Sermon Manuscript from February 19, 2023

Sermon Series: People of Light

Sermon Title: People of Presence

Text: Exodus 24:12-18

Preacher: Todd Nelson

Sermon video: starts at 38:45

People of Presence


Let’s talk about revival. It seems to be on many lips and minds with the events at Asbury University which, to my knowledge, continue to be ongoing. What started as a normal chapel on Wednesday, February 8, has turned into a worldwide phenomenon. What is it? Jesus’ first sermon recorded in Matthew and Mark’s gospel was this phrase, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus helps us understand that heaven is not a distant place up there, but rather a near place, one that is all around us, if we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and faith to look, knock, and seek. What we do is project images on a veil of what we hear from Scripture heaven is like. For instance, love is show, forgiveness and reconciliation are normal, healing happens. But every once in a while that veil that is all around us gets thin and we are given glimpses into the reality that is all around us. That is what I believe is happening in Wilmore for the third time in the last 70 years that it has happened. Is it a revival? Not sure yet. It may very well be, but I am not ready to say revival until we know fully the outcome. For revival impacts are felt for decades in terms of new believers, new churches, new workers for God, and overall impact on society. The Great Awakening revivals saw in the 1700 and 1800s saw church involvement dramatically increase across North America, social reform such as abolition come to fruition and overall crime decreased for instance. Those were signs of revival that took a while to discover. Is the same thing happening in Wilmore right now? We will know in time. But for now I am confident to say that the veil between heaven and earth has been grown very thin or even lifted. It is a time in which the presence of God can be ‘felt’ in hearts and “seen” in transformation through worship with a focus on prayer and confession.

What do we make of it?

I have had a few conversations this past week and they fall in to one of three broad categories for the most part.

  1. Skepticism. Is this real or some sociological phenomenon? Is a group making getting themselves worked up and mistaking it for God’s presence? Why would God show up in Wilmore, KY when there are so many pressing issues like the earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria, the war torn nation of Ukraine, the campus of Michigan State, or New Mexico State, or the list can go on.
  2. Sadness. How I wish it were me! How I wish I could participate! Why doesn’t God do something like this in my life? What am I, or my church, doing wrong that we don’t see this happening in our midst?
  3. Excitement. What is God up to? Hoping that this means a reversal in our lack of trust in God as a nation and even a change in our denomination!

First, we need to do some background theological work that will help put us on the same page to address the situation and responses.

And as it would just so happen, today is transfiguration Sunday. A great day in the life of the church to understand what we mean when we say the veil gets thin. This final Sunday before Lent we remember Jesus’ presence being brightened on a mountain while Peter, James and John looked on.[1] It was a moment when the veil between heaven and earth grew not just thin but non-existent. Not to be lost on us is that the two persons that appeared with Jesus on the mountain are Elijah and Moses. Both of these men had their own thin moment on mountains which is where we get the phrase “mountain top experiences”. This is an exclusive club representing the Law (Moses), the Prophets (Elijah), and their fulfillment (Jesus).[2]

Back in his day, Elijah was asked to go to a mountain where God would show himself. You may remember the story that after Elijah was in place in the mountain a terrible wind came, but God was not in the wind. After that an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. After that the “sound of silence” in which God spoke words of comfort, challenge, and call to Elijah. [3]

Moses, in our text today, also had a mountain top experience when God invited him up to receive not only the ten commandments but the entire law for the people of Israel. The first time Moses returned to find the Israelites had abandoned God and were worshiping a golden calf. That was awkward for everyone. The second time the people remained focused on God and were able to receive the community building law of God.[4]

When we examine these mountain top experiences side by side some patterns emerge.

  1. God initiates the moment through invitation.
  2. God ignites the moment through his presence.
  3. The people involved are asked to be willing to hear, see, and do.
  4. The people are equipped for further ministry. For Moses it was giving the law and forming the nation of Israel. For Elijah, his mountain top experience prepared him to anoint kings and choose a successor in Elisha. For Jesus, this mountain top experience was the strengthening he would need as he begins to turn his face to Jerusalem and his execution.

Granted, Jesus, Moses and Elijah are not your normal human beings. We might be tempted to think that God only thins the veil and gives mountain top experiences of his presence to those at the very top of the food chain. But that is not the case.

Scripture shows that God continued to provide his presence. And this time it is not on a mountain but in an upper room in Jerusalem when the presence of God in the form of the Holy Spirit descends and brings about a change of understanding to the 120 people in that situation and added 3,000 to the church in one day.[5]


God did not stop there. God’s spirit descends upon a group of Gentiles later in the book of Acts as they receive faith and are equipped through the power of the Spirit.[6] We have people coming to faith and having their faith deepened as a result of God’s presence making an appearance. We have Christ himself showing up on a road to Damascus to invite Paul into faith and preparation for ministry of the gospel.[7]

Okay, okay, but these were special biblical times. Is there any precedence for God’s presence to be given to folks like us?

Romans 5:5 says, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. [8]

Jesus says in John 15:26 that, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. [9]

There is biblical evidence of God desiring a close relationship in the three mountain top narratives mentioned earlier. We also have evidence of God’s outpouring upon the apostle’s at Pentecost.

There is experiential evidence in the personal testimonies of many persons, including myself, of a veil thinning experience of the Spirit. And we also have what is happening at Asbury University right this minute which is the third time God’s presence has been manifest since the 1950s at Asbury.

Followers of Jesus are given the Holy Spirit as Advocate, Counselor, Guide, Convict-or, Comforter and so much more. The Holy Spirit is given as a work of grace and a sign of our reconciliation with God.[10]

People of the light are people of God’s presence. That is the promise and the reality through the Holy Spirit.

Here we come to one of the great contributions Wesleyan theology has given to Christianity. That of a second work of the Spirit. The Spirit is given at our justification. That is universally accepted by Christians. But is there a second blessing? A new outpouring? Yes, the Holy Spirit is also given for justification and sanctification. The process, whether immediate or over a lifetime, of a Christian being made holy in love and therefore more like Christ. The end result and reason for any outpouring or revival is to show the love of God and to grow love of God and neighbor.

To the skeptics let me say, thank you! We need you to remind us that all outpourings of the. Spirit need discernment. Just as the gift of tongues need an interpreter so does a move of the Spirit. And you objectiveness may be just what is needed. Perhaps the greatest example of what to do is contained in Act 5 by the Rabbi Gamaliel when he said if it is of God you don’t want to fight it, but if it is not it will not last. Please do not miss out on what God is doing because it doesn’t align with your personal experience. Ask the religious leaders in Jesus’ day how that worked out or the people at Pentecost who cried, “they are drunk!”[11]  Perhaps the veil is thin in Wilmore because the group of undergrads were willing to look, to see, and to do? In our over-programmed world, we may not have the sufficient bandwidth for such a movement. I get nervous if the service goes over an hour. That mindset doesn’t lend itself to an outpouring of the Spirit does it? They’ve been going for almost two weeks now…


To those who are sad let me say, hang in there! The same spirit showing up in Hughes Auditorium is the one deep within you. You were sealed with the Spirit upon your following of Jesus through faith in his death and resurrection to make you right with God both in this realm and the one to come. God is with you right where you are! Remember what Jesus said to his disciples about future generations of believers? “Blessed are those who believe that have not seen me!” While the feelings you may not get in this moment, the power of God you will always have. Do not fear. Do not give up.


To the excited I say, keep it up! Keep reminding us that God is at work and wants to do more than we can ask or imagine.[12] And remember why the veil gets thin from time to time…to bring new people to the faith and to bring believers to a deeper faith. It is always to equip the saints for the work of the kingdom. How can you be the revival you desire by doing the work? Revival brings confession…nothing to stop you from leading us in that effort. Revival brings healing prayer…nothing to stop you from leading us in that effort. Revival brings a new hunger for God…nothing to stop you from leading us there either. Just a reminder.the veil is thin across the street from the “professionals” educating the clergy. It is a a movement of the laity. And the younger laity at that!

John Wesley, on his death bed, according to the eyewitness accounts had a veil thinning experience it appears. His final words were a reminder of why, from time to time, the veil thins. He said, “Best of all, God is with us!”[13] Best of all…God is with us. That is why the veil gets thin sometimes like at Asbury, or in a worship service right here on High Street, or in your car when you see a rainbow, or at the birth of a child, or any other number of times we are hit with the reality…God is with us.

[1] Matthew 17

[2] Matthew 5

[3] 1 Kings 19

[4] Exodus 20-32

[5] Acts 2

[6] Acts 8

[7] Act 9

[8] Romans 5:5b

[9] John 15:26

[10] Romans 8:9 and Ephesians 1:13

[11] Acts 2

[12] Ephesians 5:23-24.

[13] The Heart of John Wesley’s Journal, page xxxix.

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