Sunday, May 9, 2010

Heroes of the Faith: Moses – Hebrews 11:23-29 and Exodus 3:10-14; 4:1-13

Today we are continuing our preaching series entitled, Heroes of the Faith where each week we will focus on one significant person from our faith history and explore not only why they are now considered a hero of our faith, but what we can learn from them. Three weeks ago we looked at Noah and his incredible, and thought of at the time, outlandish faith he had in God and how his actions can be a model for us today. Two weeks ago we focused on Abraham to see how he navigated several crossroads in his life and how he did did not let fear or uncertainty deter him. Last week we looked at Joseph to see how our timing is not necessarily God's timing and how we can find solace in that fact. Today we are going to look at one of our most famous heroes, Moses, and see how God use and transform ordinary people for extraordinary tasks.

Are you like Alice?
Debbie and I went to see the new Alice in Wonderland movie several weeks ago and as I am waiting for the story to really get going to see all the special effects, we went to see it in 3D by the way, I became enthralled at the differences between Alice and her mother. Her mother is this no nonsense, extremely logical personality. Do only what you are sure of, base everything in fact, and by all means there is no room for silliness. Alice on the other hand is this imaginative, star eyed person, that at one point in the movie exclaims, “Why, sometimes I've thought of as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” These two relatives were polar opposites. And what struck me the most was where do we fall in this personality spectrum when expressing our faith. Are we only dealing in what we know we can do, what is logical, affordable, easy. Or do we say with God all things are possible and set out to believe in impossible things. Our Old Testament character for today, Moses operated on all ends of this spectrum.

Excuses, Excuses
I’m sure that many of you are familiar with the story of Moses, but this morning let’s review his life a little to see how we’ve gotten to this point. In the time between the life of Joseph and the life of Moses, about 400 years has passed. All of Joseph’s family had moved into Egypt for protection, but during this time, Joseph had died and new pharaohs had risen to power who did not remember all the wonderful things Joseph had done for the country. The new pharaohs became scared of the Israelites because they were growing so large in number, about half a million people, and they were afraid that the Israelites might decide to overthrow the country. So they made the Israelites their slaves, making them do hard labor outside. Moses was born to one of the Israelite slave families.

About the time of his birth, the Pharaoh gave an order to have all male Hebrew babies killed. But Moses’ parents felt their baby was a special gift from God destined to do great things. And so they hid him, risking their own lives in the process. Eventually though, they had to put their little baby in a basket, waterproof it with tar, and set him out to float in the Nile River. The currents in the water carried the baby to where Pharaoh's daughter went for her daily swim. She discovered the little baby in the basket among the bullrushes, and would raise him as her own – Moses grew up as an Egyptian in Pharaoh’s own palace.

We are not told when or how Moses learned that he was really a Hebrew. But Scripture tells us that one day, when Moses was probably about 40 years old, Moses saw a Hebrew being mistreated by an Egyptian, and in defense of the Hebrew he struck the Egyptian and killed him. He knew Pharaoh would be very angry with him and so he fled for his life to the wilderness of Midian. There he met a woman named Zipporah, got married, had children and spent the next forty years tending flocks as a shepherd in the wilderness of the Sinai desert.

One day while Moses is out tending the sheep, he sees a bush that suddenly bursts into flame, continues to burn and is not consumed. Very strange! So he approached the bush to see what is going on. And out of the bush comes the voice of God saying, "Moses, take off your sandals because you are standing on holy ground." So Moses took off his sandals and knelt before God, who was speaking from that burning bush. And God tells Moses that he is God’s chosen representative to go back to Egypt and free the Israelites from their suffering. Rather than being thrilled at this honor and privilege, Moses begins to argue with God, listing off one excuse after another as to why he could not go for God.

First of all, Moses believed himself to be unworthy. He asks, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” At this point in his life he is 80 years old and a desert shepherd. Plus he is still a fugitive who had run from Pharaoh’s punishment. But God answered this excuse by saying that he would be with Moses.

Still Moses wasn’t satisfied. Next he pleaded ignorance. He didn’t know what to say about God, he didn’t even know what God’s name was. And so God supplied Moses with the answers that he was seeking – he told him that “I Am Who I Am” and that he was the God of his ancestors, of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.

No Authority
But again, Moses had another excuse. He didn’t have authority over the Israelites. “Lord who do you think I am? I don’t have any credibility with the Hebrews. If I go and announce that I am their deliverer, they won’t believe me, they won’t listen to me, they’ll say I’m lying about what you have said.” God answered this excuse by enabling Moses to perform signs and wonders in order to prove that God had given Moses authority. Following God’s directions, Moses’ shepherd staff was turned into a snake and then back into a shepherd’ staff. And Moses’ own hand was turned leprous and then healed.

Not A Good Public Speaker
Still Moses had another excuse. This time he appealed to a personal handicap, thinking that might stop God. He was unable to go and speak for God because he “slow of speech and tongue.” God answered Moses by reminding him that God had created his mouth and that he would be his mouth and teach him what to say.

Anybody but Me!
At this point Moses had made several excuses, and God had an answer for every single one of them. But Moses was desperate and still unwilling to go. He basically tells God in 4:13 to “Send anybody but me!” God tells Moses that he would receive help from his brother Aaron who could speak well and whom God already prompted to travel to see Moses. And God promised Moses that he would help both of them speak and teach them what to do. And he reminded Moses to take the staff in his hand with him, with which he would perform God’s signs and wonders.

Finally, Moses decided it was time to say “Yes,” and he started off in faith to obey God. And as we know, God indeed was with him and the results were extraordinary – after the plagues of Egypt, Pharaoh allowed Moses to leave with the Israelites. And God enabled Moses to part the Red Sea to enable the Israelites to escape. And God continued to be with Moses and guide him as he led the people of Israel through the desert for 40 years to the Promised Land.

Worthy of Heroic Status?
Remember that the beginning of Hebrews chapter 11 speaks a great deal about what constitutes heroic faith. It tells us that faith, heroic faith, has three main components: First you have to be FOCUSED, grounded in God alone. Next you have to be CONFIDENT, certain of what we do not see. Finally, you have to be OBEDIENT, as demonstrated in our actions.

So with all of Moses' excuses and self-doubt, can we consider him focused, confident, and obedient?

Concerning his focus on God, God does not seem to be an afterthought for Moses. Moses has many, many conversations with God over the course of his life. Moses is one of the few people that Scripture records that has physical encounters with God. Encounters that leave his face radiant, shining so bright that eventually begins to wear a veil when he speaks to the Israelites. God was a very real and very present aspect of Moses' adult life. The numerous conversations show us that Moses recognized God and was focused upon Him.

Next is to look at his confidence in that which he cannot see. Moses was charged with leading his people, the Israelites, out of Egypt into the Promised Land that was going to be given to them by God. This journey was going to require leading many people through land they were unfamiliar with, on a trek that was hastily prepared for, and with provisions that were no where near adequate. There was significant amounts of uncertainty but they went and Moses led them. Moses, constantly affirmed by God, left his life as a shepherd, and followed God. All of this was done on the basis of promise by God for land, provision, and security. None of which could be seen or held. For me that shows incredible confidence in that which he cannot see.

Finally we move to whether or not Moses was obedient as demonstrated by his actions. The first thought that came to my mind was how in the world can we consider him obedient after all the excuses we just read about? How can we consider Moses obedient when he offered up so many excuses? In the beginning you can't. But look at Moses' life and how God continually worked through him and with him. Constantly pushing him, using him, transforming him. As the story of Moses goes on we see him change and we see this bold servant emerge. A servant that holds his people accountable to God. That never sways in the purpose of his mission, and eventually becomes God's mouthpiece for the law given to them from God. He even became the Israelites advocate when God said he was going to destroy them. As his life progressed his obedience strengthen. Moses gave everything up to follow God; his life in Midian, his no pressure job as a shepherd, and the security of Jethro's family. Looking at all of that I would consider him extremely obedient.

Moses was a man that went through incredible changes over the span of his lifetime. He went from a fearful, calculating person to one that accomplished incredible, unbelievable, and by human standards, impossible things for God. But this was not an easy transformation for Moses, nor was it was one that could have happened without God. Moses succumbed, eventually, to God. Gave up his own passions and desires, understanding that God's were better. He learned that his small picture view of life was inadequate and gave himself over to God. Remember Alice's quote from the movie, “Why, sometimes I've thought of as many as six impossible things before breakfast”?

My challenge for you is follow suit. Can you think of six impossible things that God can do through you? I encourage you to spend time this week giving yourself up to God. Moses did not do overnight, but he kept working at it till it was a way of life. And God did amazing things through this willing vessel. No one is expecting overnight submission but go a step at a time. God wants do amazing things through you...all you have to do is let him.

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