“Right Message, Wrong Audience”

Categories: Bulletin Articles, M. W. Bassford

At first glance, the narrative of Exodus 2:11-14 appears to be one of impulsiveness and immaturity. Moses, a 40-year-old resident of Pharaoh's household, decided to visit his Hebrew kinfolk. He sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, strikes the tormentor dead, and hides the body. The next day, he tries to break up a fight between Hebrews and gets a snarky retort about the Egyptian he killed yesterday. He realizes that the word is out and flees for his life.

However, the inspired reading of this story, as provided by Stephen in Acts 7:23-28, doesn't lay any of the blame on the future lawgiver. According to Stephen, Moses expected his people to understand that God had sent him to deliver them, but they missed the point. The exile of Moses in Midian, then, doesn't represent 40 years in which he needed to grow up. Instead, it represents 40 years of unnecessary suffering by the Israelites because they rejected the one God had chosen to lead them to freedom.

As Stephen reveals during the rest of his final sermon, this is not a unique problem for the Jews. Their fathers had rejected God's chosen deliverer Joseph, and they themselves had rejected God’s chosen deliverer Jesus. Of course, this problem isn't limited to the descendants of Abraham. To this day, members of every nation under heaven reject those whom God has sent to teach them.

Let's look at this first from the perspective of the teacher. Today, many Christians consider evangelism to be work best suited for highly trained diplomats. You have to say everything just right and give no grounds for offense if you want to lead someone to the Lord. In many cases, they base their beliefs on their own experience. They themselves tried to lead a sinner to Christ, they didn't say everything just right, the sinner rejected the gospel, and they blame themselves for it.

Generally, the explanation is much simpler. Moses certainly didn't do everything exactly right in his first attempt to rescue the Israelites, but it was still their fault for rejecting him. In the same way, if we don't present the gospel in exactly the right way and people reject it, they’re not rejecting our approach. They're rejecting the gospel. They weren't ready to hear it, and they may never be ready to hear it.

Sometimes, though, the shoe is on the other foot. Someone else has challenged what we believe. Maybe they're young and a little bit arrogant, like Joseph. Maybe they come from a different background than ours and seem stuck-up, like Moses. Regardless, we decide they're not worth listening to, and we close our ears to their position.

Although this is a natural way to behave, it is very dangerous. Truth from the lips of anyone remains truth, no matter whether we like them or not. If we pay more attention to the messenger than the message, our rejection of truth may cost us our souls.

In fact, in both scenarios, the gospel ought to be the most important element. When we try to teach others, we must put our trust in the gospel and rely on it to do its work. We aren't going to change matters much one way or the other. So too, we must allow the gospel to do its work in our hearts. If that comes at the price of overlooking annoying behavior by someone else, it's a small price to pay indeed!