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Homeward Bound: Some day Our Prince Will Come

 

Exodus 33:12-23

In the Hebrides Islands, off the coast of Scotland, they have a beautiful legend about a god who lived beneath the sea. This sea-god was lonely, and his great desire was to have a son. Well, one day the sea-god saw a boat sailing amongst the islands. One of the passengers on board the boat was a little boy, and the sea-god wished to take him for his own. He came surging up before the boat and announced his intention. The boat quickly turned and headed for the shore with the sea-god in pursuit. The boat reached the shore and the people lifted the little boy to the safety of the land—just as the sea-god came rushing in on the crest of a wave. They thought the little boy was safe. But, according to the legend, the sea-god managed to splash one little bit of sea-foam into the heart of the child. And, as the sea-god settled back down to his home beneath the waves, he was heard to say: “He will return to me, for I have put a bit of myself in his heart!” Well, the legend has it that years later, the people were astonished to see the little boy, now a strong young man, climb into a boat, row well out beyond the breakers, then suddenly dive into the sea, returning to the god who had put a little bit of himself into his heart.

That’s just a legend, but this is what is true. When God made us, He put a bit of himself, a bit of the kingdom of heaven, a bit of that which is eternal down inside of us. It cries out for Him. It longs to return to Him. That is why, as Augustine put it: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.” That’s the truth we see played out in the experience of Moses as it is recorded for us in Exodus 33. Out of His experience we learn that our greatest privilege is to see God, but our greatest problem is our sin, and our greatest provision is our Savior. Let’s unfold the story together….

First, our greatest privilege is to see God.

When we as Christians talk about heaven, we tend to speak of all its benefits. It’s a place where we shall know absolute joy, undiluted peace, and unending love. It’s a place where we will never hurt and never die. We won’t have that cranky neighbor down the street. We won’t have an aching back and arthritic joints. We won’t have any bills to pay. We won’t have mindless tasks to perform. It’s a place of no hurt, no hazard, no sickness, no stress, no guilt, no grave! But, dear friends, I am here to tell you that those are just the benefits, the by-products, the fruits of heaven—they are not the central joy of heaven. The greatest promise, the greatest privilege of heaven is that we shall see God. We don’t want just the frills of heaven—we want the Father!

Look at Moses. If anybody ever had a great relationship with God, it was Moses. God spoke to him from a burning bush. God guided him into and out of the Egyptian dilemma. Moses was there to see the Red Sea become the red carpet to freedom. Moses was there to see “thecloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night”. Moses knew God. And even when the people angered God so much that He withdrew His promises from them, He did not withdraw from Moses. You would think that would be enough, but it wasn’t enough for Moses. So one day, he swallowed deeply, and took a big breath, and said: “Lord, could you show yourself to me? I want to see your glory. I want to see you face to face.”

You see, there’s something within us that wants to see God, but the problem is that no one has ever seen God. I don’t quite know what to make of all the people who claim to have a vision of God, but what I do know is that they haven’t actually seen Him. That’s what the Bible tells us: “No one has seen God.” Moses didn’t get to see Him in His entirety. Isaiah didn’t get to see Him in His entirety. No one has seen God. God is a spirit. He is invisible, Paul says in Colossians. We on earth look around and say: “Where’s air?” Well, “where’s air not?” is a better question. We ask: “Where is God?”, but “where is God not?” is a better question because God is a spirit. Oh, I know that we sing about gathering around the throne and about God wearing a crown, but friends, that’s for our benefit. That’s just to help us get a word picture. There is no crown big enough for God. There is no throne which can contain Him. He is spirit, and for us to see Him we must be changed. That’s why Jesus said that for us to be able to see the Kingdom of God, we must be “born again.”

Now I don’t know what it’s going to be like when we see God. You’re not going to hear me today try to tell you what He’s going to look like, because we just don’t know. But let me tell you that the leaves of scripture are rustling with the rumor that there will be nothing like it when you see God. I had a lot of verses from Scripture I was going to share with you at this point, but I am not going to do that. I’m going to share with you just one, Psalm 17:15. The Psalmist writes: “Lord, because I have lived right, I will see your face. When I wake up, I will see your likeness and be satisfied.”

Satisfied! We are never satisfied, are we? We lean back in our chairs after Thanksgiving dinner and pat our tummies and say: “I couldn’t eat another bite”—and five hours later, look at us-picking meat off the bone! We get a great night’s sleep, wake up, stretch, feel so good and say: “I couldn’t go back to sleep if somebody paid me”—and twelve hours later, look at us-crawling back between the sheets. All our lives we’ve said: “If I could just have the dream vacation and drink deeply from everything the trip has to offer I would be content”—and you make that trip and you say, “Now I am satisfied”—and six months later you’re calling up the travel agent and pulling out the travel logs again! We say, “If only I could make a little more money—that’s all I need, and I would be happy”—then you get that, and you want what? A little bit more. “If only I had a spouse”—then you get a spouse. “If only I had a child”—then you get a child. “If only I had no children”—and the children move out. “If only I had grandchildren”—then the grandchildren come. “If only I could retire”—then you retire, and then you sit on the rocking chair of life saying, “If only I was young again!”

We are never satisfied. It’s not that we are greedy. Please hear this. It’s not that we are greedy. It’s just that this earth can never give us enough to satisfy us. We will never be satisfied, completely satisfied until we get to heaven and behold the face of God. That’s our greatest promise. That’s our greatest privilege.

But we have a problem—the problem is that sinful people cannot see God. That’s the greatest problem.

That’s exactly what God said to Moses. He said: “Moses, you cannot see my face because no one can see me and live.” Legend has it that the first Indian to see the Grand Canyon tied himself to a tree in terror. Scripture has it that anyone who caught even a glimpse of God wanted to do the same. When Isaiah beheld the splendor of God—he didn’t actually see God, just God’s overpowering glory. Isaiah didn’t stand back and say, “How wonderful!” No, he said: “Oh no, I will be destroyed. I am not pure, and I live among a people who are not pure, but mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” The holiness of God illustrates and highlights the sinfulness of humankind. Did you get that? God’s holiness highlights our sinfulness.

I wrestled this week with how to illustrate this truth. Let me try this. Let’s say you go to a theatre and you go backstage, and you see the curtains, and you see the props. You go into the dressing room, and you pretend that you are an actor or an actress. You sit there on the chair where they put on the makeup. You look up into the big mirror and you smile. You decide that you look pretty good. Then you notice that around the mirror is a row of lightbulbs. So you reach over and you switch on the lights. Then you look at your face in the mirror. Every line and every blemish on your face is now highlighted. Every secret of your skin is now revealed, and there is something in you that wants to turn the light off! You see, God’s holiness highlights our sinfulness. And when we stand before God, if we are not in Christ, we are going to be very much ashamed of ourselves. That’s our greatest problem.

So, where does that leave us?

If our greatest privilege is to see God, but our greatest problem is our sin—if as Jesus says in Matthew 5:8 that only “the pure in heart shall see God” then where do we turn? We turn to our greatest provision—our Savior.

I want you to note with me what Moses did in order to see God. Now think very carefully with me. Think. Turn up the juices in those little brain cells of yours. You can do it. Think about what we are told in Exodus. What did Moses do to see God? How many good deeds did he perform? How much money did he give? How many candles did he light? What did Moses do to see God? The answer? Nothing. He did absolutely nothing. At this point, God took over. God took center stage. God said: “Okay. I’m going to let you see at least a part of me. I’ve got a place where you can stand so I’ll put you in that place. I’ve got a rock to secure you, so I’ll put you on the rock. I’ve got a crevice in which you can hide, so I’ll put you in that crevice. I’ve got a hand big enough to protect you—so I’ll cover you with that hand. And then I will say your name and pass in front of you.” Now understand, please, that Moses is just standing there. He isn’t doing anything. You see, my friends, when it comes to seeing God, God is the prime mover. God is the one who reveals Himself. God is the one who does it.

Remember that, please. If any of us see God when we get home to heaven, it won’t be because we did it. It will be because God placed us on the rock of Jesus Christ, and hid us in the crevice of Christ’s amazing grace, and covered us with the pierced hand of the loving Savior. If we see God, it won’t be because we do it—it won’t be because of anything we do or don’t do—it will be because of God. God will be merciful to whom God wants to show mercy. God will be kind to whom God wants to show kindness. That’s what we Presbyterians call “the sovereignty of God.” He is King, and He controls it. So what do we do? We do what Moses did. We seek God. We have to approach the throne of grace and say: “I don’t deserve it. I am not worthy of it, but please show yourself to me.” That’s all Moses did, but that was enough.

Jesus said: “Seek and you will…” what? “Find. Ask and you will…receive, knock and the door will be…opened to you.” Please hear this. I don’t say too many wise things, but I am about to say one, so get ready! There are many things which you can seek on earth and you will not find. You can seek power and not find it. You can seek money and not find it. You can seek love and not find it. You can seek happiness and not find it. But God is guaranteed. God will reveal Himself to anyone who seeks Him. Isn’t that great? The road to hell is not paved with good intentions—it’s paved with no intentions—those who have no intention of seeing God, no desire to draw near to Him. Finding God, you see, is not a matter of finding the right church, the right denomination, the right scripture, the right doctrinal interpretation. Finding God is simply a matter of seeking Him in your life.

Do you remember in Walt Disney’s classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs how this beautiful, young maiden, trapped in poverty in the forest of rejection, sings “Some day my prince will come”? But the prince doesn’t come. Instead, the witch comes, and a spell falls over Snow White, and she falls asleep. Friends, the witch has come to God’s people, and he has cast a spell over the earth so the people do not see. Paul says in II Corinthians 4 that “the evil one has blinded the eyes of unbelievers so that they do not see.” If heaven is so great, why don’t we talk about it on the evening news? Why isn’t it on the tip of every human tongue? If heaven is so great, why is it that even Christians occupy themselves with puny matters and small discussions. Because the evil one has caused us to fall asleep.

But here is what is true: some day our prince will come. God’s Word promises that one day the heavens will split with the sound of trumpets, and Christ will come again—not slipping into a stable this time, but thundering in overpowering glory. That is our hope. You know, the early Christians always greeted one another with the Aramaic “Maranatha”, which means, “Take heart, the Lord may come today.” What a thrilling greeting! In a world of aspirin and ulcers, tension and fears, hunger and hatred, warfare and waste, what a good word to hear: “Take heart, the Lord may come today.”

He has not come back yet, at least as far as I know. But He will. Some day our prince will come. I don’t know when exactly—and that’s not important anyway. The thing that matters is that we know that he will come back, and then we shall see him face to face.

Maranatha, my beloved!

Take heart, the Lord may come today!

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