Today we are continuing our conversation through the book of John. John is walking us towards his objective:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31-31)
As we walk with John, we need to remember that John is not just assembling a simple grouping of Jesus stories. He is walking us in process, using repetition, hyperlinks, and themes. This book is written with intense intentionality.
Today as we move into the last two-thirds of chapter 8, there is an explosion of a thematic repetition: “I am.” Fifteen times in verses 12 through 59 the phrase “I am” is used. John is trying to get our attention with his use of this phrase. Here are just a few of Jesus’ “I am” declarations that John uses:
- I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35)
- I am the Light of the World (John 8:12)
- I am the Door (John 10:9)
- I am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14)
- I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25)
- I am the Way and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6)
- I am the Vine (John 15:1,5)
As we walk into this, we need to process some of the complexities of identity.
How do these questions help you see your personal identity?
- What is my biggest strength?
- What is my proudest achievement?
- What am I worried about?
- What do I like to do for fun?
- What do I believe in?
- What am I interested in, but haven't tried?
- How are my relationships?
- What do I like and dislike about my job?
- What is my internal dialogue telling me?
- How do I see my stressors impacting me?
Those questions were all from your own personal perspective, but our identity is not just formed in a vacuum of self-perspective. Thinking about what others might think of me can be helpful. There can be a difference between the real self and the ideal self, between who we think we are or who we want people to think we are and who we actually are.
How do these questions help you see your identity?
- What do others see as my biggest strength?
- What do others see as my greatest achievement?
- What do people worry about for me?
- When do people think I am fun?
- What do people want me to believe?
- What do people want me to do and try?
- How do people think my relationship with them is going?
- What do people think I like and dislike about my job?
- What are the voices around me saying?
- How do people see my stressors impacting me?
The hearers of John’s writing and of Jesus had a clear connection to the phrase “I am.”
In Exodus chapter 3, Moses had been born into a world where the Pharaoh had enslaved the Israelite people and was exercising infanticide. He was rescued out of the river by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised with the identity of being an Israelite but with the privilege of Pharaoh’s household. Moses struck out in defense of an Israleite and killed a slave driver and became the enemy of Pharaoh and had to flee for his life. As a fugitive, he became part of a family and was watching his father-in-law’s sheep.
Now we come to Exodus 3:
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 wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 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. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
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.”
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 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.
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. 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. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 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.”
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?” 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.’”
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 you shall call me from generation to generation.” (Exodus 3:1-15)
What different identities have people given to God?
The last two-thirds of John 8 is conversation on the complexity of Jesus’ identity. We could (and people have) dissected this text over the centuries.
This portion of John has an intense repetition of “I am” statements. It’s not isolated to this portion of John; it is an ongoing theme.
Remembering John’s objective--to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and to believe that there is life and light in relationship with Him--I want to bring out three key “I am” moments in this text and open the door for us to process and dialogue.
The first is right in the beginning of this section:
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
There are two keys to this statement: (1) I am the light of the world, and (2) Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but walk in light.
What is Jesus’ responsibility and what is our responsibility? How are those responsibilities lived out?
Now, the next “I am” statement:
“I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come…. You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.” (John 8:21, 23)
There is a key again. Jesus is not just a good guy, an above-average person. He is not just a messenger and He is not just a person worth emulating. Jesus is from above.
C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity says this: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Jesus declares that he is from above, and different than these people He is addressing.
What is your response to Jesus' declaration and to C.S. Lewis’ expounding on it?
The last “I am” phrase for us to process is where Jesus really got under the skin of the listeners here.
“Before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58)
Here is the key: Abraham was focal, foundational, the start of the covenant relationship. All of the patriarchs, Abraham, Issac and Jacob, were foundational. And Jesus says He was before.
Remember the first words in John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)
How does Jesus’ being God and distinct in God impact a person’s relationship with Him?
We have talked about identity, both internal and external. We have talked about the different identities people have given to God. We have talked about Jesus’ responsibility and our responsibility, and have brought C.S. Lewis’ declaration into our conversation. We have talked about Jesus’ being God and distinct in God. Now let’s bring this together.
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)
But how did Jesus get to these works? Jesus gave them this answer:
“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19)
Jesus looked to God and then did what He saw God doing. When He says what He says in John 14, what if He’s just saying the simple truth that you’ll do greater work because of who God is? That you’re not supposed to pursue greater work, but simply to pursue God and look to Him as Jesus did?
The religious leaders didn’t respond to Jesus in this text by saying, “Oh, that’s great news, please tell us more about how we can be free.”
They said, “We already have enough of God; we don’t need what you have. We’re good.”
Do we approach God that way? Maybe, but maybe it’s just because we don’t realize who God is and who we are. Maybe we’re missing it. Maybe He’s been saying, “I am” to us in many ways and we haven’t listened or we’ve been afraid or _______________ fill in the blank.
He’s still speaking. He’s always speaking. About who He is, about who we are. I want to listen and learn from Him. What are the things God says are true about you? What things has God always said that are true about you? And in what ways do you hear God saying "I am" in regards to Himself today?
How does God identify you? How does that impact you? How do you identify God? How does that impact you? How do you hear God saying, "I AM" today?
Take It Deeper Questions:
- Read John 8:12-30
- Share one of your earliest memories.
- What makes a memory vivid to you even with the passing of time?
- How is following Jesus like following someone with a light through a dark place?
- What is the significance of Jesus’ claims?
- How is following distinct from believing?
- How does a person follow better?
Bible Reading Plan:
- Exodus 27
- Exodus 28
- Exodus 29
- John 10
- John 11
- John 12