First Mennonite Church
May 28, 2017
Jesus, the I AM
Text: John 4:1-26
Every year, either around Easter or Christmas time, discussions about the identity or nature of Jesus Christ pop up in the news. The most recent discussion was in late October in 2016: Christ’s Tomb Uncovered was the news headline. Nowadays, with all the opportunities to self-publish available like blogs and other media platforms, personal opinions about Jesus abound. To many, Jesus was not a real person but a composite character representing the imagination of either the gospel writers or those who kept his memory as a great teacher. However, problems or distortions about the identity of Jesus are nothing new. Paul, Peter and John had to deal with that problem even as they were writing their gospels and letters. In fact, that problem existed even while Jesus was with his disciples. “Who do men say that I am?” Jesus asked his disciples. After the disciples gave the varying answers the public had, Jesus directed the question to his very own, “But who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:15).
Today, I would like start a short series focused on how Jesus identified himself. There is no one better to help us figure out his identity than Jesus himself. By reflecting on various passages in the Gospels, we will be able to know Jesus Christ of Nazareth a little better. We will be able to understand his person through the images he used to identify himself.
I know we are naturally tempted to assume we have full knowledge of Jesus. But today, I want to invite you to have an open mind and heart and allow Jesus’ very words to help us know him better. You might be surprised at how much there is to know about him. So, I plead with you not to be complacent with what you know. I want to invite you to take Paul’s quest when he said, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1Corinthians 2:2). I want for us to embrace Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians when he wrote: I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:18-19).
Let me pause for a second here. I said my intention through this series is for us to know Jesus Christ a little better. Paul’s prayer was that the Ephesians would have the power to know the full dimensions of the love of Christ, which he said would fill them with the fullness of God. Knowing Christ should not only be head-knowledge; knowing Christ is evidenced through a godly character.
In the gospel according to John, there are nine instances in which Jesus declares “I am” followed by a predicate nominative—a noun that follows a linking verb. For example, in John 6:35, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” or in John 15:1, “I am the true vine.” But in the same gospel, there are seven additional “I AM” statements made by Jesus. And these seven additional statements are in the absolute form. That is, Jesus uses “I AM” as if it were his personal name, in the same way God identified himself to Moses in the Old Testament. And through these seven absolute forms of I AM, claimed by Jesus, we can see his claims to having equality with God.
The first of these instances where Jesus claims the absolute I AM title is found in John, chapter 4. Jesus came to a Samaritan village and there he sat by a well. Tired and thirsty as he was, he asked for a drink from the first person who came to the well. It was a townswoman. His simple request turned into a full flung conversation. If we were to look closely at how the conversation develops we would see the gradual process by which the woman goes about figuring out who was talking with her. At first the woman takes Jesus to be a common Jew who is obliged to break the cultural barrier because he was dying of thirst. She then realizes that her conversation partner surpasses the stature of Jacob from whom she and her people inherited the well. Further down, she begins to wonder if this man was a prophet and so the conversation switches to the proper place, time and type of worship. When Jesus declared that God is actively seeking for worshipers to worship in spirit and in truth, the woman confesses her knowledge about the coming Messiah. She says, “When the Messiah comes, he will explain everything to us.” The Samaritan woman’s confession reflected the Jewish belief about the nature of the promised Messiah. He would be the embodiment of God himself. The Messiah would be the one who would speak the word of God and reveal God to his people. He would bring God’s deliverance to his people and the world, not only because he is a special envoy, but because he shares the nature of God. It was at this point that Jesus makes the absolute I AM claim. Jesus replies to the woman, “I AM, the one who is speaking to you.” We are not told how the woman responded to this declaration because at that precise moment the disciples came back from buying food. The woman went into town and asked her people to come and meet a “man who had told me everything I have ever done!” She went to her people and said come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done. He cannot be the Messiah. Can he? More Samaritans believed and they said to the woman, we now believe not only because of what you said, but because we have heard him ourselves.
This absolute claim of Jesus as the “I AM” confirms the introductory words of John’s gospel. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). Jesus is indeed God come in human form. God humbled himself and walked the dusty trails of Palestine. He was hosted in humble homes and sat around his hosts’ tables eating with them. God in flesh got thirsty and tired. He asked for a drink even when he was the living water. No one was unworthy of his friendship. No one was left out of his grace. Even the woman who had had five husbands. Even the Samaritan woman who’d prefer to stay away from the crowds thus having to go to the well at midday in order to avoid judging eyes found grace in him. But not only that, Jesus reached out to those left out by their own religion. The subliminal and transcendent I AM who met Moses in the desert came in human form so that we may know him more intimately.
My dear friends, Jesus is the “I AM” who humbly wants to meet you as he did the Samaritan woman. Because Jesus is God in the flesh, he can relate to our human frailty. He extends to us his grace. Just as he never condemned the Samaritan woman, but opened her eyes, he wants to open our eyes and free us from our fears as he did hers.
But just as the woman who invited her townspeople, we should also do. If Jesus is so amazing as we say he is, he is worthy that we tell others about him. Our words might not cause them to believe; neither did the Samaritan woman’s. But her desire to have others figure out for themselves if Jesus was the Messiah moved her to forget her sorrows, shame, and fear. She went to tell her people there was someone they should also meet. Many believed after hearing from Jesus. This should be our hope, motivation and prayer. The I AM is waiting to meet us. The I AM is eager to open our eyes. His grace is for you and me and everyone. Amen!