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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Partners in Mission (Exodus 4.14-31)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
February 20, 2011
Some Music Used 
Prelude: "Simple Gifts" (Shaker/Martin)
Song of Praise: "Come, All Christians, Be Committed" (Folk arr. Austell)
Song of Praise: "Hear the Call of the Kingdom" (Gospel arr.) (Getty/Townend)
Hymn of Sending: "We All Are One in Mission" (LANCASHIRE)
Postlude: "I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord" (Williams/Sikes)

Partners in Mission
Texts: Exodus 4:14-31

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

Sometimes the actual sermon varies significantly from the printed manuscript.  This is one of those cases.  The basic verse by verse explanation is the same, but after writing the manuscript I realized God provided three partners (Aaron, Jethro, Zipporah) and I organized the sermon more around those partnerships.  I commend the audio to you for that reason.

Today we are still at the burning bush, though partway through the text (v. 18) Moses leaves that place. God has revealed His holy name and mission to Moses, and called him into service to carry a message to Egypt. Moses has offered several excuses: “Who am I? Why would they believe me? What if they don’t listen? I am not a good speaker.” And God has answered each excuse, nonetheless choosing this weak and imperfect man as the one He will send. The basic point of all we’ve studied so far in Exodus is that God doesn’t just call people who are talented and have their life together. Rather, God knows you fully, hasn’t given up on you, wants you, and will use you if you will listen and obey. And God will equip and qualifies you for what He asks you to do.

So at the end of last week’s text and all God’s answers, Moses basically says to God, “I’m out of excuses, but can you just find someone else.” And that’s where today’s text picks up.

Partner #1: Aaron (vv. 14-17)

At this last reply from Moses, the anger of the Lord burned against Moses. (v. 14) And yet God continues speaking and responding: “Is there not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he speaks fluently.” But this isn’t just anyone brainstorming after a rejection. This is God, and He adds, “And moreover, behold, he is coming out to meet you; when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart.” (v. 14)

Do you get all that? Not only is God sufficient for all Moses’ weakness, He has already stirred Aaron’s heart to come visit his exiled brother before Moses had even heard God’s words. God already knew and had already begun to provide. And this wasn’t just about having a good speaker on the team; Aaron seeking Moses out and being glad to see him was part of God’s full redemption of the exiled Moses who had fled everything and everyone forty years earlier after he committed murder. God had redeemed him IN exile and now was redeeming him OUT OF exile.

So in response to Moses’ excuses and fear, God provides a partner in mission: one who is strong where Moses is weak, and one who is a living reminder to Moses of how God found, forgave, and redeemed him for this work. Then God details how the partnership will work: Moses will tell Aaron what to say, and Aaron will do the public speaking, while Moses will perform the miraculous signs. Aaron would be the public mouthpiece of Moses just as Moses was the public representative of the Lord.

Partner #2: Jethro (vv. 18-20)

In verse 18, Moses leaves the place of the burning bush and goes to seek his father-in-law’s blessing to return to Egypt. Remember that Jethro was the one who took Moses in, gave him his daughter Zipporah for marriage, and gave him land and herds to tend. In a significant sense, Jethro was another one of the partners God provided to Moses as He redeemed him, first in exile, then out of exile. Jethro responds with blessing, saying to Moses, “Go in peace.” (v. 18) Some of the most important partnerships we can know come from someone standing behind us blessing us with support and peace on our way!

It’s easy to miss the break between the burning bush and the rest of this chapter, but note that God continues communicating with Moses after he has left the burning bush. After Moses left and went to Jethro, the Lord returned with more: verse 19 even notes that God is speaking to Moses “in Midian.” And the Lord says, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.” So God extends blessing over Moses as well, on top of all the instructions that came at the burning bush.

And Moses takes his wife and sons (he has two now), and leaves Midian for Egypt, with a message from God for the elders of Israel and the promise of meeting up with Aaron to be his spokesman.

Partner #3: Zipporah (vv. 21-26)

At the burning bush, God did mention that Moses would eventually speak to Pharaoh about letting the Hebrew people go; but most of the conversation at the bush had to do with Moses speaking to the Hebrew elders. But now, God speaks again to Moses to remind him of what comes after talking to the elders.

At the burning bush (ch. 3), God had already indicated that Pharaoh would not let the Hebrew people go, even after a number of miracles. What the Lord tells Moses next kind of jumps to the end of the story – the Lord views Israel as His “firstborn son.” (v. 22) So, Pharaoh’s unwillingness to release Israel will ultimately cost the life of Pharaoh’s firstborn son.

The details of Moses speaking to the elders of Israel will be described in chapters 5-6, which we will look at in coming weeks. Then, the drawn out interaction with Pharaoh, with all the plagues and releasing and changing of his mind, will be described in chapters 7-11.

But the Lord’s words to Moses here help give us both an overview and an explanation of what is going on and why the stakes are so high. This is important to understand when we get to what comes next in the story, which is often seen as a mysterious and unrelated story out of nowhere. It is anything but that!

I’m talking about vv. 24-26. Moses and his wife and sons are on the way to Egypt from Midian and stop at a lodging place along the way. And there, the Lord shows up and tries to kill Moses! What in the world? Or maybe the Lord shows up to kill Moses’ son – it’s not clear from the wording alone. Then Zipporah cuts off the foreskin of her son and touches it to Moses’ feet. Finally, she says to Moses, “You are a bridegroom of blood.” What in the world?!

This is not the main thrust of this chapter, so I will just summarize what I think is going on here. God has finally laid it all on the line to Moses – he has the full mission assignment as well as the promise of God’s full blessing and help. And the stakes are as high as they get – it is God’s firstborn son, Israel, at stake; and the Pharaoh’s refusal to help will ultimately cost him his own son’s life. And all this is coming about because God is faithful to the covenant with Abraham.

The sign of that covenant was circumcision. And the punishment for failing to circumcise your son was death, because that failure indicated that you were excluding him from the covenant, which was a spiritual rejection of God and His promises (ultimately what Pharaoh would do when faced with God’s Word). For whatever reason – perhaps lack of faith or perhaps marrying into a non-Hebrew family – Moses had not circumcised his own son. It must have come up, because Zipporah knew exactly what needed to be done and why. God had not pressed the point previously – perhaps because Moses was in the midst of being rescued and reminded of the covenant himself. And then there were all the excuses and God’s reassurances and provisions and equipping. But now, on the way to deliver the message as a representative of God’s covenant faithfulness, the messenger was about to show up not as a Hebrew, but as an Egyptian, with family who had not been marked as belonging to God. So before they went any further, God confronted Moses. Likely it was Moses whom God was holding accountable, since it was the father’s responsibility to circumcise the son.

Thankfully, Zipporah knew what needed to be done and why. She was yet another partner God brought alongside Moses to equip and qualify him for the mission, even if she was an ‘outsider.’ Her swift and faith-filled action saved Moses’ life. Her action also vividly foreshadows the Passover, in which the blood of a lamb was placed on the doorpost of the houses of the Hebrew families to mark them as covenant keepers. And so by her faithful action she and her family are brought into the covenant.

Interestingly enough, we find out later in Exodus that at this point Zipporah and the sons return to Midian; but they will rejoin Moses later in the wilderness near Mt. Sinai. Even as Aaron began journeying to Moses before Moses asked for someone to help him speak; so God led Moses to Zipporah years beforehand, even when he was an outlaw and exile, and she became the partner who saved his life and returned him into the covenant family of God!

Mission Accomplished, pt. 1 (vv. 27-31)

Finally, in the last part of this chapter, Aaron connects up with Moses and they get together on the mission God had for them. They gather together the elders of Israel, speak the words and show the signs. All this will be described in more detail in the coming chapters, but we get as far as the initial meeting and read in v. 31 that “the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped.”

There is still much of the story to unfold, including a number of ups and downs, but God has already accomplished through Moses much of what He described at the burning bush. Moses was redeemed out of exile, was able to deliver God’s message (with Aaron’s help), and saw that message received and believed, resulting in the faith and worship of God’s people.

Our Partners in Mission

Today’s text is filled with transition, but I’d like to draw one particular point of application out of it. And I will set it in the context of everything we’ve studied so far in Exodus. God has a purpose in the world, not the least of which is to seek and save the lost – to deliver people from darkness, captivity, and fear. God chooses to use people like you and me – that is to say, imperfect and inconsistent people – in accomplishing His purpose. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, God sees you and loves you and wants you to be a part of His work. And God qualifies and equips you for that work; He will give you what you need for what He asks you to do! And you do not have to do it alone. First and foremost, God is with you! But God also brings other people alongside, often to complement or strengthen you where you are weakest. That is one of the great purposes of the Church – which the Apostle Paul writes about in the New Testament. The Church is like a body, where some are hands, some feet, some kneecaps; and all working together for God’s glory.

So, no disqualifications; no excuses; God knows you and loves you and wants you. And God is at work in the world. Know that God will equip and qualify you. Know, too, though that God will not leave you alone, but will stretch and grow and mature you as you follow him. Moses did not return to Egypt as an exiled outlaw, but as a redeemed representative of the Lord who had been reconciled to the covenant.

At Good Shepherd we are asking what God is doing in and around us. Will you be a part of that? We are trying to answer that call together as partners in mission. Amen.

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