the New Covenant, we all have equal access to God. For those that are in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us. But equal access does not mean equal experience. Perhaps the reason many of us feel spiritually dry is simply that we are not asking. We aren’t desperate like Moses and the children of Israel. 

Luke 11:5-13 He also said to them: “Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I don’t have anything to offer him.’ Then he will answer from inside and say, ‘Don’t bother me! The door is already locked, and my children and I have gone to bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he won’t get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his friend’s shameless boldness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? ”

My kids ask for food a lot. Sometimes I tell them to wait. But never once has my child asked me for food and I gave them a poisonous insect. I may not be the best dad in the world, but I’ve got this part nailed down pretty well. When your kids ask for a banana don’t give them a poisonous snake. Got it. If I was a very imperfect dad would never do that to my children, how much more would God, the perfect Father, allow us to experience his presence? God promises to fill you with his Spirit. 

But I think one of the biggest problems is we are not desperate. We’ve settled for the gifts. But as Moses and the nation of Israel are mourning and asking we see God answer. 

The Return of God’s Presence

Exodus 33:17 The LORD answered Moses, “I will do this very thing you have asked, 

Then in chapter 34, God begins to re-establish his covenant with his people. Writing new tablets signified that God had forgiven Israel and had reinstated his covenant with them. 

Exodus 34:5-7 The LORD came down in a cloud, stood with him there, and proclaimed his name, “the LORD.” The LORD passed in front of him and proclaimed:

The LORD — the LORD is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But he will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the fathers’ iniquity on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.

We saw earlier how sin has generational effects. The good news is that the love and grace of God far outlast any sin. Sin may have effects that last 3 or 4 generations, but the love and mercy of God last for thousands of generations. Sin is powerful, sin is destructive, but sin has nothing on the power of God’s love and compassion and grace and forgiveness. And what’s interesting is that Moses never promises they would get their act together if God would show up. His entire prayer was based on the favor and glory of God. Because God is faithful and merciful and loving he reinstates the covenant with them that they just broke. 

The Old Covenant shaped their identity as God’s people

Exodus 34:10 And the LORD responded: “Look, I am making a covenant. I will perform wonders in the presence of all your people that have never been done in the whole earth or in any nation. All the people you live among will see the LORD’s work, for what I am doing with you is awe-inspiring.

This covenant was something unique that had never been done before. This covenant identified them as God’s people. 

The Law protected their identity as God’s people

In verses 11-17 we get a summed up version of the law again. This was meant to protect them from falling into the idolatry of the nations around them so they could remain as unique as God’s people. Just like the Law was meant to protect Israel from the results of their sin we have been given the Holy Spirit who uses the Word of God to protect us from falling into sin and ruining our lives. It kept them dependent on God. 

In verses 18-26 we see several ceremonies and festivals established. These were part of the rhythm of corporate worship in ancient Israel. They would remind Israel of different things that God has done for them.

Worship reinforced their identity as God’s people

Corporate worship is the coming together of God’s people to publicly declare their number one allegiance is to Christ and Christ alone. 

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.


Corporate worship is the coming together of God’s people to publicly declare their number one allegiance is to Christ and Christ alone. 


In Psalm 73 the psalmist is despairing at the prosperity of the wicked. He was in a spiritual haze until he came to the tabernacle of God and then he understood God’s plan. The breakthrough came in the context of corporate worship which lead him to say 

Psalm 73:25-26 Who do I have in heaven but you? And I desire nothing on earth but you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever.

The people of God need faith-filled corporate worship to regularly reinforce their identity as God’s people. God is giving his people a way to continually experience his presence. Now let’s look at…

The Result of God’s Presence

Check out verse 29 of chapter 34. 

Exodus 34:29 As Moses descended from Mount Sinai — with the two tablets of the testimony in his hands as he descended the mountain — he did not realize that the skin of his face shone as a result of his speaking with the LORD.

When we spend time in God’s presence we are changed. Moses spent time in the presence of the glory of God and his face was radiant. 

2 Corinthians 3:7-11 Now if the ministry that brought death, chiseled in letters on stones, came with glory, so that the Israelites were not able to gaze steadily at Moses’s face because of its glory, which was set aside, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry that brought condemnation had glory, the ministry that brings righteousness overflows with even more glory. In fact, what had been glorious is not glorious now by comparison because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was set aside was glorious, what endures will be even more glorious.

As amazing as the story of Moses is, Paul is reminding us that the ministry of the Spirit in us is more glorious. The law revealed our guilt, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit brings true and lasting righteousness. And we receive this through faith recognizing it is a gift of grace from God that we could never earn. 

2 Corinthians 3:15-18 Yet still today, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.

The more time we spend in God’s presence the more we look like Jesus. The more time we spend in the Word and prayer the more the Holy Spirit will begin transforming us from the inside out. The more we gaze on the glory of God in Jesus the more we reflect the glory of God by living like Jesus.

Now, here is where this all comes full circle. Often you will hear people talk about cycles of shame and cycles of sin. Let’s talk about a cycle I think we all want to be on. The more time we spend with Jesus, the more the Holy Spirit begins to change us and our imputed righteousness begins to become our regular experience. Internal holiness becomes external holiness. Our desires change. Our motives change. Our thoughts change. Our behavior changes. As all this begins to change we slowly lose our desire for sin and we begin to desire the things of God. We want HIM more. We become more desperate for him so we spend more time with him. And the more time we spend with him, the more we change. Charles Spurgeon said,  “The more of heaven there is in our lives, the less of earth we will covet.” 

This brings God glory. This puts on display the worth of God, the supremacy of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit. All of this is made possible by his presence with us. Our greatest need is the presence of God. Simply, abide in his presence, grow in his likeness. 


Abide in his presence, grow in his likeness.


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How Do We Navigate Suffering?

THRIVING IN EXILE

Discover how your Christian identity can enable you to walk through the difficulties in your life well while at the same time point people to the one place they can find lasting hope.

Purchase the paperback version of Thriving in Exile today and I’ll send you the ebook free! Just click the button below to purchase your copy of the book then and I’ll send you the E-Book free of charge. Message me a copy of your order to get your free copy.

Published by Nick Minerva

Nick Minerva lives in Fresno, California with his wife, Sarah and their four children. He currently serves as the Associate Pastor of Fresno Church where he has been on staff for over 10 years.

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