Rev. C.G. Vreugdenhil on Exodus 3 : 1-3
God appearing unto Moses in the burning bush
Exodus 3 : 1-3
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|Sing :||Psalter 151:4-6|
|Read :||Exodus 3:1-14|
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|Sing :||Psalter 439:3|
|Sing :||Psalter 423:6|
Congregation, we wish to preach from the portion of Scripture which has been read to you, namely Exodus 3. We will focus on the first three verses:
Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, [even] to Horeb. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush [was] not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
These texts speak of God appearing unto Moses in the burning bush.
We wish to consider the following three main thoughts:
1. Where the Lord appears (verse 1)
2. How the Lord appears (verse 2)
3. For what purpose the Lord appears (verse 3)
Congregation, the story of the burning bush is a testimony of God’s faithfulness and He wants to pass this truth on through His Word, to the church of all ages.
It was truly an amazing phenomenon which caught Moses’s eye. He saw a bush in flames, yet the bush was not destroyed! Devouring fire, yet not being able to consume. Thoroughly dry wood, burning, without being consumed!
Perhaps you say, ‘How is that a comforting picture?’ Congregation, for God’s Church this is a comforting picture because although the bush is indeed burning, yet it is not consumed. If we see the bush as a picture of the Church, then it means that the living Church of Christ is indeed engulfed in flames; nevertheless she will never be consumed. Why not? Because Christ dwells in her midst.
First then, Where the Lord appears.
Moses, the man of God, receives this glorious vision when he is in the second stage of his life. We can see from what the Bible tells us, that the life of Moses can be divided into three distinct periods of about forty years each, totalling one hundred twenty years. Each period of forty years comprised a distinctive phase in the life of the mediator of the old covenant.
Moses spent his first forty years at the court of Pharaoh. The next forty years, he wandered through the desert of Midian, tending sheep for his father-in-law. Finally, in the third forty year period, Moses became the leader of the people of Israel, leading them through the desert to the borders of the land of Canaan.
The events described in our text take place in the second period of Moses’ life, as we read in the first verse, Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian. While Moses is tending the sheep, the people of Israel are heavily oppressed in Egypt. Their situation has become hopeless. What has happened?
While living in Egypt, over time, the Israelites assimilated to such a degree that they began to worship the idols of the Egyptians. Outwardly they prospered and as a people they grew rapidly in number. Yet, they had departed from serving the God of their fathers and showed little interest in the land of Canaan, the land which the Lord had promised to Abraham their forefather. Yes, outwardly they seemed to be doing quite well, but in reality they were very far from God. Then the Lord chastens His people - out of love, though they don’t see it that way.
What happens? A pharaoh, who has not known Joseph, comes to power. He is very hard on the Hebrew people and establishes brutal slavery and cruel bondage. The brick kilns start to smoke and the slave whips lash the bare backs of the Israelites. Next, Pharaoh orders all newly born baby boys to be cast into the river Nile - to feed the crocodiles. What a horrible situation! Thus Egypt has become a land of oppression and tribulation for the Israelites.
It is at this time – that is, when all goes wrong – that they needed God once more. When the idols failed them in their time of need and misery, they called upon the God of their fathers. We can read that in verse 9, where the Lord says, Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me, and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them.
Congregation, let me insert a question here: Do you still feel at home in this world, in Egypt? Are you at ease while you dwell among all the idols of our time? I am not going to list them: I just want to ask you to look at your own life and to search your own heart. You probably will find many idols – enough to make a long list.
These are the consequence of modern day secular idolatry (and examine yourself if you find them also in your own life): we live far from God, without any real need for heavenly Canaan. We do not have a felt need for Christ and do not thirst for righteousness. We feel at home in the world and are not strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Indeed, we think that we have a continuing city here. While we think we have everything our hearts desire, in reality we are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
Congregation, young people, does what I just said, make sense to you? Does it apply to you? Did I just draw a picture of your life? In that case, I have a message for you! Or rather, the Lord has a message for you! He wants you to repent and to serve Him. He does not want you to pass the blame on to...actually, to whom? Actually to God if you say that you can’t help it that you’re like that. And that you were not there when Adam fell in sin in Paradise. And that God has to give conversion, otherwise it will never happen. And if God does not want to do that, what else can you do?
That is why you just live on according to your own lusts, a self-centered life without God. That is also why you hold on to sin in your life, because man needs a life after all!
True, if you do not serve God, you actually serve only yourself, while being in the service of sin. And all those truths that we bring up circle around this point: God doesn’t want it! Because if He wanted our conversion, He would do it. God gets the blame and we are acquitted...
Congregation, this is a trick of the prince of darkness. This is how he wants to keep you away from God. He still uses the same tactics he used with Adam and Eve. As long as you stay away from God, you may be as pious as you want. Oh, see through his trick! The Bible teaches us the opposite. God is willing, but it is you who are so unwilling! And I know, it is such a painful discovery to admit it; nevertheless, it is the first step the Lord requires from us, when He draws us to Himself. Then our imagined innocence is erased and we come to His feet as guilty and unwilling sinners. Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die? He, who lives with the idols of this world, will also perish along with those idols.
Israel had to learn that by trial and error. But fortunately, in their need and affliction their cry goes up to the God of life. Their situation in Egypt has become completely hopeless, though, not only for Israel, also for Moses.
Moses; a beautiful name! That name means, drawn out of the water. What an amazing incident! As a son of the Hebrews, Moses was convicted to death by Pharaoh’s verdict. But God determined otherwise. Pharaoh’s daughter drew him out of the water and had compassion on him. The saviour of Israel was then raised at the court of Israel’s enemy.
In His unsearchable wisdom the God of life already provided a saviour for Israel, long before Israel cried for one. Moses was raised in the wisdom of the Egyptians and thus prepared to be an instrument in God’s hand in the deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt. Yes, the Lord sees to it that His servants receive good training.
While the water of the river Nile was life-threatening for Moses, much more were the dangers that surrounded him at Pharaoh’s court. Nothing can draw our hearts away from God more than the things of this world. Wealth and abundance cloud our view of heavenly things. We don’t even need Pharaoh’s court to draw us away - the smallest temptations already cause us to waver.
However, Moses, by faith, was enabled to esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. By faith, Moses wholeheartedly choose God and His people - regardless of all the reproach that comes with that.
Moses visits his people. But what happens? When he sees the abuse and oppression of his people, his heart is filled with intense rage, and in a blind fit of anger, he kills an Egyptian man. Moses wanted to be a saviour in his own strength; that was wrong. He should have waited for God’s time.
Moses flees to Midian, becomes a shepherd and marries Zippora, the daughter of Jethro. There we see him, wandering about in the desert for forty years. Perhaps we say, “An excellent training in desert life. That will be useful later when he has to lead the people through the desert.” But that was not how Moses saw it at the time. Surely, God will deliver His people through the hand of Moses, but in such a way that God receives all honor, not Moses! In Midian, the Lord prepares him for the task that awaits him.
Yet, for Moses this life seems pointless. To tend sheep... even the least of the slaves could do that! Moses wanders about as a condemned man. The Egyptians seek his life. In his own estimation he has become as nothing. However, this is the only way the Lord can use him. That is not pleasing to our flesh, because we love to be strong. But Paul says, for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2Cor.12:10) and, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Phil.4:13).
Yet, Moses reasoned that his life had become without purpose, pointless and hopeless. When he receives a son, he calls that poor child: Gershom, which means ‘I am a stranger in a strange land’. Thus the situation has become hopeless for Israel in Egypt and for Moses in Midian.
But then... amazingly, then it is God’s time. The Lord knows them. He was drawing His people to Himself! This made Israel call upon Him in their oppression in Egypt. He also brought His fugitive servant to the place where he needed to be. Moses certainly must have turned to God in the perplexities of his life.
Also in our own lives things can go so differently than we expect or desire. There may also seem to be a lot of unanswered prayers. Sometimes, we can feel so lonely and abandoned by God. Sometimes it feels like the Lord does not care about all the miseries in our earthly lives. And yet... often afterwards it becomes clear why the Lord led us down that pathway. Sometimes we may afterwards say, It is good for me that I have been afflicted (Ps.119:71). Then it is true, not now; but thou shalt know hereafter (John 13:7).
Though Moses has to work as a shepherd (a despised work!) for forty years; though you and I have to be abased before God; though some of us have to spend our days seemingly without purpose in life – sidelined because of sickness or other circumstances – yet the Lord does not do harm in the lives of His children. At a certain point we come to an end of our thinking, our praying and our striving, but the Lord hears prayer and all his ways are wise.
That, congregation, is the great mystery which Moses is about to discover. We will consider this in our second thought. The Lord, after all, sees Moses in his wanderings in the desert! And as for that despised and oppressed people of Israel - the Lord is with them too!
Never will one make the choice that Moses did and not be looked upon in favour by the Lord. He remains faithful and remembers His covenant, as we read in verses 7 and 8, And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which [are] in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians.
It is remarkable that Moses is at Mount Horeb when the light breaks through the darkness of his life. We read that also in verse 1: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, [even] to Horeb. This is the mountain where a few years later the Lord would give Moses His law. At Horeb the Lord revealed His covenant to Israel in its national form. At Horeb, according to the word of His promise, He confirms “Jehovah’s truth will stand for ever, His covenant-bonds He will not sever.”
Suddenly and unexpectedly God Himself comes to Moses in the desert, as we can read in the second verse, And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush [was] not consumed.
We want to pay attention to this in our second thought, when we consider:
2. How the Lord appears unto Moses
The Lord appears unto Moses suddenly, while he is busy with his work. It is a complete surprise! That is always how the Lord appears in our lives: as an undeserved gift. In this history the Lord reveals Himself in a way which is typical in Old Testament times.
Suddenly the heavens open at Horeb and, in the night of Moses’ life and of the history of Israel, a bright light begins to shine - the light of God’s revelation. We do not experience those kinds of appearances anymore, because we have the revealed Word of God - the Word which is a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path. But Moses did not have that Word; therefore the Lord revealed Himself through oral addresses, visions and appearances.
In this instance the Lord adapts Himself to Moses’s human nature when he appears to him. He does not appear in the splendor of His awesome majesty, which would consume Moses in an instant, but He appears through the Angel of the LORD. The Angel of the LORD is none else than Christ Himself, Who for that moment took on the form of a man, as happened sometimes during the old covenant.
The Angel of the LORD stands in the fire of the burning bush. In itself, a burning bush is nothing special. As we think of this bush, we should not have a blackberry bush in mind as we can find in our area, but rather a dry, dead, thorny desert bush. Normally, those bushes were barren, dry and scorched because of the wind and sun, and therefore were easy fodder for the flames. The roaming Bedouins, who frequently used a bush like that to roast their meat, were quite often careless with fire.
So, in itself there was nothing special about the burning bush. But you know what was special? The bush indeed was burning, but was not consumed. Normally, a bush like that would be ablaze for a short while, after which nothing but a little heap of ashes would remain. But this bush is not consumed. Not even a twig burns up! Isn’t that amazing?
What is it that the Lord through this burning-but-not-consuming bush wants to tell Moses and us? A burning bush in the desert... The desert, as an environment, is a picture of death and curse, an environment of thorns and thistles. Nevertheless - and that is the amazing thing here - God is in the bush. The bush is a picture of Israel. Frequently the Bible pictures the empires of the world as trees, for example as cedars. A host of people are compared to a vast forest. Israel, though, is not impressive at all, especially not if you take into account the condition of Israel in Egypt. Israel is merely a bush - insignificant and easy prey for the flames, burned up in no time! Israel cannot survive in its own strength. The oppression in Egypt is severe. The flames of persecution soar. But... Israel is not consumed. It even grows under oppression. The people continue to exist, because they are God’s people. The Lord is with them in their affliction. The Angel of the LORD, the Messenger of the Covenant, stands in the midst of the flames.
Congregation, the burning bush is not only a picture of Israel in Egypt. The burning bush is a picture of the Church of Christ throughout all ages. She stands amidst a world which has revolted against God as a thorny bush of the desert. In itself not worth much. Who cares if a fire consumes it? But... God dwells in that thorn bush!
The glory of Israel was not in the people themselves, because they were of the earth, and their hearts cleaved to the fleshpots of Egypt. They were mere shepherds. The glory of Israel is attributable only to the fact that God dwells in the midst of them. The glory of Israel is in the God of Israel alone.
However, this image also has meaning on a more personal level: the thorny bush is not only a picture of Israel in Egypt and of the Church of all ages, but also a picture of our personal lives. Congregation, you are that thorny bush! Boys and girls, young people, your life is as that thorny bush! Worthless in yourself, mortal, without dignity, unfruitful and barren in yourself and without glory... We are so wretched that we all should feel deeply ashamed of ourselves before God.
Have you already discovered this in your life? Do you understand the poet when he sings ‘I am evil, born in sin’? How heart smiting an experience it is, when you have to face the wrath of God because of your sinful life! Then you want to hide from God, but there’s no place where you can go, because the Lord sees you everywhere. You feel in your conscience that you are guilty before God. No, the Lord would not be unjust if He would cast you away. If only you could come up with some good blackberries from your life’s bush, then you would at least have something to present before God! But alas! The only thing your life’s bush produces are nasty thorns. Only good for the fire.
How terribly sad, congregation! Created perfectly, in order to bear fruit in abundance. Yet, here is the reality: unable to bring forth even one single fruit. Not even after receiving grace. Paul confesses: For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing (Rom.7:18). You would say: firewood, fit only for the flames. Yet, here is the wonder! The Lord wants to dwell in unfruitful, barren thorn bushes. The Lord wants to dwell with a wretched and guilty people. For we read in the second verse, And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire.
Fire…the Lord in His revelation connects with a familiar reality: fire. Psalm 97:3 states, A fire goeth before Him. We read of the pillar of fire in the desert. And later, at the Day of Pentecost, we read of cloven tongues like as of fire. Fire is primarily an expression of God’s holiness. Nothing which is sinful can stand before Him. Outside of Christ, God is a devouring fire with everlasting burnings (Isa 33:14). The Holy One cannot leave sin unpunished. It would be right if the fire of His wrath would instantly devour all the inhabitants of the earth. God’s righteousness requires that sin be punished.
We will learn to wholeheartedly agree with this when the Holy Spirit reveals to us our sinfulness, when He causes us to realize that we are sinners before God. Then we learn to agree that we deserve death and will confess to the Lord, “Lord, I have forfeited all my rights to live. I am not worthy Thou still carest for me. Yet, Lord, I cannot live without Thee. The scorching heat of Thy anger should consume me, but Thou art also merciful!” At times this may give us some encouragement. Indeed, the bush is engulfed in fiery flames, but no twig is consumed. The flames soar, but not a leaf is turned into ashes. That is a miracle! How is that possible?
Well, congregation, fire is not only a picture of God’s holy justice and His righteous anger, but it is also a picture of His love. Outside of Christ, fire is a picture of His wrath, but in Christ we may speak of His purifying love. The fire of oppression, which consumes the ungodly, has for God’s children a purifying effect. Israel is indeed oppressed in Egypt, but not consumed.
So also the Church of all ages is indeed oppressed, but she will not be consumed. You know why she will not be consumed? Because God Himself is present with His people. God dwells in His people - but, only through Christ can He dwell with them. Therefore we read in the second verse, And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire. He Himself stands in the middle of the bush.
God’s Church will not be spared from suffering and oppression, yet she will not be consumed, because the Lord sees His children in Christ. God dwells in His Church in Christ. He stands in the middle of the burning bush. In all our tribulation is He afflicted with us.
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are (Hebr. 4:15).
Here it appeared that the fire of God’s justice and the fire of His love are united. Christ, after all, according to God’s holy justice, was thrown into the flames of God’s wrath. Yet, that was also His love. He delivered up His own Son for sinners. The LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isa 53:6). Burdened under our guilt and curse, and stumbling under His cross He went forth unto Golgotha. He was immersed in the blaze of God’s anger. He humbled Himself unto the deepest reproach and pains of hell, and was hanged on the cursed tree of the cross, that He might fix thereon the handwriting of our sins. There He was consumed by the scorching heat of God’s anger. Indeed, He was consumed! We hear Him crying out, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? (Matth.27:46). Of Him we read, And He, bowed His head, and gave up the ghost (John 19:30). The wrath of God was kindled against Him and consumed Him, but after that the fire went out. And that is the reason why not a spark can harm the bush anymore. He carried our sorrows in His body on the tree.
In eternal, unfathomable love for sinners He gave Himself to be consumed in His Church’s stead. That love is incomprehensible, immeasurable and beyond description. That love is beyond all knowledge.
And so the poet is able to sing – and have you ever sung along? -
‘Lord, Thou hast favor shown Thy land,
Restored again Thy captive band,
Thy people’s sins Thou pardoned hast,
and all their guilt hast covered o’er
Removed from them Thy anger sore
All Thy fierce wrath behind Thee cast
Indeed, ‘Removed from them Thy anger sore’, ‘removed’ in Christ. Removed in the beloved Surety and Saviour, Who gave His life for His sheep. He for us, whereas we should otherwise have suffered eternal death. And when the LORD God looks upon Him, Who dwells in the burning bush, He says to us, as we prostrate ourselves at His feet because of our guilt, ‘I will not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee’, ‘ Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands’, ‘ There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.’
Congregation, only in Christ, can God appear unto us and keep us from the radiance of His holiness. Outside of Christ God is a consuming fire, a blazing flame, with Whom no one can dwell. Then the cedars of Lebanon are devoured and the mountains melt as wax, because who can see God and live?
Many people assume they have found life outside of Him. Yet, eventually they will be consumed. Many there are who rest in their feelings, in an emotional frame of mind, or in a Psalm which brought a tear to be brushed away. Congregation, we never can find rest and peace in that. We need to have Jesus and to be found in Him. Otherwise our soul is not safe from death.
Only in the Angel of the Covenant will Jehovah’s kindly face, again give happiness and grace. Only in communion with Him, through His love and in His righteousness, can we find the secret of communion with God. Outside of Jesus there is no life.
This is the great distinction between God’s people and the pious or worldly man, a great distinction between Israel and Egypt, and a great distinction between the world and the Church. Therefore I want to ask you this serious question: do you know Him, the Lion of the tribe of Judah? To know Him is absolutely essential; otherwise the fire of God’s anger will devour you indeed.
Maybe you ask, “How can I come to Him?” That is very easy, as a refugee, as someone who has found death in himself and seeks life in Christ. Come as one who can only regard himself as a worthless thornbush, yet one who in all his misery and mourning nevertheless casts his eye on the Angel of the Covenant.
Is His appearance precious to you, as He comes to you in the preaching of His Word? Have you seen something of the glory of the suffering and bleeding Christ, as He was pictured before you, consumed by the fire of God’s wrath because of your sins?
How do you come to Jesus? Oh, congregation, that just happens. Irresistibly you are drawn to Him. When you hear Him pictured in all His attributes as Mediator, you see so much beauty in Him, that you call out, ‘Give me Jesus or I die! He is altogether lovely!’
Whoever discovers Him in such a way, will not be able to rest until he has embraced Him as the Bridegroom - the Bridegroom-through-blood, Who was wounded for our transgressions, and was bruised for our iniquities.
Come, congregation, boys and girls, who would not long to meet Him in this way?
We read of Moses that he ‘turns aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.’
We want to consider that in our third thought, but first we sing from Psalter 439 verse 3:
Whom have I, Lord , but Thee on high?
None else on earth can satisfy
But Thou, O God, my soul’s deep yearning;
For Thee my troubled heart is burning
Though flesh should faint and heart should break,
Thou art my rock that naught can shake,
In life, in death, Thou art my stay,
My strength, my portion, Lord, for aye.
3. For what purpose the Lord appears
The Lord appears to Moses in the burning bush. Where does He appear? In the desert when from Moses’s side everything has become hopeless and Israel is oppressed. He appears at Horeb. The Lord remembers His covenant.
How does He appear? He appears in Christ, in the Angel of the Covenant, in the burning bush. It is in that way, and that way alone, that the Lord reveals Himself to a guilty people. He does not forget His Israel. Neither does He forget His servant. God is faithful, His plans never fail.
For what purpose does He appear? To deliver His people. He has heard their cry and responds by calling Moses to his lifework.
Moses turns aside to see this great sight, to see why the bush is destroyed by the flames. Surely, it is an amazing phenomenon: a burning bush that is not consumed, because the Angel of the Covenant is in the midst of the flames.
Congregation, has that great sight already captured your heart? Indeed, there are no burning bushes anymore; instead the great sight is presented to us in God’s Word. That great sight, that the Son of God conceals His glory behind our flesh and blood, when He, in order to be our Mediator, is born of a virgin and is laid in the manger of Bethlehem as a helpless infant.
God’s Word presents to us that great view of the Mediator, Who hangs on the cursed tree of the cross, among murderers, where He in hellish agony is consumed by the wrath of God - He is consumed in place of His Church.
God’s Word portrays to us that great sight of the open grave, the rolled-away stone and the wrapped-together linen clothes - even that great sight of the Prince of Life, Who triumphed over hell, death and the grave. The Lord is risen indeed!
He is risen for our justification.
Did you ever see that great sight of the heavens opening to receive Him from the Mount of Olives? He ascended into heaven so that “we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, as the Head, will also take up to Himself, us, His members”.
And Moses said, ‘I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.’
For this great sight, Moses left his flock, just as the shepherds did in the fields of Ephratah.
Do you have those moments too, when you have to put your work aside for some time, because that great sight has deeply touched your soul? Mothers, maybe you know of those moments when you were sweeping the floor and felt the urge to kneel at one of the chairs, worshipping the Lord because He overwhelmed your soul with a deep sense of His love? In adoration you could only stutter, “Lord, I thank Thee that I may be Thy child and that Thou art willing to be My Father. I thank Thee Lord Jesus, for all Thy suffering in my stead. Teach me, O Holy Spirit, to comprehend all these treasures. Thy Name be praised and thanked, Lord God, for Thy undeserved goodness!”
Fathers, do you know of those moments, while you were working on the field or in the barn, or at the office or wherever it might be, that the great sight became so awe-inspiring, that you had to pause to converse with God, as a friend speaks with his friend? Or maybe to lift up your soul to God with silent sighs, “Lord, turn Thou me, and I shall be turned.” Or do you not feel the need for daily conversion? Who does not know the struggle against sin, desiring to live holy before the Lord?
Well then, the more we may see that great sight, the more diligently we will want to serve the Lord. Yes, then good works will be done, not to count as payment, but out of gratitude.
Congregation, did the Holy Spirit ever urge you to kneel as a condemned sinner at the feet of Jesus, to touch the hem of His garment? Do you sometimes open your Bible to see that great sight? The fruit of that will always be humility.
We read of Moses that he took the shoes off his feet. When we see the great sight pictured in God’s Word, we will do the same. We will remove the shoes that are polluted with the dirt of our sinful lives. Then we will become small and worthless in ourselves: a thornbush, a bramblebush, nothing more. Nevertheless, a bush that is not consumed. Because he who has Jesus aboard his life vessel, cannot perish.
Boys and girls, children, has that great sight captured your heart? When in the evening you do your homework, do you ever put your pen down, unable to continue because that great sight touches your heart so deeply? When you saw that great sight, did you ever cry out, “Oh dearest Lord Jesus, may I become Thine! Lord, Thou Son of David, have mercy upon me!”
Congregation, behold, I beseech you, behold that great sight of all the riches in Prince Emmanuel! Yes, maybe you say, “But don’t you need eyes to see? And aren’t we blind?”
Certainly, that is true, but did you never hear of that blind man? You know what he said? He said, “Lord, that I might receive my sight.” And he received his sight and... saw Jesus!
Let no one hide behind his incapability, because that kind of excuse will not stand in that Great Day, when God will reveal Himself in the fire of His majesty and glory.
Then there is only one thing that can save us - the righteousness of Christ, the Surety. That is the mystery of the bush. All that is mine has to be consumed and Christ alone remains. We are no more than thornbushes that are not consumed only for the sake of Christ - for the sake of the King, Who was crowned with thorns, so that He would merit the crown of glory for thornbushes.
The more we find ourselves to be nothing more than dead thornbushes, the greater becomes the miracle that Christ wants to dwell in us and that we are not consumed for His sake. The poet sung about it, “Our hope is on Jehovah stayed, In Him our hearts are joyful made, Our help and shield is He.”
Although the bush is not consumed, nevertheless it is on fire! That means that when the Church of Christ is truly the Church of Christ, which is a holy congregation of true Christian believers, there will always be the fire of oppression. Yet, all those trials are actually only a means in God’s hand to test His work. That is His purifying love. Just as silver and gold are purified in the furnace, so does the fire of tribulations purge the church from all uncleanness and sinful worldly conformity, so that only the tried, true faith remains.
Likewise, Israel was thrown into the fire in Egypt, but the Lord used this just as he uses cords love to draw His people back to Himself. God brought them affliction, so that they would flee from their misery to Him. Israel, smitten and blackened because of the fire of slavery in Egypt, is like a burning bush. Yet, it will not be consumed, because God dwells in her midst. The Angel of the Covenant is standing in the midst of the flames. He is with them!
That is the image, the lasting image, of the Church of all ages. Satan will never tolerate the Church of Christ. If we have found our life in Christ and speak about that and live according to it, then the whip of Satan will be our portion and sometimes the whip of pious religion added to that. All that will live godly lives shall suffer persecution. That is inevitably linked with the service of Christ. A servant is not greater than his lord. That is the communion of the suffering of Christ.
Nevertheless... the Angel of the Lord is in the midst of the flames. He is there! The Church lives on ground already burned. The fire will not take hold of it anymore. If God be for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [shall] tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
Never will the Church be consumed, because the Angel of the Covenant will continue to be in her midst. If at times you are afflicted and oppressed, if you have to say, ‘In me is no strength left to fight against such a host of sins’, look upon Him, the Angel of the Covenant. He was consumed in His affliction, so that no spark would harm you.
Hear David exclaiming, ‘The LORD [is] on my side; I will not fear.’ Hear him singing, ‘For Thou hast saved from death, From falling kept me free.’ Watch the three young men in Babylon, walking in the fiery furnace. It doesn’t even touch them. Not even the scent of fire is found on their clothes. Why? Because of that fourth Man that had joined them, the Angel of the Covenant. Therefore, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee (Isaiah 43:1,2).
Congregation, the fire of affliction is not only inevitable, it is also essential. We need it to keep us small and humble before God, to keep us from straying. In that way the separation between Israel and Egypt will time and again be experienced.
But... affliction drives us out to the Shepherd to yet again take refuge in Him; in the heat of desert life, to yet again be refreshed by His consolation; with our sin-weary heart to find rest in Him, because only in Him is true rest.
These are the riches that accompany the reproach of Christ - these riches are so much greater than the treasures of the world. Though the storms may batter your life, yet you may know, ‘In His care confiding, I will sweetly sleep, For the Lord my Saviour, Will in safety keep’. Though stones may be hurled at you, as they were at Stephan, yet they can no longer cause harm. Stephan saw Jesus, crowned with honor and glory.
Soon the Church will emerge from the great tribulation. Then the bush will be taken out of the fire. Who are those that will survive the great tribulation? Those whose robes have been washed in and made white by the blood of the Lamb, and the Lamb will lead them.
The glorious manifestation of God will instantly cause them to forget all their tribulation. ‘”Their joy shall then unbounded be, Who see God’s face eternally, Their heart’s desire receiving.”
Congregation, do you know this Angel of the Covenant? Remember that outside of Him all thorns and thistles indeed will be consumed by His terrifying majesty. Did you never come to the knowledge of Him? Did you never lie at His feet? Has that great sight never been pictured before your eyes? You do not dare to deny that, do you? Know that the day comes, burning as an oven. And all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble.
Turn then aside with Moses and see that great sight. Majestically it is pictured in God’s Word – delve into it, and seek, and moan, and with supplication pray, and make haste for your life’s sake. Do not lay yourself down to sleep in peace if you are not yet reconciled with God. Tomorrow it can be too late. Today the Lord still wants to receive you. Knock and it shall be opened unto you.
You who love the Lord! Lift up your heads and behold your King! He is in heaven at the right hand of His Father, but with respect to His Godhead, majesty, grace and Spirit He is at no time absent from us. Indeed, you must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God, yet it is only a light affliction, which is but for a moment, to prepare us for a more exceeding and eternal glory which awaits.
Indeed, the flames will soar higher and higher as the day of Christ’s coming approaches; the enmity will increase; the oven will be heated more and more - yet, the bush will not be consumed.
The Church is indeed burned alive, but the Head of the Church is in her midst and the fire, instead of consuming her, rather ignites again the fire of love, so that the Spirit and the bride begin to call, ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ Then, louder than the roar of the flames, will sound the answer of the Bridegroom, ‘Surely I come quickly!’ Then the elements shall melt with fervent heat, except for the burning bush, the Church of the Lord. That bush will not be consumed, because Jesus dwells in the midst of her.
Our closing Psalter is Psalter 423:6
Ye lovers of the Lord,
To Him all praise accord
Rejoice in your confession
And hate all base transgression
Jehovah keepeth well
The saints in Israel
He frees them from the snare
That wicked men prepare
And makes them safely dwell