Exodus 3-4: The LORD sends his man - 25th May 2014 - Dave Walker

Bible reading: John 20:19-23

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The Lord speaks to his people so that he can speak through his people.

We’re three weeks into the book of Exodus, and it’s our conviction that as we study this together, God is speaking to us. This book is all about God; as we study this book we get to know him as we hear the things has said and done. He is the hero of the story. Last week we saw loads of wonderful things about God’s character. He met with Moses, and he spoke to Moses; he showed Moses his character. “I am who I am,” do you remember that? God says who God is; and God will always be who he says he is. The holy and eternal God. The God of his people, who identifies himself with his people, and who stoops down to rescue them. So much we’ve seen about God already.

Today we reach the next stage: the Lord speaks to his people so that he can speak through his people. We’ll see that as we see God speaking to Moses, so that he can speak through Moses. Now, before we get into that, it’s worth just pausing for a moment to think about this question: how do we apply stuff about Moses to us? Because we’re not Moses, are we? There’s an awful lot about Moses which is very, very different to our situation. We’re not called to be the rescuer, like Moses was. But Jesus was, wasn’t he? God sent Jesus to be our rescuer. So when we see God sending Moses here, we need to ask the question “what does this teach us about Jesus?” But then the sending didn’t stop with Jesus did it? Think of a pond; when you throw a stone into a pond and it splashes in the middle, the ripples run outwards, don’t they? That’s why we had that reading from John 20 before. Do you remember what Jesus said to his disciples? “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” God sent Jesus (splash!), Jesus sent… his disciples. The apostles. That word “apostles” literally means “sent ones”. But then the sending didn’t finish there, either. Through the message of the apostles, the gospel that they passed on, now God sends us.

And in all of that this principle holds true: God speaks to his people so that he can speak through his people. He spoke to Moses to speak to the Israelites. He spoke to Jesus to speak to the apostles, so that they could speak Jesus’ message to us, so we can speak it to others. Do you see that? God speaks to his people, so that he can speak through his people. As we see God speaking to Moses today, we can learn things about Jesus, about the apostles, and about us.

Ok, let’s get on with it.

Exodus 3:7-10  The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey--the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.  9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.  10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt."

Do you see the change of gear there in verse 10? Before, God has been saying “I, I, I” hasn’t he? “I have heard the misery of my people in Egypt… so I have come down to rescue them” and then verse 10: “So now, go. I am sending you.” And what is Moses’ question? Well, what would you ask if it was you?

Exodus 3:11  But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"

That’s the question, isn’t it? Who am I? Well, who is he? He’s a shepherd, living out in the rural back of nowhere. More than that, he’s a fugitive, a wanted man, unwanted by the Israelites but wanted for murder by the Egyptians. An unusual choice in some ways. Who am I? But then also Moses is on to something big here, isn’t he? God is speaking to him; he’s meeting with God and one thing that meeting with God always does to humans is that it makes us aware of our inadequacy. Our weakness and sinfulness and brokenness. As the bright light of God shines, every wrinkle and every blemish shows up. Who am I?

And God’s answer? Exodus 3:12  And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain."

I will be with you. This is the LORD: I am who I am, I will be who I will be; I will be…with you. Who am I? says Moses. I am, says the Lord. The important thing is not who Moses is. The important thing is who is with Moses. The Lord is with Moses. The Lord who has just vowed to rescue his people. The Lord is going to do it. And he will do it as Moses goes.

Here’s a big thing to remember about this: God sends a man in weakness to show His power.

This message is written all through the Bible. The Bible teaches us all manner of little lessons, but there are just a few really big ones. This is one of the biggest lessons of the Bible. God is sufficient; God is strong, God can rescue: Trust God; lean on God; and as you to that the glory goes to God. He wants us to learn that, and he teaches it through the weakness of humans.

Do you remember how we said at the start that as we watch Moses here we can learn about Jesus, about the apostles, and about us? That’s true of this, isn’t it? God sends a man in weakness to show His power. Think about Jesus: the man in weakness. The weakness of a baby in a basket (a manger), a fugitive on the run from king Herod, the weakness of an itinerant preacher, the weakness of a condemned criminal, the weakness of a corpse. And in that is the biggest display of the saving power of God ever seen. Or the apostles, sent out by Jesus as men in weakness. What did Paul say? 1 Corinthians 2:1-5  “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.  4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power,  5 so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.”

And then there’s us. All sorts of weaknesses, each of us a work in progress, far from the finished article. “Just as I am, though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt; fightings within and fears without…O Lamb of God, I come.” Sound like the sort of people God sends. People in weakness. So that he can show his power.

Exodus 3:16-22  "Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them,`The LORD, the God of your fathers--the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob--appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt.  17 And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites--a land flowing with milk and honey.'  18 "The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him,`The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God.'  19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him.  20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.  21 "And I will make the Egyptians favourably disposed towards this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed.  22 Every woman is to ask her neighbour and any woman living in her house for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters. And so you will plunder the Egyptians."

So God sends Moses to do what? To speak, doesn’t he? Look at verse 16 again: “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them ,`The LORD, the God of your fathers--the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob--appeared to me…” And then verse 18: “Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him,`The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us…” Moses’ task from God is to speak, isn’t it? But notice – he is to speak only what God has said. God speaks to Moses so that he can speak through Moses. Moses’ job is to pass on God’s words. He’s not at liberty to make it up. The message doesn’t come from him. He just passes it on.  

And notice as well that it might be Moses who speaks, but God does the saving, doesn’t he? Verse 19: “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him.  20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.” Moses is not inactive: he goes and he speaks. But he has to trust God to do the saving. It’s not Moses’ job to fix Egypt, to take matters into his own hands and sort it out himself. He’s tried that already – you can look at the end of chapter 2 if you want to see how that worked out for him. No, God sends him to speak God’s words, and to trust God to do the saving.

Now again, this is how God’s sending has always worked. Think about Jesus again. What does Jesus say? John 14:10 “The words I say to you are not just my own; rather it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” Do you see? Jesus passes on the words of his Father. As he does that his Father is at work in him.

And that’s how the sending goes on. Think about the ripples in the pond again. The splash is Jesus. Jesus who is the word of God; Jesus who sends out God’s message. And the message of Jesus ripples outwards in just the same way. What about the apostles – what did Jesus say to them? “Go and make disciples of all nations baptising them and teaching them to obey all I have commanded you.” The apostles didn’t change the message. It was their job to go and speak God’s words; the message of Jesus. And to trust God to do the saving.

So it is with us. The message is not up for grabs. The message is a given. Do you see that? There will always be masses of pressure on us to change our message to suit the times in which we live, to appeal to the people around us, even to fall in line with our own desires and opinions. There will be bits of God’s message we’ll want to play down and hush up – the message of God’s judgment; the reality of Hell; the fact that Jesus is the only way to be saved; the fact that God demands holy living, an altogether different morality to the world around. Those things will not be popular; they will not be easy for people to hear. But the message is not up to us. The gospel of Jesus is what it is. It is the message that God has given us in the Bible. Not edited highlights. Not rebranding. God doesn’t send scriptwriters; He sends messengers.

And it’s not up to us to fix the world you know. Do you know that? Often there’s a thing with Christians isn’t there – we really want to help. Really we do. God by his Holy Spirit gives us these compassionate hearts that notice the pain and the brokenness around us and we really want to help. But sadly all too often we don’t know where to start. We can end up standing around wringing our hands - “we’ve got to do something, we’ve got to do something!” We’ve got to speak of Jesus! Haven’t we? We can’t fix the world. It’s our role to introduce people to the one person who can. God in Jesus Christ. He’s the one who can do the saving. He can. Really. How sad when Christians in their desire to do good neglect the one thing that can really help. The message of Jesus Christ.

Exodus 4:1-17  Moses answered, "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say,`The LORD did not appear to you'?"  2 Then the LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?" "A staff," he replied.  3 The LORD said, "Throw it on the ground." Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it.  4 Then the LORD said to him, "Reach out your hand and take it by the tail." So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand.  5 "This," said the LORD, "is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers--the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob--has appeared to you."  6 Then the LORD said, "Put your hand inside your cloak." So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was leprous, like snow.  7 "Now put it back into your cloak," he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh.  8 Then the LORD said, "If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second.  9 But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground."  10 Moses said to the LORD, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue."  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?  12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."  13 But Moses said, "O Lord, please send someone else to do it."  14 Then the LORD's anger burned against Moses and he said, "What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you.  15 You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.  16 He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.  17 But take this staff in your hand so that you can perform miraculous signs with it."

I love this passage. How funny and realistic Moses is, isn’t he? “Err… err… err… O Lord, please send someone else!” He’s like Arthur Dent. And how patient God is with him; how wonderfully God accommodates himself to Moses’ weakness. What if they don’t believe me? Show them the staff. Show them the hand. Show them the water turning into blood. I can’t speak! I invented the mouth! I can speak and I can make people listen! I will help you! Even when God is getting cross with Moses at the end he still makes allowances, doesn’t he? He sends Aaron to help.

God’s messengers in God’s mission do not lack God’s provision. God who has spoken to his people is well able to speak through his people. He is able to make people hear. He is able to take faltering, weak messengers and do wonderful things through their message. He has the power to back up what they say.

Again, think of Jesus sending his apostles. That reading we had from John 20 before. As he sends them, what did he say? “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” and he breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus sends out his apostles to speak his message, but he doesn’t abandon them does he? He goes with them by his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who gives them courage to speak the gospel message. The Holy Spirit who opens people’s ears to hear their message. The Holy Spirit who enables people to respond in faith.

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit? If so you’ll speak of Jesus. That’s what belief in the Holy Spirit looks like in action; it looks like speaking of Jesus. Now I’m not just talking about evangelism here, you know, speaking to people who don’t believe; think of Moses – he spoke to the Israelites and he spoke to Pharaoh; think of Jesus – he spoke to his disciples and to the crowds; the apostles – they spoke to strengthen the churches and to proclaim the gospel to people who hadn’t heard. So what about us – we’re called to speak the truth in love to one another and to the people around us who don’t know him. It’s both. But we must speak.

So, what have we seen today? There’s so much we’ve had to leave out – I’d love to answer questions about how the miracles work in this passage and whether we should expect similar ones, I’d love you to come and ask me about the weird bit in chapter 4:24-26 where the Lord nearly kills Moses; we haven’t even got on to the bit about Israel being God’s firstborn son. So much we haven’t seen yet.

But we have seen this haven’t we? God speaks to his people so that he can speak through his people. He sends messengers, people, in weakness, so that he can show his power. And so, as his messengers we need to make sure that it’s his message we’re speaking. His gospel, not ours. The message of Jesus. As we do that, we can have every confidence in him to do the saving.