The First Sunday after Trinity June 25, 2000


Catching a Glimpse of God

Exodus 33:17-25


238, 290, 276, 52

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name. And he said, I beseech thee, show me thy glory. And he 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 clift 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. Here ends our text.

In Christ Jesus, our only Savior, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

Did you ever wonder what God looks like? I think everybody wonders about things like that from time to time. Not very often, of course. I’m afraid we spend most of our days too wrapped up in the things we see around us to pay much attention to eternal matters. But every now and then—when you’re reading your Bible quietly at home, or when you’re gazing up at a silent, starlit sky, or when the preacher says something in church that piques your interest—every now and then, your mind wanders from the finite to the infinite. Did you ever wish—that you could catch a glimpse of God?

Moses did. And in our text for today, we hear of how Moses went one step further: he actually asked God if he could see His unconcealed glory. How did God answer this strange request? “Yes and no.” It’s the same answer He gives us, when we want to “see” God, to know more about Who God is, and how He works in this world. If we ask to “see” God, He will always grant the request, but there will always be limits on how much He allows us to “see”. The theme of today’s message is:


  1. He never lets us see more than is good for us
  2. He always lets us see enough to save us!

You’re familiar with Mt. Sinai—that’s where God gave the Old Covenant to the Children of Israel. At Mt. Sinai God handed down those two tablets of stone, the Ten Commandments, to Moses. Here is where the action of our text takes place.

As a prophet and a leader of God’s people, Moses was a pretty special person. God Himself said that, among prophets, Moses was unique. Al the other prophets of God received God’s Word in visions and dreams, but “My servant Moses…is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; and he sees the form of the Lord.Num 12:8-9. The very fact that Moses had been up on Mt. Sinai communing with the Lord for forty days and forty nights showed the special position he held in God’s eyes. All during this time, Moses had been growing bolder and bolder, requesting more and more favors of God. Moses asked God to give him wisdom, so that he might know the right way to lead the people in their journey through the wilderness. God granted the request. He asked God to continue to go before them in the form of a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. God said yes. Finally, Moses got up his nerve for a final request. “And Moses said, ‘Please, show me Your glory.’” Moses wanted to SEE God!

Surprisingly, God agreed to this, too. But there were conditions. God told Moses to stand in a hollow place in the rock of the mountain. When he was in position, God covered the cleft in the rock where Moses was while the glory of the Lord passed by the place. Then God removed His “hand” from the cleft, and permitted Moses to glimpse the very “back” of the dazzling brightness of His glory. “But why the back?” you might ask. Why did God only allow Moses to see the afterglow of His shining presence? Why not show Moses His glory head on? Simple—it was because God loved Moses, and God knew such a sight would kill him! Ever since Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden, every man is sinful and corrupt. A mortal human simply couldn’t survive the sight of the fulness of God’s glory. God explained to Moses, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. Moses was allowed to catch a glimpse of God, but that was all.

The same is true about us Christians today. God never lets us see more of Him than is good for us. When I was living in Washington D.C., I had a friend who worked for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. He told me about how certain intelligence files are classified with the words “NEED TO KNOW” written across the cover. That signified that only those agents who really needed that information to carry out their work were allowed to see the file. For others, the information was unnecessary. In some cases such knowledge might even prove dangerous! That’s just the way God, in His grace, allows us insight into His nature. He does let us “see” His glory, in a sense; He does allow us to understand certain things about Him and the way He works in our lives, but it’s on always on a “need-to-know” basis. Beyond a certain point, our human minds aren’t given the power to understand Gods ways. In Isaiah, God tells us, “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’Is 55:8-9.

Why is that? Is it because God is exclusive, and delights in keeping us in ignorance about His ways? No, it’s because He loves us! He wouldn’t allow Moses to look Him full in the face and die, and He’ll never give us more information about Himself or the way He works in our lives than is good for us.

Think about it—would you really want to understand exactly how God is working in your life, and what He has planned for the future? Would you want to know beforehand when God is bringing an accident or illness into your life to test your faith and make it stronger? Would you like to see clearly the times that God has chosen to take you and your loved ones home to Heaven in death? I, for one, don’t want to see that part of God! Would you really like to see the full glory of God and heaven right now? I submit to you that if we did, you and I would find it utterly impossible for us to go on living in this flawed and imperfect world. No, God knows what is best, and that’s why He never lets us see more than is good for us.

The simple truth is that there are some things about Himself that God doesn’t reveal to us, and doesn’t want us snooping into. The best example is the question, “Why some and not others?” Those five simple words have had Christian scholars going around in circles for centuries, trying to figure out why some people are saved, and others aren’t. The Bible tells us that if a person is saved, the credit is God’s and not his. But if a person is lost, the person himself is to blame, never God. How do these facts agree? They don’t! God just asks us to believe it. God told Moses simply, I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. Let’s not try to rationalize and explain this mystery. Many denominations have gone beyond what God’s Word says on this matter and ended up with a big bundle of false teachings as a result. Rather, let’s just rejoice that we are among those to whom God has revealed salvation!

And that brings us to the second truth that our text illustrates—God never lets us see more than is good for us…but He always lets us see enough! He certainly gave Moses an eyeful, didn’t He? Even hidden in the cleft of the rock, Moses saw more than enough of God’s glory to convince him that this mighty God, this dazzling bright Deity could accomplish anything! If Moses needed reassurance, now he had no doubt in his mind. This mighty God could, and would, lead the Israelites in to conquer the land of Palestine, even though they were hugely outnumbered. This dazzling brightness even turned out to be enough to convince the Israelites, themselves; because they saw the glory of God reflected in Moses’ face! “Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai…that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.” If they had had any doubts about Moses’ authority as their leader, they sure didn’t now. God’s glory, reflected in Moses’ face, was enough to convince them.

The same is true about us. God doesn’t reveal everything about Himself to us, but He always lets us see enough—enough to save us! He gives us His holy Law so we can see clearly that we’re sinners. And He reveals to us the glory of His Gospel, so we can see that there’s a cure for sin.

Many things about God, and God’s ways, are hidden from our eyes. But the glory of God’s Gospel has been clearly revealed to us. The season of Lent is not long past. There we followed our Savior into the Garden of Gethsemane and saw Him struggling in prayer, sweating great drops of blood in dread of the coming ordeal. We stood in the courts of Pilate as the lash of the Roman whip cut into Jesus’ back again and again. We lingered on the hilltop of Calvary as the clanging strokes of the hammer drove the nails through His hands and feet. We heard the final words from the parched lips of the innocent Son of God: “It is finished!” There we got a head-on view of the love of God for sinners. Then our eyes were opened, and we saw the real meaning of God’s grace. On that hill of Calvary on Good Friday, we saw the definition of compassion. That’s where the true glory of God was revealed to our eyes. As Paul said, “It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.II Cor 4:6.

Truly God’s glory has shone into your heart, and into mine. For the Lord has let us in on His plan—a wonderful plan for the salvation of mankind. A plan which no one could ever have guessed. In His love for you and me, the Lord willed that His own precious Son should bear the punishment for the sins of the world. Yes, my friend, that His innocent Son should bear on His shoulders the full weight of your sins, and of mine. What a wonderful plan! That by His substitutionary atonement on the cross, Jesus should free us from all the guilt that plagues our conscience! We see so many about us with long faces still, still dragging that weight around, still burdened by the knowledge of the wrongs they’ve committed. You can live that way, too—many “Christians” do—but what a waste of time! What a false message to give to the world around you! How can you sorrow and despair when God for Christ’s sake has cast your sins into the depths of the sea? How can you wear a long face when God for Christ’s sake has opened the doors of heaven to you, and promised you that eternal paradise is your certain destination? Once again today, your loving Savior says to you, “My son, my daughter: be of good cheer! Your sins are forgiven you!

If you’re like me, perhaps you’ve always had a secret curiosity about what it would like to be very wealthy. One of our professors at Immanuel College surprised us once by saying that he never had a desire for wealth. In fact, he said that he prayed every night that God would keep him poor! A poor man, he said, never has more than is good for him, and it’s easier for poor man to be thankful when God provides enough for his needs. The same is true of our knowledge of God: He never lets us see more than is good for us, but He always lets us see enough to save us. For now, our vision of God is imperfect and incomplete. On the Day of Judgement, that will change. Paul told the Corinthians, “Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.I Cor 13:12. Until that day, let the philosophers ramble on about who God is and what He looks like. We Christians have seen all we need to see. We’ve seen the face of our Savior, dying on the cross for us. We HAVE caught a glimpse of God! AMEN.

—Paul Naumann, Pastor

Sermon Preached June 6, 1999
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA

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