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Apr 11, 2021

Wilderness Encounters

Passage: Exodus 3:1-14

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Jesus in the Old Testament

Keywords: wilderness, slavery, deserts, jesus in the old testament, theophanies, god-encounters


Slavery of every kind warps our view of life, people and God. That is probably why the pre-incarnate Jesus needed to appear in life-transforming encounters to both Moses and the Israelites before they could move forward into the future God had for them. This message seeks to help us encounter the Lord Jesus in the midst of the desert experiences of our lives.


Wilderness Encounters

Series:  Jesus in the Old Testament

April 11, 2021

Slavery has to be one of the most horrible human sins running through most of history.  Whether we’re talking about the slavery of the children of Israel for 400+ years in Egypt, the several hundred years of slavery in America or the modern sex-slavery practiced around the world in virtually every country of the world, slavery is horrible. 

  • Slavery degrades and destroys the human spirit that was created to be free.
  • Slavery inflicts untold physical suffering on innocent people.
  • Slavery warps the soul of every master, every trafficker, every pimp and perpetrator into inhumane and immoral shapes.

It is doubtful that our nation, great as it is, will ever escape the judgment of slavery that is still playing out today through increasing mistrust between the races, growing violence in our cities and spreading destruction of the family in our white and African-American communities. 

            Few if any of us in this room have any real appreciation for what it must feel like to wake up day after day after day with nothing more than the prospect that you will be used by someone else that day for their heartless exploitation, their material enrichment or their diabolical and degrading designs. 

            Yet that has always been the reality and too often the end of every enslaved person’s experience.  And for hundreds of years, that was the day-after-day, month-after-month, year-after-year, generation-after-generation experience of the Jewish people in Egypt.  Slavery over two centuries in America has forever marred our nation’s spirit and experience.  Imagine what four centuries of slavery did to both slaves and masters in the land of Egypt!

            If all the horror stories of slavery were what your family could remember of life for generations when stories were shared behind closed doors or in open fields, how would that shape they way you viewed life, the way you understood people, the way you conceived of God? 

            It’s simply miraculous and an amazing grace of God to now look back and see how two centuries of suffering by the Black slaves in American produced one of THE most vibrant expressions of the church to ever exist in America. Still today, the Black church in many communities is one of the most vibrant, powerful and life-giving forces in existence. 

            The same happened to the children of Israel.  After some 4 centuries of slavery in Egypt, God gave to His people one of history’s most powerful revelations and experiences ever to visit this earth.  Unlike the African-Americans, God had promised that horrific suffering as slaves would one day result in tremendous redemption by God. 

            But when that season arrived, God needed to rebuild and remake an entire race’s understanding of who He was.  Suffering had so warped and stolen their understanding of God that millions of people desperately needed a fresh revelation of God.  That is why the Exodus from Egypt carries with it so much revelation of the existence, presence and nature of God. 

            It is no wonder that the God who saves, who redeems us out of sin, who rescues and renews people from slavery is the very Christ we encounter in the Gospels and N.T. rescuing, saving and redeeming all humanity itself.  What God did with Israel is simply that foretaste of what He would do for all mankind on the cross. 

            So, it shouldn’t surprise us terribly that the same Messiah Jesus Christ who we worship for rescuing us from our own slavery to sin and death is the same Angel of the Lord, the same God of Israel, who is seen in the O.T. rescuing the Hebrew nation. 

            For the next 5 weeks, we’re going to be looking at different experiences, different passages, different foreshadowings and images of our great Redeemer Jesus found in the life of Israel in the O.T.  We’ll try to avoid an error many saints have made of turning everything of the Old Testament into an expression of Christ.  But as I mentioned in the email to all of you this past Friday, both the Apostle Paul in the book of Acts and Jesus on the road to Emmaus made it clear that much of the O.T. Scriptures speak of Christ.  Many of them point to Jesus for any who have ears to hear and eyes to see.   

When it comes to the whole exodus story from Egypt, the pre-incarnate God is evident in a number of places. 

  • Burning bush out of which God spoke and called Moses to be a deliverer.
  • Moses himself as a deliverer of God’s people
  • The Passover and Passover lamb
  • Unleavened bread used in the Passover
  • The Red Sea crossing
  • The Pillar of Cloud by day and Fire by night
  • The Rock that gave water
  • Provision of manna daily

All of these have to do with the Exodus in some fashion…and all of them have to do with Christ. 

Today I want us to look at the beginning of the Exodus.  The Exodus actually begins with God’s work with one man, Moses, in his own wilderness of disappointment and resignation.  Moses is called to be the deliverer of his people.  But before that can happen, he needs a life-altering encounter with God…in his own desert. 

Once that happens, we’ll move to Egypt, that place of so many years of slavery where God must encounter both the forces of evil which held His people captive as well as His people himself.  If God is to be our Messiah, our Savior, He must subdue the forces of evil and break the power of sin.  But that alone is not enough.  He must move us out of slavery and into a life of freedom knowing and serving our saving God. 

So, let’s pick it up today in Exodus 3:1-14.

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
    the name you shall call me
    from generation to generation.

Two important questions about this appearance of Christ in the O.T.:

1.) How do we know this is God the Son, preincarnate Jesus Christ? 

2.) What does this appearance have to teach us about Christ and His work with people?

1.) How do we know this is God the Son, preincarnate Jesus Christ? 

  1. 2--“The angel of the Lord” –almost always, when found in the O.T., is another name for God in appearance form to man. Since God the Father cannot be seen with human eyes and not kill us, this must be God the Son.
  2. 4—“God” called to Moses from the bush.
  3. Vss. 5-6—God’s presence is what made that ground ‘holy’. God identified himself as the “God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob.”  (Interesting that each of these men had conversations with God—Ab. multiple times but clearly with the “angel of the Lord” in Gen. 18—the 3 visitors when Ab. pleads for Lot and Sodom; Isaac offered up on Mt. Moriah and God stops Ab. in Gen. 22; Jacob wrestles with God in Gen. 32.)
  4. Vs. 14-15—the name of God = I AM. YHWH is the 3rd person, masculine, singular of the Hebrew verb ehyeh 
    1. John applies the Greek form of the same Hebrew word to Jesus multiple times in the Gospel of John:
      1. Jn. 14:6—I am the way, the truth and the life.
      2. Jn. 4:26 & 6:20—Jesus responds “I am” when asked about whether he is the Messiah.
  • John 8:58-59—Before Abraham was, I AM.
  1. John 18:5 & 6—At his arrest in the Garden, Jesus identifies himself with the word “I am.”
  1. John also uses it of his vision of God in Revelation:
    1. 1:7-8--“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him,
      even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

  1. 4:8--Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”
  • 11:17
  1. 16:5

Clearly, this must be God the Son in His pre-incarnate encounters with people chosen by God.  But the more important question is the second one: 

2.) What does this appearance have to teach us about Christ and His work with people?  Let me suggest a few that can change how we know God and handle life right now. 

  1. What was the situation with Moses at this point in his life?
  • On the run from people.
  • Given up on God’s call on his life to rescue His people.
  • Living the desert life.
  • Lonely, humbled, broken, old, lost any sense of being God’s man, disconnected from God (probably), beat down by life.

APP #1:  God goes to the deserts of life to find His best servants.  Don’t despise the deserts/wilderness.  God knows what He is doing with our character is more important than what we are doing in life’s deserts.

  • What are the ‘deserts’ of your life right now? In the past?
  • What has ‘broken’ you? Or are you still thinking you can make life work on your terms, in your way?
  • What dreams/visions/calls from God are lying dormant or feel dead?

This is when God wants to get your attention, appear afresh and re-call you to His purposes. 

NOTE:  His timing is not all about you; it may be waiting for the people you are going to work with to get desperate enough. 

ILL:  My ‘desert’ in Spain >> next church I would go to underwent a devastating split/humbling >> were willing to have someone like me who wasn’t anyone special/no outstanding achievements but was able to love them into the next phase of their experiences with God. 

APP #2:  God will speak in the deserts of life…if we will be quiet enough to turn aside from our normal pursuits and listen.  One of the hardest things about wildernesses with God is how SILENT He often is…for long periods of time.  When that happens, don’t turn God off for good.  Just keep doing what you have been given to do…and wait for God to show up, in some otherwise ordinary day… but in some unique, life-moving way. 

APP #3:  Jesus is holy.  When He shows up, the mundane will become holy…and we will have to change the way we relate to Him. 

Q:  How many of us pray every Sunday that God will meet with us and show up in some way?  How many of us have been praying for a genuine revival of the church? 

A prayer like that is only sincere if we are willing to change when He does.  When God shows up we will either have to change what we are doing…or walk away from Him.  We may not always be aware of the holiness of Jesus when we are walking with Him.  But there will be times when His holiness will startle and shock us.  It did for the Apostles who lived with Him day after day—when He calmed the storm, when He provided a miraculous catch of fish, when he revealed His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration and when He appeared after the resurrection.

APP #4:  Where Jesus shows up, even the fallen creation is redeemed, set ablaze…yet not destroyed. 

I don’t want to stretch this too far.  But it is interesting that the Hebrew term here for this bush is only used 5 times in the O.T., 4 of them in this passage, the last one in a blessing Moses gives in Deut. 33:16 to the 12 tribes before his death.  In every case this bush becomes a bush of blessing. 

            Just what kind of bush is it?  It’s a thorny acacia bush (Hb.: seneh).  God chooses something that has been cursed by the fall of Adam, a bush that is virtually good for nothing other than drawing blood, and makes it his instrument of redeeming a man He wants to use to help redeem His people.  NOTE:  later in Ex. 25, God commands that the Ark of the Covenant…the place where His presence will dwell in the Tabernacle…be made of the same type of wood—acacia.

            Don’t be surprised if God uses some very mundane, common even prickly part of creation as instruments in His redeeming work in your life and in this world.  EX:  a regular office building becomes a place of encounter with God (Mosaic Center); a car you drive every day becomes a place God speaks powerfully to you some day; a place you walk day after day becomes a place of encounter with God. 

APP #5:  Jesus wants to have an encounter with us that will make us useful in His redemptive plan for others. 

Before God could redeem His people Israel out of Egypt he first had to redeem his servant Moses in the desert.  This very place, Mount Horeb, where Moses was tending sheep, would become the place where God would also bring others to encounter Him. But first God had to show Moses His plans and power.  Some of them were greater than Moses was willing to believe or accept…like using stammering Moses to speak to the most powerful and educated people of the day.  

            Do you really believe God has plans to use you to help other people find freedom from their slavery?  To come to know the God they currently don’t know but you do?  When Jesus calls to you some day to go do something beyond your ability and beyond your ability to even envision, don’t say “no.”  Let Him give you just enough proof to help you walk more by faith. 


So now, let’s shift gears to what God in Christ chose to do to reveal more of Himself to the entire nation of Israel still in slavery and captivity.  I want to draw simply from one event, the Passover.  We’ve just come through the Passover season. 

Q:  How many of you have ever experienced some form of a Passover Seder?  It’s actually the event Jesus used to institute what we know as The Lord’s Supper or Communion.  So before we celebrate Communion here at the end of our worship service today, let me just refresh your minds a bit in how this Passover that was instituted in Egypt thousands of years ago was really a revelation of the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.

[The following is taken from an article entitled “How Do the Elements of the Passover Seder Point to Christ?” found at https://www.gotquestions.org/Passover-Seder.html]

The Hebrew word Seder means “order.” The Passover meal has a specific order in which food is eaten, prayers are recited, and songs are sung. Each item on the Passover plate has a specific historical meaning related to the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and their freedom from slavery. But 1 Corinthians 5:7 identifies Jesus Christ as our Passover; thus, the Seder carries a New Testament meaning related to Jesus the Messiah. 

During the tenth plague, God instructed the Israelites to daub their doorposts and lintels with the blood of a spotless lamb so that the Lord would “pass over” their homes and preserve the lives within (Exodus 12:1–13). This is a symbol of salvation in Egypt, but it is also a picture of Jesus who was and is the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29). His sacrifice preserves the lives of all who believe. The instructions for the original Passover specified that the lamb’s bones could not be broken (Exodus 12:46), another foreshadowing of Christ’s death (John 19:33).

APP:  Obedient faith in what God commanded every Israelite who wished to be “passed over” by the angel of death that night.  So too, every person today who wishes to escape eternal death/separation from God must respond in this life with faith in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29).

COMMUNION:  this simple act is a restatement every time that we are putting our faith in Christ’s New Covenant with us through His blood.  It’s like putting the blood of the eternal covenant on your own body!

In the Seder, there are several strong symbols of Christ. One is the shank bone of a lamb, which reminds the participants of the feast of God’s salvation provided through the sacrifice of a lamb.

Another symbol of Christ on the Seder plate is the matzoh, or unleavened bread. As the Jewish people left Egypt, they were in great haste and therefore had no time to allow their bread to rise. From then on, Passover was followed by the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread (Deuteronomy 16:3). There are some fascinating things about the matzoh that provide a remarkable picture of the Messiah:

For example, the matzoh is placed in a bag called an echad, which means “one” in Hebrew. But this one bag has three chambers. One piece of matzoh is placed into each chamber of the bag. The matzoh placed in the first chamber is never touched, never used, never seen.

The second matzoh in the bag is broken in half at the beginning of the Seder; half of the broken matzoh is placed back in the echad, and the other half, called the Afikomen, is placed in a linen cloth.

The third matzoh in the bag is used to eat the elements on the Seder plate.
The word echad is used in Genesis 2:24 (the man and his wife will become “echad,” or “one” flesh). The word also appears in Numbers 13:23 when the spies returned from Canaan with an echad cluster of grapes. In both cases, the word echad refers to a complex unity of one.

Many Jews consider the three matzohs to represent Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But they cannot explain why they break “Isaac” in half or why they place half of the middle matzoh back in the echad and keep the other half out, wrapped in a cloth.

The meaning of the Seder’s ritual of the matzohs is understood with clues from the New Testament. The Trinity is pictured in the matzohs.

  • The firstmatzoh that remains in the bag throughout the Seder represents Ha Av, the Father whom no man sees.
  • The thirdmatzoh represents the Ruach Ha Kodesh, the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
  • And the secondmatzoh, the broken one, represents Ha Ben, the Son. The reason the middle matzoh is broken is to picture the broken body of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:24). The half put back in the echad represents Jesus’ divine nature; the other half, wrapped in a linen cloth and separated from the echad represents Jesus’ humanity as He remained on earth.

The linen cloth that wraps half of the second piece of matzoh suggests Jesus’ burial cloth. During the Seder, this linen cloth with the Afikomen inside is hidden, and after the dinner the children present look for it. Once the Afikomen is found, it is held as a ransom. Again, we see that these rituals point to Christ: He was fully God yet fully human; He was broken for us; He was buried, sought for, and resurrected; and His life was given as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus is the completion of the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31, and the Passover Seder rituals bear that out.
Also, the matzoh used for the Passover Seder must be prepared a certain way.

  • Of course, it must be unleavened—leaven is often equated with sin in the Scriptures, and Jesus is sinless.
  • Second, the matzoh must be striped—Jesus’ “stripes” (His wounds) are what heal us spiritually (Isaiah 53:5).
  • And, third, the matzoh must be pierced—Jesus was nailed to the cross (Psalm 22:16).

The other elements of the Seder plate are traditional reminders of the Israelite enslavement to the Egyptians. They are as follows:

  • Vegetable (Karpas) – This element, usually parsley, is dipped in salt water and eaten. The karpas pictures the hyssopthat was used to apply the blood of the Passover lamb to homes of the Israelites in Egypt. In the New Testament, hyssop was used to give the Lamb of God vinegar when Jesus said He thirsted (John 19:29). The salt water represents the tears shed during the bitter years of slavery and the Red Sea that God split during the exodus.
  • Bitter Herbs (Maror) – The eating of “bitter herbs” is commanded in Exodus 12:8. In modern times, this is usually horseradish, one of the bitterest herbs. The maror reminds the Jews that they were unable to offer sacrifice and worship to God, and that was more bitter than the slavery of Egypt.
  • Charoset (haroseth) – Charoset is a mixture of apples, nuts, wine, and spices. It represents the mortar the Israelites used in the constructing buildings during their slavery to the Egyptians. Of all the elements of the Seder, charoset alone is sweet, and this is a reminder of the hope of redemption.
  • Hard-boiled or Roasted Egg (Baytzah) – Traditionally, hard-boiled eggs were eaten by mourners, and the egg is eaten during the Seder to remind participants that they are always in mourning for the loss of their temple. The fact that the egg is roasted evokes the roasting of the sacrifice on the altar of the temple.

Cups of Wine:  There are also four cups of wine used at various points during the Seder. Each of these glasses of wine has a name:

  1. the first glass is the “cup of sanctification.”
  2. The second is the “cup of judgment.”
  3. The third is the “cup of redemption.”
  4. And the fourth is the “cup of praise.”

At the Last Supper, Jesus took the first cup (sanctification) and promised His disciples that the next time He drank the fruit of the vine with them would be in the kingdom (Luke 22:17).

APP:  Because Jesus set himself apart…sanctified himself…to the point of death, we are now able to drink this cup (communion) with Him in the Kingdom.  He also drank fully of the “cup of judgment” which allows us to now be people who are in that kingdom—sanctified, set-apart, made holy by Jesus and made participants in this kingdom. 

Later in the Seder, Jesus took the third cup—the cup of redemption—and used that cup as a symbol of the New Covenant in His blood (Luke 22:20). Thus, Jesus fulfilled the Passover symbolism and infused the whole feast with a new meaning.

            The 4th cup was of praise—praise that God had taken to himself a people for His name (Ex. 6:7).  APP:  What praise should flow from our hearts as we are now “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (I Peter 2:9).

One final note.  In Exodus 6:6, the Lord God promised His people that He would save them from slavery: “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” The phrase “with an outstretched arm” is repeated throughout the Old Testament in connection with Passover remembrances (Deuteronomy 4:347:199:2926:82 Kings 17:36Psalm 136:12Jeremiah 32:21).  Can it be coincidence that, in the New Testament, the Messiah had both of His arms outstretched as He freed us from sin and brought us salvation at the cross?