Text: John 6:25-59
Over the next few days, we will examine seven saying of Jesus. Taken together they have commonly been referred to as the “I am” saying of Jesus. At one point in Jesus’ ministry at Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27-29) Jesus asked his disciples – “who do you say I am.” They gave their answer. But in these seven “I am” sayings Jesus speaks for himself and tells us who he is and what he came to do. There are two Greek words which mean “I am.” There is ego from which we get our English word ego which refers to personality or identity. Then there is the word eimi. Jesus could have said, ego the bread of life or he could have said, eimi, the bread of life. But he does not. He uses both. If we read vrs 35 literally it would read, ego eimi (I am I am) the bread of life.” It is emphatic. This is extremely rare in Greek. The most important place where this occurs is in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew bible). In Exodus 3 when God gives Moses his divine name “I am that I am” it is translated ego eimi. When Jesus uses these words (ego eimi) in the seven I am sayings he wants us to draw the conclusion that he is God.
I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE
If we went to China and asked the poorest communities what was their staple diet they would reply “rice.” If we went into rural South Africa and asked people what was their staple food they would say “mealie meal.” What would happen to our food if there was a catastrophic drought or ravaging flood? The prices would go up and people would not be able to afford their staple food which sustains them, and they would starve. Jesus describes himself as the bread of life. Without him you perish.
- WHERE IS TRUE LIFE FOUND – The answer is found in vrs 25-35. The day before they had seen Jesus miraculously feed 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. The people had seen the sign but they did not see what it signified. In vrs 32 Jesus says, 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. This piques the people’s interest, 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. Again he says in vrs 48, 49; 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. Jesus’ logic is irrefutable. The manna that fell in the desert perished quickly as did the people who ate it. Its real purpose was to point to Jesus as the real manna, the real bread from heaven. This bread never perishes and those who eat it last forever.
- HOW IS TRUE LIFE PROVIDED – Jesus gives his answer to this question in vrs 48-51; 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 forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. These words are of course not literal but figurative – in the same way when Jesus says, “I am the gate” and “I am the vine.” What then does Jesus mean when he says this bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. We live in an industrialized society and so we find it a little harder to grasp Jesus’ meaning. However, the initial hearers were part of an agrarian society. Farmers know that if we are to eat then something must die. If we are to eat a hamburger a cow must die. If we are to eat bread, then stalks of grain must die. If it does not die, then you die. It is either your life or the foods life. For us to be granted eternal life cost Christ his life. This verse looks forward to Calvary. How can we obey vrs 54? Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day. How can we do that? How can I eat and drink? Put this verse alongside vrs 40. 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. How do you eat Christ’s flesh and drink his blood? Through looking to the Son and believing on him as the bread of God.
Text: John 8:12; (John 9)
We saw last time that the background to the “I Am” saying of Jesus is Exodus 3. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek, God’s revealed name “I am that I am” was translated by two Greek words ego eimi (I am I am). Outside of the seven “I am” sayings these words ego eimi are found in a few other places in John’s gospel. For instance, in John 8:53 the Jews asked Jesus, “Who do you think you are?” In response Jesus says in vrs 58, “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am! (ego eimi)” The Jews responded by wanting to stone Jesus because of his direct claim to deity.
I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
The background to John 7-10 is the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. During this festival people lived in booths to remind themselves of how their forefathers had wandered in the desert. During the evening there would be the temple light show. The four towering menorahs were lit so that the temple was bathed in light and the priests would put on a light show and perform torch dances while the Levites sang and played music. Can you see then why Jesus would say in 8:12; I am (ego eimi) the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life. Jesus repeats himself again in 9:4, 5; 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.” It is with this backdrop of the Feast of Tabernacles that in John 9, Jesus meets a man blind from birth and heals him. He uses this healing as a launch pad to speak about blindness darker than physical blindness which he can heal as well.
- THE BLESSING OF SPIRITUAL SIGHT
As Jesus and his disciples were walking, at the beginning of chapter 9 they came across a man who had been blind from birth. What happened next? Look at vrs 6; having said this, he spit 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. So, the man went and washed, and came home seeing. This healing was merely a sign of the greater healing that Jesus would do in this man’s life. It is fascinating in the interviews that follow how this man’s spiritual sight is gradually improved. He starts in vrs 10 by saying, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes.” When he was asked by the Pharisees for his opinion about Jesus his sight had improved. The man replied, “He is a prophet.” When he was interviewed a second time by the Pharisees his understanding had sharpened. In vrs 33 he said, if this man were not from God, he could do nothing. The Pharisees are furious and throw him out. In vrs 35 Jesus met the man and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He eventually replied, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshipped him. Do you see this man’s progression to spiritual sight (the man they call Jesus to a prophet, to a man from God, to the Son of Man)?
- THE TRAGEDY OF SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS
Jesus had just performed a marvelous miracle and once again the Pharisees are so short sighted that they can’t marvel at the miracle that had just been performed. All that concerns them is that it was done on the Sabbath. Whereas the blind man was increasingly becoming sighted the sighted Pharisees were becoming increasingly blind. The miracle of healing a blind person should have alerted them to the possibility that they were wrong. After all one of the OT signs of the coming of the Messiah (Isaiah 29:18; 35:5; 42:6, 7). The miraculous healing of a man blind from birth should have alerted the Pharisees to the fact; “maybe we are seeing things wrongly.” But no! Though seeing they become increasingly blind until their world becomes pitch black. Is this not what Jesus said in vrs 39? For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind. You see those who acknowledge their blindness will see because they see the need. Those like the Pharisees who think that they can see will remain blind because they don’t see the need. Look at vrs 40, 41; Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”
Text: John 10:1-11
We have seen that the background to the “I Am” sayings of Jesus comes from Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush in Exodus 3. When Moses asked God for His name he was told in vrs 14, “I AM WHO I AM. When the OT was translated into Greek this was translated by the Greek words ego eimi (I am I am).
When Jesus uses these same two Greek words ego eimi in the seven “I Am” sayings in John’s gospel he was making a clear statement of his divine identity. We have seen that the same Greek words ego eimi are used by Jesus in John 8:58. There is one last place in John’s gospel where Jesus combines these two words. It is in the Garden of Gethsemane when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus. When they told Jesus the identity of the person they had come to apprehend Jesus said in John 18:5 ego eimi. The response of the people was to fall to the ground in the presence of this majestic person. Jesus uses the same words ego eimi again in vrs 6, 8 to emphasise what he had said. In John 10 we come to consider the third and fourth “I Am” sayings of Jesus. Jesus says that he is the gate and the good shepherd. We have to distinguish between the two, but it is impossible to separate them.
I AM THE GATE
In John 10:7 Jesus introduces his third “I Am” saying when he said, I tell you the truth, I am (ego eimi) the gate for the sheep.” To fully appreciate this saying, we need to understand a little about sheep and shepherding in ancient Israel. Sheep would graze outside all day but unlike other domesticated animals, they have no “homing instinct.” They are incapable of finding their way back to a sheepfold at night. They are totally dependent on the shepherd. At night the shepherd would bring them into the sheepfold. If the flock was out in the fields the shepherd could make a makeshift shelter out of rocks and sticks and he himself would lie at the entrance. More often however the sheep would be brought back into a public sheepfold made out of rocks. On top of the rocks would be briars to prevent thieves or animals from having access to the sheep. This sheepfold would be large enough to hold several flocks of sheep. One gatekeeper would be appointed to the guard the sheepfold at night. The next day the shepherds could call their sheep, each of which knew and responded to their shepherd’s voice. In John 10:1-11 Jesus is making two points.
- We need to understand the immediate context of this third “I Am” saying. It follows straight on from the ‘I am the light of the world” saying. Jesus had just healed a man born blind. The Pharisees instead of rejoicing in the man’s restored sight became jealous of Jesus and abusive towards the man himself. It is almost as if in John 10 Jesus is asking them the question “what kind of shepherds are you?” When Jesus says in vrs 8, all who came before me were thieves and robbers who does he have in mind. Clearly, Jesus would not refer to Moses or the prophets as thieves. He has false Pharisaic shepherds in mind who maimed the sheep they were called to tend. The background as we shall see next time is Ezekiel 34.
- What does Jesus have in mind when he repeatedly says I am the gate for the sheep. He is clearly teaching that God has a sheepfold which is a heavenly sanctuary of peace and protection. His kingdom has one door. It is exclusive. There are not five different gates into heaven but only one. The flock of God has one shepherd and one gate, and that gate is Christ. In our modern generation when we claim that there is only one way to be saved, we are labelled as arrogant. This is what Jesus teaches in our passage. It is also what the apostles taught. In Acts 4:12 Peter says, salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. In 1 Timothy 2:5 Paul declares, for there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Jesus is both our Shepherd and the gate to the sheepfold who provides for all our needs. The one who repent of their sin and believes in Christ and enters through the gate will enjoy the eternal bliss of his sheepfold.
Text: John 10:11-21
Today we consider the fourth of Jesus’ “I Am” sayings. In each of them Jesus uses the words ego eimi which unmistakably is meant to remind us of the Lord’s unique self-disclosure in Exodus 3:14. In the Greek translation of the OT (the Septuagint) these words ego eimi (I am, I am) are found in Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 41:4, 43:10, 46:4, 48:12, 17, 51:12 and 52:6. In John 10 Jesus has just said “I am the Gate”, thereby stating that he is the only way to God. That leads quite naturally to Jesus’ fourth saying “I am the Good Shepherd.” In Psalm 23:4 David spoke of the comfort of being cared for by the rod and staff of his heavenly shepherd. The staff of course referred to the hooked end which the shepherd would use to rescue a sheep from a dangerous situation. The rod referred to the stick which was used by shepherds to drive off wild animals.
I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD
The Old Testament background to this fourth saying is passages like Ezekiel 34 which is one long indictment of the worthless shepherds of Israel (her kings and prophets). For instance, in Ezekiel 34:4, 5 we read the Lord’s accusation against these false shepherds, you have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. All of this prepares the way for the Lord’s promise of his Messiah in vrs 23, I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. In John 10, Jesus identifies himself as that shepherd. Jesus highlights several precious truths in this discourse.
- In vrs 11, 15, 17, 18 Jesus refers to the voluntary sacrifice of the “good shepherd”, The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. In vrs 12 Jesus says that the hired hand has no vested interest in the sheep and no ultimate concern for their welfare. When trouble arose, they would run to save themselves. A shepherd who owned sheep was committed to their welfare. In protecting them from wild animals they may die even though they did not intend to. Jesus, however, says that he would quite deliberately lay down his life for his sheep. He was helping the disciples to process his impending death. Furthermore, in vrs 17, 18 Jesus speaks about his authority not only to lay down his life but also to take it up again. It is doubtful that the disciples saw any hint of the resurrection in these words when Jesus first spoke them. However, in the days following Christ’s resurrection they would have found encouragement as they recalled these words.
- In vrs 16 Jesus goes on to say, 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. When Jesus speaks about those outside of the sheep pen of Israel, he clearly means Gentiles and Samaritans. God’s sheep were not limited to Israel (Isaiah 49:6, 56:8). They needed to be brought within the one flock of God (Ephesians 2:11-22). The founder of AIM was a man called Peter Cameron Scott. His efforts to take the gospel to Africa were tragic. His brother, John, joined him in the mission but within months died of fever. Scott buried him in the jungle and committed himself again to preach the gospel. His health broke down and utterly discouraged Scott returned to England. In London, Scott found fresh inspiration at the tomb of David Livingstone. For the text inscribed on his tomb was taken from John 10:16; “other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring.” He found fresh courage to return to Africa.
As we reflect on this fourth “I Am” saying of Jesus are we surprised that In Hebrews 13:20, 21 our shepherd is not just spoken of as “good” but “great.” May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Text: John 11:17-44
We come today to consider the fifth of the “I Am” sayings of Jesus in John 11:25 where Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” The author Thomas Hardy wrote a little book called Countdown. He says, “the two ultimate questions of existence are these: has anyone cheated death? If he has, did he make a way for me to cheat it?” As Christians we of all people can give definite answers. Has anybody ever cheated death? Yes! Jesus Christ. Has he made a way for us to cheat it to? Yes he has! Early in John 11 we are told that Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus had fallen seriously ill. His two sisters, Martha and Mary sent word to Jesus informing him of Lazarus’ grave condition. By the time Jesus arrived Lazarus had been dead four days.
I AM THE RESURRECTION
Our text focuses on two sisters, Martha and Mary. Both of them address Jesus with exactly the same words. In vrs 21 Martha says, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. In vrs 32 Mary says exactly the same thing, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Although they address Jesus in exactly the same way Jesus’ responds differently. When Martha speaks, he almost argues with her. She is slipping into despair. Jesus pushes back against that flow and imparts hope. When Mary speaks however Jesus’ enters into her sadness. We see here two ministries of Jesus. The ministry of truth and the ministry of tears.
- THE MINISTRY OF TRUTH
In response to Martha’s conviction in vrs 21 Jesus replies in vrs 23, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha is convinced of that as vrs 24 says. In vrs 25 Jesus goes on to say, 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? When Jesus uttered these words, I am the resurrection and the life and then proceeded to raise Lazarus he knew certain things to be true. The only way for him to interrupt Lazarus’ funeral was to cause his own. The only way for him to bring Lazarus out of the grave was to put himself in the grave. Remember that victorious cry in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. For death to be destroyed the sting of sin that causes death must be drawn. That is what Jesus did at the cross by dying in our place. He drew the fangs out of death which was sin (Hebrews 2:14). Jesus told Martha in vrs 25, “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?” Martha answered this question by saying “Yes I believe.” Perhaps we would all do well to answer Jesus’ question for ourselves.
- THE MINISTRY OF TEARS
In response to Mary’s conviction in vrs 32 Jesus expresses two emotions – anger and tears. In vrs 33, 38 we are told that Jesus was deeply moved. The word he used really refers to the angry snorting of horses. Why was Jesus angry? He was angry with sin, sickness and death that causes so much havoc and generates so much sorrow in this fallen world. He was angry at death itself. We were made to live and not die. Death only made its entrance into the world as a result of Adam’s sin. It is an alien invader. Jesus had to enter this world and go to a cross and deal with our sin. It is because of sin that we are separated from God. This was why Jesus had come into the world. To deal with our sin by going to the cross. The second emotion that Jesus displayed in the face of death was tears. In vrs 35 (the shortest verse in the bible) we are simply told Jesus wept. If Jesus, the perfect Son of God responded to the death of a friend by weeping then it is perfectly acceptable and no doubt emotionally healthy for us to do likewise.
We need both Jesus’ ministry of truth and his ministry of tears. Jesus grabs Martha by the shoulders with truth. “Listen to me! Don’t despair! I am the resurrection and the life!” Jesus puts his arms around Mary with tears and weeps with her.
Text: John 14:1-14
Today we consider the sixth “I Am” saying of Jesus. Jesus spoke these words on the evening of his betrayal, the day before his crucifixion. In 13:33 he had already told his disciples that he was only going to be with them a while longer. Then they would look for him but not find him. All this talk about Jesus leaving was disturbing to his followers. In 14:3 Jesus proceeds to tell them, 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. Then in vrs 4 Jesus drops an offhanded comment. “But of course, you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas confesses that he does not. I am thankful that Thomas had the courage to voice his ignorance because the Lord goes on to give this sixth saying.
I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE
People love to quote John Godfrey Saxe’s poem; “the blind men and the elephant.” In the poem six blind men wanted to learn what an elephant was like. Each approached the elephant from a different direction. One approached from the side and described the beast as a wall. A second approached the tusk and compared the elephant to a spear. The third felt the trunk and likened the elephant to a snake. The fourth felt the ear and likened the animal to a fan. The fifth examined the leg and compared it to a tree. The last man approached the tail and compared it to a rope. Two lines from the poem summarise Saxe’s view, though each was partly in the right and all were in the wrong. This is the world’s perspective. All religions are basically describing the same animal from a different vantage point. The poem seems so respectful, but it is incorrect. Think about two things:
- What if the elephant speaks and debunks all these foolish ideas and simply says,
“I am an elephant!” The God of the bible is a speaking God and he makes very direct claims. In vrs 6 Jesus says, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Believers in Christ were not initially called “Christians.” This was a name that was given to them by the people of Antioch in Acts 11:26. Before that perhaps the most common name by which believers were called was “the people of the Way” (Acts 9:2). No doubt they were called this because of what Jesus said in John 14:6. Jesus simple statement “I am the way” puts us on a collision course with the pluralism that surrounds us. He is the only way to heaven (Acts 4:12).
- The second reason why Saxe’s poem is incorrect is because the narrator is not Blind. He sees the whole picture and smiles at the blind people arguing over their contradictory viewpoints. Not only does Jesus tells his disciples that he is the way but he goes on to say that he is the truth and the life. He proceeds in vrs 7 to say, if you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him. Philip speaks up and says Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us. The disciples had seen many amazing things, the dead raised to life, the blind and deaf having their sight and hearing restored, Jesus transfigured and feeding five thousand. Now they ask for something that not even Moses was permitted to see (Exodus 33:20). Jesus’ response in vrs 9 is earth shattering, anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. In vrs 10, 11 Jesus proceeds to inform Philip that the disciples had been in the presence of God incarnate. They had been accompanying the very manifestation of the invisible God for the past three years.
Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life. He is the truth because he tells us the truth about himself and ourselves. We are sinners in need of forgiveness. Jesus is the way because he has made a way possible for us to stand before a holy God. He went to the cross to die for our sins. Jesus is also the life because it is only once we embrace him as Saviour, that life, real life starts.
Text: John 15:1-17
Following the Passover meal Jesus walked with his disciples through the streets of Jerusalem. Eventually they would arrive in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the streets of Jerusalem were walls, gardens and palm trees and vines. They were not like the vines that were in the Mount of Olives which were cut back right to the stump every autumn. The vines in the city branched along the walls of houses and were even trained around windows. Jesus used one such vine to introduce his last “I Am” saying.
I AM THE VINE
There are four characters in the illustration. There is the true vine which is Jesus Christ. Then there is the vinedresser who plants and looks after the vine. That is the Father. Then there are unfruitful branches and finally the fruitful branches. In vrs 1 Jesus says I am the true vine. Who then is the false vine? Throughout the Old Testament the vine was used as a symbol for Israel. In Ezekiel 15 God calls Israel a useless vine. In Jeremiah 2, Israel is called a corrupt vine and in Isaiah 5 they are called a fruitless vine. Jesus has two main points.
- WHAT HAPPENS TO UNFRUITFUL BRANCHES
In vrs 2 Jesus says, he cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit. In order to optimise the harvest, a vine must be pruned. Branches that do not bear fruit must be cut off. Space must be created for air to circulate and for maximum sunshine to encourage the healthy branches to be even more fruitful. What becomes of the branches that have been cut and lie on the ground? It is not taken to the carpenters shed to be made into furniture. The wood from the vine is worthless for any other purpose than bearing sap to make grapes. If it fails in that purpose it has no other use. In vrs 6 Jesus says, if anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. Why do you think Jesus gave his disciples this teaching that night? Judas had entered into a deal with the religious authorities to betray Jesus. At any moment he would lead soldiers to arrest Jesus. To prepare his disciples for the shock Jesus helps them to understand that Judas was one of those non fruit bearing branches. He had been cut from the vine and would be thrown into the fire. He was not a citizen of heaven.
- WHAT HAPPENS TO FRUITFUL BRANCHES
Vrs 2 goes on to say, every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. When our heavenly vinedresser sees fruit on our branches it is pleasing to him. But there is always room for more fruit and so He will prune us back in such a way that we become more fruitful. Jesus proceeds in vrs 4 to say, 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. This teaching about remaining in Christ and he in us is the doctrine of the believers union with Christ. If we want his life to flow through us, we need to remain in him. This is the dominant phrase in our text and occurs eight times. The KJV translated the verb as abide. We often say – “I can’t abide that person.” What we mean is that I can’t have that person too close around me. If we are to abide in Christ it means that we need to stick close to him. A branch cannot bear fruit on its own on the ground. It has to be connected to the life-giving sap of the vine. A Christian cannot produce fruit on their own. They need the life-giving sap of Christ to flow through them. How do we do that? In the same way that our heavenly vinedresser prunes us. Through his word and prayer. In vrs 7 we go on to read, if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. If I am to abide in Christ I must pray. But how does he remain in me? Through his word.