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Sunday, February 13, 2011

God Who Qualifies (Exodus 4.1-13)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
February 13, 2011
Some Music Used 
Prelude: "Ye Servants of God" (Croft/Courtney)
Song of Praise: "Hear the Call of the Kingdom" (Getty Townend)
Word in Music: "Total Praise" (Smallwood)
Song of Praise: "Fill Me Now" (Hansen, Peppin)
Offertory: "Sweet, Sweet Spirit" (Bobby White, piano)
Hymn of Sending: "Lord, You Give the Great Commission" (Rowthorn/Taylor)

God Who Qualifies
Texts: Exodus 4:1-13

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

Last week we were at the burning bush in Exodus 3. There God revealed His holy name, Yahweh, which means “I Am.” Moses came into the holy presence of God in a moment of worship, encountering the God who is. But as God continued to speak, Moses also heard the call of the God who does, who is at work in the world to accomplish His purpose. And so God called Moses into mission, to participate in the deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt.

In last week’s text, Moses asked two questions of God: “Who am I (to do this)?” and “How will I show my people that you sent me?” God’s response was basically, “It’s not about you, Moses; it is about me… and this is who I am and what I am doing. Come be a part of that.”

In today’s text, Moses has two more questions – at this point, we probably should call them excuses. We’ll look at both of those excuses and see what God’s response was.

“What if they won’t believe me or listen?” (v. 1)

While I might call this an excuse, it is certainly a legitimate question. As a preacher, it’s a question I have all the time. Every time I am teaching or preaching, I worry that people won’t believe or won’t listen. That concern is not limited to preachers. Isn’t it the concern any of us have in talking about matters of faith?

God gives Moses three signs to show that he comes from the Lord. The first is a sign of transformation: his staff will turn into a serpent and then back into a staff. Sounds a bit like Harry Potter, doesn’t it? And not to mention that evangelism would be a whole lot easier if we could do something like that! A second sign is one of healing. Moses is to put his hand inside his cloak, once to show leprous skin (scholars thing this was something akin to psoriasis), and then again to show it healed.

And then, only if he needed it, there was a third sign of life and death. He could take some water from the Nile, Egypt’s water supply, and turn it into blood, to be poured out on the ground. Note that these are all signs for the Hebrew people, to signify that Moses comes from God. Though Moses would not use the third sign when he goes to the Hebrew leaders at the end of chapter 4, a variation of turning the Nile water into blood happens in the first plague as a sign to Pharaoh.

So, what do we do with these signs? I would note several things. First, these are signs that God is at work. And they are not the message; God’s message is, “I am the Lord and I will deliver you, for I remember my covenant.”

Second, Moses was not without faith. He did, after all, grab the tail of the serpent at God’s instruction. And then, having seen a staff turn into a snake, he obeyed God when the Lord’s attention turned to his hand.

Third, these are not magic tricks. Like Jesus’ miraculous signs in the gospels, the point is not the miracle, but the message. So I characterized each of the signs in a certain way – transformation, healing, and life/death. While you or I can’t sit down at the coffee shop or the construction site and turn a walking stick into a snake, we can share our story. If you are a Christian, then you know something about transformation, healing, and God’s power over life and death. Like the signs given to Moses, the point isn’t to showcase yourself, but to point people to God’s greater story as the one who transforms lives, brings healing, and gives us life when we deserve death.

“I am not a good speaker…” (v. 10)

What Moses does next is what I have done – maybe you, too. “Okay, Lord; I didn’t know you were going to give me such a concrete answer to my last question, but you’ve got to know, I’m not really a good speaker.” Or, I don’t really know enough.

Apparently, Moses didn’t just not like speaking, but he had some kind of speech impediment. Perhaps he stuttered. And he makes it clear that he’s not just nervous in the moment. He pleads, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent (lit. “a man of words”), neither recently or in time past, nor since you have spoken to me…” (v. 10)

God responds to Moses by saying, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (v. 11) If God made the mouth and the ears, then He not only knows about Moses difficulty speaking, but also the potential difficulty of the Hebrews in hearing. God is all over this situation!

The Lord continues, saying, “Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.” (“It may even be that was my point!”)

Really, this is circling back to Moses first question/excuse, “Who am I?” And again God has answered, “This is not about you, Moses, but about me, and I am sending you.” God will do the work, exert the power, deliver the people; He really is just asking Moses to be in the place He shows him.

It reminds me of our Wednesday night experiment. I don’t ask people to go out knocking on doors, ready with evangelistic tracts, and trained with the latest apologetics. Instead, trusting that God is at work outside the walls of the church, in the midst of the lives of our neighbors, we are simply trying to go to the places where God is working and see what happens. (And a lot is happening!)

God Who Qualifies

The main thing we can take from all of this is that it is not about us. As we ask the question, “What is God doing and how can I be a part of that?” we may feel completely unqualified for the answer. Who am I to be part of what God is doing? But God says it’s not about us; it’s about Him!

And we don’t need to qualify ourselves for mission or ministry – if so, then other problems abound. Rather, it is God who qualifies. The God who is and the God who does is the one who will transform and heal other people’s lives. We are simply called forth to bear witness to that, to show forth what God has done in our lives and point with hope back to the God who saves.

Each Christian is qualified to respond to the “how can I be a part?” question because it is God who qualifies you. You may have heard it said before (but it’s still true!) – God does not call the equipped, as if He’s looking for the smartest, most beautiful, and most put together. God equips those He calls; and He knows who and what He is asking.

Now, as a preview of next week, consider where today’s text leaves off…

“I am out of excuses, but please send someone else…” (v. 13)

Basically, what Moses says next in verse 13 is, “I don’t really have any more excuses, but please Lord, will you send someone else?”

I appreciate the honesty of that. Sometimes we just feel like we can’t step up and step out, even in obedience to God. We will see how God responds to that next week, when He comes alongside Moses and provides a partner in mission, so that Moses will not be alone.

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