Settling the Authority Question, part 1
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What can we learn about who God is from Moses' encounter with the great 'I AM' at a burning bush? How does Jesus deepen this understanding?
Good morning. I am not one who normally uses props, but I didn't know what this was until somebody explained it to me. It looks like an instrument of torture. In some ways it is. It's actually something used in exercise. It's a kettle bell. It's a kind of weight. It was what was recommended to me this year as I was approaching a new year, approaching my 60s, wanting to be able to continue to live life on a somewhat normal basis, wanting to continue to hike like I enjoy. And the person who is advising me said, why don't you work out with kettle bells? Because kettle bells and the various exercises that you can do with them help strengthen your core. Strengthening your core - that was a bit of a new concept for me. And that may be something that you're already familiar with. But here's basically what your core is. According to the Mayo Clinic, your core, our cores are the the muscles that make up our our abdomen and our back and the muscles around our pelvis. And the reason that is significant is because if you have a strong core that enables you to continue to keep doing the normal activities of life. When somebody ages or becomes ill and they lose the ability to pick themselves up off the floor or sit up or some have just what we would consider you and I in normal activities, that that usually is a problem of a weak core. So a strong core enables you to to do all those activities of normal, everyday life, to keep doing things like I enjoy, like hiking a weak core not only works against that, but can bring on back pain.
It can even make you susceptible to muscle issues. So why is that significant? Because again, physically, to keep functioning, to keep doing the things that I enjoy, I want to strengthen my physical core. But that makes me recall what Paul the Apostle says to young Timothy in First Timothy four. He reminds Timothy physical training is of some value. It's not something we should ignore. But he says, training yourself to be godly, in other words, strengthening your physical core or your spiritual core. Training yourself to be godly, strengthening your spiritual core, Paul says, is much better because it not only has benefits in this life, it has benefits in the life to come. So, that is really the theme of this series that we are into for the next couple months, strengthening your core. And by that we mean strengthening our spiritual core. Really, another term that we could use to describe what it means to strengthen our spiritual core is discipleship. And that's one of those churchy words that that maybe we do or don't have a handle on. But a disciple is very simply a learner, somebody who is a learner and a follower of Jesus; a disciple of Jesus is a learner and a follower of Jesus.
And when we think about that idea of strengthening our spiritual core - discipleship, we're essentially asking the question: "What does a disciple of Jesus look like? What does he or she think? Does he or she think like Jesus? How is he developing or she developing and thinking like Jesus? Does he or she act like Jesus in the way that they are living? Is that person growing and more in their conduct in a way that mirrors Jesus? And is he or she becoming more like Jesus? Is the heart changing in such a way that it resembles more and more Jesus?"
That's really the measurement of discipleship. That's really the measurement of strengthening our spiritual core. It is: Are we being transformed in our thinking? Are we being transformed in our actions? Are we being transformed in our being who we are in our heart? You can think of it in very easy terms of our head - what we're believing; our hearts - our virtues, in other words, what's happening internally in the control center of our lives; and our hands - what we're practicing, what we're actually doing. And so that's really what we have been focusing on, even as church leadership, what does it mean to be a disciple who's being transformed in head and heart and hands and belief in virtues and practices? And we're using something right now. We're looking at something right now called the Christian Life Profile. It's something that's been used in our leadership training for some time here at Calvary. And it identifies 30 characteristics, 10 characteristics of belief, 10 characteristics of virtues, 10 characteristics of practices that we see over and over again in the Bible. And we're looking at how do we incorporate that into our intentional efforts to help people strengthen their spiritual core, to grow as disciples. So over the next couple of months, we're going to look at some of these. We are going to start working our way through. And today and this month, we begin with the first core beliefs. So this is this is, again, of the head. Not that everything is about belief, but this is where we're beginning. And that first belief is very simply this.
It is the belief in God: a disciple of Jesus believes in the God of the Bible. And by that we mean the one true God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Now, you may think this is academic, especially if you've been in church for a while, but let's talk about the very real relevance of this, why this is so critical. Just think about what happened in 2020. One of the realizations for me is 2020, and all the events that happened during 2020 brought to the surface. So it is undeniable what has been happening in our culture for some time. And that very simply is the world has been slowly and subtlely but undeniably changing right beneath us. And I don't mean necessarily the physical world.
I mean what is happening in our culture. Most of us, if we're 40 or over, we were we were raised, we were steeped, in what's called modernism, which which depends on rational thought and the scientific method and reason. And yet what has been going on in the last number of years and really came to the surface in all of the events that I think we've seen in 2020 is rationalism has been eclipsed by postmodernism. And postmodernism rejects rationality; it rejects reason; it even to some degree rejects or wants to change the use of the scientific method.
And why this is so crucial for us is, at its core, postmodernism - what what people who are now growing up in their elementary school age up into their 20s and 30s and 40s, and it's leaking even up above that. What is there is a rejection of this very idea that there is any absolute. Even if there's some acknowledgement of God, he is rejected as the one who is absolute reality, who establishes absolute truth, who establishes the standard that determines what is right or wrong, what is moral or immoral for all times and all places. In all cultures. Postmodernism rejects the idea that there is - what we are learning in our leadership class in here at Calvary - a metanarrative that there is a story that God is in control and working towards everything, towards his aims all throughout human history, that that he has a point and purpose for all of our lives. So into this postmodern culture, we step if we are followers of Jesus and we say: no, we believe in one true God, we believe in the God of the Bible, we believe in the God of the Bible who reveals himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we'll be looking at that the next couple of weeks, but today I want to come to what what I think for me is become a foundational text in all of this. And it's the one you heard read earlier. I'm not going to read the whole text, but it is the account of God appearing to Moses in Exodus, chapter three. And in verse one, we see the context. Moses is leading the flock, the flocks that belonged to his father in law, Jethro, and he's leading them into the far side of the wilderness. And he comes to Horeb, the mountain of God. Now, this location is unknown.
We don't know where this is. All we know is it's way out in the middle of nowhere.
He was probably wandering to find some fresh grazing for his sheep. He was probably going far beyond he'd ever gone before. Horeb - that word in Hebrew means wilderness. So it is out in the middle of nowhere. There's no hint that Moses was aware that there was a mountain out there identified as the mountain of God.
What's the significance of that? When God reveals himself, as we're going to see, is probably one of the most significant revelations of himself in all of scripture. God does it in a non-traditional, non-religious setting. That's not the last time in scripture that we'll see a significant revelation of God, not in some kind of church or sanctuary, but in a non traditional, non religious setting. And what does he see? How does God begin this revelation? Moses isn't looking for this, but we read in verse two, the angel of the Lord appeared to him not in a burning bush, but literally the Hebrew here would be like this: In a flame of fire from the midst of a bush that was not consuming the bush.
Now, that's significant, a flame of fire is an Old Testament symbol of what we call a theophany, when when God reveals himself in some visible way, you think of the pillar of fire. There is a theophany, that God appeared leading the Israelites in during the exodus.
You think of God appearing to Moses at Mount Sinai to give him the law. He did it, Deuteronomy records, out of the midst of a fire. So this fire is God just giving a visual representation of himself. That's why the bush is not consumed. This is not somebody simply lighting a bush on fire. And even as we read Angel, Angel is probably better translated here as messenger. This this is God in some visual form appearing before man. And this is actually God speaking. This is not some angel of God speaking. We see instances of the Angel of the Lord throughout the Old Testament, meaning God is in some way visually showing up to speak.
Jumping ahead a little bit in verse six, what is it that God says to Moses at its core?: I am the God of your father.
Notice that singular, I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Israel and the God of Jacob. That is singular because God is identifying himself with with Moses and Moses's family who are in slavery in Egypt. I don't have time to go through all the context of that. But if you read the first two chapters of Exodus, you see the setting, the situation that the Israelites are in. And he mentions Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the three great patriarchal fathers. So what is God doing here? God is identifying himself with the faith of Moses's people, the nation of Israel who are enslaved in Egypt.
Now, I think there is a real challenge for Moses, first of all, to believe this, but but really, anyone who would have been there at that time. Yes, Moses can recall at least hearing about times where God showed up to appear to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and various places.
But it's been a long time.
It's been four hundred years that the Israelites have been in Egypt under slavery, crying out with no real evidence that God has shown up for them at all. Four hundred years. And not only has it been a long time, but this is a very new situation, the nation of Egypt. This is probably the first world's great power. The pharaoh had power over every aspect of the Egyptians lives and of course, the Israelites slaves. It had an international influence. It was the first probably great world power. And not only was there Pharaoh with all of his power, the power of the state, we might think of it, but there was a pantheon of gods. I've read of at least eight Egyptian deities. So as an Egyptian, you know, you had all you had these choices of all these deities. And if you somebody came along and told you about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, you're like, oh, that's that's just one other choice that I could possibly make. I guess he fits in somewhere, even if he's real. I guess he fits in somewhere with the other pantheon of gods. So Moses has some, probably some, at least tentativeness, if not doubt about this, leading him to ask the question in verse thirteen. If I go to the Israelites, notice the hesitation - if - if I go to the Israelites and say to them, the God of your fathers has sent me to you. And they ask me, what is his name? What should I tell them?
You see the significance of that question, what is his name? What is your name? Moses is not asking about God's identity. He's not right at this point asking what you're like.
Somebody meets me on the street. What is your what's your name?
What's your first name? He is not asking that. It is a question of authority. Moses is essentially asking, if I go to them, how am I going to explain to them where you have been for the last four hundred years?
If I go to them and I say this, how am I going to answer when they ask me and even my own question, can he really accomplish what he is promising?
If I go to them, how am I going to explain to them that you are really present in their situation, that you really have the power over this culture, this dominant world power of Egypt?
Again I think about the relevance of that today.
If we are followers of Jesus, we know Jesus sends us out into the world, that is the great commission, Matthew twenty eight. And when we think about Jesus sending us out into our postmodern culture. We, or at least I'll speak honestly for me, we/I have the same struggles as Moses. You know, postmodernism has not totally wiped out the memory of the God of our fathers.
I mean, most even probably people down into their 20s at least know the concept of God, but they don't know him as as God. So there is the memory of the God of our fathers. But even when they hear that, they ask with skepticism and often with scoffing. Well, what is his name? Again, not necessarily asking about identity, they're asking, is he real, is he really present?
Does he really care? Can he really affect things? Does he really have power?
And why does he seem so absent, why does he seem so distant?
I wonder if you feel that struggle when you and I face a culture that is increasingly secular, that increasingly rejects any authority, that hangs on to personal autonomy.
A culture that is becoming more and more tribal - we all have our little gods, small g gods. A culture that is becoming more and more polarized.
A culture that increasingly rejects any moral absolutes, any ultimate voice, saying this is right and this is wrong, this is true and this is false. As we face that culture,
what do you say?
What do you say when they ask you what is his name, what should you tell them? You see how relevant this is to us.
Well, God answers Moses, he answers, Moses's real question in verse 14. "I am who I am, this is what you are to say to the Israelites, I am has sent me to you". Now
you probably picked it up there three times. He uses the same - It's actually one word in Hebrew - It's the verb to be I am in the first singular there. He repeats it twice, right together. I am who I am. And then there is the third time added on. The most common translations of this. Other than I am who I am. You might find this in various translations of the Bible. I am who I am. Other translations "I will cause to be what I cause to be." I've seen that one.
"I will be who I am." "I am who I will be."
The one thing that is for certain that is absolutely clear by the even the tense of and the form of these verbs "I am who I am" - is the past tense is not appropriate.
It is not appropriate to speak of God as he was like so many in our postmodern situation would say today. Oh, yeah, God's dead. God was. God was you know, God is something from the past. God is is an archaic belief here. There's no sense of the past other than the eternal past that God always has been. There's no sense of the past tense in here. This is the present tense. It is God is representing himself as actively existing.
He is saying, I am. I always have been. I always will be.
I don't often quote commentators, but John Durham, a commentator, this just stuck out to me, he says, "This answer is not by any stretch of the imagination a name. It is an assertion of authority. It is a confession of reality."
In essence, God is saying to them, and he's saying to us, by the way, as well, I am the God who is with and for my people at all times and all places, including in twenty, twenty one. He is saying, I will be God for you, I have always been this and I will be God for you right in the middle of your situation. This is God saying he is real, this is God saying he is present, this is God saying he is sovereign, this is God saying he is faithful, this is God saying he is at work even if you can't see it.
So now that God has established who he is, I am who I am, and all of that means now he makes his proper name known, I am who I am is not his proper name. I am who I am, explains the name that he now gives in verse 15 Yahweh.
This is my name forever, Yahweh is my name forever, Yahweh is how I am to be recognized in every generation.
And that Hebrew word Yahweh, it comes from the same form of I am, the Hebrew word h-y-h so so God has built the foundation with the three items in verse 14, and now he gives the proper name that comes out of that Yahweh.
God has been up to this point - to Moses and to you and me - revealing the meaning of his true name, his personal name, this is the name that appears over sixty eight hundred times in the Old Testament, but you don't see it.
I'll explain why in a moment. It appears over and over in the Old Testament whenever you see Lord capitalized LORD, why is that? Why is not Yahweh in there?
Because first of all, this is the most sacred name for God. And so the Jews honoring that sacredness, they would not pronounce it. And so instead, what they did, they did a little kind of a trick. I don't mean that in the negative sense.
When they translated it, when they spoke it, they would substitute another name for God - Adonai, which means, my lord, that's why you see LORD that and as well as the Septuagint, which is just simply the the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, uses a similar translation, kyrios, which also means Lord. So every time you read your Old Testament and you see the capitalized word, all caps, LORD, what you're actually seeing there is the Hebrew word Yahweh. And I understand how that all came about. But it is a little confusing when you hear the real explanation of it. And again, I'm not on the level of any Bible translator, but I find it a little unsatisfactory because LORD is a title, but his name is Yahweh.
So LORD really doesn't capture his name.
Now, one more thing before I move on from his name - the Hebrew Old Testament is we have consonants, we don't have vowel markings. And so what we do know when we look at the Hebrew is the consonants which transliterated would be YHWH. So there's a lot of speculation when you add the vowels in, how do you actually say it? One very common practice was to take in the vowels from Adonai. I'm not really sure the reason and add them to YHWH and that produces Jehova. If you have the King James version of the Bible that you may see Jehovah referenced a number of times, that's where that comes from, adding the vowels from Adonai into the consonants of your way. There's no evidence that that's the right pronunciation of it. But we don't know. I think a very good translation is simply Yahweh adding in the the A and the E to say Yahweh. And that's one of the reasons I like the Holman Christian Standard Bible is occasionally they will use the word Yahweh. Now I don't mean to get academic here, because really the significance of this is that all of the verses leading up to verse 15, God has been providing an interpretation of his name.
If we want to know who he is, if Moses wants to know who he is, God has been explaining that Yahweh is the great I am, Yahweh is, or as Francis Schaffer says, the God who is there. Yahweh is real whether people recognize him or not. He is eternal. He always is. He always has been. He always will be. And he is present. He is even when we can't see him. Even when we don't understand where he is. So for the Israelites and for us. Even in the midst of this postmodern culture that we now find ourselves in, God is the ultimate reality. God is the ultimate authority because he always has been and he always will be.
This is going to be tested. It's going to be tested, we see in verse 15, when they go to Egypt, when Moses goes to Egypt and says, we want to worship, it's going to be tested, really his authority and whether they will follow him, it's going to be tested, verse 19, we see in the confrontation with Pharaoh, it's going to be tested, verse 20, through the series of plagues, the wonders that God will bring, but ultimately God will demonstrate to the Israelites, and to us: he is who he says he is.
He is the ultimate authority. Let me close with this, how do we experience the great I am? How do we experience Yahweh where you heard it read earlier and in John eight Jesus inflames those listening to him, the Pharisees and Sadducees with that statement: "before Abraham even was born, I AM!." And their reaction to him shows that they got exactly where he was drawing that from. He's drawing that from God's revelation of himself here in Exodus three. But that's who Jesus is.
He is the great I AM wrapped up in human nature.
And that's why he makes himself known to us and those I am statements of the gospel of John, I am the bread of life.
I am the light of the world. I am the good shepherd. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the true and living way.
And my question for you as we close is, do you know this God, the one true God?
Do you know the great I AM?
We know him as we approach him through how he reveals himself most perfectly to us through the great I AM - Jesus the Christ.
And as we come to him, recognizing his authority, recognizing him as savior, him as king, him as Lord, that is how we come and we embrace the great I AM.
That is how we enter into a relationship where the great I AM, who is existed eternally, who is all powerful, who is all authority, knows and loves us and accepts us and forgives us and changes us.
Do you know the great I AM through Jesus the Christ? Let's pray.
Our God, there's no way I can fully do this justice of how you reveal who you truly are, but I pray, Lord Jesus, as your spirit works and our hearts, that this this would grow on us - the revelation of who you are and all of your reality, the revelation of your absolute authority, the revelation that you are here and you are present, and that determines how we go not just in our own lives, but out into the world. That rejects you. That does not believe in you. So, Lord Jesus, I pray that if there is anyone here who does not know the great I AM, that they would approach you as savior, as king, as LORD, as God incarnate, that they would come to know you as they bow before you, in repentance and faith as they embrace you, as savior, as LORD, as King.
I pray this in your name. Amen.