By Simon ManchesterSunday 20 May 2018Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 18 minutes
When George Whitfield was being called to the Christian ministry, a very able preacher in the 18th century, he wrote in his diary these words. He wrote, “God alone knows how deep a concern entering the ministry is to me. I have prayed 1,000 times till the sweat has dropped from my face that God would not let me enter the work before he called me. I know the window, the bedside, and the floor on which I have lain saying, ‘Lord, I cannot go.'”
As the day for ordination drew near for George Whitfield, gifted and very able as he was, nevertheless, he lost all powers of concentration, went forward by the grace of God and was ordained and wrote in his diary afterwards, “It is true that I have a difficult task, but God is all-sufficient to whose almighty protection I commit myself.”
We come to a very famous passage we’ve heard about it many times already, where God revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush and gave him a call, a very strong challenging call to a very big task. God said to Moses, in the Book of Exodus chapter 3, “I have come down to rescue my people.” And you can imagine how pleased Moses would have been to hear that. “Wonderful, go ahead.” And then God says to Moses in chapter 3:10, “You go to Pharaoh, I’m sending you to bring my people out.” And we know from the Scriptures that Moses was overwhelmed with fear and dread at that particular prospect.
So he joined a long queue of nervous servants of the Lord, of whom Whitfield was one, and you may be one, and I may be one. And what I want you to notice this morning as we come to this very wonderful and famous part of Scripture is that God is going to do the exodus work, he will do the work. He is the rescuer. Moses does not have the power to do the rescue; he does not have the ability or the courage or the wisdom or anything that is required to do the exodus. God will do the exodus. Moses will be His instrument. Moses will bring the Word which, of course, still terrifies Moses.
Today we’re going to come to the portion where God confronts Moses and shows himself to be fiery, and personal, and sovereign, and comforting, and holy, and a wonderful rescuer, and many, many great attributes. But as Moses came face to face with God, there is a sense in which we are going to come face to face with God as well as we look at this portion of the scripture. The same God who used Moses for a crucial moment in salvation history is sufficient for his people in every generation.
Jesus used this particular portion of the Old Testament when he was being challenged by critics in the Gospels who were saying, “When you’re dead, you’re dead.” And you remember Jesus used this portion and showed them that if God is your God if you belong to God, He will be your God all the way through to the resurrection, which is into eternity. And that is very comforting, but it’s also very demanding because God will not become, for us, like our winter slippers. He will not become all sort of cozy, and soft, and flexible, and elastic, and harmless, and cute. He is a very demanding God.
That’s why as we look at this section this morning, we’re going to think of it under three headings.
- The Task That God Sets
- The Sufficiency That God Is
- The devotion that God Requires
The Task That God Sets
Last week we saw God very carefully prepare a people, a nation, building them up over a few hundred years into a huge crowd. We also saw him choose and preserve a servant, a leader, Moses, and give him 40 years in the palace of Egypt and then 40 years in the desert of Midian in order to make him a man equipped for usefulness.
If you ask the question, “Why is this all happening so slowly?” I suggest that part of the reason is that God is in no hurry whatsoever. He could easily have taken his people from Egypt, immediately, around the corner into Canaan, just as he could take a believer immediately into heaven. But it seems clear that God is at work through a process of teaching us what He is like and what we are like and transforming us into the likeness of the Lord Jesus. Now, it doesn’t seem to worry God, in fact, it suits God to give people quite a long time in a desert-type of place.
Moses in the Bible has time in the desert, and Joshua has time in the desert, and David has time in the desert, and John the Baptist has time in the desert, and even Jesus, a little time in the desert, and Paul has time in the desert. It perfectly suits God to move at a pace which may be slower than we would like.
In this section of Exodus 3, Moses is wandering with his flock, and he’s confronted by God in the flames of a bush. We’re told in chapter 3 that it was the angel of God, but that is almost certainly a phrase which means God.
As one commentator has said, “This is God appearing in a form that sinners can cope with. God is revealing himself, not only in a symbolic flame but also calling in the guise of an angel.” In Malachi 3 we read God say that “I will send my angel.” And then he says, “The Lord will come.” So, this angel, God, seems to be very closely tied.
Here is God, at the burning bush, taking the initiative with Moses, appearing in fire and flames. Not bright red flowers as some of the old liberal commentators used to say, “This was just a very fiery bush,” but Moses would not have been gripped by some bright red flowers. No, he’s gripped by the fact that here is a tree, a bush, that appears to be on fire, and yet it is not combusting, it’s continuing to burn. And fire, of course, a very appropriate symbol for God because at Mount Sinai God will come down on the mountain as fire, and then, after Sinai, He will lead them at night in a pillar of fire. And we’re told in the book of Hebrews 12, in the New Testament, “Our God is a consuming fire.”
And what gets Moses’ attention is that the bush is not burning, but the flames are burning. And we know that this is teaching a very profound lesson which is that God sustains Himself, that He is reliant on Himself, that He nourishes Himself, He doesn’t need any outside help to be sustained.
Because Moses, he’s now facing this very great God or the appearance of God, it’s right for him to take off his sandals. How do you express reverence that you’re standing before the great God of the universe? Well, it’s appropriate to take off your sandals because God is holy.
Whenever we talk about God being holy, it’s hard for us to enter into this properly. So I thought I would remind you that if you were to have God confront you this week or perhaps this afternoon. If God were to appear visibly, and astonishingly, and amazingly in front of you, your reaction is probably not going to be just feeling small. Your reaction will probably not just be feeling, “I’m a creature, He’s the Creator.”
The reaction according to the Bible is that you and I if we came face to face with God in some visible and extraordinary way, is that we would feel ourselves to be endangered by our sinfulness.
We may not feel it right now, but when we come face to face with sinless, Holy God, that’s the reaction, that’s the reaction in the Old Testament. Isaiah says, “Woe is me, I’m in big trouble.”
Then, in Luke’s gospel, Peter says in chapter 5 “Lord, Depart from me. I’m a sinful man; we need distance between us.” And you’ll see it here if you look at 3:6, Moses hid his face because he was afraid, and he’s afraid even while God is saying to him, “I’m the God of Abraham, I’m the God of Isaac, I’m the God of Jacob. I am the covenant God; I stick with my people even if they’re sad, I stick with them even if they cry, I stick with them. I’m going to rescue them; I’m going to get them out of Egypt, I’m going to get them into Canaan. I’m the covenant, God.”
Still, Moses is afraid.
Then God says, and makes him even more afraid, “You’re gonna tell Pharaoh, you’re gonna be my spokesman.”
This humanly is an absurd request, isn’t it? “Old man, go to Pharaoh,” powerful dictator, “tell him that you’re instructing him to release the whole slave labour of Egypt.” Humanly, absurd.
If somebody was to say to me this morning, ” I want you to go and rescue this girl who’s stuck 4000 kilometres off the west coast of Australia. I want you to rescue her, go and do it.” I’m helpless to know what to do. What will I do?
As Moses looks at this commission to go and get the people out of Egypt, humanly, it is an impossible task. But supernaturally, God will do it. God says He will do it. And therefore, what Moses needs to do is to go with the confidence of God. Moses, as we often say, needs to focus not on himself but God.
The Sufficient of God
The second point this morning, the sufficiency that God is. Remember this famous series of excuses from Moses; it’s a dialogue. He has three questions for God; he has a statement for God, he has a request for God. And the three questions that Moses asks are this, “Who am I to do this, who are you so I can tell people who sent me, and what if my people don’t listen to me?” Those are my questions.
It is astonishing that God even allows him to have this dialogue but, of course, not only is God majestic and holy but he’s also very patient and very gentle. He deals with frail children.
The first question which is “Who am I?” You’ll see that in 3:11. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh.” God doesn’t say, “Well, Moses, you’re a very, very able guy, don’t put yourself down. You’ve had 40 years in the palace, you’ve had 40 years in the desert, you’re perfect. He doesn’t do that. He says, verse 12, “I will be with you.” I will be with you, and that will cause a successful mission, that’s all you need. I will be with you.
To the second question which comes up in verse 13. “Suppose I go and say, ‘The God of your fathers’ has sent me’, and they say, ‘What’s his name?’ What shall I tell them?” In other words, “What if I need more information to persuade them, what if I need fresh information, will you please give me your name to use. I need your reference; I need your CV, I need your name on my CV.”
God’s answer comes back verse 14, very powerfully, “I am who I am.” In other words, “I’m the one who is, I’m the one who is real, I’m the one who exists, I’m the one who lives. This is the one who sent you.”
You’ll notice that God, in a very remarkable way, announces Himself to be beyond interrogation. In some subtle way, He says, “I’m just not gonna fit into your filing system, I just don’t have a pigeonhole that I can put myself into for you.” But the real answer comes in verse 15 where he says, “I am the Lord.” You’ll notice in your bible spelled, L-O-R-D, capital L-O-R-D. That’s because whenever you have capital L-O-R-D. In the NIV Bibles and many other Bibles, it means Yahweh. In the original, just four letters Y-H-W-H. The famous Tetragrammaton.
Here is God announcing Himself in just four letters. And people, of course, have stuck in the valves to come up with something like Yahweh, as if this is the best way to pronounce His name. But He is announcing himself to be the one who is and who always will be. Matthew Henry, the old commentator for many centuries ago, says very quaintly that when we announce ourselves, we have to say, “By the grace of God, I am what I am.” And God says “I am.”
You can see when Jesus came and began to use this phrase, “I am,” what a big impact it was having. When he said to the Pharisees in John 8, “Before Abraham was born, I am.” No wonder they picked up stones to stone him. He was making such a clear claim to diety. And every time he said, “I am the bread of life, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the resurrection, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” it just hammer-blows teaching that he is God.
In case you think this is just a piece of academic information, he says in John 8:24, “If you do not believe I am, you will die in your sins.” In other words, to come to grips with the person of Jesus Christ is so vital, your eternity hangs on it. When they arrested him in John 18:5 and they said, “We want Jesus of Nazareth,” he stepped forward, you remember, and he said, “I am.” And the Evangelist John records that when Jesus said, “I am” in the garden at his arrest, they, and I guess we could put in brackets Judas, the soldiers, and the Jews, ran behind one another and fell to the ground.
Astonishing. Imagine filming that.
And a little preview of, of course, what will happen when Jesus appears and announces Himself to be God. “All will bow,” says Paul.
So, the name is not a cryptic name; this is the sovereign person behind the mission, the one who knows what’s going to happen. And the Lord says in 3:18 “You know what will happen, Israel will listen to you.” Verse 19. “Pharaoh won’t listen to you.” Verse 20.” Then he will listen to you. And verse 21. “The Egyptians will help you.” “I know what’s gonna happen,” says God.
Moses’ third question shows that he has not been listening. God had said, “Your people will listen,” and look at chapter 4:1 Moses says, “What if my people don’t listen.” God, with extraordinary patience, gives Moses three extra signs which he can perform, three miracles which would have been very meaningful to the Egyptians. Staff becoming a snake, and then a leprous hand becoming clean, and then, water from the Nile becoming blood.
These are miracles which, undoubtedly, would have been very impactful to the Egyptians. You’ll notice that they are not able to convert people. They point the way, but they do not force the way. And please also note that miracles in the Bible do not come all the way through the Bible. I know some people very casually think the whole of the religious life is meant to be miracles, but actually, the miracles of the Bible come very much with Moses and then around the time of Elijah or Elisha, and then much with Jesus, and then with the apostles, because those four groups or those four clusters, bunches, are really times where the Word has come. And to authenticate the Word, miracles are given as an extra.
Here is Moses bringing the Word, And eventually, of course, the Law, and then there is Elijah or Elisha bringing back the Word, and Jesus coming as the Word, and the Apostles bringing the Word, and God reinforces the Word with these miracles.
Moses makes a statement which is basically, “I’m hopeless at talking.” And the old RSV used to say, “I am not eloquent, either heretofore, or since thou hast spoken.” It’s a great line you can almost imagine the Lord saying, “I see what you mean.”
God rebukes him. God says, “I made your mouth, it’s not gonna be a problem for me.” And then in verse 13, Moses gives a request, he’s fed up, and he says, “Please send someone else.” And God is nearly fed up. And he’s angry, and he decides that he can have Aaron come with him.
Now, friends, the most critical thing in this dialogue is that every time Moses comes up with a fear or an excuse, God answers by talking about Himself. God continually presents Himself as all-sufficient. It’s almost as if God is pleased to see us come to the point where we can’t do stuff so that we’ll turn back and remember that he can. He doesn’t ask us to do things without giving the supply.
When I was on a beach mission, many years ago, in the 1970s, I had the privilege of leading a beach mission, and we had about 45 people on the team, but there was one guy on the team called Chris, and he was just a multi-gifted guy.
Did you want somebody Godly? Find Chris.
Did you want somebody humble? Chris.
Somebody friendly? Chris.
Somebody who’s artistic? Chris.
Somebody who can play music? Get Chris.
Do you want to win the soccer in the afternoon when you have the day off? Get Chris on your team.
It was almost to the point where I thought to myself, “You know if 43 people ring me on the day before the mission and say, ‘We can’t come,’ that’s okay. As long as Chris is there, we will be okay.”
If I might say reverently, God is saying to Moses, “I’m the team. If you have me and you there is a majority, there is a sufficient team for the task.” He’s holy; he’s powerful, he’s unbeatable. He’s also merciful, relational, and communicative. And Egypt, and getting people out of Egypt is like, for you and me, lifting a marble out of a sandpit, it’s not a big problem for God.
We come to our senses, not when we look at the task we’ve been given and call it impossible, of course, it’s impossible for us, and then fall into despair or look at the task which we’ve been given and say, “It’s easy, I’m terrific.” We come to our senses, we become wise people. In fact, we become joyful people when we focus on the fact that God is sufficient and he is sufficient.
That’s why the mature Christian knows that there comes a time where you’ve got to put despair away, and you’ve got to put cleverness away, and you’ve got to turn to him and ask him to be sufficient.
The worldly person never really gets to that point, the worldly person keeps on thinking, “I am clever, I’ll be clever again.” Or perhaps the depressed person thinks, “It didn’t work, it’ll never work.”
But the mature believer steers between those two and says, “I couldn’t do it, but he can do it.” God The sufficient.
The Devotion that God Requires
We read in 4:18 that Moses heads off for the task and he goes to his father-in-law, and you expect his father-in-law to say, “You’re not leaving, I need you. You’re certainly not taking my daughter with you; you’re not taking my grandchild with you.” And Jethro, the father-in-law, says, “God bless you.”
If ever Moses needed some encouragement that God would bless his journey, this must have been very encouraging. Because when He gets to meet with Moses, it’s going to be very difficult, we discover that God is going to harden Pharaoh’s heart, 4;21, and Pharaoh, of course, is going to harden his own heart. And we read elsewhere that his heart will be hardened. And Moses got a very unpopular message for Pharaoh which is, “You’re gonna lose all your slave labour.” And so this encouragement on the way is very special.
We also see in chapter 4:27, another encouragement and that is Aaron, his brother, who’s older than him, and probably has not seen him for a few decades, basically turns up and says, “I’m gonna help you.” What an encouragement?
Then we see in verse 31 that the Israelites, when they hear from Moses what’s happening, they say, “We believe you,” and they bow down and they worship God for being concerned for them. What a series of encouragements that God is already beginning to do what He said He will do.
There is a bizarre incident in verse 24, some of you may have read this before, which proves again, as I said, that God is not a cozy pair of slippers, you can’t domesticate God and turn him into your own personal mascot. Moses, we discover in 4:24 has forgotten or neglected, in the desert years, to circumcise his son. Maybe his wife, the Midianite didn’t care about it that much, maybe Moses was just lazy. But now, here was Moses, he’s heading off to Egypt to do this great task, and he’s heading off as if nothing matters about it. And suddenly, this casual disobedience is not good enough for God. God demands strict obedience, especially of somebody who’s got a responsible position. And Moses, we discover, is not able to play with God, God is deadly serious. In fact, Moses needs to learn that God is more dangerous than Pharaoh
So we read in this very strange incident that the wife quickly does what God has told them to do and gets this boy circumcised, and then, as she symbolically covers Moses’ guilt, and she refers to him as either her troublesome husband or her covenant husband, it’s hard to work out which it is, and God spares them and on they go. It’s just a little incident which not only tells us that the Bible recorders did not leave out stuff which was challenging and perplexing, but it also reminds us that when you’re dealing with God, you cannot bend him into the elastic version of what you would like him to be. No, you and I will bend to him because he is God.
Now, all the answers we see in these two chapters come from God. He’s got the power, but he’s also got the mercy and I, therefore, want to urge you not to read Exodus 3 and 4, which is so easy to do, and focus on Moses and then focus on yourself, that would be a big mistake. What I want you to do as you read Exodus 3 and 4, which we’ve just done very briefly together, is I want you to focus on the one who’s going to achieve the exodus.
Then look after them in the travel. And then make sure they get to Canaan. God, you see, is the Savior. And as you begin to look at the Savior God, it will remind you most clearly of all, of the Lord Jesus who is the Savior God, who doesn’t need our help in the work of salvation, he’s done it all Himself. What he asks us to do is to gratefully receive it, and then with a brand new life, to live for Him faithfully and joyfully.
So I close with a practical question to you. Today is a new day; there are certain things that as a Christian, God wants you to do.
The week is ahead of you. You may have certain things this week which are daunting, perplexing, discouraging, worrying.
Here’s my couple of questions. First of all, how do you know that you’re resting in the rescue of Christ? How do you know that you are resting in the rescue of Christ? The answer is you won’t be anxious to win his acceptance; you’ll have received his acceptance. You’ll have received his acceptance. You won’t be disinterested in the sacrifice of Jesus, that would be very bizarre. The sacrifice of Jesus should be increasingly significant to you.
Now, you’ll know that you’re resting in the rescue of Christ if you’re confident that he has provided all that is necessary for you to be his child.
The flipside of the question is how do you know that you’re serving him with joy in the sphere where he’s placed you? And the answer is it’s not going to be because you’re leaning on your cleverness, though you may be clever. Nor are you gonna be depressed and desperate as though the case is hopeless, that would be to be Godless, but you’re going to be confident that he will provide all that you need to do what he’s asked you to do, he will not ask you to do things without giving you what you need to do them.
The most important thing that God said to Moses, “I will be with you, I will be with you.” And Jesus echoes the same, doesn’t he? “To the disciples of all generations and I will be with you.”
Well, let’s thank Him, let’s bow our heads.
Our Father, we pray this morning that you would help us to rest in the rescue of the Lord Jesus, and we pray that you would help us to serve in the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus. And we pray it in his name, Amen.