Text: Exodus 3 and 4
Open your Bibles this morning to the Old Testament, the book of Exodus, chapter 3. We are going to begin by reading the first six verses from Exodus 3, and we will be reading some verses out of chapter 4. This is a very familiar story to most of us. It is one of the great events in the history of God’s working with his people.
NOW MOSES was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. ”Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
I wonder if you have ever felt that maybe God has forgotten where you are. Have you ever had the feeling that perhaps God had forgotten all about you? I have a suspicion that is the way Moses must have felt. It is ironic that this chapter opens with the words and Moses was tending his father-in-law’s sheep in the back side of the desert. Freely translated, that is the boondocks of the desert. Oh my goodness! What happened to that young man of promise? What happened to that young man with high and lofty ambitions? What happened to that man who was so thoroughly trained and prepared for great things? Raised in Pharaoh’s palace, educated in the finest of institutions, a man destined for greatness. Here he is in the back side of the desert, tending sheep. What happened?
He did what he thought was right. You know the story. One day he saw an Egyptian abusing a fellow Hebrew so he slew that Egyptian and buried him in the sand. Then one day he saw two Hebrews fighting, and he tried to intervene. They said are you going to do to us what you did to that Egyptian? Who made you a prince over us? Who made you our boss? Moses learned that his murder had been found out, so he left. Here he is. 40 years! My goodness, all that promise, all that expectation, all that enthusiasm. Here he is, forgotten. I wonder if you have ever felt that way.
I wonder if you might feel like some men in our church felt a few years ago when after giving 20 and 25 years of faithful loyal service to a company, the company suddenly one day said you are through. We are downsizing, keeping only the younger men. You wonder what happened to all those years of faithful and loyal service. In the midst of it all, I was serving God. And now here I am. Has God just forgotten about me? Maybe you are a woman who married her knight in shining armor to find out that he was not a knight. Nor did he own shining armor, and you’ve been living for years now in an abusive relationship. You wonder has God forgotten where I am.
There are some ministers who have asked that question. They surrender to the ministry with such high expectations. They went through all the training. Now they are out in the back side of some lonely desert. Nobody knows them, and they seem to be forgotten not only by God but by friends. I think sometimes single parents, especially a single mother who is trying to raise children and work. She wonders what has happened to my life. What happened to all the promise? What happened to all the prospects? Has God forgotten me?
I want to talk to you about meeting God in unexpected places and at unexpected times. I want to be honest with you. I’ve never tended sheep. I’m not a shepherd. I can’t put that on my resume: I spent five years being a shepherd. It seems to me like a dull, boring job following a bunch of dumb sheep around for forty years. I somehow imagine that when Moses woke up that morning, he had no expectations of anything being any different. He got his staff and went out, trudging along. What does a man think about? What is there left to think about after forty years of that? He must know that desert like the back of his hand. How boring! The day is not filled with expectation. He is trying to think of a good reason to get up. I think the last thing Moses was expecting that day was to see a burning bush. That must have been a joy. You would look for anything to relieve the boredom.
Here he is going along, going through his daily routine. All of a sudden he sees this bush. I imagine he knew that bush. He probably passed it every day for forty years. He looked at it and it was on fire! Some have tried to explain that away by saying it was just the way the sun was hitting it. There are always people who try to explain away godly things. No, the bush was on fire. Moses was a veteran out there. He wouldn’t be fooled by an apparition. He turned aside to see. When he turned aside, suddenly a voice spoke to him. Moses! Moses! That’s the first time anybody has called his name in a long time. He says here I am. God said take your shoes off. Don’t come any closer for you are standing on holy ground. Then he identified himself. I am the God of your father. He met God, and his whole life was changed. He discovered that during the forty years when he thought God had forgotten him, that God had not forgotten him. All along God knew right where he was.
I think one of the most encouraging things to me about this story and other stories similar to this in the Bible is that no matter how much I may have failed or feel a failure, and no matter how much my enthusiasm may have drained away because of the boredom of life or because of the twists and the fate of life, GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM. He has not forgotten me. I could meet him, and he could meet me in an experience that would transform my life at any moment.
I. A willingness to see the supernatural in the natural.
I think for us to qualify for this kind of encounter there are certain things that need to be true. First of all, in order for us at any moment to meet God, any moment for God to come and save us out of our drudgery, delivery us from our meaninglessness, there has to be a certain (I’m not sure the best way to say this.) willingness to see the supernatural in the natural. There has to be a certain curiosity of life, a sensitivity to things that you don’t expect. I think you have to be willing to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, to see the divine in the daily.
I came up with a phrase awhile back. I have a hard time. I’m like Moses. We’ll get to that in a moment. Moses said he had a hard time speaking. Those of you who have heard me a lot know that I sometimes don’t get these words just right. I’ve practiced, and I am going to try and hit it the first time. In trying to express what I feel, and trying to express what I am trying to say, I came up with this phrase: terminological rigidity. I believe it got it the first time. Honey, did I? Great! Of course, I’ve practiced. I know I’m pushing the envelope. Terminological rigidity, what do I mean by that? We come up with a definition of something or a certain terminology, and every definition, all terminology has limits, boundaries to it. So if we define something, then we commit ourselves to that definition. We are so rigid that if anything happens outside that definition, then we ignore or deny that it has happened. Do you understand what I’m getting at? We say it has to fit within this definition. It has to fit within our preconceived notion of what it is, or it is not real.
When comes to this idea of worshiping God, of meeting God, of experiencing God, that many, if not most, of us believe that these encounters have to come within the four walls of a church. More than likely, they have to occur at some worship service. There has got to be a choir there; no doubt about it. You have got to have good music. There has to be somebody officiating, like a preacher or somebody. Within the strictures of that is when you are going to hear God. That is when you are going to meet God. The rest of the week is all secular, run of the mill. If you are going to meet God, it’s going to be here so we discount everything outside church.
I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that when those two men were on the road to Emmaus, Jesus joined them and they didn’t recognize him at all. They had a lively conversation, and their hearts began to catch fire. When they got to their house, they bid this stranger to come in and break bread with them. So he did. When they saw Jesus and recognized who he was, it was when he was simply breaking the bread. It wasn’t when he was feeding 5,000. It wasn’t when he was raising Lazarus from the grave. It wasn’t when he was healing the ten lepers. It was in a normal routine of daily life. When he broke the bread, they saw him in that ordinary, dull, mundane experience.
I’m going to confess to you this morning that I’ve had some great encounters with God in church services, but I believe the greatest and the most life changing encounters I’ve had with God have been outside the four walls of a building. They have usually been when I am alone and the last thing I was expecting was for God to break into my life.
The reason I say that I believe it requires a certain curiosity, a certain sensitivity, willingness and openness to see these things is that if you read the text carefully, it says that when God saw Moses turn aside, then he spoke to him. I have an idea that when Moses caught a glimpse of that burning bush if he had said how about that, (I’m busy. I’ve got my job to do. I don’t have time. I have to keep on my schedule. I have too many things to take care of. I don’t have time.) I don’t think God would have called after him, chased after him. God saw that Moses took the time to turn aside, he refused to be preoccupied with the mundane affairs of life. In the midst of that daily routine there was a burning bush. There was something that captured his attention, drew him, and he yielded to that drawing.
You say, preacher, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a burning bush. No, I haven’t seen a burning bush either, but I have a burning bush within me, and it’s called the Holy Spirit. Do you mean to tell me you have never experienced those times when suddenly there was a burning in your spirit for something more. It’s indescribable and un-definable, but there was a longing, an aching, but you were too busy, too preoccupied to check it out. I think we have missed many a burning bush because of our preconceived ideas and our too busy schedules.
As a matter of fact, I have an idea we ought to always go around barefooted. I’m not going to do what one preacher did. I was in a service, and the preacher asked us to take our shoes off, literally take them off. I didn’t mind the smell, but it burned my eyes terribly. I’m not going to ask you to do that. There is a sense in which we ought to always walk barefoot because we are always walking on holy ground in God’s presence.
In the most unexpected ways, and in the most unexpected times, God may be speaking to you, and may be calling to you. You may have an encounter with him. But you’ve got to be sensitive enough to respond to that burning, and open to believe that God can speak to you supernaturally out of the absolute natural and mundane of our lives. Most of us don’t live brilliantly exciting lives. Most of us just live normal lives. Your life is just normal enough not to ever have a movie made about it. That’s the way most of us are.
Something else that really blessed me about this is that God meets us in a very personal way. Even though we are a congregation this morning, when God meets us and we encounter him, it is in a personal way. It was personal because he called Moses by name. He said, Moses! Moses! And Moses said, here I am. But as I read there was something else that struck me. I don’t think in all my times of reading this story it has ever struck me like this before. In verse 5 God is going to identify himself. “Do not come any closer,” God said. ”Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”
We are accustomed to him saying I am the God of your fathers, meaning Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Notice that is not what God says. I think here Moses needs a real personal touch. After all he has been out of circulation for forty years. So he says I am the God of your father, your dad. Then he says the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I wonder why he said I am the God of your father. I believe it is because Moses needed that personal touch at that moment.
My Dad died in 1990. It is a strange thing that ever once in awhile, usually when I am in Oklahoma or Arkansas, I’ll meet somebody, an older gentleman, who will come up and say I knew your dad. Your dad and I were good friends. I knew you when you were just a little boy. Preacher, what does that mean? I don’t know. It touches me. The minute this man says I knew your dad. He was a good man. I don’t know. Suddenly there is an intimate connection built between that stranger and me. It suddenly makes me want to listen and learn more of what he knew about my father. Moses is there, banished to the backside, frustrated in utter failure. God is saying to Moses, you may have forgotten me, but I am the God that your dad served, your father knew. That’s when Moses hid his face.
First of all, for us to have these encounters in unexpected places, there must be that certain willingness to see the supernatural in the natural, to believe that God can divinely speak in the daily routine. I believe there is something else that is required.
II. A certain reverence for God’s character and who God is
God said Moses, don’t come any closer. It’s one thing to be curious, but don’t get too familiar. I may be the God of your father, but that doesn’t mean you can rush into my presence with your shoes on. That’s a caution for all of us. I know you, Moses, and I know you by name, but don’t get carried away. There is still a difference between us. I am the infinite, and you are the finite. I am the Creator, and you are the creature. Take your shoes off. And Moses hid his face for he was afraid to look upon God.
A certain reverence, respect and awe for God’s character. I’m afraid that is something greatly missing in our generation. I think in our attempts to become more personal with God, perhaps in worship and in other ways (and this is the emphasis nowadays for our worship to be more personal. I believe that with all my heart.) we need to understand that there is a difference between being intimate and being familiar. You still don’t treat God in a casual, cavalier, familiar way. There still has to be that awesomeness.
He hid his face because he was afraid. You know this. You’ve been told this a dozen times. When the Old Testament talks about fearing the Lord, it’s not talking about being scared of the dark, or something like that. It means you have a certain awe and reverence and respect for God. That’s the idea. So you are careful where you walk, and how you walk. It is that kind of awareness. Moses didn’t jump up and down and shout when God spoke to him. He hid his face.
It’s like John on the Isle of Patmos. He was another man who could well have thought that God had forgotten him. God didn’t know he was exiled on the Isle of Patmos. What happened to all my years of faithful service? Has God forgotten all about me? I’m in exile now, forgotten about. Suddenly Jesus the resurrected, glorified Lord appears to him. What does John do? Does he strike up the band? No, he falls on his face as though he were dead.
When Peter was out fishing, and they weren’t catching any fish, Jesus said why don’t you try casting on the other side? There is nothing worse a fisherman hates than to have a non-fisherman giving advice on how to fish. Here was a carpenter’s son. He was on the shore. How long have you been fishing? All night! Caught anything? Don’t ask that question. If I’d wanted you to know, I would have told you without your having to ask. No, I haven’t caught anything. Well, why don’t you try on the other side? And Peter did, and brought in this huge net of fishes. What did Peter do? He ran to shore and said let’s give three cheers for Jesus. No. He fell on his face and said depart from me, O God, for I am a sinful man.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you and I are always to be super serious and solemn in the presence of God in our worship. I’m not saying that at all. But I think you understand that what I am getting at is that if you and I are to meet God and have an encounter with God, if God is to speak to us, I believe there has to be in our hearts and in our lives a quality of respect and reverence and awe of God. The ground was not holy because the bush was burning. The ground was holy because God was there.
III. All such encounters with God result in a certain responsibility in God’s cause.
I think first of all, there must be this sensitive spirit, this willingness to see the supernatural in the natural, willing to hear God speak out of a bush. Secondly, I think there is required of us a certain reverence and respect for God. The third thing I think this story tells us is that all such encounters with God result in a certain responsibility in God’s cause.
You don’t meet God just for the sake of meeting God. You will notice that it says in verse 10 of chapter 3: So now go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt. In other words, God says there is a purpose behind this. There is a mission behind this. There is something you are to do.
He goes on to detail further in chapters 3 and 4 exactly what Moses is to do, and what he is to say. He said you will serve God in this mountain. In other words, I am meeting you, and we are having this encounter, not just to make you feel good, and not to make you feel warm and fuzzy. There is something that I have for you to do. I want to tell you something, folks. Moses has been missing for forty years. He had given up on any expectations of doing anything. Let’s face it. His best days were gone. He was no longer a young man. He is 80 years old now.
God has something he wants you to do. There is a place where you fit in the community of Christ, the body of Christ, and God has destined it. You are not going to escape it, and he is not going to forget it. You can make all the excuses you want to make as Moses did. The Bible says in Ephesians 2:10 that God created me unto good works which he has before preordained that I should walk in them. In other words, long before I was born in eternity past, God already knew what I was to do. He had a place picked out for me. Success in life is not making a lot of money, or the other things by which we measure success, but it is finding out what you were created to do and doing it. That’s success. And God is not going to let you escape if he has, as the Scripture says, preordained you for good works. You are going to walk in them.
I like Moses making all these excuses. The thing is that Moses more than likely put his shoes back on after this experience. Why? Because there was something to do, places to go, things to do. He went back to his father-in-law and said I’m quitting and going back to Egypt. I am going to lead my people out of Egypt. What I probably would have done was to stay right there by the burning bush and started a church called The Burning Bush Fellowship. Everybody come to the burning bush! This is where God is—right here. That’s probably what I would have done. No, he left that place. Burning bushes serve their purpose, but you don’t make holy places out of them.
I want us to look at these excuses. They are familiar to us, but to me it is funny. I think a screenwriter or playwright or someone could make a hilarious comedy out of this. In Exodus 3:10 he says, So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt. But Moses said to God, Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? This man has lost a lot of his ambition. He has lost a lot of his pride. He may be that God needed to consign Moses to the back side of the desert to kind of temper him down just a little bit. Here is a man who resorted to violence. He was quick tempered and said I am going to do the work of God and do it this way. He was wildly enthusiastic and impetuous and slew that Egyptian. Maybe he needed 40 years in the back side of the desert to calm down.
Do you remember when Jesus had breakfast with the disciples in John 21? Of course, Jesus is not going to take the natural route. He sees Jesus on the shore. He’s not about to wait for the boat. He leaps off the boat and swims. That’s just Peter. Jesus doesn’t question him right then. Have you noticed? They sit down and eat breakfast. I think he is giving old Simon a chance to calm down. Calm down, Peter! I’ve got some things I want to say to you. You are going to have to calm down a little, son. Let’s eat, and then we’ll take a stroll. I want to ask you if you love me.
Maybe the reason God has assigned some of us to our desert is because we just needed time to cool off, calm down, be tempered, become mature. The interesting thing is that every time Moses makes an excuse, God answers it. There is no excuse. He makes excuse after excuse.
Look at Exodus 4:10 for a minute. This is his last excuse. Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. (He is saying God, I have never been eloquent and nothing has changed since you have been talking to me these past ten minutes.) I am slow of speech and tongue. (I’m like that Dunn preacher that is going to come along. I stammer and can’t say things well. I’m just not a talker. I can’t express myself, and I’ve always had trouble. Lord, I can’t speak.)
Look at verse 11. The LORD said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (I don’t think I’m going to go any further with that. That’s a pretty bold statement, isn’t it? Preacher, are you saying God makes people deaf and dumb and blind? I don’t know. I’m just reading what it says. Basically, it says to me that God not only knows where I am; he knows what I am. He knows my imperfections, my inabilities, my inadequacies. Every excuse I bring to God why I can’t do this, God meets it.
Here is the thing that captivates me about this particular incident. The Lord admits that Moses is slow of speech, and maybe he has some speech impediment. God admits that. He doesn’t say Moses you are just making excuses. In verse 12 he says, “Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” But Moses said, “O LORD, please send someone else to do it.” Now, we are getting to the truth. All those excuses basically boil down to Lord, just let somebody else do it. God said I’m not going to do it. I foreordained you and you are in my grasp. I’ve captured you in my net, and I am not going to let you go.
The Lord’s anger burned against Moses, and he said okay you are slow of speech, but what about your brother Aaron? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way. Both of you will be happy when you get together. I will give you the words you will speak to him, and he shall speak for you. The thing of it is God did not heal Moses’ problem. He did not solve or take away Moses’ speech impediment which is what I would expect him to do. This is what you and I would expect God to do. Lord, if you want me to do something, if you have something for me, then you are going to have to change me, give me new gifts, new abilities, take away these inadequacies. God said no, I’m not going to do that. I know what you are. I made you like you are. But I have something over here that will compensate for your lack. Everybody lacks. Nobody has every gift. Nobody can do everything. Everybody lacks, has certain deficiencies. What does God expect from me? Don’t worry. Aaron is on his way. Not only did you think I had forgotten about you, but you thought your brother had forgotten about you.
Whatever lack, or inadequacy, I have, there is no excuse. God compensates for that. There’s an Aaron for every Moses. To sum up, God meets us just where we are. Moses did not have to get out of the desert and get back into the palace before God spoke to him. God spoke to him right where he was. We fancy sometimes that is we get everything in our lives straightened out and back to where it ought to be, then God will speak to us. No, God speaks to us right where we are. He speaks to us in the desert. He speaks to the prodigal son in the pig pen. That’s why we sing that song, just Just As I Am, I come. God meets you right where you are.
You have got to have a certain curiosity and sensitivity, maybe not here in the four walls of this church, but maybe tomorrow on your dull job God may grow (it sounded like Ron said “throw” a burning bush) a burning bush and he may speak to you.
Would you bow your heads . . .