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Obedience at the Burning Bush

Allow me to give you a little bit of background to Exodus 3. This particular chapter speaks of our Bible hero Moses, the little boy who was found floating in the river by the Pharaoh's daughter, who felt compassion for him and brought him into the palace where he grew up. Then, when he became older, he found himself in some difficulty and the Pharaoh turned against him, and when they sought to kill him he retreated into the desert. And there, he was in an early stage of retirement, kind of. Now in Egypt, his people, the Hebrews, were dying. They were under unbelievable oppression and bondage from the Egyptians. They were being killed and murdered on a regular basis. They were cheap slave labor.

We don't know what Moses was thinking about in the midst of this. We don't even know if it was a concern to him. But we do know this—it was a concern to God. And I know that, as your heart breaks for a husband, wife, father, mother, child, or a friend who does not know the grace of God, a question also comes to mind: What can be done? What can I do?

Behold, a bush burneth.

Let's see what happened to Moses. In chapter 3:1 it tells us that Moses was enjoying his retirement in sort of a strange way. It says in chapter 3:1 "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 he came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in flames of fire within a bush."

I love this. There are a couple of things here that I hope you will write down and remember. Why would God do this? Why not just write a portion of Scripture and send it to Moses? Why not just call him and leave a message on his voice mail? Why would God do this in such a unique way? The Bible says that Moses is out in the middle of this desert, and God appears to him in flames of fire within a bush. Evidently there was a bush there and Moses was standing near the bush, and it just…burned. It began to burn. Moses was not smoking. He did not throw a cigarette in there. The sheep didn't do that. He was alone, and the bush began to burn.

Now our thoughts are very destructive to Bible heroes. Our thoughts are always: These were unique people who had a direct line to God. They were men and women of huge courage that we could never have and, in fact, their response to and interaction with God was different than what you and I would have. What do you suppose happened to Moses when the bush began to burn? Do you think that perhaps because he was a Bible guy he turned to the bush and said, "Behold, a bush burneth?" No, I don't think so. See, we tend to believe that's the way Bible people responded. When God gave a call to them their answer was always the same, "Verily, whatever Thou sayeth I wouldst do." But, I think you're going to discover different tonight.

That bush began to burn, spontaneously burst into flames. Why? I think because God wanted to get Moses' attention. That's a good way to do it. He's in the middle of the desert. There's nothing but boring sheep around him. The bush begins to burn. And it did get his attention. Moses did not look at the bush and go, "Verily, a bush burneth." There's no record of what he said, but I believe it would be something like this, "Whoa, freaketh me out." Now, I see the Bible scholars out there searching feverishly for such words. They aren't there, but I can guarantee you that this was a man like you and me, a human being like you and me. And he was amazed at what he saw.

In fact the Bible says that he went from surprise to curiosity. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. Oh, we have an amazing God. He doesn't do just little tiny miracles. He does very complicated miracles. He could have just done the spontaneous combustion thing, but instead this bush didn't burn. There was fire, but it didn't burn. The leaves didn't crinkle. They didn't fall to the ground. There was no smell of smoke. There was no combustion. It just burned and burned, but it didn't burn. It was a butane bush.

So Moses thought I will go over and see this strange site, why the bush does not burneth up. Then the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, and God called to him from within the bush. I love our Lord. Now I know I have a strange and twisted mind, but I am created in the image of God. And God has a marvelous sense of humor. Let me tell you something: if you're standing in the middle of the desert without cigarettes and a bush bursts into flame and that doesn't get your attention, and then you walk over and you see that that bush is burning and just burning but it isn't really burning and that doesn't get your attention—if the bush talks to you, that will get your attention.

When God gets your attention, pay attention.

God waited till he was really close and he said, "Moses, Moses." And Moses said, "Here I am." Write this down: When God gets your attention, pay attention. Earlier tonight, as you sat here taking communion, God laid upon your heart the hurt of a friend, the hurt of a community, God laid upon your heart a struggle in your own family. If it wasn't there, then perhaps as this message continues, God will very specifically give you the name of an individual to pray for, or an action that he wants you to do. He will lay it clearly upon your heart—not as a requirement for the grace that he extended for you—but as an opportunity for someone else to experience that grace through your forgiveness, through your love, through your witness. And if he does, if he lights a fire within your heart, pay attention.

In verse 5 it says, "'Do not come any closer,' God said, 'Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.' Then he said, 'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'" When Moses understood who was speaking to him, the Bible says he hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said in verse 7, "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. So I have come down to rescue them."

Those of you who have Bibles, I don't care what it is—NIV, DGS, KS2—I don't care, Y2K, whatever kind of Bible you have, you can't translate it any different than God Almighty saying, "I have come down to rescue them."

Oh, this must have excited Moses. He had seen the struggles. In fact, earlier in the chapter he had watched an Egyptian beat a Hebrew person, and he became so angry he killed the Egyptian. He had seen the people die, the children die, seen the starvation. He had seen the injustice. And now here was God saying, I will come down to rescue them. Yeah, come and get them. Sic 'em, God.

Hey, are you like that sometimes? Wouldn't we like to see God come down and take care of all of the injustice in the world? What a beautiful thing if God were to speak to us today, if the piano were to burst into flames and God were to say to us today, "I have come down to rescue you. I will lead you out of slavery. I will lead you out of bondage. I will lead your friends out of the horrible situation that they're in. I will introduce to them my grace. I have come down." What a marvelous message. Come on, Lord. That must be what Moses felt. Lord, come on finally…finally.

Because of time I'm going to skip a few verses. I want you to skip, if you will, to verse 10. And, in fact, let's put verse 8 and verse 10 together. "'So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians,' God says." Then he says to Moses, "So now go. I am sending you."

Now what do you think Moses thought? Verily. Whatever thou sayest, I shall go. I shall go. I don't think so. I think what we see following that indicates he was a bit disappointed. Wait a minute. You said you was coming down. What's this you go business. You said you was coming down.

One of the greatest messages I ever heard preached became the inspiration for the development of this message. It was preached by E.V. Hill, and the title of the message was "You Are God's Answer." Moses' going was God coming down. Moses' going was the way God planned it. The answer to the dilemma in your family, the answer to the dilemma for your loved ones, the answer to the dilemma in the world is not somebody else doing it, not Ken Davis, not Bill Hybels, not John Ortberg. You are God's answer.

But I still held in my mind the idea that Moses was special and that God only chooses special people. Once I read this wasn't true, I was amazed. When I say "Moses," who do you think of? Most of you think of Charlton Heston. Am I not correct? That's the image that comes into your mind—chiseled features, a long beautiful beard that flows slightly in the wind, muscular body standing with that rod out over the sea; and everything is positive, everything is, Let's go for it. That isn't the Moses I read about here. God says, "I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt."

If you've got that little pencil write this down next to, "When God tries to get your attention, pay attention"—you are God's answer. You are God's answer. And when God points his finger to you and says, "I want you to go, I want you to speak, I want you to apologize, I want you to be my witness," when God does that even in the tiniest of ways there are no excuses. There are no excuses. There's no way out of it. He said to Moses, "You go."

Excuses, excuses.

Now we would expect Moses to, again, be the typical Bible person. "I shall go. I shall go with you. I am proud to go. I am a Bible guy." Listen to Moses' answer. And, because of who I am, I'm going to characterize this just a little bit. But Moses said to God, "Who am I? Wait, you said you was coming down. Who am I?" The translation here, I believe, is this: "I am a nobody. God, you're great. I am just Moses. I just have a beard and a slight resemblance to Charlton Heston. What have I got to offer? I'm a nobody."

Write that down, will you, as Moses' first excuse, and tell me you've never used it. I'm a nobody. I have nothing to offer. Right underneath of it write God's answer when you use that excuse. When we say to God "I'm a nobody," God's response is always "I know." Now I see all the Bible scholars going, "I don't see that here. I've looked. I do not see that here." I hope you'll never forget this. Friends, God is not looking for extraordinary people. God is looking for ordinary people who will trust an extraordinary God. Some time do yourself a favor and read chapter eleven of Hebrews, the Christian Hall of Faith, and then go back and study the lives of those thieves and liars and perverts and strange people who God said "I'll send you." Of course God didn't say directly "I know you're a nobody," but neither did he say, "Oh, Moses, don't feel bad. I will make you a great leader. I will give you athletic ability so that people will finally listen to you. I will give you a great deal of power and money and political clout." He said none of that. When Moses said, "Who am I? I'm just a nobody," God's response was this: "I'll go with you."

How many teenagers in this building? Any tonight? Let me see your hands. Raise your hands if you're a teenager. Okay. Let me tell you teenagers this: you and God together are a team that can't be beat. And I want to tell you that if you're eighty, and I want to tell you that if you're struggling in business. I want to tell you that if you feel swamped by the responsibilities of your home life. You and God together are all it takes. That's a team that cannot be beat. When God comes to you and touches your heart with something you need to do to make a difference in this world—it might be teaching, it might be leading a small group in this marvelous church, no matter what it is, no matter what he's saying to you right now, he's not asking you to go alone. He's saying I will go with you. Oh, wow. That's sends chills down my spine.

Now this gentleman here, what is your name? Bob. Bob, I don't know you. I've never been in your home. But I guarantee you that if, as you went to bed tonight, if you turned out the light and you looked over at your dresser and it just suddenly began to burn; and even though it burned, Bob, it didn't burn up, it just burned and burned. Your family went to get a fire extinguisher but you said, "Wait! Look! It's not burning. It's just burning but it's not. It's just burning." And then suddenly your dresser, your nightstand said to you, "Bob, Bob, this is God speaking. I want you to go do whatever it is, Bob, you've been thinking about tonight. I would like you to go do that, Bob." I think you would be very motivated to go do that. And then, Bob, if you were convinced that it was God, and as you lay there weeping and amazed that God would visit your room if God said, "And, Bob, I'm going with you," I think you'd say, "Man, I'll sell everything."

Well, for all of us he's there and he's saying it. He did it so dramatically for Moses that when he said "I will go with you, Moses," we think Moses surely had to respond, "Verily, if you go with me, behold, I shall go. Now I understand. I shall go." No, no. Listen to what Moses says. In verse 13 Moses said to God, "Suppose I tell them all that—you know, that you're with me. I understand, I am a nobody and you're a somebody. That's good. And you're going to go with me. But I don't know what to say." Listen to what he says, "Then what shall I tell them?"

Write it down. It's the second excuse we use all the time. I don't know what to say. I don't know how to begin. I don't know where to start.

The president of one of the finest companies in the country, as far as I'm concerned, ServiceMaster, said something I will never forget. "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly the first time." If God says to you get going, don't wait until it's perfect or you'll never do it because it will never be perfect.

"I don't know what to say." If that's your excuse, it's the number two excuse that we all try. Then God's answer for that is the same today as it was with Moses. When our excuse is "I don't know what to say," God's answer is "I'll tell you what to say. I'll tell you what to say."

Years ago I was involved with young people in a program called Youth for Christ. I had a young lady in my club whose name was Beth. In today's vernacular you would have classified or even pigeonholed her, perhaps wrongly so, as space cadet. She was the flakiest person I've ever seen in my life. Our challenge to the young people was this, that they are the greatest evangelists on the face of the earth, not us leaders, not their pastors, but in their schools—and I'll tell this to you young people, it's still true today—you are the greatest evangelists on the face of the earth. You have access. You have their ear. You have their respect. You are their age. And so we said, "What you need to do is to reach your own age group for Christ."

Beth asked to see me after the meeting and she began to cry. She said, "I don't know what to say. I just don't know what to say." I said, "Beth, God will tell you what to say." She said, "Well, I don't know where to start. I don't know where to start." I said, "Beth, why don't you go home tonight and pray that God will lay on your heart one person. And then just share your faith with that person. Just one, Beth, start there." And Beth was weeping and she went, "Oh."

So she went home that night and prayed, and God laid someone on her heart. And she brought this person to our meeting. When she came to our meeting, Beth had tucked one of those tracks that helps you share Christ with people in her pocket—you know, six ways to do this or five ways we're separated from God and two ways to unseparate us. So she had it in her pocket. And from the moment she picked her friend up to come to our meeting she began to worry. That thing was burning a hole in her pocket. She was waiting for that moment when she would whip it out and do that thing that we call witness. She was going to witness, and she was waiting for that moment when the witness would happen. And so she brought her friend to our meeting.

After the meeting she was driving home with her friend, waiting. She was trying to wait for the moment when she would do the witness thing. And so, to kind of open it up, she said "What did you think of the meeting tonight?" And her friend said, "Well, I liked it except for the Jesus part."

Whoa. Now the witness was going to be harder than ever. She didn't know what to do since the Jesus part was what was in her pocket. She didn't know what to say. What am I going to say now? She didn't like the Jesus part. She thought, Maybe I have to find out why. So she asked her, "Why didn't you like the Jesus part?" And her friend began to unfold the story of her life, and at the end of that story she was in tears. "How," she said, "could Jesus ever forgive me after that? How could he forgive me of this kind of life?"

Well, Beth thought she would save witnessing for later. She pulled over. She felt sorrow for her friend. And she began to tell the story of her life. She told her some of the things that she had done, and how guilty and overwhelmed she felt in her life, and how Jesus had completely forgiven her and helped her. And Beth's friend turned to her at the end of this conversation and said, "Could you show me, please, how I can trust Jesus?" So Beth told her how she could simply trust Christ to forgive her of her sins, and offered to pray with her. And that little girl trusted Christ right there. She experienced what we worship tonight in a little cramped car.

The next Monday the door to my office opened and Beth came in and she told me this story, and toward the end of the story she began to weep. I said, "Beth, what's the matter? This is a reason for joy." She said, "No, now I don't have anybody. What am I going to do now?" I am not exaggerating, friends. Space cadet. I said, "Beth, pick another one." And she went, "Oh."

Her senior year in high school Beth led seven kids to saving relationship with Jesus Christ and she still didn't know what to say. That's why I love youth. Youth just do it, even if they don't know how.

"Okay, you'll go with me?" "Yes, I'll go with you." "Okay. And you'll tell me what to say?" "Yes, I'll tell you what to say." Bob would have packed and been gone by now, but not Moses. Moses said, "Well, what if I say that and they don't believe me?"

It's the third excuse: what if they don't believe me? The part of Moses should have never been played by Charlton Heston. The part of Moses should have been played by Martin Short. What if they don't believe me? I see by the nod of your heads, I see by your smile, I see by the fact that God is talking to you, that you've used the excuse and it didn't work. "What if they don't believe me?"

Here's God's answer to that. It's not your job. It's the most freeing truth in Christendom. It's not your job. Your job is not to convince or persuade or twist people's arms or to be such a clever communicator that people come to know him. Your job is not to solve the problem. Your job is only to be obedient in what God is calling you to do. The rest is his job. It's his job.

Once again I see you searching the Scriptures. In the fourth chapter verse one Moses answered, "What if they do not believe me or listen to me? What if they say, 'The Lord did not appear to you?'" Now, again, the actual words it's not your job don't appear here, but the demonstration confirms it. I love this. Oh, I wish I could have been there.

"What's that in your hand, Moses?" "This?" "Yes, what is that?" "It's a sheep stick. Okay, staff, staff, it's a staff. Sometimes the sheep don't do the right thing. Sometimes they wander away and then I am required as the shepherd to go over and go 'bad sheep,' sheep stick. It's a sheep stick." We have such a marvelous God. He could have just told him. He could have just laid it out in big complicated theological terms. No way. "Throw it down." "Why?" "Moses." Okay. No need to get testy. I'll throw it down." He threw it on the ground.

How many of you know what happened, raise your hand, when it hit the ground? It turned into a what? It turned into a snake. And Moses went, "Behold. What was once straight is now crooked." No, the Bible says that Moses put his knees to the breeze and buggeth out of there. It says so right there. He ran from the snake. He did what every man, woman and child would have done here. "Aaah!" He was on his way. God is a God of love and God is a majestic God of justice, and God is hilarious.

God said to Moses, "Come on back here and pick it up." He didn't say it but I think Moses was thinking, No, you pick it up. You're the one that turned it into a snake. Turn it back and then give it to me. I ain't touching that thing. "Moses," God said, "Moses, pick up the snake. Reach out your hand. Take it by the tail." So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake, and it turned back into a staff in his hand. "This," God said, "is so that they may believe. I'll take care of that."

God must have sensed that Moses didn't get it. He said, "Moses, put your hand in your coat." He put it in his coat. "You're not going to make five little sphinx out of this, are you?" "Take your hand out, Moses." Moses pulled his hand out. Those of you who understand or have read the story realize that what Moses looked at in that moment was his death warrant. What he saw was leprosy. There was no cure. He would be ostracized. He would never see his family again. Slowly the fingers on his hand would rot off. It would spread to other parts of his body. In Hawai'i there is a leper colony and you see the horror of this disease—cheeks eaten completely out, feet with no toes, or no foot and just a stub. Everywhere he went, he would have to hold his hand over his mouth and shout "Unclean!" He was a dead man. He was more than a dead man. He was a despised, rejected person who would never have social contact again.

"Why?" There's no record of the emotional struggle that went on, but he knew what he saw. He had seen the horrors of this disease before. "God, why?" Perhaps he thought that his prior reluctance had made God angry. "Why?" God said, "Put your hand back in your coat." The Bible records that Moses put his hand back in his coat. God said, "Take it out." And he took it out and it was clean. That's why we worship. We all have experienced, like Moses, a passing from death to life. It's not your job. He told him then if that didn't work he could take some water from the Nile and pour it on the ground and it would turn into blood. It's not your job.

In verse 10 we find the fourth excuse. Moses said to the Lord, "I have never been eloquent neither in the past or since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue." Some Bible scholars believe that Moses stammered and he didn't feel he was capable. And God's response when you say I'm too fat, I'm too skinny, I'm not smart enough, I'm not good looking enough, I stutter, I can't think quick on my feet, when you use any excuse like that, I don't have great athletic ability, I'm not coordinated, friends I have the eye-hand coordination of a carp. If God can use me, he can use you. Whenever you say anything like that God's response is the same as it was to Moses. "Who made you?"

What was it that God touched your heart with tonight? He would have never touched your heart with that unless he equipped you to do it. When God created you he broke the mold. There is no other woman on the face of the earth like you. There's no other teenager like you, son. Before the foundation of the world was put in place, he had your design; he had your picture on his wall. You are a masterpiece and he created you perfect for what he wants you to do.

I have a friend David Ring. David is a Southern Baptist evangelist. Some of you may have seen him on TV. If you listen to him on TV, or if you came to hear him speak, you would hardly be able to understand him. He's afflicted with cerebral palsy. Has a powerful message. "I can't even pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus," he says. "But I'm going to brag about Jesus until the day I die." And then he says, "What's your excuse?" He appeared on television on the East Coast. The lines were jammed. He went out to the Hour of Power and shut down the switchboard because people were so moved by his message. They understood that God doesn't choose extraordinary people.

It's wonderful to see people like that used of God. He has a marvelous sense of humor. We were crossing the border into Canada one time. The customs people held me for an hour-and-a-half because I wanted to bring a few audiotapes in. I was furious. Sometimes, I lose it. I'm telling you, I'm not saint. I can lose it just like that. By the time I got across the border I was just livid. And when David came across I said, "David, I'll tell you something. If those people are going to be in heaven, I don't want to go. I don't want to be anywhere near them. If one of those guys is waiting at the Pearlies going, "Bring your stuff over here," I don't want to go.

David said, "Yes." And by the way, I'm going to speak as he spoke so that you can get a feel for it. I'm not mocking him. I've told this story when he's been present. He said, "Yes, they're mean people." He came with hundreds of videotapes. When he got to the border the man said, "What's in those boxes?" He said, 'I looked at him and I said, 'videotapes.' He said the man sneered, "How many?" He said, "I don't know." He said the man leaned across the counter and demanded, "You count them." David said there were a hundred people lined up waiting to get through. He said, "Suddenly my handicap got worse." He said, "I began to count 'o … n … e, t … w … o.'" He said, "The man screamed at me, 'What's wrong with you?'" And he said, "I looked at him and I said, 'Hey, now you made me lose count.'"

If this man, who even with a sound system requires you to strain every second to hear his every word, if this man who is no more of a saint than I am, can see hundreds of thousands of people come to know Christ and experience the grace that we sang about tonight, then truly what is our excuse?

Finally Moses said to God, "Send someone else." And, in one of the few places you'll find this, the Bible says that God's face burned in anger towards Moses, because there are no excuses.

"I'm a nobody." "I'll go with you."

"I don't know what to say." "I'll tell you."

"What if they don't believe me?" "It's not your job."

"Look at me." "I know. I made you."


No, no, not "Send somebody else," because you are God's answer. When God speaks there are no excuses. What has he spoken to you about tonight?

For Your Reflection

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?

Ken Davis, humorist and speaker, is president of Dynamic Communications and author of several books, including The Dynamic Communicators Workbook (Zondervan).

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Sermon Outline:


We don't know what Moses thought while the Hebrews were being killed in Egypt—but we do know that God was concerned.

I. Behold, a bush burneth.

II. When God gets your attention, pay attention.

III. Excuses, excuses.


You are God's answer. When God speaks there are no excuses.