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"I AM"
John 8:47 ff
The Rev. Jason R. Grote

Since I began preaching sermons almost 6 years ago, I have been approached with one question several times by several different people,“How do you manage to come up with a different sermon week after week?” As I think about it, I can remember asking my father that same question when I was a young kid. My father’s answer was always, “You just do”.

That answer used to amaze me and it does, even moreso, now that I must do it. I will say that it is not an easy thing especially in a liturgical Church when you must approach the same text time and time again. Often times you feel as though you are a broken record that plays the same thing over and over again. Other times you study and meditate on the text for hours and nothing seems to come to mind. It can be an awfully difficult task.

But I’ve also found out all the little secrets about sermon writing. Like a magician, I won’t reveal all the secrets but one that you probably know is that you look to others. Early Church Fathers, commentators, and other ministers' sermons all help to spark your thought process. With the vastness of the internet it’s easy to find these resources. Well, let me tell you, I went to an internet site this week to peruse some sermons and when I typed in the reference John 8 verses 47 and following only two sermons were returned. There are over 20,000 sermons on this site yet only two dealt with our Gospel passage this morning. There were over 25 on the beginning verses of John 8 but only two on verses 47 and following and even those two skirted around the significance of today’s passage.

It seems odd to have so few sermons preached on one of the most important sayings of Christ. I’m sure that we have all seen a red-letter edition of the Bible. This is a Bible that has all the words of Jesus in red. When you look through the Gospels you cannot escape seeing verse after verse of red. Out of all that red print,. out of all that Christ said, out of the all that He preached at the sermon on the mount, out of all the miracles that He performed, the two words He employs in today’s Gospel lesson ring the loudest-- Ego Eimi, translated "I AM".

Obviously these words carry great importance. They carry with them a meaning that is very weighty and serious. Look at verse 59 of John chapter 8 and we can see how the Jews reacted when they heard them, “Then they took up stones to throw at him.” How could this little saying of Christ cause such a reaction? How could these words be so severe that the Jews wanted to stone Him to death?

Now some of you may already know the answer to that question. If I were to give a quiz some would feel very confident that you would get an A, wouldn’t you? When Christ said those words He was claiming for Himself the name of God. I AM is the name that God revealed to Moses on the Mount. When God called Moses, Moses complained saying that the people would want to know who sent them. So God reveals His name, “I AM WHO I AM. Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.” Thus the Jews, when they heard Jesus say “I AM”, considered it blasphemy.

Now back to the quiz. If you would have answered that way I would have given you a B. And the reason it would be a B is because it is not a complete answer. It would be like simply writing the correct answer 5 to the mathematical equation 0=x2 +2x –35. It may be right but there is no work shown. There is no explanation as to how you arrived at the correct answer. In other words, why is Christ’s claim to be “I AM” so important? Why does His claim to divinity have importance? It has to do with what that name meant.

Although we first hear the name of God as “I AM” in Exodus 3, it is present and implied from the time of the Covenant with Abraham. Three times God speaks to Abraham about the covenant-- Genesis 12, Genesis 15, and Genesis 17. This last time, Genesis 17, when the commandment for circumcision is given God adds something to the covenantal promises. The scriptures read, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless…. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

This statement, “And I will be your God” is a promise that is reiterated throughout the Old Testament. In Exodus 6 God says to the Israelites, “I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God.” In Isaiah 41:10 God says, “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.” Again in chapter 49:26 God says, “All flesh shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, and your redeemer, the Mighty one of Jacob.” Jeremiah also records for us the words of God when He says, “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” And a final example comes in the book of Ezekiel, “My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be my people. The nations also will know that I, the Lord, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.”

Of all the promises that God made, none is as comprehensive and none involves His own person more intimately than this promise--“I will be your God”. This characteristic promise of the Old Testament brings men into the closest possible relationship with Him. Here is a covenant promise of deepest spirituality and intimacy, a religious union of fellowship with God. In this promise the sovereign grace of God comes to the forefront in that of His own will He offers to give something of His personal fullness for the benefit of His people. [Herter p. 86]

And the sovereign grace of God that offers to give of His ownself centers around redemption. Whether it was calling Abraham out of the world to be His people and to bless the lands through his seed, or whether it was the deliverance of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt, or the promise of restoration during the Babylonian exile-- the promise “I will be your God” or the statement, “I Am your God” always centers around redemption and restoration. The self-revelation of God in the name ‘I AM' is the covenantal promise that He will meet the needs of His people and bring them into full relationship with Him.

Thus when Christ says, “Before Abraham was, I AM”, He was claiming to be that same God. It’s not that He is simply claiming eternal existence, to which some commentators have reduced it. No, He was claiming to be the one who would deliver all the covenantal promises of old. We can see this claim again and again in the famous “I AM” sayings. St. John records for us 7 others apart from our gospel lesson, They are “I am the:

1)Bread of life
2)Light of the world
3)Door
4)Good Shepherd
5)Resurrection and the life
6)Way, the truth, and the life
7)True vine

In all of these “I AM” statements, and in the one before us today, Jesus is setting forth the claim to deity. And each case He is claiming to be able to provide some aspect of redemptive blessing needed by man. As God met the needs of Abraham and of Israel in his repeated self-revelations as their God, Jesus, in the “I AM” statements, reveals Himself as the one who meets the needs of His people.

As “bread” Jesus is the nourishing and satisfying portion of all who trust in Him. As “light”, He gives needed knowledge and understanding. Protection and security are afforded to those who enter through him who is the “door”. As the “resurrection and the life”, Jesus gives victory over man’s great enemy – death. As “the way”, He is the necessary means of access to God, and as the “true vine”, He is that life which produces the fruit God looks for from His people.

These claims are what made the Jews want to stone Him. They fully believed that you must be from the direct lineage of Abraham and that you must keep the law in order to be part of God’s holy people. But Jesus comes along and says that they are all wrong-- that proper ancestors and the law do not redeem and reconcile them to God. Christ said, “Before Abraham was…I AM". In other words, Christ is saying -- "God’s blessing has always been through Me. The redemption you have has always been through Me. Provision and protection have always been through Me. It was through Me, and even now it is through Me. I AM the one, I AM the fulfillment of the promise—I will be your God. I will be your Redeemer, I will be your Savior.” And all this is proved to be true on Easter morning when Christ rose from the dead.

As we approach the table this morning, we are confronted with the person and work of Christ. We remember His death, His body and blood shed for us, and we are reminded of the promises made to those who are in relationship with Him. We renew once again the covenant of grace-- the covenant where the Great I AM says to each of us: “ I will be your God forevermore.” AMEN