"I AM" – The Way to Life
April 23, 2000 Gospel of John
Not many, if any of us, are all that sure of ourselves.
The whole world, it seems, is struggling for an identity.
We are witnessing a phenomenal resurgence of tribalism, nationalism, and factionalism on a global scale.
Our city is blanketed with youth who have no sense of belonging, no moral compass, no vision beyond a short-sighted future.
The paper Friday reported the high truancy rate among a number of the city's high schools in poorer neighborhoods as high as 49%.
The stated reasons are drugs, teen pregnancy, and no confidence in any ability to succeed.
Little seems to make sense when we read about a man who kicked his pregnant wife's unborn child to death and was charged with murder.
Not that that doesn't make sense.
But when we compare it to the premeditated killings of unborn children by the abortionists, it makes us wonder how we justify life and our own existence beyond the whim of society.
What can we hold on to when we are making a national effort control guns and the feds storm in with guns drawn to take Elian into custody?
How can we justify family life when we have openly homosexual teachers in kindergarten justifying their same-sex marriage lifestyle before such innocent minds?
Who can we trust and what can we believe?
I have the answer for you.
He is the One we have come to worship this morning because he is alive from the dead, the firstfruits of those who sleep.
1 Corinthians 15:20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
He is the eternal and everlasting One who is resurrected in righteousness and lives in everlasting light.
We can follow him and believe in him because of who he said he is.
His words were not vain, they are victorious.
When you know who you are, you don't have to impress anyone. When Jesus was taken before the high priest, who asked, "What do you have to say for yourself?" Jesus was silent. Wrong question.
When the high priest then asked Him if He was the Son of God, Jesus said, "I am." Right question.
Before Pilate, who asked, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus replied, "Yes, it is as you say." Right question.
In the Luke account, Herod asked Jesus question after question, but there was no reply. Wrong questions.
When you have discovered your identity, you need to say little else. Toyohiko Kagawa, the Japanese Christian who spent his life working with and for the poor, was speaking at Princeton. When he finished his talk, one student said to another, "He didn't say much, did he?"
A woman sitting nearby leaned over and murmured, "When you're hanging on a cross, you don't have to say anything."
Stanley Mooneyham -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 298-299.
John wrote his gospel later than Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Those are called the synoptic gospels because they have similar content and context.
But John wrote to a different audience – an emerging church in a hostile environment that he wanted to encourage in their own faith as well as encouraging them to win others to that same faith in Jesus.
But these are written that you may believe (continue to believe) that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31 NIVUS)
So the Gospel of John has some unique features.
Among those features are seven "I AM" statements by Jesus.
Those statements tell us unequivocally and descriptively who Jesus is that we might believe – so that we might have hope – so that we might have an identity in believing the truth about him.
God is not affected by our mutability; our changes do not alter him. When we are restless, he remains serene and calm; when we are low, selfish, mean, or dispirited, he is still the unalterable "I Am" - the same yesterday, today, and forever, in whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. What God is in himself, not what we may chance to feel him in this or that moment to be, that is our hope.
Frederick William Robertson (1816-1853)
So what are these seven great "I AM" statements?
I. I AM the bread of life. (6:35, 41, 48, 51)
Refers to physical life.
Spoken after the feeding of the 5,000 (6:1-15)
Read the label on the last loaf of bread you bought. More than likely you'll discover that it has been vitaminized, fortified, and pulverized. Bread is not the simple thing it once was. But how can you improve on the bread of life? More than that, it is unique. You can make physical bread from wheat, rye, rice, barley, corn, even potatoes. Bread for the soul can come from only one source. Jesus said, "I am the bread of life" (John 6:48).
-- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
After renowned missionary Johnathan Goforth (1859-1936) had spoken in a chapel in southern China, a man asked to talk to him. He said "I have heard you speak three times, and you always have the same theme. You always speak of Jesus Christ. Why?"
The missionary replied, "Sir, before answering your question, let me ask, 'What did you have for dinner today?'" "Rice," replied the man. "What did you have yesterday?" "The same thing."
"And what do you expect to eat tomorrow?" "Rice, of course. It gives me strength. I could not do without it. Sir, it is --" the man hesitated as if looking for a strong word. Then he added, "Sir, it is my very life!" The missionary responded quickly, "What you have said of rice, Jesus is to our soul! He is the 'rice' or 'bread of life.'"
II. I AM the light of the world. (8:12, 9:5)
Refers to spiritual life.
Spoken before and after the healing of the blind man (9:1-12)
Among the Jews of Jerusalem, the dawn of the Day of Atonement was eagerly awaited. A watchman stood on the walls watching for sunrise. When he saw the first rays he would shout, "Light! Light! I have seen the light!"
-- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
I believe in Christianity as I believe the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.
-- C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory. Christianity Today, Vol. 34, no. 13.
A poor little boy once heard his Sunday School teacher say Jesus was the light of the world. He took her remark quite literally. After class, the boy said to his teacher, "If Jesus really is the light of the world, I wish He'd come hang out in my alley. It's awful dark where I live."
III. I AM the gate for the sheep. (10:7, 9)
Refers to the way to salvation.
Spoken after the error of the Pharisees. (9:40-41)
A few years ago we studied the Gospel of John in a Sunday school class. Our textbook was written by William Barclay, a Scotsman. He explained that Palestinian shepherds had a different way from Scottish shepherds of going about their work. A shepherd of Jesus' time used simple equipment: a bag in which to carry his food, a slingshot with which he was extremely accurate, and the shepherd's rod or crook. In Palestine the shepherd often tended the same sheep for many years.
The sheep knew the voice of their shepherd. At night the sheep were kept in a pen without a gate or door. The shepherds lay down to sleep in the opening. The shepherd was literally "the gate." Only through Jesus, the good shepherd and the gate, do we find God, are saved, and are kept safely.
-- Pathways to God, March-May 1996, Vol XI, No. 3, (Warner Press), p. 52.
IV. I AM the good shepherd. (10:11, 14)
Refers to himself as the Savior.
Spoken after the error of the Pharisees. (9:40-41)
William Barclay notes the following about shepherds:
His life was very hard. No flock ever grazed without a shepherd, and he was never off duty. There being little grass, the sheep were bound to wander, and since there were no protecting walls, the sheep had constantly to be watched. On either side of the narrow plateau the ground dipped sharply down to the craggy deserts and the sheep were always liable to stray away and get lost. The shepherd's task was not only constant but dangerous, for, in addition, he had to guard the flock against wild animals, especially against wolves, and there were always thieves and robbers ready to steal the sheep. Sir George Adam Smith, who travelled in Palestine, writes: "On some high moor, across which at night the hyaenas howl, when you meet him, sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, leaning on his staff, and looking out over his scattered sheep, every one of them on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judea sprang to the front in his people's history; why they gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice." Constant vigilance, fearless courage, patient love for his flock, were the necessary characteristics of the shepherd.
-- William Barclay: Gospel of John.
A famous actor was once the guest of honor at a social gathering where he received many requests to recite favorite excerpts from various literary works. An old preacher who happened to be there asked the actor to recite the twenty-third Psalm. The actor agreed on the condition that the preacher would also recite it. The actor's recitation was beautifully intoned with great dramatic emphasis for which he received lengthy applause. The preacher's voice was rough and broken from many years of preaching, and his diction was anything but polished. But when he finished there was not a dry eye in the room. When someone asked the actor what made the difference, he replied "I know the psalm, but he knows the Shepherd."
V. I AM the resurrection and the life. (11:25)
Refers to himself as eternal life.
Spoken after the raising of Lazarus from the dead. (11:1-16)
As a young man, D.L. Moody was called upon suddenly to preach a funeral sermon. He hunted all throughout the four Gospels trying to find one of Christ's funeral sermons, but searched in vain. He found that Christ broke up every funeral he ever attended. Death could not exist where he was. When the dead heard his voice they sprang to life. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection, and the life."
Plenty of great teachers, mystics, martyrs and saints have spoken words full of grace and truth. In the case of Jesus alone, however, the belief has persisted that when he came into the world, God deigned to take on the likeness of a man in order that men might reach out.
For myself, as I approach my end, I find Jesus' outrageous claim ever more captivating and meaningful. Quite often, waking up in the night as the old do, I feel myself to be half out of my body, hovering between life and death, with eternity rising in the distance.
I see my ancient carcass, prone between the sheets, stained and worn like a scrap of paper dropped in the gutter and, hovering over it, myself, like a butterfly released from its chrysalis stage and ready to fly away. Are caterpillars told of their impending resurrection? How in dying they will be transformed from poor earth-crawlers into creatures of the air, with exquisitely painted wings? If told, do they believe it? I imagine the wise old caterpillars shaking their heads -- no, it can't be; it's a fantasy.
Yet in the limbo between living and dying, as the night clocks tick remorselessly on, and the black sky implacably shows not one single streak or scratch of gray, I hear those words: I am the resurrection, and the life, and feel myself to be carried along on a great tide of joy and peace.
-- Malcom Muggeridge
In Glendale, California, at Forest Lawn Cemetery hundreds of people each year stand before two huge paintings. One pictures the crucifixion of Christ. The other depicts His resurrection. In the second painting the artist has pictured an empty tomb with an angel near the entrance. In the foreground stands the figure of the risen Christ. But the striking feature of that huge canvas is a vast throng of people, back in the misty background, stretching into the distance and out of sight, suggesting the multitude who will be raised from the dead because Jesus first died and rose for them.
-- George Sweeting, Great Quotes & Illustrations, Word, 1985, p. 218.
Two hundred miles northeast of Los Angeles is a baked-out gorge called Death Valley; the lowest place in the United States, 276 feet below sea level. It is also the hottest place in the country, with an official recording of 134 degrees. Streams flow into Death Valley only to evaporate in the scorching heat, and a scant two and one half inches of rain falls on the barren wasteland each year. But some years ago, an amazing thing happened. Due to a freak weather pattern, rain fell into the bone-dry earth for nineteen days straight. Suddenly, millions of seeds, which had lain dormant for untold years burst into bloom. The Valley of Death exploded into beauty, color, and life.
This is the message of the resurrection. Life springs forth from death. A desert becomes a garden. Beauty transcends the ugly. Love overcomes hatred. A tomb is emptied. The grim and haunting outline of a cross is swallowed in the glow of an Easter morning sunrise.
-- Max Anders, Basics of Christianity: Jesus (Nashville: Nelson, 1995), p. 1550.
VI. I AM the way and the truth and the life. (14:6)
Refers to himself as the way to God.
Spoken during the context of the disciples betrayal and denial just prior to the crucifixion. (13:18-38)
He is these things in light of the trouble we will experience within ourselves and from others because of who he is.
Follow me: I am the way, the truth, and the life.
Without the way there is no going;
Without the truth there is no knowing;
Without the life there is no living.
Thomas À Kempis (C. 1380-1471)
Moses could meditate on the law. Muhammed could brandish a sword. Buddha could give personal counsel. Confucius could offer wise sayings. But none of these men was qualified to offer an atonement for the sins of the world.
-- R.C. Sproul, quoted by Lee Strobel, "Are There Many Paths to God?" Preaching Today, Tape 179.
I'm always taken aback by anyone who thinks all roads lead to God, that all religions are equally valid. Nobody believes that about anything else. I wonder why anybody believes that about religion.
Last summer I had to have a root canal. It wasn't as bad as I had been told, but there are more fun ways to spend a summer morning. If my endodontist had said, "You know, Mr. Elzinga, it really doesn't matter how I do a root canal. Eventually all roads lead to that problem tooth. I can go directly to the tooth, or I can go in through your ear, or I can go in through your nostril, or I can drill into your neck and work my way back up to that gum--" at that point, I would look for a new oral surgeon.
-- Kenneth G. Elzinga, "Exclusive Territory," Preaching Today, Tape 179.
A compass is narrow minded--it always points to the magnetic north. We must discipline ourselves, personally, to fight any deviation from the course Jesus set for us.
-- Billy Graham, Men of Integrity, Vol. 2, no. 2.
Many European towns still bear the marks of having been surrounded by walls in the Middle Ages. Streets near these old walls are curved and sometimes come to dead ends. A man stopped a stranger and asked him the way to reach a certain address. The stranger directed him but the enquirer was still a little dubious. "Is that the best way?" he asked. The stranger quickly answered, "It is the only way. If you follow the other turning it will bring you back here."
That is a great illustration of the way to God. So through Jesus Christ and His death on the cross. "Is that the best way?" Someone might ask. The only answer to that is the truth: "It is the only way" (John 14:6). Any other turning will take you, not back to where you are, but off into outer darkness of separation from God.
-- Donald Grey Barnhouse, Bible Truths Illustrated (Keats Publishing, 1979), p. 22.
A friend of mine met up with a keen Christian woman whose life was a mess. Her marriage was on the rocks, she had had a breakdown, her social life was in ruins and yet when she came to ask for his help she was wearing a sweatshirt which had the slogan on it, "Christ is the answer." He took one look at it and said to her, "Jean, I think you should scrap the idea that Christ is the answer. He never said that. He said, 'I am the way.' I think that with him you must seek the answer to your problem."
-- George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, in I Believe. Christianity Today, Vol. 39, no. 9.
Western culture has made a fundamental change in its religious base. We have exchanged that One who said, "I am the Truth" (John 14:6) for the incredibly expensive doctrine of Freud and the words of all his varied disciples. Our new religion says with Pontius Pilate, "What is truth?" and teaches that our status is one of "original victim" rather than "original Sin."
-- Carol Tharp in a letter to the Chicago Tribune Magazine (Apr. 17, 1994). Christianity Today, Vol. 38, no. 7.
Last week, Kay and I had an appointment in Pasadena and had to take separate cars. She was in the white van, and I was in the blue Olds. As we were going, we got in a little traffic jam, and I lost her. I saw what I thought was her white van, and went all the way to Downey before I realized I was following the wrong van. I got there half an hour late.
You can be sincere, but you can be sincerely wrong. The fact is, it takes more than sincerity to make it in life. It takes truth.
-- Rick Warren, "Myths That Make Us Miserable," Preaching Today, Tape No. 155.
VII. I AM the true vine. (15:1, 5)
Refers to himself as the way to please God.
Spoken after his announcement about the Holy Spirit. (14:15-31)
The indwelling H. S. will enable believers to remain on the vine (in Him).
Donald Grey Barnhouse cites an amazing example of lasting fruitfulness.
In Hampton Court near London, there is a grapevine under glass; it is about 1,000 years old and has but one root which is at least two feet thick. Some of the branches are 200 feet long. Because of skillful cutting and pruning, the vine produces several tons of grapes each year. Even though some of the smaller branches are 200 feet from the main stem, they bear much fruit because they are joined to the vine and allow the life of the vine to flow through them.
He is the vine, and we are the branches. And when we need pruning, the goal is always more fruit.
After the Crusades, Western Europe received a number of supposed holy relics, including a tooth of Goliath, a tip of the devil's tail, and a bottle that held the breath of Christ. Of course, no one today takes such relics seriously. If we did have the breath of Christ in a bottle, what would it mean? Nothing. It is the spiritual presence of Christ in the life of a believer that counts.
-- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
How's your power source? Are you plugged in? In his book Spiritual Stamina, Stuart Briscoe tells the story of a man who bought a new computer. Bringing his new prize home, he carefully opened the box, gingerly took the machine out, studied its manual, and connected the wires. Eagerly he flipped on the power switch -- but nothing happened. Puzzled, the man switched the computer off and rechecked all the connections. He rounded up a screwdriver and fastened the wires more securely. He read again the relevant portion of the manual. Satisfied that he'd followed directions, he flipped the computer on -- and again nothing happened. As his anger rose the man's little girl walked into the room.
"Hi, Daddy!" her cheery voice rang out. "What a pretty computer! Can I plug it in?"
-- Moody, 6-23-91
In Living Faith Jimmy Carter writes:
A group of Christian laymen involved in missionary work approached a small village near an Amish settlement. Seeking a possible convert, they confronted an Amish farmer and asked him, "Brother, are you a Christian?"
The farmer thought for a moment and then said, "Wait just a few minutes." He wrote down a list of names on a tablet and handed it to the lay evangelist. "Here is a list of people who know me best. Please ask them if I am a Christian."
The evidence of faith is fruit.
-- Phillip Gunter. Leadership, Vol. 20, no. 2.
Dr. Howard A. Kelly had a unique and effective way of "witnessing". He was never seen in public without a beautiful pink rose in his lapel. This practice gave him many opportunities to witness about his relationship with the Lord Jesus. Someone meeting him on the street might remark, "That's a lovely rose, Dr. Kelly." "Yes, it is," he would reply. "Actually, it's a 'Christian rose!'"
"Why do you call it that?" he would be asked. The well-known physician would then turn back his lapel and display a tiny water bottle which held the stem of the flower and kept it fresh and sweet.
"It's a 'Christian rose,'" he would explain, "because it has a hidden source of life and beauty. When our Savior pardons our sins, He also unites us with Himself and thereby nourishes and strengthens us. He becomes the secret reservoir of our joy, and any fragrance of testimony we exhibit to the world comes from Him."
A couple of years ago, the Associated Press released a study done by an agricultural school in Iowa. It reported that production of 100 bushels of corn from one acre of land, in addition to the many hours of the farmer's labor, required 4,000,000 pounds of water, 6,800 pounds of oxygen, 5,200 pounds of carbon, 160 pounds of nitrogen, 125 pounds of potassium, 75 pounds of yellow sulphur, and other elements too numerous to list. In addition to these things, which no man can produce, rain and sunshine at the right time are critical. It was estimated that only 5% of the produce of a farm can be attributed to the efforts of man. If we were honest, we'd have to admit that the same is true in producing spiritual fruit.
Victorious living and effective soul-winning service are not the product of our better selves and hard endeavours, but are simply the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We are not called upon to produce the fruit, but simply to bear it.
-- Roy Hession in The Calvary Road. Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 13.
Let me tell you something about earthquakes. When the Coalinga quake occurred a couple of years ago, a lot of things were discovered. Houses that were built and were bolted to their foundation withstood that 8.2-on-the-Richter-Scale quake. The structure would go like this, but if it was bolted to the foundation, it withstood.
Now on the other hand, the houses that were built in a period when they did not bolt them to the foundation--again, a perfectly good house--when the horizontal earth movement occurred, the house moved maybe six or seven inches off its foundation. And that's what caused the house to collapse.
And so that was a great discovery made at Coalinga: Houses should be bolted to their foundation. It's not only on the foundation, but if you're going to add horizontal earth movement to this terrifying portrayal that we all face, then you need to have the house bolted into its foundation. Sort of a living relationship with the foundation--into it as well as on it.
-- Earl Palmer, "The Foolish and the Wise," Preaching Today, Tape No. 54.
VIII. Other unique I AM statements in John. (4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8)
John 4:26 Jesus saith to her, ‘I am he, who am speaking to thee.’
John 4:26 Jesus said to her, I AM, the One speaking to you.
John 6:20 and he saith to them, ‘I am he, be not afraid;’
John 6:20 But He said to them, I AM! Do not fear.
John 8:24 I said, therefore, to you, that ye shall die in your sins, for if ye may not believe that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.’
John 8:24 Therefore, I said to you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.
John 8:28 Jesus, therefore, said to them, ‘When ye may lift up the Son of Man then ye will know that I am he; and of myself I do nothing, but according as my Father did teach me, these things I speak;
John 8:28 Then Jesus said to them, When you lift up the Son of man, then you will know that I AM; and from Myself I do nothing; but as My Father taught Me, these things I speak.
John 8:58 Jesus said to them, ‘Verily, verily, I say to you, Before Abraham’s coming—I am;’
John 8:58 Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham came into being, I AM.
John 13:19 ‘From this time I tell you, before its coming to pass, that, when it may come to pass, ye may believe that I am he;
John 13:19 From this time I tell you before it happens, that when it happens you may believe that I AM.
John 18:5 they answered him, ‘Jesus the Nazarene;’ Jesus saith to them, ‘I am he;’ —and Judas who delivered him up was standing with them; —
John 18:5 They answered Him, Jesus the Nazarene. Jesus said to them, I AM! And Judas, the one betraying Him, also stood with them.
John 18:6 when, therefore, he said to them—‘I am he,’ they went away backward, and fell to the ground.
John 18:6 Then when He said to them, I AM, they departed into the rear and fell to the ground.
John 18:8 Jesus answered, ‘I said to you that I am he; if, then, me ye seek, suffer these to go away;’
John 18:8 Jesus answered, I told you that I AM; then if you seek Me, allow these to depart,
Can anyone still be confused about identities?
Jesus is who he said he was. His resurrection proved it.
In each one of the "I AM" statements, his identity is offered to us so that our identity might be in him.
Every description of himself is a way that we might understand and know God.
He came to tell us who he is, who God is, that we might believe in him and be saved.
The gospel accounts tell us of almost constant argument among the religious leadership about who Jesus was.
We saw in our Visual Bible video on the Gospel of Matthew on Good Friday evening that Jesus had harsh words for the Pharisees and teachers of the law who refused to believe in him.
Do we still argue in our own hearts about who he is and the claims that that makes on our lives and devotion?
The truth about who he is makes it's demand on us to worship him as "true worshippers in spirit and in truth."
John 4:23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
The disciple, Thomas, sums it up nicely for us today:
26 ¶ A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." 28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." 30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:26-31 NIVUS)
"I AM" – The Way to Life