Vol. 11 — No. 5 February 1, 1970


The Theophahy of the Burning Bush

Exodus 3:1-6

Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.

In Christ Jesus, who was manifested in His glory as the only begotten of the Father on the Mount of Transfiguration, Fellow Redeemed:

The last Sunday of the Epiphany Season commemorates the Transfiguration of our Lord. In other words the Final epiphany, selected by the Ancient Church for study during the Epiphany Season, was the most amazing theophany recorded by the Evangelists. Let us pause a moment to make sure that every one understands the language we are using. Remember that the word “epiphany” means manifestation or revealing. During the Epiphany Season we nourish our spiritual life with the stories that manifest or reveal the Lord Jesus Christ to be both the Son of God and the one and only Savior of all mankind. A “theophany” is a special epiphany. The word “theophany” means a visible manifestation of God. And that is precisely what happened on the mount that evening when Jesus “was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light…and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matt. 17:2&5 Jesus Christ, who was made in the likeness of man and who took upon Himself the form of a servant, was revealed or manifested to be more than just a humble man. He was revealed to be the living Son of the living God, true God—“Begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father,” as we confess in the words of The Nicene Creed.

The Old Testament text that we have selected for our meditation this morning records what is, perhaps, the most familiar of the Old Testament theophanies—the manifestation of God to Moses in the burning bush. You are, of course, also familiar with the theophany of God in the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud that guided Israel in the wilderness and also the cloud of smoke that covered the mercyseat in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. We think also of the vision of Isaiah, as recorded in the sixth chapter of his book of prophecy, also the visions that Ezekiel saw. This morning we would concentrate our attention upon this early theophany of the Lord God, for there is a message also for us in the New Testament in that ancient theophahy. Let us realize, first of all, that—

The Theophahy of the Burning Bush

I. Foreshadowed the incarnation.

Moses reports that while he was tending the flock of his father-in-law, “the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.” If you have read your Old Testament carefully, you will have noticed that on special occasions at critical junctures in the history of God’s people there appears on the scene a person called “the Angel of the Lord.” He is carefully distinguished from the other angels. He is “the Angel of the Lord,” not just another created angel. How can you know that you have “the Angel of the Lord” in a given story? If you read carefully, you will notice that in the story “the Angel of the Lord” will be identified with the Lord Himself. So it is in this story. Moses reports that “the angel of the Lord appeared unto Him.” As he continues his report, he says that “when the Lord saw that he—Moses—turned aside to see, God called.” In this simple way Moses identified “the Angel of the Lord” as “the Lord,” the faithful Covenant God of Israel, who is the one true God of heaven and earth and of all nations and peoples. So “the Angel of the Lord” is in fact the Lord God. But we know from the fuller and clearer revelation of the New Testament that the Lord God is One God, yet three distinct Persons? Which Person would it be that would and did on occasions appear even in human form as “the Angel of the Lord”? The answer is obvious—the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God.

What was foreshadowed here at the burning bush was clearly prophesied, namely that the invisible God would one day manifest Himself in human form. Isaiah said that a Child would one day be born whose name would be “Immanuel”—God with us. That happened in Bethlehem the night Jesus was born. His birth was a most amazing theophany—God made flesh, the eternal Son taking to His divine nature also the human nature. St. John lived with Jesus for three years. He was a disciple. He witnessed His true humanity and His deity. He was there on the holy mount. He recorded his witness in these words: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” John 1:14. God was made flesh, became incarnate, was made man. That amazing act of love, which was necessary for Christ to fulfill the law for us and to die in our place and so to become our Savior, was foreshadowed already at the burning bush.

The theophany of the Lord God in the burning bush was to be a special teaching for Moses and his people. The lesson taught so many centuries ago is a lesson we all have to learn sooner or later. The theophany of the burning bush—

II. Taught that, though the Lord chastens His own, He consumes them not.

Why did the Lord manifest Himself in this peculiar way—in a bush that burned with fire, but was not consumed? The answer will come to you when you realize that the Children of Israel had been suffering from oppression and slavery for more than eighty years by this time. That suffering came from the Lord—with His permission. Otherwise the Pharaohs of Egypt would have been unable to afflict God’s people. But the Lord God did not intend to consume or destroy His people. He was, on the contrary, planning to deliver them, and that right quickly. Moses had been chosen to be the leader of God’s liberation movement. What Israel was experiencing at that very time was depicted by the burning bush that burned but was not consumed. Israel was that thorn bush—lowly, despised, of no account among the nations and powers of the earth at that time. It was suffering. Children were born in slavery and died in slavery. The whole nation was experiencing the refining fires of the Lord’s affliction. That suffering would become more intense before the people would experience relief. But the burning bush was not consumed by the fire. There was a message of hope in the theophany. Though He chastened His own the Lord would not destroy them.

What a necessary lesson for Israel to learn, and what a necessary lesson for us to learn also! The writer to the Hebrews, who were also suffering for their faith’s sake, expressed it in these words: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Hebrews 12:6. The Lord chastens His sons. He may send sickness. He may send fire or flood or hurricane or accident. What is His purpose? Not to consume and destroy, but always to purify and draw closer to Himself. As a fearful child flees to the protecting arms of its mother or father, so it is the design of the Lord that chastening, in whatever form it comes, is to drive us closer to our God. We are to learn to cast our burden upon Him, to call upon Him in the day of trouble, to be thankful unto Him for deliverance.

That theophahy also—

III. Emphasized the gulf between the holy God and sinful man.

When Moses saw this strange sight—a thorn bush burning but not being consumed—he said to himself: “I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.” But the Lord stopped him by calling him by name: “Moses, Moses.” And Moses answered: “Here am I.” And then the Lord said to Moses, “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” That place was holy because God had caused His presence to be revealed there. And the Lord God wanted Moses to show proper respect not only for the place, but proper reverence and respect which the inward man owes to the holy God.

There was a time when God walked with man in the cool of the evening. That was in paradise before the fall into sin. Sin has created a wall of separation between God and man. God is holy; man is unholy, sinful. It is necessary for man to realize that there is a gulf between himself and God, a gulf caused by man’s sin and a gulf that man cannot bridge. Let man take off his shoes in the presence of his God. Some of you present today may be unfamiliar with our form of worship. Some of you may have become familiar with it by being exposed to it over the years, but you may not understand the thought of it. Let us seek to understand. Our regular services, our service again this morning, began with taking off our shoes in the presence of our God. He began with “The Confession of Sins.” It is my function as the liturgist to lead you in taking off your shoes. What is symbolized by the taking off of shoes to show reverence before the holy God is expressed in the words of the confession: “Almighty God, our Maker and Redeemer, we poor sinners confess unto Thee, that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against Thee by thought, word, and deed. Wherefore we flee for refuge to Thine infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Thy grace, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is “taking off our shoes” in the presence of God, confessing humbly that a gulf exists between us because of our sins.

Oh how this lesson needs to be learned today! People who call themselves Christians keep on sloshing around with their dirty shoes in the presence of God. They either think that they are holy and without sin or they imagine that God is as unholy as they are and either laughs at their sins or can be bribed with a few works. To this impudence and insolence on the part of man the holy God calls down and says: “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground,” that is, humble yourself, confess your sin, repent!

The reaction of Moses was predictable: “And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.” That natural reaction of sinful man the Lord wanted to counteract. His appearance in the burning bush also—

IV. Assured fearful man of divine faithfulness and help.

The Lord God introduced Himself as “the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Those were the names of the patriarchs. Unto them the Lord God had given the promise and repeated it again and again that He would make of Abraham a great nation and that in his Seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed. At the time it appeared as though the Lord had forgotten His promises. Israel has been enslaved. When as a young man of forty Moses undertook the task of liberating his people, he had to flee Egypt as a wanted man. For forty years he had herded sheep, and his people had continued in oppression and slavery. But now the time had come. Moses was eighty years old—certainly at the age of retirement. But the Lord was calling him to lead His people out of Egypt. Moses was afraid, but his fears were to be dispelled by the assurance of divine faithfulness and help.

We live centuries later and are able to read in the Holy Scriptures and in the history of the New Testament Church how the Lord has again and again helped. He remained faithful to His promises. He sent His Son. The Son won for us the victory over our sin and guilt and over our enemies, Satan and death. The Lord has preserved His Church and His own down through the ages. He does not put anyone who places his trust in Him to shame. Whatever your need may be, whatever the situation may be, whatever the problem confronting you may be, whenever you are afraid—you and I may be assured of our Savior’s faithful help. Only believe! Amen.

—Pastor Paul F. Nolting

Preached January 18, 1970
Holy Trinity Independent
Evangelical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

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