Here’s the second sermon in my 13-part series on the Apostles’ Creed. This week we think about the God we believe in, and have committed ourselves to. I hope your Sunday is filled with the glory of God!
Why We Need The Apostles’ Creed:
I Believe In God The Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth
Exodus 3:1-12 NIV
1 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. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4 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.
7 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 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. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 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.”
It All Begins With God
The first chapter in Rick Warren’s mega bestselling book, The Purpose-driven Life, is titled “It All Starts With God.” And, the first sentence of the first chapter says, “It’s not about you.” Obviously, Rick Warren was trying to make a point, and so were the authors of the first line in the Apostles’ Creed —
That’s it — 12 brief words that sum up what we as Christians, following in the steps of the original apostles of Jesus Christ, believe about God. The legend of the Apostles’ Creed says that Peter penned this line, but as we mentioned last week, that legend is more story than fact. But the words used here are real and were really used by early believers to describe their relationship with God.
Everything we say about Jesus, everything we say about the Holy Spirit, everything we profess about the church, salvation, judgment and eternity all depend upon the God we say we believe in. We cannot relegate God to the backroom of our theology like the grumpy old uncle who we only allow in the living room from time to time. No, it all does begin with God and that beginning will determine where we end up eventually. So, let’s take a look at this God in whom we say we believe.
Moses Meets God
The text from the book of Exodus that we just read is a wonderful way for us to talk about God. When we talk about our friends or family, very often we do it by telling a series of stories that we usually preface by saying, “Remember when….”
When we were in Douglas with my Dad for my brother’s funeral, my father began talking about his father, which led us to bring up one funny story after another about my grandfather. My grandfather, Charles Herman Warnock, Sr. was a small man. He probably stood about 5′ 6″ tall, was bald from the day I knew him, and was a slim, small fellow. My grandmother, Marguerite Warnock, was an ample woman, and so they made an interesting pair. The nursery rhyme “Jack Sprat could eat no fat and his wife could eat no lean” always comes to mind when I think of them together.
My grandfather probably had an 8th grade education, and had made a living as a truck driver, a feed-and-seed salesman, and a part-time cattle farmer. My dad told me a few weeks ago that Daddy Warnock, which is what the grandchildren called him, went several years without filing an income tax return or paying income taxes. He told my grandmother, “They don’t know I exist.”
Well, one day two IRS agents showed up on their doorstep, and my grandfather spent the next few years paying his back taxes. But one of the funniest things I ever heard him say was when I was a teenager. We had gathered in their large kitchen, which had a huge fireplace and a table that would seat at least 12. It was probably Thanksgiving or Christmas because Daddy Warnock was in his rocking chair, which sits in our living room today. He was seated beside the fireplace, smoking a cigarette while the ladies were talking about what to have for supper. Somehow the talk turned to spaghetti. My grandfather turned to my grandmother and said, “What kind of tree does spaghetti grow on anyway?” My grandmother, not a person to brook any foolishness, turned to him and said, “Herman, that’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard.” Or something like that.
We all fell in the floor laughing, but it wasn’t until I was with my dad a couple of weeks ago that he supplied the reason for Daddy Warnock’s question. He said that they had been watching television the night before, and some documentary showed Italian women hanging their pasta on trees for it to dry. Daddy Warnock obviously was not paying close attention, probably because he was trying to tell a story himself, and just caught the image of these trees with pasta hanging from their branches.
All of that to say, we usually talk about our relatives by telling stories about them.
Now, if you read theology books about God, you don’t get stories, you get concepts. Well-meaning authors give lengthy descriptions of concepts about God, which go something like this:
— God is omnipotent. He can do anything He wants to do, except He doesn’t do silly or pointless stuff like try to make a rock so big that God himself can’t pick it up.
— God is omniscient. Which simply means, God knows everything. He knows it without thinking about it, He just knows it. He knows the deep thoughts of our hearts, and everything else.
— God is omnipresent. He’s everywhere at once. Which is how we can be worshipping here, and God is present with us, and other folks can be worshipping half-way around the world, and He’s there too. Nice trick, if you can do it, and God can.
So, those are the big three things about God, but that doesn’t really tell us much about him does it. It would be like my only saying, “My grandfather was 5′ 6″ and weighed about 125 pounds, and was bald.” You’d get some kind of mental picture, but you wouldn’t really know much about my grandfather.
That’s why I chose this story today. It tells us a lot about God. It’s the story of God meeting Moses for the first time, at least as far as Moses knows. It’s the story we call “Moses and the burning bush” and I’m sure when Moses spoke of God to his relatives, he said, “Remember that time God appeared to me in the burning bush? Have I told you that story?” And like my grandfather, Moses would tell the same story again to the same people who had heard it so many times before. So, let’s see what the story of the burning bush tells us about God.
God is a God Who Calls Us
The Apostles’ Creed says, “I believe in God the Father…” We don’t have time to unpack all the fatherhood of God means, but one thing I know it means is that God as Father calls us, just like my father called me in from playing to eat supper each evening.
God calls us. Those three words themselves have great implications for our relationship with God. First, for God to call us, he has to know our names. And with Moses, God does.
“Moses, Moses” God calls from scene of the bush that is burning but not consumed. Of course, God had to get Moses within earshot, had to get Moses in a place where Moses could hear God. So, God had an angel appear as flames of fire in a bush to get Moses’ attention. And it worked. God got his attention, and then called out to him by name, “Moses.”
We get this again several times in Scripture. My favorite story of God calling someone is the story of young Samuel. Samuel, a young boy growing up in the Temple with Eli the kind, elderly priest. One night Samuel hears a voice calling him, “Samuel, Samuel.” Thinking it’s Eli, young Samuel gets out of bed, and goes to Eli. Eli says he hasn’t called Samuel and sends Samuel back to bed. Two more times Samuel hears a voice calling his name, “Samuel, Samuel” and two more times Eli says it isn’t him. But on the third time, Eli realizes that God is calling Samuel, and so he tells young Samuel, “The next time you hear the voice, say, ‘Speak Lord, for thy servant hears You.'” Samuel did, and God was calling Samuel to serve God, too.
God calls us. He calls us by name, he calls us to serve Him, he calls us to be in fellowship with Him. William Willimon in his book, Who Will Be Saved, says in his chapter titled, The God Who Refuses To Be Alone, “God is determined — through Creation, the sagas of the Patriarchs, the words of the prophets, the teaching of the law, and the birth and death of the Christ — to get close, very close, too close for comfort in fact.”
God calls us because God wants to be near us, to love us, to save us — which we’ll get to in a minute.
God is a God Who Comes Down To Us
But, if we just say God calls us, we might miss the fact that for God to do that, He has to be present with us. God, says the writer of Exodus, comes down to us. Of course, when God comes down to us in the person of Jesus, we call that the Incarnation — God with us, Immanuel. That’s the Christmas story. And, so every Christmas we gather here at church, or at home, and we say, “Remember the time when God came down to us?” And we tell that story.
But here God comes down to his people, the nation of Israel. God comes down to Israel because God has heard their cries, sees their predicament, and is acting to save his people.
God comes down to us because he loves us. God comes down to us because he hears us. God comes down to us to save us. That’s the story of God that we need to tell over and over. For God is not just a God who calls us to serve him, he is a God who comes down to us to speak to us face to face, to call us personally, and in-person.
In Western thought, our concepts of God tend to be of the removed God — the transcendent Being — who rules and reigns forever, world without end, amen. We ascribe lofty attributes to God, attribute great power and majesty to God, and well we should. But we must never forget that those are concepts, too. That all we really know about God we know from the times that God has revealed Himself to us — in the burning bush, the voice in the night, and in the birth of a baby named Jesus.
In the Old Testament, and in this book of Exodus especially, we see God not as just the God of Mount Sinai, surrounded by smoke, fire, and thunder. But we also see God who comes down to us in a rather small burning bush. Who speaks to Moses in an understandable voice, who calls Moses by name, who knows his weaknesses and strengths, and who has come down to save his people.
When I was about 8, I got a bicycle for my birthday. Lots of kids get bicycles, and mine was a red Schwinn bike. My dad worked with me in the front yard, holding the rear fender of the bike while I tried to pedal and steer all at the same time. After several wobbly attempts, I began to get the hang of it, and my dad went inside. Thinking like only an 8-year old can, I thought it would be really funny to play a trick on my dad.
So, I laid my bike on its side, and then positioned myself under it, with my legs all tangled up like I had crashed in spectacular fashion. I then started yelling for my dad, “Help, help, help me!” Or something like that.
It must have worked because the front door opened, and my dad bounded down the steps with a look of horror on his face. He bent down to comfort me, and about that time, I said, “Gotcha! I was just kidding.”
Well, he wasn’t amused, but he wasn’t really mad either. He told me something about the boy who cried wolf, and then went back in the house. But I never forgot the look on his face. He was concerned, worried, he had heard my cries, and he was coming down to help me. I felt kind of bad that I had tricked him, but I also felt kind of good that I saw he really was concerned.
God is a God Who Saves Us
In the New Testament, Jesus poses the question in the gospel of Luke, that is interesting. I like this in the New Revised Standard Version because it shows the difference between us and God dramatically:
Which one of us? None of us would do that. We would say “at least I’ve got 99 sheep here, not bad. You know you’re going to lose a few here and there.”
But not God, the good shepherd. He goes after the one that is lost until he finds it. Not until it’s dark, or until it’s cold, or until he’s tired. No, God searches for the lost sheep until he finds it. And, he leaves the other 99 while he’s looking. That’s not the way we would do it at all.
But Jesus goes on in that same chapter to tell about a woman who lost a one coin out of the ten she had. She opens the curtains, lights the lamps, moves the furniture, sweeps the floor, and searches carefully until she finds it.
But, Jesus still isn’t finished. Then he tells the story about a lost son. The prodigal son. A young man so selfish and self-centered that he took his inheritance, left home, and lived it up until all his money ran out. He makes his way home, contrite and ashamed. And Jesus says, “But while he was still far off, his father saw him.”
How is that possible? The father is looking for him. Everyday, watching the horizon, looking down the dusty road where the last time he had seen the back of his son leaving home.
But this time, he sees the younger son headed home. The father runs to greet him, hugs and kisses him, throws a party, calls the neighbors, and celebrates the return of the son who was dead, but who now is alive again.
And we would have not done any of those things, except maybe look for the lost coin, because after all that’s real money.
God saves us. He saves us from ourselves, from sin, from the devil, from our mistakes, from missing the mark. God saves us, because that’s what God does. God told Moses, “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…”
God heard not only the cries of the Israelites in Egypt, he heard the cries of the nation 1500 years after Moses. Occupied by a foreign army, victimized by their own corrupt clergy, God heard his people and came down and saved them through Jesus.
And God still saves us today. He saves us from sin, and for glory. He saves us because he loves us. He saves from a bitter place, to bring us to a better place. God saves us. Who of us would do that? None, but God would. Who could save us? None, but God could. Who did save us? No one but God did.
And so we say with the apostles’ today,