Then Moses said to God, “If 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.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I Am to be remembered throughout all generations.
In the eleven messages that I will, Lord willing, be giving between now and the end of the year, my ultimate goal is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. In other words, I aim to make so much of God the Father, and God the Son, through God the Spirit, that you — and thousands through you — will be moved to join me in glad adoration of our triune God.
Under that overarching aim, my goal is to awaken and strengthen a strong conviction in you that the last 30 years of ministry here have been preparation not consummation. Or to put it another way, I hope to help you see and feel that this transition between me and Jason Meyer is less about landing and more about launching. It is less about the great things God has done, and more about the greater things God is going to do.
Therefore it has seemed good to me, with the encouragement of the pastoral staff, not to simply try to get through another couple chapters of the Gospel of John and leave it dangling anyway at chapter 17, but rather to turn our attention to a battery of foundational realities — defining truths, 30-year trademarks, biblical touchstones — that have profoundly shaped what Bethlehem is for these last three decades.
Greater Things Yet to Come
The reason this seems like the way to launch rather than land, and to pursue preparation rather than pondering consummation, and to lay hold on the greater things to come rather lingering over the great things of the past, is that these foundational realities that I want to talk about are wildly untamable, and explosively uncontainable, and electrically future-creating. They don’t just sustain the present and explain the past. They are living and active and supernaturally supercharged to take this church where it has not yet dreamed, in ways we have not yet dreamed.
And I should make clear before I launch into the launch with these explosive truths, that I have little doubt in my mind — and the little doubt in my mind is not of God, but of a lack of God — that the next season of Bethlehem’s life will be the greatest we’ve ever known. We all know that many ministries have flourished for decades and become significant, and then with a leadership change, things fall apart and impact wanes, and hope fades, and joy departs, and the ministry dwindles, and maybe even dies. My deep conviction is that God is not going to let that happen here. In fact, if I had to, I’d stake my life on that prediction.
I say that not to pump you up with artificial hope, but because of biblical realities and present evidences of God amazing favor on us. The reason the biblical foundations give me this hope is that they are so deeply shared by Jason Meyer and the Council of Elders, and indeed by hundreds and hundreds of you. We are not coming through this transition with any ambiguity about the biblical and theological commitments of the future leadership. There is a profound unity in what we believe, and these realities are explosive with future-creating power.
God's Guidance in This Day
But not only that, the fingerprints of God’s grace and favor and guidance are all over the transition events of the last 10 months. Those of us who have watched from the inside, from the beginning, are standing with our mouths open in astonishment at the emergence of Jason Meyer, and at the stunning unity of staff, elder, and congregational discernment around his call.
But not only that, God’s hand is on Jason Meyer. Yes, the biblical realities and unifying theological convictions are in place, and yes, there has been astonishing congregational unity in the affirmation of his call, but I am saying there is something more — something indispensable. God has called Jason to this and put his hand on him. You have seen some evidences of that. Those of us who have known him longer and better see it even more clearly.
All of this together is why I say that in the transition to Jason’s leadership, impact is not going to wane, hope is not going to fade, joy is not going to depart, and the ministry of this church and her global mission is not going to dwindle or die. Rather we will find ourselves moving into the greatest season of ministry this church has ever known.
And so we turn to this battery of foundational realities — these defining truths, these 30-year trademarks, these biblical touchstones — that have shaped what Bethlehem is for these last three decades. These wildly untamable, explosively uncontainable, and electrically future-creating realities.
God Absolutely Is
And the first one is that God is. Or to say it the way our text says it, God is who he is. Or to say it more philosophically, God absolutely is. This is the most basic fact and the most ultimate fact. Period. Of the billions of facts that there are, this one is at the bottom and at the top. It is the foundation of all others and the consummation of all others. Nothing is more basic and nothing is more ultimate than the fact that God is.
Nothing is more foundational to this church than that God is. Nothing is more foundational to your life or your marriage or your job or your health or your mind or your future than that God is. Nothing is more foundational to the world, or the solar system, or the Milky Way or the universe than that God is. And nothing is more foundational to the Bible and the self-revelation of God and the glory of the gospel of Jesus than that God is.
Understanding Exodus 3
This is the point of today’s text in Exodus 3:13–15. So let me set the stage for you. For several centuries the people of Israel — God’s chosen people — have lived as aliens in Egypt. And for a long time they have been treated as slaves. Now the time of God’s deliverance is drawing near. A Jewish child is born, named Moses. He is providentially rescued from the edict of death by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the court. As an adult he defends one of his kinsman by killing an Egyptian, and flees to the land of Midian. And there God appears to him in a burning bush, as we read in Exodus 3:6–10.
He said, “I Am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. 7 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, 8 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, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
So Moses is God’s chosen leader to bring his people out of slavery and into the promised land. But he shrinks back. As well he might — or Jason might, or you might. Verse 11: “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’” And God said (verse 12), “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”
And then Moses brings us to one of the most important things God ever said. This is our text, Exodus 3:13–15.
Then Moses said to God, “If 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?” 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.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord [Hebrew: “Yahweh”], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever [Yahweh], and thus I Am to be remembered throughout all generations.”
Three Things God Says About Himself
You ask me my name, God says, I will tell you three things. First (verse 14) "God said to Moses, 'I Am Who I Am.'" He did not say that was his name. He said, in effect: Before you worry about my name, where I line up among the many God’s of Egypt or Babylon or Philistia, and before you wonder about conjuring me with my name, and even before you wonder if I Am the God of Abraham, be stunned by this: “I Am Who I Am.” I absolutely am. Before you get my name, get my being. That I Am Who I Am — that I absolutely am — is first, foundational, and of infinite importance.
Second (verse 14b) “And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I Am has sent me to you.”’” Here he has not yet given Moses his name. He is building a bridge between his being and his name. Here he simply puts the statement of his being in the place of his name. Say, “I Am has sent me to you.” The one who is — who absolutely is — sent me to you.
Third (verse 15) “God also said to Moses, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “The Lord [Hebrew: “Yahweh”], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” This is my name forever [Yahweh]. Finally he gives us his name. It’s almost always translated Lord (all caps) in the English Bible. But the Hebrew would be pronounced something like "Yahweh," and is built on the word for "I Am." So every time we hear the word Yahweh (or the short form Yah, which you hear every time you sing “hallelu-jah”, “praise Yahweh”), or every time you see Lord in the English Bible you should think: this is a proper name (like Peter or James or John) built out of the word for “I Am” and reminding us each time that God absolutely is.
An Amazing Truth
This is amazing. God gave himself a name (used over 4,000 times in the Old Testament) that presses us, when we hear it to think, He is. He absolutely is. He is absolute.
This is the first of the battery of foundational realities — defining truths, 30-year trademarks, biblical touchstones — that have marked Bethlehem for three decades. We are blown away by the sheer fact that God is. That "he is who he is." That he absolutely is. This is the first of the wildly untamable, explosively uncontainable, electrically future-creating realities that we embrace.
A people who are stunned that God is will be an irrepressible people. Our triune God loves to show up in gracious power where people are blown away by the fact that he is.
Ten Things It Means for God to Be Who He Is
Here is what it means that God is who he is.
1. God’s absolute being means he never had a beginning. This staggers the mind. Every child asks, “Who made God?” And every wise parent says, “Nobody made God. God simply is. And always was. No beginning.”
2. God’s absolute being means God will never end. If he did not come into being he cannot go out of being, because he is being. He is what is. There is no place to go outside of being. There is only he. Before he creates, that’s all that is: God.
3. God’s absolute being means God is absolute reality. There is no reality before him. There is no reality outside of him unless he wills it and makes it. He is not one of many realities before he creates. He is simply there as absolute reality. He is all that was eternally. No space, no universe, no emptiness. Only God. Absolutely there. Absolutely all.
4. God’s absolute being means that God is utterly independent. He depends on nothing to bring him into being or support him or counsel him or make him what he is. That is what the word "absolute" being means.
5. God’s absolute being means rather that everything that is not God depends totally on God. All that is not God is secondary, and dependent. The entire universe is utterly secondary. Not primary. It came into being by God and stays in being moment by moment on God's decision to keep it in being.
6. God’s absolute being means all the universe is by comparison to God as nothing. Contingent, dependent reality is to absolute, independent reality as a shadow to substance. As an echo to a thunderclap. As a bubble to the ocean. All that we see, all that we are amazed by in the world and in the galaxies, is, compared to God, as nothing. “All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isaiah 40:17).
7. God’s absolute being means that God is constant. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He cannot be improved. He is not becoming anything. He is who he is. There is no development in God. No progress. Absolute perfection cannot be improved.
8. God’s absolute being means that he is the absolute standard of truth and goodness and beauty. There is no law-book to which he looks to know what is right. No almanac to establish facts. No guild to determine what is excellent or beautiful. He himself is the standard of what is right, what is true, what is beautiful.
9. God’s absolute being means God does whatever he pleases and it is always right and always beautiful and always in accord with truth. There are no constraints on him from outside him that could hinder him in doing anything he pleases. All reality that is outside of him he created and designed and governs as the absolute reality. So he is utterly free from any constraints that don't originate from the counsel of his own will.
10. God’s absolute being means that he is the most important and most valuable reality and the most important and most valuable person in the universe. He is more worthy of interest and attention and admiration and enjoyment than all other realities, including the entire universe.
To the Bethlehem Pastors
This is what we believe. God is. It is a wildly untamable, explosively uncontainable, electrically future-creating reality — that God is. I wrote a devotion for the pastoral staff in August on this topic and drew this conclusion:
Therefore, it is a cosmic outrage billions of times over that God is ignored, treated as negligible, questioned, criticized, treated as virtually nothing, and given less thought than the carpet in people’s houses.
Being the most significant reality there is, nothing is rightly known apart from its relationship to him. He is the source and goal and definer of all beings and all things.
We will, therefore, be a God-besotted people. To know him, to admire him, to make him known as glorious is our driving passion. He is simply, overwhelmingly dominant in our consciousness. All will be related to him.
We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God!
Never, Never, Never
God helping us, we will not blaspheme this God by taking him for granted, or making him peripheral, or calling him the assumed foundation of all the things while it's the "things" we are really excited about. We dread ever falling under the criticism of Albert Einstein that Charles Misner wrote about twenty years ago:
I do see the design of the universe as essentially a religious question. That is, one should have some kind of respect and awe for the whole business. . . . It’s very magnificent and shouldn’t be taken for granted. In fact, I believe that is why Einstein had so little use for organized religion, although he strikes me as a basically very religious man. He must have looked at what the preachers said about God and felt that they were blaspheming. He had seen much more majesty than they had ever imagined, and they were just not talking about the real thing. (Quoted in First Things, Dec. 1991, No. 18, 63)
When I read that, I said, “O God, never, never let that happen at Bethlehem.” Jason and I believe with all our hearts that there are thousands of people in the Twin Cities and billions in the world who are starving to know the true and living God who absolutely is. And you and Jason and I know the good news that this God has sent his Son into the world to die for God-belittling sinners like us so that whoever believes in Christ may know this God with joy forever. So we know our calling. We exist to spread a passion for God who absolutely is.
This is where we’ve been. This is where we are going. Untamable, uncontainable, this is an electrically future-creating reality. “I Am Who I Am.” God absolutely is.