I AM by Larry W Peebles July 28, 2017 17.28
“Tell them about license plates” was the answer I heard. I asked God what He wanted me to speak about one evening at the County Juvenile Justice facility. I had just left a busy day of work and was racing to meet my wife at the facility. At the appointed time we could enter the facility through the maximum security door and meet with the young people detained for various charges and crimes. Our ministry purpose was to tell them about hope and change for their lives and their future in the person of Jesus.
That can work well, I thought to myself. If these young people don’t listen and turn their lives over to Jesus so He can help straighten them out, they will end up making license plates in a state prison. “Tell them about my personalized license plate…the one I would have…if I drove a car…which I don’t.” When I heard this, God really had my attention. He wanted to go somewhere else with this message. How would that personalized license plate read, I wondered. “IM4U” was the answer. Phonetically, it would read “I am for you”. I could quickly imagine God pulling alongside on the highway in a car with a license plate that said “I am for you”, giving an encouraging smile, a nod and a wink, and pulling away. This would make for a powerful message that evening. God Himself, the Creator of the universe, is for us, and is not against us. His plan for our lives is good, with a promise of a hope and a future, according to Jeremiah 29:11.
But there is a double meaning in that license plate. When God told Moses he was going to lead the children of Israel out of 400 years of Egyptian slavery, Moses asked what he should tell the people when they asked who had sent him to do this. In Exodus 3:14, God answered and said “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God called Himself “I AM.” This name characterized His eternal, ageless, all powerful yet unchanging and faithful qualities. The One who always was, always is, and always will be—the God of all the universe– would be with them, and could be trusted to complete the work He started. He would do no less for those in the Juvenile Justice program that night. He would probably not lift them out of detention, but He would rescue them from their own senseless destruction if they asked.
Biblical names carried more meaning than perhaps they do today. Although this was a short answer to a deep question–what is your name and what does it mean?—it was powerful, meaningful and timeless.
Some fourteen hundred years later, Jesus, the Son of God, began a relatively short yet powerful three year ministry on earth that would have an eternal impact on mankind. The Apostle John, disciple of Jesus, wrote the Book of John to give a record of Jesus’ life, ministry and miracles including His death and resurrection. According to John 20:31, the book was written “in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” In the Book of John, Jesus picked up where the discussion with Moses ended on the name “I AM” and its meaning. Seven times Jesus used that reference and elaborated on the meaning when He described Himself to the people. We will cover the first three of these statements in this article, and will conclude with the final four in a subsequent article.
- John 6:35- Jesus said “I AM the bread of life.” He went on to say “he who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” When the children of Israel left Egypt with Moses on the exodus to the Promised Land, they were fed daily for forty years with bread from heaven called manna. (Exodus 16). That bread kept them alive on their journey. The story of that miraculous provision was written down and passed on from generation to generation. Jesus shocked the Israelites of His day when He stood before the people and said He was the bread that would satisfy their spiritual hunger and give them eternal life. The people would no longer need to tell the stories about the manna (bread) from heaven that gave them life. Before He said this, Jesus had just fed five thousand with five loaves of barley bread and two fish. The people saw this miracle and encountered the true bread from heaven, the Son of God, who would give them eternal life. Before His death and marvelous resurrection, Jesus gave his disciples bread and wine as symbols of his broken body and spilled blood to eat and drink in remembrance of Him. His death and resurrection forgave sin, defeated the devil, and restored man into the proper relationship with God. There are some types of bread around the world that are hearty enough to sustain for long periods of time. Believing in Jesus will sustain us now and into eternity. He is truly the bread of life.
- John 8:12- Jesus said “I AM the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” When the children of Israel left Egypt with Moses on the exodus to the Promised Land, the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud by day, and “by night in a pillar of fire to give them light.” (Exodus 13: 21, 22). The account goes on to say “neither the cloud nor the fire left its place in front of the people to guide them.” This account, along with Moses’ conversation with God, was also written and passed down through the generations. Jesus’ use of the phrase “I AM” was both intentional and powerful, because He knew the people would catch the double meaning. Jesus was that fire and light that led them during the exodus (Exodus 14:19), and more. He is the light of the whole world. He had come to show and light the way to eternal life. Believers will have the light of life, and will never have to walk in darkness, fearing what they cannot see. Most living things on earth grow by receiving energy from the light of the sun. Without the light, life as we know it would cease. Without Jesus, the light of the world, there is no eternal life. He is also the eternal light of heaven, because we read in Revelation 21:23- “ The [Holy] city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb [Jesus] is its lamp.” [Inserts mine.]
- John 10:9- “I AM the gate [door].” [Insert mine.] Before the children of Israel left Egypt with Moses on the exodus to the Promised Land, God had them smear the blood of a lamb on their door posts for their protection. They would be spared the death of the first born male, the final plague that would come upon the Egyptians. (Exodus 12). When they left their homes for the last time, having been spared death, they passed through that blood- stained door from slavery and bondage into liberty and freedom. They celebrated that event for fourteen hundred years, calling it the Passover, and continue to celebrate it today. But when Jesus came on the scene, He said “I AM the door.” The Lamb of God and His cross would soon be blood-stained as He was crucified. Through His death and resurrection He became the door for believers to pass from the bondage of sin into freedom and eternal life.
After the children of Israel left Egypt, God parted (opened) the Red Sea so they could escape the pursuing Egyptian army (Exodus 14:21). He also parted the Jordon River forty years later so they could enter the Promised Land (Joshua 3:17). Jesus made the opening/gate/door so they could escape the bondage and slavery, and live again as free people. He made the door across the Jordan River into the land promised to their forefathers through Abraham, which would provide a new life, a new start, and abundant opportunities. Like a shepherd opens a gate so that sheep can enter a green pasture, Jesus is the gateway to a new life on this earth that leads to life eternal. When we enter that life through Him, we find forgiveness and reconciliation, peace and abundance. There is no other way to find and enter such a life except through Him. He is the door. He will knock on the door of our hearts in search of His people, but only we can open the door to let Him in.
Jesus says “I AM” the bread of life, the light of the world, and the door. We see such rich symbolism as Jesus is introduced by these names during God’s rescue of His people from Egyptian slavery. These qualities contained in His name are still evident today as He continues to rescue those lost in a spiritual desert and bound by sin. We would expect no less from the “I AM”. These three statements reveal so much about Jesus-who He is, and the purpose for His coming. In Part 2 of this article, we will examine His next four statements when He says “I AM” the true vine; the good shepherd; the resurrection and the life; and the way, the truth, and the life.