The Prince of Egypt, The Servant of God: Burning Bushes And Blazing Hearts
In December, a wonderful movie will hit theaters all over this country. The movie is called: The Prince of Egypt. It is an animated feature film and it tells the story of Moses. Last spring it was my privilege to view a preview edition of that movie and I can tell you that not only is it an astonishing accomplishment in its artistic creation, but it tells the story of Moses in a very powerful and inspiring way. It’s a movie I would strongly encourage you to see and to savor. In order to prepare us for the experience of that movie, I would like to spend the next several weeks looking at how the Prince of Egypt became the servant of God.
You will remember how the story of Moses began—how he was born to a Hebrew slave woman in Egypt and how fortune soon smiled on him. He wound up being adopted into the royal family and he was reared with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. He had the best education, the best food, the finest clothing, the highest privileges. Life as the Prince of Egypt could not have been better, but then suddenly, it all came to an end. Moses made a terrible mistake. He got into a street brawl and he wound up killing a man. Frightened to face up to what he had done, he ran away. He left everything and fled into the desert, hoping to lose himself there by following the life of a shepherd.
I remember seeing Michelangelo’s famous statue of Moses in Rome a couple of years ago. It is a magnificent and massive work of art. It almost looks like an Old Testament picture of God in human form—thick, heavy muscles bulge on the arms and legs, the face has strength, vigor, determination and a fierce kind of charisma written all over it. As you look at it, you feel that this incredibly powerful stone figure just might spring to life right before your eyes. But you know, while Michelangelo’s statue might be a masterpiece of the sculptor’s art, it does not uniformly ring true with the Moses we see in the Book of Exodus. The fact is, Moses was an escaped felon. He was a dropout from society. He spoke with a stammer. He had a vile temper. He was cowardly and conniving. Not at all the kind of man you might peg to be the great liberator of the Hebrew people. Yet, you will remember that out there in the desert wilderness Moses met God in what we now know as the Burning Bush. It was an experience which transformed Moses’ life and he went on to become one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known.
You know, you encounter that same theme over and over again in the Bible. God is always taking the weakest, most insignificant, most inappropriate people and doing something truly grand with them. Remember King David? He was the youngest member of his family, a simple shepherd boy. He wasn’t perfect. He had some bad troubles with women in his life, but God made him into the best king Israel ever had. Samson—you remember him—so strong physically but so weak morally—yet God made him into a mighty deliverer. Isaiah was a man of unclean lips the Bible says. What was it? Lies, gossip, dirty jokes—who knows? But what we do know is that God purified his mouth and he became one of the greatest Old Testament prophets. There were others as well. There was Peter the coward. Or Matthew the despised. Or Zaccheus the thief. Or Mary Magdalene the streetwalker. Or Paul the persecutor. All of these people were weak; they were imperfect. They were hopelessly ordinary, and yet God took them and made something grand of them. Do you think it could happen to us? Well, the story of Moses reminds us that God calls us all and when He calls us, He gives us what we need to answer the call. Let me show you what I mean from the experience of the Prince of Egypt.
First of all, when God calls us, He gives us confirmation of that call. Our lives take on the glow of being in His presence.
Moses, we are told, was tending the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro, out in the wilderness of Midian. There one day he encountered a burning bush. Now that in itself was not so unusual. In the hot, dry conditions of that place, it was not uncommon for spontaneous combustion to occur, causing the small desert scrub bushes to burst into flame. I myself have seen that occur. Several years ago, in the blazing heat of July, I was in a group traveling on foot through the Negev Desert in the southern part of Israel. We actually saw a small bush, which in the intense desert heat had burst into flames. So the burning bush itself was not so unusual. But what caught Moses’ attention was that this particular bush was not consumed by the flames. That was unusual. So Moses said: “I must turn aside and look at this great sight.” Suddenly then he heard the voice of God saying to him: “Moses, do not come any closer. Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is Holy ground.” Here’s the point. Moses would not have had this dramatic, life-changing encounter with God had he not taken the time to turn aside and see—had he not been alert to what God was trying to do in his life.
I cannot tell you how many times people will come to me and say: “I don’t seem to be able to find God’s will for my life.” And I realize as I talk with them that they are so wrapped up in their own concerns, their own circumstances, their own wishes, their own desires that God just cannot get through to them. Moses turned aside to see the burning bush. He was alert. I ask you: Are you alert to God’s call and claim upon your life?
James Chalmers was. James Chalmers was sitting in Sunday School class one day when a letter was read from a missionary. The teacher then set the letter aside and said: “I wonder if there is a young person here whom God may be calling to serve Christ in the mission field.” That sentence was a burning bush moment for James Chalmers. Those words set his heart on fire, and his life took on the unmistakable glow of the presence of God. In time he went on to write some of the greatest chapters of missionary history in the South Pacific. Or go back with me to the year 1913 and see a young man in his 30s seated at his desk in Europe. The young man possesses three doctoral degrees—one in music, one in philosophy, and one in medicine. On the desk in front of him is a little booklet that had come unsolicited through the mail. The booklet was published by the Paris Missionary Society. Idly he picked it up, thumbed through it, and his eye fell upon an article entitled: “The Needs of the Congo Mission.” The bush began to burn. He said: “Lord, I’m coming.” He decided right then and there to spend the rest of his life as a missionary to Africa. From that day on, Albert Schweitzer proceeded to astonish and shame and challenge the whole world. He turned aside to see the burning bush, and the glow of it never left him.
Sooner or later, we all have those burning bush moments in life. Maybe it will be listening to the words of some sermon and your heart will catch fire within you and you will make some deep commitments in your life. Or maybe it will be in the embrace of a friend in some time of sorrow or heartache and you will make some deep promises in your heart. Maybe it will be when you are struggling against some pernicious temptation and you know the experience of the force of God moving into your life and helping you to defeat that temptation and you resolve to turn your life around. I don’t know what it will be for you, but I can tell you this: There will be burning bush moments in your life. Be alert to them. Because, you see, once you encounter the reality of God in your life, then the glow will never leave you.
But also, when God calls us. He gives us His commission for that call. Our lives receive the gift of His power.
God not only gives us a glow, He gives us a gift. He not only ignites us with His power, He assigns us a task to do for Him. He encounters us through some burning bush, sets our hearts to blazing and then sends us out to do His work in the world. That’s what happened to Moses. There, at the burning bush the first thing that Moses heard was: “Moses, take off your shoes, for this is Holy ground.” But the second thing he heard was: “Moses, I’m going to send you back to Egypt to set my people free.” You see, when you become sensitive to God, immediately you become sensitive to other people.
Whenever I am in Washington, D.C., one of the things that I always love to do is to visit the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. Every time I go it is a gripping experience. You are aware of how it is made entirely of slabs of highly polished black marble and on those slabs are inscribed the names of the more than 55,000 Americans who lost their lives in Vietnam. As you stand and gaze at that monument, the first thing you actually see is yourself. Your own image is reflected with crystal clarity in the shiny, black stone. But then, and it is an amazing experience as it happens, your eyes begin to change focus and the seemingly endless names become dominant in your vision. You lose sight of yourself and you see the names and you think of their service and their sacrifice. That’s exactly what happens when you encounter God in a burning bush moment in life. First you see yourself. But then you see yourself in the service of others.
The Bible tells us that all of us are called by God, and all of us are given, by God, gifts which are to be used in His service. He never calls us to do anything in life without giving us the gift—the ability to do it. Those gifts are listed in four different places in the Bible: Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Corinthians 14 and Ephesians 4. There is, for example, the gift of prophecy. Perhaps you have that gift. That’s the gift of explaining God’s Word in such a way that people are convinced. Or do you have the gift of service? That’s the gift of being able to love someone else with such tenderness that they don’t feel that you are meddling in their lives. Or do you have the gift of exhortation? That’s the gift of being able to lead those who are confused to a sense of clarity in their lives and those who are depressed to a sense of peace and joy of mind and heart. Or do you have the gift of giving? The Bible says that some people are actually gifted by God at making money, but then God’s Word to them is that they are to work as hard as they can to earn as much as they can in order to give as much as they can. Do you have that gift? Or do you have the gift of hospitality? We think of hospitality as serving as a great host at a great party. But that’s not what the Bible means. The key is in the root of the word itself—the word hospital. The gift of hospitality, then, is the gift of being a healing, caring, strengthening, renewing force in the lives of the people around you.
There are many more gifts. Check those gifts in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, and Ephesians 4 and then look at yourself in light of those gifts. You have at least one of those gifts in your life. God never calls us to serve Him without giving us what we need to accomplish that service. That’s what Moses learned the day the Prince of Egypt became the servant of God.
I keep coming back to this pulpit Sunday after Sunday, pouring out my heart and my life before you, trying to help you remember that no one in all of history has ever captured the world’s imagination as has Jesus of Nazareth. There is no One else who has ever lived like Him and there is no One else Whom so many have sought to be like in their living. As Thomas Carlyle put it: “Higher than Him thought cannot go.” Jesus is the best thing that I know. He is the One on whom I am betting my whole life. He is the One who called me to this pulpit. I have now spent more than 16 years of my life trying to preach Jesus and to live Jesus among you. I have given my all to call you to answer His call by giving your all to Him.
Do that, and like Moses, God will do great things in your life.