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I am greatly privileged to be here with you this morning as we look into God’s word together.  Today, we will be looking at a time in the past to see God’s passion for liberating his people from spiritual darkness and I would like us to focus on Exodus chapter three to do that.  You know the story of the burning bush well.  This text may seem like an odd choice as a missions text, but I think you will see that the truths here are a great encouragement to us as we seek to be more earnest and effective senders and goers to the unreached peoples.  The point where this story of God’s covenant faithfulness to his people, intersects with our responsibility of reaching the forgotten peoples is simply this:  God is faithful to keep his promise to deliver his people from Satan.

In the midst of breaking up the hard ground that comes with the task of pioneer missions, a failure to actively, persistently place your trust in the absolute faithfulness of God is crippling.  In the Exodus story, God comes down as the Deliverer of his people and tells Moses that he will make good on his promise to bring them out of the bondage of Egypt.  In order for us to see the precise connection between the enslaved Jews, who were being oppressed by Pharaoh 3500 years ago, and the satanically enslaved unreached peoples living today, we must remember something.  That is--the Bible teaches that God has within each unreached people group his people that he has promised to deliver.  If we believe that God has particular people—who he sees as his own and whom he has invincibly committed to deliver, then not only this Old Testament story, but many others can strengthen our faith as we pray and go and send missionaries.  Let’s briefly establish that truth before we dig in so we can read this text through that lens.

Let me give you two texts that decisively establish the truth that God has within each people group his people.  The first is in John 10 where Jesus reveals himself as the Good Shepherd.  He says beginning in 10:14, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.  16And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”  Jesus is the Good Shepherd who has sheep who he knows and who know him.  That’s the message of verses 14-15.  Then in verse 16, he expands on that and says something that, for the Jews who originally heard and understood it--must have sounded scandalous. That is—that Jesus has other sheep not of the Jewish fold.  There are multiple folds of sheep, (not just the one Jewish fold) and those other Gentile sheep belong to the Shepherd just as much as those within Judaism who knew him and listened to him.  They are his sheep too.  All he needs to do is bring them in to join the rest of the flock. That’s what the task of the missionary is—to act as Christ’s ambassador on earth so that Christ will through them bring in his sheep to his fold.  These sheep will listen to his voice.  They don’t know Jesus yet—perhaps they haven’t yet heard of Jesus, but he says, “They are my sheep—they belong to me and they will listen to me.”  He clearly sees these sheep as his people.

Another text revealing this truth is in Acts 18.  Paul is church planting in Corinth and is facing conflict and stiff opposition.  His unstated discouragement must have been significant because the Lord goes so far as to appear to Paul in a vision one night and urges him not to leave Corinth.  He encourages Paul to persevere in Corinth by telling him in verse nine, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent,  10for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people."  The Lord first assures Paul the way he always assures his servants who he places on the firing line, “I am with you.  That’s always his first word of encouragement.  He then assures Paul that he will not be attacked or harmed, which must have made Paul think, “Well, that would be different.  The Lord Jesus grounds that promise of protection in another glorious promise, “for I have many in this city who are my people.”  The Lord obviously knew that many in Corinth would respond positively to the gospel through Paul, but why does he state that the way he does?  There are a dozen ways he could have communicated this promise of fruitful ministry without saying it this way.  He could have said, “Paul, your ministry will find favor here.” That would have been an implicit promise that God would honor Paul’s ministry.   He could have said, “I will honor my word in this city, Paul.” That would root the encouragement in his faithfulness to his word.  Or, “I know the future and I will let you in on a little secret, many in Corinth will receive Christ if you will just stay here.”  That would have grounded his encouragement in his divine foreknowledge.

He could have said any of those things and accomplished the goal of encouraging Paul to stay--and that was his reason for the promise—to encourage Paul to endure in Corinth.  But that isn’t what he said.  He says something far more breath-taking.  He says it this way, “for I have many in this city who are my people.”  He’s talking about unbelieving pagans and says of them,they are—present tense-- my people.”  The ground of his encouragement is not rooted in his blessing on Paul’s ministry in Corinth, or his own knowledge of the future.  The ground of his encouragement is in the fact that in the midst of these pagans, God has a group of people who belong to him—his sheep, who Christ will bring in through Paul.  They don’t know Jesus yet, but they just as much belong to God in God’s eyes as anyone in this room. 

And to drive that point home, the word Luke uses here in Acts 18 for my “people” is very particular in its emphasis.  The Greek word he uses for people here is the word “laos.”  In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, this word is used hundreds of times and it is overwhelmingly used in reference to God’s people, Israel. Of all the possible words for “people,” Luke chooses THAT word.  When Luke chooses this particular word he is saying that these people in Corinth, who have not yet heard the gospel, are God’s chosen people just as Israel had within it God’s chosen people.  That text, along with John ten and others authorize us to read Old Testament liberation texts like Exodus chapter three and from those stories extend God’s promise to rescue his people to those within the unreached people groups who are his. 

So let’s do that now.  Let’s apply this Biblical lens to our understanding of Exodus chapter three.  Because God has his people among the unreached, I see three important implications for mission from God’s call to Moses.  The first is:  Because some of God’s people live among the unreached, God is impassioned to deliver them from their spiritual bondage.  Look in verse seven as he speaks with Moses.  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,” Again in verse nine, “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.”  A third time in verse 16 as he says to Moses, “Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, 'The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, "I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt,These texts remind us that God is deeply moved by the suffering of his people.  His compassion for them is immeasurable.  Just as he says in this call to Moses 3500 years ago, the Lord also sees the suffering of “his people” who currently live within some unreached people group.  He knows their oppression.  He knows their brutal spiritual master, Satan--he knows his designs for them and he is moved with compassion for them. We see this in the gospels.  Matthew 9:36 says of Jesus, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  In this instance, he is speaking of the sheep within the fold of Israel, but he thinks no differently about the yet undiscovered sheep not of the Jewish fold. 

They are harassed and helpless.  The words are very similar in meaning to those used in Exodus three.  They are “bullied and oppressed.”  Without a shepherd, they are subject to the decimation by wolves and other spiritual predators.  Oh, that we by God’s grace would have his compassion for his people within the unreached!  We must ask to be regularly reminded of how he views his forgotten people.  The main difference between the enslaved Jews under Pharaoh, and the enslaved Muslims or Hindus or animists who are also part of God’s flock but haven’t yet been brought in is--the Jews were not blinded to their oppression. They were painfully aware that they weren’t enjoying the covenant blessings of their God.  The enslavement of the unreached is in this sense even more diabolical, even more pathetic because the unreached who are in the bonds of slavery don’t even know it.  They have been blinded to it through their unbelief.  God sees his people in this situation and he is deeply impassioned to liberate them from their enslavement.

It is good to ask—how does the fact that God has such passion for his people line up with the fact that he waited 400 years to liberate them?  How does the math work there?  The short answer is of course in his prophecy to Abraham in Genesis 15.  He was waiting until “the iniquity of the Amorites was complete.”  Though God was impassioned to liberate his people, he was also impassioned to show first, mercy and then justice to these other people.  When their iniquity had reached his pre-determined limit, then his invincible passion for his people’s liberation was unleashed.  Once he flipped the switch on his program to free his enslaved people, things moved very quickly.  For 400 years, nothing.  But then, like a lightning bolt, God’s timeline reached its pre-determined point and within a very short time, his people were liberated—even though there were absolutely no external indicators of their impending freedom.  In fact, the closer their liberation came, the more their masters oppressed them.  Does that dynamic sound familiar? How many fields have been opened up and churches planted, only after the fire of opposition grew white-hot in its intensity?

So many of these people groups are so deeply enslaved with so many obstacles to keep workers out or greatly limit their activity.  The ground seems as unbreakable as a hardened missile silo with the missionary seemingly tapping away at the top layer of concrete with a little toy hammer, not even making a mark, its crucial to remember the ways of God seen in this text.  That is—God is impassioned for the plight of his enslaved people and when the time of their liberation has come, it may come very rapidly and with no external indicators pointing to his impending liberation.  And there is good reason to believe the time for his deliverance is near.  Look what God has done in the past century—He’s on the move.  He’s challenging believers and churches all over the globe and awakening them to his heart for his people just as he awakened Moses’ heart for his people.  Keep sending, keep going, keep preaching the gospel, keep laboring.  Satan, like Pharaoh in Moses’ day is living on borrowed time and his final judgment is sure.  God is impassioned to liberate his people from among the unreached.  If you ever doubt that, just spend some time meditating on the cross of Christ--the ultimate measure of his commitment to deliver his people from bondage. He’s already paid for these people with the blood of his Son.

A second implication that comes from the fact that God has his people, his sheep among the unreached is: God will send his co-liberators to deliver them.  I want us to focus here on the relationship between God and Moses in this task of liberation.  Notice first in verse eight. God tells 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…”   God says, “I have come down to deliver them.”  “I will bring them up out of that land to a land flowing with milk and honey.”  What must have gone through Moses’ mind at that point?!—I suppose the Ancient Near Eastern equivalent of, “Well, that’s cool!” We mustn’t ever forget that God is the Liberator.  This is ultimately his responsibility.  Missionaries burn out in part because they forget that.  God comes down and delivers his people from bondage.  When you make out those monthly checks of missions support, you are unleashing the hand of God to liberate his forgotten people from the bondage of false religion.  If you are out on the field, never take the responsibility of liberation upon yourself—ultimately, God sets his people free.

In verse 10, he tells Moses how he’s going to do that.  He says, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt."  I wonder if at this point Moses wasn’t tempted to say, “I thought you said YOU were going to bring your people out.”  We see this dynamic cooperation between God and humanity throughout the Bible, don’t we?  This is the same promise he made to Joshua a generation later.  In Joshua chapter one he tells his new general, “I am giving you this land—every inch of it.”  A bit later he says in effect, “Now, go in and take it.”  God is the Liberator, but he uses people as his tools.  He has given us the keys to the prison doors through the message of the gospel, but he is the One who opens it through us.  In verse 12, he brings these two seemingly contradictory promises together. God says to Moses, “But I will be with you…”  That brings it all together.  “I will deliver them through you because I will be with you.”  I will be in the yoke, teamed with you as I pull my people out of the enslaving abyss.  That gives those all who are involved in the global cause of Christ the awesome privilege of being a co-liberator with God, because those are his people that he has committed to set free through the blood of his Son.

As we move on in this text we find a third implication that flows from the fact that God has his people among the unreached.  That is: God has done and will do whatever it takes to deliver his people for his glory.  We see this truth in verses 19-20 of Exodus chapter three.  God says to Moses, “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.  20So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.  God knew precisely what he was facing when he appeared to Moses in the burning bush.  He knew Pharaoh’s heart, because it was in his hand to turn one way and another.  He knew the demonic strongholds--the “gods of Egypt” that stood behind the brutal physical oppression of Pharaoh.  He specifically targeted his plagues to expose and humiliate the inferior demonic powers of Egypt.  In any spiritual conflict there are at least three players.  God—the Sovereign Lord of Hosts, who ultimately triumphs through his human and angelic warriors, Satan and his deceived spiritual and human agents, and those people who belong to God, but who have yet to be liberated.  The battle is pitched over them.  In Exodus three, Pharaoh and Egypt point to Satan and his agents, the Jews (as we have said) point to God’s people awaiting deliverance, and Moses points to Jesus, the Great Liberator who has purchased the redemption of his enslaved people through his blood.

By the way—as a side note, do you know what was happening as God was liberating the Jews by his final assault on the gods of Egypt?  Here’s what he says in Exodus 12:12.  He predicts to Moses, “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night and I will strike the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute my judgments:  I am the LORD.”  Do you know what God’s people were doing during that time while God was smashing the demonic strongholds of Egypt?  They were eating the Passover.  In this first deliverance of God’s people from the powers of darkness, God wins his victory as his people are eating the Passover lambs that were slain to deliver them from the wrath of God.  That’s no accident.  It foreshadows God’s ultimate deliverance of God’s people from the powers of darkness through the Lamb of God par excellence, King Jesus who was sacrificed to deliver God’s people from his holy wrath.

Because God is sovereign over all these people and circumstances, he knew precisely what to do to comprehensively manifest his supremacy over the demonic, false gods of Egypt and bring him optimal glory.  He knew what was required to bring his people out of bondage and he had more than enough firepower to do it when the time came.  On this side of the cross, we know that God knew precisely what he needed to do through his Son Jesus to comprehensively show his supremacy over Satan and bring him optimal glory.  Colossians 2:15 tells us, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”  As he did in Egypt, he has through Christ done all he needed to do to deliver his people.  He struck Satan with a mortal blow and anything we do today as goers and senders are simply the continuing spiritual reverberations of that victory until Jesus comes back and finally disposes of his defeated opposition.

If what is needed in some fields are the reverberations from the cross in the form of signs and wonders—he will do that for his people.  If those aftershocks from the seismic event of Calvary need to be in the forms of dreams and visions, he will do that for his people.  If the need is political regime change, or a ruler’s change of heart toward the gospel, he will do that.  If it is the blood of his fallen martyrs, then that grace that flows from the cross will be given for the sake of his enslaved people and for his glory.  He will do that because they are his people and he will do whatever it takes to deliver them because his Son died for them.  May God give us the grace to believe this and in response to the faith produced by the Word, do whatever God is calling us to do for his enslaved people and for his Name.


Page last modified on 1/1/2009

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