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 desert 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.”
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs--we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?"
Today is Pentecost Sunday, and the account of the Lord appearing to Moses in the burning bush is one of those passages which should stir and provoke us in our pursuit of God. It’s one of the many God-encounters we find in Scripture, where God visits in a unique way – in a brief moment in time – that changes and transforms the life of Moses forever.
And it’s also meant to change and transform our lives too.
For Moses this was an ordinary day. He’d been in Midian for 40 years faithfully tending the flock of his father-in-law, and I’m sure he was expecting this day to be much the same as any other day, but then things suddenly changed.
The ordinary became the extraordinary, the usual became the unusual, and his direction in life, his attitude towards God, his purpose for living changed forever.
The years of the life of Moses are neatly divided into three forties: the first forty he spent as a prince in Pharaoh’s court, the second as a shepherd in Midian, the third as leader of the Israelites. He had now finished his second forty, when he was given this commission to bring Israel out of Egypt.
Sometimes God takes what we think is a long time before He tells us what our purpose in life is.
Moses is one of the heroes of Jewish history – he was born to be Israel’s deliverer, but not a word of it is said to him until he is eighty years of age.
So if you’re still waiting to hear from God, keep listening!
In the meantime though, Moses remained just a shepherd.
He was being faithful until such time as God arrived so dramatically.
When God appeared to Moses, he was tending sheep near Mt. Horeb.
And maybe at this stage of his life, Moses was quite content to see out his days as a simple shepherd.
Remember, he’d held a very senior position in Pharaoh’s court in Egypt, but that went all rather pear-shaped when he murdered an Egyptian soldier.
He fled for his life, and the peace and quiet in the desert probably made a nice change.
At his age, Moses probably thought he was due for retirement.
Moses is a good example to those of us who might feel we’re stuck away in a desert somewhere.
Maybe it’s been years since you last felt God prompting and stirring you.
In God’s time, as long as you stay faithful to your responsibilities, He will fit you into His plan and purpose in His own time and in His own way.
Moses saw more in that desert than he ever saw in Pharaoh’s court. So, stay faithful where you are.
So Moses looks and sees a bush that is burning.
The theological term for what he saw is a theophany - a visible presence of God Himself.
This was more than just a phenomenon which defied the laws of nature - it was an extraordinary manifestation of the divine presence of God.
It was the last place Moses expected to meet God.
After all, this was in the middle of the desert, it was barren and lifeless.
Nothing is supposed to happen in the middle of a desert.
But this is the place that God chooses to reveal Himself to Moses, and then everything changes.
Moses’ curiosity which we see in verse 3 is important.
The NLT puts it this way – “Amazing!” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go over and see this.”
It was only after Moses decided to go over and have a look that God spoke to him.
There is an important principle here that we can’t afford to miss.
As we turn to see God, and look for Him, often – not always, but often - it is only then that He will speak to us.
If Moses had ignored this burning bush as a mirage, or if his reaction had been something like, ‘I’ve been staring at the bushes for too long – I must be seeing things,’ and moved on, who knows what might have happened.
The Lord might not have spoken if Moses had not made the decision to go and see what this burning bush was all about.
Sometimes we need to respond when we think it is God speaking, and wait for Him to confirm it.
Moses could have ignored that bush, but he didn’t, and God spoke to him.
The custom of removing the sandals is much the same as removing a hat or a cap today – it’s a sign of respect and submission.
There is no doubt that for Moses, this was holy ground. He knew that God, in His awesome Holiness, was there.
Jesus calls us His friends, but He does qualify that in John 15:14 when He says, “You are my friends if you do what I command.”
God calls us, through Christ as His friends, but we must never forget that He is God and we are not. When we approach God, we are doing so on holy ground, and we are given the right to stand on that holy ground by God’s grace, and nothing else.
Moses certainly understood this, and for him everything changed because his encounter with God was a revelation of God Himself.
The God that he sees and encounters can only be described as a God of fire.
This was a dry, barren desert. That bush should have been destroyed in a matter of seconds, but the miracle here is not the bush – it is the fire. The fire of God kept burning and burning. It was an inexhaustible fire.
This blazing fire, which lit the bush with flame and kept burning, consumed it, but didn’t destroy it.
The fire of God changed the bush into something unique. And it became different from all the other thousands of bushes in the desert.
Isn’t that what God wants to do through us and His church today?
He wants to set His church on fire - He wants His spirit to blaze through every area of our lives.
He wants us to burn with a fresh passion for Jesus.
Our God is a God of fire and He wants us as His people to reflect that fire.
Deuteronomy 4:24 – “The LORD your God is a consuming fire.”
Revelation 1:14 – “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were like blazing fire.”
John the Baptist was talking about Jesus when he said in Matthew 3:11, “I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
We know that during the Exodus from Egypt, that God guided the Israelites with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night.
Leviticus 9:23–24 – “Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people.
Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.”
When Elijah proved to the prophets of Baal that there is only one God in 1 Kings 18, God revealed Himself by fire.
On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:3, we read, “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.”
Old Testament or New, beginning or end, you’ll find traces of the fire of God burning brightly – not a flicker, but a flame touching and transforming the lives of ordinary people just like you and me.
Now this is all well and good to know, but how does this revelation of God as the God of fire affect our lives today, or at least, how should it affect us?
How can the God of the burning bush, the God who reveals and answers by fire change us by fire so we become more Christlike in everything we are and everything we do?
We need to ask those questions, because if we don’t, the burning bush will remain an interesting Sunday School story. Our lives, and the life of the Church will not change either.
So let’s look at some characteristics of the fire of God, which will help us to see how God can work in your life if you will let Him.
I. Fire Consumes
Exodus 3:2 in the NLT says, “Suddenly, the angel of the Lord appeared to him as a blazing fire in a bush. Moses was amazed because the bush was engulfed in flames, but it didn’t burn up.”
Hebrews 12:29 quotes from Deuteronomy 4 when it says, “Our God is a consuming fire.”
That means that everything God touches, everything He has ownership of, He wants to consume.
He doesn’t destroy - He consumes.
That is why when Moses looked at the bush it was consumed by fire but was not destroyed and that’s the same thing God wants to do with your life.
He doesn’t want to destroy you, He wants to consume you.
He wants you to surrender ownership of your life.
John Wesley was a fiery preacher – pun intended.
He was once asked what it was that attracted so many people to him, and his answer was, “When I preach, I ask the Lord to set me on fire, and people come and watch me burn.”
Are you burning brightly for Jesus Christ today?
Does He have first place and first call on your life?
If you’re consumed by the fire of God, then everything else in your life will be second to Him.
If you’re consumed by the fire of God, then you won’t be satisfied unless if you are growing in your walk with Him.
If you’re consumed by the fire of God, then you’ll seize every opportunity you get to share your faith with the lost.
Allow God’s fire to consume you.
II. Fire refines
The prophet Malachi wrote in 3:2-3, “Who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner's fire. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.”
A refiner’s fire is a fire that refines. The word refiner is not a common word nowadays, but people in Biblical times understood exactly what Malachi was talking about.
A refiner would basically take a piece of metal that was formless and impure and he’d put the metal in the furnace and he’d heat it up to an intense heat until all the dross and impurities came to the surface and he’d wipe them off.
And this process would be repeated over and over again until the metal was pure.
The test of purity would be if the refiner could see his reflection in the metal.
That’s exactly what God wants to see in you and I. He wants to see His glory reflected in us, even if it means He has to keep putting us back in the fire.
As you expose yourself to God’s refining fire, you’ll find that He won’t leave you the way you are.
He will continue to burn away the impurities until He sees His reflection in you.
He wants our attitudes and our weaknesses, our hidden sins, our fear of condemnation - He wants it all to go through the furnace of His consuming fire so that the reflection of Christ can be seen in everything we are and everything we do.
Not the reflection of this world or of ourselves, but the reflection of Christ.
III. Fire brings light
Psalm 78:14 says, “He guided them with the cloud by day and with light from the fire all night.”
Can you imagine what it must have been like for the other people – the non-Israelites, when they looked at their camp at night?
Everything was pitch black, but above this crowd of Israelites there was this massive, constant flame!
Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”
The only way we can ever make a difference in our world and in our community, is if we allow God’s light to shine through us.
Let me ask you a question – when you meet someone for the first time, do they notice something different about you? Does the Light of Christ shine through you, or do you keep it hidden away?
Jesus has a serious warning for those of us who are secret agent Christians in Mark 8:38 – “If a person is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, I, the Son of Man, will be ashamed of that person when I return in the glory of my Father with the holy angels.”
God wants this Church – you and me – to be a Church on fire so that we can be the light that shines into the dark regions of this community.
Because there are some very dark corners right here, on our own doorstep…
When the fire comes, let your light shine.
Fire Brings Light
The choice to use that fire of God, and to allow that fire to use you, ultimately remains yours.
What is the Fire of God doing in your life right now?
How are you using His Fire to make a difference in the lives of others?