Summary: This is part of a series that looks at the "I AMs" of John's Gospel. This message looks at what a shepherd does and doesn't do.
I am the Shepherd
“I am”. Over the past eight weeks we have been looking at the various times that Jesus describes himself using the phrase “I am”. And so we have examined Jesus words and meaning when he said “I am the way”, “I am the truth”, “I am the life”, “I am the resurrection”, “I am the bread of life”, “I am the vine” and “I am the light of the world”. And these all lead back to the message we began with in John 8:58 where in a debate with the Jewish religious leaders Jesus simply identifies himself simply as “I AM”. And while for us that may seem a little vague the Jews knew exactly what he was saying, which explains their reaction in John 8:59 At that point they picked up stones to throw at him.
Why? Why would they want to throw rocks at Jesus? Because of his superior debating skills? No. Because he was claiming to be over 1500 years old? No. It wasn’t about when Jesus claimed to be but instead it was all about who Jesus claimed to be.
From childhood every Jew had been taught the story of how Moses had been called of God to deliver the children of Abraham from the slavery of Egypt. They all knew the details and they knew that when God called Moses while he was in the wilderness that he didn’t want to go, and when Moses finally gave in he had one final question for God and that question is found in Exodus 3:13 But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?” And that is a good question? It’s something that I would want to know. “Why should the people believe me? Whose authority am I coming in?” And God’s response is found in the next verse Exodus 3:14 God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.”
And so when Jesus told the people who had gathered that day John 8:58 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!” They knew exactly what he was saying and exactly who he was claiming to be. And when someone claimed to be God, for the Jews that was blasphemy and the penalty for blasphemy was stoning. You might be thinking “Well how did Jesus escape?” Well . . . we don’t really have all the details. What the bible tells us in John 8:59 At that point they picked up stones to throw at him. But Jesus was hidden from them and left the Temple. And we don’t know if Jesus simply disappeared or if his disciples crowded around him and snuck him out or what. All we know is that the plans of the people to kill Jesus didn’t come to fruition that day.
In the book of John there are several instances where Jesus uses the phrase “I am” times in the book of John that Jesus said “I am”. And for those who care there are 22 separate instances where Jesus is recorded as saying “I am” in the gospel of John. In John 8:58 we see Jesus use “I AM” as a statement of existence. The statement lacks an object after the verb. In the other twenty one instances when Jesus says “I am” he means he is something, a predicate nominative follows the verb. Not in this case, he isn’t saying he is something, he is simply stating that he is.
Another ten of those instances are self-identification, times when Jesus said “I am” to identify himself. An example of that is found in John 18:4-5 when Jesus is arrested in the garden, Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked. “Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied. “I AM he,” Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.)
In another 11 instances the statements are metaphorical, that is that Jesus describes himself by comparing himself to something else. And that is where we’ve parked this summer.
In the scripture that was read for us this morning we hear Jesus say not once but twice “I am the Good Shepherd.” So the question has to be: Why a Shepherd? Probably a couple of different reasons. If you read through the gospels you discover that Jesus was a genius at taking the everyday and using it to illustrate the eternal. The Kingdom of God is like: a man working in a field, a woman making bread, a fisherman casting his net into the water. So perhaps on this day as Jesus and his followers were making their way along the roads of Palestine they were interrupted by a shepherd and his flock of sheep crossing the road. Or maybe it wasn’t a spontaneous teaching but something he had planned and crafted. We don’t think of Jesus’ teaching in that light do we? We don’t think of him writing a sermon or preparing his thoughts in advance but we just assume that it was a natural outflow of who he was. I can’t speak for other preachers but I spend hours writing and molding what you hear on Sunday mornings, sometimes that may be hard to believe but it is the truth.