The Trouble with Following the Lord




Exodus 4:18-26

Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and touched Moses' feet with it and said, "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!" (Exodus 4:25 ESV)

The name of Moses is so closely related to God’s law that the law is referred to by the name “Moses.” For example, a person speaking of what the law says might say, “Moses tells us ...”

God’s appearance to Moses in the burning bush is so well known that a reference to “the burning bush” is all it takes for a person to know that both Moses and God are involved.

Moses is well known because he followed the Lord. He followed God. He obeyed God. In following the Lord, Moses laid the groundwork for an efficient system of government, established the nation of Israel, and he wrote some of the most enduring and ancient literature that is being printed even to this day.

However, the route to such notoriety was not always easy or smooth. In the last few messages, we have listened in on the conversation between God and Moses at the burning bush and seen that Moses was reluctant to do what God was asking. Today, we pick up the story as Moses tells of his return to Midian to collect his family and let his relatives know he is going back to Egypt. As we go through Moses’ account, we will see the trouble with following the Lord. Three things show up in Moses’ account that were troublesome for Moses and will be troublesome for anyone who wants to follow the Lord. These are:
1.       You have to leave what you know.
2.       You have to go where you are not welcome.
3.       You have to do what you don’t want.

Another way of referring to this is to call it “The Cost of Discipleship.” But, Dietrich Bonhoeffer already has a copyright on that title, so we are going to talk about “The Trouble with Following the Lord.” In Moses’ case, the three things we just talked about as being troublesome are seen in three things he had to do.
1.       He had to uproot.
2.       He had to confront Pharaoh.
3.       He had to circumcise his sons.

We pick up the story in Exodus 4:18, where Moses tells us:
Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, "Please let me go back to my brothers in Egypt to see whether they are still alive." And Jethro said to Moses, "Go in peace." (Exodus 4:18 ESV)

If you will remember with me, Moses was caring for his father-in-law’s sheep when God appeared to him in the burning bush. He needed to return the sheep to their owner. Also, we see that Moses asks for his father-in-law’s permission to go. Most of the commentators that I looked at stated that people lived in tribal communities or family groups, and these groups were usually reluctant to let people leave.

Moses had lived 40 years with Jethro and had become part of the family. Exodus 2:21 tells us that “Moses was content to dwell with the man.” Moses wrote this, and he is telling us that he was happy where he was. He was satisfied or pleased to live with Jethro as part of his family.

As a result, it appears that Moses was still reluctant to go even after he had Jethro’s blessing. Exodus 4:19 tells us, “And the Lord said to Moses in Midian, ‘Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.’”

Not only was Moses going to have to give up living where he was comfortable, but he was also going to go back to where there were people that wanted him dead. So, God gives Him the assurance that those who sought his life were no longer living. Exodus 4:20 tells us:
So Moses took his wife and his sons and had them ride on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand.” (Exodus 4:20 ESV)

Moses had been uprooted once before. He had left Egypt and everything he knew and been a stranger in a strange land. Now, he was uprooting again, but this time with a purpose. He took with him his wife, his sons and the symbol of God’s calling.

Many of us leave behind family, friends and pleasures when we decide to follow Jesus. Jesus said:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26 ESV)

Even if we do not move physically, following Jesus means choosing Him and His way over what we have been content to consider our home. It means choosing Him over the pleasures we have sought and the comforts we love. That is the trouble with following the Lord and why many choose not to.

In addition to leaving what one knows, the Lord also calls us to go where we are not welcome. We see this in Moses’ life in the message he is told to take to Pharaoh. Exodus 4:21-23 tells us:
And the Lord said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, "Let my son go that he may serve me." If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.'" (Exodus 4:21-23 ESV)

In telling Moses to be sure to perform all the miracles that God had given Him, God is also suggesting that Pharaoh would not be receptive to Moses or be willing to believe what he was saying.

In addition, God tells Moses plainly that God would harden Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh would refuse to do what Moses said.

If that is not enough, God also tells Moses to threaten Pharaoh with the loss of his firstborn son. Of course, this is guaranteed to make Pharaoh want to welcome Moses and his message warmly(NOT).

Our commitment to the gospel parallels these three points. We are commanded by our Lord to preach the gospel. We have the Bible that we claim to be the word of God, without error in its original manuscripts and accurate in every detail. This is supported by history and manuscript evidence. We also claim that the prophecies of the Bible are 100 percent accurate and have been fulfilled with 100 percent accuracy to this point. This claim is also supported by history and the available evidence.

Furthermore, we claim that Jesus rose from the dead, another claim supported by history. These claims and their evidence parallel the signs that Moses was given to perform, and yet there is much resistance to these pieces of evidence. Ever since the time of Christ, inventors of alternate explanations, liars and enemies have been there to explain away these facts. Like Pharaoh, our world does not want to receive our message.

In addition to a lack of receptivity, God promises an absolute refusal to listen. In the case of Pharaoh, God says He will harden Pharaoh’s heart. Jesus told us:
They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. (John 16:2-3 ESV)

The world hates the message of the gospel. Again, to quote the words of Jesus:
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19 ESV)

In God’s words to Moses, we see that God tells Moses, “I will harden his heart...” For this reason alone, many hate God. Many say that God is unjust that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart and then punish him for it. When addressed with this question in Romans 9, the Scriptures say:
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:14-18 ESV)

As we see in this passage of Romans, for God, it is a question of mercy. Why should God put up with any of us? Why are we not all destroyed? Justice demands that we all die for our sin against God and each other, and yet here we are. Why? It is because of God’s mercy that we are not destroyed. God is not unjust, He is merciful, and for that, many hate Him, taking His mercy and patience as justification of their sin and rebellion against God.

This now takes us to the third parallel. Moses delivered a message that confronted Pharaoh’s stubbornness. What I have just been saying confronts the stubborn, sinful rebellion of the world, and it is a very, very unpopular message, is often equated with hate speech and is not acceptable to many. No one likes to be told they are a sinner, and even less acceptable is the message that God condemns the unrepentant sinner to eternal, conscious punishment in hell, described as the “lake of fire.” However, this is part of the gospel message and is the unpleasant, confrontational message we are to deliver.

So far, we have seen that the trouble with following the Lord is:
1.       You have to leave what you know.
2.       You have to go where you are not welcome.

The third thing we see is that you have to do what you do not want to do. We see Moses confronted with this difficulty in Exodus 4:24-26.
At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and touched Moses' feet with it and said, "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!" So he let him alone. It was then that she said, "A bridegroom of blood," because of the circumcision. (Exodus 4:24-26 ESV)

Many misconceptions and assumptions are taught about this passage, so let us look carefully at what it says. First, it says that the Lord met Moses and sought to put him to death. It does not say what form God took or even if God was visible. Second, it tells us that Zipporah took a flint and circumcised her son. We are not given enough detail to know why or how Zipporah knew that this is what needed to be done.

Then there are the words that she spoke to Moses, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” Interpretations abound for this saying. It is an ambiguous verse. The word is cast it at his feet, and it is not clear if she cast it at God’s feet or at Moses’ feet. There is also the possibility of interpreting the meaning that she cast herself at his feet. So, put off all the marital problems that you think Moses had. Many commentators suggest that by saying “a bridegroom of blood,” she was suggesting that their marriage was now sealed with the blood of their son as a sign of her love. 

The reason I am spending time on what is unclear is to emphasize what is clear. It is clear that God was displeased with Moses. It is clear that the issue was circumcision, the sign of the covenant. For whatever reason, Moses did not want to do this. He had not done it. But God had said:
…both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant. (Genesis 17:13-14 ESV)

Some things that are not optional if we are to follow the Lord. Moses did not want to do this, but, as he found out, it was not optional. Jesus said:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23 ESV)

Denying ourselves, dying to our flesh and following Jesus are not optional. A cross is an instrument for killing the flesh. We are crucified with Christ. We may not want to do this, but it is where we go if we are following Christ.
The trouble with following the Lord is that we must go His way. Jesus said:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)

The way is hard that leads to life, but the alternative is death. Which way do you choose?

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