St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

New Year’s Eve — The “I AM” God

New Year’s Eve Sermon on Exodus 3:13&14

Text: Moses said to God, “Suppose 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?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

Our God has revealed himself to us in his Word. It is only there where we can find out about the true God and what he has done for us. In his Word, God uses several different names for himself. Often these names reveal some particular aspect of God’s work among us. For example, we think of the names of the second Person of the Trinity. We know him as “Jesus.” This name means “Savior.” We often refer to him as “Christ.” This means “the Anointed One,” referring to the fact that Jesus was set aside, from eternity, to serve in the various offices of Prophet, Priest and King. If I was to ask you some names for God, I would probably receive quite a number of names. You might mention: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, Immanuel, etc. It might take you some time to get to the name of God that we are going to consider this evening. God identifies himself as “I am.” This New Year’s Eve, we are going to study this name of God. He is THE “I AM” GOD. First of all, we are going to look at 1. What This Name Means and then, we will look at 2. What This Name Means For Us In The New Year.

Our text for this evening comes to us from the familiar account of Moses and the Burning Bush at Mount Horeb, which is in all likelihood another name for Mount Sinai. The nation of Israel was enslaved in the land of Egypt. The time had come for God to rescue his people. God wanted Moses to lead the people back to the land that he promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Just prior to our text we hear the Lord say, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey — the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7-10) To this Moses replied with what would be the first of many excuses as to why he could not, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Verse 11) God replied, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” (Verse 12)

It is at this point where our text begins, as Moses offers a second reason as to why he wasn’t so sure this was a good idea. He said, “Suppose 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?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (Verse 12) He offers the scenario of the people wanting to know exactly who it was that had sent Moses. He wanted a concrete name, a name that would inspire the people to follow him. So he asks God to tell him the name by which he was to be identified. To this, God replied, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

It is that name “I AM WHO I AM” that we wish to focus our attention on this evening. First of all, this name would distinguish God from all of the Egyptian deities that the people in Egypt would have known about. They had Ra and Osiris. God told the nation of Israel that he was not a part of the multitude of false gods that their unbelieving neighbors worshiped.

We also take note of the word “I.” “I” denotes a personal being. God is not some indefinite form. He is not some magical, mystical power somewhere out there. He is not just the life-force that flows through all things. There are many people today, though, who think of God in just that way. This is seen in much of the New Age Movement literature. We are all living in harmony with nature. Those who are a little older might remember the song that talked about the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. We were to move from the sign of Pisces to a New Age where we would live in harmony with everyone else. Part of this is seen from the fact that, in their teaching, every human being has a divine spark in him because we all belong to the divine essence. Eventually we will all become god. This is not the God of the Bible. This is not the God that created all things. God is a being. He is a separate entity. Nature is not a part of God. Nature was created by God. Human beings are not part of God, nor will they become God. God is God.

Next, as we look at this name of God, we add the next word “am.” God says, “I am.” This reminds us that God is timeless, constant, unchangeable. It is not, “I was,” or “I will be.” God is in the eternal present. He does not change. You and I change all the time. We have different likes and dislikes from time to time. One moment we feel happy. The next moment, we feel sad. We grow older. God does not change. There are many passages in God’s Word that tell us just that. For example, we find this “I am” statement in Revelation 1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” We find this statement about Jesus in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” We also note that when Jesus was questioned about his authority, he answered, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58) Jesus clearly identified himself with this name of God found in Exodus 3. He told the Pharisees very plainly with these words that he was God.

Finally, we look at the entire phrase, “I AM WHO I AM.” This phrase teaches us that God is absolutely independent from all things. He is not dependent on anyone or anything. You and I are completely dependent on God for all things. We need him in every single aspect of our lives. God needs nothing from anyone. He is independent. He has absolute freedom. You and I are limited by time and space. There is only so much that you and I can do. God has no such limits.

There is one more thing that we would like to note about this name of God, and it is not something that we can see by looking at the English translation. If we were to look at the Hebrew, we would note that the letters of the Hebrew stem for “I am” are the same letters used in the Hebrew word “LORD.” This was a special name that God gave to his people. When you read in the NIV text, it is denoted by capitalizing all of the letters of the word, “LORD.” The special name for God usually denoted the God of the covenant, or agreement. It is often used when God is showing his undeserved love for his people. One of its first usages comes after Adam and Eve had fallen into sin and God came to them, not with the punishment that they deserved, but with a promise of a Savior. When the people of Moses’ day heard this name of God, they would think of all the promises that God had made to them, including the promise that, one day, they would return to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Remember this announcement of God came to Moses after he asked God whom he should say sent him to lead the people out of the slavery of Egypt. God had not forgotten them, even though it may have appeared so to human eyes. Now God was about to demonstrate that every one of his gracious promises would be fulfilled.

This is what the name that God gives to himself means. Yet, if we were to stop there, we might think, ‘Well, that’s nice. It’s interesting.’ Let us take a few moments this New Year’s Eve to see what this name means to us. Rather than going through all of them, let’s just take a few moments and see God as “I am.”

God is a constant. He does not change. This is true, first of all, when it comes to his law. God has told all mankind what he expects from them. He expects perfection when it comes to obeying his law. This means that, for example, he is always to have first priority in our lives. Everything else is to come after that. This means that all of our language is to give glory to him. This means that our relationships with other people are to glorify him. This means that our use of our possessions is to be to his glory. He is also very clear about what will happen if someone should fail to do what he wants. God has said, in no uncertain terms, that when his law is broken, the punishment is to be death. This person is to be eternally separated from God in the fires of hell.

Yet, despite the clear commands of our God, we have failed to do them. We cannot claim ignorance. When we became angry and said things that had no business coming out of our mouths, we broke his law. Any time that we hurt someone else, whether it was physically or emotionally, we sinned. Any time we were stingy in giving either to God or to help someone else, we were sinning. The list could go on and on. However, even if there was only one instance of sin in our lives, it would be enough in God’s sight to condemn us for all eternity. God doesn’t change, so when he says, “The soul who sins is the one who will die,” he means just that.

Yet, as we were reminded earlier, this is the LORD who is with us, the God of grace. He loved you and me so much that he saw to it that our sins were paid for. Rather than punishing you and me, who deserved it, he punished his Son in our place. It was his birth that we celebrated one week ago. That is the reason for the Christmas celebration. It was God showing his love for mankind to the extent that he was willing to send his own Son into the world for the sole purpose of rescuing us from our sins. Jesus paid for our sins on the cross, every single one of them. Because our God does not change, we do not have to worry that one day he is going to change his mind and say, “No, you must do this or that in addition to what Jesus has done.” No, when Jesus rose from the dead that Easter, God was telling the world that Jesus had done everything necessary to rescue us. This fact gives us our hope as we enter the New Year. My God, who forgave my sins of the past, has completely forgiven them. I do not have to worry that he will bring them up again and again. I live in the certainty that the “I am” God has forgiven the sins of the year so quickly coming to a close. I, also, know that he will continue to forgive me for the sake of Jesus.

In addition, since God does not change, I have the certainty of knowing that God will always provide for me and will take care of me. Just take a few moments and think of the year coming to its close. Think of how God was with you. He provided what you needed, even though it may not have been always what you wanted. He took care of you, though it may not have been exactly how you would have planned it out. There is a danger here in thinking that the only time God is blessing me is when everything is going well for me. If I start to think that way, I will doubt God’s love for me when things are not going the way that I would like them to go. We can honestly say that God has taken care of us this past year.

We have his promise that he will continue to do so. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:31&32, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” Just as the LORD has blessed you in the past, he will continue to do so in the year to come. After all, as he reminds us in Malachi 3:6, “I the LORD do not change.” When you face that anxious moment in the year to come, take to heart the words of 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you..” We can do so because he is the ever-present God. He is the “I am” God.

When people pick out names for their baby, they often will buy a book that gives them a long list of possible names for their child. Usually, these books will give the origin and meaning of those names. Even though this is the case, I do not believe that a majority of parents name their children because of the meaning of that name. That becomes secondary to the way the name sounds with a middle name or a relative or whatever the criterion for the name. The name, however, that God chose for himself, which we have studied this evening has great meaning for us today and in the years to come. May God help us to praise his holy name with our entire lives, thanking him for all that he has done and continues to do for us. Our God is “I am.” Amen.