A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on October 1, 2017.
Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:1–12).
It was reported this last week that Paul Horner died apparently of a drug overdose. Even if you have never heard of Paul Horner, you have likely read his reporting, or, should I say, “fake news?” Horner created the fake news website National Report, newsexaminer.net and cnn.com.de. He was also a master circulator on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Some of Horner’s most famous fake-news articles included a story “in which he claimed protesters were getting paid $3,500 to disrupt Trump rallies” and a story about a secret service agent who disclosed that Barack Obama is “not only gay, but a radical Muslim as well” (Ibid.). The fake news articles are countless, and it is likely that you have read one of his articles, or possibly even shared it on social media, or heard it on Fox News, which incidentally was also fooled by Horner. Horner said of the consumers of his fake news, “[They] don’t fact-check anything—they’ll post everything, believe anything.” Before his death, Horner was reportedly making $10,000 a month from his websites propagating fake news.
This leads me to this question: Why are so many people led astray by such vicious satire? What is it within us that leads us to be so gullible? This is not just an American media problem. We are seeing the same problem in American Christianity. In a zeal to experience God on our own terms, the door has opened to a myriad of false teachers promoting the theological equivalent of fake news. If you think fake news in politics is a problem, what we are encountering in the American church is a catastrophic disaster. Horner said of those duped, “[They] don’t fact-check anything—they’ll post everything, believe anything.” The same can be said of the average American Christian. In fact, American Christians are notoriously gullible.
What is the solution to this theological dilemma? The truth: If we want to experience the One true God, then we must experience Him as He has chosen to reveal Himself. Consider the (true) story of Moses and the burning bush. Good reporting always asks fundamental truth-seeking questions, like: Where? Who? What? and Why? Let us put on our truth-seeking, fact-checking lenses and look to the reliable source of God’s Word.
Where? (Where is this story?)
Moses, the Hebrew-born, former prince of Egypt (and murderer) found a new life in Midian as a shepherd. Tending his flock, he was led providentially into the wilderness onto Mount Horeb. Horeb is known elsewhere in Scripture as Mount Sinai and referenced here as “the mountain of God.”
Why was it called “the mountain of God”? As described in Exodus 19 through 34, Israel experienced God at the base of this mountain, first through Moses. It was on this mountain that the cloud of God’s glory descended. And it was at the base of this mountain that Israel experienced God with fear and trembling. But, before all of this occurred, the humble shepherd, Moses tended his sheep on this mountain, the mountain of God.
Lest we put too much emphasis on this geographical mount, Scripture reveals a significance to various mountains. For example, the prophet Ezekiel reveals that the Garden of Eden was on a “holy mountain of God” (Ez. 28:14). Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac on a mountain (Gen. 22:1-14). Jesus was tempted by Satan on a mountain (Matt. 4:8). Jesus preached His “Sermon on the Mount,” well, on a mountain (Matt. 5:1). Quick: Who is buried at Grant’s tomb? Jesus gave His disciples the Great Commission on a mountain (Matt. 28:16). Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:10-12).
And, mountains are used in Scripture, in general, in association with God’s revelation of Himself to man. When you encounter a mountain in Scripture, you should probably pay attention. Specific to Moses there are a number of other mountain-top experiences. In addition to the burning bush and the assembly of Israel, Moses received the Law of God on the mountain. It was from the top of Mount Pisgah God allowed Moses to look into the Promised Land (Ex. 34:1-4). But the pinnacle of mountain-top experiences for Moses was when he joined Elijah, Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration and the revelation of the glory of the Son of God. All of this, of course, is yet to come, so let’s return to this: Where is Moses? We find him in “the west side of the wilderness on Mount Horeb, the mountain of God.”
Who? (Who is on this mountain?)
Obviously, Moses and his flock of sheep have wandered to this place. More importantly, we read, “the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush” (3:2). Is this simply an angel, a messenger sent from heaven? No, this word, based on context, can also be understood as a “Theophany,” a visible manifestation of God. This becomes more obvious when we read, “God called to [Moses] out of the bush” (Ex. 3:4).
Moses does not experience a messenger but God, YHWH, the Great I Am! “And he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Ex. 3:6). This self-revelation requires a response from this mere mortal, Moses: He is barefooted with hidden face.
To be clear, Moses did not go seeking God. God sought Moses. He revealed Himself to him. And, as we will see, there is always purpose when God chooses to reveal Himself.
What? (What does God reveal to Moses?)
God reveals to Moses that He has a mission for him: “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Ex. 3:10). You may recall that Moses had a sense of this calling in his younger years: As Stephen recounts in Acts, “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:23-25). Moses saw the injustice and responded in his power by murdering. Based on this, how would you expect Moses to respond to God’s calling?
At 80 years old, Moses is not quite as ambitious as he once was, and significantly more humble, (40 years of tending sheep for your father-in-law will do that…) “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’” (Ex. 3:11). Gone was the zeal to fulfill God’s mission in his own power and according to his own rules. Arrogance was replaced by humility; he was finally ready to fulfill his calling.
What does God say in response to Moses’ humble question? “He said, ‘But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain’” (Ex. 3:12). Listen carefully to the two key points of God’s response: “I will be with you,” and “this shall be the sign for you.”
By declaring, “I will be with you,” God assures Moses with something the pagan Pharaoh would never know: the presence of God. By stating, “this shall be the sign for you,” God assures Moses with a visible sign of God’s provision.
Why? (Why does God reveal Himself to Moses in this place with this mission?)
God reveals to Moses, “And I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites” (Exodus 3:8). He came down to save His people in fulfillment of His promises. Consider the condescension in this phrase: “I have come down.” God came down to save His people. There is no salvation unless God acts. How did God choose to accomplish the salvation of His people? He chose a mediator, Moses, to carry out His plan of redemption.
So, we have discovered the truth of this passage of God’s Word by asking simple questions like where, who, what, and why. But we do not come to God’s Word as merely fact-checking truth-seekers. We come as sinners in dire need of the gospel.
Where do we find God? Must we too have a mountain-top experience to know God? As Jesus explained to the woman at the well, “the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . . But the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:22-24). Who is this God and how may we know Him? Do we too need a burning bush to experience Him? The writer of Hebrews says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). And, the Apostle John explains,
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3).
God has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ through His Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God (John 1:1-2). He came down and was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, suffered physically and took the punishment of hell upon Himself. He was crucified, died, and buried. The third day He arose again from the dead.
Who is this God and how may we know Him? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2) and: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). What has God revealed to us in Christ? God’s redemptive purpose is revealed to us in Christ. As Moses was a temporary mediator and deliverer for the promise of a temporary land, Jesus is our Mediator and Deliverer for an eternal Promised Land. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph.1:7).
To Moses, God said: “I will be with you…this will be a sign…” In Christ, we are promised the same: By God’s grace through faith in Christ, we are given the promise of the Holy Spirit, the indwelling of His presence continually. And, He has given us His New Covenant sacraments as visible signs of His provision. Why has God redeemed us in Christ? The ultimate answer to where, who, what, and why is summed up in this: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! . . . For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36).
 http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/09/27/554050916/paul-horner-fake-news-purveyor-who-claimed- credit-for-trump-s-win-found-dead-at-?