How to Teach the ‘I Am’ Statements in John

How to Teach the ‘I Am’ Statements in John

Nancy Guthrie interviews Andrew Sach

Transcript

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Andrew Sach: [over music] Sometimes, I say to people that, “If I told you yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away, but now it seems they’re here to stay.” You’re smiling because you immediately recognize the allusion to the Beatles. Whereas you read in the Bible a story about false shepherds’ intrusion, and we don’t think Ezekiel 34, and that is because we know the Beatles better than we know the Old Testament. So share with us. I think it just is an encouragement to immerse ourselves in the scriptures because often the New Testament, as you say, it’s just expecting us to pick up these allusions. And as we get to know the Old Testament better, we will see them everywhere.

Nancy Guthrie: Welcome to “Help Me Teach the Bible.” I’m Nancy Guthrie. “Help Me Teach the Bible” is a production of the Gospel Coalition sponsored by Crossway, a not-for-profit publisher of the ESV Bible, Christian books and tracks. Learn more at crossway.org.

I am in the Midlands in England and I’m at a beautiful conference center called Hothorpe Hall, and I’m here for a conference for ministers’ wives, so pastors’ wives from all around England, as well as a few surrounding countries have come for a week-long conference. I’m getting to speak to them and I’m sitting down now with a pastor, who is here also to speak along with me and that is the Reverend Dr. Andrew Sach, who is pastor at Grace Church, Greenwich. Andrew, thank you for being willing to sit down with me to help us teach the Bible.

Sach: Nice to be here.

Guthrie: So Andrew is one of a number of people across the big pond that I often have tracked online. I do a lot of downloading sermons from St Helen’s Bishopsgate, which you were there as a pastor for how many years?

Sach: I was there for 17 years all together.

Guthrie: Well, that’s a pretty long time. Yeah. When I am working on a passage and I want to hear someone handle it really well, a lot of times, I’ll go to the resources there at the St. Helen’s website, and listen to how someone there has handled the passage. And I’m often really helped by that. Andrew has written a bit. A book of yours that I have often recommended, especially to people who are trying to develop their skills in teaching the Bible is a book you wrote called Dig Deeper. And it’s that imagery of having a tool that you use to dig up things in the Bible. I think that’s so often the case of a good Bible teacher, you read the text and maybe, you know, you’ve just done a once over and you just think, “What’s gonna come out of that?” And then when you sit and listen to a good Bible teacher, because he or she has worked on the text, worked it over, dug some things up, revealed some things, used some of these tools on the text, they’re able to put some things on display that maybe you don’t see at first reading.

Sach: It sort of came from that verse in 2 Timothy, where Paul writes to Timothy that he should be a workman, he doesn’t need to be ashamed, but he correctly handles the word of truth. And we were thinking about the analogy of workmen. A few years ago, I lived in South London, and we had a problem with the plumbing in the house and we got in a plumber just from the local area. And I didn’t know whether you have the same term in America, but we call them a cowboy plumber, it means he’s not very good at being a plumber. He’d probably be good at being a cowboy. But he came to fix the plumbing and after his visits, the WC didn’t flush anymore, and neither could any of us turn on the kitchen tap. So that was an example of a workman who, you know, hadn’t learned the tools of the trade.

And we thought, I mean, plumbing is fine if you get that wrong, but my recurring nightmare was I was in a hospital about to go into the general anesthetic and I see this surgeon, he’s about to perform the operation. And it’s the plumber from South London. Because getting plumbing wrong is one thing, getting surgery wrong is another thing. But actually getting the Bible wrong, arguably, is even more serious than getting surgery wrong because we’re not just dealing with people’s health here and now, but people’s health for eternity, and twisting the Bible or mishandling the Bible causes lots of damage. So we tried to think how could, with the analogy of a workman, how do you get the tools right? How do you understand it correctly so that you don’t mislead people?

Guthrie: And so you’re talking about tools such as context and structure?

Sach: Yeah.

Guthrie: What would be a few other of the tools?

Sach: Yeah, context. If you take text out of context, you’re left with the con. The repetition tools. Sometimes, if the author wants to get your attention, he says something more than once. Sometimes, if the author wants to get your attention, he says something more than once. So I’ve got [crosstalk 00:04:57] lots of them.

Guthrie: That was good. I like it. You are witty, witty, witty.

Sach: Linking words tool. If you see the word “therefore,” ask what it’s therefore. So yeah, last principles. And sometimes people, I guess, we more get wrong or the who am I tool, which is just to ask the question in a particular Bible passage. We often and immediately assume it’s about us, or we are the central character. So I remember years ago we were doing a Bible study on Exodus chapter three and the burning bush. And the question in the Bible study we were using asked, “What burning bush experiences have you had?” And the answer was, none. I mean, I have never passed a bush that was on fire, but not being consumed, which God was using as a public address system. And I was pretty sure that no one else in my church had that experience either because it was amazing. It was a unique thing even to Moses, and Moses grew up to be the mediator-rescuer of God’s people. And that isn’t me. So that was a picture of the Lord Jesus, but not of me. So just to ask ourselves, “Where do I fit in?” I’m not necessarily the hero or the heroine of any story.”

Guthrie: So in that story, I am one of those people who’s still back in slavery and the deliverer…

Sach: Right. Waiting to be rescued.

Guthrie: …is going to come and deliver me. Yeah, I’ve used that a lot in the David and Goliath story. That someone make themselves into David. But where are we in that story? We are the Israelite army shaking and afraid, and we have a champion who has gone out and our future is based on his victory. It’s not us going out with our smooth stones.

Sach: Absolutely. Yeah.

Guthrie: Awesome. Well, that is a very helpful book, which I strongly recommend. I’m sitting down today to talk to Andrew, specifically about the ‘I am’ statements in John. Andrew has been teaching, preaching through John at his own church, so these things are fresh on his mind. There are seven of those. You may be familiar with them. I hope you are familiar with them. For a lot of teachers, they might decide, you know what? For the fall, we’re going to spend seven or eight weeks talking about these I am statements in John. So maybe you could give us just a little basis for going into this. I think, sometimes, we have such chronological snobbery. When we think about biblical writers, we think that we are somehow so much more developed and intelligent than they are. And here these gospel writers, we think of them as simple people, but they’re not simpletons. I mean, the work done putting together a book like this and building it around these images, that’s an amazing thing. Is it not?

Sach: Yeah, here is a fisherman who writes a piece of literature more profound than anything published for the rest of time.

Guthrie: Yes.

Sach: Which, I guess, just points to the work of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t it? I mean, he’s a human writer, but God, the Holy Spirit is working through him to write absolutely extraordinary things.

Guthrie:Yeah. So give us a basis. If we’re gonna be thinking about, okay, I’m thinking about teaching through these statements, how do we begin to see what John is trying to do with lacing them throughout this book? Because this is not one passage in John. It’s just throughout his presentation of the story of Jesus. He laces these seven statements of Jesus saying who he is, and we don’t find these in the other Gospels.

Sach: One of the things I say right at the beginning is I’d be a bit cautious about us having our list of seven.

Guthrie: Okay. Why?

Sach: Well, it’s probably not the way that John himself has organized his gospel, so they are dotted through and it’s an interesting makes an interesting series. But, I think, we got to be careful that we treat each one according to the context its placed in. So, for example, sometimes people say in John 10, “I am the gate for the sheep, and I am the good shepherd.” Well, gates and shepherds are different things. That must be “I am” sayings. But really is part of the same passage.

Guthrie: Same imagery?

Sach: Same imagery.

Guthrie:  Good point.

Sach: Yeah, I think we gotta be careful that our desire to have an ‘I am series’ doesn’t trump the way in which John’s put it together.

Guthrie:  Okay.

Sach:  But I guess he’s focusing on Jesus. He’s come down from heaven and who he is. It’s not just what he’s done, but who he is. So I’m the resurrection and the life. He could say, “I’m the one who raises you from the dead.” But Jesus does raise me up from the dead, but Jesus is the resurrection. Or he could say, “I am the bread of life.” You know, “I’m the one he brings the Exodus rescue.” We maybe come to that later, but the bread of life is all about what Moses did happening again, Exodus 2.0. But Jesus says, “I am the bread.” So he is very focused on the person of Christ, and how all of God’s work is accomplished in him.

Guthrie:  So why don’t we begin working our way through one or two of these? We hear what you’re saying about not wanting to impose something on the texts that John doesn’t intend in terms of maybe trying to make these work, is that what you’re saying, to smoothly, as I said, to enforce a correspondence between them that isn’t there? Is that what you mean?

Sach: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s right. So, for example, “I am the true vine,” in chapter 15. You probably know that the way that John’s gospel was written, chapters 14 to 17, Jesus in the upper room on the night before he’s executed, talking only to his disciples. So it’s quite a bit contrast to earlier in the book, he’s talking to how crowds and is a public ministry. Now, they’ve had the Last Supper, Judas Iscariot has left to go and betray him. He’s in the room just with his followers. And really, John 14 to 17 is like Jesus training manual for the apostles about their mission. So it’s quite a different section of John. So the, “I am the true vine,” in chapter 15 is in a very different context to the public ministry I ams, and we just need to careful we don’t treat them all the same way.

Guthrie: Yes. Okay, that’s very helpful. As I look over this list of I am statements, I see so many images and realities that seem so rooted in the Old Testament.

Sach: Yes.

Guthrie:  And it makes me think that if I’m a teacher, and I’m coming at this, let’s say, “I am the bread of life.” And if I just wanna go at it, “Okay, I know what bread is. And so, okay, yeah, Jesus is gonna fill me up.” And if I just start right there trying to understand the bread of life, maybe I’m not gonna communicate the whole picture?

Sach: Absolutely right. Yeah, I mean, I think the two things we need to do in John is always we have to read bigger sections, and then read in the context of the whole Bible. So when I say biggest sections. Jesus in John’s Gospel does a miracle, does a sign, as John calls it, and then he explains what the sign means. And you need to have the sign and the explanation together. So if you were to try to do a Bible study or to preach on the event of the feeding of the 5,000 in John, so you check something, like, chapter 6:1-14, the trouble is you’ve got the event, but you haven’t got the explanation that goes with it. So you gotta teach on the miracle and the explanation, which is tricky, because it means we really gotta take a whole chapter.

Guthrie:  A whole big chunk.

Sach: Or a whole big chunk. So I am the bread of life is Jesus’s commentary on I’ve just fed a group of a huge crowd of people in the desert, so you’ve gotta get bigger. But secondly, you’ve gotta get older because…and the Jews realized this in the chapter, they immediately recognize that Jesus has echoed Moses’ actions when they were in the wilderness after the Exodus. And they say, you know, “God fed us with bread from heaven, what are you gonna do?” And Jesus, in that context, says, “I’m the bread of life.” So he’s not just saying if you’re hungry, I’ll satisfy you, or I fulfill all your desires.” In this context, he’s saying what Moses did in the Old Testament as he brought the people of Israel out of slavery, I am now doing on a bigger scale. So Jesus is saying that his ministry is to repeat the Exodus, the great rescue.

Guthrie:  You connect it not just to the manna, but Moses’ broader ministry of the Exodus?

Sach: Yeah.

Guthrie:  Okay.

Sach: I think there are clues all the way through the gospel of John that Jesus is bringing Exodus 2.0. So you’ve got the manna in chapter six, but you’ve got the Passover. In Chapter 19, Jesus dies at the Passover time. It’s one rescue all the way from slavery in Egypt, all the way through to the Promised Land. And the thing about the feeding in the desert isn’t just they were bored, and they wanted something that would satisfy them. It was they had no food in the desert and they would die. So, I think, sometimes we think of it as Jesus is the bread of life, he can satisfy whatever our longings are, which is and I’m sure that’s true at some level, but Jesus is saying he’s something much bigger than that. He’s saying, I make the difference between dying in the wilderness or getting safely to the eternal life of the Promised Land. So it really is a life and death thing.

Guthrie: So satisfaction is there, but it’s deeper than simply, “What’s gonna satisfy me?”

Sach: Yeah.

Guthrie: It’s life itself.

Sach: Exactly. And he keeps saying…we were talking earlier about the repetition principle, he keeps saying this, “So whoever believes,” verse 47, “whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. The bread I will give for the life of the world.” I mean, almost every verse, life, life, life.

Guthrie:  This is a life and death matter, not just merely preference, or feeling good?

Sach:  Right.

Guthrie:  Yeah, but then he says something that they just absolutely can’t take it anymore. In verse 53, Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood, has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me and I am.”

Sach: And this has confused people because the Roman Catholic Church has this doctrine that the bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper becomes, by transubstantiation, the body and blood of Jesus, and this is the sort of passage they would use to justify that. But it’s really not what Jesus means at all. This isn’t the Last Supper. This is Jesus using the imagery of the Passover, the rescue, and, yeah, the Exodus. And later, he’ll go on to say that he is the lamb who dies so that the people can live. He’s the substitute sacrifice. So he has to give his flesh for our life. He means, I have to give up my life in sacrifice so that we can have life.

Guthrie:  So it’s a sense of…

Sach: He’s not talking about the Lord’s Supper, he’s talking about his work onto us.

Guthrie: Feeding on his atoning death as our way to have life.

Sach: Right. Yeah.

Guthrie: That might be one way where we go wrong in the bread of life to make it simply about satisfying desires, or to make it about the Lord’s Supper, it sounds like. Are there some other ways to go in the ditch on this particular statement?

Sach: I think the clue is to go bigger, life, life, life.

Guthrie: Life, life, life.

Sach: And to go older. So we’re in the whole Bible story. So rather than we just we drop into Jesus life at an episode when he’s up north in Israel, we take this in its place in a salvation plan that’s worked out for more than 1,000 years. And even, you asked the question, why did God send the people to Egypt under Joseph so that they would need to be rescued by Moses? If God is in charge of history, why give him the extra stage, you know? And then you get the New Testament and you discover everything that happened with Moses and that whole generation, and the time of the Pharaoh and the rescue, was God putting in place a preview of the rescue of Jesus.

So one of the reasons why, as you say, you can’t fully understand the New Testament without the Old, and it won’t be we read this and we recognize all of the themes. So this was the great rescue. This was from slavery to sonship. This was the thing that defined the people of God. This is the tyranny that we couldn’t break free from just as Israel wasn’t free to walk out of Pharaoh’s Egypt, so we’re not free to walk out of the slavery of sin Jesus will go on to say. So all of these ideas are already there in the Exodus and then we read John 6 and think, “This is the one. He is the one. He’s bringing the great rescue, the Exodus 2.0.”

Guthrie:  So that’s John 6, and we have him saying that he is the bread of life. We won’t stop there long. But in in John 8, he declares, “I am the light of the world.” We’ve got him in this setting in the temple. And I suppose once again, what did you say? You said, “Go broad, and go back?”

Sach: Yes.

Guthrie:  And we can think even to the very first chapter of the Bible, when God speaks light into being we recognize this is that he, when he speaks light into being, “Let there be light.”

Sach: John starts his gospel the way that Genesis starts the Bible.

Guthrie:  Yes.

Sach: So in the beginning, in the beginning, and then in him was light. Sorry. “In him was life and the life was the light of man. Let there be light.” So John is deliberately doing that. He’s saying, “This is Jesus, the Creator. He brings life and light of man.” So he’s dealing with those big creation themes.

Guthrie:I wonder if understanding the setting in which Jesus makes this particular statement is essential to really grasping what’s happening there.

Sach: The striking thing about the context of, “I am the light of the world,” is that Jesus is being opposed. So John 8:12, “I am the light of the world whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” Take the verse on its own, it sounds lovely. Immediately afterwards, the Pharisees, so the Pharisees said to him, “You’re bearing witness by yourself. Your testament is not true.” So it’s right in the context of this conflict. And in John, light and darkness, well, in the prologue, the light is on the darkness, the darkness has not overcome it. But there is opposition to him. He is the light that is shining, but they’re not willing to come into the light, he says in chapter three, for fear that their deeds will be exposed. So it’s the light that isn’t welcomed, the light that the darkness doesn’t receive. And really is a tension in chapter eight. You think, “Will anybody trust in Jesus? All we have is opposition and failure to understand.”

And Jesus said, “I told you, you’ll die in your sins. Unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins.” And they say, “Who are you?” So he’s giving warnings and they’re not getting it.

Guthrie: They’re blind. They’re so blind in the darkness.

Sach: And then wonderfully in chapter 8:28, it resolves, we get the hope of the resolution. Jesus said to them, “When you’ve lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am.” Lifted up, of course, in John, is this play on words it means to be exalted, to be lifted up. It also means to be crucified, to be lifted up. “When I am glorified, when I am crucified, then you will know.” And all the way through John, we meet darkness that hasn’t understood, and our hope is at the cross, that will be the time that people see that people understand that he draws all men to himself.

Guthrie: In John 10, you mentioned that we have two of them right there together. We might try to separate them. But I heard you say that maybe that’s not the wisest idea because they’re really in one central story. And this is where Jesus makes two statements both, “I am the door of the sheep.” And, I think, that’s maybe the hardest one, a hard one for us to know what to do with. And then, “I am the good shepherd.” So tell us how those work together and how we approach these.

Sach: I so love these verses. The same points apply that we need to go bigger, and we need to go older. So if we go bigger, Jesus says he’s the Good Shepherd in the context of others who are false shepherds. “All who came before me are thieves and robbers,” he says. He warns against the thief and against the wolf. What he’s talking about, In John chapter 9, just before we’ve had this blind man that Jesus amazingly has opened his eyes miraculously. And then we see the religious leaders persecuting him. And they drag his parents into the court, and they throw them out because they didn’t get the answer they’re looking for. You know, “Is this man your son? How come he can now see?” Then they abused the man himself, “You were steeped in sin from birth.” So the religious leaders were mistreating this man, whereas Jesus deals with him tenderly and beautifully. Then you get his commentary, “I am the good shepherd the others are thieves and robbers.” So Jesus is actually his commentary, we have the sign, the miracle in chapter nine, now we get the commentary on the sign in chapter 10. And Jesus is, actually, identifying the characters we’ve just witnessed. So the man is the sheep, the new disciple, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, he treats him well, the Pharisees are the fake shepherds who treat him badly. They’re just in it for what they can get.

Go older, we know that all the way through the Bible, a shepherd has been a metaphor for being a king. So, of course, Moses was a shepherd who, literally, shepherded his father, you know, flock. And then David was a shepherd when he was recruited. It comes to be a metaphor for the leader of God’s people. Then we get to the prophet Ezekiel and he has this amazing chapter where he pronounces God’s judgment on the shepherds of Israel who only feed themselves in Ezekiel chapter 34. And God’s solution. He says, “I’m against thy shepherd,” says the Lord. And then he gives a solution, “I, myself, will shepherd the sheep.” So Ezekiel said God is against those who mistreat his people, the leaders of Israel who lead them astray, who don’t bind up the wounded and don’t go after the strays. And then God says, “I, myself, will come and be the shepherd.” He will do that.

And something else I saw just recently that I love. In Ezekiel, in the prophecy in chapter 34, there’s a little bit of a puzzle because God says, “I, myself, would do it.” And then at the end of the chapter, he says, “David will do it.” And you think, “Well, which is it, God? Are you gonna do it, or is your king gonna do it?” And it’s just unresolved in Ezekiel. And then you get to John chapter 10, and Jesus says, “I do it.” And then he says, “My father will do it.” So God does it, and God’s King does it. And is this two different people and which is it? Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.”

So the place in John 10 where Jesus most clearly gives us a glimpse of the Trinity, the unity of him and his father, he’s, actually, picking up a puzzle that was there since Ezekiel. Where is the shepherd gonna be God or God’s king, or it’s both, because God and God’s King are one?

Guthrie: Yeah, so probably his original heroes, certainly John when he wrote it, they are a little more immersed in Ezekiel than we are likely today. So perhaps they would have been able to make those connections. They, certainly, would have, when they heard “shepherd,’ they didn’t necessarily think shepherd of a sheep like we do. They’re thinking about Israel’s leaders, and both their priestly and governmental leaders who have proved unfaithful.

Sach: Sometimes, I say to people that if I told you yesterday, “All my troubles seemed so far away, but now it seems they’re here to stay.” You’re smiling because you immediately recognize the allusion to the Beatles. Whereas we read in the Bible a story about false shepherds and three shepherds and we don’t say think Ezekiel 34. And that is because we know the Beatles better than we know the Old Testament. So shame on us. I think, it’s just is an encouragement to immerse ourselves in the scriptures because often the New Testament as you say, it’s just expecting us to pick up these allusions. And as we get to know the Old Testament better, we will see them everywhere.

Guthrie: And for us as Bible teachers, the more we own the whole of the Bible, and it develops those instincts, doesn’t it? That once we know, like, certain themes and stories that run through the whole of the Bible, then when we see them in these smaller passages, we’re more likely to get it right more according to the divine author’s intent for our understanding, because we are connecting into that larger story, and not just grabbing it out of nowhere.

Sach: And, I think, it’s exciting when you see it yourself. Obviously, we have Bibles with cross-reference columns, and they can be our cheat.

Guthrie: But that’s not a cheat, is it? That’s the way we begin to learn to make those connections.

Sach: Yeah, you can get help from the cross-reference column. But, I think, it’s even more exciting when there’s something you’ve read yourself in the scriptures and then you suddenly realize that that is the thing that John is alluding to or that is there in the New Testament as well.

Guthrie: Yeah, and when we draw those out for the people that were teaching, and they begin to make some of those connections themselves, it’s thrilling for them as a listener.

Sach: It’s really exciting.

Guthrie: Then, their understanding the Bible is not a massive, unconnected stories, but rather this larger message, and this larger story that they’re able to make sense of.

Sach: I think the one caution I give is, if we give too many cross references, then we can overwhelm people.

Guthrie: Exactly. Yeah.

Sach: So sometimes, and I would say you want one or two in a message, probably.

Guthrie: Well, maybe we don’t even state them that much. Like, in this passage, your understanding of Ezekiel 34 and this larger story of the failure of the shepherds of God’s people, leading up to Jesus saying, “I am the good shepherd.” In many ways, it has undergirded you as a teacher to figure out how to teach the passage rightly and that doesn’t necessarily mean all those Old Testament references work their way into your talk. Don’t you think?

Sach: Yeah, and, I think, you wanna be guided by the author. So if John were leading the Bible study, which passage in the Old Testament would he get you to turn up? And he’s probably not gonna have you on a paper chase looking at hundreds of references, but he might well say, “Ezekiel 34 would be a good place to turn.” You see, if there’s one place that you can land, I would say, if you’re teaching John 6, get Exodus open. If you’re teaching John 10, get Ezekiel open. But don’t give people too many cross references, it just gets overwhelming.

Guthrie: Good word. All right, next, we have Jesus make this statement, and it’s in the midst of John 11. A story most of us know well this story of him raising Lazarus to life. And his sisters, Mary and Martha, they’re so very sad and they say to Jesus, you know, “If you had been here, our brother would not have died.” And he says to them, in the middle of John chapter 11, “Your brother will rise again.” And Martha says to him, “I know he’s gonna rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” So perhaps you can explain for us a little bit what would have been her understanding when she talks about the resurrection on the last day. And then, what Jesus is saying to her in light of that when he says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life whoever believes in me, though he die yet shall he live.”

Sach: So the first century Jews believed in the resurrection before Jesus rose from the dead. It’s part of their existing beliefs apart from the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection, which is why they’re sad, you see [crosstalk 00:29:46].

Guthrie: Uh-huh. I’ve heard that one before and not so funny.

Sach: Yeah, everyone has said that before. They believe in the resurrection on the final day. The different point Jesus is making is, he is the resurrection and that the verdict of the final day gets brought into the present as people respond to him, so, “I am the resurrection the life, whoever believes in me, though he dies shall he live. Everyone who lives and believes in me, will never die.” As somebody trusts in Jesus, their eternity changes, even here and now. So as we’re recording this podcast, we’re in the middle of March, but in March, we can change our, or somebody could change their destiny forever. I was just involved in a mission week at a university campus last month in Bristol in England. But in that mission week, in February, somebody’s eternal destiny could change.

The point Jesus makes already actually in John chapter five, so Jesus says, “If anyone hears my words and believes Him who sent me, he has eternal life. He doesn’t come into judgment, he has passed from death to life.” So the resurrection, spiritually speaking, has already happened for the person the moment they believe in Jesus. And that decision now settles the decision of the last day. So in Daniel 12, the prophet Daniel, he said that, “Multitudes who sleep in the depths, dust of the earth would awake some to everlasting life, others to everlasting contempt.” There’s the doctrine of the resurrection already in the prophet Daniel. But Jesus says, but that verdict doesn’t have to wait until the last day, it can change now. So Jesus wants us to know that he is the one who brings life and to believe that now in advance of the last day.

Well, I think the most amazing thing about John 11 is Jesus is clearly very, very upset at the death of his good friend Lazarus, and Jesus weeps. But Jesus also wanted Lazarus to die, and that’s the strange paradox. I find verse five and verse six of chapter 11 so strange. Verse five, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” And you expect it to say, “But when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer.” But instead it says, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, so when he heard Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer.” Why is it loving of Jesus to delay going to Lazarus? And that’s what they didn’t understand. Well, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Yeah, and that is right, surely. I mean, Jesus can heal the sick, he was sick, and instead of going to help, you deliberately waited so that you will get there late. Why is it loving to let your friend die? Of course, the point is, Jesus had decided already that he would raise him, and he wanted to raise him, as Jesus himself says, verse 14, “Lazarus has died. For your sake, I’m glad I wasn’t there. So you may believe.”

So Jesus sees this opportunity to raise his friend from the dead so that those he love will learn the lesson that he is the one he can raise the dead so that they can believe in him for life before the last day. It looks like such a self-contained chapter. This is the story of Jesus going to a funeral. But if you take John 11 and chapter 12 together, you see that Lazarus’ resurrection is linked again and again with Jesus’ death. So immediately after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, that’s when the Jewish leaders realized he’s becoming too popular. The Romans are gonna crush this movement, we’re all gonna be killed. It will be better to kill Jesus. So Caiphus makes this prophecy that he speaks much better than he realizes, “It would be better for one man to die for the people than the whole nation to perish.” I don’t think he understands what he’s saying. But Lazarus’ resurrection leads to the plot for Jesus’ death.

And then, in chapter 12, at the beginning of chapter 12, it’s the story of Jesus being anointed for his burial by Mary. But where again it’s linked to what happened with Lazarus. So chapter 12:1, “Jesus, therefore, came to Bethany where Lazarus was whom he had raised from the dead.” And then, you get the story of Jesus burial. And then verse 9, when a large crowd learned that Jesus was there, they came not only to on account of him, but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, so the chief priest made plans to kill Lazarus, as well. Poor Lazarus, he has to die twice.

But it’s not just the story of Lazarus’ death to life, it’s also the story of Jesus’ life to death. So Jesus’ death and Lazarus’ resurrection are intrinsically connected. Lazarus is able to live because Jesus died. We were able to live because Jesus dies. So again, I always took chapter 11 on its own, and then you set it off, and this is the resurrection the life saying, you don’t read it with chapter 12, and you realize John is actually pairing this together. It’s through his death that he brings life to others.

Guthrie:That’s very helpful. If we were to jump in John 14:6, he says, “I am the way, the truth, the life.” And then in chapter 15, he says, “I am the true vine.” And so if we’re going to, what did you say? Go bigger? What were your two terms?

Sach: Go bigger. Go older.

Guthrie: Go bigger. Go older. Maybe you can just tell us the bigger, older for both of those.

Sach: So bigger is, this is the night before Jesus dies. So when he says, “I’m going to go and prepare a place for you,” he means, “Tomorrow, I am. You know, I’m gonna to die. And by dying, I’ll prepare a place for you. I am the way.” So we’ve got to remember this is in the context of Jesus’ impending crucifixion. That’s how he is the way, the truth, and the life.

And the other thing to say is this is Jesus training his apostles for their ministry. This whole section, leading up to Jesus prayer for them. And then so in chapter 17, he prays to the apostles and then he prays for those who will believe in me through their word. So in the first instance is not to us, is Jesus training the apostles who then tell us we are the beneficiaries of this. So Jesus explains to the apostles, “I’m the way the truth, the life.” He explains to the apostles, “I am the true vine.” And of course, that energizes, that begins to take the gospel out into the world, and we are the beneficiaries.

“I’m the true vine.” Get old. I mean, the old vine was Israel, and the vine was not all it was supposed to be. Israel fails. Along comes Jesus, the new Israel, and he is the one. In Him, all of God’s purposes for his people are fulfilled, and that’s where we’re attached to him in him, so we bear fruit.

Guthrie: I wanna go back to John in chapter 8. Jesus is speaking to the Jewish people and he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So he doesn’t say, “I am,” and finish the sentence. It’s imply, “I am.” And if we’ve read our Bibles at all, that’s sounding a little bit familiar to us, should it? Should we be making some connections where we’ve heard something like this before?

Sach: I love the places in Jesus’ teaching where my English teacher would have been upset and this is, definitely, one of them where I’d say, “Before He was I am.” He’s got his tenses all mixed up. And I am what? I mean, you think. But it is deliberate, and any Jewish person would immediately recognize the reference because when God appeared to Moses at the burning bush and God said, “What is your name? Who should I say that you are?” And God says to Moses, Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am. Tell them, I am has sent you.”

So this is the most highly name of God, the name which gets contracted into the word Yahweh or Jehovah. It’s the sort of shortened form of the Hebrew verb I am. And it was too holy even for a Jewish person to pronounce this name. And then, this is the ultimate blasphemy for them. Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” It means he’s eternal. He’s there before Abraham. It means, he’s taken on the name of God. And we can see that’s what they understand from their reaction. They picked up stones to throw at him.

Guthrie: Which they wouldn’t have done if they didn’t understand that that’s what he was saying.

Sach: Right. He, actually, comes more times than we can see in our translations. So, back in chapter 8:24, “I told you you’ll die in your sins unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins,” says my translation. But, literally, “Unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins.” And then he mentioned at his arrest, the soldiers come to take Jesus and they’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth, Chapter 18:5, “Jesus said to them,” again, my translation, “I am He.” But the footnote tells me or the Greek, “I am.” He tells them, “I am.” So even as Jesus is being arrested to go and be killed, he has identify himself with the Name of God, the personal name of God.

Guthrie: And I love the detail there in chapter 18:6, “They drew back and fell to the ground.” You try to picture that statement I am you just hear and sense the power of God so that they fall.

Sach: Which is amazing because it means Jesus is only crucified because he wants to be. He’s not taken by force. Well, they turn up with swords, but it only takes a word to cause the soldiers to be flattened. As Jesus says in John 10, “No one takes my life from me. I let down of my own accord.” And the fact that Jesus hands himself over to be crucified is such an amazing glimpse at his love. He is the bread of life, because he gives himself for the life of the world. He lays down his life of his own accord. The Good Shepherd gives up his life for the sheep. And then you see it happen at the arrest. They couldn’t grab him unless he hands himself over, to be taken away.

Guthrie: Well, Andrew, thank you so much for your time, for this conversation.

Sach: Thanks, Nancy.

Guthrie: You know, one thing about a good Bible teacher is that you want to show up when it’s time to speak and you speak in 10 minutes. You’re at this conference!

Sach: I’ve gotta see that.

Guthrie: So I think that means we better bring our conversation to a close. You’ve been listening to “Help Me Teach the Bible” with Nancy Guthrie, a production of the Gospel Coalition sponsored by Crossway. Crossway is a not-for-profit publisher of the ESV Bible, Christian books and tracks, including “Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God’s Word.” Learn more about Crossway’s gospel-centered resources at crossway.org.

I have found Andrew Sach, a pastor of Grace Church Greenwich, to be one of those teachers who repeatedly demonstrates that passages we may have heard taught the same way many times, may not actually be about what we think they’re about. And how does he go about gaining this kind of insight? His repeated admonition is to “go bigger, go older” when studying any passage in the Bible.

By going bigger, he means that we need to consider the larger chunk of Scripture in which the passage we’re teaching is found. And by going older, he encourages Bible handlers to look carefully for allusions to the Old Testament that will provide insight into the passage. These are exactly the tools Sach brought to the “I Am” statements in John in our discussion, helping us as teachers to go deeper into what Jesus was communicating about himself through vivid images such as bread, light, shepherd, door, and vine.

Listen to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible.

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