Up, Up, but Not Away: The Ascension of Jesus

When really big changes take place – the ones that are destined to transform the world we live in – we often don’t notice.  We are unaware of their scope and power.  When the first Ford rolled off an assembly line in 1913, some people thought it ingenious, some thought it a novelty, but only a few recognized it as an era-changing event. The same could be said of the first mobile phone call made in 1973 by a Motorola engineer as he walked down the streets of New York City. Or one might mention the Internet Protocol Suite that was introduced in 1982.  It transformed the computer networks of a few eggheads into the world wide web. These were transforming events, but at the time most people missed their significance.

A transition of even greater import occurred during the days after the resurrection of Jesus.  St. Luke chronicles the story in the first chapter of Acts.  Look at verse 1: “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach.”

That former book, part one of Luke’s two-volume history of Jesus and the beginning of the Christian era, is in our Bibles.  We know it as the Gospel According to Luke.  It begins with the birth of John the Baptist and goes on to chronicle the entire life of Jesus on earth.  But here in the opening page of volume two, Luke writes that his first volume only dealt with what Jesus “began to do and to teach.”  By implication, this second volume (our book of Acts), is about what Jesus continued to do and teach after the ascension. 

Jesus didn’t become dormant after the ascension.  He continued to do and continued to teach, but under a different paradigm (and it is important we recognize that).  He is still doing and still teaching, even today, but the way he does so has undergone a significant transition.

In verse three Luke says, “After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”  The words, “he showed himself” translate a Greek word that means he “stood beside them.”  After his resurrection he stood beside them even when they were unaware of his presence.  Only occasionally did he (still verse 3), “appear to them.” (The Greek word is optonomai, from which we get our word optometry.)

When he did appear to them, he spoke about the kingdom of God.  Sometimes we get the idea that after the crucifixion the kingdom of God was no longer a relevant issue.  But Jesus thought it was, even after his crucifixion and resurrection. The kingdom theme begins in the Old Testament and runs right through the New.  Here in the very first paragraph of Acts we find Jesus talking about it, and if we skip ahead to the close of this history book, we will find that Paul is still talking about it in the very last sentence. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus opened the kingdom of God to us, and it remains open.

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You Are the Man – But God Is Still God

2 Samuel 12:1-7 (listening time, approx. 27 minutes)
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Do Not Judge Me by the Enemies I Have Made

Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, “I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made.” He may have drawn on the Arabian adage, “Judge a man by the reputation of his enemies.” It seems people have long defined themselves by their enemies.

In today’s climate, the part played by enemies in self-definition has expanded, and that is not good.  Jesus did not say that people would be known by their enemies, but “by their fruits,” which is a more accurate gauge of character. Besides that, if people define themselves by their enemies, they will always need enemies, very clear-cut enemies, and the more hostile the better.

That is where we find ourselves now. Enemies, whether political, ideological, or theological, are the instrument by which people are identified. And when we define ourselves by our enemies, the desire to demonize others and thereby sanctify ourselves is just too tempting to resist.

Americans stumble when they don’t have an enemy. They don’t know what to do without one. After the Revolutionary War, America needed an enemy. Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans wanted to hold on to Britain, but Hamilton, Madison, and the Federalists thought that France better fit the bill. When both France and England became friends, Native Americans became the nemesis.

When decades of expansionism brought America wealth, power, and prestige around the world, she looked for an enemy closer to home. The new enemy lived on the other side of the Mason-Dixon line. As Pogo of comic strip fame put it, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Before the Second World War ended, we had already found a new enemy in the Soviets. They had been allies in the war (rather like the French had been allies in the War of Independence), but were now the enemy to truth, justice, and the American way. For forty years, the Soviet Union filled that important role.

But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world changed, and we needed a new enemy. We quickly found one in Islamic Extremists. And so began the war on terror. It was no coincidence that George W. Bush’s approval rating skyrocketed within weeks of the attacks on 9/11.

Today, we are again hunting for a worthy adversary. North Korea has been hard for most Americans to take seriously. Iran is too provincial. China is an adversary that can keep us occupied for generations, but unless a Chinese version of Khrushchev threatens to bury us, they are unlikely to reach archenemy status. Until such a time, we will look for our enemies closer to home.

Conservatives found one in Barack Obama in 2008. Having an enemy empowered Republicans and gave them the energy they needed to take back the White House. In 2016, Donald Trump gave progressives an enemy extraordinaire, a role which Mr. Trump seemed to relish. Now Joe Biden is the enemy célèbre.

In the Bible, the psalmist longed to be delivered from his enemies. I’m not so sure that we do. We sense that we would be lost without them.

Jesus introduced his followers to a different way. He instructed them to love their enemies, not be defined by them—a command that was no less controversial when he first spoke it than it is today. But if we love our enemies, how will others know who we are? How will we?

The time has come to follow a better way, the Jesus way: to be identified by what we are for and who we are with rather than by what we oppose and who we are against. To put it another way, it is time to be identified by who is our friend rather than by who is our enemy.

Jesus told his disciples, “I have called you friends…” This extraordinary idea is at the heart of Christian theology. People are defined – formed, shaped, and finally judged – by who their friend is. So, I do not ask, like FDR, to be judged by the enemies I have made but by the Friend who has made me and loves me.

(First published by Gannet.)

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Uniquely His: The White Stone of the Revelation

What do people call you? A name, nickname, or maybe just, “Hey, you!” Or maybe “Mom” or “Grandma.” What will God call you – sinner or saint?

What other people call you matters little. What God calls you matters a great deal. One name God has for you, if you have put your faith in Jesus Christ and joined with him, is “Daughter” or “Son.” God also has a special name for you that no one else knows, a name that perfectly captures you in all your complexity. Jesus says in the book of Revelation, “To the one who overcomes, I will give … a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.”

That name, God’s special name for you, which only the two of you will know, will fit you to a T. That is because God knows you, knows you in a way no one else does, knows everything about you. He knows about the most embarrassing things in your past. He knows you love to sing. He knows what happened in your life when you were two. He knows what you thought at four in the morning on June 16th, 1977, when you couldn’t sleep. He knows your fears, your sins, and your strengths. He knows what you have done and what you would have done had things been different.

No one knows you like God knows you. He knows everything there is to know – absolutely everything: the good, the bad, the brave, the foolish – and knowing you like that, he loves you completely. Knowing you like that, he came in the person of his Son to rescue you. That is love.

You are absolutely unique—we all are. Your biological makeup – the length of your nose, the color of your eyes, the complexion of your skin, the intricacies of your brain – were written like software on your DNA.  

DNA is contained inside of chromosomes, and every human has 46 of them. The DNA nucleotides are strung around each other in two chains. There are 3.2 billion nucleotide pairs on all human chromosomes, and every one of those pairs can combine in four possible ways. 

What that means is the number of possible combinations in any one person is greater than the total number of atoms in the universe. The combinations that made up you (and me) are unlike the combinations that make up any other person in the world. Even identical twins are not identical: they have, just for example, different fingerprints. In fact, they are different from each other in a myriad of ways.  

There is no one else in all the world just like you. You was designed by God to be the one and only you – altogether unique. One in 7 billion. There is not another you on earth. 

Unique things are valuable, and God made each of us totally unique. The world’s most expensive car is a Rolls Royce Boat Tail. Rolls Royce builds only three of them and each comes at a price tag of $280 million. A Boat Tail has 1,800 individual components. But that does not compare to a human being, who has about 30 trillion cells in her body. And God didn’t make three of each person; only one.

Even a Rolls Royce will deteriorate and depreciate over time. But God made humans to become more than they were. They were made to develop in beauty and complexity. It is true that sin has caused us individually and as a species to deteriorate, but God has made it possible to reverse that forever.

Forever. A moment ago, I just wrote that God “made humans to become more than they were,” using the past tense. But God knows us in the present, “for all,” as Jesus once said, “are alive to him.”

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Identity Issues: Growing Up in the Adam’s Family

Photo of John Astin and Carolyn Jones as Gomez and Morticia Addams from The Addams Family. (Public Domain)

Everyone carries baggage from their growing up years. No family is perfect, some are hideous, and all have their oddities. It’s like everyone grows up in the Addams family.

For some people I have known, the Addams family would have been a great improvement. Morticia was a doting mother and Gomez was an affectionate father. Even the children, Pugsley and Wednesday, were well behaved and kind to each other. Fester was, admittedly, a little strange, but doesn’t everyone have a weird uncle?

In the Addams family, dad and mom always supported their kids. They cheered their every accomplishment. Sadly, the same cannot be said for all our families. As a pastor, I’ve met many who would have done better to grow up on Cemetery Lane.

John’s dad was a career Navy man, who was often stationed in far-away places. Whenever he came home, he reasserted himself as family commander. Once, when John misbehaved, his dad picked up a two by four, swung it, and hit him across the back. Even as an adult, John did not recognize his dad’s behavior as inappropriate. He said, “I probably deserved it.”

Susan grew up with a dad who sexually abused her. After her mom and dad divorced, mom routinely brought men home with her at night, and left them there when she went to work in the morning. Susan was repeatedly molested. What scarred her more deeply than the horrific sexual abuse was her mom’s disregard for her. The only thing her mom ever taught her was that she was trash. She told me once that she was a garbage can, filled with rotting things.

James grew up with a dad and a mom and a stepdad and a stepmom. In fact, dad had kids by four different women. It was the Family Circus, without the laughs. James could never figure out where he fit, which led him to the nagging suspicion that he didn’t fit anywhere.

I’ve changed names to protect the identity of these men and this woman. Protecting their identity is something their parents never bothered to do. How much better it would have been for them to grow up with the Addams’s.

Identity – the way people understand themselves – is crucial to success in life and progress in faith. Yet everyone carries an internal identity that contains inaccuracies. No one sees themselves as they really are. Only God does.

How a person sees himself or herself will determine the way they act. Marcus Aurelius was right: “Character is destiny,” but it is not only actual character but also perceived character that influences destiny. Humans were created in such a way that their beliefs (including their beliefs about themselves) determine their actions, which shapes their character, which governs their beliefs, which determine their actions, which shapes their character, and so on.

What we think about ourselves – that is, how we view our identity – inevitably influences our actions though, for the most part, we are unaware of it. We still weigh pros and cons and make the choices it seems incumbent upon us to make, but we make those choices because we see ‘us’ in a certain way. That is true of all people, everywhere, no matter what their race, ethnicity, or religion. 

Christians believe that people can receive an identity “update.” St. Paul, after listing the previous identities of some of his converts – for example, adulterers, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers – adds, “that is what some of you were.” The implication is clear: they were so no longer. Their identity had changed.

St. Paul characterized this change – it’s one of the beautiful things in Christian doctrine – as being from Adam’s (not Addams’s) family’s dysfunction to God’s family’s love. With faith in Christ comes a new identity: child of God, productive family member, and temple of God’s Spirit.

A Christian psychologist once summed this up by describing the Christian’s core identity as “the beloved.” If identity influences character and character is destiny, then an identity like this promises a destiny that is incomparable.

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Spiritual Life: Running on All Cylinders

Jesus said that he came that people like us might have life. He claims that his life directs people by giving them light.[1]  His life satisfies[2]; it is what human beings were made for. His life is indestructible: it goes on forever. We need his life, and that is just why he came: to give it for us so that he could give it to us.

So what does that mean in our situation? Two things. If you do not have this life, you may wonder why things don’t seem to be quite right for you. The problem is that you are trying to do life with only half the original equipment supplied by the manufacturer. You have biological life (which is winding down all the time), but you lack spiritual life.

Years ago, I had a van with over 200,000 miles and it was running really rough. It was backfiring and stalling. I thought we would have to make an appointment for a tune-up. But before I did that, I opened the hood and there, right in front of me, was a spark plug wire hanging loose. The engine was running on only five of its six cylinders. As soon as I put the wire back on, it ran fine (or as fine as a van with about a quarter million miles can be expected to run).

If you lack spiritual life, you are running on only one of two cylinders. You were not designed for that. You need life – the life of the spirit. And the only place to go for it is Jesus. He is the gate, the way in, the “way, the truth and the life.” By trusting him with yourself, you will experience an added dimension – another cylinder – to life. If you don’t know how to trust your life to him, find someone who has already done it, and ask them how you can do it to. If you really don’t know anyone like that, email me at the address below for some initial instructions. There is a new kind of life available – don’t miss out on it.

If you have already received that life, but it is not running right, you may need to check for contaminates or occlusions. Something may be blocking the flow of Christ’s life in you. It may be a sin or a selfish attitude. Ask God to search you for whatever it is, so that you can clear away the blockage. In all probability, you already know what it is. Don’t fool around: deal with it head-on and get back to the business of living with, and for, Jesus.

[1] John 8:12; 12:35-36

[2] John 6:35

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I Would Have Given You Even More: David and Bathsheba

Viewing Time: 26 minutes (approximately)

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Digging Bunkers: The Misuse of Knowledge

If you and I were to type in the same search term or phrase on Google, we would likely get different results. Let’s say we search for “Fun things to do.” Our Google search will be personalized by our location – which is good; knowing fun things to do in New Orleans, where you live won’t be of much use to me in Michigan.

We will also get different results based on our search histories. Google utilizes 6 months of your search history in ranking search results. So, if you have searched repeatedly for art museums and galleries, you are liable to see search results related to art classes and exhibits near the top of your list. If I have searched for fishing lures and boat motors, I’ll find lakes and fishing lodges.

It gets more interesting when it comes to current affairs. If I regularly read stories from The Washington Examiner and Fox News, the results I get from searching for “Delta” may vary widely from the ones you, who read The Washington Post and watch CNBC, receive. The diversity of results will be even greater if we type in “Donald Trump, 2024.”

So, search engines feed us what some algorithm has concluded we want. I keep getting fishing, you keep getting art. I get conservative viewpoints and you get liberal ones. And almost all the evidence supplied by our searches supports the beliefs we already hold. Neither of us can understand how the other can possibly think differently when the truth is so obvious.

The term “silo mentality,” which emerged from the business world, has application to social life. We are liable to get stuck in our silos with people who have the same goals, absorb the same news, and come from the same background. Everyone we know thinks about things the same way we do. We’ve heard that there are others out there who see things differently, but they are obviously mistaken and, we can’t help but suspect, willfully deluded.

In the divisive climate we now occupy, “silo mentality” may not be as good a description as “bunker mentality.” We choose our bunker with the people who are like us. We repeat the talking points that comprise our group’s orthodoxy and convince ourselves that all the smart people – and the good people too – are on our side.

It’s not that we have thought carefully about an issue and have reached a conclusion. We’ve accepted someone else’s conclusion, moved into our bunker, and now spend our time justifying our opinions and delegitimizing those of others. We are in danger of becoming like the people St. Paul disparaged: “They want to be teachers … but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.”

All those Google searches, helpful in so in many ways, have not helped us here. They have, instead, given us tools to dig our bunkers a little deeper. To borrow again from the apostle, our search engines enable us to be “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

And it is not just Google searches that lead to bunkers of belief. A Bible concordance can lead to the same place if we are not careful. Having pastored for a long time, I’ve noticed how church people can bunker up with people who think just like they do. The Catholics have their bunker, decorated with pictures of saints. The Reformed crowd has their bunker – is that a portrait of John Calvin on the wall? The Fundamentalists’ bunker is cluttered with booklets on the essentials of the faith. The liberals have copies of Niebuhr’s, The Irony of American History and Robertson’s Honest to God strewn around the room.

I heard a professor of Christian Education once say that reading the Bible does not lead to spiritual transformation for many people because they only see in the Bible what they have seen before. Rather than transforming them, it transfixes them. This kind of thing happens when we read the Bible to prove our point rather than improve our person, which is not all that different from what happens in our Google searches.

(First published by Gannet)

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The Good Shepherd: That They Might Have Life

In John 10, Jesus used a figure of speech while he was teaching and, verse six, people did not get it. That is a comfort to me, a preacher, for there have been times when I was speaking that I realized people weren’t “getting it.” I am a very imperfect teacher, but just knowing that Jesus, the perfect teacher, experienced the same thing is helpful. He knows. Whether people get it or not, he gets me.

When the perfect teacher realized his hearers weren’t getting it, he did not chastise them; he simply changed his approach and gave them a different way of looking at it. Verse seven: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.”

How can Jesus says that “all who came before him were thieves and robbers”? Is he referring to the prophets? No. The context makes that clear. This teaching comes in the wake of what had just happened: the religious leaders – the false shepherds – had tried to use a man (the one born blind but healed by Jesus) to advance their schemes and, when he would not cooperate, they excommunicated him. In the light of that action, Jesus speaks about strangers and thieves and robbers.

The Greek bears out this conclusion. For some reason, the NIV translates, “All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers,” but the original language clearly reads, “Are thieves and robbers.” Jesus is talking about those who are presently on the scene. Some, no doubt, in this very crowd.

One of the key words in this section is the word, “gate” or, as is could be translated, “door.” It is used in verses 1, 2, 3, 7 and 9. In verses 7 and 9 Jesus changes the image and says that he is the door and claims that “whoever enters through me will be saved” (verse 9). Jesus saw himself as the means of entrance into salvation.

This is a compelling claim, especially when taken together with the other claims Jesus made: that he is the bread of heaven who gives life to the world;[1] that whoever eats this bread will live forever;[2] that he is the source of living water;[3] that he is the light of the world;[4] that whoever does not believe in him will die in his or her sins.[5]

Here he claims to be the gate. In a similar passage in John 14, Jesus claims to be the way to the Father. St. Peter heard that, and later said, “There is no other name (a Hebraism for “no one else”) under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.”[6] He is the only Door, the one Way in.

Now, we come to the verse in which Jesus tells us why he came. Verse 10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” The thief comes to steal. . . You see, the thief – the false shepherd – cannot get the sheep to follow him, so he steals them. He uses deception. (This, by the way, is one of the dangers of making religious programming on television your church. Because you cannot see how the TV preacher lives his life, the possibility of deception is always present).

Remember that Jesus had just witnessed these religious leaders’ attempt to use a man for their own gain. We have the story in the previous chapter. Those leaders were not looking out for the man’s interests, but their own. And when they couldn’t use him, they cast him aside like trash. The thief comes to kill and destroy. The false shepherd eats the sheep, while the Good Shepherd feeds them. The thief desires to live off of the sheep, while the shepherd is willing to die for the sheep. Think of Paul, who was willing to forego a salary in order to serve the Corinthian Church. He did not think of his interests, but theirs. Jesus says in verse 11: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” When you find a preacher or ministry leader who seems more concerned about his plans than about God’s people, or more committed to “the ministry” than he is to those to whom he ministers, something is very wrong. Watch out for any teacher who is prepared to sacrifice the sheep but not himself. That is not the way of Christ.

Christ came, not to live off the sheep, but to give them life. There are several things to notice. First, Jesus does not say, “I have come that they might have life at some date in the future, after their bodies die.” The verb is present tense. “That they may have life – now.”

It seems that in God’s original design, humans were to be born with two kinds of life: one biological and one spiritual. They were a kind of hybrid: Like angels, but unlike animals, they had spiritual life. Like animals, but unlike angels, they had biological life. But then came the Great Rebellion – chronicled in Genesis three – when humankind deserted God. Humans continued to enter the world with biological life (though even that seems to have been diminished), but without spiritual life. That is important because the spirit is the nexus between man and God. Jesus came to restore that life. “He came that we might have life.”

And he came that we might have it to the full. The Greek says, “that they may have life and to excess (or “to a surplus”; or, “to an abundance”) may have it.” The common picture of the Christian life as a dull affair or an endless list of rules was certainly not what Jesus had in mind. It took later generations to come up with that one. The life he gives is coursing and vigorous. It is not restrained by the confining bonds of sin, nor even by the inevitable boundary of death. His life not only leads us into safety (verse 9); it leads us out to service. It is life as life was meant to be.

[1]John 6:33-35

[2]John 6:51

[3] John 7:37-38

[4] John 8:12

[5] John 8:24

[6]Acts 4:12

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The Good Shepherd

Back in the 1980s, a congressional panel, led by Claude Pepper, revealed that thousands of Americans might be receiving treatment from doctors who lied on their medical school loan applications, and then used the money not to go to school but to pay a broker for fake documents signifying the completion of school and training.

The one-time dean of admissions for the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology admitted that she had lied on her resume and had never received even an undergraduate degree. The person responsible for admitting some students to advanced degree programs, and turning others away, had falsified her own degree.

There are false doctors and false academics and false lawyers. But the Bible never speaks about them. It does, however, have a good deal to say about false teachers and pastors. We have seen our share of them in the last few years. Jesus saw his share of them, too.

John chapter 10 chronicles a time in Jesus’ ministry when hostility had increased. In chapter eight we see people calling Jesus names and coming to the point of physical violence. In chapter nine we learn that those who administered the synagogues had voted to excommunicate all the followers of Jesus. By the end of chapter 10, people actually tried to kill Jesus.

If you think that would subdue him, or tone down his teaching, or cause him to be more cautious, you don’t know Jesus. He continued to tell the truth, even when it was unpopular. He spoke out against false teachers and pastors in no uncertain terms.

We see that in chapter 10. By means of two analogies (or proverbs) Jesus compares and contrasts himself to the religious leaders of the time. He talks about their motives and his, their character and his and, what is of central importance to us, why they came and why he came.

He did not come, as he once he said, to bring peace. Many people assume that is why he came: to bring them peace and everything that goes along with it – comfort, security, prosperity – but Jesus refused to be received on those terms.

Nor did Jesus come to abolish the law. His intent was to fulfill it. He utterly rejected the idea that his followers have some kind of diplomatic immunity from righteous living. He came in order that the law might be fulfilled in us, who live according to the Spirit.

So, there are two reasons why Jesus did not come: to bring peace and to abolish the law. John 10 gives us a reason he did come. Look at verse 10: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” More in a moment.

Jesus uses what verse 6 calls a “figure of speech” (or, as the Greek reads, a “dark saying”), one that requires insight to understand the point.  We may miss that point, perhaps not from lack of insight, but from lack of cultural familiarity. Jesus’ teaching here is clothed in a figure of speech, but it was very familiar clothing to Jewish people of the first century; it is not to us.

For one thing, it is about sheep, and everyone there and then – unlike here and now – knew something about sheep. For another, Jesus talks about shepherds, and not only did everyone know about shepherds, the Old Testament often used the word shepherd to refer to teachers and national and religious leaders. In this figure of speech, the sheep represent people like us, the robbers represent the religious leaders of the day, and the Good Shepherd represents Jesus.

I would rather be classified among the sheep than the robbers. It is not, however, a compliment to be compared to a sheep. I remember an old truck driver telling me that sheep are about the most stupid animals he had ever hauled. If allowed, he said, the sheep will congregate so tightly in a corner of the truck trailer that some of them will be suffocated.

The old Scot preacher, Andrew Bonar, once told how sheep in the Scottish Highlands wander off into the rocks and get into places from which they cannot escape. The grass on those mountains was sweet and the sheep would sometimes jump down ten or twelve feet to reach it, and then be unable to get back out. They would stay there until they had eaten all the grass. Then the shepherd would hear them bleating in distress. But he would have to wait until they were so faint that they could not stand, and then he would put a rope around himself, and go down and pull the sheep up out of the jaws of death.

Someone asked, “Why don’t they go down when the sheep first gets stuck?” And Bonar answered, “The sheep are so foolish they would dash right over the precipice and be killed!”[1]

Being compared to a sheep is not a compliment, and yet, are we not like them? How often people won’t go to God until they have lost everything and have no friends left. Before he can bring us back to himself, the Good Shepherd must wait until we have given up trying to save ourselves and are finally willing to let Him save us in His own way.

Jesus opens this teaching with an analogy. The man who sneaks into the sheep pen is a thief (the Greek word is klepths), while the man who comes by the designated way – through the gate – is the shepherd of the sheep. Jesus came by the way designated, promised in the Old Testament. He, verse 11, is the Shepherd.

Notice that the sheep, verse 3, listen to (or hear) his voice. They know his voice, verse 4. But they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.

My wife and I frequently walk down our road. A couple of our neighbors have German Shepherds, and one of them is sometimes outside without a leash. Her name is Dakota. Dakota will come rushing at us, barking and growling as if she wanted Looper for lunch. When she does, I say something like, “Dakota, stop! You go back home.” She never listens to me. She doesn’t know my voice.

But when her owner says, “Dakota!” she pulls right up. She knows his voice. She follows his voice.

Jesus says that his sheep know and follow his voice. And note that word follow in verses four and five. The shepherd does not merely speak to us: he leads us. He is going somewhere, and he wants us to go with him. We may think that the Good Shepherd only speaks to us while we are sitting stationary in church. Certainly, he may speak to us then, but his intent is that we follow him into the world, into action, into service and noble sacrifice. He does not call us to vegetate in comfort but to follow in obedience.

[1] D. L. Moody shared this story

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