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Sermon July 30, 2017

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1312

Dr. Ed Pettus July 30, 2017 John 8:48-59

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“I Am”

 

  • Exodus 3:14 YHWH

 

Let’s look first at the story of Moses on the mountain with God. Brief history: God's people and the Egyptians had survived several years of famine under the leadership of Joseph. After Joseph and his generation died, a new king came into power who did not know Joseph or Joseph’s God. The new Pharaoh began to oppress the Hebrews with hard labor and service and even tried to kill all the male babies born to the Hebrews. By the end of Exodus 2 and the end of that particular Pharaoh, the people cry out for help and God heard them. The cry of a people rose up to God. Then God heard, God remembered, God looked, and God took notice. By this time Moses was a grown man, he had fled Egypt after killing an Egyptian. He has taken a wife and has one son. The Hebrews were groaning for a long time. Now God hears them. The hearing sparks a remembrance of the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These are the people of Abraham, the people of the covenant, and they are oppressed. God needs a leader to help his people out of bondage.

 

Moses is unique in that he grows up in Pharaoh’s house, not unlike the Joseph story when Joseph ends up in Pharaoh’s house as a leader. Moses leaves Egypt and we find him tending sheep in the wilderness up on Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God. Curiosity led Moses to a blazing bush, popping and sizzling, but a blaze that did not consume the bush. Moses is in an ordinary place doing an ordinary activity and is met by an extra-ordinary sight and an extra-ordinary God. Curiosity leads Moses to the bush and God uses that curiosity to call Moses to the task of leading his groaning people out of Egypt.

 

God appears to Moses to speak a word. “Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them…Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (3:7-10).

But Moses is not too sure about the last part of God’s speech, “I will send you.” So Moses says, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God says God will be with Moses…but that is still not enough to convince Moses.

If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’

 

Moses’ request leads to a name, but the name still remains a mystery. As with many things associated with God, the more we know, the more we know we do not know. God answers Moses’ request by saying, “I Am who I Am.” The texts gives the name twice in this passage – in Hebrew it is four letters, Y-H-W-H. The original language has no vowels, so vowels have been inserted for pronunciation and we get the name “Yahweh”. “Yahweh” is connected with the Hebrew verb HAYAH, which means “to be”. God is. I am who I am. God will be who God will be. Scholars have debated its meaning since it was first uttered. The form of the verb suggests that God will be God at all times and in all places…we might say it like this: wherever God is being God, God will be the kind of God God is. I think it is like those verses that say: I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy (Exodus 33:19).

 

This is the God who is going to be God. I am who I am. God will be faithful to who God is, faithful to promises made, faithful to God’s own people. “I am who I am, I am who I said I would be, I will be who I will be.” God will not change on a whim or be there for us one moment and gone the next. In the context of God’s speech to Moses it includes God’s presence, I will be with you. I am the present One, the living God with you to deliver my people. There has also been an argument given that the verb implies not just being but cause to be as in Creator. I am the God who causes to be – that is, creates all things. I created the world and humans and animals and light, and we might say God creates redemption, faith, hope, and so on. God is the generator of life and the I Am of all that is, much like the statement of Paul in Romans 4:17, [the God] who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

 

 

 

  • John 8:58 I Am

 

Now we come to Jesus in John’s gospel who is speaking with the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day. They had been discussing the significance of being from the line of Abraham, Abraham’s children, and whether or not the Pharisees were faithful by their actions. Jesus says they are not of God! And we pick the conversation up in verse 48 where the Pharisees accuse Jesus of having a demon. Jesus tells them that they do not know God and that Abraham rejoiced that he would see Jesus’ day. The Jews then say, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham? Jesus responds with the statement that will cause the Jews so much anger that they want to stone Him. “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

 

Jesus uses the same verb form in Greek that was used in Hebrew in Exodus 3:14. The Jews pick that up right away and pick up stones just about as quick as they heard it. Jesus could have said “Before Abraham was, I was,” but that would have made Jesus simply a very very old man, over 2000 years old. Instead, He uses the present tense, “I am”, which means He existed prior to His human existence, thus transcendent over time as God. Jesus’ “I am” takes us back to God’s “I am” with Moses. It is John’s gospel where Jesus says that He and the Father are one (John 10:30). In that account the Jews also picked up stones.

 

The conversation about Abraham would have been one the Jews knew better than most. For Jesus to say that he knew Abraham rejoiced to see this day and to say that before Abraham was born, He existed would have been on par with saying Jesus is equal to God. This is why the Jews reacted the way they did. But the Jews could only see through the physical, only seeing the appearance of the flesh. Jesus took them beyond the flesh to the spirit and even to the Spirit of God. They did not have the faith to see beyond the physical Jesus standing before them. “Before Abraham was, I am”, is to say that “I and the Father are one”. Jesus lifts himself above the ordinary status of human existence to reveal that the existed from the beginning and even before! Jesus is the God who has no beginning and no end. Psalm 90:2 says it this way, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Jesus is saying He is from everlasting to everlasting. Abraham has a beginning and an end. Jesus has neither.

This is the Jesus who is going to be Jesus. I am who I am. Jesus will be faithful to who Jesus is, faithful to promises made, faithful to Jesus’ own people. “I am who I am, I am who I said I would be, I will be who I will be.” Jesus will not change on a whim or be there for us one moment and gone the next. In the context of Jesus’ statement to the Jews it includes Jesus presence from everlasting to everlasting, I will be with you. I am the present One, the living Son of God with you to deliver my people. Jesus is the God who causes to be – that is, creates all things. I created the world and humans and animals and light, and we might say Jesus brought into existence redemption, faith, hope, and so on. Jesus is the generator of life and the “I Am” of all that is, [the God] who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

 

Why does all of this matter to us? Why was Moses to convinced simply by carrying the name? What difference does it make that we too carry the name with us? Because the name reveals the living God, the living Christ, and the living Spirit. Because the name opens possibilities beyond our imagination. Because the name shows us something of who God is and yet reveals that we can not know the fullness of God who is beyond measure. A philosopher once said that God is an army of metaphors. No single metaphor can describe the fullness of God. No single imagine can capture the glory of God. And even the army of metaphors falls short of all that God is. It is impossible for finite beings to capture that which is everlasting to everlasting. So we are given little snippets, small revelations of the boundless Holy One. And we are given Jesus Christ who is the image of the invisible God. He is revealed also in metaphors.

 

John’s gospel reveals seven statements from Jesus, seven “I am” statements. We will be worshiping through those statements in the next seven Sundays. Each will reveal more about God’s name and Jesus’ revelation in that name. Jesus is so much more than what the Jews thought and much more than than we could ever imagine. Jesus is the Bread of Life. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. With these and more, Jesus opens some of the ways we understand the vastness of God and His love for us. Names denote intimacy. The more we know about Jesus, the closer we can grow in our relationship and the more we become like Him. Let us get to know even more the One revealed to us in the name, “I Am”.