The burning bush (Ex 3:1-15)

If you were here last week you’ll know that we’ve begun a new sermon series in Exodus. Over the next couple of months we will follow the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised land. A journey that is something of a metaphor for the Christian life – a journey out of slavery to sin and towards the Promised Land of the world to come.

In many ways the book of Exodus is a biography of one man – Moses. Last week that biography began with the account of Moses’ birth in Egypt and his remarkable deliverance from the infanticide policies of Pharaoh. While the rest of his countryman suffered as slaves, Moses was raised in the royal court, as an adopted prince of Egypt.

But Moses didn’t enjoy this position of privilege for long. As a young man, Moses saw an Egyptian abusing a Hebrew slave and killed him. He then fled the country and ended up hundreds of miles to the east, in the land of Midian. Whilst there, Moses married a woman called Zipporah, and then spent many uneventful years working as a humble shepherd.

With the benefit of hindsight, Midian (in modern day Saudi Arabia) was the perfect place for Moses to be trained and prepared for his future God-given mission.

Because the desert survival skills and shepherding experience that Moses gained in Midian turned out to be ideal preparation for his future role as the leader of the Israelities. He was destined to be the shepherd of his people, leading them through the desert wilderness towards the Promised Land.

It’s actually a lesson to us that hard, frustrating, time-consuming periods of our own life can be part of God’s plan for us. Part of his plan to make us holy, or part of his plan to prepare us for work and ministry that is to come. I’ve certainly learnt that lesson for myself.

In the meantime (without the benefit of hindsight or God’s perspective on events) we need to cultivate those precious qualities of faith, hope and love. We need to learn the virtue of simple obedience and trust. Trust that God can bring some good out of even the toughest experiences.

Moses meets his Maker!

What type of things capture your attention? What really grabs you? Maybe you stop and stare at a beautiful sunset, a lovely landscape, or are mesmerized by new cars, clothes or computers when they are advertised on TV? Or perhaps you stop what you’re doing when a beautiful piece of music comes on the radio?

In our Exodus passage today Moses’ attention was grabbed by a strange bush. An isolated bush on Mount Horeb that was aflame, yet not burning up. As Moses draws near to investigate this mysterious bush he has a remarkable encounter with God. An encounter in which God would reveal his character to Moses and commission him on a life-changing mission.

The first thing Moses discovers is that God loves to speak to his people. Because as Moses went to take a close look at the burning bush, a voice came out of it and said “Moses, Moses!” (v.4). This repetition of Moses’ name was a sign of familiarity and affection. In ancient middle eastern culture to use someone’s name twice indicated a close personal relationship with them.

The God who made the whole universe, the God who had helped famous Israelites like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the past, now wanted to talk intimately to Moses!

Unsurprisingly this voice from the bush commanded Moses attention – he instantly replied “Here I am!” (v.4). When our Creator wants to speak to us, we should pay careful attention!

The same principle applies today. God’s words to us in Scripture demand our close attention. We are to read the Bible regularly, carefully and prayerfully. We should read the words of Scripture with a sense of awe and expectancy. We should read the Bible expecting God to speak into our lives and shape our beliefs and behaviour. As we open the pages of Scripture, we should echo those words of Moses and say to God – here I am Lord, your servant is listening!

Back at the bush, the first thing God proceeds to tells Moses is that he is holy. In verse 5 he tells Moses to take off his sandals because he’s “standing on holy ground” (v.5).

God is holy because he is perfectly good and utterly unique. He is morally perfect and incomparable to anything or anyone else. None of us can match his power or his purity. We humans are fallible and fallen. We all have our weaknesses and sins. We all do, think or say bad things from time to time – but not God. We all need to say sorry sometimes, but God never does!

In his presence our human response should include reverence and repentance. Reverence at his righteousness, and repentance for our wrongdoing. In today’s passage we’re told Moses expressed his reverence and repentance by removing his sandals and hiding his face. We too should have a healthy fear of the Lord and seek his forgiveness for our sins – as we did in the words of our confession this morning.

As well as telling him about his holiness, God also gives Moses the great privilege of knowing his name. In verse 14 the Lord refers to himself as “I AM WHO I AM” (or simply “I AM”). Its a name that could be translated as “Always”. A name that reflects God’s eternal existence and everlasting goodness. A name designed to remind us that God is totally unique and utterly trustworthy – there is no human prophet, politician or pundit who should compete for our loyalty or love.

Moses’ mission – Let my people go!

Have you noticed that most companies, charities and churches nowadays have their own mission statements? Statements that succinctly sum up their aims and objectives.

For example, Coca Cola’s aim is: “To refresh the world and inspire moments of optimism”, while our mission statement here at St John’s is to be “a place of worship where all are welcome”. And who can forget the starship Enterprise’s famous mission statement in Star Trek: “To boldly go where no man has gone before!”

In today’s passage, God takes the initiative and gives Moses his own mission statement. God has seen the Israelites “misery” and “suffering” in Egypt and has heard their cries for deliverance. God intends to rescue them from slavery, and take them to a wonderful Promised Land – “a good and spacious land, full of milk and honey” (v.8).

And the Lord wants Moses to be the man to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to their new home. His mission statement for Moses appears in verse 10, doesn’t it? God says: “go, I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” Moses’ mission is to confront Pharaoh, demand freedom for the captives, and lead his people into liberty. Easy?!

Understandably, this all made Moses rather nervous, and he initially asked God to commission someone else (4:13)! Moses doubted whether his fellow Hebrews would believe that God had sent him to save them. And Moses didn’t think he’d be able to persuade Pharaoh to let them all go free (4:10).

But Moses had no need to worry, because God had promised to be with him (see verse 12 today). God would help Moses say the right things and (as we shall see over the coming weeks) would perform astonishing miracles to ensure that the Israelites would indeed reach that Promised Land.

There is an important lesson here for us. As Christians we have our own mission statement, our own Great Commission – to share our faith, love our neighbour and be faithful disciples of Jesus. This is no easy task. But God is with us, just as he was with Moses. Like Moses, we have God’s words of promise to hold on to.

But we also have something Moses lacked – we have God’s Spirit within us:
• A Spirit to help us overcome trials and temptation.
• A Spirit who can help us explain and defend our faith.
• A Spirit of power who can give us more faith, hope and love than we thought humanly possible.
• A Holy Spirit from a holy God.

Emmanuel – even better than a burning bush!

As I draw to a close, we’ve seen in today’s passage that Moses came face to face with a God who is holy, a God who speaks, a God who loves, a God who saves. Moses discovered things about our Creator’s character that remain unchanged. He encountered divine character traits that continue to this day.

As Christians we know that a millennium after Moses, the Lord appeared again and allowed himself to be encountered once more. But this time he was present not as a burning bush or even as an angel – but as a human being.

In Jesus Christ, God entered history and met with people face-to-face. As we heard just now in our Gospel reading, Jesus used the divine name, “I am” to refer to himself. He was ‘Emmanuel’, God-with-us – even better than a burning bush!

• And so through Jesus, God spoke. Jesus taught with words of such authority that they amazed those who heard them.

• God also showed his holiness in Christ, because Jesus led a perfect life – utterly unique and blameless in every respect.

• And thirdly, Jesus showed us once again that God loves to save his people. Because by dying and rising again, Christ came to make it possible for us to become God’s forgiven friends forever. To be saved by faith in him.

I hope you agree with me that Jesus is the most inspiring, intriguing and important person who has ever lived. Just as Moses wanted to take a closer look at that burning bush, we should all want to take a closer look at Christ. We should all want to draw near to him in prayer, in the pages of the Bible and in our daily discipleship.

When Moses met with God at the burning bush it changed his life for good and for the better. Through faith in Christ, God wants to do the same for us today.

Phil Weston