When God Breaks In: God Reveals Himself
Exodus 3: 1 – 15.
I know it’s hard to believe that today is the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is a season of waiting and anticipating. It begins four Sundays before Christmas Day. We light a candle each Sunday, so we can visualize that Christmas Day is getting closer. We can tell Christmas is getting closer, because the candles are getting shorter and more candles are burning.
The word “Advent” refers to the “appearing” or the “coming” of Jesus. For Christians, this is what Christmas is all about. It is not about celebrating the winter season. It is not about family gatherings. It is not about decorating the house inside and out. Instead, Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Savior and God’s Only Begotten Son.
In Matthew 1, we read about an angel who announced the birth of Jesus. The angel first appeared to Joseph and told him that his young fiancée (Mary) was expecting a child. The angel assured Joseph that Mary had not been unfaithful to him. Rather, she had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. This child was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1: 23, quoting Isaiah 7: 14).”
In other words, the Christmas story is a story about God Breaking In. When Jesus was born of the virgin, Mary, God broke into our world like never before. God broke in and promised that he would always be with us.
Over the next four weeks (the four Sundays of Advent), we are going to look at some examples of what God does when God breaks into our lives. We are going to read biblical examples. But, I don’t want you to think God has stopped breaking into our lives / our world. No. God is not distant and aloof. God is intimately concerned about your life and often breaks into our lives in big ways and small ways.
One example is the story of Moses and the burning bush…
Exodus 3: 1 – 15…1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight--why the bush does not burn up."
4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am."
5 "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." 6Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
7 The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey--the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt."
11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"
12 And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain."
13 Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?"
14 God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' "
15 God also said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers--the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob--has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.
I usually refer to this passage of Scripture as “the call of Moses.” God broke into Moses’ life and called him to return to Egypt in order that Moses might lead God’s people out of slavery. If we refer to this as “the call of Moses,” then we are missing the big picture. Yes. God called Moses. However, this calling was only a small part of what God was doing on a worldwide scale.
We can catch a glimpse of this big picture in verses 7 – 10. God’s people were suffering as slaves in Egypt. They cried out to God. God heard their cries. God saw their misery. God felt compassion about their circumstances. Then, God came down and did something about it. What did God do? God called Moses and gave him the responsibility to lead God’s people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
One of the remarkable and memorable details of this story is the fact that God spoke to Moses from a burning bush. The Bible tells us the bush was on fire but was not consumed by the fire. Have you ever wondered why God spoke through a burning bush?
It’s possible that God used the burning bush to get Moses’ attention. It was an unusual sight. It was so unusual that Moses stopped what he was doing to get a closer view. If God was trying to get Moses’ attention, it worked.
Or, perhaps the fire itself contains a message about God… Fire is one of the most important human discoveries of all time. However, fire cannot be completely contained / controlled. It is simultaneously comforting and dangerous. Just like the presence of God.
This was no ordinary fire. It was a fire that did not consume the bush. If the bush was not consumed, then the fire would never go out. If this fire can be read as a symbol for the presence of God, then Moses encountered a presence that would never go away. He had an experience with God that would last for the rest of his life.
Moses first saw a strange sight. Then, Moses heard something even stranger. There was a voice coming from the bush…And the voice knew his name. The voice from the bush called out, “Moses, Moses.” It was the voice of God.
The most important thing to note about the voice from the bush is that it was the voice of God. And when God speaks, God always has something to say. In fact, God does most of the talking in the rest of the story.
God spoke about the suffering of his people in Egypt. God spoke about his plan to rescue his people. God spoke about his plan to bring them to the land he promised to Abraham. And, God spoke about how Moses fit into God’s plan. When God speaks, God speaks about redemption.
Notice that redemption is God’s idea and that God took the initiative. Moses did not come up with this plan. Moses had an important role to play in God’s redemptive plan, but Moses didn’t know it until God broke in and revealed his plan to Moses.
The same thing is true for you and me. We don’t always know what God is doing or how God plans to use us. But, God is not an absentee lord. He hears the cries of his people and enters into our world to accomplish his redemptive purpose. God uses people like Moses—people like you and me—to bring about redemption for others.
God knew Moses by name, even before Moses knew God. God knew all about Moses’ strengths and weaknesses. God had been at work in Moses’ life to prepare him for this calling. And, God used all of Moses’ gifts and experiences to prepare him.
If you don’t feel qualified / prepared to be used by God, look to Moses as your example. The life of Moses teaches us that God knows better than we do. God did not call Moses because Moses was qualified / prepared. God qualified / prepared Moses because he was called to be a part of God’s redemptive plan.
It is our responsibility to be sensitive enough to know when God is calling us and then to respond in obedience.
Of course, Moses did not immediately respond in obedience. He heard the voice of God call him by name. He heard what God wanted him to do. Then, Moses listed out all the reasons why God should not use him. Moses tried to use four excuses with God. Only two of those excuses show up in the Scripture we read this morning.
First, Moses asked, “Who am I?” Moses knew all of his past failures and thought they had disqualified him. God answered Moses’ objection by promising that God would always be with him.
Second, Moses asked God to tell him his name. If you think about it, that makes sense. God knew Moses’ name. Shouldn’t Moses know God’s name?
Exodus 3: 13 – 14…13 Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" 14 God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' "
In the ancient world, names were much more important than they are today. A name was more than just the word you used to refer to another person. The ancients believed that a name actually revealed a person’s character. That is why the Bible gives us several examples of people who had their names changed by God. When God changed their character, God also changed their names. In this sense, Moses is not simply asking how God wants Moses to address him. Moses is asking about God’s character.
Look at the way God answers Moses’ question. This seems like a very funny answer. Moses asked for God’s name. God answered, “I AM WHO I AM.” It almost sounds like God is telling Moses not to worry about what God’s name is…God is who God is…There’s no need for a name.
However, there is something bigger and better at work here. This really is the name of God…Tell them I AM has sent me to you.
When I was living in Waco, I once heard a sermon about this name for God. The preacher made a point to emphasize that God said his name is “I AM,” not “I was,” or “I will be.” I’m sure he had a very good point. But, I think he missed the point.
In Hebrew, “I AM” comes from one verb. It’s a form of the Hebrew word Hayah. Hebrew does not have past, present and future tenses like we have in English. In Hebrew, there are only two main tenses—perfect and imperfect. A perfect tense indicates an action that is already completed—I was. An imperfect tense indicates an action that in not complete—I am, or even I will be. In other words, there is some ambiguity in the name of God. It can be translated “I am” or “I will be.”
This ambiguity raises some very interesting possibilities in verse 14. What we have traditionally translated “I am who I am” could also be translated “I will be who I will be,” or even “I am who I will be.” In fact, “I will be who I am” is my favorite way to think about the name of God revealed to Moses. It emphasizes the unchanging character of God. God never changes. If God can be trusted in the present, then God can be trusted in the future. Because God does not change.
If verse 14 focuses on God in the present and the future, then verse 15 focuses on God in the past. God reminded Moses that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
God was always faithful to Abraham. God led Abraham to a land he did not know. God gave Abraham a son in his old age. When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son on the altar, God provided a lamb.
God was always faithful to Isaac. God saved his life on the altar. God led him to find a wife for his son.
God was always faithful to Jacob. God blessed him with twelve sons who became the heads of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
If God has been faithful to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the past, then God will be faithful to Moses in the future. God is the same yesterday, today and forever.
This is one of the reasons why we read the Bible. The Bible reminds us of the ways God has been faithful in the past and promises us that God will be faithful to us in the present and the future.
When God breaks in, God reveals his character as faithful and unchanging.
Can you think of a time in your life when God provided for your needs? Perhaps, there was a time when you didn’t know how you were going to make it to the end of the year, the end of the month, or the end of the day. But God provided.
Can you think of a time when God comforted you in your grief or uncertainty?
Can you think of a time when God gave you wisdom to make the right decision? Or, a time when you needed more than wisdom—you actually needed God to take you by the hand and guide you through a series of difficult decisions?
God has not changed! If God has provided for you in the past, God will do the same for you in the future…no matter what you may be facing in the days ahead.
When God broke into Moses’ life, God revealed himself. We can say the same thing about the first Christmas. At the birth of Jesus, God broke into our world and revealed himself. In the life of Jesus, we can know who God is.
God did not show himself as an angry and vengeful God. He revealed himself as a God of compassion and love. He heard the cries, saw our misery and came down in the form of a baby in a manger.
That baby grew into a man full of Grace and Truth. Jesus demonstrated the love of God through acts of compassion toward the poor, the hungry and the sick.
That baby grew into a man who demonstrated the love of God on the cross. Jesus willingly gave his life as the final sacrifice for our sins and rose from the grave as the first to experience eternal life.
God continues to break into our lives to reveal his Love, and God does not change.