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Dec 15, 2019

Angel In the Outback, Part 2

Passage: Exodus 3:1-4:22

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Advent 2019

Keywords: faith, moses, excuses, gideon, unexpected, preincarnate christ, desert experiences

Summary:

This message looks at two encounters of the pre-incarnate Christ with some unlikely servants of God in the Old Testament: Moses and Gideon. If you've wrestled with not feeling fit for God's calling on your life either because of age, past failures, present weaknesses, or anything for that matter, you need to take a look at how God the Son came to a couple of unlikely people who became greatly used by God to bless other people.

Detail:

Angels in the Outback—Part 2

Advent 2019 Series:  Angels from the Realms of Glory

December 15, 2019

QUIZ: 

  1. What state in the U.S. produces the most potatoes? (Idaho grows 28% of U.S. production; WA at 21%...for total of 49% of all U.S. potatoes.)
  2. Which state has the most productive yield per acre of potatoes? (WA:  national average per acre is almost 400 100-lb sacks of potatoes.  WA is 600+ per acre and up to 1,000 sacks/acre in the Columbia Basin.  It’s THE best potato growing acreage in the WORLD!)

Factoid:  The Columbia Basin produces 11 billion potatoes/year.

Why am I talking about potatoes today? I want to make you hungry!  J  No, I really want to talk about DESERTS again today.  But I want to start by reminding you that deserts can be some of THE most fruitful land on earth.  All you have to do is add WATER!

      That’s what started happening after the Grand Collie Dam was built back in the 1930s-40s.  Dubbed the Columbia Basin Project, it irrigates more than 1 million acres of former desert in the center of our State.  It was originally designed to water twice that amount but budget constraints left half of it unfunded.  Today it would cost nearly $12,000/acre to supply that water to additional land.  And that’s a lot of potatoes! 

      It’s pretty amazing what just adding water can do to a desert in terms of agricultural productivity.  The same is true of the deserts of human experience.  It is absolutely amazing what just adding the presence of God will do to change a desert-like life experience into a flourishing, productive, even nation-changing experience. 

      To see both the kinds of human ‘deserts’ God seems to love to work with as well as what God likes to do with His people in the midst of our deserts, I want us to look today at 2 different Christ-encounters in the O.T. and what they have to teach us.

REVIEW: 

  • In a series on angels.
  • Since it’s the Advent season, I want our study of angels to focus primarily on Jesus. So to help us do that, I wanted these first couple of weeks to focus on the appearances of what we believe to be the second member of the Trinity, the pre-incarnate Son of God.  The connection with angels is that O.T. writers seems to consistently refer to “The Angel of the Lord” as an identifying name for appearances of God the Son in the O.T.  While Jesus is not an angel, whenever we encounter that particular title, ‘Angel of the Lord,’ it appears that God the Son is taking some sort of physical form visible to people.  That makes sense since God the Son is the one member of the Trinity that consistently takes a visible form with human beings. 

So for our first encounter with the pre-incarnate Christ today and what that has to tell us about our Lord Jesus, let’s go to Exodus 3.  Let me refresh your memory about what Moses is doing out in the desert of Midian. 

  • In his former life as a Hebrew child-turned-man in Egypt, he had murdered an Egyptian who was abusing some Hebrew slaves. Obviously, though having been raised in Pharaoh’s court, he was so bothered by the suffering of other Jews in slavery in Egypt that he tried to deliver at least this one poor slave from his suffering and ended up going too far. 
  • Thinking no one else had seen him, he then tried to mediate a dispute between two Jews he saw quarreling the next day. They rejected his intrusion into their dispute by saying, “Who made you ruler and judge over us?  Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?”  The cat was out of the proverbial bag, so to speak. 
  • And before Moses knew it, word got to Pharaoh who then apparently put a bounty on Moses’ head.
  • He fled for his life to Midean where he spent the next 40 years tending the sheep of his father-in-law in the desert of Midean.

So from being an “Ivy-League” educated, adopted-son of Pharaoh’s daughter who enjoyed all the privileges of the Pharaoh’s court and fancied himself a possible deliverer of his enslaved Jewish brethren, Moses becomes an outlaw on the run hiding out in the desert, working the desolate and terribly boring business of his father-in-law…for the next 40 years. 

      Then “the angel of the Lord” appears to him in the burning bush experience of Exodus 3.  We pick it up in vs. 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 wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 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. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

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.”

“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.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

Remember last week where we saw Hagar meet God the Son in the desert in Genesis 16? 

Here again we have God demonstrating not only His knowledge of the deserts his people find themselves in; we find Him going after someone who most assuredly had determined that their usefulness to God or His people was certainly over. 

After all, Moses was a murderer.  He was a wanted man in Egypt.  He had been rejected by both his adoptive family and his racial family.  And I’m pretty sure every last little dream of being a somebody who could somehow help his people out of slavery had been wrung out of him over the past 40 years of following smelly sheep around in the desert.  In fact, all the questions and excuses he gives God over the next two chapters make it very clear that he really had no illusions about being anybody in God’s economy.

APP:  Ever feel like that?  Have the experiences of life sent your life in a totally different direction from what you dreamed you would do as a young man or woman?  Has your track-record of failures and disappointments wrung out of you just about any hope and desire of being radically used by God?  Did you burry your dreams of being a somebody along the desert way and wilderness? 

            Don’t underestimate what God may want to do in the last part of your life.  People who have been broken by life’s experiences are usually God’s prime candidates for his most important work. 

But it will almost always take a life-altering encounter with God the Son to do that.  And that is apparently what Jesus has always specialized in:  finding people stuck in the deserts of life and calling them into things far bigger and more important than they had ever imagined possible.

Notice just a few important things about what Jesus may well need to do with us when He comes to us in those deserts.

  1. God’s calling on our lives is not based on our goodness or evil; it’s in spite of it.

            God told Moses to “take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground,” (Ex. 3:5). And vs. 6 tells us that after Moses realized it was God speaking with him, he “hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” If we are to be at all useful to God in His service, we must develop a genuine reverence for and awe of His holiness.  God is as different from us in moral purity as a sterile operating room is from a cattle feed lot.  It’s a wonder God didn’t ask Moses to take more than his sandals off!  When we genuinely encounter Christ, we will know we are sinners who are truly saved by grace, not by our own efforts.  And that will mark us for the rest of our lives. 

  1. When you encounter Jesus in life’s deserts, He will ask you to do things for other people that you can’t imagine possible.

In 3:7-10 God lays out His plan for the Jewish people enslaved in Egypt.  He expresses His compassion and concern for their suffering and he tells Moses he’s going to rescue them out of Egypt and its slavery and into the Promised Land with its abundance.  And He even reminds Moses that the Promised Land is currently filled with a bunch of really bad, really mean pagan savages.  But not to worry because first God is sending him to pagan Egypt to deliver a whole race of slaves from the hand of the most powerful government in existence in that part of the world at the time. 

            If whatever you think God is asking you to do right now with your life isn’t beyond your capability, then it’s probably not God.  When God asks us to expend our lives for something more than sheep, it will probably require God’s absolute involvement if it is to be successful.  Obedience to God always demands faith.  God always wants our faith bigger coming out of a desert than it was going in.

3.  God has an answer for every excuse we have.

If you read chapters 3-4 carefully, you’ll notice that Moses puts up at least five different objections to why God has the wrong guy.

1.) Objection #1--Vs. 11—“But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”  

Moses starts with probably his biggest fear:  Pharaoh. After all, going up against Pharaoh was like going up against the biggest bully in the neighborhood.   

            While Moses’ question was all about Moses’ inadequacies, God’s answer for his concerns was all about God’s presence. “I will be with you” was God’s simple response.  And then God gave him a “sign”:  he and the whole nation of Israel would come back to this very spot and worship God.  See how “sign” came after Moses’ exercise of faith through obedience?  No faith? No sign.  Simple faith in God’s promised presence? A promised sign. 

APP:  What’s your biggest objection to answering God’s call to do something beyond you by faith?  God’s answer is, “I’ll be with you.  God + a nobody = an overwhelming majority. 

2.) Objections #2 & 3—What if your/my people don’t accept me? (Ex. 3:13-4:9) So God reveals more of Himself to Moses and asks him to surrender the implements of his trade (his staff and his hand) to become tools in God’s hands. 

APP:  There is something very intimidating about answering God’s call to wade into being part of rescuing other people out of bondage.  Whether it’s our family members or church people, none of us feels up to the task.  We all anticipate the negative responses of others to the positive call of God on our lives. 

            Again, the answer to those doubts is to focus more and know more about the true nature of God.  The only thing Jesus needs from us is our trust of Him.  And He may will ask us to surrender the most important and valued tools of our trade to Him at some point so that He can use them for much greater endeavors than herding sheep or washing woolies. 

3.)  Objection #4 (4:9-12): Doubts about himself.

Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord.  I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant.  I am slow of speech and tongue.” 

            We all have plenty of things we can point to in our lives that we think are proof of why God should tap someone else on the shoulder in the desert and use them.  But the answer for self-inadequacy is the same as the answers for all the other objections: God himself!  God promises to Moses that He…God himself… will help him speak and teach him what to say.  Wow!  God promised to be his private tutor!  And that’s exactly what God promises to every one of us when he asks us to step out into the unknown by faith. 

APP:  What’s the excuse you go to when God calls you to do something?  We all have our pet excuses.  Most of us see our weakness magnified and our strengths minimized.  (If you don’t yet, don’t worry.  God’s got a desert experience waiting for you in life that will take care of that! J)

ILL:  story of a very unlikely person greatly used of God.  Joni Erickson Tada: A 17 year-old teenager who breaks her neck in a diving accident and ends up spending the next 52 years as a quadriplegic in a wheel chair. 

VIDEO:  https://www.joniandfriends.org/about/what-we-do/

[God has used Joni to speak to millions of people, be the subject of 7 films, produce 15 recordings, write over 110 books/publications, be married, survived cancer, receive 6 honorary doctorates, has a ministry all over the world, one of the longest running daily radio programs in existence, etc.  The thing that made the difference between 52 years of impact for God and 52 years of isolation in her own suffering was…God.  It was growing in Christ that moved Joni from her desert of paralysis to amazing usefulness in God’s kingdom.  That was God’s call on her life…and she answered it.]

The last pre-incarnate Christ-encounter for today is found in the book of Judges 6.  God’s people have entered the Promised Land after Moses died and they are now several generations into living there.  And all is not well.  They didn’t drive out the pagan peoples as God had asked them to do.  They didn’t destroy their false gods.  So now, their loving God is disciplining them so that they will long for the good, right and best things of the true God and not be content with impoverished lives under false gods.  We pick it up in verse 1.

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.

APP:  Your life ever been so “impoverished,” so barren, so run over by the wrong people and gods that you finally started “crying out” to the Living God?  That’s a good thing, isn’t it?  Famine of soul is a good thing when our souls are settling for the wrong things.  God has put within each of us desires for good things.  The problem is, our flesh is far too willing to settle for cheap or downright harmful false substitutes for the real deal.

            As always, when we cry out to God, he listens and answers…not always as quickly as we would like Him to.  But He answers. 

            In this case, God’s answer came in the form of two different individuals—one human and one divine. 

APP:  That, too, is how God often works to answer our prayers, right?  He himself is the greatest need we have.  Encountering God directly is the greatest need of all our lives.  But God also often sends one of His servants—a brother or sister, prophet or pastor—to confirm the message or course correction. 

            When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

            First, notice how many times God speaks to them using the pronoun “you”: 9 times! Yet was this generation of Israelites really the ones who had been brought up out of Egypt?  Rescued from the Egyptians?  Given the Promised Land?  Told not to worship false gods? 

            No, not really.  It was their forefathers.  But here’s another reality we need to wrestle with:  when God said something to our spiritual forefathers, we do well to believe that He actually said it to us too. 

  • When Jesus spoke to his disciples, He was speaking to US!
  • When the prophets spoke to Israel, they were often speaking to US!

Granted, the New Covenant in Christ fulfilled, ended or changed a lot of the ways God dealt with Israel from how He deals with us.  But my point is that we should not think that just because God said it long ago, it no longer is important to us or we’re no longer obligated to obey it.  If God said it in His word and it is still in force today under Christ’s New Covenant, then as far as God is concerned, He spoke it to US!  And if things aren’t working out like we thought He promised, we need to go back to those promises and figure out what’s gone wrong.  It’s probably that we either misunderstood what He was saying or we misapplied or failed to apply what He asked us to do. 

            So God first sent one of his teachers of truth, a prophet, with a much needed message of repentance.  But He also sent His Son to a man who needed an encounter with God if he was ever to rise to the challenge of the day.  And here we have our second pre-incarnate Christ appearance for today in “the angel of the Lord.” 

11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

             Let’s get the lay of the land here.  Where was wheat threshing usually done?  Down in some little hole in the ground in some well-protected, windless ravine?  NO.  If you want to separate the wheat kernel from the chaff, where to you do the threshing?  Up on the mountaintop or hillside where the wind is going to blow away the chaff and allow the wheat to fall to the ground. 

            But Gideon is doing it in a “winepress” so that he won’t be seen by the Midianites who would just come and steal it from him if they knew he had it. 

            To this man, the angel of the Lord, the Son of God, says, “The Lord is with YOU, MIGHTY WARRIOR.”  Anyone else see any humor in this?  God inserts himself into this little hideout of a winepress by sitting down under a neighboring oak tree.  Gideon probably gets the fright of his life when the Lord appears to him seemingly out of nowhere. I imagine his adrenalin was pumping and his heart was beating fast when God said to him, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” 

            “Mighty what?  Who you talking to, buddy?  If you want to pick a fight, I’m not your guy so just shuffle along, pal.”  

            We so often come to stories like this missing the point because we already know the ending.  Gideon is going to become one of Israel’s most famous warriors.  He’s going to defeat tens of thousands of Mideanites and Amalekites with 1/100th of the size of the army that first turns out to fight.  Yet in this moment when God comes to him, he doesn’t look or act much like a warrior.  In fact, he’s hiding in fear of some little gang of Mideanites who might chance to find him and his stash of wheat. 

APP:  But here’s the beauty of Christ—He doesn’t see us for what we are, but for what we can become. God sees in us what no one else can see.  He not only sees weaknesses we can’t even see; He also sees a triumphant future no one else can see.  And so He comes to us and calls us by what He wants us to grow into:  ‘mighty warrior,’ ‘church leader,’ ‘great parent,’ ‘loving spouse.’  You fill in the blank that you don’t feel qualified for yet.  God may well be calling you by a name you haven’t yet lived into.  But what He sees is what counts, not what we can’t see. 

            13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

            When God shows up to you in person and the first words out of your mouth are, “Excuse ME…but…” then you know that the situation you are in is not one that lends itself to faith and trust in the God of your parents.  Gideon had been doing a lot of thinking about how hard life was and how absent God seemed.  And he doesn’t hesitate to express his questions and doubts to God either.  Maybe that’s one reason God chose him! 

So God answers him:

            14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

Does God actually answer Gideon’s first question?  No.  He just pretty much tells him to use what strength he’s got and go save his nation.  God calls him to focus on WHO is sending him (i.e. God), not who is opposing. 

ILL:  How many of you had older siblings growing up?  Yah, me too…3 of the 4 of them were girls…the next closest siblings!  Do little brothers like their bigger sisters telling them what to do?  Not this one!  In fact, whenever my older sisters told me to do something, I would usually see it as a challenge not to do that thing. 

But what was the determining factor on whether I actually did it or not?  Whether or not their command came with the words, “Mom/Dad says….”  It was the fact of who sent them that made the difference.  It wasn’t them I was respecting; it was our parents.

            Their job was to deliver the message.  And they knew that they didn’t even have to be the one to get me to do whatever it was I needed to do.  It was the power and authority of the person behind the message that mattered.    

APP:  What’s God asked you to do that seems impossible?  Share the Gospel with someone?  Disciple someone?  Pray for years for someone?  Fight against evil somewhere?  God is probably not going to show us ahead of time how we’re going to be able to actually do whatever it is He’s asking.  He just wants us to “go in the strength we have” and remember that the outcome is up to Him because He’s the one who has sent us. 

            The story continues:  15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

            When will we realize that this is precisely the kind of person God usually prefers to use—not the strong, not the wealthy, not the have-it-all-together people.  No, the “weakest” and the “least” of these. 

ILL:  Back in the 80’s and 90’s when we were missionaries in Spain, the evangelical church in Spain was growing very slowly, if at all.  Spaniards were becoming less religious and leaving the Catholic Church in droves.  But there were two groups of people who were responding to the Gospel in much larger numbers:  the AIDS victims/drug addicts and the Gypsies.  Both of them were pretty much the outcasts of society.  But God didn’t see it that way!  God seems to LOVE to us the “weakest” and the “least.” 

16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

            Anything similar in the Lord’s reply here to Gideon and His reply to Moses back in Exodus 3?  Sure.  It’s God’s promise to “be with you.”  Again, the presence of God in the weakest of lives makes an overwhelming majority. 

            And here God adds another promise:  He will use Gideon to “strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”  I’m betting Gideon would just have been happy with a decisive win.  But God adds another element of impossibility by telling Him just how much of a win this is going to be:  total. 

            So here’s how the story ends.  17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”

19 Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.

20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”

23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

            It’s very possible that God is speaking to us and, in the moment, we don’t recognize it as God.  It’s very possible that you’ve prepared some sort of sacrifice to God and He burns it up in a way you didn’t expect.  After all, if Gideon had known that Christ was just going to burn up all his fine cooking of bread, broth and meat, why not just put the raw meat and cups of precious flour before the angel of the Lord and let Him do the cooking?  J 

            When Jesus shows up in our lives, you can expect Him to do the unexpected.  You can expect Him to use the unexpected, commission the unexpected, take the cowardly and weak and seemingly unprepared and make them…make YOU…into someone who becomes a blessing to the people of God and a curse to wickedness in our world. 

            This has been, throughout human history, one of the things our Lord Jesus, the 2nd member of the Trinity, loves to do.  Jesus loves to take the least of us at the most unlikely of times and do something unexpected and miraculous.  Despite our hesitancies, despite our insecurities, God loves to meet us right in the middle of all that and turn life completely around.  He’s just looking for willing participants in His work, not perfect saints. 

APP: 

  • Have you had that first encounter with Christ yet? Before He can use us, we must belong to Him. His first call to us is to trust in His saving work on the cross for us, in His lordship over our lives and believe in Him by faith.
  • Has God been trying to get your attention in the middle of life’s desert? Is he asking you to stop looking at your resources or lack of them and just trust that His presence is enough?
  • What is Jesus asking you to do in response to His presence in your life right now? Are you willing to just give Him what you are right now and what you have right now for Him to use in whatever miraculous or mundane ways He decides is best? 

Let’s take a few moments of prayer to listen to and talk with Him about all of this.