Sermon for Sunday, February 7th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Exo 4:1-17 ESV] 1 Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.'” 2 The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” 3 And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. 4 But the LORD said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”–so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand– 5 “that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” 6 Again, the LORD said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. 7 Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. 8 “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. 9 If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” 10 But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” 11 Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? 12 Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” 13 But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” 14 Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. 15 You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. 16 He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. 17 And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.”
New Testament reading:
[Act 17:22-31 ESV] 22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ 29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
[Mat 5:1-12 ESV] 1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
God has been preparing Moses for his mission, to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt. But Moses is now concerned that even so — even with preparation — that he will not be listened to.
And, it is well considered, since for an interval of 430 years God had not appeared to any Israelite. So why would they believe Moses that God had spoke to him from a burning bush?
So God gives Moses three signs to use to convince the Israelites. And these signs are not only for the Israelites in Egypt but for Moses as well, to strengthen his assurance.
Later on God will give different signs to the Egyptians and for a different reason. But here, these signs are for the Israelites to convince them to listen to Moses who is speaking for God.
I. Three Miracles and Their Purposes
And these signs are not just any signs but have implied each their own meaning and purpose.
The 1st Sign or miracle is the staff turning into a serpent and back again into a staff.
Here Moses gives up his shepherd’s staff, giving up his weapon of protection, and in its place it becomes a snake, which is the embodiment of evil and of the devil. Ever since Genesis the snake has been the enemy. But in God’s power, Moses, without his own staff of protection, can seize the serpent by the tail and it again becomes his staff.
This shows that the Lord has power over evil.
The 2nd Sign or miracle is Moses’ hand turning leprous and back again to good health.
The meaning is to show the cleansing power of God. God shows His power over sickness and defilement.
Then, the 3rd Sign or Miracle is the turning of Nile water into blood.
With the first two signs God has shown his power over evil and over sickness. Now God shows his power over life and death. Moses is to take “living” water – from the river Nile – and it will become blood which represents death. And we might note, that this foreshadows the plague later on when God turns the Nile itself into blood. That mighty river, which gives life to all in Egypt, is under God’s control.
In these three miracles we see in fact that God has control over the physical things of the world.
II. Miracles as Confirmation
Miracles are used in the Scriptures as a tool of confirmation. They confirm the truth of what the prophet is saying. Miracles are not solely meant to “wow” the people, but to direct them to the words being spoken.
Here the people are to listen to Moses, and know that God intends to deliver them from Egypt.
When Jesus performs miracles it is not solely for the sake of healing a man or of feeding a crowd, but it is so that they will believe his word. The crowd soon gets hungry again and the body eventually succumbs to death, but in the Word of the Lord there is eternal life. So don’t get hung up in the miracles, but let them direct you to the truth being conveyed by the prophet.
Miracles were also used as confirmation in the time following Christ — the Apostolic times. In the time of the Apostles miracles continued. Peter healed the sick, Paul casted out demons. The apostolic miracles were used to confirm the truth of the message, to point the people to the truth of the Gospel being proclaimed.
But now, the Bible has been written. And it is complete. There are no additional revelations, and therefore no miracles to confirm them.
Our Confession says
“The whole counsel of God … is … expressly set down in Scripture, unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”
Because the Bible is complete, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people have now ceased.
As the Bible is now complete, God does not have modern-day prophets through whom he is revealing new revelations, and therefore there are no longer miracles to attest to words of new prophets.
The is called cessationism. Revelations and miracles attesting to them have ceased since the passing of the Apostles.
Today we find only false prophets. And they are constantly showing themselves to be as they falsely determine the date on which the world will end, only for us to see that date come and go.
But to get back to Moses, we find that the miracles God does through him are to attest to the words that he is speaking as a prophet of God.
And those miracles show that God has control over evil, over illness, and over life and death.
III. God Gives the Words to Say
Even though God has given Moses these miracles, Moses continues to have doubts. Especially doubts of his own speaking ability.
But God says to him:
“Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?
God has control over evil, over illness, and over life and death. But also God has control over Moses’ speech!
This is a common idea in the Scriptures. Moses is not eloquent. Neither was Paul as he tells us in 1 Corinthians: “And, I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know noting among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Moses not eloquent. Neither was Paul!
This is so that God may be glorified, and not his messenger! And it is so that it is the message that is accepted, not the fanfare and beautiful rhetoric of the speaker.
It is in the same way that I thank God that you do not listen to me because of my great charisma, likability, or rhetorical abilities. But that you listen because I proclaim the word of God. And God gets the glory.
When Moses expresses his doubts, God explains that HE will give him the words to say. And God even is gracious enough to Moses to give him his brother Aaron to speak to the people whatever Moses tells him.
The Lord finds a way. He always knew what He would do. And he has control over all things.
IV. Calvinism not Fatalism
This idea that God is in control of all things is very clearly a Biblical idea. And it has given us much assurance especially in the last year which was so tumultuous in the world. We can always go to God and to Christ our rock knowing that He does not change and that He “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11)
This truth of God’s controlling of all things is emphasized in our Reformed Faith. When “Calvinism” is mentioned it is often this very idea of God’s sovereignty that is meant.
But we must differentiate Calvinism from Fatalism.
The truth that God works “all things according to the counsel of his will” is not to be confused with the idea of Fatalism.
Fatalism is not Biblical, but comes from Greek theology. It is the idea that humans are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do. Rather, certain gods called “Fates” are said to control the destiny of human beings. In Fatalism the end is determined but the path there is undecided. A person will die on a foreordained day and there is nothing they can do about it.
But in Calvinism it is not only the end that is determined, it is the means as well. God knows the very moment that each person will die, but he also knows and governs the entire path of life that leads to that time of death. Everything is guided by the hand of God. While the end result in Fatalism is arbitrary and meaningless, in Calvinism each event is brought about by God who works all things together for the good of those who are called according to his purpose.
Fatalism leads us to dread the inevitable, but Calvinism gives us hope that God will protect and keep us.
Fatalism leads to immorality as it says “It doesn’t matter what I do, I might as well do whatever I want.” But in Calvinism, the end comes about in part through your actions. So we should act according to God’s commands and not bring more trouble upon ourselves by sinning in disregard of what is right.
The Fatalist might say “It doesn’t matter what you do, you will get the virus if you get the virus.” But the Calvinist says “It does matter what we do, because it is through the means that the ends arise, even if both are determined by God.”
God has control not only of the Exodus of that will happen, but of everything leading up to it. He matures Moses, leading him on the path to be a deliverer of the people.
But the maturation of Moses that we saw in the previous chapter just wasn’t enough.
Moses needed not just to become more mature, he needed God.
God matured him — Moses didn’t mature himself.
And God provided the miracles to attest to the Israelites the truth of Moses’ message.
And God provided Moses with his brother Aaron to be his spokesperson, to speak to the people.
We pray to God that he matures us. That He sanctifies us and grows us in the faith, leading us to shun evil, and think only holy thoughts and to do only holy things.
But in our sin, we need more than just becoming more mature. We need Christ.
We will never mature to the point where we are without sin. All sin and fall short of the glory of God. All continue to sin and continue to fall short of his glory. For we do not do what we want, but we do the very things that we hate.
We need God.
We need him to forgive us. We need Christ to our deliverer us, to take us out of the Egypt of sin.
If you believe in Jesus Christ, know that he has forgiven you. Pray for maturity indeed, but pray prayers of thanksgiving as well for the Lord who has giving you so much to be thankful for in the pardon you have received from him.
If you do not believe in Jesus Christ, or are not sure that you believe in Him, you are called to embrace him, you are commanded to accept him, to assent to the Gospel of the good news of salvation through the savior, the deliverer of the people of God. He is the Lord who made you. It is he who makes man mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind. May the Lord open your ears and your eyes to see the glory of the hope of the salvation had only in Him.
Let us praise the Lord who made us, and in whom we have salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.