"Only A Rod"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2010 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Well, good evening to you all again. It's a delight to be with you once more in Coffs Harbour Bible church, thank you for your kind welcome once again - and thank you for turning out. I realise the commitment it is for folk who are working and have commitments all day to be out in the evening as well, and we don't take that for granted - and certainly the preacher doesn't! There's nothing like preaching to pews that are filled, rather than empty. So thank you for making the effort to come tonight.
We're turning in our Bibles, please, to Exodus chapter 4. Now I did say last evening that I would be preaching on 'The Fullness of the Holy Spirit', I think I may have said either tonight or tomorrow night - it will be tomorrow night, so apologies if you've come specifically for that subject, but I hope that you've come to hear from God and I believe you'll hear from Him this evening. We're turning to Exodus chapter 4 - now we're interjecting just in the middle of a series of excuses that Moses, the man of God, is making for why he should not go to Egypt to deliver God's people, Israel, from their bondage. We're just breaking in here in chapter 4 verse 1 at his third excuse.
Verse 1 then of Exodus chapter 4: "And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee. And the LORD said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod. And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. And the LORD said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand: That they may believe that the LORD God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee". And just down to verse 17, please, of the same chapter, and God says again to Moses: "And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs". Down to verse 20 please: "And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand".
Let us all pray, and as I've said on previous nights: it is imperative that God's people have open hearts as they come to the word, and as they come into the presence of God as the Holy Spirit takes the word and applies it to the heart through preaching. So it's important, if you've come here tonight, that you haven't just come to get your ears tickled, that you haven't come to hear an Irish brogue, that you haven't come to hear some man - we want to hear from God. But if you're going to hear from heaven, you've got to have an open heart - so open your heart, believer. If there is someone here who is not a Christian, as I've exhorted the folk in previous nights I do it again, and will do it every night: unbeliever, open your heart. You might be a sceptic, you might be a cynic, you might call yourself an atheist or agnostic, but I believe if you say to the Lord now: 'Lord, I open my heart to You, if You've something to say, say it now', He will speak.
Father, Holy Father, we acknowledge that we have read from Your holy truth. We confess with Your word that it is indeed a two-edged sword able to divide the bone from marrow, and the soul from spirit, and it is the discerner of men's hearts and thoughts. Lord, we confess also that You have sent the Holy Spirit, because Jesus has died, was buried, and has risen again, ascended, and is glorified. The promise of Pentecost has come. We thank You that the Holy Spirit is with us, but Lord we long that He would be manifest in a sense of His presence as He deals, through the word of God, with men and women's lives. Lord, we are not here to pass an hour, O God, we're here to meet with You. We're wanting to be real tonight, Lord, deliver us from playing church and ecclesiastical ritual. Lord, help us to break into what it is to meet God face-to-face in the mirror of Your word. So, Lord, we just wait upon You now. We ask for that stillness that is brought when the Holy Spirit comes. O hear our cry, for the glory of Jesus alone we pray, Amen.
Now if there was a title that we could emblazoned above the biography of Moses, the man of God, certainly over his early years we could write this: 'Preparation for divine purposes' - preparation for divine purposes. If you're not familiar with the story, in the first couple of chapters of Exodus we have the birth of Moses, and we see that Moses as a babe was divinely preserved by the hand of God. You've got to understand a little bit of the background. We read at the beginning of chapter 1 that there was a Pharaoh in Egypt who came to power who did not remember Joseph. The Pharaoh that remembered Joseph, and was a compatriot of Joseph, was lenient on the Hebrews - and indeed, Joseph ascended into the high echelons of the Egyptian government. But there came a day when all that was forgotten, and a Pharaoh came to power that resented the fact that these Hebrews were multiplying to such an extent that he feared if there was ever a war, and the Hebrews should turn against the Egyptians, that they would overpower them.
So he devised a way, an infanticide, of instructing the Hebrew midwives that whenever women were in birth, to make sure that if they were giving birth to a man child that that man child died. So the instruction was given that little Jewish boys, babes, were to be thrown into the Nile - but the Hebrew midwives disobeyed the order of Pharaoh, and they delivered these Hebrew children. One that was delivered was called Moses, although he wasn't called that yet, and his parents - Amram and Jochebed - took this babe, and made a little ark of bulrushes, and we read that they pitched it without and within with pitch, made it waterproof, and they set the babe in the basket and floated it onto the Nile. They gave him over to the preservation of the hand of the sovereign God of heaven - imagine doing that as a parent!
But they also sent little sister Miriam along to keep an eye on that vessel. Guided by the hand of God, it stopped just where Pharaoh's daughter, the Princess, was bathing. Pharaoh's daughter didn't have a child, she thought this was a godsend. She went into the Nile, took the little baby out, called him Moses - which means 'drawn out' - and he became her son. Little Miriam spied this, and she ran up and she said: 'Would you like me to get one of the Hebrew women to look after, to nanny and nurse, this baby' - and knowing that this was a Hebrew child, she said yes. So she went back and got her mother, and what her mother had let go of, God gave her back - and there is a principle. Sometimes we fear when God's dealing in our lives, that He's going to rob us of everything we hold dear. I spoke last night about giving all the keys of your life over to God, and sometimes we have this idea that God is going to call us to the back-end of the jungle where there's no toilets and showers, and He's going to make us miserable. The devil would make us think that the will of God is going to make us miserable, but the fact of the matter is: often God gives us far more back when we give everything that we have over to Him.
When you read this - it's marvellous, for I wasn't planning on looking into this tonight, but we look at chapter 2 and verse 9 and we see that not only did Moses' mother get the baby back, but she got paid wages to look after it! Isn't God a wonderful God? But what I want you to see is, remember: preparation for divine purposes. At birth Moses was preserved, and then we see in his formative years, as he grew up in the palace, providence, God's providence, provided a splendid education for this young man. We can't tell this from Exodus as such, but when Stephen was giving his great sermon before he was martyred, we read in Acts chapter 7 and verse 22 that he said: 'Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds'. He was a highly educated and highly adept orator - that's interesting, because one of the excuses here in chapter 4 and verse 10, if you look at it, it was his fourth excuse why he shouldn't go to deliver Israel: 'Moses said unto the LORD, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue'.
Now there is a whole debate on whether he did have an impediment in his speech or not, but one thing is for sure: he was a very educated and able young man - and I think this was only an excuse. But here's what I want you to notice, now stay with me: he was preserved at birth, God's providence was with him in his formative years; but if providence put Moses into the palace of Pharaoh, it was faith that took him out of the palace. If providence led him into the palace, it was faith that took him out. Now understand what that means: God effectively give him all the world into his lap, so and only in order that he might give it all up for God.
Now all of us are very grateful in accepting the gifts of God, aren't we? We can justify receiving them and enjoying them, because they're from God's hand - and every good and perfect gift comes down from above. But do we ever consider that we get them to give them up? I don't know how biblically literate you are, but I hope that some of you're starting to ask the question about what I'm saying here tonight - because many of you may not have considered that Moses left the palace by faith. You see, you know the story I hope, that one day he was outside the palace, and he saw an Egyptian soldier strike a Hebrew slave. I believe that down through the years, when his own mother was nannying him, looking after him, that his mother was telling the stories of the Hebrews and the Scriptures. I believe his mother believed that Moses would be a deliverer one day. So his Hebrew blood boiled up when he saw the Egyptian strike the Hebrew, and the Bible tells us that he struck the Egyptian and killed him, buried him in the sand, and had to flee into the backside of the desert in Midian.
But that is not the reason, the Bible says, why Moses left the palace. Turn with me to Hebrews Chapter 11, so that I can show you this. Hebrews chapter 11, this great hall of faith, verse 24, and we read: 'By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible'. Now there you have it clear as day: 'By faith he forsook Egypt'. Now you say: 'Well, I can't reconcile these two things. Did he not murder a man, and did he not flee into the Midianite desert?'. Yes, you're right on that one - but here's the lesson: it was faith that took him out of the palace, that's the first thing you've got to learn, God's word says it. Can I repeat again something I've already said: providence might lead you into a situation, but that is not a guarantee that you're meant to stay in it - and that might be a word from God to someone here this night. You see, I often hear people say: 'God led me to do this, or to do that' - I very rarely hear people say: 'God led me to stop this, or stop that'. Often the works that begin in evangelical service, we open doors and we never close them - and sometimes some doors should be closed, because God has finished doing a work. Just because providence has led us into a place, it doesn't mean that we have to stay at that place for ever.
Faith had to be exercised in Moses' life to leave the palace in Egypt - but here's the point I'm making, here's how we can reconcile these two ideas: what started in faith ended in the flesh. Let me repeat that: what started in an act of faith, fleeing the palace in his heart to identify with God's people, the Hebrews, ended in the flesh when Moses tried to deliver the people with the arm of flesh in chapter 2 verses 11 and 12 that I've cited already. It was faith that caused him to leave the palace, but it was sin that caused him to flee into the desert. There he went into the desert to be a shepherd. He entered a wilderness experience in Midian, and I believe that that experience in the crucible of humility and brokenness was in order to purge this man of self, of his strength, of that which he thought was his to deliver the people of Israel. I believe God did a greater work in Moses during those 40 years in the desert than at any other time in his whole life.
Now can I say that this biography of Moses has great parallels with our Christian experience. If you think about it for a moment, we have all had a miraculous birth - we're born-again of the Spirit of God, born from above. I hope you're here tonight, and you have had that experience. These meetings, the first couple of the week, are mainly for Christians - but we want to take the opportunity to say to you that this life that we're talking about can be yours, simply by faith receiving from God what He offers through His Son, who bled and suffered for our sins on the cross, and rose again that we might have the gift of eternal life. But if we are saved we are born-again, and like Moses, providentially, we have the best of prospects in life. We can ascend on the peaks of Christian experience, we can have pinnacles and spiritual crises, and at such times and such junctures in our lives we can be promising - but there are few places are as perilous as mountaintops.
I remember hearing a story of a very famous preacher who happened to claim a high peak on our planet. He had a Sherpa with him, and the Sherpa had got him to the top - and as soon as he got to the pinnacle, which was only a point, the preacher jumped as high as he could with his hands in the air. The Sherpa grabbed him and pulled him down, and he says: 'Do you see up here? You have to be on your knees!'. It's the same in the Christian experience: we need to stay on our knees. Many Christians who started with promise and God's providence leading them, end up nowhere because they make wrong choices. What starts by faith ends in the flesh. Now that is a very common experience, there is a whole book in the Bible written about it to the New Testament Church of Galatia. They were born-again of the Spirit of God, but they tried to live out the Christian life in the flesh and according to the laws of Judaism. Whether it's the laws of Judaism, or it could be the law of some other 'ism' that you're trying to obey - but that's not life in the Spirit, and that's not the Christian experience that God intends for us. Often what happens to us, and what has to happen at the behest of Almighty God, is that He has to take us into the wilderness to purge us of self, to forget the way the world does things - or to forget the way Christians do things, but maybe don't do things right, or according to God's Spirit and God's word.
I wonder is there someone here tonight, I'm sure there's more than one perhaps, and God has you in a wilderness? Do you understand the reason why? Oh, you've been born-again, and you had great promise - God set you in the right place, and you were going great guns, but some choice you have made or some circumstance out of your control has caused you to despair and you're in a wilderness this very evening. Well, understand this from the story of Moses: when God has done His purging work, when it is complete - and only He knows when it is complete - He appears to us again.
That's what happened to Moses, now it took 40 years, but God purged him and appeared to him again. The message of God to someone, or more, here tonight is: if you're set aside from the Lord's work, if you're no longer serving Him, if you no longer feel useful to Him, if for a while or for many years you have been in the wilderness - perhaps through sin, perhaps through choices that you have made that have hindered your effectiveness for God - God may well be appearing to you again tonight, because He wants to use you once again! Look at verse 2 of chapter 4, God appeared to Moses, and He said: 'What is that in thine hand?' - what is that in thine hand?
Now let me give you the context to that statement. Chapter 3 is really the context, God speaks to Moses, appears to him in the Midianite desert in a burning bush. Incidentally, let me say that God often appears in unexpected ways at unexpected times in unexpected places. Maybe the last thing you expected tonight, coming to this meeting, was God to appear before you, God to speak to you, for you to experience the presence of God. Often He appears in ways that are unexpected. Many years ago there was a Christian author who wrote a book entitled: 'Your God Is Too Small' - that's the problem we have as Christians. We put God in a box, we tell Him how He can and cannot appear to us, what He can and cannot do, and when He can do it and when He can't. He is God! He is the God of the new thing, He's the God of infinite variety - you see that from nature alone. He is a God who can work in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform - and He appeared to Moses in a way He never did hitherto nor after, in a bush that was on fire but not consumed.
God tells him, from that bush, the He has heard the cry of His people, the Israelites. Look at verse 10 and verse 11 of chapter 3, 'Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt. And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?'. Now do you see the marked difference in this man? Before, as a young man, he was rolling his sleeves up and killing people to bring deliverance to the Israelites, and now he has been in the desert forty years and he's a broken soul! He has lost his self-confidence. Now you say: 'Why on earth would God do this? Knock the stuffing out of a man?' - well, forty years ago Moses was sure he could solve the people's problem, but now God is coming to him and God is calling him, God is ordaining him, and he's now sure he would fail! It's amazing, isn't it? But this was the work that God wanted to accomplish in the life of this man - 'What work is that?', you say. One word: brokenness. That's why God leads us into the wilderness, brokenness.
Let me turn you to a number of Scriptures for a moment as we think about brokenness. Turn with me to 1 Peter chapter 5 verse 5: 'Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time'. Verse 5 at the end says: 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble' - to put it another way, God resists the proud but He can't resist the humble...but we've got to be broken to be humble. You see, this is the way God's economy works, it's completely different to ours! If something gets broken, a microphone or one of these stands, we throw it away - but God doesn't throw away broken things, God lifts them up and uses them, God is looking for broken things! When we get broken before Him in our wilderness experiences, we are coming into a place where God can truly use us - but please note what it says here. It says in verse 6: 'Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God'. I sometimes shudder when I hear people pray: 'Lord, break me' - that's not a prayer I feel comfortable praying, although I need to be broken. But the best way to be broken is to humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, do it before God does it - because, I'm telling you, if God does it, boy, you'll be broken to smithereens!
Now, do you know one of the greatest problems we have concerning brokenness? We resist it. We resist it with every sinew in our being. Just think about it for a moment: the things that come along our path, the problems, the sorrows, the trials, the tribulations, the people - and pastors know all about this! The phone rings, and if you've got the dial identity on your phone, you know who it is as soon as you look at it - and you go, 'Oh!' - you never do that, pastor, I know! - 'Oh!'. We resist, and we fight, and we rebel against certain things in our lives that make us uncomfortable. Now understand this - and I'm no different than you - but God brings many of these things along in order to break us, and when we resist them we so often resist the work that God is attempting to do in our lives so that we might be more useful for Him.
Watchman Nee had a wonderful book, it was entitled 'Release the Spirit', and it was all about this very thing. He says: 'If you want to get God's work done quicker in your life, start embracing those issues and allow God to break you. Cooperate, and then there will be a release of the Spirit in your life that will go out and touch other people'. That's what 2 Corinthians chapter 4 says, if you look at it quickly please, 2 Corinthians chapter 4 and verse 7 - I think this is what Paul is getting at exactly: 'We have this treasure’, the treasure of eternal life, the very life of God, 'in earthen', that simply means clay, 'vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us'. So there's nothing for us to take pride in, because when we're broken we're just useless, like any broken thing - but the power that is in us, the very life of God, when we are broken what happens? It shines out of the cracks! There is a release of the Spirit. Here Paul speaks personally in verse 8: 'We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh'.
Do you see it now? How many ways does God bring this brokenness into our lives, and we don't understand why He's allowing it. He begins to do a work, like Moses, to get us to the place that when He asks us to do something we shudder and say: 'No, not me, I can't do that!'. He takes away all our self-confidence and reliance on the arm of the flesh, and you can see it evidently as Moses starts to make five excuses. I think it was Billy Sunday who said that an excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie, the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie! After the fifth excuse, Moses says effectively in verse 13 of chapter 4, look at it: 'O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses'. Now can I put it in colloquial terms what Moses was saying? He was saying: 'You can send whoever You like, but don't send me!'.
This man had been broken, and you know: when you're broken the only thing that remedies the brokenness - please, these are profound truths from the heart of God, listen to them and cherish them - the only thing that will remedy it is a revelation of the divine. God had to reveal Himself to Moses, the broken Moses. He does it in chapter 4 and He does it in chapter 6, and He reveals Himself in chapter 4 to Moses as 'I AM', 'I AM', 'I am Jehovah', or 'Yahweh', the One who was, the One who is, and the One who ever shall be. Now I'm glad to be in Australia, because you speak proper English - not American English! You know that 'I am', don't you, is an unfinished sentence. It has no object: I am what? Just 'I am' - it's like a blank cheque, and that's the point of what God was saying to Moses, and saying to the covenant people Israel. 'I am whatever you need. Moses, in your brokenness; Moses, in your emptiness; Moses, in your bankruptcy of self; Moses, now realising you're nothing; Moses: I AM'. Do you see what happens? My friend, if you allow the process of breaking in your life, all the quicker you will have a revelation of God - and that revelation of God will meet you at your need.
I love this: there are nine compound names of Jehovah in the Old Testament, and we're not going to look at them tonight. You know some of them. One of them is 'Jehovah Jireh', God My Provider. What God was revealing Himself as was to meet every single need. We read in the New Testament that all the promises of God are 'Yea' and 'Amen' in Jesus Christ, so as the little chorus says: 'Jesus Christ is all I need, all I need, all I need'. He is a compound name of Jehovah 'Je-sus', 'Jehovah Saves'. We have in Christ the Incarnate God, all we need. Now all that Moses had to do was trust - and this is what the Christian life is. Oh friend, banish the thought, if you're in the School of Moses - pre-forty years education in the wilderness of Midian - you need to learn that it's not in the flesh. You can't live this Christian life in the flesh, it's not done in the power of steam, it's done in the power of God - and God will have to bring you to that point where you're exhausted of all your resources so that, in brokenness, by faith - the just shall live by faith - without faith it is impossible to please God. So Moses had to have God revealed in his brokenness and take it by faith.
That's how we're saved, isn't it? Dear one here tonight, I hope you're not trusting in your church affiliation, whatever it is - Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist, Catholic - it doesn't matter what it is, it's no use to God, and God doesn't think 'that' of it. We fight over all these labels, and God doesn't care 'that' of any of them. He didn't invent any of them anyway. One true Church, that's what the Bible says. My friend, what you need to understand is that your good works are filthy rags in the eyes of God, the things that you do, even good things - good things are good things, but they're not God's things. You need to realise your brokenness, your bankruptcy before the holy and perfectly just God of heaven. You need you realise that the only way you can be saved and come to God in life and after death is if He makes you worthy, and He did that by sending His Son to bleed and die for you, and take your sin so that you may have His righteousness - but it happens by faith, as you allow, by faith, your sin to be exchanged for His righteousness.
It's the same for the believer, and Moses had to waken up to this. If you look at chapter 6 you will see that the three things that Moses said effectively were: 'I can't', and 'I'm not', and 'I won't'. Boy, he was some man, wasn't he? 'I can't, and I am not, and I won't' - and do you know what the Lord came back and said? 'I can, I am, and I will'. Look at chapter 6 verse 6 - and I mark my Bible, I don't know whether you do yours, and I ring certain words, and I have ringed 'I will' in these couple of verses. Verse 6 of chapter 6: 'Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the LORD'. Moses says: 'I can't, I am not, I won't', and the Lord says, 'I can, I am, and I will!'.
Is there a broken soul here tonight? Is there a soul that has been in the wilderness? Is there a soul here that feels they are no use to God, let alone anybody else? My friend, you need to have a revelation of God, and you need to engage faith towards Him and take Him as He is, as your provision in your need. But Moses made the excuse, and the one I want us to look at tonight is in chapter 4 verse 1: 'Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee'. Look at the Lord's answer in verse 2: 'The LORD said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod'. You know what happened, he cast it on the ground, it became a snake, and then he lifted it up and it became a rod again.
Now, this is the title for my message tonight: 'Only a Rod' - that's all he had. The lesson very simply is that when we go through the school of God and we get broken, and we realise there's nothing in our self, and then we come to the cross and we take the provision of the great I AM, the Lord Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose again, and when we get a revelation of Christ there crucified and risen in power, and we give everything we have to Him - whatever it is, even if it's only a measly rod, He will take it and He will use it for His glory.
Oh, there are so many examples of this in the scriptures - it would take us a week to talk about them. In the book of Judges Ehud was one of the judges that God raised up to deliver the people. I call him 'Ehud, The Handicapped Hero', because he was left-handed. Now I apologise if you're a lefty here tonight, but the fact of the matter is in those days that was seen as a disability - it seems ridiculous to us, but it was in their culture. Yet God took this man who was left-handed and He used him to do something that people ruled him out for, because of his disqualification. That's what God loves doing! You think you're a nobody here tonight, you have an inferiority complex, and maybe you're not measuring up to the standards of your peers around you - but who cares? God certainly doesn't! For you are prime qualified to be used of God, because He takes people like you and He uses them.
Gideon was likewise. He was a 'scaredy-custard', we would call him in Ireland. He was hiding behind a wine press threshing out wheat, cowering away from the enemy of the Midianites - but God took this man, boy, does God know what He's doing? He took this man to be the deliverer and the judge, and He had to coax him along the whole way. Then it came to the great battle when they would overcome the Midianites, and God had given His word and Gideon found it hard believing. He kept saying to God: 'Well, just give me another wee assurance, another sign here and there' - and you know about the fleece, I hope. But when it came to the battle, Gideon had 32,000 troops, and God says: 'That's too many' - too many! How can you have too many troops? He says, 'Whittle it down to 10,000'. So he whittled it down to 10,000, and God comes again and says: 'Too many', and He says, 'Down to 300' - 300? 300! Here's the reason God gives, Scripture is clear, Judges 7 verse 2: 'The Israelites are too many, and they will vaunt themselves and say, Mine own hand hath saved me'. Do you see what God is doing? He alone is worthy of the glory, that's why He takes broken things, that's why He takes rods - so that no flesh should glory in His sight.
Remember what we read from Corinthians? 'For the excellency is of God and not of men', that's why He puts it in clay vessels. Armed with nothing but pitchers and lamps and trumpets, Gideon and his 300 trounced the army of the Midianites. What about wee David, wee David and his sling and five stones? God only took one, and it knocked the giant down - that's what God does. Simon Peter, he gave the Lord Jesus his net, and in Luke 5 we read that there was a great draught of fish, so that the nets were bursting - just because it was given to the Master. The Lord said to Abel, 'What is that in your hand?', and he said, 'Nothing but a little lamb, Lord', and he offered it to God and it was a sweet smelling savour that went up to the nostrils of the Almighty, and speaks of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He just gave a lamb. 'Mary, what's that in your hand?', 'Nothing but a pot of smelling ointment', and she anointed the Holy One of God for His burial - and the Bible says that not only did the fragrance fill the house, but the fragrance filled the world because it's been spoken about everywhere where the gospel is preached. 'Poor widow, what's that in your hand?', 'Only two mites, Lord', but she gave it all and her story has prompted the humblest soul in giving all that they have. 'What's that in your hand, Dorcas?', 'Only a needle', and with it she clothed the cold and the naked of Joppa. 'What is that in your hand, little lad?', 'It's only my lunchbox, five little barley loaves and two fish', 'Give it to Me, give it to Me, lad, and I'll feed 5000, I'll feed 5000 and have spare'.
'Moses, what's that in your hand?', 'Nothing but my staff, Lord, to tend the flock', 'Take it and use it for Me'. Listen: that rod wrought greater things than mighty Egypt ever saw, in the hand of a broken man - but it was the rod of God. We don't have time to look at it tonight, but let me give you a quick run over of what this rod did. In chapter 7 we see it turned into a snake, before the Egyptian Pharaoh it turned into a snake, and Moses lifted it again by the tail - lifting a snake by the tail, that's what the power of God can do in the broken life of a man. You can take those snakes by the tail, that's a promise to the church of Jesus Christ - power over snakes, power over the devil. It was only a rod, and in chapter 7 as well we see that it was dipped into the water in the commandment of God, and the water turned into blood. It was the rod of God. If you go into chapter 8, and God commanded Moses: 'Stretch out your hand over the streams', and from those streams came the frogs, another plague. God said: 'Take that rod and smite the dust', and when Moses smote the dust, the dust turned into lice, another plague. In chapter 9, look at it, in chapter 9 you see that Moses was told to take the rod and he put it into heaven, into the sky - and the Bible says that out of the sky came hail, and fire with it. If you go to chapter 10 you see that Moses again puts the rod in the sky, and there is an east wind, the Bible says, that comes and with it locusts, another plague. In chapter 14 Moses is commanded by God to put the rod over the Red Sea, and forthwith comes an eastern wind, and the sea is divided and the people cross. We read in chapter 17 that Moses is commanded by God to smite the rock - the people were moaning because they had nothing to drink - and when he smote the rock, water came from the rock. In chapter 17, later on, we also read that Moses went up a hill with Aaron and Hur, and Joshua was on the plain in the battle, and Moses was interceding before God with the rod up in the air before God - but he grew tired. When he grew tired and he put his arms down, and the rod down, the Amaleks prevailed over the Israelites; but when he raised the rod the Israelites prevailed over Amalek. When he grew tired Aaron and Hur took his arms and plunged them up, but this was the rod of God! Only a rod, but in the hands of a broken man, and a broken man that had met God.
Oh, I hope you're getting the lesson tonight. Do you see if you get broken, and you get a vision of God? Whatever you give to God, God will bless it, God will multiply, and God will work miracles through it. I'll tell you this: He even uses a hand with nothing in it! If you don't even have a rod, and I meet some people and they say: 'I have nothing to give' - oh praise God for you! You're the very person to whom God can come and flood their soul, and not only change their lives, but turn the world upside down with them. Hudson Taylor, the father of China Inland Mission, was asked why God chose him to do this great work, and this was his answer, he said: 'God chose me because I was weak enough'. Are you weak enough? Some of us, and I say it kindly, we're too big in our boots for God to use.
You see, God's ways aren't our ways. From we are knee-high, we are instructed about how to achieve, and how to excel, and how to tread everybody else underneath our foot - climb up the ladder, survival of the fittest. But that's not God's way. Listen to the word of God tonight, let it wash over you - 1 Corinthians 1, just listen: 'Because the foolishness of God' - the foolishness of God, what a statement! God's foolishness. He doesn't have any foolishness, but it's an exaggerated term to try and get you to see how far off we are from the ways of God. 'God's foolishness is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence'.
Second Corinthians 12, Paul the great apostle had a thorn in his flesh - and we don't know what it was, and if we needed to know we would've been told. He asks God to take it away three times, and the message came to him: 'No, my grace is sufficient for thee'. Paul said: 'Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities', my weaknesses, my brokenness, 'that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong'. One paraphrased that: 'God's power is most fully displayed when I am weak'. There is a pretty new gospel hymn, quartets I think sing it, and it goes like this: 'Little is much when God is in it'.
Only a rod. Look at verse 17 of chapter 4: 'And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs'. Only a rod, but it was owned of God. Verse 20: 'And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand'. It was operating for good and operating for God. Who here tonight qualifies to be used of God? There are some here and you used to be used, but what started in faith ended in flesh. Some decision you made, or some sin that overcame you, has put you in the wilderness - but, my friend, as with Moses, when that self-purging is done God appears again. Is He appearing to you tonight, and you're making excuses? He says: 'What's in your hand? Give it to Me in your brokenness, as I reveal Myself to you now in all the provision that you ever need. Give it to Me, give everything to Me, and I will use you in ways that you've never dreamed of'.
Can I relate a story of this to you as I close, I read it in a book about the persecuted church. This was about China, and I'm just going to recite it completely as it was read. It's about an old dear saint called Sister Ann. Sister Ann was born into a home that was educated, but because she was a girl she wasn't educated like her four brothers. They all became doctors, but she wasn't even taught to read or write. She began to train as a nurse, but her father fell ill and she had to stay at home and nurse him. Then her mother fell ill and she nursed her, and that illness of her mother lasted 20 years. During that time Sister Ann had hardly left the home, never left the house, and then her mother died - and no sooner had her mother died than her brother fell ill with consumption. So she nursed him, and it went on until, at 82 years of age, her last brother died. All she had done in her life was nurse her family members at various locations in her hometown of Shanghai. As her last brother was dying, she wondered how she would live after he had died - all she had ever done was look after sick people. She had no savings, the Communists had taken all the wealth of her family, but her brother said to her: 'Listen, after I'm dead, look under the flagstone in the corner of this room', and when she did she found many gold coins there. It was probably mafia money, because her brother had been connected with the criminal underworld - but that was nothing to do with her, and it was many many years ago. So it seemed that her future was assured.
So at 82 years of age Sister Ann was suddenly free to do anything she wanted - the trouble was she was old, illiterate, and beginning to feel ill herself...but she was a Christian. She approached some of the house church leaders in her town, but they had no use for her. She offered to give out tracts, but she couldn't read the tracts - and they said that because she couldn't read the tracts, she wouldn't know what she was giving out, and so she wasn't qualified and appropriate to do that job. She couldn't teach the Bible because she couldn't read it, though it had been read to her many times and she knew what was in it - she felt she knew it well enough, but the leaders, you know, she just wasn't the type of usable material that they needed. She was just an old woman, and do you know what they said to her? 'Look, just hand us over the money, and we'll put it to good use'. Suddenly she made a decision, she said to herself: 'The one thing I always wanted to do was travel, and I could never do it. All my life has been spent inside houses, by bedsides of dying relatives, I had never been outside Shanghai', and she thought, 'Well, since I know the Gospel so well, I can at least talk about that while I travel'.
So Sister Ann became a travelling evangelist, and with her money she bought train tickets and travelled all over China. No one ever challenged her, she was just a harmless old woman - but she would travel first class, or what they call 'Soft Sleeper', and she just talked about Jesus to travelling companions. Many of those travellers were Communist Party officials who had been given the perk of travelling first class - so much for communism! Some were outraged at her for ever even attempting to speak of Jesus and witness to them. She just said: 'Well, what are you going to do with an old woman, throw me in jail?'. Far more of her companions smiled, and joined her in conversation.
Sister Ann started that journey at 82, at 87 she died. In the last five years of her life she must have covered hundreds of thousands of miles. She went to the desert of the far north-west, ending up in Urumqi. She made it by bus to the 12,000 foot high Himalayan plateau in Tibet, all the way down to the steamy jungles of the deep south, chattering about the Gospel to anyone who would listen. She was too old for the house churches to use her, so the leaders thought, but she wasn't too old to work for God. She wasn't too broken, she wasn't too useless - and think about it: who else could have done it? Who would have had the time to travel on trains for five years? Who else but this old woman could escape arrest for witnessing for Christ in Communist China in public places against the law? She had a unique work, and she died never seeing her fruit.
The author of this book that I was reading said that years later he was with a house church Christian who was visiting a home of a very high-ranking Communist Party leader. In the home he happened to take a wrong turn in the hall, and he walked into a room and stumbled on this party leader's wife. He was astounded to see that she was reading the Bible. This was her story, she said, and I'm quoting: 'My husband was travelling to another city one day, and was surprised to find in his train compartment an old woman who was coughing badly. They got talking a bit, and she told him all about Jesus Christ, and she said to him: 'This is why I'm travelling, while I die I have to spread the news, and this way everyone comes to my deathbed'. My husband', she says, 'was so impressed. He never became a Christian, but I was really taken by this woman's dedication, and I thought: 'What is it about Jesus Christ that would compel her to travel all over China, even though she was dying?'. I found a Bible and was soon saved'. Her husband, even though he wasn't converted, he became a defender of the Christian cause in the sense that he made sure that they weren't persecuted as severely as they may have been, had he not been there.
But listen to what I'm saying here tonight: the amazing way that God works. God builds His kingdom through a broken old lady travelling the country on mafia money to reach, in a powerful way, those who no one else could. Now, if God can use Sister Ann, He can use you. If God can use Moses' rod, He can use you. He will build his kingdom through us in ways that will make us marvel for all eternity - but here's the process: Moses went to the palace learning to be something, and God had to take him to the wilderness to make him realise he was nothing, in order to go to Egypt to tell them God was everything.
'There's a work for Jesus, ready at your hand,
'Tis a task the Master just for you has planned.
Haste to do His bidding, yield Him service true;
There's a work for Jesus none but you can do'.
Let us all pray. As the heads are bowed, and as again tonight we're conscious of the presence of God, we're going to preserve it - we're not going to sing a hymn - just in these moments, as we bow to close our meeting in prayer, broken soul: will you embrace your brokenness? Embrace your wilderness and see that God has allowed it for your good. Surely tonight you have had a revelation of God and His will for you, preparation for divine purpose - it has all been preparing you for what God wants you for. Are you going to take it?
Father, we thank You for those who have indicated, Lord, that in their brokenness they want to give it all to Thee. Lord, I know that You will take them, if they will believe, they will receive all the fullness of God into their lives. May they even experience a testament to that tonight through the witness of the Spirit. For those in the congregation who have not indicated, Lord, we pray that equally so You will meet with them in their need. Lord for those, O God, who are not broken, oh, they are in greater need - O Lord, may they embrace the work and accelerate the process to get to that place of emptiness that they may be filled. O Lord, we thank You for being with us tonight, may we take the fragrance of Your presence with us and Your power as we go. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Coffs Harbour Bible Church, New South Wales, Australia, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "Only A Rod" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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