Since I have a shepherd: John 10

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Today’s reading: John 9-10.

“What does it mean that the LORD is my shepherd?”

Lynn Anderson, in They Smell like Sheep, told of a tour he took in Palestine where his group listened to a guide explain the ancient sheep-herding practices. The guide spun a heart-warming tale about the gentle way the shepherd cared for his sheep, fed them, led them, and trained them to follow his voice. “He then explained how on a previous tour things had backfired for him as he was giving this same speech about sheep and shepherds. In the midst of spinning his pastoral tale, he suddenly realized he had lost his audience. They were all staring out the bus window at a guy chasing a ‘herd’ of sheep. He was throwing rocks at them, whacking them with sticks, and siccing the sheep dog on them. The sheep-driving man in the field had torpedoed the guide’s enchanting narrative. The guide told us that he had been so agitated that he jumped off the bus, ran into the field, and accosted the man, ‘Do you understand what you have just done to me?’ he asked. ‘I was spinning a charming story about the gentle ways of shepherds, and here you are mistreating, hazing, and assaulting these sheep What is going on?’ For a moment, a bewildered look froze on the face of the poor sheep-chaser, then the light dawned and he blurted out, ‘Man. You’ve got me all wrong. I’m not a shepherd. I’m a butcher.’ This poor unwitting fellow had just provided the tour guide and all of us with a perfect example of what a ‘good shepherd’ is not.”

In the fourth of his seven “I am” declarations, Jesus allied himself with the proverbial gentle shepherd, and also hearkened back to the shepherd of Psalm 23.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me–just as the Father knows me and I know the Father–and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:11-15

Jesus, the good shepherd, knows his sheep, cares for his sheep, and gives his life for his sheep. As a result we can claim all the following benefits:

Resources.I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:1-2). He will meet all our needs, both physical and spiritual, including our need for salvation. A sheep’s needs are simple, however, and ours should be as well.

Route.He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). He guides us by showing us the right way to live. It’s up to us to follow his lead.

Rest. “He refreshes my soul” (Psalm 23:3). More than sleep or relaxation, the Psalmist refers to the nourishment of our souls through meditation on God’s word and prayer. If we make time for a daily quiet time, we will find rest for our souls.

Rescue.Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). We can be confident and courageous in spite of danger because the Good Shepherd is with us. He has already rescued believers from the greatest danger – an eternity separated from God.

Rejoicing.  “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:5-6). There is much of eternity in the Good Shepherds provision, but we can rejoice even now, knowing that he is with us every step of the way.

The Eastern shepherd is generally the owner of the flock, or at least the son of their owner, and so their proprietor in prospect. The sheep are his own…His wealth consists in them. He very seldom has much of a house and he does not usually own much land. He takes his sheep over a good stretch of country which is open common for all his tribe—but his possessions lie in his flocks. Ask him, “How much are you worth?” He answers, “I own so many sheep.” In the Latin tongue the word for money is akin to the word, “sheep,” because to many of the first Romans, wool was their wealth and their fortunes lay in their flocks. The Lord Jesus is our Shepherd—we are His wealth! If you ask what is His heritage, He tells you of “the riches of the Glory of His inheritance in the saints.” Ask Him what are His jewels and He replies, “They shall be Mine in that day.” If you ask Him where His treasures are, He will tell you, “The Lord’s portion is His people. Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.” The Lord Jesus Christ has nothing that He values as He does His own people. For their sakes He gave up all that He had and died naked on the Cross. Not only can He say, “I gave Ethiopia and Seba for you,” but He “loved His Church and gave Himself for it.” He regards His Church as being His own body, “the fullness of Him that fills all in all.” – Charles Spurgeon

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Shining a light: John 8

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Today’s reading: John 7-8.

 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Psalm 119:105

In the second of his seven “I am” statements, Jesus declared himself the revealer of truth, the light in the darkness, the guiding principle, and he contrasted himself with the darkness around him by his words and actions.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

In my teenage years my brother and I had to hike 17 miles in one day to reach our shelter. The day stretched into the evening and still our camp was miles away. We walked the last few miles and hours by the power of our flashlights, without which we might have been forced to sleep on the trail. In a dark world, light is essential for safe travel. Jesus lights up all the dark corners of our lives and shows us the safe way to heaven.

Lighting up the darkness of hypocrisy. They brought the adulterous woman to Jesus, not because they cared about justice or the law, but because they wanted to use her to strike at Jesus. He turned his light on their sinfulness, and their condemnation disappeared, leaving only God’s grace.

Lighting up the darkness of sin. The Israelites thought they were free, but in reality they were slaves of sin. Jesus pointed out their sinful motives and actions so that they might have an opportunity to repent and be set free.

Lighting up the darkness of the devil. Modern men may doubt the existence of the father of evil, but Jesus did not. He knew that Satan was the agent of darkness and the source of lies. Pointing out the truth of Satan’s work was the first step in disarming him.

Lighting up the darkness of death. Many Jews in Jesus’ day did not believe in life after death. Jesus promised that everyone who obeyed his words would find eternal life, just as he had experienced it from the beginning of time.

Jesus is the word of God, and God’s word is the light that illuminates our path.

Jesus is the light of the world because he comes from the Father and speaks for the Father and is going to the Father and is one with the Father. So these words of interaction with the Jews look like a detour from “I am the light of the world,” but in fact they are constantly pointing to the way he is the light of the world—by coming from the Father and going to the Father and being one with the Father. – John Piper

Image by Praful Schroff on Flickr, CC by 2.0

Hard to swallow: John 6

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Today’s reading: John 5-6.

“Jesus said I had to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Was he being literal?”

Fresh off the miracle of feeding the five thousand, Jesus runs from a crowd of followers who want to make him king. They pursue him around the Sea of Galilee in search, Jesus says, of their next meal. They are looking for a Messiah who will fulfill their idea of a miracle worker granting their wishes for sensual pleasures. Jesus challenges them to believe in him for who he is, the one from heaven, sent by God to give them eternal life. They turn him down and instead challenge him to produce another miracle. They have no faith in him. They think he is only a man, and they will only follow him if he can reproduce Moses’ miracle of bringing down bread from heaven. Jesus declares that he is the bread of life, the first of seven “I am” statements in the book of John.

“I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:48-54

It is a hard saying, hard to swallow, and Jesus means it to be hard. There is truth in it, in the center of it, but like a day-old french baguette there is a very tough crust around it. Only the really hungry will make the effort to eat this meal, and that is just what Jesus wants. Most of the crowd find the bread too tough and turn away. How can Jesus expect them to eat him? How can he expect them to believe he is God?

Now you need to ask yourself what Jesus means by requiring this hard-to-swallow meal.  Is he literally saying that each one must eat his flesh and drink his blood to gain eternal life? This opinion underlies the Catholic view that the sacrament of communion conveys God’s grace and provides salvation. In this interpretation, Christ’s followers literally eat and drink Christ at communion by eating bread and drinking wine that are miraculously transformed into his body and blood.

Or is Jesus speaking in a parable, hiding a heavenly secret in an earthly picture, meaning to winnow the crowd of pleasure seekers down to the faithful few? Jesus hints at this when he says, “the Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” The divide separating Jesus and the crowd was faith. The work to which he called them was the task of believing. Specifically, he called them to believe that laying down his life would save their lives, that his broken and spilled out body and blood would make them whole. The meat of the meal was faith in Jesus. This fits most with the “whole counsel of God.” Salvation comes by faith in Jesus rather than by the practice of a sacrament. The sacraments are memorials that remind us of spiritual truths. As Jesus said, “do this to remember me.”

As a man in eating takes the morsels to himself and says, “This is bread which I believe nourishes the body, and it shall now nourish me, I take it to be my bread,” so must we do with Christ. Dear Brothers and Sisters, we must say, “Jesus Christ is set forth as a Propitiation for sin, I accept Him as the Propitiation for my sin. God gives Him to be the foundation upon which sinners’ hopes are to be built; I take Him to be the Foundation of my hopes. He has opened a fountain for sin and for uncleanness; I come to Him and desire to wash away my sin and my uncleanness in the fountain of His blood.” – Charles Spurgeon

Image by Dave King on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

Witness like Jesus: John 4

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Today’s reading: John 3-4.

“How do I engage people to tell them about Jesus?”

It can only help to go to the master when learning, and Jesus was a master at witnessing. He crossed all divides. He got people talking about spiritual matters. They didn’t always commit to follow him, but he brought them to the point where they knew whom they were rejecting. One of his most dramatic encounters was with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus overcame many barriers and brought her to the point where she begged for the truth that he offered.

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” John 4:10-15

Paul E. Little did an excellent job of outlining Jesus’ method in How to Give Away Your Faith. We complain about the difficulties in witnessing today, but it was no different in ancient Palestine. Barriers such as their different sexes, different ethnic backgrounds, and different religions separated Jesus and the woman at the well. Look how he broke down the walls.

He met the woman where she was. One of the biggest obstacles for many believers, including myself, is that we aren’t around unbelievers. Jesus positioned himself at a common social gathering spot, the well, and waited. He met the woman on her territory. He didn’t sit in a church and expect her to show up.

He found common ground on which to engage her. He was thirsty. She had the means to draw water from the well. He asked for a drink, and his request started the conversation. They didn’t begin by talking about God, but about something which interested the woman. At this stage, listening is just as important as talking.

He piqued her interest. He didn’t blurt out the gospel, but instead drew her in gradually with comments that aroused her curiosity. Why was he interested in talking with her? What did he mean by “living water”? Sometimes this is called “raising a faith flag.” Mention something related to your faith or belief, and watch how the other person responds. If they respond with interest, it is an indication that God is drawing them to himself. ( “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” John 6:44)

He didn’t tell the whole story right away. The woman said, “Sir, give me this water,” but Jesus saw that she was focused on the natural rather than the supernatural. He slowed down in order to let her understand him better, and so that she could see her own need.

He didn’t condemn her. Jesus wasn’t shocked by her lifestyle and he didn’t let it deter him from leading her to the truth. At the same time, he didn’t hesitate to acknowledge her sin, a step she had to take in order to repent.

He didn’t get sidetracked. The woman wanted to talk about where she should worship. There are many rabbit trails that a person may want to argue about. Don’t get caught in that trap. Stick to the main point – the good news about Jesus.

He confronted her with Jesus. At the conclusion of their discussion, the woman wanted to know about the Messiah, and Jesus made sure she understood that he was that Savior.

Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well isn’t a formula that will guarantee success every time we share the gospel.  It does serve as a reminder of important truths that we shouldn’t ignore:

  • You’ve got to meet and engage the lost person
  • You need to find common ground to cross the barriers between you
  • You unfold the gospel gradually according to the person’s acceptance
  • You make Jesus known to them

Image from Wikemedia Commons, public domain

Christmas light

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Blow away the snow
Let all the presents go
Christmas must be more than these
If Christmas we would know

Take down the candled trees
And brighter lights we’ll see
Christmas glows with inner light
The light that comes from Thee

You were Creation’s light
The word that gives us sight
They laid you in the manger’s hay
We met you Christmas night

But long before that day
We heard the prophets say
That you would come and suffer much
To take our sins away

We felt your human touch
The cry of death was hushed
You left behind the greatest gift
Though you, yourself, were crushed

Your death repaired the rift
Allowed our souls to lift
Your Christmas journey brought us peace
If we receive your gift

So look beneath the snow
and see beyond the trees
and spy the brighter light
and hear the prophets speak
We need Redeemer’s touch
We need a Savior’s lift
No others matter much
We need his Christmas gift

2014, by Robert Dellinger

Image by Andy Schultz on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

Who is Jesus? John 1

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Today’s reading: John 1-2.

You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. – C. S. Lewis

Who is Jesus? The world is full of ideas about him, and most of them are wrong. John, his disciple and beloved friend, who knew him as well as anyone, describes him eloquently, but because he was passionate about doctrine, also describes him truthfully.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. John 1:1-5

Jesus as God. John makes it clear that Jesus wasn’t a created being, but was with God from the beginning. He is, in fact, God. He is the creator from whom all things come. He is the life that is the light in men, the divine spark that animates us and illuminates the darkness. John goes on in his gospel to show that Jesus remained in intimate contact with his Father, only doing what he saw his Father doing. His enemies wanted to kill him because he called God his Father (John 5:18). He declared his divine nature when he said, “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). His miracles authenticated his divinity. His personal sacrifice proved that God is love.

Jesus as man. John said “the Word became flesh.” God became a man. He lived with us. Though he was God,  he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” As a man he was able to speak our language, reveal God’s glory to us, and make the Father known to us.

There was a man who sat in his warm home on a cold Christmas eve and heard birds flying against his window, apparently attracted by the light of his fireplace. He longed to help the birds find shelter from the cold, even lighting a lantern in his barn to try and lure them to safety, but nothing would work. “If only I could speak their language,” he said, “then I could tell them how to be saved.” That is what Jesus did for us by becoming a man.

Jesus as truth. Jesus is God, and was a man, but he is also truth. He said himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” John said he was full of grace and truth. He called Jesus the Word, the logos in Greek, which is a hard word to pin down. It can mean thought, idea, or saying. It can mean reason, doctrine, or moral teaching. To the Jews, God’s word was the power by which he created and revealed himself to men. To the Greeks the logos was the intermediary principle emanating from God that communicated with men. The writer of Hebrews said that in these last days God spoke to us in his Son, who bore “the very stamp of his nature.” Jesus is the truth about God.

Tim Keller said this about Jesus as truth: “Jesus Christ doesn’t just give us truths; he is the truth. Jesus Christ is the prophet to end all prophets. He gives us hard-copy words from God, truths on which we can build our lives, truths we have to submit to, truths we have to obey, and truths we have to build our lives on, but he himself is the truth.”

“The Word, then, the Christ, is the cause both of our ancient beginning—for he was in God—and of our well-being. And now this same Word has appeared as man. He alone is both God and man, and the source of all our good things” – Clement of Alexandria (Exhortation to the Greeks 1:7:1 [A.D. 190]).

Image by Isaac Torrontera on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

Slow of Heart: Luke 24

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Today’s reading: Luke 23-24.

“Why is my faith so small?”

Faith is putting all your eggs in God’s basket, then counting your blessings before they hatch. – Ramona C. Carroll

We struggle with our weak faith and think the disciples must have had it easier. They walked with Jesus, saw his miracles, and heard his words. Surely their faith was strong. Yet following his death and resurrection, Jesus found his disciples quickly failing in their efforts to keep believing in him. On the day of his resurrection, he secretly walked with two disciples on a road out of Jerusalem. Not recognizing him, they opened up about their disappointed hopes that Jesus was the Messiah.

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Luke 24:25-27

The small faith of the disciples began with some significant misunderstandings.

The men on the road to Emmaus called Jesus a prophet. They saw him as a man, and sent by God, but not as the son of God.

They thought he was bringing immediate political change. Their hope that he would redeem Israel wasn’t a belief in spiritual salvation, but in his ability to overthrow their oppressors.

They didn’t know God’s promises concerning Jesus. He had to teach them everything the Law and the Prophets foretold about his life and death.

You and I make some similar mistakes that hinder our faith. We identify Jesus incorrectly, emphasizing his role as teacher or the one who forgives our sin, but neglecting his role as son of God. If he is God’s son, and we are God’s children, Christ’s brothers as he said, then (beyond doubting) all the resources of the King of Heaven are ours.

Like the disciples we mistake Jesus’ purpose. We focus on how his gift of salvation saves us personally, but forget that he saved us in order to make disciples of others. He said he would be with us to the end as we go and make disciples. It was the main mission he committed to us, and you can be sure (full of faith) that he equipped us for it.

Too often we forget the prophecies concerning the Messiah, though for us the important ones are those that are yet unfulfilled. Those are the ones we need now to strengthen our faith. In the present Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be with us to comfort, guide, and empower us. In the future he warned of extremely difficult times, but he said not to worry because he would give us words that none of our enemies could resist or contradict. He also promised to return and put an end to wickedness when he reigns as the king of kings and lord of lords. Though the problems of the present may trouble us, and possibilities of the future may worry us, our faith will grow stronger if we practice learning the promises of the Bible, promises such as:

  • He will never leave you nor forsake you.
  • I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
  • All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.
  • He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.

The happiest moments we have ever had have been spent in Jesus’ company—and we are never so blessed as when He opens the Scriptures to us and opens our hearts to receive them. But we are in danger lest in the press of worldly cares; lest in our frequent conversations with our fellow men; lest, even, in our attendances upon the domestic concerns of our own little home, we may forget to invite Jesus to abide with us! Communion with the Lord is more often broken by lack of thought than by lack of heart, though, alas, when the lack of thought has let Him, “go further,” then it has cooled down into that rock of ice which we have called a lack of heart. Therefore, Brothers and Sisters, let us charge our hearts that we never forget to entertain the Savior. – Charles Spurgeon

Image, “Christ with two disciples,” by Rembrandt