Stood Afar Off
"I will Meet With You"
Over and over again in His Word, God expresses His desire to be with His people. He wants to meet with them as friend to friend.
Exodus 25:21-24 "You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. "And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, of all things which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel.
Exodus 29:42 "This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet you to speak with you. 43 "And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by My glory.
Exodus 30:36 "And you shall beat some of it very fine, and put some of it before the Testimony in the tabernacle of meeting where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you.
God is not seeking us for His Own benefit, but instead the benefit of those who will meet with Him. Those who choose to meet with God in this manner will be changed for the better - always.
"Your Heart is Far From Me"
Some in the Old Testament went through the ritual of the Law but were not changed. God said it was because they did the right things outwardly but their hearts were removed far from Him.
Let's read God's commentary in Isaiah.
Isaiah 29:13 Therefore the LORD said: "Inasmuch as these people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,
Let’s look at the word remove.
- to widen in any direction, to recede or remove from a place or relationship
If you remember this text, the Israelites did exactly that.
Let’s look at how Christ quotes and expands the meaning of this verse as recorded in Matthew.
Matthew 15:8-9 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. 'And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' "
They removed their own hearts from God. This was a personal choice. God was there and wanted a personal relationship with them. They moved from God. God did not leave them.
Yes, they participated in what looked good on the outside. The people in Isaiah's time and in Christ's time said things that sounded good, but they did not come from a proper heart or proper teaching. Their mouths and lips had been taught to say the right things at the right time, but their hearts had not been changed by being in the presence of God. They were not changed by hearing and obeying His word. Therefore, their motives had not changed. Their attitudes remained the same. Their goals for life were still selfish. These things could have been changed by hearing and obeying His word. The New Testament calls this change being transformed and it only takes place when the Word of God is properly processed in the mind.
If we are going to act as God commands, to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves, then we must learn to look beyond what a person says with their mouth and lips to who they are in their motive and attitudes.
In Spirit and Truth
That brings us to the second problem these people had. Read again what Christ said:
Matthew 15:8 “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men."
- something that is taught, held, put forth as true and supported by a teacher, a school or a sect; a principle established through past decisions and interpretations that becomes the mode of activity or governing.
Simply put, doctrine is a teaching. Harmonizing and categorizing Biblical information of the same or similar subject material can be considered a doctrine. A doctrine should be a systematic teaching of the Word of God. Sad to say, doctrines held by most people were not established in such a careful manner.
We read in Matthew 15 that the people had removed themselves from the personal presence of God, and substituted an external religion of words and actions for internal reality of Spirit and Truth. God’s method of fellowship and worship is Spirit and Truth and He supplies all that is needed for that. We must, by faith, make use of what He has provided.
- His Holy Spirit bears witness to our spirit.
- The Word of God is God’s truth.
Through these two provisions, Spirit and Truth, God has given us all we need for fellowship, growth, and worship. The only way to worship God is in Spirit and Truth. This was true at the Tabernacle in the wilderness, it was true at the time of Christ, and it is still true today. There is no other way. Anything less or more is the commandments of men. We have seen these truths in God’s own words recorded in Isaiah and Christ’s use of those words recorded in Matthew. Anytime we move away from God and His pure word, the results will always be that our doctrine, the very thing we base our faith on, comes from the commandments of men instead of the commandments of God.
Once our doctrine is from the commandments of men, our worship of God is vain or empty. I don't care how good it sounds, how wonderful it feels, how uplifting it might be. If the worship is based on the commandments of men, it has no Spiritual substance whatever. I didn't say it. God said it.
Doctrines based on the commandments of men may at the time bring all the outward actions and emotional feelings that you would expect of worship, at least from a human standpoint. However, any doctrine or teaching that is based on the commandments of men, will eventually leave you with feelings and actions that are exactly the opposite of true godly worship.
A good ball game, or good performance of any kind can make a person feel good. However, be on the losing side of that same game, or if the performance is far less than good, the feelings might not be quite as exhilarating.
At one time, a lecture on the value of investing in the DotCom companies was probably quite uplifting. However a few years later, that same lecture might evoke emotions of a far different quality, especially if you followed the advice of that first uplifting lecture that said "Follow your dreams! You can't lose!"
Worship based on the commandments of men, no matter how emotive, is totally void and empty of any Spiritual or eternal quality. Even sincerity and proper outward actions do not cut it when it comes to proper worship.
Christ brought out these facts to the woman at the well, along with many other eternal truths.
John 4:21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 "You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
“He is seeking such to worship Him.” Take a moment and let that sink in. He is seeking you!
The problem with the worship of those in Isaiah's day were twofold: they had removed their hearts far from God, and their worship was based on commandments of men.
Isaiah 29:13 Therefore the LORD said: "Inasmuch as these people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,
It was not much different during the time of Christ on earth. Men drew their hearts far from God and their doctrine and worship was based on the doctrine of men.
Matthew 15:8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. "
Look around you. Are we really different today?
God Wants to Dwell With Us
Examples of the Israelites
Going back further into history, we see these two factors were also present much earlier, at Mount Sinai. Even then, men removed their heart from God and desired worship based on commandments of men. It is amazing how often these two facts are referred to throughout Scripture. Each of these references, Isaiah and Matthew, have their roots in the Tabernacle, its service, and the events surrounding both.
In this part of Exodus the people are gathered around Mt Sinai awaiting God. God has come down on the mountain is about to speak.
Exodus 20:18 Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off.
This was a real worship experience! God was right there! You think they would have run to God, but they stood afar off. Remember what Isaiah said? Remember what Christ said?
Exodus 20:19 Then they said to Moses, "You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die." 20 And Moses said to the people, "Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin." 21 So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.
God has always wanted to be near his people. He has wanted to meet with them, so they could be changed for the better. Those who will not meet with God will have a devastating loss in one form or another, known as one of the many aspects of spiritual death.
Examples from Genesis
In the beginning, Adam and Eve had a very personal relationship with God. Then they chose not to continue a relationship with Him, and they died spiritually. We will not take the time to go through the entire story here, we will just look at the latter part. You can read the entire story in Genesis 3.
Genesis 3:7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
Notice what happened. It sounds very similar to what happened on Sinai.
Genesis 3:8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day…
…and they ran toward Him, right? They wanted to worship Him, is that what it says? No, let’s look at how they responded to God’s presence.
Genesis 3:8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
That sounds a lot like the account at Mount Sinai! They say, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." They should have run to God, but they hid from Him!
But God didn’t abandon them, even then. He went looking for them.
Genesis 3:9 Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, "Where are you?" 10 So he [Adam] said, "I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself."
Mankind in their natural state doesn't change much, does he? How about you? Are you experiencing the constant transformation caused by being in the presence of God, or are you still operating on your native nature?
Noah met with God, and God changed him and his world (Genesis 7-9). Enoch, a near relative of Adam, met and walked with God. Enoch was changed. As a matter of fact he was changed, or translated, into the very presence of God in heaven (Genesis 5.24). Abram met with God and was changed. God put "True Righteousness" on Abram's account, and Abram became Abraham, the father of many nations (Genesis 12-25).
Examples Listed in Hebrews
Over and over again throughout Scripture, we see that those who met with God in person, or by faith, were changed.
Hebrews 11:32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again.
That is wonderful, isn’t it? These people met with God and these wonderful things happened!
Wait, let’s read on.
Hebrews 11.35 And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented-- 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
These and many more met with God, and were changed. One became a "Father of Many Nations", others became kings and great warriors, others received health. But many who met with God were afflicted, scourged, put in prison, destitute, and more. This doesn’t sound much like modern teaching of worship, does it?
Meeting with God does not mean that the circumstances of life will always be pleasant. We have such a false idea of what it is like to be in the presence of God.
2 Timothy 3.12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
Regarding those desiring to live godly, Paul does not tell Timothy that “some…might”, but that “all…will” suffer persecution. Yet, all of those who met with God were changed. Changed so much that the world was not worthy of them, they were changed so much that they had a good testimony before others and with God.
The Choice is Ours
Oh, that all Believers today were changed so much that the world would not be worthy of us so that we, too, would have a good testimony with God! God has always wanted to meet with His people to change them for the better. However, from the time of Adam to this very day, those who refuse to meet with God and experience that transformation, must suffer the consequences of such a choice.
Isaiah 1:18 "Come now, and let us reason together," says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword"; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
Notice the two ifs:
“If you are willing and obedient you shall eat of the good of the land.
But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword.”
God's desire and His plan have never changed. God tried to meet personally with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He still offers to meet personally with all who will come to Him.
God offered to personally meet Israel in the wilderness. The Nation, as a whole, refused to meet with God or even hear His voice, to say nothing of obeying and experiencing divine change. Even so, God had a Tabernacle built so He would be in their midst, and they could still "meet" with Him. That is grace. How be it, this meeting was now through a mediator, known as the High Priest, and then only once a year. What a loss!
Exodus 29:30 "That son who becomes priest in his place shall put them on for seven days, when he enters the tabernacle of meeting to minister in the holy place.
Leviticus 16:17 "There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel.
Over 135 times the Tabernacle in the wilderness was called "The Tabernacle of Meeting", and other times it is referred to by titles that are very close or have the same meaning. More than any other descriptive title, God speaks of the Tabernacle as the "place of meeting".
This constant reference to the place of meeting demonstrates the desire of God to be near and meet with His people. The Tabernacle was not to be a place of community activities, but a place where they could meet with God alone, in private.
God was not interested in just having a casual, friendly get-to-gather. He wanted to live with them as part of their lives, and to allow them to be a part of His life.
Exodus 25:8 "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell (be at home) among them.
Exodus 29:45 "I will dwell among the children of Israel and will be their God. 46 "And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.
This dwelling with them was not simply being a friendly neighbor. He wanted His life to be theirs, in a very special way. Therefore, the Tabernacle and special service and laws were designed to bring change to the Israelites, so they would be different from all the world around them.
Examples from the New Testament
This desire and plan is seen over and over again in the New Testament, also.
2 Corinthians 6:14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people." 17 Therefore "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you." 18 "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."
Since the coming of Christ and the giving of the Holy Spirit, God can now do more than dwell with us. God can dwell within the Believer.
No longer is there a need for a Tabernacle in the center of the camp. Since Calvary and the Day of Pentecost, God can and does dwell within each Believer, and the Believer's body becomes the temple (or tabernacle) of God here on earth. With this union, God desires to bring change to the believer's life through transformation.
What is Worship?
Exodus 20:18 Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. 19 Then they said to Moses, "You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die." 20 And Moses said to the people, "Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin." 21 So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.
Let's look at the result of this event that started at Mount Sinai when the people stood afar off. They did not want to hear God's voice. Instead, they wanted to hear man's voice tell them what was in the heart of God. What a shame!
Only God knows what is in His heart.
1 Corinthians 2:11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.
We need human teachers, and human teachers can be very helpful when they simply help us to make sense of what we read or hear from the Word of God.
Nehemiah 8:8 So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.
These teachers did three things. They presented the text of Scripture distinctly. They made sense of the text. They helped the people understand the text.
- Read distinctly
- means to separate properly; put in proper categories, or disperse.
- Gave the sense
- means to cause to be circumspect in both understanding and use of facts.
- means to separate mentally, to distinguish; have insight into; Not mere accumulation of facts, but the wise use of those facts.
That is the job of the teacher. That is the purpose for the gathering of Believers. Anything taught, performed or done in a gathering of Believers should have those three qualities as its goal: Present the text of Scripture distinctly, Make sense of the text, Help the people understand the text.
The singing, the offering, the message, should have as their purpose those three qualities. All aspects should be directed from this purpose or they should not be a part of the assembled church.
It is our job to get the Word of God out in a proper form, properly divided and help people make proper use of that information. Our goal is not to evoke emotion, enhance self-image, or develop a positive outlook. Some of these things may happen in the process of properly dispensing the Word of God and that's great if they happen. But if those things are our purpose and our motive, we will turn to the commandments of men, instead of the pure word of God. We will do this so we can evoke more emotion, so we can better enhance our image, so we can build more self-esteem. It is not whether we might turn to commandments of men, it is a certainty that we will turn to those commandments.
A Peek Into the Future
Let's look for a moment to that last chapter in this subject of God's desire to meet with mankind, and to be a vital part of each life. It is amazing how these themes run from Genesis to Revelations.
Revelation 7:14 And I said to him, "Sir, you know." So he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 "Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. 16 "They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; 17 "for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Notice how this is a different circumstance from past or even the present. It says He will dwell among them and they shall not be hungry or thirsty.
Revelation 21:1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." 5 Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful."
Yes, God wants to meet. He wants to have a personal relationship. Some day that personal relationship will look like the perfection explained in in Revelation 21.1-5, but not yet. In the meantime He wants to change us and that change is not always peasant.
We want everything right now, but we must wait. What a wonderful time that last time will be. Until that time, God is tabernacling within each Believer's life. If you are a Believer, God is within your life. Whether you are in fellowship with Him, is another story.
The subject of God's desire and plan to dwell with His people is far too vast for one lesson. I trust we can see that this event, of the nation of Israel standing afar off from God, was not a minor event and had great implications to them, their children, to us as the Church of Jesus Christ, and on into eternity.
Examples of Christ's Prayer
Allow me to expand and apply a passage revealing the words and prayer from Christ, Himself.
John 17:9-15 "I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. 10 "And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 "Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. 12 "While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 "But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.
I want to point out here that each of the remaining twelve disciples, except one, died a painful and horrible death. You think Christ would have prayed, “Our Heavenly Father, protect these from all physical harm and danger.” That is how we pray, isn’t it? Maybe we ought to learn a little more about prayer. Let’s see how Christ finished this prayer.
John 17.16-21 "They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. 18 "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. 20 "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.
Notice the reason for the oneness of the believers; “that the world may believe that You sent Me.” That may be a reason not too many people are believing today. We need oneness.
Christ's prayer to the Father on our behalf contained several requests.
He prayed that:
- The Father would keep or guard us through His Person or name.
- That we would know Christ's full joy through God's Word.
- That we would be protected from Satan.
- That we would be protected from the world.
- The Father would protect us from disunity.
Christ prayed for these and other things, not so we would be comfortable, but so we would live in such unity that the world would believe in Christ.
In this study we’ve been talking about meeting with God, hearing His voice, and obeying His Word. The prayer of Christ to the Father would certainly fall under the category of His word. I also believe we could safely say that hearing God's word, and obeying it would fall in the realm of Spiritual life. If we've heard God's Word and know the great desire of His heart and do nothing about it that would constitute a great lack on our part of living the Spiritual life. Indeed, it would constitute sin against Christ's very desire, and the instructions of God Himself.
Let’s look at a couple of these points more closely. Prayerfully consider the following.
Christ prayed we would have joy through His Word. Think with me about the joy you've sought this past week.
Did you seek for it in the Word of God? Or did you look for it in TV programs, books, friendships, sports, cars, food, money, power etc.? How many times this week did you turn to the Word of God to find the joy of Christ, either from the printed page or from your own memory?
What about the joy you already had, how many time did you let the things of this world creep in and rob you of it? You know, through anger, bitterness, gossip, vindictiveness, evil speaking, and the Biblical list goes on, and on. Have the things of the world entered your life and stolen your joy this past week?
Four of the listed things that Christ asked of the Father were for our protection. Have you allowed that protection to take place? If you deliberately push ahead into sin, God very seldom stops you. We see that over and over again in the example of Israel. To receive most of His blessings, God requires obedience not simply compliance.
Have you allowed His name to guard you this week? Maybe no one knows you are a Christian. Having the name of Christ stamped on your life is quite a protection. As long as you never let others know you belong to Christ, it is much easier to sin when around them.
That was the first one on the list. Now let's just mention the last on the list. Christ asked the Father to protect us from disunity. Has that been a prime concern of yours this week? Lack of unity is on God's list of things He hates. Yes, it's even an abomination to Him.
Proverbs 6:16 These six things the LORD hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, 19 a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.
Biblical unity is one of God major tools of world evangelism. We think of evangelical tools being the radio, TV, internet, video, literature, outreach programs. But God says the world will believe our unity. Do we have it?
How much time have you spent this past week making Christ's prayer a reality in your life? Don't talk about being in the presence of God or being spiritual if you are not seeing change in your life in the areas for which Christ prayed.
Father, as we look at the example in the wilderness, we find it parallels our own actions too often. We see your simple request of the Father concerning us and we realize we do so little to live our lives in that reality. Help us see who we really are, and see Who You and Your Son really are. May this day bring change to our lives. May we be different because of the time spent in Your Presence.