One thing I love about the Bible is, no matter how many times I read it, I always discover something new.
For instance, during Holy Week, I discovered an interesting play on words in John 18. When the mob came to arrest Jesus, he asked, “Who is it you want?” They responded, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said, “I am he,” and the guards fell to the ground.
A few verses later, Simon Peter followed Jesus to the home of the High Priest. A servant girl recognized Simon Peter, and asked, “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” Simon Peter replied, “I am not.” In fact, he said, “I am not” three times before hearing the rooster crow, realizing he’d denied Jesus, just as Jesus predicted he would.
“I am” or “I am not”? I suppose one could argue, both Jesus and Simon Peter were potentially facing the same danger. Jesus knew his arrest would lead to a cross. Perhaps Simon Peter feared the same, or something similar. Yet, here are two, different responses – “I am” and “I am not.”
Many preachers compare the “I am he” statement of Jesus to God’s self-identification at the burning bush, when Moses asked God’s name. God said, “I am who I am.” (Exodus 3:20) Much ink has been spilled to explain what that means, so I won’t get into it here. Comparing John 18 to Exodus 3 is interesting and, likely, biblically/theologically accurate. Likely, Jesus was revealing his divinity, as God had to Moses. Clearly, there was power in his words!
But, I’m more interested in comparing Jesus’ “I am” to Simon Peter’s “I am not.”
If we consider all four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, and his subsequent arrest, Jesus obviously worked through significant personal distress, as he asked God to “Let this cup pass.” Meanwhile, Simon Peter slept. But, by the time the mob arrived, Jesus had found a place of acceptance and internal resolve. Jesus was prepared for all that was to come. On the other hand, Peter panicked.
Facing immanent death, Jesus said, “I am he,” and the armed guards fell to the ground.
Recognized by a servant girl, Simon Peter freaked out, saying, “I am not.”
Remember when Simon Peter promised, hours before, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Mark 14:31)? Obviously he hadn’t imagined the terrible risk of being recognized by a servant girl!
Actually, I get it. He was afraid, and reacted. In fear, he spoke impulsively. I don’t question Simon Peter’s love or loyalty to Jesus. His heartbreak upon realizing his failure is evident. In his place, I’d likely do the same, or worse. So would you, I suspect.
But, what if, Simon Peter had the courage to say, like Jesus, “I am he”? Might he have been arrested? Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows? We never will.
I have a wise friend who asks, when making tough decisions, “What’s the brave thing to do?” What if Simon Peter was brave enough to say, “I am he”? What if?
Jesus’ “I am he” was filled with faith, power, conviction, and truth.
Simon Peter’s “I am not” reveals spiritual timidity, faithlessness, weakness, and fear. So does mine!
Unlike Simon Peter, I’ve never verbally denied knowing Jesus. But, if I’m honest, I’ve denied him regularly, in countless ways.
I deny him, in silence, when I fail to speak or act, in fear of other’s reaction or responses.
I deny him, when I care about other’s opinions more than his.
I deny him, when my words and actions aren’t a good reflection of his Lordship in my life.
I deny him, when I fail to demonstrate kindness, generosity of spirit, patience, acceptance, and love.
I deny him, when I’m not brave.
I deny him, when I fall short of being who God created and called me to be.
I deny him, when I hide away in the safety of the shadows, like Simon Peter.
I deny him, when I avoid difficult situations or conversations.
I deny him, when I play small.
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of Brene’ Brown, who has much to say about courage. Brown writes, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” Simon Peter did the opposite. He denied who he was, and hid in shame. Brown frequently quotes Theodore Roosevelt,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I also love this quote from Marianne Williamson,
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
“I am not” Jesus. No one will ever fall to the ground because I say, “I am he.” And, yet, if I believe the promise that Christ lives in me, who am I to say, “I am not”?
My point? In Jesus’ penultimate moment, he stood tall, strong, determined, confident in who he was and what he intended to do. My hunch is, Jesus could’ve denied his calling and destiny, if he chose to, and avoided the cross. But, he didn’t. When his moment came, he was courageous, saying, “I am he.”
Though my “I am he,” will never be the same as Jesus’ “I am he,” I want to be an “I am he” kind of guy. Facing opposition, I want to be strong. Facing danger, I want to be brave. Facing accusation, I want to be confident and truthful. Facing uncertainty, I want to be faithful. Facing hate, I want to love.
And, when I’m specifically asked about my association with Jesus – by friend or foe – I want my response to be consistently faith-affirming, truth-filled, love-laced, unwavering, and invitational!
I have no need to be defensive or offensive. I’m not looking for confrontation or argument. But, I do want to be brave.
And, in the moments I need to be brave, for the sake of fidelity to my Lord; for the sake of truth; for the sake of someone else – as a voice for the voiceless, or an advocate for the weak – I want to say, “I am he,” without always stopping to consider the personal cost. When I need to stand up, speak out, or take action, I want to say, “I am he.” Even when I’m scared; even when there’ll be a price to pay; even when I’m pressured to conform, I sincerely want to be the kind of Jesus-follower who says, “I am he.”
Will I? Will you?