The God Who Kneels – Day 21


I Am

 

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.”

                                                                                                                     John 13:13

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “To believe is to obey and to obey is to believe.” Good preaching unites doctrine and praxis. When we communicate the gospel we cannot afford to be even one step removed from its practical application. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.” At the center of faithful teaching is the “I am” of the gospel. Unless our “I” is wrapped around the “I am” of the one who is Faithful and True, our efforts will only bring confusion and distortion.

Christian spirituality aims to submit to Jesus in the first person. We do not sit in the seat of authority, Jesus does. Our aim is to point people to Jesus. Our preaching or teaching or mentoring or parenting should not create a dependency upon ourselves but upon the living Word. If the Lord is not our shepherd—our pastor, then no human pastor will ever make a very good pastor for us. No pastor will ever become a satisfying substitute for the Lord, no matter how hard he or she tries.

Some people want to experience what it is to follow the Lord Jesus vicariously through their pastor, but this is a poor model for pastoral care. Instead of living by faith, they want to see their pastor live by faith. They want to look to their pastor for the feeling of reassurance that the Christ-life is being lived out. The pastor becomes a symbol for living the life they are either unable or unwilling to live for themselves. Instead of taking up the cross and following Jesus, they want to listen to their pastor talk about the cross. Instead of using their spiritual gifts for God’s Kingdom work, they want to watch their gifted pastor.

Jesus speaks in the first person six times (John 13:12-17). Each time he underscores the unique way that the disciples are dependent on him. This truth still stands for today’s disciples. No one saves us the way Jesus saves us. The work of Christ is unique. No one officiating at the Lord’s Supper has shed a drop of blood for our salvation. Only Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross redeems us. So when Jesus says, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” we know that only he could do for us what we need done.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:12-13

No one else relates to us the way Jesus relates to us. The person of Christ is unique. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.” There are seven previous “I am” sayings in the gospel of John, all of them declaring Christ to be the all sufficient source of our salvation and the ground for our being. The “I am” reality of Jesus is absolutely critical for who we are.

 

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty . . . I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (6:35).

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8:12).

I am the gate of the sheep. . .I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (10:7,9).

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep . . .I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep” (10:11,14).

I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (11:25).

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6).

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5).

No one serves us the way Jesus serves us. The humility of Christ is unique. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”  No one else sets an example the way Jesus does. The example of Christ is unique. “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” No one else leads us the way Jesus leads us. The leadership of Christ is unique. “Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.”

We readily submit to the first-person-reality of Christ. Only as Christ saves, serves, exemplifies, explains, and leads can we follow. If Christ goes before, we can follow. Holding fast to the priority of the God-first-relationship is the disciple’s greatest challenge. To leave the Lord Jesus Christ out of any relationship is to invite disaster. Søren Kierkegaard insisted that God is always “the middle term” in every relationship. No matter how beautiful and blissful a friendship may be, if God is left out, then it is not love “but a mutual and enchanting illusion of love.”[1] Real love always helps another human being love God and “to be helped by another human being to love God is to be loved.”[2]

 

Upper Room Reflection

The world says, “I am enough” or “That’s just the way I am,” but the Christian says, “I am who I am by the grace of Christ.” How do you experience the difference?

Have you been tempted to live out your Christian life vicariously through someone else?

Which of the “I am” sayings do you find especially meaningful?

How can Christ be the center in a friendship with a non-Christian?



[1] Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love, 113.

[2] Ibid., 113.