For over 2000 years people have been trying to answer the question, Who is Jesus? Countless books have been written about him, 4 different gospels have tried to answer this question and the letters circulated through the early churches tried to clarify it all. All of this we call the New Testament. The early church spent 300 years debating who Jesus is and held various councils to try and answer the question and yet people are still asking it today. Is Jesus just a man, a teacher and a good leader who lived 2000 years ago? Is he a prophet, a man called and chosen by God to bring a message to the world? Is he a miracle worker, someone who had supernatural power to heal and overcome natural elements? Is Jesus the Christ or Messiah, meaning the leader appointed by God to deliver God’s people from slavery to sin or is Jesus all that and more? Is Jesus actually God? `
For John, the answer was easy; Jesus was God in human form, the word made flesh. John tells us clearly over and over again that Jesus was the fullness of God in human form and there is probably no other writing in the New Testament that goes to such great lengths to do so. What is important to remember about John is that telling us HOW Jesus was God in human form wasn’t important. John just wanted us to know it was true and to think about what this means for our lives.
John is clear about who Jesus because he heard Jesus say this over and over again and then the actions of Jesus backed up his claim. One of the unique aspects of John’s gospel is what we call the I AM passages. 8 times in John’s gospel we hear Jesus uses the words I AM to talk about himself. In Greek it is ego eimi; ego meaning I or self and eimi meaning to be. This can be translated as It is I, or I am he but most often it is just translated as I AM.
What makes these words so powerful is the meaning behind them and for this we need to go back to the story of Moses in Exodus 3. One day as Moses was in the mountains tending sheep he saw a bush on fire but it was not being consumed. God spoke to Moses through this burning bush and told him to go back to Egypt and lead the people of Israel out of slavery and into the Promised Land. Moses wanted to know what name he should give to the people if they asked who sent him to be their deliverer. Exodus 3:14
I Am Who I AM is the word Yahweh and this is the personal name of God we find in the Old Testament. What God is telling Moses is that He just is. He is all things and the source of all creation. He was and is and is to come. He simply is. I AM became known as the name of God and it was considered blasphemy to speak that name and yet Jesus not only said it but claimed it as his own. In talking to the religious leaders Jesus said this about himself. Before Abraham was born, I am. That he was using the name of God to identify himself is clear from the reaction of the religious leaders, they picked up rocks to stone him. Jesus used the name of God for himself. Jesus was saying that he is God.
While here Jesus clearly used the name for himself, there are 7 other times where Jesus used the words I AM and paired it with an image or symbol that also points us to God. Here is what Jesus says;
I Am the bread of life – John 6
I Am the light of the world – John 8
I Am the gate of the sheep – John 10
I Am the good shepherd – John 10
I Am the resurrection and life – John 11
I Am the way, the truth and the life – John 14
I Am the true vine – John 15.
If you look at this list you can probably tell which ones we are going to look at this morning – the first two because they talk about Life and Light, but let’s take a quick look at the others because all of them show us that Jesus is claiming to be God. The Good Shepherd is easy to understand, Psalm 23 begins, the Lord is my shepherd. The resurrection and life and the way, truth and life are also easy to understand because it is God alone who gives life and is associated with the truth. God is also referred to as a vine that produces grapes which are symbolic of God’s people so he is the one created and sustains the people of God.
Maybe the most obscure I Am passage is the gate of the sheep. When sheep were kept in a fenced in area they had to go in and out through a gate. They would go out through the gate to be fed and in through the gate to find rest. The gate was the way for them to find life and then be safe and so once again since God is the one who provides life and rest, the gate of the sheep became a reference to God who feeds us and is our refuge.
So let’s look at the first one – Jesus said I am the bread life. John tells us that Jesus said this close to the time of the Passover and during the Passover people thought about and ate special bread. When the people of God fled from Egypt, God told them to not use yeast in their bread because they were going to have to leave quickly. There was no time to make bread with yeast so they ate unleavened bread and every year during the Passover they ate this bread and remembered how God delivered them. Bread was a reminder of the life and salvation or deliverance God gave them.
But the Passover was also a reminder of the entire trip that Israel made from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land and part of how God provided for them during this journey was with bread or manna. When the people cried for food – God provided them food every morning and that food was called manna and bread from heaven and it was there every morning of their journey for 40 years. Jesus makes clear to the people that he is calling himself this bread from heaven in John 6:32-35.
So it’s near the time of the Passover when people are thinking about the bread and how it reminds them of God’s deliverance and God’s provision and it is at this moment Jesus calls himself the bread of life. As the bread of life, it will be Jesus who will give his life to the world to bring deliverance or salvation (John 6:33) and it is Jesus who will sustain life here and now (John 6:35). Since God was the one who saved people through the Passover and God was the one who kept his people alive in the wilderness, Jesus calls himself God by claiming to be the bread that will continue to bring salvation and life.
So what does it mean for us to call Jesus the bread of life? First of all, it means that we believe Jesus is God and the one who provides the gift of life itself. Second it means that we believe that Jesus is the savior and deliverer of all mankind. Just as God delivered his people out of slavery, so Jesus is the one who delivers us or saves us from sin death and Jesus does this by giving his life for us on the cross. The third thing it means when we call Jesus the bread of life is that we actually look to Jesus every day to give us what we need for life here and now.
Manna was provided every day for the people of Israel and that told them that God was the giver and sustainer of all life and everything they needed in life. What sustains us in life is Jesus. Jesus is the one we need to turn to for help and strength in times of need. Jesus is the one we need to turn to for courage and patience in difficult situations. Jesus is the one who also gives us the grace to forgive others and ourselves so that we can be set free to experience the fullness of life here and now. Jesus needs to be the one we turn to every day for all that we need in life – that is what it means that Jesus is the bread of life.
Jesus also said he is the light of the world – John 8:12. Once again, John provides some details for us to consider as we look at this claim. In John 7, Jesus was in Jerusalem for the festival of the booths, which was a celebration of the fall harvest, and it was during this time that people would set up booths or shelters to live in as a reminder of how they had to live in tents and shelters during their time in the wilderness. As they lived in these shelters, what guided them through the wilderness was a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night – Exodus 13:21-22.
God was the very light that led the people through the wilderness. The cloud and the light was the presence of God and so when Jesus says he is the light of the world at this festival when people would have been thinking about living in shelters and travelling through the wilderness following the light that was God, he was making a clear point – He is the God who is this very light.
During this festival, 4 giant lamp-stands 75 feet tall would be set up in the temple courtyard and 4 gold bowls would be filled with oil and wicks would be set in them and these lamps gave light to the entire courtyard. They were a clear and powerful reminder to the people during this festival that God was literally their guiding light. So picture Jesus standing near these huge golden lamp-stands casting forth light and making the statement – I am the light of the world. It’s very clear what Jesus is saying – I am God.
So what does Jesus being the light of the world mean for us? It means that once again we have to identify Jesus as God. He is the I AM, the bread of heaven and the light of the world and all of these are Old Testament references to God himself. Jesus was more than a teacher and a good leader and prophet, Jesus was God in the flesh.
As light, Jesus is also the one who can lead and guide us. As a pillar of fire, God guided the people of Israel on their journey. Where the light went, the people followed. It was their guide and Jesus wants to be the light that guides us through life. The life and teaching of Jesus is the best guide for us on how to live our lives. While the life of Jesus may not be able to give us direction on what to study in school or what career to enter into, God’s light does tell us the kind of lives we need to live.
Following Jesus means we need to be people of integrity who speak the truth and speak words of love. Jesus’ leads us into a life of forgiveness and grace where we forgive people not 7 times or 7×7 times but every time. Jesus’ life leads us to treat all people with value and dignity and to care for the weak and poor. The life of Jesus is the light that can lead us through this dark world and show us the kind of people we need to be.
But think about how the light at night was a comfort for the people of Israel as they lived in the wilderness. It was literally a dark place for them and the light of God must have given them a sense of security and comfort. Have you been in a completely dark place? The only time I was when I was working in Yellowstone NP. It was a cloudy night and I closed the restaurant I worked in and when the lights went out – all the light went out. I was walking to the area where the employee trailers were located and none of the sidewalk lights were on so I was in complete darkness and as hard as I tried to stay on the sidewalk, I couldn’t. I kept walking into bushes and trees. It was frustrating and honestly a little scary thinking about what could be out there in bear country. Any light in that moment would have been a comfort and help.
This is the presence of Jesus in our lives. Whenever we are alone, feeling lost, scared, helpless or defeated Jesus is there to be light and to drive out the darkness. If Jesus is the light of the world then he is the one who can help us overcome our fear, doubt or despair.
While simply the presence of Jesus can be the light we need, we cannot forget that Jesus is also the word of God and the word of God is itself a light. Psalm 119:105, Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Reading God’s word gives direction, reading God’s word guides us in making decisions and shapes our thoughts and actions and reading God’s word provides comfort and hope because we hear the most important promise God makes – I am with you always. The more we read God’s word the more we know that God is with us and that Jesus is God who brings us both light and life.
John – The gospel of light and life
1. This week Read John chapters 6-11.
Use the following questions during your reading:
• What is said in this passage about Jesus?
• In this passage, how does Jesus bring life to me?
• What response do these verses require of me?
2. Read the 8 I AM passages of John
• I Am the bread of life – John 6:32-59
• I Am the light of the world – John 8:12
• I Am the gate of the sheep – John 10:7-10
• I Am the good shepherd – John 10:11-18
• I Am the resurrection and life – John 11:17-44
• I Am the way, the truth and the life – John 14:1-7
• I Am the true vine – John 15:1-8
What does each statement tell us about Jesus and how we need to live our lives?
3. As the bread of life Jesus brings both salvation and sustenance.
• In what ways has Jesus saved you?
• What has Jesus saved you from?
• What has he saved you for?
4. At ever meal, take a moment to thank Jesus and then think of how Jesus can help you experience all the fullness of life in hours to come.
5. As the light of the world, Jesus gives direction and hope.
• See what direction you get as you read scripture this week.
• What is the darkness (despair, fear) you face today? Look for Jesus to give you hope in this specific area.