On Saturday the 23rd the omer ended. Today is Shavuot, the day of Pentecost.
Two thousand years ago a small group of men & women who had studied under an unknown rabbi waited in prayer in an upper room in Jerusalem. They had been waiting for some time, about ten days if we take Acts literally, because Jesus was with them for 40 days before returning to the father. They were waiting in obedience to Jesus instruction to not leave Jerusalem until the Father sent the Gift He had promised. [Acts1:4] That gift was the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. It was a gift that shook the nations & changed the world as the disciples knew it.
The Holy Spirit was given on Shavuot, a festival which celebrates the giving of the Law on Mt Sinai & ends the festival of First Fruits with the wheat harvest. We have seen that Jesus is the Living Word of God & as such becomes the Living Law. We understand that the word Torah, which we translate as Law, would be better rendered Instruction. Thus Christ was the living instruction that showed us how to walk with God.
He is also the first fruits of the resurrection: 1 Cor 15:20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.
Now this is a Holy Spirit Church. We believe implicitly in the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the empowering of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including speaking in tongues, the living presence of the Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Without Him we have religion but no life.
Over the past few weeks we have looked at different aspects of the Holy Spirit, His work & attributes. Today I want to explore with you the heart of God for greater & greater intimacy with those who are called by His name.
We are going to start in Exodus 20:18~21 When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram's horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear. And they said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen. But don't let God speak directly to us, or we will die!" "Don't be afraid," Moses answered them, "for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of him will keep you from sinning!" As the people stood in the distance, Moses approached the dark cloud where God was.
Twice in this passage the word *fear* is used. The Hebrew is yirat. Yirat has a variety of meanings & 3 different levels of meaning. It can mean wonder, amazement, reverence, worship, awe, mystery, astonishment. In its deepest sense it can mean to see something as it really is. When we are talking of God it means to really see God for who He is.
At its most basic yirat refers to the fear of consequences. This is perhaps the most common way westerners would view this word. The 2nd type of yirat concerns anxiety about breaking God’s law. The 3rd type is the reverence that comes from rightly seeing the presence of God in His whole creation, beholding His glory & majesty in all things.
We see all 3 types of yirat at work in this passage but note something ~ perhaps the greatest indictment ever uttered of the Israelites in the Old Testament: God has manifested Himself. He wants to speak to His chosen people & what do they do? They draw back!
Why? Because they were conscious of their unholiness, their lack of righteousness. They did not rightly understand or know the heart of God & so they were unable to approach Him. Moses however drew near & entered the dark cloud where God was.
Remember when we quoted James last week from chapter 4:8~9…& it says Cleanse your hands you sinners ; & purify your hearts, you double minded… It is talking to believers, not unbelievers. The word for sinner is harmatolos, literally one who misses the mark. If our thinking about God is wrong our whole theology will be askew & we will quite literally miss the mark.
Moses however drew near. He had cultivated a heart for God. Proverbs 4:23 says to Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. We guard what we value.
Here is the first key. So many Christians do not guard, treasure, protect what Christ died to acquire for us. We accept it far too casually, almost as if it were our right. We come to church if we feel like it, having been up too late the night before, our hearts unprepared for worship, our minds distracted & then wonder why we have so little of God’s presence.
In many synagogues, inscribed over the Ark, are the words, Da Lifnei Mi Attah Omed, “Know Before Whom You Stand”. Do you know before whom you stand?
Again & again we see in scripture God coming in his glory. The Hebrew word kabowd means the weight of splendour, abundance, honour… In Exodus 33 Moses asks God to show him His glory & God replies that He will…Make my goodness pass before you… Tuwh, goodness, implies that nothing is being withheld.
It is very easy to acquire a distorted image of the Lord & remake Him into what we consider is more
acceptable. Sometimes we do it through ignorance. Sometimes by attempting to reach others by watering down the truth & some do it quite deliberately.
Now we want to see God’s tuwh in operation. It implies that His presence has manifested & where His presence is there is the glory of the Lord. So we need to guard our hearts & develop a correct understanding of who God is.
I am not going to go into great depth. I am merely going to touch on those things that can hinder a greater understanding of who God really is.
· A religious spirit. There is no true freedom in religiosity. Religion always manifests in rules & regulations & they cannot save anyone.
· Thinking we can change His rules to suit ourselves ~ especially when it comes to worship. We are to worship Him in Spirit & in Truth. It does not matter what men have decreed in the matter of a church service. What matters is what God deems acceptable & much of what passes for church has never been ordained of God.
· Thinking you’re being obedient when you’re not. This happens when people step out of the place ordained for them & try to take a place not meant for them. It can look good. Their motive can seem good but if it is not God’s will if will never be blessed.
· An idolatrous heart. We are not to covet anything. It steals our peace, makes us dissatisfied, makes us discontent with what God has supplied. Just look at the story of Israel!
· Drawn away by our own desires [James 1:14] According to Ezekiel 14:4&5 we can become estranged from God by our idols.
· The worst scenario is to get what we have coveted. Israel wanted a king so God gave them one. They were taxed, lost their sons & daughters & eventually were led into captivity by their kings.
I remember the first time I heard the following story because it struck a chord. A visitor attended a Quaker meeting for worship, ignorant of the fact Quaker worship is traditionally silent. After enduring the silence for some time he turned to his elderly
neighbour & enquired: When does the service begin? After some thought the Quaker replied, The Service begins when worship ends.
Here is the core. In the west we tend to compartmentalise our lives. You know: work, home, family, church… we do not think holistically but God does think holistically. Our entire being is to be consecrated to the Lord. True worship is how we live our lives & our lives are to be one of self~sacrifice & dedication.
If you are like me you have no idea of whereabouts in the bible the term worship is first used. It is Genesis 22:5
"Stay here with the donkey," Abraham told the servants. "The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back."
Yep, when Abraham sets out to sacrifice his son.
I have gone this circuitous route to point out that The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously… James 4:5 Love of God is the first commandment but how can we love Him whom we do not know?
Everything we have discussed over the previous weeks about partnership, fellowship, communion with the Holy Spirit is to bring us to that place where the presence of God can manifest in our lives & His glory engulf us!
According to the amount we honour & reverence the Lord our God will be unto us the glory of His presence. It is not in the music. It is not in our prayers. It is evidenced in our obedience. It is not about what we can get from God~ health, wealth & happiness ~ but about aligning ourselves with His known & revealed will & doing what He says. We do not want to be a people who worship the Lord with our lips only while our hearts are far from Him. Matthew 15:8 Rather we want our hearts of stone replaced with hearts of flesh, tender & sensitive to the whispered seeking of the Holy Spirit. It is as we lose ourselves for His kingdom’s sake that we enter most truly, most deeply into the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies, the very presence of God wherein no man can stand & the weight of His Glory falls.
Acknowledgements: I am grateful for the insights of John Bevere for some of this sermon.