The Gospel Story: Hidden in Plain Sight
Exodus 3:13-14; John 8:56-58
Rev. Sandy Johnson
August 20, 2017
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
In the late 1980’s a new character splashed onto the scene of children’s books and captured the attention of many adults as well. What began as a hobby for artist, Martin Handford turned into a worldwide phenomenon. Know what I’m talking about? Where’s Waldo! Hanford loved drawing crowd scenes and when he approached his publisher about putting together a whole collection of these scenes, the art director at Walker Books suggested that he add a focal point, something to force the reader to search through the scenes to fully enter into the drawing. So, Waldo was born, in fact he was born Wally in the UK and changed his name to Waldo for US publication.
Take a look at the slide. Do you see Waldo? He’s right there, can’t you see him?
There he is. Let’s try an easier one. Do you see him now? There he is.
Sometimes things are right in front of us, but we have to search to see them. That’s what I am reminded of when I think of the “I AM” words of Jesus Christ. A secret message, hidden in plain sight for all to see, if only we will look. Remember from last week, we learned that the book of John was written so that we might better understand who Jesus Christ is and the life he offers for those who believe. This book is to be read and experienced through the lens of deep thought and meaning. Our lesson this morning is also designed to be a sign for us, pointing us to the divinity of Christ.
There are seven “I Am” statements that are recorded in the Book of John. “These statements in which two simple Greek words, ego eimi, can mean a variety of things. They can be used to say, “It is I,” or “I am he,” or “I exist,” or most commonly “I am,” in response to JJ asking, “Are you Hungry?” These are such commonplace words we might read them in John and not really think anything about them.” Except, we know better.
We begin in the Old Testament, the book of Exodus. Here God is laying down his secret code, he is drawing the crowd scene and planting Waldo right in the middle. Or more accurately he is responding to Moses. You see Moses at this time was living in the Sinai desert, taking care of his father-in-law’s flocks. While out on rounds, he came upon a bush that was on fire. That might have been strange enough, but this bush was doing something he had never seen before. It was burning, but not burning up. The flames were there, it was hot to the touch, but the branches never disintegrated as it should have with fire. There was no ash, no smoke to indicate it was burning up.
Moses approached this burning bush and he hears a voice, a voice telling him to remove his shoes, he was standing on Holy ground. Then this voice identifies himself… “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” This may sound strange from our Judeo-Christian perspective. Why does God not just say, I am God? Why the need to explain which God he is? The culture surrounding this story was polytheistic, there were many gods. In Egypt alone there were more than 1400 gods. So, it’s understandable that God would identify himself to Moses.
Their conversation continues and God tells Moses that he has heard the cry of the Israelites, he has heard the suffering they have had to endure at the hands of the Egyptians and he is ready to act. He tells Moses that he will lead them out of Egypt and bring them to freedom. The only question that remained in Moses’ mind is, who exactly are you? Which God is speaking. Who should I say is leading us?
It is here that God reveals his true name, God says to Moses, “I Am Who I Am.” So, say to the Israelites, “I Am has sent me to you.” What kind of a name is “I Am?” “In Hebrew, the word that’s translated as I Am Who I Am is the Hebrew word Yahweh or, as it is sometimes pronounced, Jehovah. Throughout the Old Testament this is the personal name for God, God’s covenant name. Still, what an odd name God has chosen to reveal to Moses. By revealing this name, I believe God is saying, “I am being itself!” Or, “I am the source of existence (or life) itself!” Moses asked, “Who are you?” God replied, “I Am.” In other words, everything that exists is contingent upon God for its existence.”
“I Am (Yahweh) thus became the personal name for God throughout the scriptures. The name was so revered that by the third or fourth century before Christ, if not earlier, faithful Jews would not even speak what came to be known with reverence as “the Name” (or in Hebrew, ha shem).” The name of God was so revered, that his followers dare not say his name. Reminds me of Harry Potter and “You-Know-Who,” “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”
Fast forward to Jesus ministry, some 1,600 to 1,800 years after Moses and we have Jesus speaking to the Jewish leaders, pointing them back to Exodus.
56 “Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.” 57 Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”
This was blasphemy. The Jews recognized that Jesus was calling himself the same name that God called himself with Moses years before. They were so incensed that they picked up stones to kill him but scripture says Jesus hid himself and was able to leave the temple unharmed. This was not the only time that Jesus uttered this phrase, “I Am,” “ego eimi.” Jesus says it over and over and over.
Consider John 8:58, the words stand alone: “Before Abraham was, I Am.” We see this in John 8:24: “If you don’t believe that I Am, you will die in your sins.” We see it in John 8:28: “When the Human One is lifted up, then you will know that I Am.” In John 6:20, when Jesus walked on water to meet his disciples in the boat, he said to them, “I Am. Don’t be afraid.”
Although these are “I Am” statements, the ones that we are to consider today are those that don’t stand alone, like the ones I just mentioned, but those statements that are “followed by a metaphor meant to further connect Jesus with God, and which describes how those who believe in Jesus “will have life in his name” (John 20:31). The sayings in this second category are traditionally known as the “I AM” sayings of Jesus.”
There are seven of these “I AM” statements in the book of John, each followed by a metaphor used to describe “how Jesus gives life to those who believe in his name.
- Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” (6:35)
- Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” (8:12)
- Jesus says, “I am the door (or the gate)” (10:9)
- Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd” (10:11)
- Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25)
- Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6)
- Jesus says, “I am the true vine” (15:1)
We would be here way past lunchtime if I spoke about each of them, so I selected the first one to go in depth, and invite you to read and study the others in your own time this week.
I Am the bread of life. Let’s look first at the context of this statement. John 6 is devoted to the miracle of Jesus feeding the multitudes. You remember that story where a larger crowd had gathered to hear Jesus teach and as the day grew late, the disciples were concerned that the crowd was growing hungry. Jesus took a few loaves and fish and fed thousands. “The miracle is a sign pointing to who Jesus is and how he gives life, and John provides multiple clues by which we can see the deeper meaning.”
“In John 6:4 we read, “It was nearly time for Passover, the Jewish festival.” (Slide) This reference is the first clue. The Passover is the annual celebration of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The celebration includes a festive meal in which families reenact the events of Israel’s last night as slaves in Egypt and of their miraculous deliverance. You’ll recall that God sent plague after plague upon the Egyptians to convince them to release the Israelite slaves. The last plague God announced to Moses would be the death of the firstborn children in Egypt. The plague would be so onerous that the Egyptians would beg the Israelites to leave.
“On the night of the last plague, the Israelites were to slaughter and roast a lamb, then mark their doorposts with the blood of the lamb. The angel of death passed through Egypt to claim the lives of the first born, but upon seeing the blood of the lamb on the doorposts, death passed over the homes of the Israelites. Once the Egyptians discovered what had happened, they demanded that the Israelites leave their land.
“The meal the Israelites ate that night before the plague included lamb and unleavened bread. From that time forward a meal including bread and lamb and wine would be an annual celebration of God’s deliverance of his people. Eating the Passover Seder meal is a way for all Jews to reenact and become part of that story and to claim it as their story.
“With this in mind, let’s turn back to John 6:4, where John has begun telling about the feeding of the multitudes. By referring to the Passover at the beginning of his account, John invites us to see Jesus’ miracle and subsequent words against the backdrop of the Passover.
“The second clue John offers has to do with the bread itself. When Jesus multiples the loaves and then says, “I am the bread of life,” John is encouraging us to think of the other occurrences of bread in the Old Testament. There are over two hundred references to bread in the Old Testament and these provide rich possibilities for deeper meaning in Jesus’ claim to be the bread of life.
“One prominent reference to bread in the Old Testament is the manna God sent to feed the Israelites every morning as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years, following their release from captivity in Egypt.” We see this specifically in John 6:31-35:
31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
The manna was a gift from God, rained down from heaven, to sustain the Israelites. With Jesus, he becomes that which sustains us. Jesus is the bread of life. Then, during the Last Supper, Jesus gave new meaning to the Seder meal, saying, “This is my body, this is my blood.” “This meal becomes for Christians what the Passover is for Jews, a meal in which we remember our defining story: that God came to us in Jesus Christ, who gave himself to save and deliver humanity from sin and death. In the meal, Christians become a part of the story, participating in Christ’s story and in his saving work.”
This “I Am” saying points us clearly to Christ’s divinity, both in the use of “I Am,” God’s name, and in the metaphor of the bread. Breaking bread together is a centerpiece of community. We receive physical nourishment from bread as well as spiritual sustenance when we partake of Holy Communion. “When Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” he was speaking about both of these ideas – spiritual nutrition or sustenance and bringing people together in community.”
It is my belief, and I am sure it is yours as well, that what we need in our country, in our world in fact, is a sense of sacred and blessed community. A community modeled on the teachings of Jesus, where love is the highest commodity, sowed and shared with one another. Our country is in a precarious position right now with what appears to be a rise of white supremacy. Whether it will become a tidal wave remains to be seen, but the fact that these heinous groups have crawled out of the hole they have been hiding in, is cause for grave concern.
Hate will not define us. We are God’s beloved. Through these “I Am” sayings we see the God of the universe, clothed in flesh and blood, living among us and challenging us to love one another. Love conquers hate in every circumstance and love will win when we follow the Great I Am.
Let us pray: Join me please, the words are on the screen.
“Lord Jesus, when I look at you I believe I am seeing the Father. I know that I need more than bread to live. I need you and the love, mercy and life that you give. Be the bread of life for me. Sustain me and feed my soul. Be my light and dispel the darkness from my life. May your light so shine in me that others might see you through me. Amen.”
 Hamilton, page 60
 Exodus 3:6
 Exodus 3:14
 Hamilton, Adam. John: The Gospel of Light and Life. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN 2015, page 61