The Essence of Jesus (According to Jesus)
Starting the first Sunday of 2021 (January 3), our church will begin a series called “Jesus,” based on the Gospel According to Mark, on Sundays. If you live in Nashville and don’t already have a church family, we welcome you to join us at any of our four locations. If you’re not from Nashville, I hope you’ll benefit from what follows…and that you’ve also found a good church in your own hometown.
There may be no better and more complete summary of who Jesus is and what he is like than his seven “I AM” statements from John’s gospel.
These seven statements are an autobiography of sorts, as well as a blueprint for how he insists on relating to us – and us to him. I encourage you to read each brief description below slowly. As you do, allow enough time for each one to travel from your eyes into your head, and then from your head into your heart.
His statements about himself, as I hope you’ll see, are also statements about who you are to him.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” As the bread of life, Jesus provides the sustenance we need for survival and flourishing. Every bit of food, shelter, and clothing we have received can be traced to his merciful heart and caring hands. Jesus goes even further and becomes our sustenance as he offers his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, shelters us beneath the shadow of his protective, nurturing wings, and clothes us with the beauty of his hard-fought, blood-bought righteousness (John 6:35, 48, 51; Luke 22:19; Psalm 57:1; Isaiah 61:10).
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” As the one who created and sustains the sun and stars, Jesus illuminates truth, makes beauty, and creates hospitable space from an otherwise dark, cold, impersonal universe. In the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, he provides us with “a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path” to help us walk in the grace, truth, and wisdom. In his own self, Jesus unveils to us what God is like. If we have seen him, we have seen the Father (John 8:12, 9:5; Psalm 119:105; John 14:9).
Jesus said, “I am the door of the sheep.” This is one of two I AM statements in which Jesus identifies believers as his sheep. The metaphor is not a flattering one. Rather, it is a realistic assessment of our helpless estate. Sheep are characteristically needy, temperamental, wayward, and vulnerable creatures. Jesus responds to the frail estate of the sheep by offering himself as their gateway to the care, comfort, healing, and guidance they (we) sorely need (John 10:7, 9).
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.” As the good shepherd, Jesus again offers himself as provider and protector of his sheep (John 10:11, 14). In him we find rest from our weariness, a balm for our wounds, and the cure for whatever ails us. As the Good Shepherd, he lays down his very life for us to ensure our care, protection, and flourishing. He is the definition of a servant-leader and a heroic, self-donating champion.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” In his historic and bodily resurrection from the dead, of which over five hundred of his contemporaries claimed to be eyewitnesses, Jesus demonstrates his power and resolve to conquer death, which is also our greatest fear and enemy. In Jesus, death is put to death, and with it, the spirit of slavery that leads to fear. His resurrection becomes a foretaste of our future, in which there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain and everything will be made new. This promised future will be without end. Every day we will feel younger and stronger, wiser and more capable, happier and more satisfied, than we did the day before. It will be an abundant life whose chief feature is one of everlasting momentum. Our judgment day having been relocated from the future to the past, our best days are forever ahead of us, never behind us. Our long-term worst case scenario is to become like him, because we will see him as he is. Our long-term worst case scenario is resurrection, wholeness, life to the full, and elimination of all guilt, sorrow, and fear (John 11:25; 1 Corinthians 15:6; Romans 8:15; Revelation 21:1-8; 1 John 3:2).
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Nowhere does Jesus present himself as one way to God, as if there were multiple options and pathways. Rather, he presents himself as the way to God, as the only qualified mediator between a holy God and a sinful humanity. He is the one name given by which we can be saved from the wearying effects of guilt, sorrow, and fear. Jesus, and only Jesus, can provide ultimate refuge from all that is broken and horrid and tragic in the world, in human systems, in other people, and in ourselves (John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5; Acts 4:12).
Jesus said, “I am the true vine.” As the true vine, Jesus is our life source, the well from whom we draw, our sustaining nourishment and strength. Apart from him, we can do nothing. But with him, we can run against a troop and leap over a wall. Whether living in plenty or in want, in joy or in sorrow, in sickness or in health, we can do all things through Christ the vine, who gives us strength (John 15:1; Psalm 18:28; Philippians 4:13).
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus makes one additional I AM statement to the sheep, who he also affectionately calls his little children. The I AM statement is also an invitation—not just any invitation, but the most hopeful one ever offered. Long before Jesus ever tells us to go or to do for him (that comes later), Jesus begins with an invitation to come to him. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” said the Maker of heaven and earth and everything that is in them, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:25, 28-30 – NIV).
If these things are all true about Jesus (and they are, I’m here to tell you), what would stop us from wanting to know him more? If you do want to know him more, may I suggest that you begin by reading the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? And if you don’t already have a church family where Jesus is preached and made much of every single Sunday, may I suggest that you find and join one?
If you do, it will be an excellent beginning to 2021.
I think you’ll really be glad you said “yes” to such things.
Scott’s latest book, A Gentle Answer: Our ‘Secret Weapon’ in an Age of Us-Against-Them
is now available for individuals, discussion groups, and churches.
Sign up to receive Scott’s weekly post in your email inbox.
Browse and learn about all of Scott’s books.
Learn about Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville.
Listen to Scott’s sermons or teaching on his YouTube channel.
Connect with Scott on social media — Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.