It might just be the most heart-wrenching, eye-drooping, shoulder-slumping, stomach-groaning, head-dropping thing someone you love can ever say: ‘But you promised!’
Ah! You did! But you forgot! And now you are too swamped to make good on your word. With the grocery shopping done you bee line home so that you can get the ice cream into the freezer before it melts and dinner on the table before bed. ‘But mom, you promised we would go swimming!’ You have only a few hours left to get the freshly sharpened blade on the chainsaw and clear those dead trees before the sun sets and the monsoon rains roll in. ‘But dad, you promised that we would play catch!’ You sink right into the La-Z-Boy at the end of another exhausting day. Just as silence sets in, you discover a very annoyed-looking spouse standing in the doorway. ‘But you promised a night out!’
So many promises made! So many promises not kept! So, those words ‘I promise,’ can kind of fall to the ground and slide right out the door because you cannot rely on people. A promise may seem to offer no guarantee and, as a result, no rest.
Perhaps that’s what you crave at this moment: Rest. When exasperated over racial tensions and 2020 elections, when edgy about health and stressed about your future, when so much makes so little sense, The Lord Gives You Rest by speaking a Word of promise and by keeping a Word of promise.
In listening to Moses this morning, you find that’s what he really wants— rest! Moses has just spent forty days on Mount Sinai. There, God hands him commands that carve out Old Testament Israel as unique, special, set apart from all other nations. When others see Israel, they would know beyond doubt that this people belong to God. So, how heart-wrenching, eye-drooping, shoulder-slumping, stomach-groaning, head-dropping to watch the Israelites now. In the short span of forty days, the high priest crafted a knobby-kneed, feeble cow-calf out of gold. He urges and encourages a worship service for this new god. The celebration quickly spirals so out of control that this people— remember, set apart for God(!)— sink into a raging orgy (Exodus 32:1-8). This mess gives no rest. Instead, it brings some very well-deserved consequences. About three thousand are put to death for their calloused unbelief (32:27-29). The remainder suffer a plague (32:35). The worst consequence is what God says next: Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey, but I will not go with you (33:3).
Can you just feel the blood drain? No longer will God be visibly, physically present. No more leading as a pillar of cloud by day, no more presence of fire at night. No more purifying bitter water with a finger or wiping away enemies with a hand. No more sitting at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, where Moses could listen and ask. From this point forward Moses would lead millions alone. Developing his own war strategies. Relying on his own wisdom. Hoping for the best. No rest. Just stress and anxiety and burden and fear.
Know the feeling? How come [do you know it]? Why is it that we long for peaceful rest in the first place? You battle anxiety because that one person is going to show up at the Fourth of July get-together. You feel overwhelmed by the phone-call that shared some very life-changing news, almost too much think through at one time. The blood-pressure rises when that Facebook post pops up or when the television camera pans the scene of protests or when listening to the other side talk. Fear ripples through the body when holding that college letter or the monthly bill. Blood boils the instant you discover how someone exploited and abused your trust. What is it that robs us of the restful peace we so desperately crave? Well, what prevented the Lord from leading Moses and the Israelites into the Promised Land? It is the proud, stubborn refusal to admit that the Lord is most worthy of praise. Simply put, it’s sin!
Yes, we can point finger at the crooked criminal, the stubborn sibling, the proud parent, the arrogant arguer who trounce all over God’s commandments and unleash torrents of pain on us. Yet, it’s not just others who bring unrest into life, is it? We carry that same sin-infested heart that also trounces over a holy God.
Do you see that? You (and I) can easily identify how worldly troubles impact us, and yet those worldly troubles are just symptoms of a much deeper problem. The sinful heart within us is hostile to God (Romans 8:7).It does not listen to him. It does not want to pray in trouble. It does not want to love our enemies. It does not want to forgive those who wrong us. It does not want to trust in God’s protection and wisdom. The sinful heart within wants to treat God like another flawed human being who makes a bunch of promises with no intention of actually keeping them. As a result, that sinful heart declares independence from its Maker. It claims that you can handle all of life’s problems on your own because you are just as powerful and perfect as God. The reason we stress out and get anxious and frustrated and cheat and manipulate— the reason we do these things is because we are not God. If that proud, self-reliant attitude rules our heart, then we will never have eternal rest.
Moses could have tried leading millions by his own wit and wisdom, but he would have failed. That’s why Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” When so much makes so little sense, where does Moses turn? To the Lord
He even uses that heart-wrenching, eye-drooping, shoulder-slumping, stomach-groaning, head-dropping thing loved ones say. ‘But God, you said!’ Understand God did not forget his promise to remain with Moses and lead Israel into a new land. Instead, Moses takes hold of God’s own Word and holds him to it! He knows God cannot break a promise. By just speaking a Word of promise, The Lord Gives Moses Rest.
There is no question as to what God will do. In fact, the Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest… I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Why does God do the very things Moses asks? Maybe we point at those words: I am pleased with you and I know you by name. It sounds like Moses behaved so well that God has no choice but to bless him— but that’s not true. God does not respond only when you work hard enough. God does not rescue you because of good behavior. God does not answer because you sweet-talk him. God answers because he is pleased with Moses. Put another way, God in rich, undeserved love delights to give Moses his promise.
If I printed out this selection from Exodus for you, you would see the ‘Lord’ spelled in all capitals. I’ve said it before, that spelling is not a typo; it’s intentional. The ‘Lord’ in all capitals tells you two things about your God. He is (1) serious to punish and (2) even more serious to forgive (Exodus 34:6-7). That becomes crystal-clear in Jesus.
Your Lord not only speaks a word of promise, but he actually keeps his word of promise. He is so serious to put an end to the unrest caused by sin that he puts his one and only Son into your world. Your Jesus lets God’s undeserved love lift him above sibling rivalry and family squabbling. Your Jesus lets God’s mighty power steady his heart in the midst of tragedy and death. Your Jesus lets God’s providing remove any worry for clothing and food. In all the things that cause us stress, Jesus relies on God’s perfect commands so that his heart remains untainted for you. You yourself cannot bring real rest to your weary heart, but Jesus can— and he does.
Do you want rest? Do you want relief from the shame that haunts you so often and keeps you awake at night? Do you want peace from the violent, abusive anger that has [seemingly] become all too common? Do you want certainty in world where so many proudly turn their back on their Maker? Then find rest in Jesus. Find rest in the One who died and rose again, so that he could go before you into heaven, not to leave, but to prepare your eternal room (John 14:2-3). The Lord Gives You Rest by keeping a Word of promise.
So, what does that mean for you? Well, child of God, take hold of the Word. Hold it up before God’s face and say, ‘But God, you promised!’‘Call on me in the day of trouble, you will deliver me’ (Psalm 50:15). ‘Cast your anxiety on me, I care of you’ (1 Peter 5:7).‘All authority in heaven and earth belongs to me’ ‘Surely I am with you always’ (Matthew 28:18, 20). ‘The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit’ (Psalm 34:18).
Know that these are not just empty words that kind of fall to the ground and slide right out the door. Go back to the cross and see that God has kept his promises. He has rescued your soul from trouble, an anxiety-filled demise, has healed your broken heart and restored you. What he has done then, he will continue doing— in his perfect timing, in his pleasure. (After all, he has shown you that he is serious about his Word.)
Heart-wrenching, eye-drooping, shoulder-slumping, stomach-groaning, head-dropping thing someone you love can ever say. No. When exasperated over racial tensions and 2020 elections, when edgy about health and stressed about your future, when wrestling with guilt and wondering if God truly loves you, when so much makes so little sense, The Lord Gives You Rest by speaking a Word of promise and by keeping a Word of promise.