We are about to start our 2014 Vacation Bible School - an event that will celebrate God and His Son Jesus.
VBS will include skits, music, recreation, treats - and lessons based on the Bible. The lessons will center attention on Elijah and the prophets of Baal, that coming from I Kings 18, on the baptism of Jesus, that coming from Matthew 3, and the presentation of the Gospel, that coming from Genesis and from the first four books of the New Testament.
But this morning and next Sunday morning, our attention will be centered on two related topics. Next Sunday, the Great Commandment, given by Jesus in the New Testament. Today, a review of what it means in the Old Testament when God identifies Himself as I AM.
By the way, at VBS there will also be some experiments done to illustrate the lessons. No experiments in this message. And no, we are not going to take any breaks for recreation this morning or next Sunday. And no, I have no treats for us this morning or next week. Sorry about that.
But there will be, just like a Vacation Bible School lesson is supposed to have, lots of passages to consider. To set the stage for that - for a review of who God is - let’s consider when God identified Himself as I Am. That happened early in the Old Testament Book of Exodus.
To begin, the people of God at one time - this part is recorded in the Book of Genesis - had had to travel to Egypt to survive a famine.
Survival had happened. So much so that, over time, the people of God began to outnumber the Egyptians.
Eventually, that became a huge concern of the leader of Egypt. With that concern, the leader - Pharaoh - enslaved the people of God. He did that to try to control the people of God.
The slavery was very cruel, but that did nothing to stop the rapid population growth. The birth rate among God’s people continued to be very, very high. So it was that Pharaoh decreed that if a son was born to any woman of God, the son was to be killed by the Egyptian midwife who helped with the birth. Daughters could be kept alive, but not sons.
Well, the midwives disobeyed the decree. In his anger over that, Pharaoh announced that any Hebrew sons born were to be cast into the Nile River. Pharaoh made that a decree. He ordered anyone who saw a Hebrew boy to make sure the boy drowned. That the boy died.
Sometime after that decree, a certain Hebrew woman conceived and bore a son. When she saw her son was a goodly child, she hid him for three months.
When she could hide him no longer, she took a basket made of bulrushes. She covered it with some substances that would keep it from sinking. She put her son into the basket. She then placed the basket among the reeds at the Nile River's edge.
The boy’s mother had his sister stand nearby so it could be known what happened to him. What happened was that when the daughter of Pharaoh went to the river to bathe, she saw the basket among the reeds and sent one of her maids to fetch it.
When Pharaoh’s daughter opened the basket, she saw the child, who was crying, which caused the young woman to take pity on the boy.
Pharaoh’s daughter said, “This is one of the Hebrews' children,” which means she should, according to her father’s decree, have drowned him. But she did not. Then, when the boy’s sister went up to Pharaoh’s daughter and asked if she wanted her to find someone to nurse the child, Pharaoh's daughter said to her, “Go.”
What a miracle it was that the boy’s life was spared. And guess who was chosen to nurse the boy. Yep. The boy’s mother, who got paid to nurse him until he was older.
At which time he was taken back to Pharaoh's daughter, where he lived in very wonderful circumstances. That is where he lived after being named by Pharaoh’s daughter. His name was Moses.
Eventually, Moses grew into manhood, all the while knowing Pharaoh’s daughter was not his mother. Moses knew he was a Hebrew by birth. Because of that, he one day became angry when he saw an Egyptian slave master beating a Hebrew. In his anger, he killed the Egyptian.
When Moses discovered the killing was known, and knowing he was, as a Hebrew, likely to be in trouble because of killing an Egyptian, he fled. He was 40 years old when he fled away from Pharaoh.
In the years that followed, Moses married. He tended the flocks of his father-in-law. All the while, the people of God were suffering more and more in their slavery. In their suffering, they called out to God. Their calling out is described as crying and groaning.
Eventually - 40 years after Moses fled, when Moses was 80 years old - God decided to act on behalf of His people. The one to lead the help was Moses, who learned of his assignment one day as he was once again watching his father-in-law’s sheep. That day, an angel of God appeared to him in a flame of fire coming out of the midst of a bush. There was a fire. The bush was burning. Yet it was not consumed.
Moses was of course confused. God then called to Moses, who answered, “Here am I.” wonder. Did Moses know it was God?
God said, “Do not come near. Take off your shoes, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” God added, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
Moses hid his face. He was afraid to look at God. But God continued. He said, “I have seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land. A land flowing with milk and honey. Come, I am going to send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.”
Moses was still confused. Also, I wonder if he had, over the years, become content to simply tend to someone else’s sheep. With either or both those things in his mind, he said to God, “Me? Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?”
God told Moses, “I will be with you.” Moses answered, “That sounds fine, but what if, when I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name,’ what shall I say to them?”
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
I AM. By the way, again, there is no recreation and no treats this morning, but there is something else that will be part of VBS. There will be, each of the next three nights, a verse the students will be asked to memorize. This lesson has a verse, too. Say it with me. “And God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM.”
I think even I might be able to memorize that verse, which is Exodus 3:14. Again say it with me. “And God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM.” Which is God’s proclamation that He was all Moses would need to complete his God-given task. That He is all any of us do need and will need.
That is fact because of three things about God. Actually, there are of course many, many more things about God. It is our privilege throughout our Christian lives to learn more and more about Him. But God is all we do need and will need because of the three things that will be mentioned in this message. The first is this. God is all-powerful.
There are many, many examples of God’s power recorded in the Bible. One of them is found in the Old Testament Book of Jonah. Jonah is the prophet of God who was swallowed by a great fish.
Kind of briefly, here is what happened with Jonah as it is told in the Book of Jonah’s
four chapters, along with a review of how what happened to Jonah is an example of God being all-powerful.
Chapter 1. God told Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh and cry against it because of the wickedness of its people. However, Jonah did not want to go.
Part of it was the wickedness of the people of Nineveh. If he obeyed God and went to Nineveh, it would be very likely he would suffer horrible persecution there.
Another part of it was that Jonah may have considered the Ninevites worthy of God’s wrath. Jonah was afraid if he were not persecuted, it would be because the people would have repented and been spared destruction, which Jonah did not want to happen. Jonah may have wanted the Ninevites to suffer.
Jonah did not want to obey God, so he fled. He did so by going to the coastal city of Joppa, boarding a ship, and setting sail.
However, God was not pleased. So He caused - He did this with His power - a great wind to hit the sea, which caused a mighty tempest on the sea, which threatened to break up the ship Jonah was on.
The sailors on board with Jonah were afraid. Knowing the danger they were in, they started throwing the cargo overboard. They then decided to cast lots to find out who on the ship was responsible for their troubled condition.
The lot fell upon Jonah, who admitted what he had done to anger God. Then, in what was a very generous offer, he said to the sailors, “Take me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will quiet down for you.”
That was Jonah’s offer. But with equal generosity, the sailors did not, right away, act on the offer. Instead, the men rowed hard to try to take the ship back to land. But they could not, and eventually they did pick up Jonah. They did throw him into the sea.
Guess what. In another example of power - again power over nature - immediately the sea ceased from its raging.
Listen to the spiritual effect that had on the sailors. They feared the LORD. They feared the God Jonah was supposed to have obeyed. With that fear - reverential fear - they offered a sacrifice to God and made vows to Him, I assume to know Him and follow Him.
For Jonah, another example of God’s power. God, knowing a great fish was in the area, appointed it to swallow up Jonah. And no, that does not sound very appealing. It does not sound like a miracle. But it was a miracle. Think about it. It was the swallowing that protected Jonah from drowning.
Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Chapter 2. During his time in the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed to God, thanking Him for his rescue from the storm and from drowning. And yes, that, too, is an example of the power of God. The power to cause spiritual realization. Power that made Jonah realize who his Savior was. Listen to just a bit of his prayer. “You, O LORD my God, are the one who brought up my life from the pit of destruction. When my soul fainted within me, I remembered You, the LORD. My prayer came to You, O LORD. Deliverance belongs to the LORD.”
With that prayer, and with that realization of who God is, the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah upon dry land. Which is another example of God’s power. His power - what shall I say - to work the digestive system of the fish? To work it out for the best outcome for Jonah. I mean, the vomiting could have happened in the middle of the sea, which would have again put Jonah at risk of drowning. But he was deposited on dry land.
Chapter 3. God again told Jonah to go to Nineveh. This time, Jonah - despite his fear and his prejudice - obeyed. He obeyed by not only going to Nineveh, but also speaking God’s message, which was that in 40 days, Nineveh was to be destroyed.
Listen. The people of Nineveh believed God. They so believed - they were so distraught over their sins that were pointed out to them - that they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, which was a sign of sorrow. Everyone, from the greatest of them to the least of them, did that. The king then ordered everyone to turn from evil and from violence. Why? As the king proclaimed, “Who knows? God may yet repent and turn from His fierce anger, so that we will not perish.”
Power? You bet. Enough power that when God saw what they did - how they were sorry and did turn from their evil and violent ways - He did change His mind. He changed His plan. He was able to keep whatever destruction He had planned for the city from happening. Nineveh was spared.
Chapter 4. Jonah was displeased. He was angered by the people of Nineveh being spared. Again, he must have thought those people deserved to be destroyed because of their history of wickedness. He said to God, “Didn’t I tell You that is what would happen? That I would preach and they would repent and You would save them? Didn’t I tell you?” Jonah actually criticized God for being gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He then told God he thought it would be better if he - if Jonah - died. Wow. Talk about angry displeasure.
God, in yet another display of His power, did not destroy Jonah for his bad attitude. God did chide Jonah a bit, but then, outside Nineveh, God caused a plant to grow - to grow to a great height very quickly. The plant shaded Jonah, which made him comfortable.
The Book of Jonah ends with this. The next morning, God appointed a worm - God has power over all parts of nature, including storms, fish, plants, now a worm - God appointed a worm to kill the plant God had provided the day before.
When Jonah complained about the heat, God answered. He said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, which you did not make grow, which came into being very quickly and perished just as quickly. You pity the plant?” God added, “Should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are many, many people?”
Say it with me again, please. “And God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM.”
What does that mean? One thing it means is that God is all-powerful. Powerful enough to call people to serve Him. Powerful enough to cause problems for those who do not obey Him. Powerful enough to cause storms, to provide great fish when needed, to affect the digestive systems of fish, to cause a plant to grow very quickly and just as quickly die. Powerful enough to give disobedient ones a second chance. Powerful enough to cause sinners to turn away from evil. Powerful enough to spare them from what they deserve.
But, it might be said, that is a nice report of what happened with Jonah. What about after Jonah? What about even now? Does God - does I AM - have any power now?
Listen to these verses that answer that question, which takes us to the second point of what God meant when He said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM. The second point is that He does not change.
Malachi 3, the first part of verse 6. “God said, for I the LORD do not change.” In other words, the power shown in the Book of Jonah is the power He still has.
Isaiah 40:8. This refers God’s word. “The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” In other words, whatever God has said, as recorded in the words of the Bible - words that also report what He did, such as what is recorded in the Book of Jonah - whatever God has said and done is true. God’s words were true, they are true, they always will be true. Those words - the effect of them - the power of them - will not change.
And it is not just in the Old Testament that is stated. Listen to Hebrews 13:8. “Jesus Christ [remember Jesus is God] is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
Do you want to know the power of God? Do you want to benefit from the power of God? Know that the power that is recorded throughout the Old Testament and in the New Testament is the power He still has today.
God is all-powerful. He never changes. Those two statements are explanations of what Moses heard. Say it with me again please. “And God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM.”
Another explanation? God is present everywhere at the same time.
Thinking back to the report on Jonah, God was on the ship. He was also on the sea, preparing the storm. While on the ship and the sea, both at the same time, He was also positioning the great fish to be ready to swallow Jonah.
As Jonah was in the belly of the fish, God was listening to Jonah’s prayer. At the same time, I am pretty sure He was also in Nineveh, beginning to prepare the people of that city to have their hearts ready to listen to Jonah’s preaching. To not only listen, but respond.
God is everywhere at the same time. Scriptural proof of that?
How about Proverbs 15:3? “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”
How about Psalm 139:7-10, which has some questions and some answers? “Where shall I go from Your Spirit, God? Where shall I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to Heaven, You are there. If I make my bed in the place of the dead, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall hold me.”
Wherever we go - whatever we do - God is there.
I realize that can, for some, be a scary thing. But it is supposed to be a very comforting thought. It should be a positive fact that wherever we are, God is watching us. It should be positive because He not only watches, but is willing to share His power with us. The power we need to change from any wicked ways we might be in. The power we need when help and protection are what we require. The power we need to fulfill whatever He calls us to do. Power that never changes because God never changes.
And by the way, let me add this that I jotted down on my study notes. It goes with the point that God is everywhere all the time. Have you ever heard the expression, “It seems my prayers get no higher than the ceiling”? Have you ever felt that yourself? Guess what. That is OK because if God is everywhere - since He is everywhere - He is right with you below whatever ceiling you are under.
One more time, please say it with me. And God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM.” What does that mean? It means, among other things, that God is all-powerful, that God is all-powerful all the time, which means He never has and never will change, and that God is present everywhere all the time, which means He is always available to share His power.
and, just like those qualities were evident in the life of Jonah - just like those qualities were evident in the life of Moses, who, with God’s unchanging power and presence, was able to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt and who then led them to the very border of the Promised Land - just like those qualities were evident in the lives of Jonah and Moses, so are they evident in our lives even today.
the challenge being - not only this week, but always - that we rely on Him for whatever task He has for us.
Are you called to help someone out of slavery? The slavery of sin? If you have not been
obedient to God’s call in the past, will you take advantage of whatever second chance He gives you?
May we in those and ever other circumstance know God as I AM. May we accept what that means - that He is all-powerful, that He is present everywhere, that He has not and never will change. May that inspire us and help us to do whatever He gives us to do.
Today’s closing song is Be Still and Know. I have taken the liberty of changing the wording a bit to fit today’s message.
Be still and know that God is God.
Be still and know that God is God.
Be still and know that God is God.
God is the God who helps us.
God is the God who helps us.
God is the God who helps us.
In You, o God, I put my trust.
In You, o God, I put my trust.
In You, o God, I put my trust.
One more time please say it. “And God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM.”
May we always know what that means.
That, among many other descriptions of God, He is all-powerful. So powerful He has plenty of it to share with us.
That He does not change. As powerful as God was in Old Testament times, He is even now. And yes, He will share His power with us if we let Him do so.
That He is present everywhere at the same time. What a wonderful promise of His companionship. May that be a wonderfully positive thought for us.
This week and always, may we know who God is. May we let Him help us with whatever He gives us to do. Amen.