Third Sunday in Lent – February 28, 2016

From A Bush That Doesn’t Burn We Learn The Truth...

  1. About ourselves
  2. About our God

Exodus 3:1-8, 10-15 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.” 6 Then 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…

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.

If you’ve ever seen the movie “A Few Good Men,” you may recall a scene where Jack Nicholson (a high-ranking military officer) and Tom Cruise (a lawyer) are involved in a heated exchange in the courtroom. It’s one of the more famous sections of the movie. Tom Cruise is seeking the truth. He wants the truth. Finally Jack Nicholson bursts out and says, “You can’t handle the truth.”

The truth – that’s what we have before us today in God’s Word. Not that this should surprise us any, for God’s Word always speaks the truth. So, as we walk with Moses up that mountainside to see this bush that doesn’t burn, we learn the truth about ourselves and the truth about God.

What a change had taken place in Moses. Forty years earlier the Moses the Bible pictures is brash, proud, and self-involved – and you may remember what I’m talking about. Moses had been saved from a watery grave, adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, and educated in all the learning of Egypt. From a worldly point of view, he had everything.

However, Moses turned his back on all this. His heart was still with his people who were slaves of the Egyptians; and one day he saw an Egyptian taskmaster mercilessly beat a Hebrew slave. Taking matters into his own hand he killed the Egyptian and hid his body. But his attempt at deliverance was not well received by the Egyptians or his fellow Israelites.

Oh, Moses had great love for his people; deep pity for their suffering; and a burning zeal for God. But one all-important thing he overlooked – he had received no command or direction from God to deliver his people at this time. He simply took matters into his own hands and trusted his own wisdom. He was certain that this was the right time.

But now, forty years later he had learned the truth about himself. He is not the one in control. It is not his timetable that he is to follow or his own pleasure and desire. It’s not his will that is to be sought. Moses has been humbled. He knows where he stands before God. And as he approaches this bush that doesn’t burn, God reminds him of that truth about himself, “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

The ground was holy because God was there speaking from that bush. And here’s the truth – God is holy and we are not. I know that is such a simple statement, but it is one that we need to have repeated to us because we are never free from the temptation to think lightly of sin.

If you don’t think that’s true, just consider how the sinful flesh chafes at the truth that God sees us as wretched a sinner as the suicide ISIS bomber or the deviant child molester; or how we throw a mental fit when we are reminded that our sinful thoughts are just as worthy of punishment as our sinful actions. How often has the world been successful in getting us to thinkthat one shouldn’t be expected to stay in a loveless marriage, and for God to say so is unreasonable? Or that God is unjust when he tells us that a son or daughter, brother or sister, a cousin or friend will be barred from heaven if they continue to live with someone even though they are not married; or continue to refuse to forgive the person who has wronged them? At times we even try to soothe our conscience by joining with the world’s excuses - it’s their life; they really love each other.

Then there are times, like Moses who tried to hide his face from God, thatwe try to hide our sins from God. We downplay the seriousness of them because no one knows what we did behind locked doors. We soften the gravity of them by saying “It’s not hurting anyone.” We even try to cover them up with a moral and upright exterior as if coveringup an ugly rash with cow manure can make it look better.

In the end, do you see what this is? It is an attempt to make God out to be the villain. It’s an attempt to re-write the truth about ourselves that God has already written down for us. But the truth is we are sinners. The truth is that every inclination of our heart is evil from childhood. The truth is God is not the villain and we are not some innocent victim. The truth about ourselves is that we are not holy.

We see that when we look at the cross. Jesus was there because of you; because of me. It isn’t just someone else’s sin he’s having to pay – it’s yours. God isn’t being too harsh. He’s acting justly. That’s just how terrible sin is. In that regard the cross is ugly.

It is the reality that God's punishment is deserved that sheds light on how terrible our sins are. We deserve more than a slap on the wrist. We deserve nothing less than to be cut off fromGodcompletely, and for eternity. I am the ugliness of the cross – and so are you.

So take off your sandals. That’s what God told Moses. In other words confess your personal defilement and conscious unworthiness to stand in the presence of unspotted holiness. Yes, dear Christian friend, take off your sandals and repent of your sins. Don’t excuse it. Don’t rationalize it. Don’t hide it. Join with the tax collector and say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). Fall before the Lord with the father and exclaim,“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) Throw yourself at Jesus’ feet with Peter and say, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8) Ask with Paul, “Who will rescue me from this body of death” (Romans 7:24). And then look to this bush that does not burn and learn the truth about your God.

Forty years had passed since Moses had tried to deliver the people of Israel on his own terms; and over 400 years had passed since Jacob had led his family into Egypt. Yet, all this while, God knew what was happening. He knew what was going on. He knew the needs of his people. He had not been sitting idly by. So he tells Moses that he would step into their history in a miraculous way so that they might always know that he is responsible for this deliverance. “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…”

That is how it always is with God. He never sits idly by. He always knows what is happening; what is going on. He is never indifferent to what we are dealing with or the things we have to go through. And he actively stepped into our history in a miraculous way so that we might always know that he is responsible for our deliverance.

Now, we might see or hear of someone who has suffered a terrible loss or endured a terrible tragedy. Perhaps we see pictures of starving children or of families whose lives have been destroyed by war or abuse of some sort. Our hearts may well be moved. We may wish that we could do something to help, to save, or to rescue. But we cannot. The problems are so enormous and require resources far beyond our capability. Our compassion is real – but inactive.

However, the truth about our God is very different. He saw our spiritual plight already in eternity. He felt our wretchedness, our poverty and misery. He knew the torments that, if left to ourselves, we would suffer for all eternity. So in grace he devised a plan for our redemption, and then prompted by his own grace he went into action.

He carried his plan out to perfection, even though that plan would cost the suffering and death of the Son of God and Mary’s son. Jesus himself sums up that active grace of God in those well-loved words: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).

And it is all those truths, and many more, that are being summed up in the name God uses to tell Moses, and us, the truth about himself. Moses had asked God what he should tell the Israelites as to who sent him. God responded by saying, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

Now, if we were to casually look at that name, we might be tempted to think there isn’t much there. We might even think it somewhat strange. But don’t let your eyes fool you. Standing behind that name is more than we could hope to mine in a thousand lifetimes. This name tells us the truth about our God.

God is a personal being who can think, feel, speak and act – not some indefinite force somewhere out in nature. He is a God who is personally involved in your life and intimately concerned about you. This name also shows God’s absolute independence. He moves with boundless freedom. He is not limited by anything but has ultimate power. He is timeless and unchanging. In short, the truth about our God is that we can have complete confidence in him.

You see, while the truth about us is that we are sinners deserving eternal death; the truth about God is that in love he keeps every promise, including the biggest one that involved the sending of a substitute to take our place, suffer our punishment, and win our forgiveness. So, where our sin is the ugliness of the cross, Jesus - God’s Son - is the beauty of the cross. He’s not there because he is a sinner, but because he carries our sin. He’s not there because that is what he deserves; he is there because that is what we deserve. It is perfect blood he sheds. It is an innocent life he gives up. It is a complete payment for our sins he makes.

So we can turn from our sin fully confident of the Lord’s deliverance. Through Jesus we can be sure we will never be turned away. Going to God in faith in Jesus we know we will never hear the Father say: “Sorry, you committed that sin one too many times; sorry, the pool of forgiveness has run dry; sorry, I’ve moved on from you; sorry, I don’t have time for you.” In fact, go fear that the sky isn’t blue or that water isn’t wet before you fear that your unchanging, all-powerful God will ever turn you away when you come to him through his Son Jesus Christ.

Now he says “Go, I am with you. Go, leave your life of sin. Go, live a life of faith. Go, drown your sinful nature in the blood of your Savior. Go, confront your pet sins head onthrow them out. Go,serve me with your life. Serve me by being the loving spouse I’ve called you to be; serve me by listening to and doing what your parents say; serve me by being content with what I have given you; serve me by making faithful use of my Word, serve me by using the gifts I’ve given you as you faithfully carry out the duties of that tiresome and thankless job. Remember, I am with you. Remember, I am your God. Remember, I have forgiven you. Remember, I will keep all my promises to you. I can do nothing else.”

Jack Nicholson’s might have said to Tom Cruise, “You can’t handle the truth.” That is not, however, what God says to us. Instead, God tells us the truth. That truth is not found by some private explorationthat each person makes for themselves. It is not some truth brought about after some long, philosophical thought in which we then mold God into what we want him to be. No! Truth is what God tells us is truth. And the truth is: we are sinners who have been saved through the work of Jesus Christ. Hold on to that truth in faith. Amen.