"I AM"

Acts 17:22-31

What you think about God matters… a lot. From the words you use to describe him to the manner in which you address him, to the qualities and the nature which you imagine that he has.

For instance:
• If you think of God and address God as Father, that will ultimately form the kind of relationship that you attempt to have with him.
• Whether you think of him as being loving and compassionate or rigid and vindictive will make a difference in whether you even want to have a relationship.
• If your picture of God is one who wound the world up and let it go on its own, or one who is intimately involved in the lives of his people, that will determine whether you think prayer makes a difference.
Those are the kinds of issues that come into play just in the picture that comes into your mind when I say the word “God.”

Even the Israelites, the children of Abraham, had to be introduced to their God and begin to grow in their understanding of who God is and the kind of relationship he wanted with them.

Of course, in the beginning when God created man and woman and put them in the garden, that relationship was close and intimate – God walked with them in the cool of the day, and they knew no fear or shame in his presence.

But then sin entered the picture and that relationship was severed, and for centuries and generations God began the process of repairing and rebuilding that relationship that was so precious to him. There were high points as he walked with men like Noah and Abraham, but there were low points like the flood, when all seemed lost. But God never gave up – he kept on calling his people back to him.

God’s people ended up in a place called Egypt, where for 400 years, not a word was heard from God. They wandered so far away from God that when God called Moses to lead his people out of slavery and back to himself, Moses had to ask the question, “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?”

They had been away from God so long that they had even forgotten that they had a God.

And so God tells Moses, “I AM who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites:‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

Centuries later, David would write this Psalm describing this part of God’s nature that finds him seeking out and calling his people back to him:

“Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
For your Maker is your husband—the LORD Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. //

The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God. “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD your Redeemer. //

“To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. (Isa. 54:4-10)

That is not to discount God’s wrath or dismiss those times when God has punished his people, but God’s nature has always been that of compassion, kindness and redemption. He wants his people home.

And so, he tells Moses to tell them, “I AM has sent me to you.” When you hear someone refer to God as Yahweh, that is the English transliteration of “I AM” – Jehovah is from the Latin form of it.

When someone asks you or me what our name is when we tell them, it’s simply a word to identify us, not usually a descriptive word, unless you have a nickname like “Red” or “Shorty” or “Tex”. Then you might infer something about that person, but if I tell you my name is John, it doesn’t really have any meaning to it. It’s simply something to call me that differentiates me from Greg or Jim.

But when God revealed his name as I AM, he was telling a great deal about himself, perhaps more than we can even begin to imagine. When God said I AM, he was saying to Moses and the Israelites, “I am present among you. I truly exist and will be with you.” They had known him as the God of their fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They may have known him and spoken with him, but that was long ago. God is saying, I am not just a God of the past, but of the present and of your future. As the Hebrews writer will say of Jesus, He “…is the same yesterday, today and forever.”

And if that is the God who walked with Adam and Eve in the garden; if that is the God who spoke with Noah and called Abraham his friend; if that is the God who revealed himself to Moses and the Israelites as I AM; you can know without a doubt that he is the same God today. I AM is always here and always present in our lives.

But the fact is people have always been like the Israelites, easily distracted, often unaware, quick to wander away, rebellious and disobedient. Jew and Gentile, ancient times and modern day.

One example of that is in Acts 17, when Paul arrives in Athens. He is in a city that revolved around religion – they had more gods than anyone could count or keep track of. But the Greek gods were not like Yahweh. They had no interest in man, no desire to have a relationship. Their gods were capricious, self-indulgent and unreliable.

Illustration – (quotes from Plato and Aristotle): “It is hard,” said Plato, “to investigate and to find the framer and the father of the universe. And if one did find him, it would be impossible to express him in terms which all could understand.”
Aristotle spoke of God as the supreme cause, by all men dreamed of and by no man known.
The ancient world did not doubt that there was a God or gods, but it believed that such gods as there might be were quite unknowable and only occasionally interested in mankind.

And it was in that city that Paul found himself standing before an altar inscribed to “an unknown god” – the Greek testimony to the unknowability of God.
And when Paul comes before the Areopagus, the court of philosophers and thinkers, he uses that forum to talk about this God, whom they thought was “unknowable” but Paul assured them that this God knew them very well:
Acts 17:24-31

Here is what Paul made known about this unknowable God:

Creator Vs. 24 – “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.”

Paul begins where the Bible begins: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” If you want to know God you begin by looking around you and seeing the wonder of God’s creation – the vastness of it, the intricacies of it, the detail and care put into every flower and insect. The more you know about the creation, the more you come to know its Creator.

Illustrations on believing in God:

All that can be asked of anyone, theist or atheist, is that he show the balance of probability to be on his side. I believe in God. I believe in him because I do not think that mere chance could account for the emergence of the first electrons or protons, or for the first atoms, or for the first amino acids, or the first protoplasm, or the first seed, or the first brain. I believe in God because to me his divine existence is the only logical explanation of things as they are…
The chances of some of these adjustments occurring is in the order of one in millions, and the chances of all of them occurring cannot be calculated even in the billions. The one who does not believe in God has an insurmountable burden of explanation, it would seem, as to how each of these things might have come, if there is no God who designed them. (Chad Walsh – British theologian and biographer of C.S. Lewis)

Einstein, in recognizing this intelligent creative force, refers to it as “the illimitable superior reasoning power which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe… I see at the beginning of the cosmic road – not eternal energy or matter, not “inscrutable fate,” not a “fortuitous conflux of primordial elements,” not “the great Unknown” – but the Lord God Almighty. (Albert Einstein)

Sustainer Paul narrows the focus from all of creation to the creation of us: Vs. 25 – “And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.”

Can you imagine how strange this sounded in the ears of the Athenian philosophers who assumed the gods lived on Mt. Olympus, aloof and unconcerned about people? Even in their most benevolent moments, the gods were distant and disconnected. But this God Paul was describing was one who is intimately involved in our lives.

The one who created it all, created you. And not to leave you alone to fend for yourself, but to care for you and provide for you and sustain you. He is involved in the affairs of our world and the events of our lives constantly – every moment of every day. There is not a breath you take, or a beat of your heart, or a meal that you eat that God didn’t provide. He is the giver of life and that life he gives you is one that is, in David’s words, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

If you want to know God, look in the mirror and see his stamp of ownership – when God created man, he said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” And so Genesis records: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” You are made in the image of God. You are more special and precious to God than you can ever know.

Sovereign Ruler Vs. 26 – “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”

Nations and governments arguing over who owns what, who rules whom, waging war over land and borders and rights is like two fleas arguing over who owns the dog.

God is the sovereign ruler over all his creation. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords – every knee will bow before him, every nation will kneel at his throne.

The Greeks knew what it was to conquer and be conquered. Under Alexander, Greece had ruled the world. But Rome had risen and laid claim to their rule and now they were the vassal state. In their experience, domination had been accomplished through war and bloodshed. Those who ruled were tyrants and egomaniacs. They could never conceive of a king who ruled with kindness and compassion. But when God rules, his kingdom is one of peace and joy and love.

Father Vss. 27-29 – “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by man’s design and skill.”

Their objects of worship were idols carved out of stone, or molded out of gold or silver. Something to sit in a temple, or occupy a place of reverence in your living room. Their idols were forged by the silversmith or crafted by the artisan. They were inanimate and unfeeling and unresponsive.

Paul says, “No! God isn’t a piece of furniture to be dusted, a knick-knack on the shelf. He is near to us and desires a relationship with us. We are his offspring and he wants his children to know him.” And that is perhaps the most amazing thing that Paul says to the Athenians. God created you and sustains you and rules over you so that you might seek him and reach out for him and find him. God isn’t hiding from you and withholding his love. He is in plain sight – all of creation pointing toward him and proclaiming his love.

But having said that, Paul says that this God who creates and sustains and wants to be known by us will not be ignored. And so the fifth thing Paul affirms about this God is that he is:

Judge : Vss. 30-31 – “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

Most people in this world would rather remain ignorant of God. They would prefer a god who is uninvolved and unconcerned, one who makes no demands and requires no response. But that isn’t God. He loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to let you stay that way. He wants better for you. And so he sent his son, and Jesus died on the cross to underscore and highlight everything you know about God – that he loves you and cares for you and wants to know and be known by you.

But he will not be ignored. He will not be relegated to a place on the mantel or a building down on the corner where you “do church.” He demands that you change your life and quit living for yourself. He demands that you bow before him now so that you can live with him forever. He demands that you live for him every day.

Paul says what you think about God matters… a lot.