The Poor Ye Have Always

The Poor Ye Have Always

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 12:7, 8

Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

Compare Deuteronomy 15:7, 10, 11

If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:

10 Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto. 11For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.

Introduction:

In the immediate context of John 12:8, if we only see the criticism of Judas and the response of Jesus, we could arrive at a wrong conclusion. It would be easy to assume that Jesus’s reply relegates the care of the poor to a lesser order of importance. And, compared to our immediate need to follow and worship Jesus (which Mary was doing, in this passage) all other things are secondary.

But Jesus was not diminishing the importance of attending to the needs of people around us. He was simply putting priorities in order. When we look back to Deuteronomy 15:10, 11, we see that Jesus was quoting His own Word, regarding the Poor. He had commanded the people of Israel to take care of their poor. It was not an option. It was also not just a “government function” such as welfare or food stamps. It was a personal responsibility, for every believer.

Why did Judas condemn Mary’s gift?

Mary, the sister of Lazarus, brought the very expensive perfume and anointed the feet of Jesus. Judas claimed to be offended that the money had not been used for something utilitarian, specifically, feeding the poor. (John gives us the inside story on that. He points out that, in reality, Judas was not at all concerned about the poor. He was a thief, and ironically, he was the “treasurer” for the group. He was jealous that the money was not being put in his own hands.)

But Jesus responded to what Judas claimed as his concern…the care of the poor. He said, in effect, “That is a constant need—no one denies it. But this is a “one-time-only” special gift. She has been saving up money for this act of worship, looking forward to my burial.”

Did Mary know that her action was looking forward to His burial? I rather doubt it. None of the disciples truly understood the plan and purpose of Jesus, in coming into the world. They simply loved Him for who He was, and what He was in their lives. That is a pretty good way to relate to Jesus, today, by the way. He does not demand that we understand all that He is doing. He wants our Faith and Love, each of which will result in obedience, which, in turn, will result in His being able to bless us even more.

What about the Poor?

As we read through the Old Testament, there is no question that God not only cares for the poor, but He expects His people to care for them as well. We should also notice that Israel was to care for their own poor. They were not told to try to meet the needs of every person in the World. They were taking care of those within their own sphere of responsibility.

Proverbs 29:7 says,“ The righteous considereth the cause of the poor: but the wicked regardeth not to know it.”

Psalm 112:5-9 says, A good man sheweth favour, and lendeth: he will guide his affairs with discretion. Surely he shall not be moved for ever: the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance. He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord. His heart is established, he shall not be afraid, until he see his desire upon his enemies. He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever; his horn shall be exalted with honour.

Church Responsibilities

The Church is not to turn a blind eye to the needs of people in our communities. We are to “consider” the cause of the poor: their needs and their problems. And we are to see whether there is some way for us to be a genuine help. We, as a church, continually look for ways to do just that.

As we study the New Testament, we see that this task has not changed. We are to care especially for other believers in our sphere of responsibility, and, as far as we are able, to care for unbelievers around us as well. In the same manner, God sends His rain, His sunshine, and His general supply to everyone, not discriminating between “just and unjust.” Remember, however, that we are not God, and while we can contribute, we are also limited in ability and wherewithal. We have to let Him lead us.

James 2:15, 16 underscores the responsibility of believers to other believers. In arguing the requirement that faith must carry through and produce action, James says, “15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

“Shoe Leather Faith”

We are encouraged to “be practical” in our care for one another. The entire book of James is directed toward “practical holiness.” It means “putting shoe leather on your faith.” Our faith is not only supposed to “talk the talk,” but also to “walk the walk.” James tells us to function in practical ways, and not just be “posers,” with a show of piety, but no substance.

We are to seek to reach out to those around us with the Gospel of Christ, as we are commanded to do. Paul says, regarding the Gospel of Christ,  “I am a debtor….” He considered that to be the one thing that he owed to all people. But we also want to make an effort to meet practical needs. The only question we need to ask is regarding “balance” and “priorities.” Paul pointed out that his primary calling was to reach the world with the Gospel.

Priority of Jesus

Jesus demonstrated the same thing in His ministry. At Sychar, in Samaria (John 4:34) Jesus told His disciples, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His Work!” (And what was that work? Was it feeding the poor? He did feed them on more than one occasion. Was it to heal the sick? He certainly did a lot of that!) But, as the Living Word of God, the primary ministry of Jesus, daily, was to lead human souls to God. And His final goal was the Cross, to offer Himself as the satisfaction of the Righteousness and Holiness of God so that the human race could approach God and be saved.

The “harvest” he pointed out to the disciples, and the work He wanted to complete as “the task at hand,” was the harvest of souls. In that same passage, He said, “Lift up your eyes! Look on the fields! They are white already unto harvest!”

We can easily see that “feeding the poor” is also within the scope of His will for us, but Jesus was not telling them to go “feed the poor.” He was telling them, “These are people who need the Savior: Let’s get busy, and lead them to the Lord! The Harvest is right there in front of you!

What is our Priority?

Can we go too far into “social work?”  Yes, I believe we can lose sight of our objective, and begin to feel that “we exist to feed the world.” Feeding the poor is only a part of what we are to do: the actual assignment was to take the Gospel to the whole world.

Consider a fireman, working in a fire department: he may be given the daily task of organizing the map box. Or he man be assigned to change the oil in the fire trucks or to cook a meal for the fire crew. But that task does not change his prime directive; his job, which is to fight fires!

Prime Directive

Our “prime directive” is to preach the Gospel. Jesus gave His “last request” several times. It always involved taking the Gospel of Christ to the lost world. All the other “tasks” are incidental to the prime directive. If we are failing to draw people to Jesus Christ, then, no matter how many “hungry mouths we feed,” we are not doing what we were told to do!

If the fire alarm rings, and the firefighter in our example above says, “Sorry, I’m busy organizing the maps!” then he will no longer be a firefighter! We are called to reach the dying World with the hope of Eternal Life. As we go, we are to meet people’s other needs as well. The other needs are not the primary goal.

Living Examples

Jim and Judy Burdett, the missionaries we support, spent 40 years doing just that. The result has been three fully functioning churches, several pastors and Bible teachers and evangelists, as well as the entire New Testament translated into the Dom language.

But! Every morning, Judy got up, and, on her porch, she cared for the minor medical needs of the people. Jim helped with their physical building projects, and he provided transportation to the nearby town on occasions when people had needs. Judy taught literacy so that the people could read the portions of the New Testament as they were completed. Jim and Judy met people’s physical needs as God provided, and, in their hospitality and generosity they proved themselves to be good neighbors.

But they never forgot their prime directive. Their priorities were correct: They were there for one reason: to reach those people with the Gospel and, in doing so, to translate the New Testament into their language. And that is what they accomplished!

Similarly, we are called to set our priorities. We are not to lose sight of our stated purpose, but, as a part of that given assignment, we are to “be good neighbors,” to “love the unlovely,” to “feed the poor,” to “care for widows and orphans,” etc. Those are the “side tasks” that demonstrate the Love of Christ. They accompany the Gospel we are commanded to share. The “side tasks” are not to be ignored, but they are not to replace the preaching of the Cross.

Hidden Agendas

In Judas Iscariot’s case, there was no question: The scripture tells us that he had a “hidden agenda.” He was a thief and he wanted access to the money. But we can have hidden agendas, too. We may hope to do enough of the supplemental things that we escape responsibility for the central assignment. (Sorry: that is not possible!)

Entire church denominations have become servants of a “social gospel,” as opposed to the preaching of the Cross, the message of Salvation. In fact,“Sunday Schools” were begun in England, not as a tool of the Gospel, but as a means to get children out of the factories, and educate them. They were to teach them to read and write and use arithmetic. They were schools, and the government required the shop owners to release the children from work every Sunday, to attend those schools.

Were the schools valuable? Absolutely, they were!  Were they fulfilling the Great Commission in any way? Possibly, but marginally so, at best, unless the people providing the education had the personal goal of leading people to Christ. In that case, perhaps it really was a means by which to reach souls for Christ. (And. yes, in learning to read, they were also reading scripture, so probably some became believers that way.) But the goal was social reform, not evangelism. By the way, the British commonwealth schools still teach Bible classes in some places. But they are not often taught as the Bible being the Word of God.

Changed Course

The “public schools” that emerged as a result of that initial move toward “educating the masses” were initially run by God-fearing men and women, so they probably still had a good effect. But the public school systems have deteriorated until the government schools finally have become enemies of the Gospel.

It is easy for a missionary organization to forget their prime directive as well. Many missions have failed in that way. (Some missionaries in history have even been drawn away to become government spies!) The key to avoiding such “derailments,” is for each individual to personally remember that the Great Commission is still in force today. We are to remember that it applies to all believers individually. It is unlikely that a large group of believers who each hold that core belief could easily be diverted. Without that conviction, we can be distracted by politics or social reform and collectively forget our assignment.

There is a saying, that, “When you are up to your armpits in alligators, it is hard to remember that you originally went in to drain the swamp.” That saying is intended to be humorous. But it is still a pretty accurate assessment of why we become distracted by the various alarms sounding all around us. It tells how we tend to lose sight of our objectives.

Lord Jesus, refocus our attention on our prime directive, the Great Commission, and fix our hearts on honoring Your written Word and living in Obedience to You as the Living Word.

“Plots of Man” versus “the Plan of God:”

“Plots” versus “the Plan”

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 11:46-57-12:23

Introduction:

There is a common saying that “Man proposes, but God disposes.” That is a loose reference to Proverbs 16:33The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” All of scripture teaches us that Man’s plans, schemes, and plots are all subject, ultimately, to the supreme authority of God. Even unbelieving humanists recognize that there are things we can’t plan for: they are called “the imponderables,” which guide the final outcome of all our plans.

Volcanic Change

I remember, as a child, reading of a farmer in Mexico who was clearing brush in February, preparing for Spring planting. He noticed that the ground in his cornfield seemed unseasonably hot. And a little later, as he moved from one field to another, he noticed a small bulge in the field, with a crack running through it.

There had been a pattern of small earthquakes in the area, so he was not concerned. He just continued his work. But then, he heard a sound like thunder. He turned, and saw that the little bulge had suddenly become a hill about six feet tall, and it was spewing smoke and ash! He and his family fled to the nearby village, but the volcano continued to grow, raining ash and eventually lava. The village had to be evacuated and ultimately it became completely buried, with only the bell-tower of the church visible above the volcanic debris.

Changed Plans

That eruption was in 1943, in Parícutin, Michoacan, in Mexico. To one degree or another, it changed everyone’s plans.I don’t know how it fits into God’s greater plans, but it didn’t comfortably fit into any human plans! That volcano continued to erupt for the next nine years. It reached a height of almost 1400 feet above the valley floor. Thousands of people were forced to flee, and relocate elsewhere. (No more cornfields!)

Ironically, years later, the original farmer who had lost his cornfield went back and erected a sign. He claimed the volcano for himself, saying it was “owned and operated by Dionisio Pulido.” (I’m pretty sure that little “plot” was never taken seriously by anyone. The sad fact was simply that he and everyone else had just lost their land and their homes.)

The Messiah is God’s Plan

We are told of God’s plan for the redemption of the fallen race of humanity, beginning in Genesis 3:15. There, the “Seed of the Woman” is prophesied. He was the One who was to destroy the works of Satan. But in Revelation 13:8, we also see that Jesus was the “Lamb slain from the Foundation of the World.” And in 1st Peter 1:19, 20, we see that God’s Plan for Redemption preceded the Fall of man. In fact, it was actually already in motion before the Creation of the World.

So, we can see that the Eternal Plan of God is not to be disrupted by the Foolishness and the Rebellion of Man. Long before He created the Earth for Man to live in, God knew that Man would fall into Sin,. He anticipated our rebellion and all the ramifications of our sin.

Revealed in Advance

In John 11:47-53, the Jewish leaders were “taking counsel” and plotting to kill the Messiah. God did not say, “Oh, My! I didn’t see that coming!” As a matter of fact, He did see it coming: He planned for it! He told us about their plot, hundreds of years in advance.

Daniel told of the coming Messiah and His death, in Daniel 9:26, 570 years before the Birth of Christ. (Incidentally, “Christ” is the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew word “Messiah.” Both words literally mean, “The Anointed One.”)

His birth was predicted 710 years before the fact, in Micah 5:2, where God predicted the location of the birthplace. He was to be born in Bethlehem Ephrata, This is the specific Bethlehem that is in Judea, just down the road from Jerusalem. It is where his great aunt Rachel is buried, too.

In Isaiah 53:1-12, we are told about His death, burial, and resurrection, more than 700 years before Jesus was born. We saw that He was to be executed with criminals, but that His burial would be with the wealthy. We saw that His beatings and wounds were the result of our crimes. They were to provide healing for our corruption and our fatal illness called Sin.

King David told details about the crucifixion of Christ in Psalm 22:1-18, saying, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Also, “My hands and my feet they have pierced,” and other details. All this was given more than 1,000 years before the birth of the Messiah. These are only a few of the places where God told us His plan, and what He would do in order to redeem the lost race of Man.

So, what about all the “plots of Man” which seemed likely to “thwart” the plan of God?

Rebellion is the Overall “Plot of Man”

All the rebellion of Man, from Adam to the last person who will ever be born, is completely within the knowledge of God. His plan is made with full awareness of every detail of our sin. He knew all about our pride, our rebellion, our violence, our immorality, our unfaithfulness, and our deceit…all of it!

When Nebuchadnezzar conquered and destroyed Jerusalem, God not only knew about it in advance, but He told Habakkuk , Isaiah, Jeremiah, and several other prophets that it was coming…many years in advance, and with great detail.

In fact, He told the Babylonians why He was sending them to conquer Jerusalem and all the land of Judea! (In Jeremiah 40:2, 3, Nebuzar-adan, (Nebuchanezzar’s Captain of the Guard) told Jeremiah the prophet, that this destruction came as punishment from The LORD, their God, for their own sin and disobedience, because they turned away from their God! (The heathen knew the plan of God, in some cases!)

Murder is the Plot of Man

The High Priest, the Chief priests, the Temple officers, most of the Pharisees and the Sadducees all plotted against Jesus! And God already knew about it! It fit perfectly into His plan. And, despite all we are told about the Plot of the Enemy to “kill Jesus,” God tells the “rest of the story.” In John 10:18, Jesus said “No man takes my life from me!” He laid down His life by His own will and by His own authority. The Jews plotted to stone Jesus. That is the way they were told (by God) to execute criminals. (That is how they executed Stephen, in Acts 7:59 when he was martyred.) But stoning was not the Plan of God for Redemption.

Redemption is the Plan of God

God’s plan specifically required the Crucifixion, as pictured in the original Passover in Exodus 12:22, and as described by David, in Psalm 22. It is also alluded to in Zechariah 12:10, when the LORD says, “They shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.

Several times, during Jesus’s earthly ministry, the Jews took up stones, intending to kill Jesus. (Once, they even tried to throw him off of a cliff.) But in every case, Jesus just walked away, and they could not touch Him. He allowed their plot to progress only within His narrow pathway to the Cross. Only the Cross could be His destination, as it completely fulfilled the Plan of God!

From here in John 11, all the way to John 18, Jesus is headed for the Cross. He was following the Plan of the Father, and He was completely in agreement with that Plan, because it was also His Own Plan! Jesus chose to lay down His life to satisfy His own righteousness, and that of the Father. And, according to Hebrews 12:1, 2, He did so for the joy that was set before Him. He paid the Bride-price with Joy, looking forward to eternity with the Bride. (That’s us!)

What about Our Plans?

Most of us have some sort of plans for our lives, even if the plan is very short-range, such as what we intend to do after lunch; or longer-range plans, such as what studies you plan to pursue in college; or very long-range plans, such as what results you hope to see in your career.

Most American companies (for example) have “business plans” that extend one year, three years, five to ten years, or even more. I am told that the major Japanese corporations all have business plans extending for the next century. That is beyond my imagination, because there are so many uncontrolled variables in life, for which we cannot “plan.”

We can prepare “contingency plans” to cover emergencies. We buy insurance policies to protect against fire, flood, earthquake etc. But the fact is, even those things are far beyond our ability to predict or prepare for them, as a general rule. That is why most insurance policies used to contain exceptions, listing “Acts of God,” against which they would not insure. I believe the laws have changed, so that such exceptions are much more specific and limited, today.

Don’t fight against God

It seems to me that at the very least, we should see to it that our plans are not in direct conflict with what we know about the plan of God. We are aware of what His overall plan includes and what His ultimate goal is…and He invites us to become a part of that plan. So how do our plans fit into His pattern?

We each have only one life to live, and it will either be spent in a way that intentionally honors God, and is intentionally seeking His directive will for our daily life…or it will not. We will either seek to find ways to be a part of His work, as Jesus, did, or we will not. I will either be obedient to what I know of His will, or I will not.

Be Flexible! Prepare for Change!

Let’s consider James 4:13-16. James was addressing the “businessmen” of that day, and their “grand plans” to get rich. He pointed out that none of us really knows what tomorrow will hold. All of us have known of people who were vigorous, ambitious workers; they were creative and always planning for the future. But something happened: an automobile accident, a stroke, a heart attack, or any number of other possibilities…and their direction was permanently changed. Some were permanently changed, or disabled, and some were dead. From our perspective, their plans came to nothing. Some of those plans had nothing “wrong” with them: they were simply subject to God’s authority, as is everything else, and He overruled them with His own Plan.

God can Change our plans!

Years ago, I knew a man (Ralph Hovland,) who was a missionary for many years. He eventually had to stop working overseas, so he and his wife served as teachers and staff at the Bible school I attended. The graduating class had just completed the last of their studies and Mr. Hovland was walking down the street, a block away from the school, chatting with one of the graduating seniors, Scott Gutmann. He had told Scott that he and his wife were about to retire for good, and was sharing what their plans included.

He concluded with the words, “But, of course, the Lord could change that at any time!” And those were his last words. He suffered a massive heart attack and died! Ralph Hovland graduated, too! He went home instantly!

How Flexible are You?

Each of us has established life-patterns in which we walk, on a day-by-day, and week-by-week basis We have our habits and our “comfort zones,” as we tend to call such things. But if God were to call you to get completely out of that comfort zone and serve Him in a way that is not your daily pattern; not how you had planned…can you accept His will for you, and cheerfully move forward with the new task?

If He removes a cherished goal or dream, can you bear the loss, knowing that, though you had applied yourself diligently to that “plan,” it has clearly been “Overruled” by the Lord?

How will you respond?

If He directs you into a new ministry, can you step forward confidently, knowing the truth that “His plan will not lead you into a place where His Grace cannot keep you?”

Or will you balk, as Peter did (Acts 10:14), and say, “Not So, Lord!” (Not SO, Master! Not So, Creator and Judge of all the Earth!” Do you see how unfitting that is?)

I don’t know that the Lord is going to direct us into anything shockingly different that we have been doing. But I do recognize His sovereignty and I want to be flexible, and to continue to intentionally look for His direction and His leading.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes and hearts to see your hand in our lives. Teach us to eagerly look for your direction, so that every new assignment is met with Joy rather than fear or grief. Help us to live in such a way that others will be drawn to the Light of God shining in our lives..

Why did Jesus Weep? What Application is There for Us?

Why did Jesus Weep?

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 11:32-37 (Compare Romans 12:15; Hebrews 4:15, 16)

32 Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. 34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! 37 And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?

Introduction

We often hear about John 11:35 in terms of it being the “shortest verse in the Bible.” That is true, of course. But it doesn’t have much bearing on what it means for us as believers. Who cares that it is the shortest? That fact is interesting, perhaps, but in itself is meaningless. The content of every verse is what we need. What does it say, and what does it mean? And, ultimately, how can I apply it to my own life?

The context was Lazarus’ death and the grief it had caused his family and friends. In thAt context, the fact that Jesus also wept takes on much more meaning. Was He just “overwhelmed with grief” at having lost His friend? That seems unlikely, since He knew He was about to raise him back to normal life. It seems far more likely that Jesus wept for the grief that the others were experiencing.

Get the Whole Context

In verses 1-14, we saw that Jesus knew all about what was going on in Bethany. Though he was a long distance away, He knew that Lazarus was sick. He knew that it would ultimately not result in death, (v.4) but in His own glorification. He waited two days after hearing the news that Lazarus was sick, before leaving. This was so that Lazarus would not have “just died” when Jesus arrived. He waited that long so that Lazarus would have been dead long enough that no one had any doubt about his death. In fact, they would know that his body would have begun to decay!

Then Jesus told His disciples that He was going back to Judaea. They were worried that He would be killed. He finally explained to them that Lazarus was dead, and that He, Jesus, was going to “awaken” him. They were still pretty anxious about going back to a town so close to Jerusalem, but ultimately, they all went along.

When Jesus arrived, the majority of the people who initially met Him were believers. Some said to Him, “Lord, if you had been here, Lazarus would not have died.’ Others, to one another, said “This man healed the blind. Couldn’t he have prevented the death of His friend?” So, we can see that many of them at least had a rudimentary faith in His ability to heal.

What about Death itself?

The issue they were all struggling with, was “Why didn’t you save his life?” But it had not yet occurred to most of them, that Jesus could actually raise the dead. Martha seemed to have a glimmer of the idea. She believed that Jesus could ask God to bring Lazarus back from the dead. (See verse 22: She said, “Even now, whatsoever you will ask of God, God will give it to you.”)

Can God raise the dead?

So, the question now is, “How far does the authority of Jesus, the Messiah, really extend? Can He raise the dead?” We need to remember that this is not the first time God raised the dead. In 1st Kings 17:17-24, we see that the son of the Widow at Zarephtha had died. Elijah asked God to restore him, and God honored that request and raised the boy back to life.

2nd Kings 4:1-37 tells of Elisha, the protégé of Elijah, and another child God raised from the dead. And, at the end of Elisha’s life, long after his death, in 2nd Kings 13:20, 21, we see some men sent out to bury the corpse of a dead man. But, because the men saw a band of enemy raiders coming, they hurriedly let the man’s body down into the grave of Elisha.

It must have been a shocking experience to those men: When the dead body touched the bones of Elisha, it sprang back to life! (I especially enjoy this story, as I imagine these men assigned to do the burying, running back within the city walls to escape the raiders, and looking back to see the dead man running with them.)

Finally, in Ezekiel 37, though it was “just a vision,” it still spoke of the authority of God to raise those who had long been dead. In that particular case, it referred to the resurrection of the Jews as a nation, both physically and spiritually.

But; Can Jesus Raise the Dead?

So, the concept of being raised from the dead was not new: it is just that none of them had ever seen it, and now they would see whether Jesus actually possessed the authority He claimed. That is the real question: “Does Jesus truly have the Authority He claims to have?” We still ask that question today: “Can Jesus really take care of me and my family? Is His blood really sufficient to take away all my sins? How sure am I, really, that everything He says is really true? And, Does He really caree about me?”

Jesus wants us to be sure. He wants us to know that we have eternal life, now, not waiting until we die to find out whether we were “Good Enough.” 1st John 5:11-13 says that He wants us to know that we have eternal life… not hope, or just be persuaded, or think so. He wants us to know it.

The Widow of Zarephtha had already believed that Elijah was a man of God. She agreed to make the small cake of bread for him, because he promised that her little barrel of meal and her little jar of oil would not run out until the famine was past. And it didn’t!

But then her son died. She immediately reproached Elijah, in grief and anger. But he took the dead child from her, carried him up to the loft where he was living, and prayed for God to “return his soul to his body.” And God did so. Her response was “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the Word of the LORD in thy mouth is Truth!”

God wants us to be that sure!

How can we Experience Eternal Life?

We know from the Old Testament stories that God is completely capable of getting us safely home to Himself. We believe that His authority carries beyond the grave. But He wants us not only to be sure that we already have eternal life through faith in the shed blood of Jesus. He also wants us to be secure in the knowledge that He is with us now.  He wants us to trust Him to carry us through all of life, and through death itself. This is not a “pie in the sky when you die” idea. We are called to experience that Eternal Life in the here and now!

In John 17:3, Jesus said “ And this is Eternal Life: that they may know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” The word translated as “know,” here, is the Greek word, “ginosko,” meaning “experiential knowledge.” Not just “knowing a lot about a person,” but having an ongoing, living, growing relationship with that person. If we are to experience eternal life today, then we need to be in that ongoing, experiential relationship with Jesus.

We can “have” eternal life, because we have placed our faith in His completed work at the Cross…faith in His shed blood for our sins. But to experience it in a real, everyday way, we need to be walking with Him.

Seeing the Dead Raised

We might be tempted to think, “Well, why doesn’t God raise the dead today, and make everyone believe?” There were people right there who saw Lazarus raised, who definitely were not persuaded to place their faith in Jesus. Quite the opposite: they plotted to kill him! Not only that, but, in the next chapter, it occurred to them that they had better include Lazarus in the bargain. (“Gotta kill him too, or people will believe in Jesus anyway!”)

In Luke 16:19-31, we see the story of the “other Lazarus.” In it, the dead rich man argued that “…if they see someone raised from the dead, they will believe!” Abraham answered, “If they will not believe Moses and the Prophets, neither will they believe, though one be raised from the dead.” This passage in John 11, 12 is clear proof of that truth! Those who rebelled against Jesus were determined to oppose him despite having seen undeniable proof of His deity!

So, How does it Help Us, to Know that Jesus Wept?

Compassion should have been strong in every priest.

In the Old Testament, we see that some of the human High Priests were not very compassionate. And the High Priest at that moment (when Jesus was raising the dead) was a character named Caiaphas. He was the leader of the group that wanted Jesus murdered! (How “compassionate” is that?)

In Exodus 28:29-30, the High Priest was called to carry the names of the tribes of Israel on his shoulders and on his heart. Leviticus 16:1-6 says that the High Priest had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins, before he could minister as the mediator for the people. Hebrews 5:1-3 confirms this. The High Priest is supposed to “have compassion on the ignorant and on them that are ‘out of the way.’’” This is specifically because “he himself is surrounded by his own infirmity.” And that was just referring to the human high priests. They were flawed individuals themselves! And they were to have compassion upon others for that very reason.

Jesus is the Perfect High Priest

And, in Hebrews 4:15, 16, we see that “We do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” I often point out that “our feelings are not always an accurate reflection of reality.” That is true, but the fact remains that the feelings themselves are a reality that we have to deal with! And Jesus is aware of our feelings and is compassionate toward us in our frailties.

Jesus had no sin, but He suffered as though He were just like any other human. He felt the grief of the people, and “wept with those who wept.” He genuinely felt their grief, and shared in it for their sake. He did not just say, “Chin up! This too shall pass!” or any other such inane platitudes: He wept with them because of their grief, even though He knew He was about to bring them indescribable Joy.

We are called to Join Jesus in His Priesthood

Jesus is the True High Priest… but every believer is called to serve as a priest in the Body of Christ. We are to be His hands and feet and heart in our lifetime here on Earth, reaching out to those around us in genuine compassion.

This is part of the unity of the church: we are all part of one body, the Body of Christ. And when one part of the body is injured, it affects the whole body to one degree or another. Every living body exhibits this care for itself. If there is an itch on the back, for example, the whole body contorts itself to relieve that discomfort by reaching to scratch it. If a toe is injured, the whole body responds to protect that toe by limping or hobbling along, avoiding further injury. We are to care for one another at that level, spiritually and emotionally, as well as physically.

Weep With Those Who Weep

Romans 12:15 clearly commands us to “Weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.” This is not a command to “pretend” grief or “pretend’ joy. It is a command to extend our hearts to the needs of those around us. We should feel their sorrow as our own and feel their joy as our own. Ultimately, of course, that makes us pretty vulnerable to being hurt. But it also opens us up to experiencing the blessing of God flowing through us to those who are hurting, in the world around us.

If we genuinely care about the needs of those around us, then, as Jesus did, we will often find ourselves weeping in sympathy with those who weep, and experiencing the joy of those who rejoice.

Lord Jesus, open our hearts to be like You, caring deeply for those around us, and deeply, genuinely empathizing with them as You demonstrated in Your life. Help us to demonstrate the Agape Love so that the World will see Your face in us.

I AM the Resurrection and the Life

I AM the Resurrection and the Life

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 11:25, 26

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?

Introduction:

Last week, we discussed the entire story of John 11:1-46. It is the story of the revival of Lazarus of Bethany. In the middle of the story, Jesus stated, “I Am the Resurrection and the Life.”

This is one of the great  “I AM” statements in the Gospel of John, (including an identifier.) If we see the Gospel of John as addressing the Deity of Christ, presenting Him as the incarnate God, then we could list the “I AM” statements as follows.

“I AM” statements by Jesus in the Gospel of John.

(Key verse is “Before Abraham was, I AM.” John 8:58) Seven amplifications: I AM the:

  1. Bread of Life (John 6:35, 48, 51)
  2. Light of the World (John 8:12)
  3. Door of the Sheep (John 10:6-9)
  4. Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14)
  5. Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25, 26)
  6. Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6)
  7. True Vine (John 15:1, 5)

Notice that only one of these eight passages (John 8:58) gives the clear Old Testament Name of God: “I AM.” All seven of the other passages serve to qualify and amplify the main point.

Remember Chapter One

When we discussed John 8:58, we already knew that Jesus is God. John 1:1 introduces the concept, and John 1:14 makes it clear. John 1:3 states that He is the Creator of all things. Verse 4 states that He is the only source of Life, while verses 4 and 5 together show that He is the only source of Light. And, in John 1:29, we see that Jesus is God’s sacrificial Lamb. Through Him, the sins of the World were to be taken away. Those are pretty heavy doctrines to offer in the first chapter of the epistle! But they all are foundational to everything that follows.

In John 2:1-11, we began to see His Authority over Nature and the physical world. (He transformed what had been plain well-water into high-quality, aged wine!) Later in chapter 2, He claimed authority over the Temple, He cast out the people who were making it a place of commerce. (It strikes me that perhaps some people today have become guilty of this sin. They are making merchandise of the church, and becoming rich at the expense of the testimony of the Gospel.)

In John 3:3-19, we discovered that Jesus is the only Savior, and that we each must be born again through faith in Him, to enter into God’s fellowship.

In John 4:1-42, we discovered that Jesus’s top priority was to reach to the world with the Gospel: that He definitely did not limit His Mercy to Israel.

In John 5:22, 23, we discovered that He is the Eternal Judge, and is to be honored in the same manner as the Father is to be honored.. Finally, in John 6:35-51, the I AM statements begin.

Why the multiple “I AM” statements?

John 8:58 makes a “spelled out” statement (“Before Abraham was, I AM!”) The people clearly understood and they responded with violence. Without such a clear statement, the people might have “missed the point” in all the other seven statements. Grammatically, each of those statements were no more significant than simply saying, “I am Jesus.” 

But, together with the clear statement that He is God, they become very significant, as He begins to explain all that His name implies. (Bear in mind that the name “Jesus” means “Jehovah saves,” or “Jehovah is Savior.”) And in Isaiah 43:11, God confirmed that apart from Himself there was no Savior. It was another clue to His eternal identity as the Creator God.

Throughout the Gospel of John, we have seen and learned the reality that He is truly the “all-in-all” for us. We have no other Hope, we serve no other Master, and we will face no Higher Judge. He is the Eternal God: the Creator, the Sustainer, the Savior and the Judge!

We saw increasingly powerful, miraculous proofs of His Deity, and increasing statements of His sufficiency. In chapters four and seven, He offered the Living Water. The scripture states that He was referring to the Holy Spirit, who was not yet given. But, when we look back to Jeremiah 2:12, 13, we see that the God of the Old Testament was the only “fountain of Living waters.” The Jews should have understood that promise as being a claim to divinity, as well!

The Warnings

The warnings really began much earlier, in John the Baptist’s ministry. (Matthew 3:7-12) John warned the Pharisees and the Sadducees (many of whom would become Jesus’s fiercest enemies) that judgment was coming. He warned that God was “winnowing the wheat harvest,” and, while He would gather the “grain,” He would also burn the “chaff” with unquenchable fire.

In John 3:3-19, Jesus warned Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees (who became a believer,) that unless he experienced the new birth, he would never see God’s Kingdom. He explained in verse 19 that the Light of God had come into the world, and the World was rejecting that light.

Death and Judgment

But everyone knew that death was a reality. Some were terrified at the prospect: some simply accepted it. Or possibly, as they do today, they may have philosophized about it, claiming it was “nothing to worry about.” But death really can be something to worry about! And Jesus clearly warned the Pharisees, in John 8:24, that they would die in their sins if they rejected Him.

So, “dying in one’s sins” is surely something to fear. John 1:29 promised the removal of our sins. John 3:16-19 explained how that rebirth could happen…and the result if it did not.  

Chapter four gave examples of people in whom it did happen: and these were Samaritans. They were a people utterly rejected by Israel, but people whom God justified by Grace, through faith, plus nothing.

Finally, in John 11:43, 44, we see an example of someone who died in faith…whose sins had been removed by God. We see proof that there is “life after death,” and that Jesus has full authority over Life and death. We see a man, a believer in Jesus, raised from the dead, revived, after his body has begun to decompose.

The Solution to The Final Threat

In the midst of this drama-filled scene, we see a very solid, clear statement: “I AM the Resurrection and the Life.” Jesus has already made it clear to everyone that, while Eternal Life was offered to all, not all would receive it. He already said that He is the only door of access to the household of God. Now He answers the question, “What about believers who die?”

He first pointed out the overarching principle that He alone is the Resurrection and the Life. Had they thought of it, they could have recalled Ezekiel 37, where the prophet was given a vision of a valley full of very dry, very dead bones: human skeletons. They were so dried and scattered that they were no longer even connected to one another. God asked Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” And Ezekiel replied, “Thou knowest!” It was the only honest and faith-driven answer he could give. Then he witnessed, in vision-form, the resurrection of Israel as a nation, to a right relationship with God.

Jesus Alone!

Jesus said that He himself is THE resurrection and THE life! This includes both spiritual resurrection (remember, we all started out spiritually dead) and the physical resurrection we see here in John 11:43, 44.

Hebrews 9:27 makes it clear that everyone is destined to die, physically, and that judgment will surely follow, one way or another. 1st Corinthians 15:51, 52 points out the one exception, and allows us the hope that we will be part of the generation that skips “the valley of the shadow of death,” and goes directly to be with the Lord. But the overwhelming majority will get there through that valley. And Jesus shows us “what the valley looks like for believers.”

Remember that in Psalm 23, David said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”

Let’s break that into small pieces. Remember, this describes physical death for believers only:

  • Yea, though I walk (Not “fall,” or “collapse”)
  • through (Not “into,” but “through.” Death is not a “destination” for believers, but a passage through, to something else…something which is not a fearful place or thing.)
  • The valley (Not the “pit,” the “abyss,” or any other sort of trap or place of interment.)
  • Of the shadow of death (Not  the “final reality and permanence of irremediable death.”)

And the result of this promise was that the psalmist was not in fear, but at peace, knowing that his Redeemer was with him.

Jesus is that Redeemer, and the Resurrection and the Life

The prophet Job also foresaw this final resurrection, as a believer, in Job 19:25, 26.

He said, “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the Earth: and though, after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”

That Redeemer (whom Job knew, and trusted, and whom he hoped to see in his resurrected body) was the same Jesus in whom we now trust.

He was the same in the time of Job as He was in the time of Lazarus of Bethany. And He is still the same today. Jesus proved His deity and His authority and His faithfulness through all the ages, and He continues to do so today.

He wasn’t just capable of temporarily reviving a dead human body which had begun to decay. He removes the curse of death entirely. He has restored us to eternal fellowship with the Holy God from whom we were estranged. He has begotten us again, as children of that Holy God. We are permanently in Him, because He is not only “the Resurrection,” but also “the Life.” We already have eternal life in Him; by His Grace, through Faith…plus nothing.

So, What are Our Choices?

As unbelievers, the only choice we had was whether to respond in faith to the promise of redemption, confessing our guilt, and our need for a Savior….or not.

As believers, the only choice we have (moment by moment) is whether to continue in faith, walking in fellowship with Him, and obedience to Him…or not.

If we walk with him in faith and obedience, then we reapthe peace and confidence we can have in knowing Him as our Redeemer, our Protector and our Friend. If not, then, while we are “just as saved as Lot was,” we will not enjoy the benefit of that relationship, any more than Lot did. And, in the end, we will gain no more reward than he did. Salvation is a gift, not a reward.

Choose Life!

Jesus is the Resurrection, all right: but He is also the Life. We are called to experience His life through faith and obedience, not just make a one-time “deposit of faith,” and hang onto the “receipt,” as it were, hoping that “everything will be all right.” We have a steady, unshakeable confidence, if we embrace His Life, as well as His Resurrection, and experience that Life daily, as we walk with Him. With David, we can say, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”

If you want to have confidence that “God is with you,” then focus your attention on you being “with God.” Jesus asked Mary, “Believest thou this?” Do you really trust Me in this matter? He asks us the same thing.

That is a question you should be asking yourself, as well: If you really believeit, then bank on it and live as though you believe it. Serve as if you believe it. He has given you eternal life and a gift by which to serve Him. Believe Him and get on with the job!

Lord Jesus, fill us with the confidence of Your Eternal Presence and acceptance, and approval. Teach us to walk with You by faith, and to experience your Joy and Peace as a result. Raise us up as your ambassadors, to shine as your beacons of Hope in this lost and dying World.

Lazarus and the Resurrection

Lazarus and the Resurrection

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 11:1-46

Introduction:

This is a rather long chapter, and it has an important central narrative. There are, perhaps, dozens of sermons which could be derived from this passage, but our first priority is to hear and understand the whole story. So: to begin with, this is the story of Jesus’s friend, Lazarus of Bethany: not the “Lazarus” who was the beggar from Luke 16:20. (Same name; different men.)

This Lazarus was a homeowner in Bethany, almost two miles outside Jerusalem. He lived there with his two sisters, Mary and Martha. He was sick, and the sisters sent word to Jesus. Jesus was told, as they hoped, but apparently a little too late to get there in time. (How do we know? Jesus waited two days before responding, but when He arrived, Lazarus had already been in the grave for four days. We can see that even had Jesus left immediately, Lazarus still would have died.)

This is a key testimony to Jesus’s authority over life and death: He restored life to one who had been dead long enough that their corpse was beginning to decay. (That is why He waited.)

So, let’s read through the entire account, in John 11:1-46, and see exactly what happened. Then we will come back and touch on some of the key points we don’t want to miss, in just reading through it. In future messages we will come back again, and dig a little deeper.

Context: Where was Jesus?

Remember the context: In John 10:40, we saw that Jesus had left Jerusalem and had returned to the area where John the Baptist had begun his ministry (About 20 miles or more, east of Jerusalem, by the Jordan River, closer to Jericho.) So, he was probably at least 20 miles away… a long day’s walk, but certainly achievable. With that in mind, let’s read through the story.

John 11:1-46

1 Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.

When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again.

His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. 10 But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.

11 These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. 12 Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. 13 Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.

14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. 16 Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.

 17 Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. 18 Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: 19 And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.

20 Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. 21 Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 22 But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. 23 Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. 24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.

25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? 27 She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.

28 And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. 29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. 30 Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. 31 The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.

32 Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.35 Jesus wept. 36 Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!

37 And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? 38 Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.

39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.40 Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?

41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. 42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.

43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. 44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

45 Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. 46 But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.

Several Points to Consider:

The Time Factor

One, we already noted, was that when Jesus heard the news that Lazarus was sick, it was already too late to just “run over there and heal him.” Jesus was only about 20-30 miles away, and he waited only two days, but when He arrived, Lazarus had already been in the grave for four days.

Perhaps the messengers had searched for Him for some time before they found him. Or… perhaps the terrain is steep enough that such a journey actually took longer than a day. Either way, Jesus delayed only two days, and Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days, when Jesus and the disciples arrived. Evidently, had they left immediately, Lazarus still would have died.

The Purpose of Healing

Another important point, is to see that Jesus was not “acting callous” toward the needs of His friends: in the first place, as we already saw, by the time Jesus got the news, it was already too late to physically “get there and heal him.” Could Jesus have healed Lazarus from a distance? Certainly, He could; and in other situations, He did just that, healing one young man from miles away, without ever seeing him. So: why did Jesus wait?

Jesus said He was glad “for the sake of His disciples,” that He was not there to prevent Lazarus’ death. When someone “suddenly gets well,” there are two ways to see it: We can recognize the authority of God, and (at least) recognize that He allowed them to suddenly get well, and we see it as an answer to prayer. The other is to say, “Well, that was serendipitous!” and thus ascribe the healing to blind chance, not giving honor to the Great Physician.

Sometimes such healings are so stupendous that even the surgeons attending a case are amazed and have no explanation for the healing. One of the missionaries we support (Abby Williams) was the recipient of just such a healing, and the surgeons could only say, “This sort of thing just doesn’t happen!”  (Well… yes, but it DID!)

So, which way would build a “firmer faith” in the hearts of His disciples? Healing Lazarus from a distance (the only available choice, since he died before they could have arrived anyway, and which could have been seen as “just lucky”) or to let him die, and begin to decay, and then raise him back to full health and a normal life? Jesus chose the way that would have the most effect!

The Objective of Jesus

Jesus did not lose sight of His objective: He came to die, as the propitiation for our sins, yes: but before He died, He had to lay a foundation for faith that would last through the rest of time. He was building disciples who could go on and complete His work.

In case you hadn’t noticed, that is still the job of Jesus’s disciples. In 2nd Timothy 2:2, we see the command, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also.” Jesus never lost sight of His objective, which was to reach the World with the Gospel of God’s Grace; so, the point of this whole “exercise” was to build an unshakeable faith in the lives of the disciples. That is still our objective, here in our church!

It is also interesting to remember that Judas Iscariot was still among Jesus’s disciples at this time, and this obvious miracle did not bring him to faith. Other enemies were there, as well, and the miracle did not change their hearts. But many who witnessed the revival of Lazarus did believe in Jesus as the Messiah because of what they saw. The purpose of the miracle was to build faith.

What is the Difference between Revival and Resurrection?

We tend to lump together all “back from the dead” experiences as “resurrections;” but they are not. Medical staff “reestablishing a pulse” is not “bringing someone back from the dead.” That is a minor revival, at best. Jesus raised those who truly were dead, who had begun to decay. And it was still only a “revival,” not the “Resurrection!” So, what’s the difference?

Revival is Temporary

All the people who Jesus raised from the dead (or who the apostles raised from the dead) subsequently died again, anyway. It was just a temporary reprieve. Now, let’s suppose, for example, that Lazarus managed to stay alive after this event, until after Jesus’s death, burial, resurrection, and His ascension. If Lazarus “re-entered the tomb,” so to speak, sometime after Jesus’s ascension (in Acts 1:9) then his second experience was far different. The first time, he had spent four days in Sheol, the place of the dead, but specifically, in Paradise, “Abraham’s Bosom,” the place of the righteous dead, along with Abraham, and all the other Old Testament Saints.

But the second time (because Jesus literally had “moved Paradise,” he would find himself in the actual presence of God. Jesus had opened the way into the Holy of Holies, through His death at the Cross! That is a huge difference! And …Lazarus will get his resurrected body at the same time we get our resurrected bodies!

Resurrection is Eternal

The coming resurrections of the righteous and unrighteous dead both result in the formerly dead individuals receiving their resurrected, immortal bodies which can no longer die.

The righteous dead will enjoy eternal life with their Savior, in that immortal state…forever.

The unrighteous dead will suffer eternal torment in that never-dying body, eternally separated from God, in the Lake of Fire…forever. I don’t like this fact, and neither does Jesus!

But the Righteousness of God (and His Holiness) will be satisfied, one way or another. In Romans 3:25, we saw that Jesus satisfied the righteousness of God at the Cross, as our propitiation, by God’s Grace, through faith in His blood. But, regarding those who reject His Grace, and do not place their faith in His sacrifice at the Cross? He says “they are already condemned,” because they “have not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18) While they live, they can change their thinking, and place their faith in Him. If they wait too long, they will miss their chance.

It is Appointed unto Man Once to Die, and after this the Judgment

Hebrews 9:27 makes it clear that we get “one shot at life”—no “do-overs,” no reincarnations, etc. As one modern musical performer put it, “Life is not a rehearsal: Life is the Gig!”

Lazarus was already a believer: he was not “getting a second chance.” His death and burial and revival brought many to faith…but he still died again. He got one actual life, and one actual (permanent) transition out of this life. The Eternal life that Jesus promises begins at the moment of faith, but the resurrected body is yet to come. In general, everyone dies once. There have been very few exceptions and God has had a purpose for each of them.

The Rapture provides a huge “single-event exception,” as 1st Corinthians 15:51, 52 says… “We shall not all die, but we shall all be changed.” But apart from that hope, every one of us faces physical death. And as believers, every one of us looks forward to the Resurrection.

The Only Hope for the Resurrection

Jesus spoke the simple truth, when He said, I am the resurrection and the Life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

He is the Only Source of life, in every sense of the word. He created physical life…all of it, and He provides spiritual life. And He is the only source. Since our mortal bodies are each destined to die (unless the Rapture comes first) we look forward to the eternal resurrection of these mortal bodies, as immortal bodies. And Jesus is our only hope, either way.

We will expect to come back and dig out other, more specific truths from this chapter in the coming weeks.

Lord Jesus, ignite a fire in the hearts of Your servants, that we might shine in the darkness of this world, and that we might desire above all things to honor You, and to reach others with the Good news of eternal life in Christ.

Safety in Christ: How “Safe” is the Flock of God?

Safety in Christ

How “Safe” is the Flock of Jesus?

© 2022 C. O, Bishop

John 10:26-30

2But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

30 I and my Father are one.

Introduction:

Over the last twenty verses, Jesus has been teaching regarding the Sheepfold, the Good Shepherd, and the Flock of God. This is not the first time he has addressed the subject of the safety of the flock. In John chapter 5, He affirmed that anyone who believes His promise has eternal life the moment they believed. They will never be condemned, but have crossed over (permanently) from death into life.

In John chapter 6 He stated that anyone who came to Him would never be cast out. He declared that, of all who came to Him, He would lose no one, but that He would raise them all up at the last day. That is very “solid ground” upon which to rest our faith!

Over the years, we have touched on the subject of the security of the believer many times. But, since Jesus is directly addressing it, right here in John chapter 10, it seems good that we address it directly, as well.

What was the “Original Problem?”

Why did Jesus come in the first place? The answer to that question goes all the way back to Genesis 3:7, where Adam fell into sin. In disobeying God, he plunged all of his progeny (including Eve) into spiritual death. That is where all of us start out. As Ephesians 2:3 confirms, we are all born “the children of wrath,” just like everyone else. The whole human race had become spiritually dead. We were disconnected from God, at the moment Adam fell into sin. We all went with him! This is what we call “Original Sin,” and it is definitely the original problem!

What was the Solution?

The plan of God to redeem His lost Creation was actually laid before the human race was created: Revelation 13:8 states that Jesus was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the World.” And, in 1st Peter 2:18-20, we see that we are redeemed by the blood of Jesus, who was “foreordained before the foundation of the world.” So, God shed blood, to provide animal skins as a covering for the sins of Adam and Eve. That blood was a picture of the Blood that Jesus would shed at the Cross. According to John 1:29, His Blood would take away the sin of the World.

But in order for that to happen, Jesus had to be born a human (thus inheriting the right to redeem us.)  But He had to be born without a sin nature. (That is what the “Seed of the Woman” in Genesis 3:15 and the “virgin birth” in Isaiah 7:14 were all about.) Thus He would have the “price of redemption:” a perfect person.

And then He had to actually live a perfect, sinless life, in keeping with that birth. Finally, He had to be willing to pay that price of redemption: His life. And we saw in the previous verses that He had been given the authority to lay down His life, willingly: No one “took it from Him.” So, Jesus is the solution: the only solution God has ever offered. The Old Testament sacrifices were only pictures of God’s perfect sacrifice. Jesus is the “real thing:” He is our only hope, through His sacrifice.

How “Good” is that Solution?

When we talk about medicine, and diseases, and cures for those diseases, the question often arises, “How effective is that cure?” And the answer is often given in terms of percentages, such as, “If the patient receives this medicine within two weeks of infection, there is a nearly 100% cure rate. After that it drops off very rapidly.” And some “cures” are a bit of a gamble, no matter when they are applied. But what about God’s cure for spiritual death—the cure for our sin?

When we read the Old Testament, we see people who seemed to be believers, but who did bad things: terrible things in some cases. From a human perspective, it seems logical to think that “Well, you see? They fell away and they were lost!” But then in the New Testament, we see some of those same people called out by name as being saved individuals…and as righteous individuals!

What about their Sins and their failures?

For example, we see Lot, whose life did not seem to reflect any of the righteousness of God, and who lost everything in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah…and the last thing we see of him was that (because of their deliberate conspiracy) he drunkenly impregnated both of his daughters. And his progeny, the Moabites and the Ammonites, still live today, as enemies of Israel. But, in 2nd Peter 2:6-8, we see that God says Lot was a righteous man!

And then, of course, there is King David, whom God declared to be a “man after His Own heart,” but who later fell into sin, including the sins of adultery and murder, and vicious cruelty toward his enemies. How could he be called righteous?

(Wow! Maybe we need to re-examine what God defines as righteousness. At least, we need to find out on what basis He will declare a human sinner to be righteous.)

Definition of Righteousness

In Genesis 15:6, we see that Abram “believed God, and God credited it to him as righteousness.” And, as we read through the rest of the Bible, we discover that this is the only means by which any sinner has ever been declared righteous by God! We are declared righteous on the basis of faith in God’s plan of redemption.

Faith and Righteousness

In Adam’s case, he believed God’s promise of the coming Savior, the Seed of the Woman. In Abraham’s case he believed the promise of God regarding the coming offspring, and of the promised land. We discover later that he also believed God regarding the resurrection, but that is more obscure. And, he brought blood sacrifices to God on a regular basis.

The Children of Israel found safety, trusting in the Blood of the Lamb, at the first Passover, when they struck the blood of that lamb on the lintel and the two doorposts. In Romans 3:25, we find confirmation that He, Jesus, became the propitiation (the satisfaction of God’s righteousness) through faith in His Blood!

Safety in His Blood

You see; that specific blood sacrifice, offered by God’s Grace, is God’s only plan for the redemption of the lost Human Race! (Jesus is “Plan A,” and there is no “plan B”) And we lay hold of His plan through faith in His blood. Then, in keeping with his promise, He declares us to be righteous in His sight, on the basis of that faith.

It has absolutely nothing to do with our works, either before or after the fact. And what is the “Cure rate?” 100% of all those who trust in Him for their salvation are eternally saved!

What Does Jesus Say About our Safety in Him?

I think it is important that we see His promises as they were given: In John 1:12, Jesus said that the way to be born into His family is to place our faith in Him…receive Him. Believe on His name. In John 3:14-16, Jesus compared the bronze serpent Moses made and hung up by God’s command, to His own ministry.

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Judgment and Faith

You remember, that old bronze serpent was hung up to represent the fact of God’s judgment on the sin of Israel, in the form of thousands of migrating vipers that He sent through their midst. People were being bitten and were dying! He told Moses to make that bronze serpent and hang it up high on a pole, so that whoever looked to God’s solution—the bronze serpent—instead of their own solution, would not die! They still had the bite-marks, the pain and the other symptoms of the bites, but they would not die.

Jesus said that He Himself was to be lifted up in similar fashion, so that whoever believed in Him—as God’s solution for their own sin—would also not die. But in this case, the life they gained was eternal life. We still bear the marks of our old sin nature, but we will not be lost.

A Specific Promise in Three Parts

In John 5:24, Jesus promised that whoever heard His Words, and believed on the God who sent Him,

  • HAS everlasting life (Present tense: it’s yours today…no waiting to see if you were “good enough!”)
  • And SHALL NOT come into condemnation (Future tense: it will never happen. God will never again condemn you! Your whole eternity is covered in that promise!)
  • But IS PASSED from death into life (Past-Perfect tense…it’s a “done deal,” and can’t be reversed! You can’t be “un-born again,” or go back to being “un-redeemed.”)

What Works are Required?

In John 6:28, 29, the people asked Jesus “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” (This tends to be our question, too, as we insist on believing that “There must be something we can do, to make God like us!” …to make ourselves righteous. The fact is, it can’t be done…and there is nothing we can do to change our nature as lost sinners!)

Jesus gave a very clear reply: He said, “This is the Work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” (That’s it! Faith in Jesus, and His finished work!)

How Secure is that Promise?

In John 6:37 Jesus said, “37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Under no circumstances will Jesus turn away those who have come to Him in faith. Under no circumstances will He subsequently reject them and cast them back out! That is very solid ground! We are not left standing on a “sand foundation!”

Years ago, my younger brother pointed out that most sand is made of tiny fragments of rock…very hard rock, in some cases, such as quartz. But in fragmented form that rock is useless as a foundation. The solid rock we have been given, on which to base our faith, is the Eternal Truth of God’s Word and the Promises of Christ. If we depend upon the fragmented “truths” of the world’s wisdom and human philosophies, we are building upon sand. If we trust the Living God and His Truth, we have built upon the Rock.

No Believers will be Lost

In John 6:39, Jesus made an even more specific promise: 39 And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.”

Do you see why that was “more specific?” He said that, not only will HE not “cast” us out, but that He will lose none of us, regardless of cause. Some argue against this, citing the case of Judas Iscariot: but, in John 13:10, 11 Jesus pointed out that Judas had never been “washed”… he was never cleansed. He was not a believer. Judas never was saved, so he did not “lose his salvation:” he never had it to begin with!

In John 15:3, after Judas left, Jesus confirmed this, telling the remaining disciples, “Now ye (plural) are clean through the Word that I have spoken unto you.” Judas had heard all the same words the others had heard. Faith was the difference: they believed, and Judas did not!

Shall Never Perish

But, in our text, here, today, Jesus says perhaps the most powerful of all the promises: He says, 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”

“I give unto them Eternal Life, and they shall never perish!” How long is never? How secure is that promise? It is exactly as secure as the character of the One who made the promise. He is utterly perfect and He is THE Truth, so we depend on His Promises as being the truths upon which we base our faith.

They Follow Me

Yes, the normal result of our faith is that we follow Jesus. But, as we saw in the lives of Lot, and David (not to mention Balaam and Samson,) once a person has become one of God’s flock, Jesus, the Great Shepherd, will not lose a single one of them.

We are eternally secure in His promise. Salvation is a gift, not a reward. The gift is ours by God’s Grace, through faith. But if we want Eternity to hold rewards for us, beyond that initial gift of eternal life, then we need to learn to follow Him, and serve as His ambassadors: His hands and feet; and the light of His Hope, in this dying world.

How can we see that Security?

It is interesting that He concluded, 29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and my Father are one.”

If I see the hand of Jesus cupping us from one side and the hand of the Father from the other, and His final word, “The Father and I are one,” then I can understand that we are safe between the two hands of the almighty God who has redeemed us from sin and is calling us to walk with Him in obedience. We are safe in His hands, for eternity!

Lord Jesus, teach us to trust in Your promise, and to follow You in obedience, and to extend that promise of eternal life to all around us, serving as Your ambassadors, and the light of Your Love in this dark world.

The Authority of Jesus

The Authority of Jesus

I lay down my life that I might take it again.

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 10:17-21

Introduction:

We need to teach scriptures in the context in which they were given. If we look back to John chapter 8, we see that Jesus had healed a man who was born blind. There was quite a flap over it. Some people condemned Jesus for having healed on the Sabbath. Others pointed out that if God wasn’t backing Him, He couldn’t have done it at all, regardless of the day He chose. The healed man testified to that effect, as well, saying that only a man sent from God could have healed him. All the rest of the things in this context occurred on that same day, as extensions of that specific conversation.

The pharisees followed Jesus to argue with Him at length. They claimed that they had good spiritual vision. But Jesus pointed out that because they claimed to see, their sin remained upon them. They were rejecting His Word, not in ignorance, but in rebellion.

Regarding the Shepherd

Jesus then began teaching about His relationship to Israel as a whole, and to the World as a whole. He explained that He came by way of the “Door into the Sheepfold.” We saw that as a reference to the fact that He fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. In that way, He showed His proper “credentials’, and His “pedigree,” as the Savior of the Human Race: the Messiah, and the Shepherd of Israel.

He taught the difference between the Good Shepherd (Himself) and the false Messiahs throughout the ages. He also pointed out the difference between a good human shepherd and a bad one. The good one protects the flock and cares for the Flock. The bad one protects himself and cares for himself, instead of caring for the Flock of God. And Jesus said that He was the Good Shepherd who would lay down His life for the Flock.

Jesus has Authority over Life and Death

17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.

We struggle with the teaching in this passage sometimes. In other passages, we see that God the Father raised God the Son from the Dead. But in this passage, we see that Jesus claimed to have the power (authority) to lay down His life, and to take it up again, Himself.

The real struggle we are having there is with the word “power.” The word in this passage translated “power,” in the King James Bible, is one of several New Testament Greek words which can be correctly translated “power.” But this one is not the more common Greek word, “dunamis,” from which we derive words like “Dynamo” and “Dynamic.” This is the Greek word, “exousia,” which simply means “authority.”

He said that He had been given the authority to lay down His life and take it up again… and that it was by the commandment of His Father that He was to do so. What we are about to see, here, is the full agreement of the Trinity. There is no “competition” or “power-struggle” between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. They are in perfect agreement.

So, when Jesus exercised His authority to lay down His life, and to take it up again, at the commandment of His Father, then the Father would back Him completely.

The Power of God

Please turn in your Bible to Ephesians 1:18- 23

18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,

19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,

21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: 22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

There, in verses 19 and 20, we read that God exerted His power to resurrect Jesus. He first says that God has “exceeding greatness” of power toward believers, to bless and to keep us. But it also says that He exercises that power “according to the working of His mighty power, with which He raised Jesus from the dead.” In modern English, that sounds a bit redundant, and an unnecessary repetition of the word “power.”

Different Words for Power

But it turns out that, in that passage, the first word for “power” is the more common Greek word, “dunamis” which speaks of His sheer ability and strength, while the second was the Greek word, “kratos,”which speaks of His dominion over the entire creation: He is the Eternal King. He is the “Most High.” He is God.

Jesus is God the Son, and during His earthly ministry, He temporarily set aside most of His prerogatives as God, and functioned as a human. But he was given the command of God the Father to “lay down” his life, and to “take it again.”

None of us have been given any such command. But Jesus was authorized by His Father to do exactly that. So, Jesus, God the Son, exercised His authority (as commanded by the Father.) God the Father then exercised His unimaginable power and rulership to confirm and support the authority of Jesus.

The Full Authority of Jesus

So, when we see in other places that humans “killed” Jesus, that was completely true from their perspective, and from the perspective of any human. And in terms of guilt, it was certainly true, as well.. But they could not “take His life” against His will: He had absolute authority over His life, (and, ironically, over theirs as well.) He is the Eternal Judge that each of them—and we—will face.

Furthermore, in the remainder of the passage in Ephesians, we notice that it says God the Father has placed Jesus as the Master over all the universe, far above every other ruler, or authority, including all the angelic host. (That is what those names mean, though I can’t tell you the difference between the various levels of authority named there. However, it also includes the fallen angels.)

And, finally, it says, that He is the Head over all things, to the Church, which is His body. (That means us!) This person, of unimaginable authority and power is the Head of the Church…us!

Results of Authority

Here is a side note: when Jesus was about to ascend back to the Father, He addressed His disciples, saying “All power is given unto Me, in Heaven and in Earth…go ye therefore and teach all nations….” The word, “therefore” means, “on the basis of that.” On the basis of what? Was it on the basis of the fact that “Jesus had power?”

It turns out that the Greek word translated “power,” there, is exactly the same as the one we just read, here, in John 10:18. It is the Greek word “exousia.” We can see in John 10:18 that He has authority over life and death, but in Matthew 28:18, we see that He has ALL authority, in Heaven and in Earth! And He gives His commands on the basis of that authority!

Division:

19 There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. 20 And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? 21 Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?

There has always been a fairly sharp “division of opinion” regarding Jesus. There are those who see Him for who He is, and choose to worship Him and obey Him, and trust in Him for all things. And there are the “others.”

Circumventing the Judge

Some simply ignore Him, wanting nothing to do with Him, because they do not understand that ignoring Him is not one of the options. Several years ago, I asked an elderly man how he would respond if God were to ask him, “Why should I allow you into Heaven?” He said, “I wouldn’t answer Him at all! I would just go around Him and go my own way!

It was obvious that he wasn’t thinking clearly: one cannot just “go around God, and go one’s own way.” But the reality is that most people are thinking that, though usually not verbalizing it. They assume that if they refuse to address the matter, then, they have not really “rejected” Him, they just circumvented Him. But it is rejection just the same.

Resenting God

There are others who resent His Authority, even if they agree with much of His justice. They want to be their own master…and, as it turns out, that is also “not one of the options.” There is only one true “Master” of all things, because He is the sovereign God over all the Universe.

He is the One from whom all the Universe emanated, in the act of creation. He spoke it all into existence, including all the material and immaterial creation. Bodies, spirits, souls, inanimate objects…all of it. And, as He is the Creator, He is the only Supreme authority. His authority supersedes all other authority. And, as sinners, we resent that, because we don’t want anyone “telling us what to do.”

Hating God

There are also those who allow their resentment to grow into an open hatred for God. In reality, it is only a “full-bloom” version of the general disdain for God that the whole human race tends toward. In Psalm 14, God says that there is no one who seeks after God. That is repeated in Romans 3:9-12. Most people would deny harboring hatred toward God, but the fact is that the lesser forms of rebellion are the same noxious “weed” at an earlier stage of development.

Repentance

The group of people about which we are reading also included those who said, “He can’t be demon-possessed: He doesn’t talk like one possessed of a demon, and besides, we just saw him heal a blind man! A demon couldn’t do that!” Bear in mind that these were part of the same group who had been arguing withJesus. But these were starting to realize that He just might be exactly who He said He was! His words and His actions matched one another. He was acting in a manner consistent with His words.

It seems that they were about to change their mind, regarding Him. We call that “Repentance.” The Greek word usually translated “repent” is “metanoia,” and it literally means, “change your mind.” They were repenting of their earlier opinions about Jesus. That is the beginning of change, the beginning of repentance, that could turn into rebirth!

What about Believers?

Repentance is also needed in believer’s lives. Each of us has areas in our lives that are not in agreement with God. We are saved sinners, and we still have our sin-nature. So, when the Holy Spirit alerts us to behaviors, attitudes, or thought patterns that are dishonoring to God, we have two choices. We can resist, or we can repent. We can change our minds regarding the things God has asked that we abandon. Or, we can attempt to circumvent the Holy Spirit: to ignore His prompting, and just “go our own way.” (Honestly, folks: that really is “not one of the options!”)

What about us?

We have seen His total Authority and His absolute Holiness. We have seen the fact that God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are in complete agreement with the commands and teachings of God the Son (Jesus.) So, we simplyneed to drop our resistance, and choose repentance.

We need to change our minds regarding our unbelief and we need to learn to trust Him: We need to change our minds about our resentment and our rebellion, and learn to obey Him. We need to change our minds regarding our self-centeredness, and pride, and learn to walk in humility, as Jesus walked, and reach out to those around us, as the ambassadors of Christ. That is our assigned job, as Christians.

Lord Jesus, work repentance in each of our hearts. Teach us to actively trust You to lead us by Your Word. Teach us to look for Your fingerprints in our lives, and to rejoice at the work You do in our hearts and lives. Lead us as Your flock, and use us as Your ambassadors. Make us the men and women of God You have called us to be.

Jesus said, “I Am the Good Shepherd”

I Am the Good Shepherd

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 10:10-16

Introduction:

Last week we discovered how we are to enter into a relationship with God, “through the door of the sheep.” We noted that it was not the same as the door through which Jesus entered as the Shepherd. He entered by “the door into the sheepfold,” which is the door of fulfilled prophecy. We enter through Him by His Grace, and through Faith. He is the Door of the Sheep.

Jesus said, “I AM the Door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” And we found that we are to enter through Him by means of Faith in His shed blood.

But we walk with Him, “going in and out, and finding pasture,” living in the world, and finding our sustenance and protection in Him, by means of Faith and Obedience. We sing the hymn, “Trust and Obey,” and as we study our Bibles, we find that that hymn is true! There truly is “…no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to Trust and Obey.” So, Who is it that we are to trust and obey? It is Jesus! He is the Good Shepherd.

The people had difficulty with the idea that Jesus entered by the “Door to the sheepfold.” Now they were struggling to understand the idea that they were to enter in “through Him.”

But the next thing Jesus told them, was that He himself is the Good Shepherd. We need to explore what that means.

John 10:10-16

10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. 11I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.

12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.

16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

What defines the Good Shepherd?

When asking what defines a good employee, a good job, or a good automobile, we are usually given a fairly vague list of positive characteristics, But, in discussing those ideas, there usually turns out to be a fairly detailed list of things to avoid. There are negative things to look for in a résumé, neagtive things to look for in a company, or in an automobile, all to be avoided if possible.

When we begin to ask, “What makes a good shepherd?” God gives us both the positive list (in detail) and the negative list (also in detail.) We can clearly see not only that He Himself is that Good Shepherd, (the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd,) but also see what constitutes a good human shepherd in the local assemblies. We see bad shepherds in contrast with God, and we see good human shepherds exhorted to “get on with the job” of tending to the flock. And He explains what that means.

Bad Shepherds

Jesus began by listing the motives and behavior of false teachers, false prophets: bad shepherds. He said that the thieves (who did not enter by the “door into the sheepfold,” which is the fulfilled prophecies) came with evil motives: they came to steal, to kill and to destroy. Ironically, they don’t even have to be “bad people,” to have those motives.

Ann and I knew a pastor who outwardly seemed a fine pastor: He was kind, and friendly and hardworking, and very well educated. But it turned out that he did not believe the Bible is the Word of God, and he taught others to doubt it, too. He was stealing the Grace upon which people needed to rest, and killing unbelievers by convincing them there was no real need for a Savior. Finally, he was destroying the faith of weak believers by teaching them that “much of the Bible is simply mythology.” Jesus specifically warned against that kind of man.

The Contrast

He contrasted His own behavior with theirs, saying first that His motive is different: He came “that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” If you want life, Jesus is where to find it.  Then He said, “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” He said that the hireling, (someone who sees the ministry as “just a job”) is not committed to the flock. If trouble comes, they will not protect the flock, but rather will protect themselves.

We knew a man like that, as well: He had made a serious error on his taxes prior to our ever having known him. But when he got into financial trouble, because of it, he threatened to “Split the church” if we did not bail him out. He had zero commitment to the flock. But Jesus said that He Himself is the ultimate “Committed Shepherd” who lays down His life for the Sheep.

So, short of actually “dying for the flock,” (which is seldom required of pastors,) what else is the human shepherd supposed to be doing? The responsibilities of the human shepherds are laid out most clearly in Ezekiel 34:1-11, where (just as Jesus did) God first shows the behavior of some “bad shepherds,” and then He contrasts it with His Own behavior.

Ezekiel 34

1And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?

Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered.

My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them. Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord; As I live, saith the Lord God, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock;

Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord; 10 Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them. 11 For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.

Seven Responsibilities of The Shepherds

  1. Feed the Flock
  2. Strengthen the diseased
  3. Heal the Sick
  4. Bind up that which is broken
  5. Bring again that which was driven away
  6. Seek the Lost
  7. Protect from predators (implied in verses 5 and 8…but spelled out in Acts 20:27-30)

God goes on, in the rest of Ezekiel 34, to say how He will take over the job of the shepherd and dismiss those shepherds who were failing to attend to the needs of the flock. Notice, too, that the shepherds in question, were the leaders of Israel, but especially the spiritual leaders.

The “healing” involved (v. 4) is not physical healing, as, except the few prophets through whom God chose to show His authority, the civil and religious leaders of Israel never had the authority to heal diseases of any kind. And, the true Shepherd of Israel is God the Son: Jesus, our Great Shepherd.

The Shepherd of Israel

In Psalm 23 we see the LORD described as the Shepherd, and His behavior toward His flock is described: He is said to “lead us by still waters” (safe places to drink water,) and to “make us to lie down in green pastures. (I am told that Sheep usually only lie down after they are done eating.) And; He restores our souls. So, his primary behavior toward the sheep is to see to their sustenance and their safety…and to meet their spiritual need for a Savior and a Shepherd.

Isaiah 40:11 gives a picture of the Shepherd tenderly caring for His Flock. “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the lambs in His arms, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead them that are with young.” And Jesus is inviting us to be that flock. We have entered in by faith, but to benefit by the Shepherd, we have to hear Him and follow Him.

What about His Flock?

Looking ahead, in John 10:27, 28, He says, His sheep will be known by Him and will hear His voice and will follow Him. He says, “I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish!” Thehuman Shepherds should be able to confirm that truth, teaching confidently because of the clear promise of God. If they can’t, then they do not believe His Word.

The more we learn about Jesus and the more we see Jesus in the Old Testament, we begin to see that Jesus was always the “Shepherd of Israel.” (Psalm 80:1) When Isaiah says, “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd ….”—it is talking about Jesus! He is the one who cared for them and He is the one who cares for us! In Matthew 23:37-39, we can see that it was always Jesus, down through the ages, sustaining Israel, and grieving over them, as His lost sheep.

So, when Jesus said (John 10:16) 16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd…” we can see that He was referring to the Gentiles: this is the beginning of God’s fulfillment of His promises to the Gentiles! This is where we come into the picture! Not that the Gentiles would become Jews, but that both Jewish and Gentile believers would be joined in one new Creation; the Church: the Bride of Christ.

What does a Good Human Shepherd Look like?

A good human Shepherd seeks to feed the flock on God’s Word, as that is what God has defined as good “sheep food.” This is the ground rule: feed the Flock on God’s Word!

  1. He Feeds the Flock on God’s Word (not opinions, politics, or philosophy: the Bible!
  2. He seeks to strengthen the believers who have been weakened, either by neglect or by wrong teaching: how? Again, by the Word of God!
  3. He seeks to correct the spiritual illnesses caused by wrong teaching, wrong thinking, and wrong understanding of the Word of God, through sound teaching.
  4. He helps people overcome the spiritual wounds they have received in life and to grow strong, through faith in God’s promises and His wise counsel.
  5. He understands that wrong social interaction within the flock can drive believers away from a church: so,  he seeks to bring back those who were driven away, and to quench the unrest, unkindness, strife or bitterness that drove them away.
  6. He seeks the lost, and offers them the same things Jesus offered: Eternal life, “freely bestowed on all who believe.” Salvation, by Grace, through Faith. He helps the new believers grow by feeding them wisely, so that they are strengthened against the temptations of the World and against the ravages of Satan’s influence. He teaches the whole counsel of God’s Word.
  7. He seeks to thus defend the flock against predators, the false teachers who have plagued the church since the very beginning of the church age. When false teachers attempt to divide and destroy the flock, he is quick to “confront the Wolf,” so as to safeguard the flock. He does not turn a blind eye to predators.

He is in constant fellowship with The Chief Shepherd (Jesus) and with the other human shepherds in the flock, not seeking preeminence for himself. He seeks to raise up faithful men and women to serve God with their lives and to imitate the Great Shepherd in all things.

How do we find such people?

There is no way we could recognize these traits in any person who we don’t know very well. No letter of recommendation, or well-crafted résumé, could ever hope to replace getting to know a person well enough to see all these things in action, as a living reality. That is why we are told to raise up leaders from within the church, not to call for résumés. (2nd Timothy 2:2; Titus 1:5.)

We see all of these characteristics and behaviors demonstrated flawlessly in Jesus, and the longer each of us knows Him, the more we see the perfection of His character. A human shepherd will never be perfect. Personal humility and a clear recognition of one’s own shortcomings and flaws go a long way toward overcoming those flaws, as the human shepherd, pastor, elder, submits himself to Jesus and allows the Lord to live through him, thus overcoming the natural weaknesses of his own humanity.

How Should We Respond?

On a personal level, as individuals, our primary goal is to develop and maintain a proper relationship with Jesus, the Chief Shepherd. He said, “My sheep hear my voice…and they follow me.” That is where we need to start: hear His voice, coming from the written Word of God, and follow Him, in faith and obedience. Then He is free to work in each of our lives, and to build His church as He promised.

Lord Jesus, quicken our hearts to hear Your Voice in the Scriptures, and to Follow the Leading of Your Holy Spirit, so as to learn to walk with You in obedience. Raise each of us up as Your true disciples, and raise up shepherds from within Your flock so that the church will be strong, shining for You in this dark world, offering Life to those who are dying.

“I AM the Door!” The Door of the Sheep:

I am the Door of the Sheep: “I AM the Door!

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 10:6-9

Introduction:

This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.

Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.

I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.

Jesus had just described himself as the true Shepherd who entered by way of the “Door into the Sheepfold,” presenting Himself to the doorkeeper, “the Porter,” as the true Shepherd, evidenced by the fact that he entered by the correct door.

We saw that the door into the sheepfold represented the fulfillment of prophecy; Jesus fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies regarding His genealogy, His place of birth, the nature of His life and ministry, and, eventually, His manner of death and His resurrection, specifically after three days and three nights. We saw, in fact, that the fulfilled prophecies, (in many cases supernaturally fulfilled) collectively, are the Credentials of God, and the Pedigree of the Messiah.

Another Door

Now Jesus says, “I am the Door of the Sheep.”  Notice He did not say, I am the “door into the Sheepfold.”

Jesus entered by the “Door into the Sheepfold:” the fulfillment of prophecy…all of it!

But the Sheep do not enter by that “door.” We enter through Jesus. Jesus had a very high “bar” to pass in order to enter as the Shepherd. Ours is easy: Jesus calls and we enter by faith, through Him, as the Door of the Sheep.

The invitation is open: “I am the Door: if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture.” We are to enter through Jesus, and then walk with Him. Remember, in verses 3 and 4, He said that He leads His sheep out. (Out where? Out into everyday life!) We still have to live in this world: Jesus wants us to walk with Him, and He will lead us to where He wants us, and feed us there.

Jesus said “I am the Door of the Sheep”

Perhaps it is important to note that the invitation is not only “inclusive,” in the sense that “whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” But it is also “exclusive,” in the sense that only those who believe in Him, placing their trust in His shed blood, can enter through this Door! And there is no other door.

Please turn in your Bible to Romans 3:25. In Romans 3:25… (Speaking of Jesus, he says,) 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood,”

Paul makes a quiet point, which is echoed all through the scripture, but which is “spelled out” here: Jesus satisfied the Righteousness and Holiness of God (That is what “propitiation” means: “satisfaction of God’s Righteousness”)…But how? It becomes a working reality through faith in His Blood.

There is nothing we can “do,” on our own, to seize upon His sacrifice, nor to “earn” God’s Grace. Grace is specifically unearned favor. What Jesus accomplished at the Cross was to open to ALL people, the way into God’s presence. But the way to enter in is by faith in His blood. Not by adherence to His commands, but by faith in His Blood.

Faith is how we enter in, and how we are saved!

Obedience is how we walk in fellowship with the living God.

By a New and Living Way

(Please turn in your Bible to Hebrews chapter ten, verses 19 and 20.)

In Hebrews 10:19, 20 we see this truth laid out in very stark, plain terms.

19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;

Take note of several key words and phrases:

  • Brethren…enter…into the Holiest…by the blood of Jesus
  • Through the veil…His flesh.

Remember that the veil in the Temple, which blocked the way to the Holy of Holies, was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died, thus opening the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies. Here in Hebrews 10:20, we see that the veil was a “picture” or a “prefiguring” of Jesus’s physical body: That is, until His body was offered as a sacrifice, and His Blood was shed, the way to approach God was still closed.

At His death, the way to approach God was opened. But we still enter in through that one way: “through the veil…His flesh.” And we enter in by one means: “by the blood of Jesus.”

We are still saved by Grace (it is never something we can earn.) and we are still saved through faith (this is the means by which we lay hold of the promise: we believe it!) But the faith is specifically to be in Jesus’s shed blood, as we saw in Romans 3:25.

What was “New and Living” about this “Way?”

We (all of us) enter in often, continually… via a living Savior; whereas, in the Old Covenant, only the High Priest could enter, and only once a year, and always with the blood of a freshly sacrificed lamb. And the sacrifice could not take away sin. Only Jesus can take away sin.

Look at Hebrews 10:4, while we are still in Hebrews: It says that it was not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin. Animal sacrifices cannot take away sin: they never could. They provided a temporary covering, through faith, looking forward to the Cross. But when John the Baptist introduced Jesus, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the Sin of the World!” That is new!

How many “doors” are there? Two Gates:

Another word for a “door” is “Gate.” Jesus pointed out two gates, in Matthew 7:13, 14.

Matthew 7:13, 14 “13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

The Narrow Gate

The Narrow gate is Jesus, and His blood sacrifice. It is wide enough to include anyone who is willing to trust in Him for salvation, but it excludes all who try to enter in by some other means.

We can see only one name on this gate: there is only room for one. Acts 4:12 says, “neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved.” That was Peter, speaking to the Jews, regarding the Name of Jesus. Philippians 2:10, 11 says that a time is coming when “at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess…to the glory of God the Father.”

Jesus: That is the Name on the Narrow Gate.

The Broad Gate

But the Broad Gate has lots of room, and the name of every other “way” is posted there.

Going back to John 10:8, we see that Jesus said all the other “saviors” who parade themselves as the “way” to God, or who claim that “all ways lead to the same God,” are “thieves and robbers.”

Now, that sounds harsh, and judgmental, doesn’t it? But you want to remember that this is Jesus, God in the Flesh, warning us that there are enemies in the world and that the result of following those enemies can be eternal loss.

Theives and Robbers!

There was a fellow named Jim Jones, back in 1974, who claimed to be a savior, but he taught communism, and by 1978, he had moved 900 of his followers to Guyana where he forced them all to commit suicide, and those who resisted were shot to death. They had entered in by the broad gate, following someone who specifically had rejected Christianity: Jim Jones threw his Bible down, publicly saying, “You don’t need the Bible! You need me!” And they all died!

There was another fellow, before him, who called himself “Father Divine” and claimed to be God. There have been hundreds down through the years, who have made similar claims. Some were famous, like Sun Myung Moon, and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Others were less famous, like Roy Masters, of Oregon, who claimed he “could do no wrong.” But all of their names comfortably fit on the “Broad Gate.”

Some are not even names of people, but rather, of organizations, churches, creeds, secret societies, clubs, world views, etc. That is really not an important difference: Either you ARE placing your faith in Jesus, and His shed blood; trusting in His completed work at the Cross, or you are not! If you are not, then you are attempting to enter by the “Broad Gate.” And there are countless names there!

But Jesus is the only name on the Narrow Gate…He is the “Door of the Sheep.”

“Oh, but, that’s Narrowminded!” (But, is it?)

This is a point of contention to a lot of unbelievers, as they immediately begin to complain that this is an unreasonable restriction; it’s very “narrowminded,” and that “all the millions of other ‘religious people’ can’t all be wrong!”

Unfortunately, truth is not determined by a vote: things either are true, or they are not. As an example: all of us depend on oxygen, every moment we live. No one sees fit to rebel against that, or to complain that they ought to be able to live in a pure helium environment, or any such thing they choose.

Embrace Reality!

We are aware of many things that are “just the way it is,” where arguing doesn’t help. Some such things we cheerfully accept, others regretfully. We appreciate gravity, most of the time, but we don’t like that fact that we all die. Yet both are universally true. We have to embrace reality!

Jesus truly is God’s only provision for the salvation of the Human race. If you think that is a “bad thing,” you can argue with Him about it, if you want. But do bear in mind that He doesn’t “owe” us anything! Throughout our history as a Race, we have consistently rebelled against God, our Creator, at every step of the way. We only get worse, not better, and we still think that though God provides our very lives, and all our sustenance, we don’t need or want Him to have anything to do with directing our lives. We want to be our own boss!

God’s Choice

So, the amazing thing, to me, is that He chose to offer us His Grace at all. It does not surprise me that there isn’t a “grab-bag” of different ways to approach Him, or a “smorgasbord” from which we can select the things we want, and reject the rest. God is Holy! He is the Ruler! There is no other God, and He does not owe us a thing! It is amazing that He offered us anything at all! But it leaves us with a choice.

Our Choices

We can choose to be eternally safe with Him, trusting in His promise, or we can choose to be eternally separated from Him, in our rebellion and unbelief. Those are the choices.

Jesus said, I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.

He does not “demand” that you do anything: He only invites you to enter.

In John 14:6, however,  Jesus makes a claim, that we must not ignore: Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.”

So, when you (or anyone you know) is making that choice, it is important to know that Jesus said “no other way will lead you to God.” You can accept that, or reject it: but that is what He said.

Sebsequent Choices

Once you choose to believe, and enter in by the Door of the Sheep (Jesus) you are eternally His, and He invites you to walk with Him, in faith and obedience, reaping the blessing of that ongoing relationship. Sheep need the Shepherd: In the next verses we will see how Jesus presents Himself as that Good Shepherd.

But for today, we will stop with just knowing the choice that must be made. Some of you have sought to share your faith with others. Perhaps these things we have read today will help you to do so.

Lord Jesus, open our hearts and minds to the urgency of the Gospel, so we can see the vital need to make good choices, and to begin by choosing Life in Christ. Then help us to make choices that honor You and that cause us to shine as lights in this dark world. Glorify Yourself through Your Church.

The Shepherd Enters by the Door into the Sheepfold

The Shepherd Enters by the Door

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 10:1-6

Introduction:

John chapter nine ended with a statement of Judgment. John chapter ten offers two of the “I AM” statements. The first two messages go together, but they use the same word in two different ways: In verses 1-6 Jesus said that the true shepherd enters by the “door into the sheepfold,” and He refers to a “porter” who opens the door.

1 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2 But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. 4 And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 5 And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.

6 This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.

Differing Terms

But in verses 7-10, Jesus said that He Himself is the “Door of the Sheep.” And in verses 11-18, He affirms that He is the Good Shepherd. So, in order to access the meaning, we have to ask some questions.

Evidently, the “Door into the Sheepfold” is not the same as the “Door of the Sheep.” But perhaps the first question would be “What is the Door into the Sheepfold?” and the second goes right along with it: “Who is the Porter?”

What is the Door into the Sheepfold?

Jesus is about to declare Himself to be the Good Shepherd, in verse eleven…and that means He must have entered by way of the “Door into the Sheepfold.” It also means that there must be another way to come in, declaring oneself to be the Shepherd, and that whoever comes by another means (however many there are) must be identified as a thief and a robber.

How might one declare himself to be the Messiah, the “Shepherd of Israel?”

The few times when someone claimed to be the promised deliverer, they obviously did not measure up: They fell short one way or another. That continues still today. There have been self-anointed “messiahs” of every stripe, every so often, for centuries. I looked online to see how many have made that claim, and found that at least fifty people apart from Jesus Himself, have made such a claim, in the last two thousand years.

Did they Enter by the Door?

One thing these fifty all had in common was the fact that they did not fulfill the prophecies regarding the Messiah. There were many clear (and many rather obscure, but still valid) predictions as to the coming Messiah: And, they all had to be fulfilled in the same person. (I have been told that there are over three hundred such prophecies in the Old Testament.)

Not a Smorgasbord

God’s prophecies did not constitute a “smorgasbord” from which a claimant could “select as many as he could manage,” and thus proclaim himself the “anointed one.” They all had to be true on the same person! Here are just a few:

  1. Place of birth: Bethlehem Ephrata (Micah 5:2)
    • But He was also “called out of Egypt” (Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15) and called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:23)
  2. Lineage:
    • Descendant of Abraham (Genesis 22:18)
    • Descendant of Jacob (Numbers 24:17)
    • Descendant of Judah (Genesis 49:10)
    • Descendant of David, (2nd Samuel 7:12-13; Luke 1:32) but
      1. Not of the line of Coniah (“Jehoiachin.” Jeremiah 22:24-30, cp Matthew 1:12)
    • Son of God (Luke 1:35)
  3. Virgin Born (Seed of Woman Genesis 3:15, and Isaiah 7:14)
  4. Born into poverty, arrives as the King, riding upon a donkey (Zechariah 9:9)
  5. Sinless Life (Isaiah 53:9)
  6. Heals the sick, set free the captives, proclaims the Gospel (Isaiah 61:1, 2; Isaiah 35:4-6)
  7. Healed the Blind, Healed lepers (Psalm 103:3…”all their diseases!”)
  8. Crucified; hands and feet pierced (Psalm 22:1-18)
  9. Died with the criminals, (Isaiah 53:9) but
    • Buried in the tomb of the rich, (Isaiah 53:9)
  10. Stayed dead for three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17; Matthew 12:39, 40)
  11. Was resurrected (Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 53:10-12)

“Entering by the Door”

Notice that very few of these could be “self-fulfilling prophecies.” No one but God has a choice in their own place of birth, nor the gene pool from which he will spring. But God predicted, thousands of years in advance, the source of the Messiah…and protected his forbears so that the promised Messiah could arrive on time, in the right location, and into the right family.

Seed of the Woman

Clear back in Genesis 3, He predicted the birth of one who would be (specifically) the Seed of Woman (not of Adam, Abraham, or whomever…) and would undo the damage of the Serpent.

Jesus was not only the “Seed of the Woman,” in the sense that it was a truly miraculous birth, without a human father: He was also specifically called out as being God in the FleshImmanuel. (Isaiah 7:14, Luke 1:35; Matthew 1:23)

Place of Birth

A human cannot choose his own place of birth. God predicted Bethlehem Ephrata, in Micah 5:2. But Joseph and Mary did not live in Bethlehem, of Judea. They lived in Nazareth, of Galilee. So, God provided that they should be forced to take a “road-trip” at just the right time so that Mary’s firstborn should be born in Bethlehem. The Caesar decreed that everyone must travel to their ancestral home, to complete a census and pay a tax. So, they got to Bethlehem at just the right time.

Genealogy

The Messiah had to be the Son of David, but could not be the son of Jeconiah… “Coniah”… “Jehoiachin.” If we read the genealogy in Matthew 1, we find that Joseph was of that cursed lineage. Joseph could not be king, and if Jesus was his son, then Jesus could not be king either. But Jesus was Virgin-Born of a woman who was also of David’s lineage, but not that of Coniah. He had the legal tie through Joseph, but the blood tie through his mother, Mary.

Other Circumstances

His parents fled to Egypt to escape Herod. And God called them back after Herod died. So, God had literally “called His Son out of Egypt.” And as they returned, they moved back to Nazareth, where Jesus grew to adulthood, and he was called a Nazarene, thus fulfilling one more prophecy. (How many of these prophecies, so far, look like something a person could “self-fulfill?” Remember; Jesus was still a toddler when all this happened.)

Many later prophecies were fulfilled in a way that might tempt us to say, “Well, see, it says right here, that he did this ‘to fulfill prophecy.’ That means he was fulfilling them on purpose!” (Well, sure; but I could want to fulfill prophecy, and want to heal blind people, or lepers, all my life, but I can’t! I just don’t have the power or authority to do it!) Jesus did so to prove His authority, and His power, and to fulfill prophecy so that no one could say, “Hold it! He is not doing what God said He would do!”

He did exactly what God said He would do! He entered by the Door!

But, Who is the Porter?

I remember being taught that the “Porter” was John The Baptist, because he opened the way before the Lord, and pronounced Him to be the Lamb of God who would take away the Sin of the World. And, in a sense, he did function as the “Porter:” the Forerunner who announced the coming of the Messiah, and “Opened the Door for the King,” saying “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make His paths straight!”

On the other hand, many teachers have (correctly) argued that apart from the Holy Spirit, John could do nothing…so, the Holy Spirit must be the true Porter, not only making the Way, but opening the hearts of many in Israel. I can accept that, but John at least made some official announcements, pointing to Jesus as the True Messiah, and the Shepherd of Israel.

Other possibilities

Some have even suggested that Moses was the Porter, as the prophecies in the Torah all pointed to Jesus, and the Law forced the realization of our need for a Savior. I don’t see that as a logical answer, though. There isn’t a good enough connection. (And some teachers try to say, “…it really doesn’t matter!” But if it was important enough for Jesus to say it, it’s important!)

However, God is clearly the ultimate “Porter,” as He works through people, and manifests Himself by His Holy Spirit. But none of the “Potential Porters” listed above would have opened the door to the “wrong person.” The Door was the prophetic record. Fulfilled prophecies, throughout the Bible, are the Credentials of God. They constitute the Pedigree and the Divine authority of Christ. And whoever we think the “Porter” may be, He only opens to the One who comes via fulfilled Prophecy and comes in the Name of the LORD.

Jesus came, fulfilling those requirements, and He proved who He was throughout His life.

Calling the Sheep

The next verse says that, when the Porter opens to the Shepherd, the Shepherd begins calling out His sheep.

“…and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. 4 And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 5 And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.”

6 This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.

I can see how the people might not understand this parable. I have a hard time with it myself. Part of the problem, for me, is that I am not a “shepherd in the Middle East.”

Knowing the Sheep

I saw a video about a Palestinian shepherd boy. The interviewer asked (through an interpreter) how many sheep, or goats, perhaps, he actually had. The child cheerfully shrugged and admitted that he didn’t know. (The interpreter explained that he probably did not know how to count.) But the next question was, “If you don’t know how many you have in your flock, how will you be able to tell if one is missing?”

The child responded incredulously, as if the question was ridiculous: “Because I know them all! I would know immediately if one were missing!” He saw that the answer was obvious. We do not see it as obvious, because we can barely tell one sheep from another. We have never learned to know them as individuals and care enough about them as individuals. If we did, then we would know when something is wrong, or when one is missing. But that is how the Shepherd knows us, as His sheep!

The Sheep Follow the Shepherd’s Voice

Two friends of mine, at separate times, told how they had taken a trip to Israel, and each of them had been in a taxi or some other vehicle, waiting while two flocks of sheep crossed their road in opposite directions at an intersection: Both related how they felt dismayed, thinking the two flocks would be mixed so badly that they would be hours getting them separated.

But both watched in amazement as the two shepherds cordially greeted one another, but went about their business, leading their respective flocks through the other flock. They just kept calling, and their sheep knew their respective voices and utterly ignored the voice of the other shepherd. The flocks flowed through one another, with hardly any resistance, and became two separate flocks again, as they parted.

Follow your Shepherd

Jesus calls us, and we are expected to know His voice, and to follow Him. He came by the Authority of His Word. He came by the Door of fulfilled prophecy. We are to listen to His voice, through His Word and in Prayer. 

2nd Peter 1:19 tells us that the Written Word of God is to be our “light” until the Lord returns. God says that is how we learn to “know His voice,” and not be led astray. We want to learn to know His voice to the extent that the voice of a stranger, a false shepherd, would cause us to flee. We must not follow the leading of those who do not “Enter by the Door:” …those who fail to lead by the Word of God.

Human Shepherds Have the Same Responsibility

Notice, too, that, just as Jesus had to fulfill all the prophecies, the human shepherds He sends have to be preaching the whole Word of God. It all has to fit together. As we said, earlier, this is not a “smorgasbord” where we can choose what portions we believe. It either is God’s Word, in its entirety, or it isn’t!

Teach the Whole Counsel of God

In Acts 20:27, speaking to the Ephesian Elders, whom he had trained, Paul pointed out that he had faithfully preached “all the counsel of God.” He had treated all of the Word of God honestly and had not just preached private “hobby-horse” doctrines. He had taught the elders, to whom he was speaking, to see God’s Word as a unit… as a continuum of truth, beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation, but with one core theme: the Person of Christ.

As a shepherd, I take this warning very seriously: I do not have the freedom to supplant God’s Word with my own opinions. If I don’t know what His Word means, I say so. If I have ideas about what it might mean, but no real assurance that my interpretation is correct, I say so. But, I do not just “skip” passages, unless there is a specific reason, and I will be coming back to complete what I skipped. I want to faithfully teach the whole counsel of God.

The Flock is to Listen for the Voice of the Shepherd, as Well

So, we see that Jesus has warned us to look carefully at the credentials and behavior of the persons proposing to teach. Are they “entering by the door to the sheepfold?” Or are they coming some other route, that seems attractive, but is not in keeping with the Word of God?

When we first heard His voice (John 10:27, 28) inviting us to faith, and we followed Him in faith, Jesus gave us Eternal Life as a gift—and we can never lose it: He promises that we shall never perish.

Called to Follow

But we are called to follow him in faith as a daily way of life, as well. Our lives are to be transformed by His Word. It says, “he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.”

Each of us, individually, is called to walk with Jesus, reading His Word, praying, learning from our teachers, but always, listening for His Voice.

May the Lord help us to Hear Him clearly!

Lord Jesus, focus our attention on Your Word, by Your Spirit, so that we can follow in Your Steps. Teach us to avoid the teaching and temptations of the World, and to grow in strength as your disciples, to be your hands and feet and voice, shining Your Light, in this dark world.