Staff of Assurance

(Exodus 4:1-4, 19-20)

How many of you here today believe in God and God's promises? Are you absolutely sure? Are you absolutely certain, beyond a shadow of doubt, that God is faithful and that God's promises are actually true? Do you trust that God is with you always, are you certain that through His Son Jesus, God has forgiven your sins; and offers you by His grace, salvation?

Strange questions to ask people in church aren't they, but its one thing to say we believe; it's another to be confident of God's promises and to live a life of assurance, a life that truly says we believe.

As professing Christian's it's easy to say we believe in Jesus, it's easy to say we believe in the cross and resurrection, and it's easy to say we've received the gift of eternal life, but do we truly know these truths as absolutes in our hearts?

John Wesley is a great example of a person who grew up in the faith from the moment he was born, practiced strict religious disciplines his entire life, was an ordained Anglican priest, worked hard to live as God wanted him to, and yet it wasn't until he was 35 years old that he felt his "heart strangely warmed," and he finally felt and knew deep in his heart that he truly did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and assurance was given him by the Holy Spirit that Christ did take away his sin and saved him from death.

John Wesley wrote in his journal, on the afternoon of May 24, 1738, "I went to St. Paul's Church, and the words to the anthem, 'O Israel, trust in the Lord,' rang in my heart. In the evening I went unwillingly to a society (a Bible Study) on Aldersgate Street, where someone was reading Martin Luther's preface to the letter to the Romans. About 8:45 in the evening, while I was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my 'heart strangely warmed' through faith in Christ." (Journal May 24, 1738)

From this experience a new spiritual world opened up to Wesley, and for the next 53 years, through both difficult and discouraging days, and mountaintop experiences, his heart was on fire with love for God and devotion to Christ. Wesley's assurance came by a spiritual awakening through the inward working of the Holy Spirit in his life. Now I'm of the mind that our personal assurance of God's love, our awareness of the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, can be triggered or sparked in a variety of ways. God can use anything to get through to us.

Take our scripture reading this morning. Moses was being asked by God to take great risk and to do many challenging things, all in the name of God. Now Moses wasn't the most confident person in the world, and although he trusted God, he needed God's assurance so he felt more secure in what he was doing.

God understood this so God provided Moses with the assurance he needed in the staff He gave him, actually referred to as the staff of God in Exodus 4:20. Scripture tells us that Moses clung to the staff as he left for Egypt with his family to face the greatest challenge of his life. The staff was his assurance of God's presence, power, and promise. The staff also became a witness to others of God's presence and power. Here are some examples of how Moses used the staff of God.

" Moses threw the staff on the ground and it became a snake. " He touched the water of the Nile with the staff and the water turned to blood. " Moses held the staff over streams and canals and frogs came out of them. " He hit the ground with the staff and gnats came flying out " Moses raised the staff to the sky, and thunder and hail came from the heavens. " He held the staff over Egypt and a strong east wind blew " Moses raised the staff of God over the Red Sea and the waters divided. " And Moses struck a rock in the desert and water began flowing from the rock.

Assurance is such an important element of our faith, because without assurance we are prone to doubt and uncertainty, which left unchecked can lead to turning away from God. Without continually being assured of God's presence, power, and promises we can turn away from God when life becomes challenging, or when situations leave us in a place of personal darkness. And I think it's at these times assurance of God's power, presence, and promises are so important to us. We want to know God hasn't abandoned us.

Again in John Wesley's journal we learn that even after his Aldersgate experience he was challenged to the point he needed and again experienced the heart warming feeling of assurance again on December 23, 1744. Wesley reports that on this day he was unusually lifeless and heavy. The next day, Christmas Eve, he again felt the same heaviness until later that evening when he experienced "a light and strength as never before." The following day, on Christmas morning, he awoke feeling God's presence with him all day.

There is no greater feeling then the feeling of God's presence. I suspect many of you here today have experienced a time when the presence of God was evident in your lives. Maybe your heart was strangely warmed. But how do we continue to remain aware and assured of God's presence and his promise as we journey through life. After all we don't have a staff of God like Moses, or do we?

In Ephesians 6 we learn of the Armor of God: "Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:14-17).

Now although the context of this scripture is how we can be prepared to battle the evil powers of this world, it also reminds us of God's presence with us, especially as we look at the one offense weapon of the armor: The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

The Bible, in concert with the Holy Spirit serves as our assurance of God's promises today, it speaks to the omnipresence and power of God, his love for us, the knowledge that our sins are forgiven, and it offers us the way, the truth, and the life through faith in Christ alone. This is our staff of assurance. This is our hope. This is our staff of God.

When we're feeling unstable or uncertain, we often seek out something that is reliable and will provide the stability we need. For physical instability we may use a cane to keep us from falling. But for spiritual instability God has provided the Bible, which records His promises and guidance to keep us from falling, and offers examples from great heroes of the faith to keep us focused on the right path. And as Moses clings tightly to the staff of God, we can cling tightly to the Word of God, trusting in its witness and teaching.

The scriptures make it clear that confident assurance finds its source in the character of God. So when it comes to divine assurance I think most Christians would like there hearts strangely warmed in three areas where the character of God can shine bright: in our life of faith, in our access to God, and in our salvation. So let's explore briefly what our staff of assurance, the scriptures, tells us about each.

As we live a life of faith and place our trust in God, God will deliver us from our mistakes, sins, and failures. Our faith is strengthened by the obstacles we face, allowing us to grow in wisdom and goodness. The Bible reminds us that if we look to ourselves for all the resources we need to journey through this life we will quickly become overwhelmed and overrun. But God offers us His support in fulfilling His Word, if we obey God and seek out His wisdom. (Romans 4:21)

It's an awesome privilege to have access to God and be able to approach God with freedom and confidence. I think most of us would be a bit apprehensive, and perhaps intimidated, in the presence of a powerful ruler, but thanks to Christ, by faith we can enter directly into God's presence through prayer; no middle person needed. We have a direct line to God, if we choose to use it. And we know God welcomes us with open arms because the Bible tells us we're God's children through our union with Christ. (Ephesians 3:12)

And ultimately Christians want to be assured of their salvation. The scriptures tell us that it is by God's grace we are saved from eternal death (Ephesians 2:5). And we are offered salvation through our faith in Jesus Christ. Why, because God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Eternal relationship is what God desires for each and every person.

So how do we know we can rely on what the Bible says, after all isn't it just some outdated book written for people over 2000 years ago? Well the Bible is no ordinary book. Every year it's the best selling piece of literature in the world. It's sold literally over several billion copies and has been translated into over 2200 languages. Most published works aren't translated into foreign languages at all; and usually only best sellers are translated into more than a few languages. I challenge anyone to come up with a book that has had the impact the Bible has had on the world over as many years by the way it has changed lives. I guarantee popular books about Harry Potter, and the endless shelves of self-help books will be but a flash in the human history pan, compared to the far reaching words of the Bible. This is because the Bible is God's Word, not humanity's.

Some folks want to write the Bible off, preferring more modern literature, stating that the Bible is just some old religious book written by a bunch of men. It can't be compared to modern enlightened thought. And these folks are right, it is old and it can't be compared to modern enlightened thought. The truth is nothing can be compared to the Bible.

For one thing the Bible was written by forty separate authors over a time span of nearly 2000 years, all under the direction of one Editor. Some of the guys who wrote the Bible were highly educated; others had never left country living. A few were fisherman, one was a doctor, one was a tax collector, several were government officials, but only a few were what we would call professional theologians. And amazingly enough most of these authors never met or communicated with one another. But despite this incredible diversity of human writers, the Bible has remarkable unity and coherence. This is because it was inspired and was under the editorial direction of the Holy Editor.

If you had a group of forty friends and commissioned them to write on subjects such as religion, ethics, science, creation, the meaning of life, and the end of the world, it's hard to imagine there would be unity around these major themes.

But the Bible's writer's and subject matter flow together in large part in a complementary fashion, weaving a grand story around one central theme: God's desire to have an eternal relationship with us.

Sure some skeptics and even sincere Christians have questioned the Bible's reliability and relevance. Yet the Bible has and will continue to have the marvelous ability to withstand the storms of human skepticism without losing its staying power. Again, no other book can claim this prominence.

The famous philosophical skeptic Voltaire once held a Bible in his hand and pronounced its doom. He said, "In one hundred years this book will be forgotten, eliminated!" But ironically, one hundred years later, Voltaire's house served as the headquarters for the Geneva Bible Society.

This is not just an ordinary book full of ordinary human words. It's a divinely inspired book that offers truth about our relationship with God, and it outlines humanities best hope for a life with God. So yes it can't be compared to today's literature, it stands alone.

The assurance of God's power, presence, and promises, that we so much desire comes by grace through faith in all that the Bible teaches. This book is our staff of assurance, the assurance of God's love for us. So open the Bible, read it, live it, cling to it, and allow the Holy Spirit to warm your heart with God's divine assurance. Amen!

In addition to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Bible the following resources inspired and/or were used in part in the preparation of this sermon: 1. John Wesley's Journal May 24, 1738.

Read other messages by Pastor Wade