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I am or I AM?

Jesus replied … “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” John 4.24-26.

Sometimes, in their efforts to make the Geek or Hebrew texts of the Bible readable by folk who have no depth of theological understanding, translators end up completely obscuring the real import of some vitally important word or phrase. And that is what I believe they have done right here; for a literal translation of the declaration by Jesus in verse 26 is simply this: “Jesus said to her: I AM – the one speaking to you.”

As most readers of Pass The Toast will be well-aware, “I AM” is nothing less than the Divine Name itself – the name by which God told Moses he was to be known to the Israelites. “God said to Moses, ‘I AM who I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”‘” (Exodus 3.14). In the Hebrew, “I AM” is Yahweh – often wrongly turned into English as Jehovah, So here, Jesus is not, as the NIV translation suggests, simply affirming his messiahship. Instead, he is declaring his divinity.

But why would Jesus do such a thing in response to this woman? He could have simply said what the NIV says he said: I – the person speaking to you – am in fact that long-awaited Messiah. But he doesn’t: he goes further. “Let me introduce myself,” he says. “I am God.” Why would he do such a thing?

Presumably because this Samaritan woman has been saying, in effect, “Oh, please! Don’t start banging on about God. Who knows who God really is or what he’s like. everyone’s ideas are different. Your lot say one thing; my lot say another. It’s all speculation. One day, when the Messiah comes (or do I mean when pigs can fly?) he’ll no doubt put us all straight; but don’t let’s hold our breath, eh?”

And Jesus’ answer to that is not, “I am that Messiah” but “I am that God. I AM.” And the point he is making to the woman – and to us – is this. If you really want to know who God is and what he is like, you need only look at me. When you’ve seen me you’ve seen him. I’m showing you what God is like – not merely telling you.”

Now although most Christians readily pay lip service to this identification of Jesus with God, I do find that a surprising number are reluctant to accept one of the major consequences of doing so – namely, that it requires us to jettison a great deal that we thought we knew about God and to unlearn a great deal that we have been taught. It was to bring about such correction that Jesus revealed himself to the Samaritan woman as the great I AM and it is why he reveals himself to us in that way too. To be blunt: we have got God wrong and we need to get him right if we are to have a proper relationship with him – a relationship based on love, not fear.

To give just one, but hugely important, example: Jesus radically redefines the holiness of God. We were taught that God’s holiness cannot tolerate the presence of sin but must destroy it as fire destroys straw (with all that that entails in terms of atonement theory!) – but no: Jesus – the I AM – eats with sinners and far from destroying them, embraces them, forgives them unconditionally and loves them into his kingdom. That is the real holiness of God.

The I AM nature of Jesus does not just result in add-on revelation about God, it should and must and was intended to result in take-away revelations about God too. As Michael Ramsay, one-time Archbishop of Canterbury once said: “God is Christlike, and in Him is no un-Christlikeness at all.” In other words, if there is something in my understanding of God that is inconsistent with what I find in Jesus, then it’s my understanding of God that must change to bring it into line.

Isn’t it time to be ruthless with those distorted images we have lived with for so long. Jesus is the I AM. Indeed, as Paul said, he is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1.15). Jesus is the only image of God that we need. Nothing more, nothing less.

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