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.

 

 

Samaritan Woman: Role Model? Transformed, On Mission, and Effective

Could the Samaritan woman from the Gospel of John in the Bible be a good role model for those of us who follow Jesus?  And is she a better role model than many of the alternatives out there?

Samaritan woman

By: The U.S. National Archives — Rosie the Riveter served as a role model for millions of women during WWII.

Role Models Are Everywhere

I wonder if there was a time in the past where role models were harder to come by than they are today?  Think about it — with the constant bombardment of media today, we are quite literally surrounded by role models.

Fortunately, many of those role models are great!  Right in the palms of our hands or on the screens of our televisions we get to see stories about and created by the likes of Malala Yousafzai, Steph Curry, Lindsey Stirling, and Destin Sandlin, each of which would serve as great role models for adults and children alike!

Unfortunately, however, there are at least as many horrible role models we could be influenced by too.  And, equally unfortunately, these role models have just as easy access to our collective attention too (if not more due to our love of bad news).

So what are we to do?

Here’s an idea — why don’t we try to curate our role models a bit?  I know, I know.  This is a method that parents have been trying for years and years.  There’s nothing new under the sun!

But in today’s attention economy, the one thing that we can control perhaps the most is what we pay attention to.  So, for the next few minutes at least, let’s attend to a really good role model: the Samaritan woman.

The Samaritan Woman as a Role Model

I’ve written about the Samaritan Woman before: about how she was an avoided person and about how Jesus didn’t pass up the opportunity to connect with her.  In this post I’d like to discover what about her is worth imitating.  In other words, I want to investigate why is the claim that the Samaritan woman is a good role model is true.  I want to focus on three things about the Samaritan woman that are role-model worthy: she was transformed, she was on mission, and she was effective.

The Samaritan Woman: Transformed

In John 4 Jesus and the Samaritan woman have a great philosophical and theological discussion about spirituality, human insatiability, divine provision, her private ethical choices, worship, God, and the Messiah.

Her last words in this discussion are words of faith, saying that she knows the messiah is coming and that he’ll explain everything when he comes.

Then Jesus says something mind-blowing.  He says that he’s the messiah.  In fact, he uses a particular phrase that would have rung loudly in her religious ears — egō eimi.  These two little Greek words spoke volumes.

Egō eimi are the two words that appear in the ancient Greek translation of Exodus 3.14 where God identifies himself as “I AM.”  And here Jesus uses egō eimi to describe himself.  Jesus is making a claim about his divinity here, albeit in a slightly roundabout way.

But the Samaritan woman gets it.  She understands the reference.  In fact, it appears that when she hears these two words her entire perception of Jesus changes.  She probably played their conversation over in her head in a new light.  And, much more importantly, she let the truth that Jesus just revealed about himself play out in her future.  She saw that if Jesus truly was the egō eimi as God revealed himself to be to Moses, then her life could not be the same.

In an instant she was transformed!

So much so that in John 4.28-29 she leaves her water jar behind (perhaps a sign of her leaving her old way of life behind) and runs into town to tell everyone what had just happened to her.

Her faith in this moment changed her from the inside.  The external parts of her transformation would surely be more gradual.  She was still wrapped up in a deep relationship web after all (see John 4.16-18).

But the very fact that she would run into town demonstrates the reality of her transformation.  She was a known commodity after all.  People were well aware of her choices and judged her for the(which is likely why she was drawing water at midday instead of the morning or evening, as I wrote about here).

However, the transformation brought about in this encounter with Jesus trumped all her fears and concerns about how she would be perceived.

What a role model!  How many of us would have cowered when Jesus brought up our past and current ethical choices?  How many of us would have let the perception of others thwart what God wanted to do in and through us?

Let’s look to the Samaritan woman as an example of the amazing transformative power of Jesus!

The Samaritan Woman: On Mission

It’s true that the Samaritan woman was transformed on the inside.  But as we have already seen, she was transformed on the outside too.

Here it is in the text of John 4.28-29 itself:

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”

These are the actions and the words of a woman on mission!

She had just had an amazing encounter with Jesus, the messiah, the egō eimi, and she simply had to share it with others!  She can’t contain what has happened in her life!  She has met the divine and she must tell people what she knows!

But notice how she tells them — she says what Jesus did (told her everything she had done) and then invited them to come and see for themselves with a question (“Could this be the messiah?”).

Unfortunately this isn’t exactly the way that we usually think about sharing the good news of Jesus and his kingdom with people, is it?  Instead of the way of the Samaritan woman, many followers of Jesus try to reason, argue, or scare people into following Jesus.  And we’ve seen how poorly these methods have worked at growing the church.

Instead of doing things like we always have, let’s look to the Samaritan woman as a role model!  Let’s see in her not an attractive church model, but an attractive life model.  She didn’t beat anyone over the head with anything.  Instead she simply said what happened to her and then invited others to come see for themselves by drawing on their native curiosity.

What might this look like today?  Passion City Church in the Atlanta area uses the phrase “irresistible lives” when talking about this idea.  I think they are on to something.

If we live the good news with our own lives, incarnating Jesus and his kingdom where we work, live, and play, then our very lives are the curiosity-inducing questions.  Sure, there will be times where we should use our mouths too.  But what if we lived our lives so radically centered on the love of Jesus that people couldn’t help but be curious?

That’s a question I want to see answered in my own life!

The Samaritan Woman: Effective

Lastly, the Samaritan woman is a good role model not only because she’s transformed and on mission, but also because she’s effective.

When she invites people to come and see this guy who might be the messiah, they did so!  But it gets even better.

Check out John 4.39-42:

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

People first believed because of the testimony of the Samaritan woman, so much so that they pleaded with Jesus to stay with them longer.  After spending more time with Jesus, the egō eimi, many others believed as well.

So the effectiveness of the Samaritan woman came in two phases — Phase One: people believed her when she said what Jesus had done for her; and Phase Two: people were able to confirm what she said when they met Jesus for themselves.

So if the Samaritan woman is to serve as our role model, then what would this look like?  How can we be effective like her?

As mentioned above, invite people to meet Jesus.  Live irresistible lives.

But it’s the next step — we have to let them confirm what we say by actually meeting Jesus.

Do we get in the way of this today?  Absolutely!

In my humble opinion we are more likely to introduce people to institutionalized religion, the baptized American Dream, a religious self-help group, or even the church.

How, instead, can we introduce them to Jesus?  How can we peel back all the caked on crud with which we’ve covered him?

Here’s a radical idea — we can let them see Jesus in us and through us.  We don’t have the blessed opportunity to literally take people to the incarnated Jesus.  Instead Jesus makes himself known in us through his Spirit and then calls us to incarnate him and his message wherever he sends us.

So instead of inviting people to church (which is still a fine thing to do, it’s just not the most effective thing to do), let’s invite people into our lives so that they can meet Jesus there.

And we don’t have to do this alone.  We can invite them into our communal experience of Jesus too.  The Samaritan woman didn’t have community (yet!), so we’ll have to pave our own road here!

One more thing — if we want to invite people to meet Jesus after having shared with them what he has done for us, not only should we invite them to meet him in our lives, but we should also invite them to meet him in the Gospels.

In my experience people love reading about Jesus’ life in the Gospels.  So as we live curious lives, let’s point people to Jesus in us and our communities and to Jesus in the Scriptures as well!

 

What do you think?  Is the Samaritan woman a good role model?  Did I miss something about her that you find imitation worthy?  Let me know in the comments below!