Old Testament: Exodus 3:1-15 (Pentecost 22: Series C)

Reading Time: 5 mins

The name of God invites us on a journey to see how God will remain present with his people, listen to their cries for salvation, know their sufferings in such an intimate way so as to incarnate them in Christ.

What a magnificent text to preach on! Here God picks a mountain in the wilderness as a place to reveal His plan to save Israel from slavery. God meets with Moses away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds to reveal His will for Israel and an also curious detail about himself. In Moses’ day and age, you might have expected a ‘god’ to show up in a Temple. But there is no sign that this is a ‘holy place’ except for a curiosity that draws Moses near to observe. The curiosity is a bush that burns and yet it is not consumed. This curious detail will serve as the vehicle for the sermon to help us get to the gospel proclamation of Christ. God lures us into the story of salvation with natural curiosity so that in our questioning and confusion, in our search for clarification, it might drive us through the whole narrative of scripture to the place where He reveals, in full detail, salvation freely given in Christ. Honestly, there is so much to this reading that leans toward typology that there are multiple directions you could go in a sermon. However, we will focus on the setting and the words of God that create a sacred curiosity which drives us to Jesus. “The setting is the wilderness, and Moses’ vocation is mundane indeed (see Gen. 46:34; Num. 27:17; Ps. 78:70–71). Yet it would not be the last time that God appeared to shepherds in a wilderness with an announcement of peace and goodwill. It would not be the last time that God chose a nontraditional, nonreligious setting for a hearing for the word.”[1]

The intimacy of God is beautiful in this pericope. He is the God who has “seen the affliction” (v7) of His people and has “heard their cry”(v7). He is not a God who remains distant and uninterested in the lives of His people. He knows יָדַעְתִּי “their sufferings” intimately. His only response is to come and “deliver” (v8) them. God’s promise to be with them (v12) is not just a promise for this moment though, it is a promise for all time. Moses realizes that God is getting close, so he dares to ask the big question. The one that people will be curious about.

They have been held captive by a strong nation for over 400 years. A nation whose gods have names that hold power. After all, to say a god’s name is to claim to know something about that god and to claim to know enough about them as to have a relationship to them in some way. So, Moses who has drawn near in curiosity and is hoping to be able to satisfy the people’s curiosity about God by asking for His name. If Moses knows that much about God, then maybe their curiosity will be satisfied, and they will accept his call as the prophet. But instead of getting a standard deity name like Amon or Osiris or even just a title like Baal, God gives a name which is a curiosity in and of itself. In verse 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” Well, that’s either maddeningly unhelpful or extremely profound. In the sermon this curious name is the key to getting us to where we need to go.

The name of God invites us on a journey to see how God will remain present with his people, listen to their cries for salvation, know their sufferings in such an intimate way so as to incarnate them (Isaiah 53:4-5) in Christ. To be a God who is a deliverer because He Is the great “I Am”. This curious name burns like a fire to reveal a detail about God that does not consume us in wrath but lights the way to discover the great I Am in the person of Jesus Christ.

This curious name burns like a fire to reveal a detail about God that does not consume us in wrath but lights the way to discover the great I Am in the person of Jesus Christ.

Under a burning Bethlehem star God reveals salvation to shepherds. He reveals a deliverer from slavery to sin in the Immanuel (Matt 1:23) which is the sign that God is with us. But even this babe born in Bethlehem is a curiosity that we must follow to see how God will accomplish this deliverance. In John’s Gospel, Jesus frequently uses “I am” (Ἐγώ εἰμι, Egō eimi) to signal who He is and why He came (John 4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5–8). But even this would have been a curiosity to his listeners. This clause is common in Greek so that some might miss it. However, others would not have missed the reference and found it curious. Still others would recognize in Jesus’ “I am” statements the “I am he” (אֲנִי־הֽוּא, ani-hu') statements in Isaiah (Isa 41:4; 43:10, 25; 46:4; 51:12; 52:6).[2] Finally at His arrest you could see the power of the divine name when Jesus declares in John 18:6 “ I am he,” so that those who came to arrest Him drew back and fell to the ground.” Still follow Him to the judgement hall where we see Jesus under interrogation by the High priest who in Mark 14:61-62 “asked him again, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I Am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Jesus takes to Himself the name and the authority of God Almighty, the Ancient of Days from Daniel 7 and the whole crowd loses their minds. It would be at Mount Calvary not at Mount Sinai where God would reveal the sign of deliverance in Jesus. At the crucifixion even an outsider would pick up on this curious detail and proclaim, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). But three days later our curiosity will be finally satisfied. At the burning of the morning sun on Easter day, a new beginning for humanity was revealed that will never fade away. Jesus’ words: “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) have come true. He has revealed that “whoever believes in Him, though they die, yet shall they live, and everyone who lives and believes in Him shall never die” (John 11:25-26 my emphasis). When Jesus asked Martha “Do you believe this?” We can answer with her in the suffering we endure, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God (John 11:26-27).

There is a curious word for what God is doing with his name in Exodus. It is called “aseity.” Aseity is a word that means self-existence. In a sermon you can pun on the word “aseity” with the word “assurance” or even “a surety.” To illustrate this potential pun let’s use an example. “Suppose your child asks, “Who made me?” You answer confidently, “God made you.” Next question, “Who made the world?” You answer, “God.” Then comes the question, “Who made God?” Now what do you say? Did God make Himself? No, God always was. That’s called aseity.

God is eternally self-existent. Something or someone that is self-existent has no beginning, no starting point in time. It has existed eternally by its own power. That concept is totally foreign to us because we don’t exist by our own power. We are dependent, mortal, and finite. We have a beginning, and we also have an end. God enjoys life in Himself, but we are totally dependent upon Him to sustain us in every way.[3] Since God does not need us how can we have a surety that we are connected to God and have been given eternal life. In the waters of baptism God has put His name on you. This connection is an assurance of God’s eternal love. The Word proclaims Christ to us and like the Emmaus Road disciples our own hearts are burning with the truth of the Gospel, but like Moses’ encounter we are not consumed in eternal death (Luke 24:32). In the holy incarnation, by faith, we see God’s plan of salvation revealed in Christ (John 1:18).

Arithmetician John Newton once said, “I am not what I ought to be; I am not what I wish to be; I am not what I hope to be; but by the grace of God I am what I am.” This familiar repetitious phrase sounds similar to Moses’ words in Exodus 3:11: “Who am I?” With a note of despair Moses asks a question that Newton seems to answer. Perhaps with a little crafting we can reshape this quote to say something more hopeful, “I am not what I ought to be; I am not what I wish to be; I am not what I hope to be; but by the grace of God- Jesus is who He is- the I AM for me.”

------

Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Exodus 3:1-15.

Concordia Theology- Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Exodus 3:1-15.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Exodus 3:1-15.