"It is I..."
Have you ever listened to a speaker, preacher, friend, as they reflect on a passage and they bring in all this other stuff that you never saw before?
Have you ever read a passage in the bible and thought to yourself, “I’ve seen that somewhere before and yet I know there’s more?”
This morning’s passage is exactly one of those kinds of passages.
John 6:15-21 is a familiar passage to us, and yet it feels like it’s missing something. Let’s take a look at it, and then we’ll try and figure out what John is saying to us. First, let’s open in prayer.
Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
Walking on Water
Three of the four Gospels tell of Jesus walking on the water. Matthew, Mark, and of course what we’re reading here, John. Most of us are familiar with the story of Jesus walking on the water. And if you are familiar with that you probably listened to this passage and thought, what about Peter?
Peter walking on Water can be found in Matthew 14:22-33 - within that narrative we have the disciples rowing the boat, Jesus walking on the water, the disciples are terrified, Peter walking on the water, the conversation with Jesus on the water, Jesus gets into the boat, the winds cease and the disciples worship Him.
In Mark’s telling we have Jesus walking on the water, the disciples are terrified, Jesus gets into the boat, the winds cease and the disciples are astounded, vs. 52 “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
In today’s reading John tells us: Jesus is walking on the water, the disciples are frightened, they take him into the boar, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
In all three accounts Jesus says, “It is I; do not be afraid.”
As we study John, it’s important that we remember that his original audience consisted of both Jews and Gentiles int he larger Greco-Roman world, in Ephesus and around that area. Because of this he will often explain Jewish customs and the geography of the area. His awareness of his audience also prompts him to continually point to Jesus as the Messiah and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, as the Son of God sent by God the Father to reveal the One true God and to provide redemption.
With that in mind we can’t take lightly the phrase that is used in all three Gospels, but which John uses more frequently in quoting Jesus, Ἐγώ εἰμι.
This phrase is translated as “I am” and hearkens back to Exodus 3:14
God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ”
I AM becomes the name of God.
John picks up on this theme consistently connecting Jesus to God as the Messiah, you may remember these phrases how Jesus identifies himself:
...the bread of life (6:35)
...the light of the world (8:12)
...the door (of the sheep) (10:7)
...the good shepherd (10:11)
...the resurrection (11:25)
...the way, the truth and the life (14:6)
...the true vine (15:1)
These are seven distinct statements of I AM.
According to the Word Biblical Commentary: “[These seven utterances] may be said to summarize [Jesus} role in revelation and salvation.”
The commentary goes on to point out Isaiah 43:10
“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.
In the Septuagint - the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the words translated for “I am he” are Ἐγώ εἰμι
Perhaps more convincing is the statement regarding Isaiah 43:25
“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
In the Septuagint this get’s translated as
ἐγώ εἰμι ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἐξαλείφων τὰς ἀνομίας σου, “I am ‘I Am,’ who blots out your transgressions.”
Beasley-Murray, G. R. (2002). John (Vol. 36, p. 90). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
So, here in John we see Jesus walking on the water - and the pronouncement of “I AM” is not merely identifying Jesus with God, but (according to R. Schnackenburg) creating a solidarity or union with Him.
The Gospel writer may have been thinking of a few texts in his ongoing proving of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah as he recalls Jesus walking on the water:
who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea;
but according to most commentators more obviously would connect the Psalmist
When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled.
Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.
According to G.R. Beasley-Murray “The Evangelist was describing an event in which he saw Jesus as the revelation of God coming to his disciples in distress—in the second Exodus!”
Beasley-Murray, G. R. (2002). John (Vol. 36, p. 89). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
Hear these words from Psalm 107:25-30
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.
Who Is Jesus?
Who Is Jesus?
When you think of Jesus, who do you say he is?
Except for Christianity, there is no other major religion whose leaders ever claim to be God. Not Confucius,
not Buddha for the Buddhists,
not Muhammad for the Islamists,
not Krishna for the Hindu.
In the Old Testament there is no leader or prophet that is put on God’s level. And so when we see these Ἐγώ εἰμι - I AM - statements from Jesus it should cause us to set up and take notice as it did Jesus disciples.
But what will our reaction be? Is He God? If so do we believe Him?
As you read through John, be aware of times where Jesus uses the phrase I AM.
Remember the I AM of the OT - Yehovah! Yahweh! That is the same Jesus in the New Testament.