An unhindered View of God that displays His Beauty
From my bedroom window I can see the rugged mountains that separate the UAE from Oman. The view is beautiful. We live near the beach, and God’s creation is on powerful display when you survey the ocean contrasted with the desert against the imposing rocky mountains. But as summer marches towards us and the temperatures have begun to rise in the past few weeks, my ability to see the mountains has gotten worse. What I have since found out is that the high humidity in the UAE is in part to blame. It causes water vapor to linger in the air. Lots of water in the atmosphere makes our visibility hazy. Add to this humidity sand stirred up and smog lingering around, and as a result I’ve lost my beautiful view of the mountains for the next 7 months or so.
It is unfortunate. But we get used to living like this, don’t we? We start to accept the haze as part of our vision. When we stop seeing the mountains, we can easily forget them. Until the haze lifts - and we are reminded of what has been before us all along.
The passage we studied this week in Nehemiah was a bit like the lifting of the haze. We see in chapters 9-10 an unhindered view of God that displays his beauty. And we see an unhindered view of ourselves that is so disturbing it is hard to believe.
This is a sobering passage. This is a warning passage. And it is a deeply encouraging passage.
Who is God?
Look in chapter 9, at some of the attributes of God as he is described here. Meditate on how God is described in this prayer. Here are some of the ways he is described:
- Creator of heaven, the heaven of heavens, the hosts, the earth & all that is in it, the seas & all that is in them
- preserves his creation
- angels worship him
- God of Abraham
- promise keeper
- sees & hears his children’s cries
- performs signs and wonders
- dominion over the sea
- destroys his enemies
- leads his people
- gives to his people: rules to help them live, bread and water to sustain them, a land promised to them
- ready to forgive
- slow to anger
- abounding in steadfast love
- does not forsake his people
- sustains his people
- multiplied their children
This is a description of our God. Whatever false notions you are carrying around about God right now, contrast those lies you are tempted to believe with how He is described here. Our God does not withhold his love from his people. He does not condemn his people. He is not slow to forgive. He does not ever forsake his people. Are you tempted to feel condemned for your sin? Forsaken in your trial? Unloved by God? Do you ever wonder if God is mad at you or whether he really does hear your prayers? Christian, this is not a hazy picture of a God who is uninterested in you! We must fight the lies our enemy wants us to believe about God with the truth from His word.
See too that this prayer does not just list attributes of God. It traces God’s faithfulness through time - starting at creation and continuing through the history of his people. From creation to Abraham to Egyptian captivity to Mt Sinai to the 40 years in the desert and the promised land even to the Babylonian captivity. God was with his people and was being the same God to them as he is to us. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
If there is any “haziness” to this passage, it is that the original audience reading Nehemiah would not have known how history continued to unfold. They knew Yahweh was unmatched and gracious and loving and merciful. But they did not yet know the grand way these attributes would play out in history. They did not know he was going to send his very son to die on the cross for our sins and be raised from death in the perfect display of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, dominion, and power. Praise God that the haze has been lifted for us and we can see clearly this God. Behold his beauty. Praise Him that He has made himself known to us.
And because he has made himself known to us, we should spend time thinking about the nature of God. Nehemiah 9 contains a great list to meditate on the character and attributes of God. If you need something excellent and praiseworthy to think about this week, look at this list of who our Father God is and revel in His beauty.
We need to be reminded of God’s beauty. We need to be reminded of God’s grace to us through Christ because we are not God.
Who are we?
Are you tempted to read this history of God’s faithfulness to his people and their rebellion to him and shake your head at those foolish people. Here God is again and again leading his people, providing for them, protecting them, and giving abundantly to them. And again and again they turned their noses up in rebellion. Are you tempted to think you would have done things differently?
Every time I read the story of God bringing his people out of slavery in Egypt - sending awful plagues to let everyone know He is God, parting a sea into dry land, showing up at Mt. Sinai, literally providing mana from heaven every morning for them to eat...I’m tempted to think “You fools! This is God who is providing every thing you need! Stop complaining and trust him!” But who is really the fool? ME! This story is not written for me to condemn these sinners. This story allows me to see myself clearly! I am no different from generations and generations of God’s children who have been before me. This passage shows that again and again and again men chose to rebel against their maker. You and I are not any different.
Have you ever talked to someone about how to be reconciled to God, and they answer “I try to be a good person?”
If you are tempted to think of yourself as a good person or you hear other people describe themselves that way, listen to the description of yourself from the word of God. This is how the children of God are described:
- stiff necked
- not mindful of the wonders of God
- they cast God’s law behind their back
- killed God’s prophets who were sent to warn them
This is a description of man that is not candy coated. It is hard to swallow and hard to believe. But this is who the word of God says you and I are. These are our ancestors in the faith. When you meet someone new you often want to know where the are from. That’s because you know that you can make assumptions about someone when you know who their people are. You should think of yourself in light of your ancestors described here. You are a daughter of Eve from a family of Disobedience and Rebellion.
You are not a “good person.” And none of us will ever be reconciled to God because of our “good works.” Part of the fall is that we as humans took on a sinful nature that has proven in history again and again to rebel against God. That’s why we need Jesus. We can’t do it on our own.
But I don’t dwell on this point in order to make you have a bad self esteem. I linger here because it is so important that we lift the haze even of our view of our lives. There are at least 2 reasons why this is so important:
- It is easy to start believing the lies that the world around us believes. Our world says things like “God accepts me because I try hard to be a good person.” Or “I deserve _____.” You fill in the blank...a break, a massage, a nice home, a good family life, regular date nights with my husband, a good job. Friend, you don’t deserve any of those things. You deserve hell. Anything you get apart from that is God’s grace to you. When we see with a hazy vision we can start to believe the lies that are whispered to us even though the truth is right before us. You can wipe the haze away by reading and believing God’s word.
- Another other reason why I think it is so important that we rightly understand who the Bible says we are is because a false understanding of this diminishes the Gospel, its power, and its beauty. When we think we are righteous before God even a little bit apart from Christ, God’s power is not on as clear a display. In other words we invite the haze. We don’t see a clear picture of the Gospel in our own lives and we don’t allow others to see it as well.
Look back at Nehemiah 9-10 and see that this description isn’t an isolated incidence of people who went astray. This passage shows us our rebellion has been going on for quite a while. Take a quick look into our own hearts and we can see the rebellion is still going on.
Just to be clear though, there is a difference between those in Christ now and these Hebrew people. Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ have been made a new creation and are in-dwelt with the Holy SPirit. We are no longer slaves to sin. This is a huge distinction. But our nature as rebellious sinners is the same as it has been since Adam and the fall.
So the question now is the same as it always has been. What do you do with this knowledge that God is holy, and we are not. Do you wallow in your self pity? Do you despair? Do you ignore this truth? This passage reminds us of the way that many of our forefathers responded when faced with this question. You can look back over this passage if you need to be reminded and just see some of the words that jump out at you: stiff necked, rebellious, disobedient, presumptuous. Be warned when you read these chapters that these words could easily apply to you.
These chapters are a sobering passage. And they are a warning passage. And they are a deeply encouraging passage.
Chapters 9 and 10 report that after the people read the word of God, they repented of their sin. They were convicted by the word and they made a promise to not continue in their rebellion against God. They found forgiveness from this God that again and again and again and again has forgiven his people, been slow to anger, and has been gracious and merciful and steadfast in his love.
You want to know what is so deeply encouraging even apart from that?
Look at chapter 10. Do you see what they are promising God? They are promising to keep the covenant with God. In a genuine, heart-felt, sorrowful way, they want to turn away from their sins and follow the law. But guess what happens?
They fail. Again.
Fast forward a couple of hundred years and consider the state of the people of God when Jesus comes on the scene. They are under foreign rule, by no means living the glory days they had once known. But God provides for his people in a drastic way. God sends Jesus, who perfectly fulfilled the covenant that his people never could, and now Jesus is an eternally sufficient priest for us.
This means we no longer have to try to fulfill the law that our ancestors failed so miserably at. Christ has done that for us. We are free now to claim his perfect righteousness and forgiveness for our sins. Because we could not do it for ourselves, he did it for us.
This truth has changed everything for us. We see far more clearly what was hazy for the Israelites. We see not only the mighty acts of God in history like the Israelites did. We can see the mightiest act of God in Jesus.
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