The LORD said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. Exodus 33:1-4
God told Israel to go up to the land he’d promised them. He’d drive their enemies out as he had promised. It would be a delightful land – flowing with milk and honey. You’d think they would have celebrated. Land, no enemies, peace, milk, honey, what more could they want? Yet something about what God said made it a “disastrous word” which caused them to mourn.
What was this “disastrous word”?
“I will not go up among you.”
God knew if his presence went with Israel, in his Holiness he would have to punish their sins and they would be destroyed. So he says you can have the land, peace, and bounty, but you won’t have me. And they recognized that having all God’s blessings without having God himself would be disastrous.
A little later Moses says to the Lord:
“If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (15-16)
It is the presence of the Lord that makes Christians distinct.
Not the fact that we go to church, or believe in God, or help the poor, or educate our children in some particular way, or have particular political views. We are not distinct because we don’t use drugs or curse or watch certain kinds of movies. We are distinct from all the peoples of the earth because we have the very presence of God with us, and because we have the distinct good news of God’s grace through Jesus.
Let’s praise God for the blessing of his presence with us. Of all the blessings we could have, there is none like this. If we have Jesus we have all the riches of God. Let’s ask Jesus to manifest his presence through the Holy Spirit in our churches and lives.
May it be the presence of Jesus that makes us distinct. If he doesn’t show up in our meetings, it won’t matter if we have the best worship, the nicest building, the most articulate messages. Every time we get together on Sunday or Care Group or in other contexts, may we say “Surely God is in this place.”