Bring in the Clowns…

Lately I’ve been reading a short but very good book entitled Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today.  It’s written by Dr. Mark Labbeton, who just so happens to be the president of the seminary (Fuller Seminary) where I am a PhD student.

In a section about how there’s a crisis of vocation for followers of Jesus, Dr. Labberton writes these hard-hitting words:

Our calling has become encrusted, buried under layers that lack significant evidence of life.  Viral cat videos seem to touch our humanity and longing more than many church services do.  I have felt caught in this vortex.  The temptation in the church is to bring in more clowns and light the sparklers, but the real solution is what the Bible declares is our calling: to live out genuine love that shows up in the face of real need. (Page 20)

Amen!

Our solution can’t be more of the same (even if what is “more” is “better” or “more relevant” or “slicker” than that which came before it.

The only solution to the issues that the Church faces in North America today is following Jesus.

Actually.  Following.  Jesus.

That means living the life of Jesus in and through our own lives, by the power of the Spirit.

So, since Jesus came not to be served but to serve and give his life away for others, we ought to as well.

Since Jesus cared more about those who were cast aside and oppressed than he did those who were self-righteously religious, we ought to as well.

And since Jesus’ entire life was centered around love, ours ought to be as well, individually and collectively.

 

What do you think?  Did Dr. Labberton hit the nail on the head?  Let me know in the comments below!

Bread of Life Radical Nourishment

Jesus is the bread of life.

Even though it doesn’t sound like it — this is a radical statement.

How can something seemly so mundane as bread be radical?

Let’s explore this together!

bread of life

cheeseslave [photo credit]

Bread of Life in John 6

As we’ve already seen, John 6 is an exciting and challenging passage!  Jesus revealed himself as a provider, as divine, and as a chaos calmer.  How awesome!

So how can we move from such grandiose topics to bread, a banal notion if there ever was one!?

Well, this is the jump that Jesus himself makes in John 6.

Jesus provides for 5000+ in a miraculous fashion.  Then Jesus retreats, only to return to his disciples as they are in trouble on the Sea of Galilee.  And Jesus reveals his divinity on that body of water by walking on the water and saying that he is the “I am.”

And when Jesus and his team finally make it back to their ministry “headquarters,” the city of Capernaum, they are discovered by the great crowd which Jesus had fed the day before.

Instead of reacting like so many of us might have, Jesus interacted with these folks.  And he does it in a truly rabbinical way, answering and asking questions.

And in the turning moment of the dialogue with the crowd Jesus says these words in John 6.35:

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

What’s so radical about this statement?

Well, for Jesus’ original audience it was revolutionary.  God had used Moses to provide bread (manna) for the Israelites in the desert as they escaped slavery in Egypt.  And that image was sacrosanct!  Infringing on it or claiming it as one’s own more or less amounted to blasphemy.

But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not Moses.

But the radical-ness goes deeper.  For John’s original readers this statement was radical too.  It was Rome who provided them bread (literally and figuratively as general provision and protection).  More specifically, it was the Emperor who was their provider and to say something otherwise was counter-cultural and even politically dangerous.

But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not the Emperor.

And all throughout time since Jesus spoke these words, they have remained radical.

Competitors for the Title of Bread of Life Today

Let’s think about this in our day and time.  Who provides our bread?  (I’ll speak from my context, namely the American Church.)  Two ideas instantly pop into my head:

  1. America claims to be our bread of life.  Think about it.  How many times have you heard people say, in one way or another, that out nation is our ultimate provider?  Here are a few ways I’ve heard it: We’re protected by our military, we are educated thanks to our government, many of us receive benefits from our state and federal governments (whether food stamps, health care, retirement benefits, etc.), and we’re given a system (capitalism) in which people can “make it.”  And don’t even get me started on the so-called “American Dream”!!  If any of us make claims otherwise we’re labeled as ungrateful, unpatriotic, and ultimately un-American.  But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not America.
  2. We claim to be our own bread of life.  On a more personal and intimate level, we hold tight to the idea that we provide for ourselves and our families.  Many of us have fought and clawed our ways to where we are through all kinds of difficulties, like systemic inequalities, racism, poverty, and just life and all of its complications.  So we feel entitled to the idea that we’ve got this.  We can take care of ourselves.  And anyone who claims otherwise is telling us that our efforts weren’t enough.  They are undermining what we’ve accomplished.  And they are hamstringing our attempts to be self-reliant!  But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not us.

Letting Jesus Be Our Bread of Life

So if Jesus’ radical statement that he is the bread of life is true (and it is!), then how can we allow him to be just that in our lives?  Here are a few ideas to get us started:

  • Stop allowing other things/people/entities to be our breads of life.  As we talked about above, America is not our bread of life and neither are we.  In fact, our families aren’t either.  Neither are our friends, our jobs, our investments, our passions, our pleasures, our pursuits, or our dreams.  Nothing but Jesus can serve as our bread of life.
  • Turn to Jesus first.  So that means that when we are seeking meaning and provision, the first place we should turn is to Jesus.  To be sure, this doesn’t mean that other things and people can help provide for us.  Of course they can!  But our first source of provision must be Jesus.
  • Allow others to help us. Like so many other things in life, seeking to allow Jesus to be our bread of life is hard.  In fact, it’s so hard that given enough time, all of us will fail at this miserably if we go at it alone.  So, instead, let’s do it together!  We need to find a few other Christians and ask them to hold us accountable as we seek to allow Jesus to be our bread of life!
  • Pray, pray, and pray some more.  But even community and accountability aren’t enough.  We need an infusion of divine aid!  We need the Holy Spirit to guide us as individuals and communities as we seek to make Jesus our bread of life.  So we must pray…maybe something like this: Father, help me/us turn to Jesus when I/we are in need.  By your indwelling Spirit, help me/us to quit putting my/our faith first in other things.  Amen.
  • Rest on God’s grace.  Even when we have accountability and even when we pray, we’ll still fail.  We are humans after all!  And when we mess up, when we allow other things and people to be our bread of life, let’s not beat ourselves up.  Instead, let’s remember that we’re recipients of the greatest gift of all, the grace of God as expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  And in that grace there’s unconditional love and unending do-overs.

So that’s it!  Jesus is our bread of life!

Now the hard part — let’s live like it!

 

What do you think?  What does it mean to you that Jesus is our bread of life?  What are we tempted to put in his place?  How can we more and more turn to Jesus first?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

#ChurchLeaderTypes: New Wine Podcast #022

According to Ephesians 4, what kind of leaders has Jesus gifted the church with?  And what are these leaders like?

I answer this question in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher?  That would be super cool!

Also, if you’d like to help support the creative process that helps bring this podcast to life, then please check out my Patreon page (http://patreon.com/JMatthewBarnes).  There are some fun rewards there for folks who pledge support although any level support will be greatly appreciated!

Thanks!

A Proper Approach How to enter into gospel-centered relationships

How we approach people as we seek to be missional is important.

This simple truth reminds me of all the movies I’ve seen over the years in which a pilot is about to land their plane and they get ready to make their approach.

They have a checklist to go through, a way to be prepared.

And they know that if they do all that’s on that checklist, then they will be much, much more likely to land the plane safely than if they went about it all willy-nilly.

Why do we think being and sharing the good news of Jesus would be any different?  Our approach matters too!

Sure, we might not have a checklist that we must work through each time…but there are some tried and true ideas to help our approach be much, much more likely to succeed!

Why Talk about Our Approach at All?

This notion of writing about this topic became self-evident last week.  I wrote a blogpost called “5 Reasons Not To Be Judgmental” that got shared around on Facebook a little bit.

The response was what I expected.  Several people were in agreement with me that being judgmental is a bad thing and that, among other things, it hurts the way we present ourselves to those who have yet to follow Jesus.  And many, many more people were angered by the post, claiming that I had gone too soft or too liberal or had become too tolerant.

Despite the fact that I should have known better, I waded into the comments to duke it out with the latter group.  In one particularly tense comment thread I found an unexpected ally, Sam.  I don’t know much about Sam other than he seems to be somewhere on a path toward Jesus.  I don’t know where he might be on that journey, but I’m pretty confident that he’s on it!

Sam decided to make his voice heard in a conversation where one commenter was saying that any preaching of the gospel should include an strong effort to convince the hearers that they are “wretched sinners.”  And while an awareness of sinfulness and repentance is certainly part of responding to the good news of Jesus, it seems to me from a lifetime or reading and studying the New Testament that it is the role of the Holy Spirit to convict people of sin and lead them to repentance.

This is where Sam stepped in.  Here’s what he said:

approach

I was impressed by what Sam shared!  So I asked him if I could use his comments.

approach

And Sam replied:

approach

And he concluded with this zinger:

approach

I was left more or less speechless by what Sam had shared!  And from that day until now all I could think about was sharing Sam’s words on this blog.

So, there they are — the wisdom of Sam, highlighting the importance of having a proper approach when being missional!

Boiling Down Sam’s Ideas about Approach

So, how can we get the most out of Sam’s words?  Well, I think it might be good to look through them and find the best nuggets.  Here are the results of my mining efforts:

  1. We must have an audience that’s willing to listen!  If our approach is too aggressive, too judgmental, too churchy, or too negative overall, then no one will listen.  So if we are hoping to share and be the good news where we work, live, and play, then we MUST find ways for folks to listen to us!
  2. When we share we should be “positive and accepting.”  This is going to feel like watering down the gospel to some folks.  But stick with me for a minute.  The word “gospel” literally  means “good news.”  It follows logically then that we would want to have “good” things to talk about when we share the “good news”!  And simply because we’re in proximity to or having a conversation with someone whon our church culture deems as a “wretched sinner” doesn’t mean that we agree with or condone whatever sinfulness that is present.  Instead it means that we are trying our best to be like Jesus, who was infamous for being friends with “sinners and tax collectors” (Matthew 9.10-11, 11.19; Mark 2.15-16; Luke 5.30, 7.34, 15.1).
  3. Actions speak louder than words. Sam implores us to let our loving and selfless actions do the talking as we make our approach instead of talking about how others are evil for their actions.  What kind of actions should we engage in?  I love how Sam starts at a really simple level — just asking if everything is okay or if we can help in anyway.  I’m pretty sure that all of us can take those two steps!  And in so doing we will be more likely to move the relationship closer to Christ.
  4. Our actions in the community are noticed.  Sam said, “It’s really hard to shut out any group who displays positive work in their community, who supports groups of people who are otherwise ridiculed and discriminated against, even if they don’t agree with them.”  There it is, in plain English.  How we treat people in our neighborhoods is a known commodity.  People see us.  They see us as individuals, families, small groups, congregations, and as the Church as a whole.  So, wouldn’t we want what they see to be attractive instead of repulsive?
  5. Following Sam’s approach can lead to people feeling impressed, inspired, curious, and respectful.  Aren’t these reactions much better than the way that people tend to think of us today, namely as judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, and too political?  And in so doing, wouldn’t the person we are sharing with be more likely to respond positively to the good news of Jesus and his kingdom?

Our Approach Should Be Like Jesus’ Approach

But those of us who are Christians follow Jesus and not Sam!  So how did Jesus do this?

Much could be written about Jesus’ approach but I only want to explore one little story here: the calling of Matthew.

A little background would be good.  At this point in Jesus’ ministry he has gained a reputation for being a good teacher, a worker of miracles, and a friend of the unlovable.  One group that was certainly unlovable by the vast majority of Jews living in Palestine in the first century was tax collectors.

Now when we think of tax collectors today we might think of IRS agents with their carefully pressed suits, calculators, spread sheets, and complicated tax codes.  But Matthew was a different sort of tax collector.  He was more akin to the member of a gang who shakes down local businesses for protection money.  In other words, Matthew had more in common with mob muscle than pencil pushers.

And Matthew did his work publicly.  Everyone knew who he was and what he did.

So when Jesus started his approach with Matthew, all of these things were true and everyone, Jesus and Matthew included, was aware of them.

Here’s how it went down:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9.9)

Notice what Jesus didn’t do.  He didn’t judge Matthew.  He didn’t tell him to shape up before he would be able to follow him.  He didn’t care much about the opinion of anyone other than Matthew.  And he didn’t try to convince Matthew that he was a wretched sinner.

Instead Jesus just said “follow me.”  Jesus asked Matthew to join his community, to become one of his traveling band.

How crazy!

Jesus’ actions certainly don’t line up with our typical approach.  We tend to tell people that they have to behave and believe correctly before they can belong to us.  But Jesus didn’t do that.  He told people that they belonged and then taught them through his own life how to behave and believe!

 

Friends, let’s follow the advice of Jesus (and Sam) and let’s fix our approach to sharing the good news!

 

What do you think?  How can we fix how we approach sharing the good news with someone who has yet to follow Jesus?  Let me know in the comments below!

Biblical Hospitality — Brad Brisco

In this short video Brad Brisco (missional thought leader, church planter, and church planting coach) breaks down the idea he calls “biblical hospitality.”

I love the idea of hospitality in the Bible being “love + stranger.”

That’s something that can inspire me to action!
What do you think?  How do you live out biblical hospitality?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

#DivisionOfLabor: New Wine Podcast #021

How should the division of the labor in the church between leaders and congregants be lived out? Who should be doing the work?

I answer this question in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher?  That would be super cool!

Also, if you’d like to help support the creative process that helps bring this podcast to life, then please check out my Patreon page (http://patreon.com/JMatthewBarnes).  There are some fun rewards there for folks who pledge support although any level support will be greatly appreciated!

Thanks!

Chaos + Jesus = ?? Jesus walking on water gives us a clue...

Chaos.

Many of us today claim that we live in the midst of it.  Some of us say that we thrive on it and others of us are petrified by it.

But in reality we’re all scared by chaos.  Why?  Because a chaotic situation can’t be defined easily and certainly can’t be predicted.

So in the face of chaos we might not be able to make informed decisions.  We might fall flat on our proverbial faces.

And no one wants that.

Others of us still face real chaos in our lives.  Our living situations are complicated, messy, and even dangerous.  Our ability to provide for ourselves and our loved ones is equally unpredictable.

So, for those of us who follow Jesus, how can we respond to chaos?  Better yet, how does Jesus respond to our chaos?

John 6 and Chaos

I think we begin to get an answer to how to deal with chaos (or how Jesus deals with it) in John 6.16-21.  Here it is:

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

In order to understand the full force of this passage we need to know something about ancient views on large bodies of water.  Unlike most boat-going occasions today, in the ancient world one’s life was put in literal danger by entering a boat and setting off.  Why?  Because many, many people died in the ocean, in rivers, and on lakes.

Boats were not nearly what they are today and safety measures (like life preservers) were not invented and commonly used yet.  Thus, the weather turning bad and the waves getting big were truly life threatening!

Thus, for many ancient people large bodies of water represented chaos and they feared them greatly.  We can see this in the descriptions of heaven in the book of Revelation.  In the heavenly visions the sea is described as “crystal,” meaning that it was calm.  In other words, in heaven God causes all the chaos to subside.

With all of this in mind, this story from John 6 feels a bit more dire than at first glance.  The disciples are alone and they are on the Sea of Tiberias (aka the Sea of Galilee).  Already we know that they may be feeling the pressures of the moment (though maybe not for the fishermen among them).

But the weather turns bad, turning up the chaos meter to 10!  I can only imagine what they all must be thinking — Jesus left us after feeding all those people and now we’re going to die out here on this God-forsaken lake!

But they didn’t die that day.  The chaos didn’t win.

Jesus came to their aid by walking on the water!  Before they could respond to this crazy feat, Jesus identifies himself by saying “It is I” or, as translated as in Exodus 3.14, “I am.”  I’ve written about Jesus’ words here before, but it almost goes without saying that Jesus is making a bold claim about his deity here, both with his words (“I am”) and his actions (walking on water).

But I don’t want to hurry past what it meant for Jesus to walk on water.  By doing so Jesus was indicating that chaos had no control over him.  He could literally put it under his feet and walk all over it!  This must have spoken volumes to his disciples!

Then he continues his demonstration of mastery of chaos by speeding along their efforts to cross the lake.  John makes it sound like Jesus has performed another miracle by saying the “immediately the boat reached the shore,” as if walking on the water wasn’t miracle enough!

In other words, the disciples where facing extreme chaos in this life-threatening boating adventure but when Jesus showed up, everything was taken care of in short order.

Does Jesus Help Us with Our Chaos Today?

That’s all well and good that Jesus walked on water and helped out his disciples.  But can he do similar sorts of things for us when we face chaos today?

The short answer is this — Yes!  The longer answer is — Yes but in his way and with our participation.

Here are a few principles from this passage to consider:

  1. The chaos the disciples faced came as they were on mission with Jesus.  Don’t get me wrong…Jesus can and does help us when we’ve caused our own problems.  But there is a pretty consistent picture painted in the Gospels of Jesus extending help to his disciples when they were obeying him.  In this case the disciples had been on a preaching and healing tour with Jesus and were returning to their base of operations in Capernaum.  This chaos was not of their own making; it happened upon them as they were seeking to follow Jesus.  Where does our chaos originate from?  Does it come because we’ve carved our own paths or because we’re on mission with Jesus too?
  2. The chaos the disciples faced didn’t cause them to freeze up or panic.  Seeing that many of the pictures we have of the disciples in the Gospels are of them bumbling their way through life, this story is a bit different.  There’s a scary storm that is causing large waves.  And the disciples could have just stopped rowing and started whining and complaining.  But they didn’t do that.  They continued rowing.  Friends, chaos will come into our lives.  And many of us are tempted to sit on our hands when this happens, fearful to do anything.  But we have standing orders.  We are to love God, love others, and make disciples no matter what — chaos or otherwise.  Will we be willing to continue to do what we know we ought to, even when chaos seems to be reigning supreme in our lives?
  3. The chaos gave the disciples a unique opportunity to welcome Jesus.  There’s a small line that’s easy to miss in the story of Jesus walking on water.  Here it is: “…they were willing to take him into the boat…”  After Jesus identified himself (both as Jesus and as divine), the disciples made the smart choice of letting him board their boat!  And once he did, he helped them through their chaotic situation.  Will we accept Jesus as he comes walking on our chaos?  Or will we be too upset, distracted, and disheartened even to see him, much less welcome him?

To be clear, following Jesus is not a “get out of trouble free” card.  No.  Instead it’s a “walk with Jesus through the chaos” kind of thing!

Are we willing to turn to Jesus in the midst of our chaos?

 

What do you think?  How does Jesus help us in our chaotic moments?  Let me know in the comments below!

5 Reasons Not to Be Judgmental Though Many More Could Be Added!

Something that I say all the time is that when young adults think of Christians the most common word they associate with us is “judgmental.”

Not only do I say it…but I’ve written about many times and I’ve even recorded a podcast on it as well.

And add to all of that the fact that one of my favorite Christian authors and missional practitioners, Hugh Halter, wrote an excellent book on the topic called Brimstone: The Art and Act of Holy Nonjudgment.

In other words, I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately.  And the question I’ve been pondering lately is this: Why should we not be judgmental, especially since we’re so tempted to be?

Defining “Judgmental”

Before we can really dig in, we must figure out what it means to be judgmental?

I intend for this post (and the blog generally) to be most useful for followers of Jesus, so my comments will be colored by this intention.

With that said, I think it will be helpful to say a few things that I DON’T mean when I use the word “judgmental.”

  • I don’t mean holding a fellow believer accountable if s/he has asked you to do so.  This arrangement is agreed upon by both parties and is intended for mutual benefit.  So it’s not judgmental to mention something about the actions, habits, and language of someone who has agreed to be held accountable by us.
  • I don’t mean having strong opinions about what is sinful and what is not based on various texts from the Bible.  That’s perfectly fine and it’s helpful for those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus to know what may or may not please him (the key phrase there is “for those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus”).
  • And lastly, I don’t mean observing cultural patterns and then identifying which ones are edifying for you and your family and which ones are not.  As a follower of Jesus, it’s your right (and duty even) to ensure that your family is exposed to the right sorts of things.  But, again, this sort of social sorting and labeling should be reserved for internal use as followers of Jesus.

What do I mean by “judgmental” then?

Being judgmental as a follower of Jesus is applying the expectation of obedience to biblical ideals that comes with following Jesus on those who do not yet follow Jesus and/or calling out the actions, habits, and language of a specific, fellow follower of Jesus without having entered into an accountability agreement.

Why Is Being Judgmental to Be Avoided?

While there are many, many, many reasons, here are five good ones!

  1. Being judgmental doesn’t work because we don’t have all the info. If someone is doing something that we deem wrong and we say something about it to them, whether they are not yet a follower of Jesus or not in an accountability agreement, then we are presuming that we know the whole situation.  We are pretending that we know their backstory and all the antecedent decisions that led up the current situation.  We’re also assuming that we know their intent, i.e., their heart.  Let’s be honest, the one huge problem with being judgmental is that in so doing we are presupposing a bunch of knowledge to which no human being has direct and easy access.
  2. Being judgmental is overstepping our job description as followers of Jesus.  Who told us that it was our collective and individual duty to pay attention to everyone else and be sure to point out all the things that we find wrong or inappropriate?  We do, however, have a pretty clear job description in the Bible.  Jesus tells us that we are to do three primary things: 1) love God, 2) love others, and 3) make disciples (Matthew  22.36-40, 28.19-20).  Nowhere in that job description exists the idea of being judgmental.  In fact, there is one who has the job of being the judge, and that person is Jesus (2 Timothy 4.1).
  3. Being judgmental fails the Golden Rule quite horribly.  In Luke 6.31 Jesus sums up much of his teaching in one tight little thought: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Thus, let’s ask ourselves this question: Do we want someone peeping into our lives like a creep in order to catch us in a mistake or sin, intentional or not?  What about this question: Do we want to be held to a standard we haven’t agreed to or be put under scrutiny that isn’t consensual?  Friends, if we don’t want these things done to us (and no one really does who is being honest!), why then do we feel we have the right to do them to others?
  4. Being judgmental breaks a direct command in the Bible.  In Matthew 7.1 Jesus says these famous words: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  So when we judge others we are actively going against a direct command from Jesus!  And besides that, we’re inviting the judgment of others on us as well (“or you too will be judged” and all of verse 2!).  So instead of breaking this clear command, wouldn’t it be better for all of us to zip our lips when it comes to judging others?
  5. Being judgmental really kills our ability to be and share the good news.  Think about it: If we want someone to respond positively to the good news of Jesus and his kingdom, wouldn’t we want NOT to judge them?  Because if we are judgmental, they will sense it, and just like us, they won’t like it.  And they ARE sensing it.  Remember that study I mentioned at the beginning of this post?  In it the researchers found that 87% of young adults thought that Christians were judgmental.  87%!  That’s insane!  If we keep it up at this pace we’re never going to be able to share the good news with anyone because they’ll be so tired of all the bad news we keep spewing!

 

What do you think?  Why shouldn’t we be judgmental?  Let me know in the comments below!

I Am – Jesus’ Bold Claim Jesus identifies who he really is

When Jesus said the words “I am” in John 6.20, nostalgia must have been triggered for his disciples.

And nostalgia is a strong force.  It can cause us to relive memories of times gone by.  However, the danger of nostalgia is that it can cause us to miss what is right in front of us.

On the flipside, it may well be that one of the great powers of nostalgia is to cause us to live more presently and to long more fervently for God’s promised future.

Here’s how Russell Moore, the president of the Baptist group called the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, puts it: “Our warm memories, of times we have known or of times we wish we’d known, point us to a deep longing within us for a world made right” [SOURCE].

Getting back to John 6 for a second, I’m convinced that Jesus saying “I am” served as a nostalgic moment for the disciples.  They could either bristle at Jesus for pulling a much-loved phrase from a bygone era into the present.  They could dwell wholeheartedly on the past meaning of what Jesus said.  Or they could allow this moment to propel them into being active participants in bringing about God’s will in the world, his will to make everything right.

Jesus Says “I Am”

To understand what Jesus was saying in this passage, we need to unpack a few things.

First, these words are embedded in the “walking on water” incident in John 6, which we will talk more about soon.  But suffice it to say here that Jesus said “I am” while he was literally walking on water.

Second, Jesus said these words between two significant episodes in his life, the feeding of the 5000+ (John 6.1-14) and his teaching on the “bread of life” which caused many of his followers to desert him (John 6.25-71).  In other words, these words are surrounded by bread and knowing this might inform how we understand Jesus’ words.

Third, in Greek Jesus said ego eimi, which is the exact same way that the Hebrew that God spoke to Moses in Exodus 3.14 is translated in the ancient translation called the Septuagint, which we very popular in Jesus’ day.

And fourth, he paired the words “I am” with “don’t be afraid.”  The latter set of words is most commonly associated with angels in the Bible.  Whenever they appear in a situation in the Bible, they almost always say “don’t be afraid.”

So what might all of this have meant for the disciples in the boat?  I think that the words “I am” would have served as a hyperlink to the story of God telling Moses his name in Exodus 3.14.  Furthermore, when paired with “don’t be afraid,” they would have understood that Jesus must be more than a mere man since those words are almost always reserved for extra-human beings in the Bible.  Furthermore, Jesus was actively demonstrating that he was more than just a man since he was walking on water as he spoke!

And how might the original audience have made sense of all of this?  If they were Jewish, and some surely were, then they too would have been made to feel nostalgic about Moses and God in Exodus 3.14 and they would have also understood the words “do not be afraid” in the same way.  They too would have caught onto the miraculous nature of Jesus walking on the water.

In addition, the original audience would be able to interpret this story in light of the one coming before it and the one after it, both of which are, at least in part, about bread.  And it seems to me that bread in both cases points to God’s provision, hearkening back to the provision of manna (divine bread) during the wilderness wanderings of the ancient Israelites after they were set free from Egypt.

In other words, the fact that this “I am” saying is sandwiched between two stories about bread (both of which point to divine provision) shows that John (the author of this Gospel) was also trying to communicate that Jesus was extra-human through this literary technique.

So, to recap, by saying the words “I am” in this context (both in the original scene and in the Gospel of John), it seems clear that Jesus is identifying himself with God.  This story points with a great deal of clarity at Jesus being divine!

Jesus Said “I Am” — Now What?

What does it matter that Jesus claimed to be divine?  Who cares?  What kind of impact might it have on us?

First, I find the reaction of the disciples in the boat interesting.  After seeing Jesus walk on water and hearing him claim a divine title as his own, “then they were willing to take him into the boat…” (John 6.21a).

Jesus didn’t say “I am” to rub his divinity in anyone’s face.  And he didn’t say it just for the sake of revealing himself.

He said it so that the disciple would further welcome him in.  He said it to build intimacy with them.

He said it so that he could have a greater impact in the present so that he could train his disciples up for their future work.

Friends, Jesus still makes the same claim — he’s still the great “I am”!  And we have the same set of choices to make as the disciples did.

We can deny that Jesus was telling the truth when he identified with God by saying “I am,” bristling at the very notion.

We can love that Jesus claimed to be divine, but only let thinking about it make us feel fondly about this story in the Bible and the times we thought about it in the past.

Or we can invite Jesus in our “boats” like the disciples did, giving Jesus the proximity needed to change us into the people we need to be to fulfill his mission for us in this world.

In other words, Jesus doesn’t reveal himself in the Bible to be divine just for the heck of it.  No!  Instead he desires for us to be changed by who he is so that we can best serve him in his mission to make all things right.

 

What do you think?  What did Jesus mean when he said “I am”?  And how should it impact us today?  Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

#TimeForChange: New Wine Podcast #020

Why is a willingness to change important for those Christians who are seeking to be missional?

Here are a few of the resources that I mentioned in this episode:

I answer this question in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher?  That would be super cool!

Also, if you’d like to help support the creative process that helps bring this podcast to life, then please check out my Patreon page (http://patreon.com/JMatthewBarnes).  There are some fun rewards there for folks who pledge support although any level support will be greatly appreciated!

Thanks!