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Monday, January 24, 2011

Taking Matters into Your Own Hands (Exodus 2, Acts 7)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
January 23, 2011
Some Music Used 
Cong. Song: "All Creatures/Give Glory" (arr. Austell, Dawson)
Cong. Song: "Everlasting God" (Brown)
Choir: "We are Not Alone" (Choplin)

Taking Matters into Your Own Hands
Texts: Exodus 2:11-25; Acts 7:22-29

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today we continue our study of Exodus and find baby Moses grown up. In past weeks we have seen several overarching themes for Exodus that we will see reinforced and lived out in today’s text.

First, we saw that God is not thwarted or sidelined by evil or by human sin or disobedience. Rather, God is able to accomplish His purpose in the world in His own timing and for His glory. We saw that in the specific life of Joseph and in the 360-year history of the Hebrew people in Exodus 1, and we are seeing it in the life of Moses and the coming deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt.

Second, we saw that even in the face of and midst of unimaginable evil and suffering, it is possible to make a godly or faithful choice, though sometimes that choice is costly. Given today’s story, I’d also add that even under the hand of God’s blessing, it is possible to make an unfaithful choice and turn one’s face away from God’s purpose.

A third point from last week is that God’s purpose is just that – a purpose. God’s plans have a long and broad timeline and are more like an impossibly rich music composition than a momentary trumpet blast.

Related to that, then, is the fourth point – that to seek God’s will means that we must not let our own will get in the way. There is a godly yielding, humility, and obedience that is involved in turning our face towards God’s purpose in our life. But it is one that God delights to help us with if we will earnestly seek Him.

All those points come to bear in the story today, because we begin with a 40-year-old Moses whom God delivered from death as a baby, brought into Pharaoh’s house to be educated, sheltered, and raised, and who has come to recognize himself as the Deliverer for his people. And yet, Moses makes a catastrophic choice to take matters into his own hands, sins egregiously, and flees for his life.

Taking Matters into His Own Hands

So you heard the story. Moses has grown up in the household of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. He is out observing his brethren hard at their labor, and he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew man. He steps in, making sure he is not seen, and kills the Egyptian, then burying him in the sand to hide the body.

This week we heard again part of the sermon of Stephen in Acts. Stephen offers us some additional commentary on the event. He notes that Moses was educated, and powerful in words and deeds. He also knows where he came from: he is Hebrew. Stephen narrates the same event but adds the detail that Moses “supposed his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him.” (Acts 7:25) Both the Exodus and Acts accounts tell us that the next day Moses saw two Hebrew men fighting, and again he steps in to intervene. They reject him as ruler or judge, being repelled by the murder he committed the previous day. Realizing that word has gotten out, Moses flees Egypt since the punishment for his crime is death.

Simply looking at the Exodus passage, it is clear enough that Moses sinned. He committed murder, even if doing on behalf of his fellow Hebrew. The dialogue the next day demonstrates that even the other Hebrews recognized the illegality and sinfulness of his action. He was not the law and that was not God’s way. He had claimed authority where none was given.

Stephen only adds a few details, but indicates that Moses knew of his role in God’s plan: he was to be his people’s deliverer. That suggests an additional layer of explanation to what happened. It does not excuse Moses’ action; rather, it brings it even closer to home for me. Moses took matters into his own hands. God’s mission was to free His people, and to use Moses. But this was neither God’s way nor God’s timing.

But isn’t Moses’ solution just what we do, in big and small ways? We either become impatient or unsatisfied with God’s answers and God’s Word and we decide to do it our way? Ceasing to listen to God and wait on God is dicey enough, but if doing so involves blatant sin, then the results can be tragic.

And so it was with Moses. He fled for his life. And again God’s plan of deliverance seems undone. Who would deliver God’s people now? Who would end the slavery and confront the injustice?

It is so easy to forget that the answer to those questions was always GOD… not Moses.

God’s Purpose and Faithful Choices

So this is a good time to remind you of some of those big points again:

God is not thwarted or sidelined by evil or human sin or disobedience… even that of Moses; even yours.

There remains a faithful choice for those who would choose it, regardless of what is stacked against you. Notice I didn’t say “a way out” or a “get out of jail free card” but a “faithful choice.” Sometimes consequences must be paid; sometimes the suffering continues. But we have the choice to be faithful.

And God’s story is longer and broader than one wrong action, as devastating as it may have been. God’s purpose continued, though Moses had turned his face away.

We will not get much further in Moses’ story today. Things are not yet set right and we really are left hanging with the question of what God will do now. But look what happens while Moses is in exile, far from Egypt and the enslaved Hebrew people. He encounters some shepherds giving a group of women a hard time and preventing them from drawing water. Interestingly, it is a similar situation to what he fled and the manner of his sin. Will he become enraged? Will he justify his actions as the deliverer? Will he slip away, ruined forever as God’s man and destined for failure apart from God?

He makes a faithful choice. Remember that, if you find yourself questioning whether God is done with you because of personal failure or sin. There is always a faithful choice and a new start. So he chases off the shepherds and helps the women. The women turned out to be sisters and their father invited the refugee Moses to come stay with them. Eventually, Moses married one of the daughters, Zipporah. And there, a “wanderer in a foreign land” (Exodus 2:22) he had children. So yes, Moses’ unfaithful choice cost him and his people much. But as he began to make faithful choices, God began to redeem his life. It will remain to be seen what God’s longer purpose for Moses would be.

Taking Matters into Your Own Hands

Today’s text has a powerful application for us. It’s claim is not only that God cannot be thwarted by human sin and evil, but also that those who have disobeyed or turned from God are not irredeemably or irretrievably lost. We won’t see that fully demonstrated in the story until next week, when God calls an exiled Moses back into service. But we get a glimpse of it in Moses’ ability to choose the right thing in Midian after the murder, the flight, and the exile. He is not written out of God’s plan or purpose.

My guess is that 100 out of every 100 Christians know what it is to disobey God. I have, and I am pretty sure you have. But here’s what we’ve done with that reality. We’ve separated some sins into “not so bad” and others into “way too bad” and we’ve pretty much written God out of the equation. Many of us that are still here (in the Church) have found ways to rationalize or minimize our sins and figured they are no big deal. But listen – they are a big deal. They are us turning our face away from God.

Worse yet, we’ve found that some sins can’t be rationalized or minimized and our conclusion is that God is done with us. I say ‘us’ but likely most folks who have turned from God in those ways have not found their way back or been welcomed into the Church. They are truly in exile.

And then there are a precious few who have known or been close to those kind of big sins and yet have experienced or seen what God can do even in the most lost and dark places: REDEMPTION. Often those folks don’t make their way back to church because church people just don’t get it – the true scope of God’s grace.

Listen… whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, and EACH one of you here today. You have taken matters into your own hands and turned your face from God and you’ve done it more than once. I have taken matters into my own hands and turned my face from God, more than once.

God’s purpose in the world is not thwarted, nor is God sidelined, sidetracked, or put off guard. Even more personal than that glorious truth is that God is not done with you and me. Each of you and I can still make faithful choices today and turn our faces toward God, by His grace. And it is by His grace.

There is more… and Moses’ story will continue. As I’ve said before, God doesn’t just forgive sinners; He calls them into service! But that’s next week and I think this point is a good point to pause… to soak in the Good News declaration in Exodus that for exiled sinners, it is not too late. Like Moses defending the women of Midian at the well, we are given another chance to do things differently. We can make faithful choices and honor God.

Do you understand the significance of that? God wants you; God loves you! And God doesn’t just want and love the made-up Sunday morning version of you, but the dirty hands, dirty feet, unkempt version of you that few people ever see. Isn’t that glorious? Doesn’t that draw you? That’s what draws me to this God and worship… not singing one more Jesus song or reciting one more creed, but drawing near to the one who knows me and loves me most. That’s God – and God is good! Amen.

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