(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
The “I Am” Sayings of Jesus
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
This section begins with Jesus saying, “I am the light of the world” (verse 12) and ends with his amazing statement, “Before Abraham was, I Am” (verse 58). Between these two “I Am” sayings (associating himself with God’s name in Exodus 3:14), he declared that he was “from above” and his foes “from below” (verse 23). His self-righteous enemies were furious, ready to stone Jesus for blasphemy.
John again echoed the creation story. In it, God formed humans from dust (cf. Genesis 2:7). John said Jesus created sight for a blind man using mud made from dust (verse 6). Then John portrayed the difference between physical and spiritual blindness. Rather than admit anything good about Jesus, the religious leaders scrambled to deny the plain fact that a man born blind could now see! In his beautiful confession of faith in verse 25, the man showed that he could “see” more clearly than the religious leaders.
Jesus said the spiritual blindness of Israel’s leaders hurt, not only them, but the human “flock” God had entrusted to their care. (His words strongly echoed those of the prophet Ezekiel—cf. Ezekiel 34:1-16.) But God had promised Israel that he would shepherd them himself, and Jesus came as “the good shepherd” who would safely guide and protect all who trusted him.
John described the behavior of Jesus’ foes in aggressive language, writing that they “circled around him.” They asked a serious-enough question: “If you are the Christ (Greek for “anointed one,” i.e. the Messiah), tell us plainly.” The problem was that they’d already settled on a negative answer. When Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (verse 30), they picked up stones with the intention of stoning him to death!
Bethany is just a few miles from Jerusalem. Going there could expose Jesus to the malice of his enemies again (verse 8, 16). Jesus intentionally waited before going to where his friend lay deathly ill (verse 15). By the time he reached Bethany, Lazarus had died. Grieving her brother’s death, Martha told Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” He answered with one of his greatest “I am” sayings: “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus’ seventh miraculous sign was his mightiest: Lazarus, who had been dead for four days (verse 39), was restored to life. His act also gave Mary and Martha back the chance to live a decent life—in their world, a woman with no living male relative had no legal standing. Yet the darkness hated the light more than ever, and Jesus’ enemies increased their efforts to kill the one who gave life.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord, help us to feel as you feel and see as you see. Thank you for feeling our pains and sorrows. Help us to trust in your ways and in your timing. May all our lives and our efforts glorify you and bring others to faith. Continue to restore our spiritual blindness and allow us to always hear your voice as we struggle in our lives. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Do our lives seem to have “seasons”? If our four ages are childhood, youth, adulthood and old age, which ones would you rename as spring, summer, fall and winter? Do some people seem to get “stuck” in one “season” or another?
Note: The Voyage of Life series, painted by Thomas Cole in 1842, is a series of paintings that represent an allegory of the four stages of human life: childhood, youth, manhood, and old age. The paintings are shown at the National Gallery, Washington, D.C.
For more information, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Voyage_of_Life
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read John 8:12-59. Jesus said that our sin made us slaves to sin and that belief in him would set us free. Have you felt freer of sin as a result of your faith? At what point will we be fully free from sin? Jesus said “I am the light of the world.” What does this mean to you? If Jesus walked up to you on the street today, would you recognize him and if so, what would be your clues? Is Jesus asking us to change our whole life in one instant or more gradually, over time?
Read John 9:1-38. What is the significance of Jesus healing the blind man by using mud? In this story, who was physically blind and who was spiritually blind? Have you ever felt that Christ, in some way, healed your blindness? What if, at some time in the future, society discriminated against you in a significant way for confessing your faith? Do you think you would still have the courage to profess your faith? Where would your courage come from?
Read John 9:39-10:21. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” How do today’s advertisements try to say the same thing? Do most Christians feel that Jesus really offers the best life, or do we feel equally or more that way about homes, cars and “stuff”? How easy is it to become trapped in the lure of today’s materialistic world? Who chooses which people will become Christians? Do Christians universally accept one another? What tends to pull us apart?
Read John 10:22-42. Was Jesus unclear about who he said he was? What was Jesus’ claim? Why did the people ask him to repeat his claim? Why did they want to stone him? Do you fully believe that Jesus is God, or do you have trouble with this claim? Do you think some Christians see Jesus as separate from God? Specifically what are we saying we believe when we say we believe in Jesus? Jesus said we can tell the difference between false and true prophets by the kind of fruit they bear. What “fruit” can we see in Jesus’ life?
Read John 11:1-27. What great statement or statements of faith did Martha make in this reading? Why do you think Lazarus died, when Jesus knew he was going to raise him up again? What was the “I am” statement that Jesus made which spoke to the death of Lazarus? How does this statement relate to all of us? Before Lazarus died, what were Martha and Mary praying for? Was their prayer answered exactly as they asked? Was it answered? Do you think that sometimes we think our prayer wasn’t answered and much later, fail to realize that it really was answered?
Read John 11:28-57. Why was Jesus’ seventh miraculous sign, the raising of Lazarus, the greatest sign? Jesus demonstrated that he even overcame death. Why were the Pharisees so upset by this? Where in this reading is a clue that the Pharisees were not upset merely on religious grounds? Why did the Pharisees say, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation”? Why did Jesus weep? Did he feel the hurt in the hearts of his friends upon Lazarus’ death? What does this say about the heart of God and how he feels when we are suffering?
From last week: Did you focus on this season of Lent? During Lent, many Christians prepare for Easter through fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ, his life, suffering, and sacrifice, his death, burial and resurrection. Did you do this? Share with the group how these practices affected your week.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon, March 10, 2013:
Today we turn our attention to the seven “I AM” statements of Jesus recorded in John. Each points to the way Jesus gives life to everyone who believes in him. They also point to the divinity of Christ. Before delving into these statements, I want to take a moment to look at the first two words in these statements. In Greek they are: EGO EIMI.
Ego eimi on the one hand simply means, “I am” or “I exist.” Ego (we pronounce it ego in English) is the self—it is I. Eimi is from the verb “to be.” To see why these two words are important in John it is helpful to go back to Exodus 3:13-14 where God appears to Moses in the form of a burning bush. God has called Moses to go to Egypt and to lead the Israelites out of slavery. Listen again to our scripture: “But Moses said to God, If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you, and they ask me, What is his name? what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, I AM has sent me to you.’”
In Hebrew the word translated I AM WHO I AM is the Hebrew word YAHWEH or it is sometimes pronounced JEHOVAH. This is the personal name for God in the Old Testament. When Moses pressed God for his name God said, “I am who I am.” In essence, he was saying, “I am being (or life) itself.” Everything that exists is contingent upon God. He is the source of life, of existence, of being. Which is why Paul, quoting the Greek poet Epimenedes could say, “In him we live and move and have our being.” God says to Moses, “Tell the Israelites I AM has sent you.”
Now, if you have your Bible turn to John 8:56-59. Here Jesus says, “Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad. Then the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
Jesus bears witness to his connection with God here. Notice what these Jewish leaders seek to do after hearing Jesus say, “I AM.” They pick up stones to kill Jesus. This is the punishment for blasphemy in the Hebrew Bible. In John’s gospel I Am appears on the lips of Jesus over 70 times.
With this as a bit of backdrop, let’s turn to a particular set of “I Am” sayings of Jesus—sayings in which Jesus defines how his life brings life to our lives. I’d remind you that in John 20:31 John tells his readers why he has written the gospel: “These [things] are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” These seven statements clearly articulate what it means to “have life in his name.”
I want you to notice that each of these is rooted in the Old Testament, drawing from Old Testament, stories, images of God, or images of Israel:
Jesus said to them,
–I am the bread of life
–I am the light of the world
–I am the door for the sheep
–I am the good shepherd
–I am the resurrection and the life
–I am the way, and the truth, and the life
–I am the true vine
Each of these is rooted in Old Testament images of God, and each points to how Jesus gives life to those who trust in him….
In our scripture today we find Jesus claiming to be the I Am in human flesh. He is the way, the truth and the life. And no one will come to the Father except by means of the love, grace and mercy he offers. For those who did not understand, I trust in God’s justice and mercy. But to you today, who hear this message, I would give this invitation: trust him! There is no other way or truth that leads to life, and he stands offering his life for you.
“I Am the Resurrection and the Life”
You know the sickening sense of wanting to turn the clock back. That’s why movies are made, like that Back to the Future series, in which people do just that, moving this way and that within the long history of time, changing something in a previous generation which will mean that now everything in the present—and the future—can be different. It’s a wistful dream. It’s a kind of nostalgia, not for the past as it was, but for the present that could have been, if only the past had just been a little bit different. Like all nostalgia, it’s a bitter—sweet feeling, caressing the moment that might have been, while knowing it’s all fantasy.
All of that and more is here (verse 21) in Martha’s ‘if only’ to Jesus. She knows that if Jesus had been there he would have cured Lazarus. And she probably knows, too, that it had taken Jesus at least two days longer to get there than she had hoped. Lazarus, as we discover later, has already been dead for three days, but perhaps…he might just have made it…if only…
Jesus’ reply to her, and the conversation they then have, show that the ‘back to the future’ idea isn’t entirely a moviemaker’s fantasy. Instead of looking at the past, and dreaming about what might have been (but now can’t be), he invites her to look to the future. Then, having looked to the future, he asks her to imagine that the future is suddenly brought forwards into the present. This, in fact, is central to all early Christian beliefs about Jesus, and the present passage makes the point as clearly and vividly as anywhere in the whole New Testament.
First, he points her to the future. ‘Your brother will rise again.’ She knows, as well as Jesus does, that this is standard Jewish teaching. (Some Jews, particularly the Sadducees, didn’t believe in a future resurrection, but at this period most Jews did, following Daniel 12:3 and other key Old Testament passages.) They shared the vision of Isaiah 65 and 66: a vision of new heavens and new earth, God’s whole new world, a world like ours only with its beauty and power enhanced and its pain, ugliness and grief abolished. Within that new world, they believed, all God’s people from ancient times to the present would be given new bodies, to share and relish the life of the new creation.
Martha believes this, but her rather flat response in verse 24 shows that it isn’t at the moment very comforting. But she isn’t prepared for Jesus’ response. The future has burst into the present. The new creation, and with it the resurrection, has come forward from the end of time into the middle of time. Jesus has not just come, as we sometimes say or sing, ‘from heaven to earth’; it is equally true to say that he has come from God’s future into the present, into the mess and muddle of the world we know. ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ he says. ‘Resurrection’ isn’t just a doctrine. It isn’t just a future fact. It’s a person, and here he is standing in front of Martha, teasing her to make the huge jump of trust and hope.
He is challenging her, urging her, to exchange her ‘if only…’ for an ‘if Jesus…’.
If Jesus is who she is coming to believe he is…
If Jesus is the Messiah, the one who was promised by the prophets, the one who was to come into the world…
If he is God’s own son, the one in whom the living God is strangely and newly present…
If he is resurrection-in-person, life-come-to-life…
(From N. T. Wright, John for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 11–21, 2004, pp. 7-8)
Again this week focus on this season of Lent. During Lent, many Christians prepare for Easter through fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ, his life, suffering, and sacrifice, his death, burial and resurrection. Do this and next week share with the group how these practices affected your week.