Bible Study Commentary on Jesus the Great I AM
An introduction - Moses meets the I AM at the burning bush
by I Gordon
I've spent a lot of time in the Old Testament over the last few months (ok years, well, some would say decades!) so thought it best to get back to the New Testament... and specifically something in the Gospels. In the last series I looked at the faith chapter in the Bible - Hebrews 11. It showed us what faith looks like through numerous characters and real life examples. But faith has an object so I wanted to explore the One who our faith is in. I want to look at the great 'I AM'. And that is, Jesus! Many of you will be familiar with some of the 'I am' sayings of Jesus. For hundreds of years prophets came giving words from the Lord for the people, pointing them back to the God of Israel. Then Jesus arrives and not one 'thus saith the Lord' is heard. Instead He says things like 'I am the truth', 'I am the light', 'I am the door', 'I am the life'. So I wanted to explore these great statements. Do you know how many there are?1
So why study the 'I am' sayings'?
1. Firstly, this 'present tense' aspect of Jesus is very important. Our Lord is the One who 'was, and is, and is to come.' Sometimes we can look back to what was and look forward to what will be but forget the present everyday reality of Jesus Christ and who He is now.
2. The 'I am' sayings present Jesus Christ in His true glory. In a word, they present Him as God! They present Him as the God of Israel, Yahweh, present with His people. This is greatly needed in a world that doubts who He is.
3. The third reason (which is linked to point 2 above), is that the I AM's Jesus in His right place in our lives, This is not Jesus the moralist who you might learn right and wrong from. It is not Jesus the role model who you might like to try copy. It is not Jesus the great teacher who can give you some nice one-liners to remember. It is Jesus the I AM - Immanuel, God with us.... The Creator and Sustainer of all things. The One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
4. The I AM's present the unchangeable nature of our great God and Saviour, Jesus. We have studied faith recently but faith is only as good as its object. You may have tremendous faith in me but, alas, prepare for disappointment! Seriously, I could let you down. But the 'I AM'? He is the same yesterday, today and forever and will always be that which he has promised to be. The I AM's present this aspect of His character.
So what are we going to do today? Today will be an introduction. Out of the 7 I AM statement of Jesus, today we will look at... none. Before looking at any of the specific statements we first need to do a little background detective work. Jesus used 'I am' many times but what did that mean for his hearers? What did they associate it with? We shall see that the origin of the name obviously goes much further back than the gospels. And yes, that means a trip into our favourite Old Testament again! : ) Can you remember where this name of God is first introduced?
Nothing really changes... until we meet God!
Exodus 3:1-2 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. (2) There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.
You will remember from the Hebrews 11 messages on Moses that this event came when he was around 80 years of age. He had 40 years thinking he was a somebody, followed by 40 years learning he was a nobody... And here he is, well past middle age, getting a little bit old, a little wrinkly, a little grey. In his mind that God-given destiny that was with him since a young boy seems to have been nothing more than wishful thinking. Here he is... a shepherd, something that any good Egyptian is brought up to despise, and as he looks back, he knows he blew it. Though his intentions of wanting to deliver his people all those many years ago were genuine, he also knows that his anger got the better of him. He lost his cool. He lashed out. He murdered a man. That was 40 years ago but it feels like yesterday to Moses. He was meant to amount to something greater than this but it's been 40 years of the same old stuff... taking the sheep out, getting them back in, moving on to the next field... and then back again. 40 years and nothing really changes for Moses. And then, something changes! He sees something strange... 'What is that?' 'A bush? On fire? Burning without being consumed???... Ok... what's going on here?'
Now as we read this passage we need to remember that this is how God introduces Himself as the 'I AM'. So it is good to think of how this impacts our life today for we have come into a relationship with Jesus, the I AM. Now I know we haven't got far so the only point that I'll say at the moment is that the I AM never puts people into an early retirement and says they are too old to be used. There is always hope. That mistake you made in your past doesn't disqualify you from being used any more than it did Moses. He looks at the heart. But he does want us to do something...
The need to turn aside
Exodus 3:3 So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight--why the bush does not burn up."
Now Moses has seen a few strange things in his 40 years tending sheep in the wilderness but nothing like this! The bush is on fire without being damaged... It just burns and burns without being consumed. It is a strange sight indeed. Moses has to turn aside to see this one! As we think about this passage in terms of what we can learn, this is the first point - we need to turn aside like Moses did if we want to learn and experience more about this great I AM. Imagine if Moses saw this sight and thought 'hmmm, now that's odd! Oh well...lunch!' And then finds a nice spot in the field to break open his lunch box with his sheep. I fear we miss lots of opportunities to both learn from the Lord and to be led by the Lord because we don't take the time to turn aside and see. And I'm not just talking about 'quiet times'. We can and should be pondering on and communicating with the Lord through the day. Now granted, some jobs and activity make this easier than others!2 Many lead busy lives in this day and it is easy to take on too much. So we need to learn from Moses here - Take the time to turn aside again to learn more of the I AM. While you walk, do the garden, ride your bike, mow the lawns... just turn your mind aside to think of Him!
Any old bush will do!
The second point here is what Moses wanted to see - he was puzzled why this bush didn't burn out. Moses had burnt out a long time ago. He tried and he failed badly. What was different about this bush he thought? I can't go past this without quoting Major Ian Thomas for he has an awesome chapter on this encounter called 'Any old bush will do!' He writes:
'This is the message of the Bible, that God has chosen the weak and the things that are not to confound the things that are. All that God demands of a man is his availability. What you are is totally irrelevant - nationality-wise, money-wise, education-wise, personality-wise, and any other wise, if only you will recognize the principle that it is God that works in you, to will and to do of His good pleasure.
You read of the lives of men like Hudson Taylor, George Mueller, Dwight L. Moody - men whose lives have made spiritual history. They were simply men who had qualified in the school of failure and despair. They were men who came to the end of themselves and discovered that what they were apart from God was nothing... Judged by purely human standards, you may be highly qualified for Christian service, and yet... it is tragically possible for you to go down in the annals of spiritual history as one of those who did not count either for God or man - and do you know why? Because you never took time to find out the reason why God uses men!
God had something to say to Moses, and I think that it must have been something like this:.. You thought that this was a very remarkable bush. You thought there must be something about it at once peculiar and wonderful -something unique, that it could burn and burn and burn. But you are wrong! Do you see that bush over there? That scruffy, scraggy looking thing - that bush would have done! Do you see this beautiful looking bush, so shapely and fine - this bush would have done! For you see, Moses, any old bush will do - any old bush - if only God is in the bush! The trouble with you, Moses, is this: forty years ago, learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, might in word and deed, you admired your own foliage! You thought you were some bush! But you burned yourself out in twenty-four hours, and you have been a heap of ashes for forty years! If this bush that you have admired were depending upon its own substance to sustain the flame, it too would burn itself out in twenty-four hours; it too would be a heap of ashes like you. But it is not the bush that sustains the flame, it is God in the bush; and any old bush will do.
Did you ever make this discovery? Have you ever come into the place where you realised that all you can produce, at your best, is ashes? Did you ever come to the place where you presented yourself for what you are - nothing - to be filled with what He is - everything - and to step out into every new day conscious that the eternal I AM is all you need, for all His will!... Only remember this - any old bush will do!
That is the gospel truth! Whether we have seen it or whether we live in it, is a whole different question! But it is a fantastic summary of what God was showing Moses in this meeting and it sums up what the 'I AM' is all about. So why would the One who introduces Himself here for the first time as the 'I AM' appear in a bush that doesn't burn out? Why use that imagery? Come on think... for it has both a personal application for Moses and a prophetic application for the nation of Israel.
- For Moses personally, He was showing that it's not the vessel but that which dwells within the vessel, God Himself, that matters. In fact, the word for bush here gives us a further glimpse of this as it means a bramble - a thorny shrub. And thorns were a picture of the fall. 'Cursed is the ground because of you... Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you.' (Gen 3;17-18) And we are all a little bit prickly at times are we not? We are nothing impressive in and of ourselves. But any old bush, or person, will do as long as we see that it is God Himself within the vessel that matters!
- Prophetically - The bush speaks of the God's people collectively. This was Moses' call to lead Israel and this burning bush was prophetic of the fact that as a people they would pass through the fire but would not be consumed. That is the history of Israel going back 4000 years. Same could be said of the church - the fires of persecution burn against it but cannot consume or overcome it.
God speaks... when we look!
Exodus 3:4-6 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am." (5) Do not come any closer, God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." (6) Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
So look at what happens when Moses takes the time to turn aside... God speaks and calls to him! God wants to be wanted so we should remember to turn aside! He didn't speak till Moses turned. What does the book of James say? ' Come near to God and he will come near to you.' (James 4:8)
Note also the fear within Moses. There was a thought at this time that no one could look at God and live so Moses hid his face. Fear still causes us to hide our face but as we get to know God better and see what He has done for us, we approach Him as our Heavenly Father. As His children we are certainly to live with a reverential fear of God. .. but not to be scared of Him. Perfect love casts out all fear. The Holy Spirit calls out 'Abba Father', 'daddy' within us and if you had a child in a family who was scared of his father you would think something is not right. But how good is it to have the 'I AM' as your Dad! No matter what your earthly father was like, here is One that is the perfect Dad!3
He came, He saw, He delivered... So Go!
Exodus 3:7-11 The LORD said, "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. (8) So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians... (10) So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt." (11) But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (12) And God said, "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."
We see here that the I AM cares. I like this - 'I have seen, I have heard, I am concerned, I have come down.' What He did at the Exodus was repeated in a greater way with Jesus. Saw, heard, concerned, came down, paid the price to deliver. But note that the I AM wants to use us as He did Moses! After saying that He saw, heard, cared, came down to rescue... He says to Moses 'so now, go!' The I AM wants to use the I'M NOTS (argh btw, that's you!) Somebody wrote:
'If you have some work to do,
start this very hour.
You supply the willingness,
God supplies the power!'
So what does Moses say? Who am I? I'm a nobody. I just look after some dirty old sheep. How am I meant to go before Pharaoh?' And what is God's answer? Well it is very simple - 'I will be with you'. In the Hebrew it is literally the same word later translated 'I AM' - I am with you. So as Moses steps into the unknown, into that which seems daunting to him right now, he does so with the promise that right there, with him, will be the I AM. We all feel inadequate do we not? Your particular insecurity may not be mine and mine may not be yours. But we all have fears, insecurities and things that make us feel well below what the task demands. That's fine. Moses did. I do. You do. We are all the same. We are all thorny bushes with issues, weaknesses and more than a few prickles. We all show signs of the fall as this bush that God choose to speak from did. But praise God that that's not the end of the story. God is with us and is what we are not. I was telling someone the other day how I knew as soon as I became a Christian that I would end up preaching. And that really scared me because public speaking terrified me. Now I was getting scared of being scared! As a youngster going through school I was just a shaky, nervous, daunted, scruffy little bush when it came to standing up in front of a group of people. But God says what He said then - 'I AM with you!'
Who is this I AM?
Exodus 3:13-15 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.' " (15) God also said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, '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, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.
Commissioned to go, Moses has one question? 'Argh, excuse me but what was your name again? Who shall I say sent me?' Here, for the first time, God reveals His name as 'I AM'. But what does this mean? Our Daily Bread' says
'I have long wondered why God would call Himself by such a name, but slowly I am learning its significance. A sentence needs only two things to be complete: a subject and a verb. So when God says His name is "I AM," it conveys the concept that He is complete in Himself. He is subject and verb. He is everything we could possibly need.' 4
'I AM' is the Hebrew word 'Hayah' (pronounced ha-ya) whose primary meaning 'to be'. The name Yah-weh, or YHWH, comes directly from this Hebrew word. Bible scholars will tell you it speaks of God's self-existent, self-sufficient and eternal nature, And that is all true. But it means more than that in a practical sense. As a young Christian I read a book called 'Grace plus nothing'5 which had a chapter called the 'Bathtub revival' that has always stuck with me and what I want to close with:
The Bathtub Revival (by Jeff Harkin)
In 1968 I almost died. I was twenty-eight years old. After I was released from the hospital (I had been there for more than three months), I had to spend three hours per day soaking in my bathtub to help heal an incision that had abscessed and was open. I weighed about 112 pounds. (Approx 50 Kg) I couldn't work, and the future looked very dark. It was the darkest period of my entire life. Yet it was during that very period that God was revealing his grace to me, and I was learning that He is my righteousness.
One day, as I was sitting in the tub, bored to tears and open to God, the Lord suddenly took over. I was thinking about his name, I am (John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14). An interesting question came to my mind, so I asked Him, 'Since Your name is I AM, what are You, Lord?' His answer to my question began to flow instantly (in my mind, not audibly). He made it clear to me that He was going to reveal His nature to me, specifically in terms of His righteousness for me. The list of all that God is for me lasted a minimum of five minutes, and in all my years of study I have never been able to duplicate it with a list of my own that lasts even three minutes. That's how I know it was God and wasn't merely originating in my mind. Not only that, I was also greatly strengthened and encouraged. That's how I know it wasn't Satan!
So here is only a partial list: He said, 'I am your friend, your Savior, your Lord, your healer, your comforter, your righteousness, your supply, your next job, your finances, your dwelling place, your peace, your joy, your direction, your love, your faith, your self-control, your mental stability, your physical strength, your mercy seat, your intercessor, your high priest; I am the Door, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Good Shepherd, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Everlasting Father, the Mighty God, Immanuel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the husband of the church, the true Vine, the root and the offspring of David, the Holy One of God; I am your teacher, your companion, your enjoyment, your future, your eyesight (I had an incurable eye disease that doctors told me would render me legally blind in a few years); I am your hearing, all of your senses, your IQ, your clean conscience, your voice of praise, your baptizer, your glorious King; I am Faithful and True; I am your salvation; I am your hope.
Like I say, that is a very partial, two-minute list. I'm sure I could think of more if I took the time, but I could never duplicate His list. You name it, it was on His list of all that He is for me. Many of the things He said I had never thought of before. These days I refer to this experience as my bathtub revival. '
Some of those things on the list you may have seen for yourself. Others we may never see in this life. But one day we will see that this One that we worship, Jesus, the I AM, truly is the creator and sustainer of all things. All things hold together by Him and in Him.
So what have we seen in this study? In brief...
Firstly the need to turn aside and enquire of God.
Secondly we have seen that we are like that prickly scruffy old bush God choose to manifest His glory through. And in the words of Major Ian Thomas - 'Just remember this - Any old bush will do!'
Thirdly we need to remember that the 'I AM' is with us. In anything and everything that you face, God would have us know that we are not adequate but He is. Moses didn't feel adequate at this time. If you read on in the story he came up with four or five pretty good excuses as to why God had picked the wrong guy! Nice try Moses! But God's answer was that 'I AM with you.' From God's point of view that was more than enough and that is what we need to take away this morning.