What’s your name? Why were you given that name? What does it mean?
Maybe you have several names. Why were you given those? What do they mean?
Maybe you have children. What did you call them? Why? What do their names mean?
There’s a long tradition of giving people names which mean something. We see it, don’t we, with Abram and Sarai in our Bible reading from Genesis 17:1-8,15-16.
Abram, which means “Exalted Father”, probably in reference to God, that is “God is my Exalted Father”, was renamed by God as Abraham, which means Father of Many. And this was as a sign of the covenant God had made with Abram.
And then God said, well you can’t be a father of many without there being a mother as well. And he renamed Sarai Sarah. Both names mean princess, but the new name stresses that she was to be the mother of nations and kings, and would therefore serve God’s purpose.
Earlier we thought about the name of God, I Am. Or in Hebrew, Jehovah or Yahweh.
We looked at how the name I Am shows the eternal nature of God – he is the same yesterday, today and forever. And we looked at how Jesus also referred to I Am.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)
And it’s not just names that tell us about a person. Some people are even described by the name we give them in history, aren’t they?
- William the Conqueror
- Alexander the Great
- Edward the Martyr
- John the Baptist
And we give people titles or other indicators according to their position or who they are or what they have done
- Queen Elizabeth II
- Saint Andrew
- The Reverend Michael Hopkins
- The Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt MP
- Nicholas Savill BSc(Hons)(Dunelm) CEng MBCS CITP
These names start to tell us something about the person or their character (though in my case you need to know the code).
Just like this, the names and descriptions given to God tell us about his character. I think it is a good thing for us to meditate on the names of God – and we will get the chance to do this later in the service – just to think about his character, who he really is.
But let’s look at the great “I Ams” Jesus uses in the passages in John. What do they actually tell us?
Well we could base a complete sermon on each one of these, but once we start to look at them, and particularly the situations in which Jesus uses them, we start to see some real themes about who Jesus us.
I AM the Bread of Life (John 6:48-51)
Jesus is talking to a crowd at Capernaum beside the Lake of Galilee. It’s the day after the feeding of the five thousand. He says “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
And they ask him “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answers, “the work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent”
He compares himself with manna – the bread from heaven that God had provided the Israelites to eat during the Exodus. Jesus says that this bread was not from heaven, as those that ate it died, but rather he is from heaven.
“Here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Surely a comparison with the communion. “Take, eat, this is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
I AM the Light of the World (John 8:12):
Once again, we need to see the full context. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
What is that darkness? It’s the darkness of not knowing God. And if we follow him, if we believe in him our reward is the light of life. The reward is to know God. And life.
Our next two use the analogy of a shepherd looking after his sheep:
I AM the Gate for the Sheep (John 10:7-9):
Jesus draws a picture of a sheep pen. I imagine it to be quite a large pen, probably with sheep owned by many people. At the gate to the pen is a watchman. You can imagine that, to make sure they get some sleep at night, shepherds take it in turns to be that watchman.
A shepherd enters the pen through the gate. He is known by the watchman and when he calls his sheep come to him and he leads them out.
But the person that enters the pen by some other way is a thief and a robber. The sheep don’t know him and run away in terror.
“I am the gate”, says Jesus, “whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”.
So we are back to the same message – follow Jesus and you will have life – and you will have it to the full.
Keeping on the sheep analogy, for it is in the same passage,
I AM the Good Shepherd (John 10:14-16)
“I know my sheep and my sheep know me. And I lay down my life for the sheep”.
This is clever. Because there are two things we see here.
Firstly, there is the reference to the Easter story, where Jesus lays down his life for us, his followers”. He goes on also talk about the resurrection:
“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again”.
But by saying he is the Good Shepherd, the Jews will have seen one of the names of God in this expression, Jehovah Rohi – The Lord is my Shepherd. We know it most strongly from Psalm 23, “The Lord’s my shepherd, I shall not be in want”.
After these names, I feel I barely need to go into the next two names on our list:
I AM the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25-26)
“He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die”.
I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6)
It’s the last supper. Jesus has told the disciples of what is to happen. But he tells them not to let their hearts be troubled. He will prepare a place for them where he is going, and they know the way there.
Thomas says, “Lord we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
And Jesus replies “I am the way and the truth and the life”.
And so we get to our final “I am”:
I AM the True Vine (John 15:5)
This feels harder, until you realize this is also about life:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful”.
He goes on to explain that the branches of a vine can only bear fruit while they are part of the vine. Once they are chopped off, they are dead.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
So let’s summarise, for there are some clear themes here.
- Jesus is life – and life which cannot be extinguished
- And he lays down his life for us, only to rise in resurrection
- He is the way to the father. Know him and you will know the father.
- Follow him and you will know life, in its fullness, for eternity.