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May 21, 2017
Pastor Jeff Struecker
In 1850 Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a novel called The Scarlet Letter which he described as a romance novel. The plot of The Scarlet Letter is about a woman, Hester Prince, whose husband has been gone for many years. She lives in Puritan New England. Hester is found to be with child. The people of Boston, Massachusetts know her husband’s been gone for a long time so they quickly deduce that there’s no question this child has to be the result of adultery. Hester is required to sew a red letter onto her dress. For three hours a day she stands on scaffolding while the women of the city of Boston, who are jealous of Hester’s beauty, throw the most heinous comments at this woman. I’m not going to spoil the plot for you but at the end of the book the townsfolk figure out who really is the father of this child and it’s a scandal. In fact, Hester takes the scarlet letter off. English Lit Majors know that at the end of the scarlet letter when Hester was an old woman she sewed the scarlet letter back on. In fact, she’s buried in the tomb right next to the baby’s real father. On the black slate tombstone is written these words, “On a Field, black – the letter “A” Red”. Meaning for the rest of her life Hester carried the shame and embarrassment of this sin that she committed.
If we’re honest, all of us in this room have this little voice in the back of our head that says, “Yes, Jeff, that’s right! She’s supposed to pay for her sin. Sin is a crime against God and somebody who sins should pay for their sins, if for no other reason so that other people won’t do the same thing that she’s done.” Did you know that voice in the back of your mind is actually the Holy Spirit? That sense of justice that you have finds itself in God’s character because God is perfectly just. God never covers up sin. He never treats sin like it’s no big deal. The problem is all of us in this room have made some mistakes. Is there anyone in this room who says, “I’ve never really blown it in the past or made a mistake.”? If that’s you, this sermon is not going to do any good for you today. You can leave right now and take an early Sunday afternoon because this isn’t going to help you today. This is for all of the rest of us in this room who have messed up in the past and know that we’ve messed up bad and are struggling with the consequences. Today is about owning your sin and admitting it but at the same time not letting that mistake in the past own you. We’re going to look at one of the greatest leaders
I. Don’t lead out of anger or your own power
Don’t make the mistake that Moses made. Don’t try to lead people out of anger. Don’t try to lead them out of your own power.
Many years later, when Moses had grown up, he went out to visit his own people, the Hebrews, and he saw how hard they were forced to work. During his visit, he saw an Egyptian beating one of his fellow Hebrews. 12 After looking in all directions to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand. 13 The next day, when Moses went out to visit his people again, he saw two Hebrew men fighting. “Why are you beating up your friend?” Moses said to the one who had started the fight. 14 The man replied, “Who appointed you to be our prince and judge? Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?” Then Moses was afraid, thinking, “Everyone knows what I did.” 15 And sure enough, Pharaoh heard what had happened, and he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in the land of Midian.
Moses had a supernatural birth because God miraculously spared him. Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s house as the Prince of Egypt. He had the world at his fingertips. Moses had no business finding out what the slaves were doing. God is up to something in Moses’ heart. Remember what I said when God builds a leader he always starts with the heart. Today God captured Moses heart. For whatever reason Moses decided to leave the palace to go outside and see what’s happening with his people. Moses is no longer associating himself as an Egyptian Prince. Now he’s seeing himself as a Hebrew.
Verse twelve shows us this is pre-meditated murder. Moses is furious by what he sees when this Egyptian slave master is treating a slave the way the slaves have always been treated. Moses starts to look around. When he sees that nobody’s looking he kills this man and hides him in the sand as a way of covering up his own sin. This was his secret sin. Can I tell you something, church? There is no such thing as secret sin. Maybe your friends or your family hasn’t found out yet but there is nothing that escapes God’s sight. All sin is a crime against God. So, God ultimately cannot be fooled. There is no secret sin. This is premeditated murder. If this was today in Georgia, Moses would receive a minimum of a 20 year sentence but probably would get life for first-degree murder. If this was Alabama depending on how the case was tried, it’s a minimum 25 year sentence. He probably would be sentenced to death for what he just did. Moses is messed up.
Later on in the Old Testament we learn that Moses is about 40 years old when this event happens. For 40 years Moses has the world at his fingertips. Then Moses got angry and decided to react because of his anger. As a result, Moses ruined his life in one instance. I can’t tell you how many really effective leaders that I’ve worked with in the past who deep on the inside are very angry men. Their boss never finds out about it but the people who work for them know they are angry leaders. The thing that makes it so dangerous is that they are the kind of guys that get stuff done so their boss gives them the next promotion. Their boss gives them a pay raise because this person is getting a lot of stuff accomplished. However, the people that work for them know that this man is angry and will lash out in a moment because of his rage. Everybody who works of him knows not only is this guy a jerk but the first chance that I get I would find somebody else to work for because that man is dangerous. His anger is dangerous.
If Moses was standing before you today, he would beg you to not try to handle life on your own or take care of stuff in your own power. Don’t try to use anger as a parent or grandparent to force your children to do what you want them to do because one day they’re going to get old enough to rebel against that kind of leadership. Moses would say whatever you do when you lead people trust God to use you as an example to lead people. Don’t try to lead people out of anger. This is the moment were Moses becomes a self-inflicted, self-imposed refugee. Moses ends up running away to the land of Midian. Moses spends a long time in Midian.
II. Allow Jesus turn your mess into a message for his glory
Look at these last three words “for his glory”. Moses deserved what he’s getting in chapter 2. Moses doesn’t deserve what he gets in chapter 3. God decides to give Moses something that he doesn’t deserve.
One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. 3 “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.” 4 When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!” “Here I am!” Moses replied. 5 “Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. 6 I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God. 7 Then the Lord told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live. 9 Look! The cry of the people of Israel has reached me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them. 10 Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.”
How long has just taken place between Exodus chapter 2 and Exodus chapter 3? If you read Acts chapter 7, we learn that Moses is 80 years old on this day. For 40 years Moses has been in the desert. Forty years of self-inflicted punishment. Forty years of self-imposed slavery. For 40 years he’s thinking, “I had it all at my fingertips and I threw it all away in an instant. Now I’m just sitting here taking care of sheep and watching the sun go up and down.” One day God stepped in and changed Moses’ life.
Do you see what is happening here? God uses the ordinary to do something extraordinary in Moses’s life. For 40 years Moses is walking sheep through the desert. For 40 years Moses is staring at bushes. One day while he’s walking through the desert a bush is on fire but it’s not burning. God got Moses’s. attention so Moses goes to see what’s happening with this burning bush and then God speaks to Moses from this burning bush. The great theologian RC Sproul said that when God uttered Moses’s name it is the ultimate of intimacy. God is being intimate and coming down to the level of this man, Moses.
I want you to put yourself in the shoes of Moses at this burning bush especially when God utters that last verse, “You are my boy, Moses. You go to Pharaoh. You go to Egypt.” For 40 years Moses is a son of the pharaoh. He’s the Prince of Egypt and has the world at his fingertips and he blows it in an instant. Then for 40 years Moses is a refugee. He is a slave in the desert. This is a self-imposed prison sentence because of his sin and he knows that everybody in Egypt knows what he did. Moses knows the king has a ransom out for his head. If he goes back there, he will die. God said to Moses, “You’re my man. I am sending you right back to Egypt.” Moses was terrified.
Leaders are forged through the fire of bumps and bruises. Sometimes those bumps and bruises are self-inflicted. You have them because you messed up and you deserve them. Sometimes those bumps and bruises are just because of circumstances, like you just got dealt a really rough hand. Since you have been through those bumps and bruises, now as a leader you are more sensitive to people who are getting bumped and bruised for the exact same thing. Now you have a compassion for people that are hurting and suffering because you’ve hurt and suffered right along with them. I want you to hear something from the burning bush today. This is the moment where God steps down from Heaven and snatches a man back out of his sin. Moses deserved to die for being a murderer because it was his own fault. No one can argue that Moses doesn’t deserve the penalty.
This is Moses’s call to ministry. God says, “Moses, this ‘M’ no longer stands for murderer. Moses, I’m going to clean you up and turn you around. I’m going to send you out on my behalf.” In the back of my mind I think Moses is thinking, “God, do you know what I’ve done? Do you know what people are going to say about me when I go back to Egypt?” God is saying, “Moses, I am giving you a message and I want you to be my messenger. Moses, if you let this sin hang over your head forever, you’ll never get out from underneath the shame and embarrassment. Yes, you messed up, Moses. Yes, the consequences are great.”
Here is what the Bible teaches us. This is the essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He doesn’t expect you to clean yourself up and then come to him. He goes to you while you’re in the midst of your sin. He snatches you back out of it and he cleans you up. Then he makes you something beautiful for his glory. Jesus is still in the process of taking murderers, adulterers, and people that have made a massive mess with their life and cleaning them up, turning them around, and sending them out for his glory. This is the moment where God forgives a murderer. That “M’ doesn’t stand for Moses. It stands for murderer. God says, “Moses, I’m going to pay the penalty. Somebody has to suffer for that sin and I’m going to suffer for it. In fact, my Son, Jesus, is going to pay for it with his own life. Now I’m sending you as my messenger.” This begs the question, is there anything God could send you or on any task that God could give you that you would say, “I’m not doing that God.”?
III. Be willing to accept any assignment
Be willing to accept any assignment no matter what it is. The great Bible teacher, Henry Blackaby, made one of the most profound statements I’ve ever heard in my life about this passage of Scripture. He said in very simple terms, if you call yourself a Christian, you cannot say, “No, Lord!” Blackaby said of the burning bush, “If you say no, then he is not your Lord. If you call him Lord, you cannot say no.” Moses, this once proud arrogant leader, has been humbled by the last 40 years in the desert. Listen to how Moses responds when God says, “I have a mission for you Moses. You’re going to be my messenger to go back to Egypt.”
But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?”
Moses is basically saying today, “What’s your name again? God, let me ask you two questions. God, do you know who Pharaoh is? Do you know how much power this guy has over me? He’s been looking for me for 40 years. The second question is God do you know who I am? Do you know what I’ve done? Do you know about my past? God is dealing gently with Moses, “Yes, I know who Pharaoh is. Yes, of course I know what you’ve done but it still doesn’t change things. Moses, I’m going to send you as my messenger.” This is the moment Moses goes from being a murderer to being a witness for the God of Israel, a witness to his people. This is the moment where Moses goes back to Egypt and is no longer a refugee on the run. Now Moses is a mouthpiece for the God of Heaven and of earth. Moses is sent right back to the very people that want him dead but the difference this time is God is going with Moses.
If I were to summarize this entire chapter the Bible for you in one sentence, I would write it this way. Here is what God is saying to Moses and to us too. God can make a message out of your mess. God and God alone is big enough to see the mistakes that you made. He can turn those things around and use those very mistakes for his glory. The question that you and I have to wrestle with is do you really believe that God is bigger than your mistakes? Do you believe that God loves you enough that he would pay for your mistakes? That’s exactly what’s going on in Exodus chapter 3. God is bigger than your mistakes and God can make a message out of your mess, if you’ll bring it to the throne of Jesus and leave it there. Stop letting it hover over your head and stop letting it hold you back. For 40 years Moses is in the desert running from his mistakes and running from his past. God grabs him right in the middle of it and says, “Moses, I know what you did but I want to use you anyway.”
Do you know why we try so hard to get people in this church plugged into a Life Group somewhere during the week? It is because all of us are going to make mistakes. You need a small group of people that you can show up and say, “Hey guys, I need you to pray for me because I messed up bad this week. I need your help would you partner with me, would you hold me accountable, would you encourage me, because I really messed up.” None of you are going to do it in this room today so that’s why we beg you to get plugged into a Life Group. Live life on life with somebody else where you can look them in the eyes say you’ve messed up and need prayers. About 50% of you in this church are not plugged in to a small group anywhere as far as we know. I can’t tell you how much of the Christian life you’re missing out on because you don’t have a group of people that you can look at eye to eye say, “I messed up and I need your prayers.” Or, “I messed up and I need your help.” Don’t let the shame or embarrassment of what you’ve done in the past hold you back. Own up to your mistakes but don’t let them own you.
If you have a few minutes, please go home and read the rest of Exodus chapter 3 today. Please go read chapter 4 too because God and Moses start to get in an argument here at this burning bush.
IV. Lead by following the Spirit
Learn from Moses today and lead people by following the right leader. Moses becomes a great leader because he’s following the Holy Spirit. This is the moment where Moses stopped trying to lead on his own and starts following God. Since he’s following God’s Spirit, he becomes the second greatest leader that history has ever known.
God answered, “I will be with you. And this is your sign that I am the one who has sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God at this very mountain.”
For God this is already a foregone conclusion before Moses even leaves the desert. “Moses, you will go back to Egypt. I don’t want to hear any of your excuses. Stop acting like a pouting little boy. You go do exactly what I sent you to do. Remember this Moses, I’m with you while you’re in Egypt. I’m going to give you the strength, the signs, and the wonders to help you lead my people out of Egypt. This is my promise Moses. Not only will you come back to this mountain and worship me but all of my people will come back to this mountain, see my glory, and worship me. Moses, it’s a done deal. All you have to do is get up and go do what I told you to do and follow me in the process.” When the people of Israel come back to the desert God is making a bet with Moses here, “Moses, if this doesn’t happen, I’m not God. If it happens, it is proof to you, Israel and Egypt that I am who I said I am. Moses, you’re going to bring my people back here and they are to worship me. Moses, do you know why I want to rescue them in the first place? It’s because I want my people to have the freedom to worship me and to experience me on this mountain. That’s why I’m sending you back to my people, Moses. That’s why I’m going to make you into a legendary leader.”
All of us in this room have made some mistakes in the past. All of us have blown it. Some of us have made some colossal mistakes. My guess is there are some people out there who know your past and know what you’ve done. If you let it, that past will hang over your head like Moses for 40 years. If you’re willing to take that past and leave it on the throne of Jesus, he can do something beautiful with your past. Jesus can make your past a mission field. He can make your past a message about his greatness, about his sacrifice, and about his glory.
There are a couple prayers that I’ve been praying for a long time about our church. One of those prayers is that somebody would walk in the door on Sunday morning and they wouldn’t hear anything other than our great God loved them so much that he would reach down into the middle of their sin and pull them out when they are at their absolute worst. He would pay the full price for your sin. Every Sunday that’s what I hope you walk away with from this building. Maybe somebody stumbled into the doors and for the first time your hearing how much God loves you and how far he would go for you to rescue you back from your sin. Maybe today you need to find faith in Jesus Christ. Maybe you need to go from death to life and from sin to salvation for the first time.
I’ve been praying for three years that God would raise up somebody in this church who’s been through a divorce who would start a ministry to people in this church who are currently going through divorce or who have already been through divorce. You know firsthand the pain that divorce has caused you and you would say, “I don’t want anybody in the world to go through that kind of pain.” That you would stop letting that painful experience hold you back but that you would place it on the throne of Jesus and trust him with it. Also, that you would develop a heart for people who are going through the exact same thing because you don’t want them to have to go through those kind of problems.
I’ve been praying that God would raise up somebody who was addicted to drugs and alcohol to start a Celebrate Recovery ministry in our church. Someone who would say, “I went through that and I don’t want anybody in the world to ever go back to that. So, I will start to reach out. I will use my really ugly past and start to minister to people who are going through the exact same thing.” I’ve been praying that God would take a woman in our church who went through an abortion and cause you to be so passionate about not letting another woman go through this that you would start to spend some time at Sound Choices or Seneca Choices for Life begging women who are considering abortion not to do it because you can speak from personal experience about the pain that decision has caused you. I’ve been praying God would raise up a couple of men in this church who were addicted to pornography to make it public by starting a ministry to help rescue other men who are struggling with this sin. You can’t do that, if you’re not willing to at least be open about your mistakes. This city is desperate for somebody who’s gone through what they’re going through and can help them find a way out of it. Today I’m going to challenge you to take some Next Steps and respond appropriately to what you heard from God’s word today. Would you listen to the Holy Spirit and follow the Holy Spirit like Moses? Maybe God would give some of you in this room a powerful ministry because of the mess that you made in your past.
• I believe my sins have separated me from God. Today, I turn from my sins and commit my life to Jesus for the first time.
– I have been letting my past hold me back. Today, I am putting my failures in Jesus’s hands and leaving them there.
+ Rather than hiding from my mistakes, I will look for an opportunity to share how Jesus has forgiven me this week.
- Have you ever tried to hide a mistake that you committed in the past? What did people think about you when they found out that you were hiding this mistake?
- Who taught you the most about leadership? How did they teach you?
- Have you ever worked for an angry boss or teacher? Why do leaders use anger to try to get things accomplished?
- Have you ever tried to get out of something you knew God was asking you to do? If so, how did it turn out?
- Would you sell everything and go overseas if God asked it of you? What is off limits for God to ask of you?
- Explain, in your own words, how the Holy Spirit leads people? Does the Holy Spirit lead people through human leaders? Explain your answer using Scripture.
- Pray that we would courageously follow the Holy Spirit this week.