First Sunday after Easter – April 19, 2020
Text reading – Danielle
Our scripture reading this afternoon is from the Old Testament book of Exodus, chapter 33, verses 7-11. Hear the word of the Lord:
“Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. 8 And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. 9 As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. 10 Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. 11 The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”
May the Lord add his blessing to His holy Word.
11 The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”
That metaphor of face to face (show hands) friendship is a vitally important and beautifully suggestive truth for us to get rooted deep in our hearts, friends.
If we can change our paradigm to understand our relationship with God to be this, not this or this, but this: face to face, eye to eye, mouth to mouth in closest proximity, where each looks deeply into the soul of another, then we will find that true rest and joy and peace we all long for.
This ideal of face to face companionship between humans and God runs throughout the biblical story, from the opening chapters of Genesis to the final chapters of the book of Revelation. Let’s look at this together. Consider Gen 1:26:
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…”
To be made in the image or likeness of God is to have the capacity to accurately to reflect what he is like, to re-present him to the rest of the created realm. Imaging God is the necessary precondition for our genuine fellowship with God, because only someone like God can deeply know and meaningfully interact with God. Ex: you can’t meaningfully interact with a hamster…
So in Chapter 1 of Genesis, we see God creating human beings with the natural capacity to be friends with him, love him, communicate with him, and interact in profoundly significant ways with Him.
Chapter 2 goes on to provide some details about how God went about creating the original humans. Genesis 2:7 reads:
7 Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
What a touching scene this is: God gathers from the earth the carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, calcium, nitrogen, the basic elements needed to create our physical bodies.
Then in the most intimate and tender way, SLIDE 5 he cups Adam’s physical body and breathes Adam’s spirit into existence; exhales what is inside him into Adam, suggesting this deep sharing of life, resulting in irreplaceably close and. sweet companionship
There are other suggestions in narrative that build on this: the Lord plants garden, presumably for the shared enjoyment of God and the humans; He appoints the humans as caretakers; the Lord walks in the garden; God and the human couple talk together.
See? These are all things that one friend does with another to nurture a face to face relationship founded on mutual affection, freedom, trust and respect.
Now what we know from subtle clues in the text and from other scriptures is that Adam and Eve were not the only ones enjoying this garden. Eden was created to be the place where heaven and earth intersected, and in the garden would have been all kinds of other created beings who were part of God’s spiritual or heavenly family: cherubim, seraphim, angels, watchers, sons of God, members of God’s divine council, etc. Because of time constraints, we won’t get into that right now, but its an important thing you’ll want to tuck in the back of your head, and we will develop it in the future.
So, at the very outset of salvation history, you have this clear picture of the Creator living in companionable relationship with his human creation, the apex of his created works on earth.
Then, if we fast-forward to the very end of the biblical story, we find in Rev 22 a luminous description of the New Jerusalem in this reconstituted cosmos—a new heaven and new earth—radiant with the glory of God, populated with angels, living creatures and humans, spiritual and material beings, living in harmony and exuberant joy. It is a recapitulation of Eden: a bringing together again God’s heavenly and earthly creations in a harmonious and unified whole. John says:
The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
We will be face to face with the Lamb of God and as other scriptures make clear, with the Father. And we will bear the Lamb’s name on us as our essential identity.
So, from beginning to the end, the bible teaches that God created us to flourish in personal, intimate, reciprocal companionship with Himself. This is our created identity and our final destiny: Face to face (hands) with the triune God: Father, Son and Spirit.
Why is it so important we understand this?
Because we are bombarded with a chorus of voices everyday that temps us to define ourselves in other ways…by our job, how much money make, how together we appear, what college we attended, the clothes we wear, the kind of phone we carry, how smart we are, how funny or good looking or fit we are; the list continues ad infinitum.
God is saying to us: No! You are defined by your relationship to me. Period. That’s both equalizing and liberating.
It’s liberating in that it frees us from the need to impress, to prove our worth. So we can simply be whom God made us to be.
It’s equalizing in that it levels the playing field. Whether you are the president of the US, the Queen of England, Bono, Kim Kardashian, Tom Brady or the most impoverished and desperate indigent living on the streets of Calcutta, you are not defined by your smarts, your fame, or your bank account. You are defined by your relationship with the Father in Christ through the Spirit: by whether you have embraced your identity as God’s beloved and then are living out, day to day, a response of obedient love and grateful loyalty.
Your identity is tied to the fact that you were lovingly made by God for God. Guys, if we receive that truth, take it deep into us, let it permeate the neural structures of our brains, let it penetrate the interstices of our hearts, those small cracks and crevices where our insecurities and fears lurk, then we will find the rest and peace and joy we all secretly long for. We will finally be at home. Because it is precisely here, in this location—this place of our belovedness—that we were designed to live and thrive and be a blessing to others.
Now, History of humanity is a long, tragic tale of people turning away from God to other things they think will give them life: excitement, joy, fame, riches, happiness.
So, throughout the biblical story, you find these repeated pleas of God for people to turn back to him, the source of true life. In Jeremiah 2, we read:
Jeremiah 2:5, 13, 27b
“Thus says the Lord, “What injustice did your fathers find in Me, that they went far from Me?… They have deserted Me…For they have turned their back to Me, and not their face.”
And yet, the Lord doesn’t give up on his errant image bearers. He disciplines them, but he continues to love them with repeated attempts to bring them to a place of humility, repentance and restoration. Joel 2:12 is typical:
“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
God tries to coax them back because this SLIDE 11 is what God wants.
Yet it is this SLIDE 12 that people usually give him: I got this, God; go bother someone else. I’m doing fine on my own.
The history of Israel is a one long tragic story of God’s people turning away from God, God going after them to woo them back, even sending in foreign armies to beat up on them and take them into exile, the people finally crying out to God in their brokenness, and God graciously bringing them back for another round. And the cycle repeats itself over and over and over again.
But then, something new happens. God intervenes. The second person of the Godhead, God the Son, takes on human flesh as a baby born in Bethlehem. He comes to make this face to face relationship possible on a permanent basis, with out the endless repetition of turning away from God and turning back…. He cancels our legal debt once and for all, restores our friendship with the Father and later sends the Holy Spirit to live inside us.
And Jesus modeled for us how to live out this face to face life with the Father, because He himself lived it consistently as a human being throughout the entirety of his 33 years on earth. The whole time he was on earth, he enjoyed an uninterrupted intimacy with the Father. Look at how the Apostle John explains this in his Gospel:
18 “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is on the breast of the Father, He has explained Him.”
Breast = Kolpos, NIV/ESV-“at Father’s side” weak; KJ-“bosom” weird; kolpos is the space between the shoulders, the breast
The picture John gives us looks like this, one of endearing, intimate relatedness….SLIDE 14
The Passion paraphrase captures this verse beautifully:
“No one has ever gazed upon the fullness of God’s splendor
except the uniquely beloved Son,
who is cherished by the Father
and held close to his heart.
Now he has unfolded to us
the full explanation of who God truly is!
The same concept of face to face companionship between the Father and pre-incarnate son is expressed at the very beginning of the John’s Gospel, where we read in Chapter 1, verses 1 and 2:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was with God.”
We’re all very familiar with those opening words. Only, that’s not exactly what John says. What the text actually says is:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was pros (“toward”) God and the Word was with God.”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was face-to-face with God and the Word was with God.”
The preposition John uses is pros. If he wanted to say “with” he would have used meta– or para-. But instead he chose a preposition that underscores the unique, proximate face to face companionship enjoyed between the Father and the Son.
Again, God is wanting us to get an image in our head that looks something like this
So, when you think about God’s relationship to you, you see a pair of the kindest eyes looking into yours, a beautiful face lit up with a radiant smile, a tender embrace that lets you know that you are comprehensively known, profoundly loved and forever safe in the arms of a gentle omnipotence.
It was this kind of face to face intimacy that Jesus modeled for us. It’s the kind that the Father and Son enjoyed from eternity past and continue to enjoy now, and it is exactly this intimacy into which they are inviting us.
As Christ-followers, every single one of us is invited to host the Father and Son in the Spirit in the core of our beings in rich, conscious, deeply personal fellowship.
Look at how Jesus describes it by mixing the face to face metaphor with the idea of spatial location or home.
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
Can we really be conscious that Jesus and the Father are at home in our hearts? We really can. If we love him, we’re going to follow him in loyalty and love, and the Father and Son in the Spirit are irresistibly drawn to every human heart that longs for more of God. It is in such hearts that they “make their home”.
Most of us have experienced moments when the presence of God was so real so close as to be palpable. You’ve felt Him. There is nothing like those moments in the realms of eternity. To fellowship face to face with God through the mediation of the Spirit is the richest, most glorious most joyful experience a human being can have in this life.
And yet, the fellowship we have with God is this life, as wonderful as it is, in nothing compared to what we will experience in the life to come. In this life, though we share in his intimate companionship through Christ in the Spirit, we don’t see him with our eyes, so our experience of him is incomplete. We can’t see his face visually yet, because we still live in bodies that haven’t been fully redeemed, fully integrated into the new cosmic order of the renewed heaven and earth. So, the sight of our infinitely glorious, radiant God would overwhelm our senses, burn our retinas and, like gamma radiation from a nuclear reaction, bake and undo the cellular structure of our bodies.
And so, God will give us new bodies in the resurrection of the righteous: bodies that can bear direct contact with himself. And it is in those new, reconstituted bodies that we will live in his presence for eternity.
In the same chapter of John, Jesus said:
John 14:2a, 3
“My Father’s house has many homes (same word as used above, when he said he and the father would come to make their home with us) …I’m going to prepare a place for you (common to send one person ahead to prepare things)…And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
Jesus is saying he’s going to leave them. Going to ascend back to the Father in heaven 40 days later on the day we now celebrate as Ascension Day, May 21 of this year. Then, he says, he’s going to return to earth in an event commonly known as his parousia, “appearing” or his second coming. At that time, he will gather all of his people, so we can live with him and the Father visibly face to face in uninterrupted joy forever in the new heaven/new earth with the rest of God’s family—all of redeemed humanity and all of his heavenly family.
So, here’s the take away, friends… SLIDE 21 The Creator of the universe, our heavenly Father, has drawn you into a relationship with himself, through your faith in Jesus Christ and the ministry of his Holy Spirit, which looks like this. One in which he looks on you with adoring affection, even in your sleep.
So, let the thought of being on the Fathers breast amaze and thrill you. Smile SLIDE 22 So, rest, luxuriate in the gentle knowledge that you are his beloved and that in Christ, he is well pleased with you.
Okay, let me end with a story. Ex: A priest in a small parish in rural France noticed that a certain older peasant would come into the church everyday and spend several hours just sitting there, doing nothing. After several days of this, his curiosity got the best of him and he asked him what is was that he did during that time. The man answered: “Oh, I look at Him, and He looks at me, and we are happy”.
Take time this week to look at God and to be looked at by God and to share in each other’s happiness.