Excuses, ExcusesErwin W. Lutzer | September 19, 2004
Selected highlights from this sermon
When Moses was called by God to go back to Egypt to free His people, his initial reaction was to make excuses. And after he made his five excuses for not going, the Scripture says, “then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses” (Exodus 4:14).
Isn’t it amazing that God speaks to the light? He speaks to the darkness. It becomes light. He speaks to the raging sea and it becomes calm. He tells a fish to swallow Jonah and the fish obeys. But God speaks to us and we dig in our heels, and we have the nerve to say no.
Exodus, chapter 3! That’s what Moses does. You have your Bibles. Exodus 3! For 40 years he was a scholar. For 40 years he was a shepherd. And now for 40 years God wanted to make him into a savior of sorts, and Moses said no.
The text tells us in chapter 3 of the book of Exodus: “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.’”
Standing on ground, sanctified divine fire, Moses is going to argue with God and try to say no to what God was asking him to do.
The Bible sometimes likens us to sheep, and that’s a pretty good analogy because in many respects we are like sheep. The Bible also hints that sometimes we are like mules. Psalm 32: “Do not be like the horse or as the mule.” Stubborn! “God is calling. I’m not going.” And right here today in a place sanctified by the people of God, sanctified by the prayers and the worship of God’s people, someone listening to this message is still predisposed to say no.
What were Moses’ objections to the divine will and the divine call? There are five of them and we shall look at them very, very briefly.
First of all, he says, “I’m not adequate. I’m a nobody.” Look at verses 10 and 11. The Lord says in verse 10, “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?”
“Who am I? Don’t you know I’m the failure? I’m the one who failed back in Egypt, and I do not want to go back to the place where I failed. I’m the one who is still angry because when I gave myself to my people they rejected me, and I thought they would understand and they didn’t. I’m not going back there. Let those people rot in Egypt. Who am I that I should go? God, you’ve got the wrong bush and you’ve got the wrong guy because I am inadequate. I’m a nobody. Forty years in the desert.”
Is that the way we sometimes respond to God? You know I’m not a Calvin. I’m not a Luther. I’m not a Billy Graham. I can’t witness to the person who sits in the cubicle next to me at work. Who am I? They might ask me some questions I don’t know the answer to. Who am I?
Moses didn’t know it but he was asking the philosophical question of the 20th and the 21st centuries. Who am I? We don’t know who we are. Husbands have left their wives to try to find out who they are. Wives have abandoned their children and husband to “try to find out who I really am.”
We have theories of self-image, many of which are not scriptural. There is a scriptural theory of self-image, but there are wrong theories too. I remember reading a Christian writer who said many, many things good, but I didn’t agree when he said there was a beautiful Swiss girl who thought she was ugly and she never looked into the mirror, and so he held up her chin and helped her open her eyes so that she could see how beautiful she was. That’s not a Christian view of self-image. We need a theory of self-image that not only works for beautiful young women but also works for ugly old men.
We need a theory of self-image that would even work for Phyllis Diller. Remember her? I remember her saying that she was once in a beauty salon for nine hours. Can you believe that? Nine hours in a beauty salon? And she said, “That was just for an estimate.” (laughter)
I want you to notice how God answers Moses. He doesn’t say, “Now, Moses, I’ll tell you who you are. You are specifically gifted.” No, no, no! Do you know what the Lord answers? He says in verse 12: “I will be with you.” I will be with you! That’s my answer to your inadequacy, Moses. You see, God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips those who are called. (applause) And God says, “I am with you, Moses. I’m going to stand there.” And we’d think that after that Moses would say, “Okay, God, if You’re coming with me, include me in. The answer is yes.” But he has a deeper problem. He has a deeper problem.
So he goes on to a second objection. He says, “I don’t know enough” in verse 13: “Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM who I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: “I AM has sent me to you.”’”
“I AM that I AM. I am the self-existent one. I exist because I exist. I am the infinite and perfect spirit in whom all things have their source, support and end, and I am God. And I am the one calling you, and simply say, ‘I AM has sent you.’”
Do we sometimes argue like that with God? “I don’t know enough. You know, if I witness to somebody sure enough they are going to ask me about the heathen in Africa, or they are going to ask me how in the world all the dinosaurs got onto the Ark. They’re going to ask me something like that. Who am I, Lord? What if they say this to me or that to me?”
God says, “Moses, I’m giving you the credentials. I am saying that you need to affirm that I have sent you.” And when you and I are in discussions with other people, the answer is not to think of how much we know, or why our opinion is better than somebody else’s opinion. We always, as New Testament believers, take them back to the New Testament. We take them back to Jesus, and we always let people argue with Him and now with us. That’s the way we do evangelism.
And so Moses says, “Lord, I don’t know enough.” And God says, “Okay, I’ve now revealed myself to you. Are you ready to go now?” And Moses says, “No, I’m not,” because he has a deeper problem. His objection is even deeper. What he says now in chapter 4, verse 1 is, “I’ll be rejected.”
Chapter 4, verse 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.’” Now this is very interesting. It says in chapter 3, verse 18: “God says they will listen to your voice.” And now Moses is saying, “They won’t listen to my voice.” Do you see the disconnect? God is saying one thing and Moses is saying another. And I think Moses has it all wrong because he thinks that he is going to be the deliverer. He doesn’t understand that God is the deliverer, and he only is the instrument that God is going to use. It is God who is going to bring the deliverance. It’s God that does it, because when God calls you and me He actually doesn’t call us to a work, to a vocation, to a ministry. He always calls us to Himself first. It’s a calling to God.
And God says, “Well, if they won’t believe you I’ll give them some signs. Throw down your staff and it’ll become a serpent. Put your hand in your shirt and it will become leprous. Take the water of the Nile and pour it onto the ground and it’s going to turn into blood. And so you are going to be given all of these signs, and you’re going to be able to outdo the magicians of Egypt.” And we’re going to be studying that because that’s fascinating that these magicians of Egypt were able to do as much as Moses in some instances until they got to a certain point where they could not keep up with him.
But God says, “I’m going to give you signs, because Moses, I want you to know that I am the God of men who have failed. I am the God of those who are in the desert. I am the God of those who don’t want to go back to their original calling.” Isn’t that amazing? We say, “God, Lord of all.” We say, “Jesus is Lord of all” except He’s not Lord of the desert. If you’re in a desert today you say, “Jesus isn’t Lord here.” Yes, He’s the Lord of the desert. “So Moses, you go back and I’ll give you these signs.” We think that by now for certain he would say, “Of course, Lord, I’ll go.” So God is saying go, and Moses is saying no, because his objection is actually deeper.
So there’s a fourth one. He says, “Lord, I don’t have any natural talent.” You’ll notice in chapter 4 verse 10 that 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.” The idea is he has an impediment. Maybe he stuttered.
So Moses says, “I’m not qualified.” And he begins to visualize what it would be like going to Pharaoh. Imagine going down those long colonnades that he was acquainted with as a boy when he lived in the palace. And you walk all the way down. You finally have an audience with Pharaoh. You’re standing in front of him with all of his advisors around him and you open your mouth and nothing comes out. And everybody says, “Speak Moses. It’s time for you to talk,” and all that he can do is stutter and to stammer, and the words aren’t coming out. And you can imagine the ridicule and the rejection and the fun that would be made of somebody who was in a position of such incredible embarrassment. So he says, “I’m not a speaker. Find somebody who can talk.”
Aren’t you startled with the Lord’s answer to Moses? “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? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”
“Moses, if I had wanted you to be eloquent I would have created you eloquent. If I had wanted you to be brilliant in other areas, I would have made you brilliant in other areas.”
Could I just speak to you heart to heart? Are you content with the way in which God made you? When you look into the mirror, are you content with the raw material that God gave you to work with? Is it okay with you that you’re not one of the beautiful people? Is it okay with you that you’re not as good looking, that you’re not as talented as somebody else because you know who has made man’s mouth, who makes someone mute, and who gives someone the ability to speak, and that is God?
Those of us who are in public ministry I have to confess to you that oftentimes we struggle in comparing ourselves with others. I remember as a young minister I’d hear somebody speak like E.V. Hill, and I’d say to myself after hearing E.V. Hill, “I’m never going to preach another sermon again.” It makes me want to go back to the farm and start up the old John Deere and do something else. (laughter) What a gift!
And then I have to say as I look in the mirror, “God, you created me this way. If you had wanted me to have that kind of eloquence you’d have given it to me.” I’m content with who I am, and the older I am the more content I am with who I am. Did that come out right? Do you understand what I’m saying? I don’t have to be anybody else. The real issue is whether or not the self-existent eternal God has called me. That’s really the issue. And He gives us a certain amount of talent to work with. Are you envious because God has been so generous to others in their eloquence, in their beauty, in their abilities? God says, “Moses, I created you with that impediment. Get over it.”
Well, you’d think at this point Moses would say, “Of course I’m going.” But no, he has a deeper objection, and we finally get to the heart of what’s troubling Moses. Moses finally says, “Alright, I don’t want to go.” In verse 13 of chapter 4 he said: “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” He’s saying, “I just don’t want to go. I’ve got a wife and children. I hate Midian. I hate the desert, but if I go to Egypt there will be risk involved. There’s the possibility that I could fail. If I fail here in the desert nobody knows about it. Nobody knows whether I’m a good shepherd or a bad shepherd because I’m living here in obscurity and isolation. But if I go back to Egypt I will fail big time and I’ll be on the front page of the Egyptian newspaper. Everyone will know about it and I’m not interested in that kind of risk.”
And Moses digs in his heels, and he stands there on holy ground, arguing with God, and God says go and Moses is saying no.
How do you feel? God may be calling some of you to a new ministry. God may be taking you out of your nest, out of your sense of security, because the desert may be bad, but at least you know the desert. And God may be speaking to you about ministry opportunities. Someone will ask you to teach Sunday school, and you’ll say, “Who am I? I don’t know enough, and furthermore I just don’t want to do it.”
Think for a moment of what Moses would have missed if he had said no. He’d have missed being there when the Egyptian gods were humiliated. What an experience that is, and we’re going to touch on that briefly sometime, when against all the gods of Egypt judgment came. How humiliating it was for those gods. And the God Jehovah triumphed, and Moses was there to see the whole thing.
He would have missed the crossing of the Red Sea. He would have missed 40 days of uninterrupted fellowship on Mount Sinai in the presence of God. It says that Moses spoke face to face to God like a man speaks with his friends, and he was up there 40 days, and when he came back his face was glowing. He’d have missed all of that.
He would have missed coming later on into the land and appearing on the Mount of Transfiguration, which is where Peter, James and John and Elijah also were. Moses would not have shown up on that mountain if he had continued to say no to God. Think of what he would have missed. There are some of you whom God is pressing out of your comfortable nest. He is exuding you. He is pushing you. He is encouraging you. He is calling you, and it is possible that you and I will miss some great things because we will, like a mule, simply say no.
So what is your excuse? Someone has said an excuse is the skin of a reason but it’s stuffed with a lie. That’s what an excuse is. I remember Nancy Reagan saying that her father, at about the age of 12, if I remember correctly, memorized some verses in Sunday school for a free Bible. And he didn’t get a free Bible, but the pastor’s son did, even though the pastor’s son didn’t know the verses as well. And so this boy perceived that he had been delivered an injustice, and never attended church again.
How do you think an excuse like that will wash in the presence of the Almighty? When he stands before God, will God say, “Oh yeah, yeah, that’s right. I remember that at the age of 12 you had that injustice, and I guess that justified neglecting me and investigating what My Son came to earth for, and I guess that’s reason for you to have done what you have done.”
Do you notice what the text says regarding God in verse 14 of chapter 4, after Moses gave these five excuses? “Then the anger of the Lord was kindled (burned) against Moses.” God said, “I’m not amused. I am not amused that you would have the nerve to not go when I call. I am angry.”
Do you think that God is going to accept those excuses? Do you think God is going to accept the excuses of Christians who, all of their lives, refuse to become involved? They have pulled down the shutters. They have closed the windows. They have isolated themselves in their own little worlds because they were hurt years ago and they refuse to get over that hurt, and they simply hold onto it and say, “God, I don’t care what You want me to do. The answer is no. I’ve been hurt. Like Moses was hurt 40 years earlier I won’t go.”
May I suggest to you that when we excuse ourselves, we accuse ourselves. God is asking us to be led out of the desert. God is asking us to come to Him in simple faith. Some of you are believers and you are saying no to God for various reasons, and others of you have never trusted Christ as your Savior. And you are saying no because of a host of reasons. I want you to know today that those excuses will not work in God’s presence. And I need to remind you that in the New Testament Jesus Christ referred to Himself as the “I AM.” He is the self-existent, infinite God, the same God that revealed Himself to Moses when any old bush would be able to do and to burn under the inspiration, the direction and the power of God. That is the very same God, and Jesus invites you and me to Him today for forgiveness, for reconciliation, to make our peace with God. But it’s possible that somebody here today is saying no.
Back in 1952 Queen Elizabeth was crowned queen of England. Now I was very, very young at that time, but I still do remember it. There was lots of talk about the coronation. All those who were invited to the coronation were given beautiful invitations. I didn’t receive one, but other people received beautiful invitations, particularly if they were a part of the royal bloodline. And in that invitation, after giving all the details, it said this (quote): “All excuses set apart.” The whole idea is that it was unthinkable that somebody would have an excuse not to attend. It was saying in effect, “Excuses, thank you, unacceptable.”
And the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, the God of gods calls us. He calls us to ministry within the church. He calls us to lead small groups. He calls us maybe to usher. He calls us to responsibilities of teaching, and it’s possible for you and me to stand there and to say, “Because I’ve been hurt, because of the past, because I’m not gifted, the answer is no.” We should come to God today all excuses set apart.
Would you join me as we pray?
Our Father, today we want to thank You that in Your Grace You did overcome the rebellion of Moses. We thank You that He went. We know that he’s grateful that he went. And we pray that You might help us to obey You in everything that You reveal to us, to give up all excuses, all rationalizations, and in Your presence simply say, “Yes, Lord, Your servant hears. Lord, I am willing. I am willing to receive what You give. I’m willing to lack what You withhold. I am willing to relinquish what You take. I am willing to suffer what You require. I am willing, Lord.”
If God has talked to you, you talk to Him right now.
Father, do Your work in our hearts. Whatever it is that You have talked about to us today, oh remove from us our stubbornness, our unbelief and our excuses. Help us to come with open arms and hearts and say yes to You. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.