Reading: Colossians 1:9-23
Text: Exodus 3:1-9
God reveals himself as Holy and Loving
Reading: Colossians 1:9-23 Text: Exodus 3:1-9
Possibly the most important question everyone must answer is what do you think of God or what is your mental image of God? It’s important because what you think of God determines to a large extent what kind of a person you will be. One only has to look at the history of religion to see that people are what they believe. To put it in AW Tozer’s words in his book The Knowledge of the Holy, “no people group has ever risen above its religion and man’s spiritual history will show that no religion has been greater than its idea of God”.
This is true for the church too. What a church believes about God determines the spiritual health of the church. AW Tozer’s opinion on page 10 of his book was that “the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the 20th century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High. That has no doubt contributed to the moral decline in the years which have followed in the west where the church was once strong.
The reformer John Calvin defined the problem by comparing the human mind to an idol factory. “The idolatrous mind assumes that God is something other than he truly is. The Idolatrous heart substitutes a God made in its own likeness for the true God.”
So how can we know God? The true answer to that question is that we cannot know him through our own efforts. ILeft to ourselves we would automatically reduce God to one that makes sense to our finite minds or one that suits us, a benevolent god who winks at sin perhaps.
The only way therefore that anyone can know God truly is if he reveals himself to us and that is what he has done in creation, and more importantly in Christ and the Bible. So it’s to the Bible we must go and in our text we notice that God reveals himself in the first place as holy.
The end of chapter 2 tells us about the deep distress the Hebrews experienced as slaves under a cruel Egyptian regime. They cried out to the Lord and the Lord heard their cry saw their distress and remembered his covenant with his people. The time had come for their deliverance. In the meantime the Lord had also been preparing Moses the person who would be their leader and mediator between God and his people. The important lessons Moses learned were not how to be a great general or prime minister. He wasn’t trained in law or psychology, politics or sociology. The lessons Moses learned were obedience to the Lord, self-control, humility, how to serve and a lot of that was learned the wilderness and in the context of his own immediate family. That’s not to say that Moses previous training and education in Egypt was worthless. On the contrary as a prince in Egypt Moses would have acquired skills that would also be helpful as leader of the Israelites.
But to be a good leader of his people Moses needed to know who God is and how to trust Him and serve Him.
Verse 1 tells us Moses was taking care of his father-in-law’s flock. We notice here that his name is Jethro whereas I chapter 2 it was Reuel. Its possible that man had two names. It’s also possible that Reuel was Jethro’s father which would make him Moses grandfather-in- law. A third possibility is that Jethro which means “his excellency” was a title indicating Jethro’s rank as priest among the Midianites. In any case he is called Jethro in the rest of the book of Exodus. Moses takes the flock to Horeb otherwise known as Mt Sinai the mountain where God gave Moses the law of God. Its location is most likely near the southern end of the Sinai Peninsula; the 2300 meter peak which Bedouins call Moses Mountain today.
It was here that God appeared to Moses from the burning bush. As he was tending his sheep something unusual; a bright light caught his eye it. On closer inspection Moses saw that it was a burning bush only the bush wasn’t breaking down and turning to ash but kept on burning anyway.
Here again we have a sign of God’s power over creation showing that God is self-sufficient in that he doesn’t need the energy of plant life to keep a fire burning but that God himself supplies the energy and the heat. It reminds us of the character of God that he is almighty and self-sufficient. In other words the creation depends on God rather than God depending on his creation. Sometimes we call these supernatural events theophanies i.e. visible appearances of the invisible God which means Moses was standing in the presence of God.
That explains why Moses had to take off his sandals. Verse 4 says that God called Moses from the midst of the bush. “Moses, Moses!” “Here I am!” he replied. Then God said, “do not come near here, remove your sandals from your feet because you are standing on holy ground.”
That helps us to see that holiness means separation. A certain distance must be kept between the divine and the human, the holy and the sinful. Moses wasn’t allowed to come closer. One more step and his life would have been in danger. He needed to stay where he was and he needed to take off is shoes as a sign of humility and respect. When God spoke and said, “I am the Lord your God, the God of your father, the God of Abraham , of Isaac and the God of Jacob”, Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. That was just as well because later on when God gave the Moses the second set of tablets containing the law he warned Moses saying “you cannot see my face for no man can see me and live.”
This is our problem. We were originally made to have close communion with God. According to Genesis 3:8 Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden of Eden. But ever since the fall all people have inherited Adam and Eve’s sin and corruption and can no longer stand in the presence of God.
It’s no good pretending that we are Ok and down-playing God’s holiness and righteousness or thinking that we are good enough for God to accept us as we are. We kid ourselves if we think that keeping certain rules and going through the ritual of worship will make God accept us. Jesus said be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect, that is a standard no-one can reach since “all fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Neither will it do for anyone to think that God will minimise sin or turn a blind eye to it. No! If he did that he would be less than true God and we wouldn’t want that. AW Tozer in his book “The attributes of God “says this on the theme of God’s holiness. “ I tell you this, I want God to be what He is; the impeccable, unapproachable …all holy one. I want him to be and remain Holy. I want his heaven to be holy and his throne to be holy. I don’t want him to change or modify his requirements. Even if it shuts me out, I want something holy left in the universe.”
So how could Moses and how can we stand in the presence of a Holy God?
The answer is we can only stand if we become holy ourselves. This is why God made a Covenant of Grace with us. His is also why he put into motion his great plan of salvation from the time of the fall when he said, “the seed of the woman will bruise the serpents head” (Genesis 3:15) This is why he sent His Son to be the mediator of this covenant and to be our Savior,…. so that we sinners might become holy. We can’t perfectly keep God’s law but Jesus kept it for us. When he died on the cross he paid the penalty for all our sinfulness. That means whoever trusts in Jesus as his or her saviour from sin is accepted by God as holy. We read this earlier in Colossians 1:21 & 22. “Though you were formerly alienated and hostile in your minds, engaged in evil deeds he ( i.e. Jesus) has now reconciled you in his body through death in order to present you before God holy and blameless and beyond reproach.”
Moses his hid face when confronted with the holiness of God. Hebrews 12:21 recounts the giving of the law at Mt Sinai. On that occasion when Moses was also confronted with the holiness of God and said he was “filled with fear and trembling. But then further on in Hebrews 12 it says “but you have come not to Mt Sinai but Mt Zion,.. the church,…and you have come to Jesus the mediator of a New Covenant and to sprinkled blood which speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Abel was murdered by Cain and his spilt blood cried out for justice. Jesus blood was shed because of our sin but his blood doesn’t call for retributive justice against us, rather it justifies us.
So by grace we can through the cross of Christ approach a holy God, not in fear and trembling but joyfully trusting in the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That takes me to the second point and that is that God not only reveals himself as a Holy God but also as….
It must have been a tremendous experience for Moses to have this encounter with God. He had met with the holy, righteous, all powerful, self-sufficient, all-knowing creator of the universe.
Why would such a great and glorious God want to have anything to do with sinful mortals like Moses or like us? Because God is also a God of love. We saw that at the end of chapter 2. The Israelites cried out to God and he heard their groaning and remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
When God spoke to Moses he called him by name and said he was the God of Moses father Amram and that he was concerned about the suffering of the Hebrews whom he calls “My people.” That tells us that our Holy and Glorious God has a personal relationship with his people and knows each one of us by name.
Every Christian is also personally known by God and called by him to be a covenant child. He hasn’t called us in the same manner that Moses was called through signs and wonders or through a theophany. He calls us through his word and Spirit. This is what theologians call ‘effectual calling’. According to Louis Berkhof’s definition “The Holy Spirit operates through the preaching of the Gospel making its persuasions effective so that man listens to the voice of his God. It is always directed to a certain end which is a calling into fellowship with Jesus Christ to inherit blessing, freedom, peace, holiness, hope and eternal life.”
Has God called us because he saw something good in our character or because we were better than others? No! When we consider the patriarchs, Abraham Isaac and Jacob we tend to revere these great men of old. But when you look into it, these men were like us; flawed individuals. They were liars and deceivers, schemers and dreamers. It was purely out of love that God entered into a personal relationship with them. A relationship of covenant love. Then because they lived by faith in this covenant God, “(He) is not ashamed to be called their God. (Hebrews 11:16)
God relationship with his people is not only a relationship of grace and love. It is also a saving relationship. The God who hears, sees and remembers is the God who saves. In Exodus 3:8 it says “I have come to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians and bring them up to a good and spacious land; a land flowing with milk and honey.” For there to be plenty of milk and honey there would also have to good rainfall and green pastures. It was also abroad land a land were several nations lived and which the Hebrews would have to displace because of the detestable practices of those nations. In Leviticus 18:25, the Lord said that the land had become defiled by immorality, and idolatry. Elsewhere in Jeremiah 7:31 we also learn that child sacrifice took place among the pagan nations. Therefore its inhabitants would be dispersed and replaced by God’s covenant people.
Out of love God knew and cared about the suffering of his people and would do something about it. The book of Exodus shows us how God rescued his people from slavery and brought them into their promised land a good land flowing with milk and honey.
The way God saved Israel is the way he saves today because the slavery in Egypt was a type of spiritual slavery to sin. Until people come to God through faith in Christ they remain trapped in sin, enslaved by its error, self-centeredness, passions and unbridled desires. Just as the Hebrews were enslaved under Pharaoh’s whip those who have yet to be liberated by Christ remain under Satan’s influence.
Only God can rescue us from that and this is what the Son of God came to achieve. Jesus came down from heaven to lift us out of slavery to sin and bring us into his kingdom of grace which extends into eternal life in a new creation.
This is ours by grace through faith and faith as this part of the book of Exodus shows. This faith is exercised by prayer. The Hebrews cried out to the Lord and the Lord heard and saved.
We are encouraged to do the same. Bring your burden to the Lord. Tell him about your enslavement to sin, the hardship you are under because of iniquity. Tell him about your hardness of heart, whatever prevents you from enjoying full fellowship with God and his people whatever has kept you in Satan’s dominion of darkness. Confess that to God, and he will hear your prayer because as the Psalmist says he doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. As a father has compassion on his children so the Lord will have compassion on all those who fear him.
The same God who met Moses at the burning bush, the holy God of glory, is the same God who has entered into a loving relationship with us thorough our Lord Jesus Christ who came down to save us.