Popeye’s got nothing on God, a.k.a. I AM
Speaking of I am, the next theme of Jesus' teaching and ministry was a series of "I Am" statements. Remember Popeye the Sailor Man? He used to sing, "I am who I am and that's all that I am." Jesus made seven "I Am" statements. This phrase "I Am" is significant. When Moses asked God His name, God answered, "I Am Who I Am." That strange name was God‟s way of expressing his timelessness and uniqueness. Jesus claimed to be the great "I Am" and said that "before Abraham existed, I Am." In saying this Jesus is claiming to be God, the One who is eternal, self-existent, and beyond time.
Jesus later declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst." Jesus was comparing Himself to the manna that God provided in the wilderness. Manna was God‟s provision for physical hunger, but also a spiritual provision for trusting Him. Jesus was claiming to be the only one who can satisfy human cravings for meaning, purpose and peace. His love and forgiveness can satisfy our soul‟s deepest appetites through His generous grace.
Jesus called Himself “the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” He was claiming to be the source of all truth, and inviting anyone seeking truth and enlightenment to find the answers in Him.
Jesus also made frequent reference to the temple or tabernacle. As we learned in the Old Testament, the Israelites had one way to encounter the presence of God: in the tabernacle. When He gave instructions to Moses, God dictated that he construct a narrow gate through which one could pass to experience God's forgiveness. Jesus metaphorically referred to Himself as a new gate. God wants anyone and everyone to look up and find His forgiveness. God created a way that one can form a deep friendship with Himself, and Jesus claims to be that way. He promised that through Him, we can be rescued from our moral failures and inadequate good works. Jesus offered a farming metaphor that His culture could easily understand, explaining, “I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” In contrast to other religious leaders who offer theories and unachievable systems, Jesus offers Himself as the way to have the best life possible.
Jesus says that He is the leader, father, and shepherd you've always wanted. He is the shepherd who is willing to die to rescue His flock from danger. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus is alluding to His death and indicating a willingness to sacrifice Himself for mankind. The main message of the Bible is simply this: Jesus lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died. Jesus was willing to express His perfect love for us by dying sacrificially and rescuing us from our inherent brokenness.
The fifth "I Am" was declared when the resurrected Lazarus emerged from the tomb. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Jesus offered to not only die for us as a good shepherd, but to also raise us from the dead at His resurrection! He was claiming to be the great death-defeater; Jesus offers this gift at no charge to anyone who believes in His power.
Jesus challenged his audience to make a choice about His identity. His bold claims are either (a) true and must be accepted or (b) wrong and to be rejected. Jesus unapologetically claimed to be the exclusive "I Am" and said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” As the One who offered Himself as a sacrifice for mankind‟s wrongdoing, Jesus was claiming to be the only way to know God.
Do you believe this? After all the evidence Jesus presented for His life and identity, what's keeping you from saying, "Jesus, I believe You are who You say You are. I want to stop trying to measure up, but instead look up for forgiveness”?
Jesus‟ final "I Am" speaks of how He promises to work mysteriously in the life of anyone who accepts Him as forgiver. Jesus says that He can be the sole Source of direction, love, and life. He claimed to be the Vine that produces His fruit in our lives. “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.” A Christ- follower is someone who trusts Jesus to forgive and lead them. At the moment a person trusts Christ, the Spirit of Jesus comes to live inside them. What is His fruit? The Bible describes different characteristics of God‟s fruit using words like: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
When God‟s Spirit comes to live within a person, the Bible teaches that authentic good works are finally possible. Why? Because the good works are produced by His Good Spirit within. Prior to this, good works aren't good because they were produced by a selfish heart. They were motivated by either pride, with a "Look what a good person I am" attitude, or fear, with a "I need to do enough to get to Heaven." People who help others to merely pad their heavenly resumes are actually using people, rather than loving them.
In contrast to human efforts to be good, the Spirit of God produces genuine good works from within the human heart. Good deeds flow from Him, not the individual. Good deeds are no longer motivated by the fear of not getting into heaven; your reservation in Heaven is already secured by Christ's sacrificial work. Since admittance to heaven is secure, a Christ-follower‟s good deeds flow from knowledge that God's Spirit is the source of goodness and selflessness. Since God is the source, they can finally be freed from pride since they know He deserves the credit for all things good. When God is the Vine and we are the branches, selfless good works (or fruit) can be harvested from our lives.
Here is a series of questions to test if you are a follower of Christ:
- Am I motivated to be good out of fear or pride?
- Do I need to be good or want to be good?
- Is my acceptance with God based on what I do or what Jesus did?
- When I do something good, does He get the credit or do I get the credit?
- If I stood before God and He asked me, “Why should you get into heaven?” would I say “Because I did something” or
“Because Christ did something”?