Jesus said, ‘I Am’
The Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh, Special Writer
Background text: Exodus 3:13-15
Devotional text: John 4:26
As we move into the third Sunday of Lent, I’d like to focus on the “I Am” statements made by Jesus in the New Testament. By identifying himself as “I Am,” he spoke of both his divinity and the fulfillment of the promises of God to all believers.
Although we first find God using the words “I am” in Genesis 15:1, as he spoke to Abram in promising him a son, it is not the same profound “I Am” spoken to Moses in Exodus 3:14, when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush atop Mount Horeb.
In the Exodus scenario, God spoke to Moses prior to sending him back to Egypt to free the Israelites from captivity. Moses felt incapable of performing such a task and asked God to tell him God’s name so the people would believe that he was indeed sent to them by God. God’s response was: “I am who I am … tell them ‘I am’ has sent me to you.”
To understand the importance and divinity of these two words, it’s helpful for us to know that the Hebrew name for God was YHWH (pronounced Yahweh = Ya-Way). This term is a form of the words “to be,” or more closer to the definition “to create,” as in God, the Creator.
This, according to the Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (1990-1991 edition), helps explain the meaning as it is directed to the divinity of Christ, especially as he used them in the seven “I Am” statements found in the gospel of John.
Before we get to the particular “I Am” statements in which Jesus explained his Godly nature, let’s take a look at John 8:56. In this scripture, Jesus is found speaking to the people in Jerusalem. It is here we find an example of the eternal life of Jesus, when he stated, “Before Abraham was born, I am.”
Then, going back to John 1:1-2, we find this scripture: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” We find that this scripture relates directly to Jesus in verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us … ”
As we study the scriptures, it becomes clear to us that Jesus was the Word of God, made flesh, come to live on earth; that he was there in the beginning, at creation; and like Yahweh, one of his names is “I Am.”
It seems appropriate to recognize Christ, as the giver of new life, as we read and understand the seven “I Am” statements in John.
“I Am the bread of life.” Coming to John 6:26-40, we discover that great crowds had started following Jesus to hear him speak and even to possibly witness a miracle. In addressing the crowd, Jesus said, “Do not work for food that spoils, but food that endures for eternal life.” From the crowd, he is questioned, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” He was, of course, referring to himself.
Next, the people asked Jesus to show them a sign to help them believe. In response, Jesus reminded the crowd of the manna God sent from heaven to satisfy the hunger of the people of Israel during their Exodus from Egypt. He especially noted that Moses did not give them the manna, but it came from God in heaven. In doing so, he was bringing the crowd back to his own existence among them, saying, “Seek the bread of God … who … gives life to the world.”
The crowd became anxious for this eternal life, as explained by Jesus, and called out to Jesus to give them some of it. In verse 35, we read the answer Jesus gave: “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 … ”
In Verse 40, he continues, “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.”
When Jesus told the people, “I am the bread of life,” he was bringing to their minds the words of God found in the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and the words spoken by God to Moses, “I am … ” He was bringing to their attention (and to ours today), that he had come into their midst to bring salvation and eternal life.
We all know that eating bread as a food substance helps to sustain the life of millions around the world. However, the words of Jesus were directed to the spiritual hunger of the people, the same spiritual hunger we seek today. In essence, Jesus was offering them (and us) fulfillment of their spiritual needs that would be sustained forever by God.
When Christians offer the sacrament of Communion, they serve both bread and wine (or juice). The bread is significant of Jesus’ words to his followers, as he lifted the bread, “This is my body, broken for you. Take and eat.” These words would become important during the Lord’s torture and death on the cross.
Today, as we take the bread during Communion, we call it “the bread of life.”
When Jesus first called himself “the bread of life” to the Jewish people, they (like his disciples) did not know what to make of it. They wanted a sign for salvation, and Jesus told the people they needed to believe in him. The sign he gave to them was that of bread. Using the analogy of the Hebrews being sustained in the wilderness by manna from heaven, he then used the sustaining nutrition from bread as an analogy to his gift of salvation and eternal life.
These were difficult words for the people at that time to understand. The death and resurrection of Jesus had yet to occur. We, as Christians today, know the story of salvation through Jesus. What it is more difficult for us to grasp is what it meant to the people of his time. That is the reason for explaining the background about both the “I am” statements and the statements by Jesus in John in which he used “I am” to help the people understand his divinity as well as salvation and eternal life through him.
There are six more “I am” statements made by Jesus in the Gospel of John. They are: from John 8:12 — “I am the light of the world;” from 10:7 — “I am the door;” from 10:11, 14 — “I am the good shepherd;” 11:25 — “I am the resurrection and the life;” 14:6 — “I am the way, the truth and the life;” and 15:1 — “I am the true vine.”