Jesus is sometimes called the Great I Am. This is because several times in John’s Gospel Jesus says the phrase “I am”, either by itself or as part of a longer statement. At least one time when Jesus says “I am”, he clearly alludes to the words that God spoke to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus: “Say this to the people of Israel, I AM has sent me to you” (Ex. 3:14). In other words, Jesus used God’s own self-identifying words to refer to himself. That was blasphemy to the ears of the Jews who heard this, and they picked up stones to put Jesus to death (John 8:58, 59). But since Jesus truly was and is the incarnate God, he could rightly refer to himself as the divine “I am”. And thus he is sometimes called today the Great I Am.
I suggest Jesus is the Great I Am in another sense. Also in John’s Gospel, when the arresting party arrives to take Jesus away to what would be his crucifixion, twice he identifies himself as the Jesus of Nazareth whom they are seeking. He does so with the same two words: “I am” (John 18: 5, 6). Here Jesus does not so much allude to his deity as the divine “I am”, but rather with this terse self-identification he expresses his complete willingness to give himself up as a sacrifice for sinners. In this sense, too, he is the Great I Am: the obedient Son who voluntarily laid down his life to save sinners.
But then there is Peter. As John tells it, right after Jesus is led away to be questioned by the high priest, Peter is asked point-blank by others if he is one of his disciples. His answer? Not “I am,” but “I am not” (John 18:17, 25). Bold Peter, who intended to lay down his life for Jesus, fails to confess him as his master! Three times he denies Christ before the cock crows (did Satan crow, too?). At this point, Peter in his unfaithfulness is the Great I Am…Not.
We know all too well what Peter did, or rather failed to do. How many times have you, Christian, by your words or deeds, failed to acknowledge Christ as your Lord and Savior? Imagine an accuser asking you these questions, and the answers you would have to give:
Are you a disciple who is always faithful to Jesus? I am not.
Are you a disciple who never fails to speak out for Christ? I am not.
Are you a disciple who is always ready to die to self for the sake of Christ? I am not.
Far too often, our words must be the same as Peter’s… “I am not.”
But thankfully Jesus is the Great I Am. Now imagine God the Father putting these questions to his beloved Son, with his answers:
Are you willing to receive from my hand my people, whom I have chosen and loved from all eternity? I am.
Are you wiling to set aside your outward glory as the Son of God, and humble yourself by putting on human flesh? I am.
Are you prepared to suffer ridicule, shame, and abuse for the sake of saving my people? I am.
Are you prepared even to drink to the dregs the cup of my wrath for sinners, by dying on a cross? I am.
And because Jesus said, “I am,” by your faith in Christ here’s how you answer these questions:
Are you, in Christ, forgiven? I am!
Are you, in Christ, clothed with his perfect righteousness? I am!
Are you in Christ, free from all condemnation despite your failures and sin? I am!
Are you, in Christ, a son of God? I am! I am! Praise God – I am!