Getting Closer to God

Getting to Know God

Pastor Lutzer | March 7, 1993

Summary

Every single trial that we have in life is designed by God to nudge us closer to Him.

Selected highlights from this sermon

Knowing God is crucial for our lives and our eternal destination, and He uses every little thing to draw us to Himself. God revealed Himself to Moses through a number of difficult circumstances that weren’t always easy for Moses.

When we face opposition and difficulties, we need to remember who God is and that He is absolutely faithful to what He has promised us.

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Recently I was on a plane sitting next to a Jewish woman. We were discussing Judaism. She was telling me about her religion, and in order to get down to more important issues so far as where she was at, I turned to her and said, “I’m going to ask you something. Could you say that you really know God?”

Let’s suppose somebody asked you that question. Do you really know God? J. I. Packer, in his excellent book entitled Knowing God gives four characteristics of people who really know God. Let’s use them as a checklist and see how you do.

First of all, Packer says that people who know God have great energy for God. They have great energy for God! In Daniel 11:32 it says, “The people who know their God shall be strong, and shall do exploits.” When they see the name of God dishonored they are invigorated because they are jealous for the honor of God’s name. And they wait on God and receive strength to change the situation.

Secondly, Packer says that they have great thoughts about God. You read the book of Daniel and you discover that Daniel has some of the most beautiful passages in all the Bible regarding the awesome government of God throughout the whole universe. “It is the Most High who rules in the kingdom of men and gives those kingdoms to whomever he wills.” Great thoughts about God!

One of the greatest needs of the church today is to expand its conception of God at least partially in the direction of the wonderful revelation of God. Nobody can comprehend God completely, but we all need to think greatly of Him. Discouragement oftentimes means that we are not depending on God, that we are clinging to a piece of driftwood as if God no longer exists.

Third, Packer says that they show great boldness for God. Do you remember that Daniel was told that he should not pray toward Jerusalem or anywhere else? And there was a decree made in the kingdom that those who prayed would be thrown into the lion’s den. Was Daniel intimidated? Was he intimidated as some of us might be tempted to be someday when we need to compromise our religious convictions so far as the state is concerned as our freedoms are being stripped away? No, Daniel continued to pray, the Bible says, as formerly. And then he was thrown into the lion’s den, and the lions, of course, their mouths were closed. But let’s suppose that the lions had torn him apart. Would it make any difference? No, because obedience is really what counts. Those who know God have great boldness for God.

And number four, they have great contentment with God. I told you before that George Mueller believed that the first duty of every single Christian is to be content with his God. Contentment with God means that we can do without some things that we think we need because we have an inner contentment with God. We can survive a ruptured relationship. We can live through some pretty tough situations because we know God, and God gives us the inner sense of peace. The condemnation is gone and the presence of God by faith dwells within us. We have contentment with God.

This is the third in a series of messages on the life of Moses, and I want you to be reminded as you turn in your Bibles to Exodus 4 that Moses had spent some time in Egypt, and then he spent some time in Midian, and now the Lord God was taking him back to Egypt to become the leader of his people. But before Moses could go to Pharaoh, before he could do something mighty for God, he had to know God better. And what I’d like to do today is to give you three instances—three experiences—that Moses had. And each of those experiences drew him closer to God and he understood one of the attributes of God just a little better, and how much he needed those experiences.

First of all, God says, “I’m going to help you to understand my sovereignty.” The first attribute—the sovereignty of God. Notice in chapter 4 Moses goes back and tells his father-in-law that he has to leave for Egypt. And it says in verse 20 that he took his wife and children. Verse 21: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son.”’”

What the Lord is saying here in this text is, “I am sovereign in history. I am sovereign over individuals” and as we shall see in a moment, the Lord is sovereign even over nations. God is saying, “Moses, I want you to go back to Egypt, and as for Pharaoh, I will harden his heart.”

Oh, the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart has caused so many problems for people throughout the ages. Why would God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Well, first of all, let me point out that God probably did not do it directly but indirectly. He may simply have withdrawn His grace in the life of Pharaoh, and allowed that hard heart to get even harder. Or maybe He used Satan to do it. God sometimes uses Satan for His own purposes, that is, for God’s own purposes, because in the Old Testament God has oftentimes said to do things that He actually permits to be done. And that makes sense when you come to think of it. Because He is God, He could choose not to permit it. Therefore, if He permits it, it is spoken of as if He has done it.

But you say, “Well, even so, Pastor Lutzer, why take a man’s heart and harden it?” Well, I need to tell you it is so that God might display His power, and that God wanted a Pharaoh whose hard heart was made even harder so that He would withstand the children of Israel, and eventually God would overcome Pharaoh and crush him and use him as an example of the sovereignty of God in human history, even in the midst of leaders such as Pharaoh.

You say, “Well, are you sure you’re not going beyond the Scripture?” No. I want you to turn today to the ninth chapter of the book of Romans where Paul refers to this explicitly as an example of God’s power. Romans 9:17: “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’” And Paul says, “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.”

Do you have trouble with that? This past week I met someone who said that in their church when a minister is expounding the book of Romans he begins with chapter 8 and begins with chapter 12 because there’s an agreement that 9, 10 and 11 will not be commented on because they are too controversial. Well, I’m sorry about that. I won’t tell you what denomination it is, but why are we ashamed to say what God said? I know that there is something within us that says, “That doesn’t make sense. How then can He blame Pharaoh if He hardens his heart?” Isn’t that exactly what you are thinking? If you’re awake you should be.

And Paul knows that’s what we’re going to be thinking, so he says in verse 19: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’” Do you know what Paul says? He says it more politely than I’m going to say it, but he’s saying, “Would you please shut up?” You have no right to question God.

On the contrary, “Who are you, oh man, who answers back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? Cannot God take a man whose heart is hard and withdraw His presence and let him become harder if God wants to demonstrate something?” And the Apostle Paul says, “Yes, He can.”

You know, the freedom of the will has been a controversial point in church history for 2,000 years. Erasmus was a man who wrote a book on the freedom of the will. Luther believed that if you believe in the freedom of the will you do not understand salvation. Therefore, Luther wrote his best book entitled The Bondage of the Will, and what Luther said in that book is that your will is something like a beast. And he says, “If God rides the beast, why then indeed the beast goes where God wills that it go. And if Satan rides the beast, the beast goes where Satan wills that the beast go.”

You know, we are berserk with the question of “Who am I?” Everybody is asking “Who am I?” That was never a question for Martin Luther. Martin Luther’s question was not, “Who am I?” but rather, “Whose am I?” To whom do I belong? If I do not belong to God I am not the free man that I think I am, but I end up doing what Satan wants me to do. And that’s why I plead with you this morning that if there is at least a spark of desire for you to do God’s will, cry out to God and ask Him to help you to do it, because you are not as free as you think you are. And the Bible would teach us to beware of a hardened heart that could become harder.

Now, the Lord is saying to Moses, “Moses, I have control over Pharaoh, but also over nations.” Verse 22: “You shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn.’” Israel was God’s firstborn. The Lord says, “I have chosen you.” Do you remember God chose Abraham when he was still an idol worshipper? It was not because there was some righteousness in Abraham. God says, “I’m going to sovereignly choose you as mine. And so He chose Abraham and He chose the Jewish race. And what the Lord is saying to Moses upfront is, “Moses, I am sovereign over history. I want you to know that My control even extends providentially to the human wills, and to human beings and to nations.”

Now, let me ask you a question. Why is it that Moses needed to know that before he was going back to Egypt? He needed to know it because the Lord says, “Moses, I want you to know that I am the God of obstacles. You are going to run across someone who is going to be very stubborn. But I do not want you to think that that stubbornness was somehow beyond My control, or that his stubbornness was going to block My purposes. Oh no! No, Moses, you must understand that even human stubbornness can bring about and fulfill my intentions and my purposes because I am God. Moses, do not take the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart as if it is something beyond that which is my providential will.”

There is no obstacle that stands in the way of what God wants to do. And Moses needed that. And you and I need it because we encounter stubborn people, if not every day, at least twice a day. And therefore, what we need is to recognize that God works in and through all of these human dilemmas.

So first of all, the Lord says, “Moses, you need to understand my sovereignty.” Secondly, the Lord said to Moses, “You need to understand my holiness.” Now, here’s a puzzle in verse 24. I say puzzle because many people have wondered what this text teaches. It says: “At a lodging place on the way (They’re going back to Egypt) the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and touched Moses' feet with it and said, ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!’ So he (God) let him alone. It was then that she said, ‘A bridegroom of blood,’ because of the circumcision.”

Just a little vignette inserted as they are going back to Egypt! What does it mean? You see, Moses was now to go as a leader of the people, and God had told Abraham that “all of your seed should be circumcised because circumcision would be a sign of the covenant,” and Moses had been disobedient in his household and had not done it. And evidently he had not done it because his wife did not want to have it done because she said, “It is bloody and it is detestable.”

And so they are going along and this incident happens. What God is saying in the strongest possible language to Moses is, “Moses, number one, I want you to get something straight. You are the head of your home. And if you think that you can go back to Egypt and be some kind of a leader there when your own act isn’t cleaned up, when you have not displayed obedience in those things that pertain to your domestic matters, I want you to know that you need to do that first. Furthermore, you need to be reminded of the covenant, because if you are not reminded of it, you are going to collapse into despair.”

By the way, as we go through the life of Moses, I want you to watch every time his wife is referred to, because I have a suspicion that he and Zipporah didn’t really get along too well. But more than that, the lesson to be drawn is this: There are some men who are not spiritual leaders in their home because their wife is resistant. She may say, “I don’t want to go to church. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do that.” And so he thinks to himself, “Well, to keep peace, I’ll do nothing.” Listen to me very carefully. God will judge you and discipline you for your disobedience.

Now oftentimes in homes it is the opposite way, isn’t it? It is the wife who wants to be spiritual, and she looks to her husband for that spiritual leadership, and it isn’t there. And bless her heart, she has to step in and be a spiritual leader to the children. But I want to say to all of the men that are here today, the married men, the fathers, as I say to myself, God says, “First of all, you must understand that I want obedience even in your home leadership.”

Furthermore, Moses could have argued with God and said, “Well, God, I’m already going to Egypt. I’m being obedient to the big thing.” And God says, “I want you to know that being obedient to the big call does not let you off the hook for obedience in lesser matters. I am holy and I expect you to obey.”

So Moses has had a lesson in the sovereignty of God. He’s had a lesson in the holiness of God, and now he needs a
third lesson. Let me tell you why he needed this third lesson. It’s because when he went to Egypt he did get a chance to talk to Pharaoh, and he said, “Pharaoh, would you please let us go and worship God for three days?” He’s making a request that is very reasonable. He’s not saying, “We’re going to leave permanently,” but he’s saying, “at least for three days.”

The king of Egypt says to himself, “What are these Jews up to? They’re asking these questions because they don’t have enough to do.” And now notice what the text has to say in verse 7 of chapter 5. “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves.”

Let’s skip to verse 19: “And the foremen of the sons of Israel saw that they were in trouble because they were told, ‘You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves.’” In other words, what Pharaoh did was he responded negatively and said, “Look, in light of the fact that all you are worried about is taking three days off, I’m going to give you even more work.”

The children of Israel were slaves. They were building cities. They were building with bricks, and they were given straw to do it, and he said, “I want the same quota of bricks and that you gather your own straw.” And those whips that were used for those Jewish slaves were brought down on the backs of God’s people, and there was a reaction towards Moses. Let’s read about it.

It says in verse 20: “They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; and they said to them, ‘The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.’ Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.’”

Here’s Moses, obedient, trying to do God’s will, reluctantly dragged out of the desert, brought back to Egypt, and now is the time when he expects finally the people will accept him. He already experienced the pain of rejection 40 years ago, and he comes in obedience to God, and it blows up in his face. The people rebel, and now his own people are angry with him. One of the hardest things for us to endure is when we do right and get blamed for it or get misunderstood for it. It is difficult to take.

So God says, “Moses, you understand now something about My sovereignty. I am sovereign in history. Pharaoh’s heart is in My hand. You are My chosen people. Understand that I work in and through the events of history. You understand something about My holiness. You need to obey when it comes to your family and in all other commandments that you know about. But now, Moses, to comfort you, you need to understand My faithfulness.”

And what the Lord does in chapter 6 is He says, “Moses, I’m going to tell you something that is going to give you the courage to keep going despite your setback.” He says in verse 3: “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them.”

Bible scholars have wrestled with this. They’ve said the word Jehovah occurs before this. It says the word Jehovah. Yes, it does, but God never revealed what that name really meant. And now He says, “Moses, I’m going to reveal Myself to you as the covenant-keeping God. And I want to assure you of some things that will carry you through the black discouraging times when you are blamed for being obedient.” And in verses 6, 7 and 8 the Lord uses the words “I will” seven times. He says: “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm. [I will take you for my people, I will be your God and with great acts of judgment.]” Verse 8: “I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession.”

“Moses, understand something. The opposition that you encountered is temporary opposition. If you can see the big picture you will know that I am absolutely faithful to who I am no matter what you may be going through.”

The faithfulness of God!

I’d like to just bring you up to date on what has happened in my life in the last 12 hours. This past week I spent a couple of days in Orlando, Florida. A friend who was a former member of Moody Church encouraged me to go, and I had the opportunity of being in Orlando. And in order to save money I spent last night, such as it was, in Orlando.

Now, you have to understand that I left at 6 o’clock this morning Chicago time, 7 o’clock Orlando time. And to be picked up by the shuttle service at my hotel, the only time it would fit was 5:20 this morning. And so I phoned the hotel operator last night in Orlando and I said, “You know, I need to be awakened at 4:45.” I said, “Can you absolutely assure me that I’ll get that wake-up call?” And she said, “Your name is on the computer, Sir,” and hung up.

Alright, here I am now. My name is on the computer, and I begin to go to bed and thinking, “Lord, You know I need to sleep,” and I’m quoting some verses of Scripture, but I can’t get this computer out of my mind because, you know, to me a reliable computer is an oxymoron. It’s something like army intelligence or mail service or tax benefit. I put it in the same category.

So last night as I was sleeping I thought to myself, “Now, you know, whether or not I make this flight, and whether or not Daryl has to preach at Moody Church this Sunday morning, it’s totally dependent on a computer I have never seen.” And I began to think, “You know, the computer may not break down, but what if she got the wrong room number, because it was a four-digit number, and she obviously was in a hurry,” so I could imagine the telephone ringing three doors down at 4:45 in the morning.

Then I thought to myself, “You know, maybe she has the right number and maybe the computer won’t break down, but what if she didn’t get the right time?” So I thought to myself, “There’s only one way to do that and that is make sure that even apart from this phone call, which is supposed to come, that I will be awake by the time it’s 4:45.” So I’m sleeping and suddenly I wake up and I think, “Surely this is the time.” I turn on the light. 2:15. And I thought to myself, “It’s too long before I have to go. I guess I should get some more sleep.” I go back to sleep for a while. I wake up and turn on the light. 3:05!

So I’m laying there and I’m saying to myself, “You know, I wonder is it worth going back to sleep? Let’s see! 4:45! How long is that? And I guess I drifted off but I began to think, “You know, I could get up. I could practice my sermon. I could learn my notes. And I could pray.” But then on the other hand I need sleep too. And I guess you can guess which one of those won out.

Suddenly the phone rings, and I can’t believe it. It’s 4:45, and you probably know the rest of the story. I made my flight. My lovely wife and daughter were at O’Hare Field to pick me up, and here I am.

Now, I’m not telling you that story because I want you to feel sorry for me and say, “You know, the pastor is really tired this morning.” Listen, when you are my age you can take a night like that. It’s just that you don’t want two in a row like that. Nor am I telling this story so that for those of you who think perhaps I’m not as sharp this morning as I should be, that I’m trying to grope for an excuse.

But on the flight today I thought, “You know, there is such a thing that is not an oxymoron.” When God puts us in His computer, when our name is written on His hands, when His covenant towards us is absolutely certain, and He says, “I will,” the faithfulness of God is not an oxymoron. That is something that you can depend upon. And when the final wake-up call comes, we will be with Him because God has said, “I will.”

Now what I’d like to do is to simply summarize what I have to say to you this morning, and remind you that every single trial that we have in life, every single experience that you had this week that you did not like, all is designed by God to nudge us closer to Him. I want you to know today that God wants to strip away all things so that we love Him supremely.

And remember we seldom depend upon Him unless we absolutely have to, and that’s why sometimes we meet people who are stubborn, and there are those personality conflicts and those needs. And that’s why sometimes we experience in life our own disobedience and as a result we are disciplined by God, and we have needs within our own families. And that’s why we oftentimes may be discouraged because we do what is right and it backfires. We feel betrayed. And God says to you and me, “I want you to know that I am there. And I am drawing you closer to myself. I am lifting you up because I want you to come directly to My heart.” And so here are some hearts that are hard.

I need to tell you this morning that undoubtedly in a congregation like this there are some people whose hearts are turned off and are hard toward God. There are other people whose heart is home with God. I urge you today to open your heart to God if you find any desire to seek Him to do so, and to come to Jesus Christ because that is the first step that needs to be taken in getting to know God.

At the conference I attended, Joni Eareckson was there—Joni Eareckson Tada. Many of you will recognize her as the young woman who was paralyzed (a quadriplegic) 26 years ago in a diving accident. And you’ve read her books and you know of her. She was interviewed by one of the local people at the conference, and I want to read a couple of excerpts.

She said, “I’ve been in a wheelchair for almost 26 years. That’s a long time to be paralyzed. Just when it seems I’m managing it I get a new affliction that prevents me from keeping commitments, deadlines and the like. But God is more concerned with my growing closer to His heart that in keeping my commitments.”

Could I say parenthetically that Joni told us that the reason that she looks forward to heaven is not because she’s going to have a whole body finally. She said it is true that she can hardly wait until she has her own set of legs by which she can stand so that she can immediately fall at the feet of Jesus Christ. But she said, “The reason that I long for heaven is not because of that, but I long to be free from the struggle of sin within my own mind and heart.”

But let me continue to read. The questioner asked her, “What roadblocks on the quest for God has your suffering caused you?” She said, “It’s odd but my suffering, mostly my physical affliction, has been that which has made my quest for God easier. At night I have to lie down by 8 o’clock and all that I can move is just my head.” She said, “That’s like fasting. My disability is a physical condition that subdues my wanton spiritual appetites.” She said, “I have to go to God. I have no other place to go, so my affliction has not been a roadblock on my quest for God. It has paved the way.”

She’s written a book entitled The Glorious Intruder. And she says, “The only way in which we can enjoy the thought of heaven is to allow God to take our heart home first.” And then she says, “I love the verb (the tense) the writer of Hebrews used in describing us in Christ. He says that we have already come to the heavenly Jerusalem, to Mount Zion, to the joyful assembly. Sometimes I feel like physical affliction causes me to see beyond time. Others who are severely disabled have told me they experience the same thing. When you so long for eternity, it’s as though time doesn’t exist. That doesn’t make people like me no earthly good. It just makes us understand more and be more circumspect in our lives.”

I want to conclude by speaking to you very plainly. I want you to know today that if you accomplish nothing in life at all except to know God and to worship Him, you will have delighted His heart.

To a woman who had had five marriages and now was living with a sixth man because she didn’t even want to go through the rigmarole of marriage after five bad experiences, Jesus said that the Father seeks worshippers and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth because God seeks worshippers. Getting to know God is the most important quest that you and I could ever embark on, or as Augustine said, “Oh Lord, Thou has made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their all in Thee.” And that’s why you have those experiences you did last week. That’s why life is tough. God is nudging us.

As Joni Eareckson has learned, God is nudging us to come directly to His heart. Moses had to learn it. You have to learn it. I have to learn it. And it begins by knowing Christ.

Let’s pray.

Our Father, we do want to thank You today for those who have gone on before, whether Moses or Joni Eareckson, who are our examples in the flesh of knowing You. Father, cut away all the branches, all the things that stand in our way of our knowledge of the Holy One, and bring us, oh Father, until we say, “I have no other desire except to know God.” “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.”

And now before I close in prayer, what is it that you need to talk to God about? As a Christian, what is it that keeps you from pursuing God? If you’re not a Christian would you open your life to God and say, “Lord Jesus, be my Savior.” Don’t harden your heart. It’ll only get harder. You talk to God.

Father, don’t let us go until You have blessed us. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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