The 'I Am' Sayings of Jesus
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
2 May 1999
In the Gospel of John there are seven times when Jesus uses the words 'I am' of himself. Each one of these statements represents a description of how Jesus is the answer to our human spiritual needs.
1. I am the bread of life
John 6:29-40 Jesus answered, "The work of God is
this: to believe in the one he has sent." So they asked him, "What
miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What
will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written:
`He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" Jesus said to them, "I tell you
the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it
is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God
is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." "Sir," they
said, "from now on give us this bread." Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread
of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me
will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do
not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes
to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my
will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who
sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them
up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the
Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at
the last day."
There are some basic things which we need to survive. Food and water. Jesus was approached by a woman at a level and he said to her I am the living water and if you drink of me you will never get thirsty. The woman thought that Jesus was speaking about material water and said she wanted it. Of course Jesus was speaking not in materialistic terms but in spiritual terms. Just as we need food and drink to survive in physical terms, so we need spiritual food and drink to survive. Now Jesus again says that he is the only permanent satisfaction for the human desire for life. We are naturally programmed to be hungry without food. In the same way we are naturally programmed to become hungry in spiritual terms and we need to be fed. Jesus is the spiritual food that we need. He is the answer to the craving of the world. Moreover, if we eat bread and water we will still die. Each one of us is dying and so Jesus takes this spiritual nourishment which he provides to a higher level, he says
John 6 47-51 "I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."
Some of those who heard Jesus would have been infuriated. For example the Sadducees did not believe in any resurrection. For Jesus to speak like this and offer the possibility of life beyond death would have made them very angry. More than that however, he went even further and said that this resurrection depended literally upon him! Today Christians have seen in the taking of bread and wine at the communion table a very significant physical action which reminds us that our well being and peace is derived only from faith in Jesus.
2. I am the light of the world John 9:1
John 9:1-7 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Neither this man nor his parents sinned, " said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no-one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." Having said this, he spat on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. "Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
Jesus is the light in our darkness. Jesus uses a physical action to demonstrate a physical truth. Jesus gives sight to a blind man to show that he is the one who brings light to the world. This incident is therefore a sign. The disciples saw in the man's blindness a punishment for sin. If there was a physical ailment it was thought to be a retribution by God. Some people still think that illness or misfortune is a punishment by God (sorry, Glen Hoddle) Jesus refused to accept that this was the case and instead he used it as an opportunity to reveal more of who he was.
3. I am the gate John 10:1
John 10:1-10 "I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger's voice." Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
Jesus is the entrance into security and fellowship. The Shepherd would stand by the gate and look after the sheep as they entered into the pen. If they were damaged in any way, cut or grazed he would pour oil on their wounds. We very often see Jesus as the gatekeeper in a negative way. Jesus is presented as a heavenly bouncer booting people out as they try to get into heaven. The image of Jesus as the gate is a positive one. He is one who welcomes and keeps safe from harm. The idea of a gate also introduces the idea that there is a need for protection and a place of safety. There are those who seek to cause us harm.
4 I am the Good Shepherd John 10:11
John 10:11-16 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd."
The belief in God as the Good Shepherd has a long history. The most famous reference is Psalm 23. Jesus is our guide and protector in life. Jesus contrasts his true care for those who are his own with others who only pretend to care for the sheep. The hired hand will lead the sheep but will not show ultimate care for them, really he does not have their interests at heart above his own. The Good Shepherd is prepared to be totally sacrificial. At the time of Jesus there were many competing voices for the attention of the people as there are today. Some of these voices are quite clearly out to kill the sheep and lead them astray some of them are wolves. We see in our society today those who will cause harm to the sheep. Our children in school are often taught by school teachers who ridicule the teachings of Jesus and perpetuate lies. An example of this might be the manner in which children are led to believe that religious people who believe in God adopt a position of faith, whereas those who deny the existence of God are behaving in a rational and more scientific way. Of course to believe or not to believe in God - both positions are ones which require a step of faith. As Christians we would want to say that to deny the existence of God in the face of so much evidence, including not only the natural order of the universe but also the testimony of so many believers is an irrational choice.
Of course it is not just children who are led astray, we have to be careful whose voice we listen to, what messages we hear and how they affect us. The Good Shepherd cares for the sheep because they are his. We belong to God, he made us, that is why he loves us and wants to care for us. When Jesus says he knows the sheep, he does not mean just to know about them. It is more than a factual recognition, it denotes intimacy, love and care. There are so many unanswered questions about life. We do not know why there has to be so much suffering and pain. We don't know why so few people have the opportunity to know about Jesus and who he is. Yet in the midst of these questions the death of Jesus and his willingness to die for us assures us of God's good intentions towards us and his love for us. It is the death of Christ which makes sense of God.
5. I am the resurrection and the life John 11:25
John 11:21-25 "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
The most penetrating of all questions is that of death. The facts of death speak against our human pride and self sufficiency. Death reminds us that all is not well and that we are in need of help. Jesus is our hope in death, he is the help that we need, the answer to our greatest longing for life. Again Jesus uses a sign, that of the raising of Lazarus, to demonstrate the deeper spiritual importance of who he was.
6. I am the way the truth and the life John 14:1
John 14:1-6 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me."
There are many people who claim to have discovered new and important truth. Jesus does not say that he has discovered anything. There were no secret passwords, no wonderful discoveries. Jesus did not find the truth, he was the truth. It was all fixed on him as a person, as God. Jesus had not found the answer he was the answer. Jesus solution is not a recipe it is a relationship, with him. Jesus is the life because he has conquered death. Jesus was unabashed in saying that he was quite unique. There was no equal. There are those who say that there are many roads to God. All religions are just different paths up the mountain to God. Jesus left no room for that view. He was quite certain that he was different. He was not pointing the way to God, he was God. Now Christians do disagree about whether those who do not believe in Jesus enter into the presence of God. Some say that refusal to believe results in punishment, some say that God will not allow even one soul to perish, and there are all manner of compromises in between. However what is clear from Jesus is that there is no other equal to him. In him is all truth, he is the way, there is no other. It is for this reason that he is our certainty in the perplexity of so many of life's questions.
7. I am the Vine John 15:1
John 15:1-5 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. "
Much is made between the wine producing regions of the world as to which wine is the best. Certain climates, soils are said to produce particular types of wine. However one truth is certain, the vine stock which is used is crucial. You must have the right stock of vine in order to produce good fruit. To bear the right kind of fruit you have to be a part of the proper vine. Again this is important, if we wish to make sense of life. A branch which is cut off from the vine may appear to produce leaves temporarily, but inevitably it will wither because there is no source of life to sustain it. Separated from the vine, the branch will never bear fruit.
Jesus is saying that if we are separated from him we will never make sense of our lives. We will never realise what he has designed for us to be and to achieve in our lives. We can never be fulfilled and satisfied in life if we are separated from Jesus. He is our source of vitality and strength for productiveness. There is no point being ambitious with out involving Jesus in our plans, it will only lead to emptiness and unfulfilled dreams. If we are in contact with Jesus, if his presence is with us, then fruit is inevitable. Apart from Christ we can do nothing, with Christ then we will be amazed at what is possible.
There are those who think that Christianity is all about what you cannot do. We looked at this on our 'Its not the Alpha Course' at Lent. When we think of ethical behaviour we usually think of sexual ethics and Christianity has been seen as Jesus telling us what we can't do. What teaching did Jesus give on sexual ethics?—there are only two occasions when Jesus gets anywhere near giving instructions. One was when a woman was brought to him who was caught in adultery and he let her off the punishment. The other was when he was teaching that thoughts were important and that it was just as bad to think lustfully as to do it.
Remarkably Jesus spent little time telling people what they couldn't do, his message was about what they could do. Jesus is not a negative leader, don't do this, don't do that—you can't have fun and enjoy yourself. Rather he concentrates on the positive aspects, this is how to achieve real life. Jesus wants the lives of his followers to be happy and fulfilled, it is only through following him that this can be achieved, we cannot produce fruit without being attached to the vine.
The Christian faith is not about how much we know. It is not something which we have to learn and understand. It is not about being mindful of a rule book and trying to fit our lives within a rigid structure of laws. Christianity is about turning to Jesus Christ and seeking by our follow him. He desires that we receive him, not simply for what he might give us, but for what he might be for us. Jesus is going to the heart of all human problems. We are beset by questions How can we find meaning in this universe, how can we quiet our troubled souls and find answers to the questions which we face. If we seek the meaning of life we find it in the one who said 'I am.' Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly.