Independence Day 2016
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Exodus 3:13-15 Sermon
July 3, 2016
Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
SBH 521 "God Of Our Fathers" *
SBH 360 "My Country 'Tis Of Thee"
SBH 358 "God Bless Our Native Land"
SBH 346 "O Beautiful For Spacious Skies"
SBH 161 "Before Jehovah's Awe-Full Throne"
SBH 356 "Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory"
SBH 520 "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah"
REMAIN LOYAL TO JEHOVAH
TEXT: "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."
Perhaps you have noticed that there has been a bunch of people roaming the streets of Lincoln this past week wearing tags that say, "Remain Loyal to Jehovah." With a name tag like that, you can almost guess what religious group these people belong to, but I'm not going to go into that. Instead, I want to look at the phrase itself, "Remain Loyal to Jehovah." And as we consider our country's celebration of independence tomorrow, let's see how appropriate this slogan is for Christians like us.
In order to introduce this subject, I'm going to start off with a type of Bible Study, because that's about the only way we can make sense out of this. Let's look at this name for God that we know as "Jehovah." Granted we don't use it often, but we do use it. In fact, two of our hymns for today use this term: "Before Jehovah's Awe-full Throne," and "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah." So what's with this word, "Jehovah?"
To best understand this, we have to look at the original Hebrew, the language God used to record the majority of the Old Testament. I use the word "majority," because there are a few instances in the Old Testament where Aramaic was used. Aramaic is very similar to Hebrew, except it was the language of the street, while Hebrew was the language of the Church. But I digress.
God has several names by which he is known. The word "El," or the plural "Elohim" is quite common. Basically, any Hebrew word that incorporates "El" is a reference to God. For example, my name "Daniel" is such a word. "Dan" in Hebrew means "judge," and "El" is God. So my name means "God is my judge." Or we might think of "Emmanuel," which means "God with us," the term Isaiah uses for the promised Messiah. Or we might think of the popular song "El Shaddai," which means "God Almighty."
Another word used is "adonai," which simply means "lord." "Adonai," or the singular form "adon" is used some 200 times in the Old Testament as a term of respect for a human lord. For example, Sarah used this term for Abraham when she called him "lord." But when it is coupled with "Elohim," then it is God the Lord, a term of respect and reverence for God himself.
So now we have two basic terms: "El" or "Elohim" meaning God, and "Adonai" meaning Lord. But that doesn't give an actual name for God. That's where we get into our text for today.
In Exodus, God speaks to Moses and gives him the name by which he is formally known. The simple English translation is "I am," the meaning given to the Hebrew word "Yahveh" (or "Yahweh" if you prefer). This is four Hebrew consonants, Yodh, hay, vav, hay. That is God's name.
But the Old Testament Jews were either paranoid or superstitious or a combination of the two. They were so afraid of taking God's name in vain, or somehow misusing it, that they wouldn't even say it. Instead, when they would read the Scriptures out loud, and they came across the Hebrew name for God "Yahveh," they would say "adonai" instead.
One unique feature of Hebrew is that there are no vowels, only consonants. The ancient Jews knew the Scriptures so well, and also from the context, that they were able to read in the vowel sounds without the vowels actually being there. However, to make it easier to read, especially for those who were not quite as well versed in the language, in later years the Masoretes of Tiberius added marks underneath the letters to indicate the vowel sounds. This is called a "pointed" text, which is most commonly used today.
The Masoretes were Jews however; so the old practice of saying "adonai" instead of "Yahveh" carried through. What they did was to take the vowel points for "adonai" and superimpose them upon "Yahveh." So when you combine the "Yahveh" consonants and the "adonai" vowels, the result is the word "Yehovah," or "Jehovah" as we would say it in English. It's kind of a manufactured word, but still distinctive in that Jehovah only refers to the one true God.
So why don't we see "Yahveh" or "Jehovah" in our English Bibles? It is in some English translations. But if you see the word "Lord" written in all capital letters as it is in our Psalm and Old Testament Lesson for today, this is the clear reference to God's formal name, "Yahveh." That's the reference we have to the one true God.
I'm going to switch gears here, and see how this plays out in the New Testament. In John chapter 8 Jesus is having a rather heated dialogue with the Pharisees. In verse 58 Jesus tells them: "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am."
This infuriated the Pharisees. They wanted to stone Jesus to death for saying what he did. And if we look at this verse in light of what we learn from the Old Testament, Jesus identifies himself as the one true God! The very name of God that the Jews were so afraid of saying out loud is the name Jesus uses for himself, and right in the face of the Pharisees no less! Jesus is indeed Jehovah!
Let's look at what the Apostle Paul says in this regard in a couple of places. In Romans chapter 14, verse 11, he quotes the prophet Isaiah (45:23): "As I live, says the Lord (Jehovah), every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." And continuing this thought in Philippians chapter 2, verses 9-10 Paul writes: "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Jehovah), to the glory of God the Father." Do you see the connection?
I think that now you can see how Christians are to remain loyal to Jehovah. We do this through faith alone. We believe that Jesus Christ is true God, begotten from eternity. We believe that Jesus is indeed God's true Son, the Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour, the "Yeshua" of the Old Testament, the one sent to this earth to save us from our sins and open the path to heaven for us. Our faith is indeed how we remain loyal to Jehovah, to Jesus our Saviour.
To bring this into our present day as we remember with thanksgiving our nation's independence and freedom, we are free to pledge our loyalty to Jesus. We can do this without fear. We can witness him in our daily lives. We can gather to worship as we please. We can use whatever term we want for his name. We are indeed blest.
In contrast, we don't have to look very far to see the horrors that the Jihadists and Isis have unleashed against the Christians living in Muslim countries. Genocide happens all the time. In fact, at our recent synod convention, our offerings went to help the immediate need of persecuted Christians in Syria and Iraq.
Dr. Curtis Leins, our Bishop wrote the following: "For the sake of Christ, we are gathering our resources of prayer, Christian kindness, and material provision in order to serve as the hands and heart of Christ in a dark and dying world....Christ has equipped us and inspired us to be his witnesses to those both near and far."
Just think of how blest we are. People have had contracts taken out on their lives for besmirching the name of Mohammed and Islam. Salmon Rushdie, who wrote the book "Satanic Verses" that exposes Muslims has had to go into hiding, and is still being threatened. Even several cartoonists have been threatened because of merely a supposed inference to Islam. It is sad indeed.
By contrast, I could go into the most heavily Christian area and walk through the streets shouting all sorts of anti-Christian blasphemy without fear. The Pope hasn't unleashed the Swiss Guard against those who drag the name of Jesus through the mud. We don't go out and routinely persecute all those who practice a pagan or heathen religion. That isn't the way things work for those who remain loyal to Jehovah.
Our loyalty is a personal thing. Merely being part of a group that claims loyalty to Jehovah isn't enough. And a feigned outward expression isn't going to fool God. The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts individually. We have a personal relationship with Jesus, and that is where we have to focus. In order for a group of people to remain loyal to Jehovah, to Jesus and the Gospel, each person has to be a confessing, Bible-believing Christian. That's the only way it's going to work.
God imparts his grace, his undeserved love to each of us individually. He makes himself known and gives us the gift of faith. He meets us right where we are in life and ministers to our soul.
We don't have to look too far to see what sin is doing in our world. People are being tortured and slaughtered. Genocide is becoming all too common. The attack at the airport in Istanbul was horrific. And I can't even begin to imagine how many lives have been permanently altered because of this. This well-orchestrated scheme was nothing other than sheer evil being unleashed against innocent people. They were minding their own business at a busy airport. The attack was unprovoked.
Aren't we under the attack of the devil all the time too? Here we are, trying to peacefully live our lives, and the devil wreaks havoc. We sin. We fall short. We get frustrated. We get angry. We seek revenge. We sorrow. We're hurt and we're wounded. We need help.
And so we turn to the only person who can help. We look to Jehovah to come to our aid, and he does. Jesus Christ is indeed Jehovah in every respect. Jesus is Jehovah incarnate, in the flesh.
It was Jehovah who lay in the manger. It was Jehovah who, at age 12, sat at the feet of the teachers in the temple. It was Jehovah who turned water into wine, who made the lame walk, the blind see, and the dead come back to life. It was Jehovah who was illegally tried, spat upon, and beaten. Jehovah wore that crown of thorns and the purple robe. And it was Jehovah who hung on the cross and suffered and died for your sins and mine. Yes, we look to Jesus Christ and see that he is indeed the one true God of the Bible.
We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world. But we find strength in the forgiveness and restoration that Jesus gives us. We find the hope for a better future in the life to come as we move forward during this life. Jehovah has saved us, and he has done so through faith alone. Remaining loyal to Jehovah means that we are loyal to Jesus our Saviour, which is something that happens in each of our hearts. Remaining loyal to Jehovah is a matter of faith, and faith alone.
Today we reflect once again with a spirit of thanksgiving the blessings God has given us in the land in which we live. Other people living in the free world can be just as thankful. In Psalm 33 we are reminded of these blessings. I'm going to give you some excerpts, where I have inserted the name "Jehovah" so you can see where the formal name of God is given: "Let all the earth fear the Lord (Jehovah); let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! (v. 8). The Lord (Jehovah) brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord (Jehovah) stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord (Jehovah), the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!" (v. 10-12). "Our soul waits for the Lord (Jehovah); he is our help and our shield; for our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord (Jehovah), be upon us, even as we hope in you." (v. 20-22)
Remaining loyal to Jehovah is something that begins in us, and is lived out in our day-to-day lives. We show this loyalty by being good citizens, by going to the polls on Election Day, by obeying our leaders and those in authority, by being good neighbors, by being good in our various roles as family members, and in every other way we can show our loyalty to our God.
Remaining loyal to Jehovah is the only way we can experience true freedom. Through Jesus Christ, Jehovah incarnate, we are free from sin, death, hell, and the devil. Regardless of what society and the government does, and despite what our enemies attempt to do to us however horrific it may be, the freedom we know in Jesus Christ is always there. Through him we are free for all eternity. So yes, we pray that we will always remain loyal to Jehovah, the one true God in the Bible, from whom all freedom comes.