I Am

Scriptures: Exodus 1:8-14; 3:1-15; Mark 12:18-27

The passage from Exodus 3 takes place after Moses has been out in the wilderness as a shepherd for forty years. He left Egypt when he was forty years old, so that makes him eighty years old.

Now, admittedly he lived to be a lot older than that, so maybe that was just mid-life. But it’s a pretty long time to be waiting to meet God.

We’re going to have a visual sort of recap of that Scripture passage. This is a clip from The Prince of Egypt, which I recommend you watch if you haven’t seen it. It is very close to Scripture. They pulled a few traditions from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions.

One thing you’ll see is that Moses appears a lot younger. But I guess if you’re going to live to be 120 and you’re only eighty, then maybe you would look younger.

[video clip: Moses meets God at the burning bush]

It’s a wonderful movie. Notice that when Moses met God, he said, “Who are you?” He asked, “Whom shall I say is sending me?” God gave him an answer. He said, “I am.”

Now, in Hebrew, and in many of the early cultures, names mean something. My name Jon means “gift from God.” But the meaning of “Yahweh” is a concept, almost. It’s really hard to describe.

But it was critical to understand. It is summarized by the words “I am.” It really means “I am, I was, I will be forever.” It means “I am that I am and I shall do whatsoever I shall do.” It means that God is the ever-living one. All of that is encompassed in a single name.

Now, as an aside, you’ll notice I used the word “Yahweh.” The Hebrews, when they write, only put down the consonants, in the Scriptures. So it was YHWH. Then later on, centuries later, they added something called vowel pointings – little dots and dashes and characters – that tell somebody who is reading the Scriptures what vowel sounds to make.

This is important, because they did not want to say the name of God. Because it was holy, and they didn’t want to get struck down by God’s holiness if they were unholy and they said His name. Because they took the Third Commandment seriously.

So they put the vowel pointings for the word Adonai, which means Lord of the armies or Lord of lords, into the word YHWH. The person who was transliterating this, later on, in Latin or something like that, saw the vowel pointings among those letters, and wrote out what we know as Jehovah, rather than writing Yahweh.

So any time you see Jehovah, as in Jehovah Jireh, or a song like that, it’s actually a mistake. The name of God, that says “I am,” is Yahweh, YHWH. It was so holy that they wouldn’t pronounce it. This is who God said He was, that Moses was to tell the people of Israel was sending him.

It’s a far cry from how God’s name is treated today. We’re too casual with God’s name. Instead of hesitating to pronounce, we use it flippantly. It’s part of our slang. Some people even use it as a curse. We treat His name as empty or without value, and I think that this lack of respect for God’s name stems from our lack of respect for God as a person.

We don’t understand what His name means. We treat Him as insignificant and too small. J. B. Philips even wrote once, in one of his books, “The trouble with many people today is that they have not found a God big enough for their modern needs.”

This is rooted in a misconception of God. I don’t know how many of you have thought of God this way, but when I was a kid, I always thought of God as sort of a resident policeman ready to bust people for their bad behavior. I like to say He was the great Thou-Shalt-Not in the sky, standing there with that lightning bolt, ready to zap you.

Some see Him as a just a grand old man who winks at their wrongdoing. Or, I went through a phase where it was “Jesus and me.” We were buddies. We were pals. We were together all the time, and everything was cool and good and it really didn’t matter, it was just kind of a feel-good thing.

Some people see God as sort of their holy vending machine, or kind of a bellhop. At least they treat Him that way. Somebody to come to whenever you have a problem and you want something.

You know, Philips is right. We put God in a box, and we imprison Him behind bars of unbelief and rebellion. We have shrunk Him down so much that our ideas about Him are not even close to who He is or what the Bible says He is.

I think it’s time to break God out of our boxes of preconceived ideas and release Him to be the God of our lives, instead of the God of our notions. In the video clip we saw, you’ll notice when Moses questioned God, and God responded, Moses ended up in a little huddle.

I think that, so often, if we really saw God as He is, that we would be doing that as well. Kind of going fetal and saying, “I’m sorry.”

Now, Moses may have been eighty years old when he met God, but that doesn’t matter to God, to Yahweh. It doesn’t matter to Him if it’s been forty hours, forty days, forty weeks, or years. He’s the same. Always was and always will be.

There are six implications from the name “I am” that I want to touch on with you very briefly today. First of all, Yahweh, “I am,” is personal. He is personal. Second, he is particular. Thirdly, “I am” speaks of Him being present.

Fourthly, “I am” tells us that God is purposeful. Fifthly, that He is patient. And lastly, as we saw, that He is powerful.

Now let me touch on these again. God is personal. He came to meet Moses. He was a God that listed Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was the God who was their God. He met them where they were. He spoke to them. He gave them visions. He gave them direction. He was involved in their life.

We tend to think of God sometimes as some sort of, not just great Thou-Shalt-Not in the sky, but “out there” somewhere. Sort of a force, a cosmic force, or somebody like – there are those that are called deists, that believe God created the earth, kind of like a watchmaker, He just wound it up and then he let it go. He doesn’t touch base or interfere. He doesn’t care.

A large number of religions count that not caring as actually a good thing. But our God doesn’t see it that way. You know, that was so counter to the gods of that time and day. If you look things up, the pagans had to get the attention of their gods.

They did sacrifices and things, not out of thanksgiving to their God, but just to get their attention. And then, you hoped that what you did was pleasing to them so that they didn’t zap you for getting their attention for no good reason. But our God is personal, and He is involved with you.

He is particular. He is particular because He is pure and holy. As Moses drew close to God, before he could get too familiar, God stopped him and required that he remove his sandals, because he was on holy ground.

Now, there are a plethora of spiritual ramifications in that one incident, but the one that sticks out to me is that if you want to step into God’s presence and discover His will, then you have to step out of your comfort zone and into His care. You have to step away from your humanity and into His holiness, because He is a particular God.

“I am” means that Yahweh is present. One of the most difficult Biblical concepts for us to grasp is that God is faithful even when we are faithless, that He is there wherever we are.

Psalm 139 says “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I hide from your love? If I ascend into heaven, you are there. If I go down to the depths of Sheol” (the place of the dead), “there you are also. If I hide in the darkness, you can find me. The darkness is as light to you.”

You see, God was there. Now, it may be our nature to seek revenge on those who treat us unfaithfully, or we go to something else, but God is bound by His character and His attributes. He cannot be unfaithful, because by His nature, He is faithful.

We have to remember that sometimes. We’re often like Israel. The Jews had been in Egypt so long. And while they were crying out to God, they felt that God had abandoned them. Notice that they also compromised so much that Egypt was now living in them.

If you’re familiar with the story, once they get out of Egypt, they spend forty years wandering in the wilderness, and what’s their most common refrain? “I wish we were back in Egypt. At least we had …”

God is there. So He allowed their sins to overwhelm them with grief. He heard their cries and set out to reestablish Himself. God was in their lives, and He heard their cries. He is aware of what’s going on in every detail of your life, and will do whatever it takes to bring you to a place where you are desperate for Him alone.

He knows the truth. He knows the truth of our secret selves. Because He’s there with us, through it all. You know, I frequently use this illustration. Psalm 23 is one of the favorite psalms of many people.

One of the phrases in there is “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” I like to point out that God didn’t say, “Yea, though I fly you over the valley of the shadow of death in my personal helicopter” or “Yea, though I take the long way around so that we can avoid it.”

No, He takes you through the valley of the shadow of death, but He is with you. And notice what comforts the psalmist. The rod and the staff. You know what the rod is for? It’s for discipline. The psalmist found that comforting. (I’m not sure that I did when I was growing up.)

And the shepherd’s staff, with the crook on it, it’s used for defense. But it’s also used by the shepherd to yank some wayward sheep back into line when they get out off the way. And those are a comfort, because it shows that God cares. He cares enough to be directly involved in our lives. He is present, no matter where we are.

God is purposeful. He describes part of His plan for Israel to Moses. Though Moses had his doubts, mostly about himself, not God’s plan. God’s call is specific, and it’s always to bring about the redemption of His people.

His call upon your life is not about the job, the church, the spouse. It’s about how your life can best fulfill His plan to redeem the lost and edify (that means to lift up) the saved. And unfortunately for us, perhaps, He doesn’t act by our timetable and according to our wishes. He acts on His own, and it is His way or the highway, as He told Moses to “Go!”

There’s no greater call in our life than to be on mission for God. It is His will within our marriage, home, occupation, hobbies, and church. We are to be about His business of seeking and saving the lost and edifying the saved.

Every decision we make must be filtered through the idea of His kingdom. What an interesting concept. Most of us go through life asking the wrong question. We ask, “How is this going to affect me?” Or sometimes, “Why, God, is this happening to me?”

Those are two questions that I think are frequently wrong. We should be asking, for the first, “How is this going to affect the kingdom of God?” as we decided what to do. Secondly, then, we should ask, “What would you have me do, God?”

If things are hard for you, things are troubling for you, don’t ask why, ask what. You know, when there are calamities out there, when there are tragedies, when there are natural disasters, I always tell people that God’s not in the disaster. God’s in the response.

Look at how people respond, how they give, how they build, how they help, how they reach out. That generosity is the movement of God’s Spirit in their lives. God’s showing us what it means to be good.

Yahweh is patient. “I am” is patience. Being here all the time, being here forever, being everywhere. Fortunately, He’s patient. He knows our tendency to be unfaithful, and despite our failures, God is patient with us. In fact, He’s more patient with us than we are with each other, or with God.

Many of us move through life committed to God so long as it doesn’t inhibit our plans. All I can say is thank God that He is patient. I told you folks last week, I think it was, that I tell people I was converted at fifteen but I was discipled at twenty-seven because I’m a slow learner. Thank God He is patient.

And He has a plan. He has a plan for His people, and His plan is for the people to accomplish His plan. He knows we won’t be perfect, but He’s not going to give up on us or throw out His plan. He’s going to patiently guide and adjust our lives to His will. We know that He has a purpose for us.

The first question of our catechism says “What is the chief end of mankind?” And the answer is? [Someone in the congregation answers.] To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We have a purpose. He has a plan. He understands that this call is awesome and beyond our human abilities. But that’s OK. No excuses. No fears, options, or opinions. Only obedience.

Notice with Moses, he said, “I can’t do it.” God did not take well to that. Because, you see, if you are obedient, God will give you what you need. You could say, “I’m not gifted enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not qualified.” Well, there’s a quote that’s out there on the internet, a lot of people like to say, “God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.”

You don’t have to be qualified. You don’t have to have everything already at the get-go. You just need to be obedient and willing. You have to say Yes, and then you get on with the business, and God will provide.

Because, you see, “I am” is powerful. He is a God who supplies. He gives you His name, His power, His provision to succeed in His mission. He has given us Christ and the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit living within us.

Ultimately, following God and putting our trust in Him alone boils down to whether or not we believe that He is who He says that He is. “I am.” The self-existent one. That all of life and history is truly in His hands and under His care.

There’s a kids song “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” and that may be easy to sing. But do you actually believe Yahweh can handle it? That might be a different story.

If you have stuck God in a box, it’s unlikely you’re ever going to see how awesome He is. You need to let Him out of it. I mean, if the grave couldn’t hold Him, what makes you think your lack of faith can? Let go, and let God show you who He is.

And as He told Moses, there at the very end of that clip, through you He will do wonders. All you’ll be able to do is stand back and give praise to God, who loves you, and whose greatness is without parallel. May you take joy in the presence and the knowledge of knowing “I am.”

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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