This week's Bible Study - March 20, 2016
Our Need for Protection
John 10:7-15, 27-30
Quotes of the Week:
"Before beginning a Hunt, it is wise to ask someone what you are looking for before you begin looking for it."
Winnie the Pooh
This week's lesson is in regards to our need for protection. We all want to be protected, don't we? I would be willing to bet that most of us do not appreciate driving down the road and seeing flashing police lights in our rear view mirrors. I know, for one, that my stomach drops when I see a police car with its lights on coming up behind me, even if I have done nothing wrong (at least recently!). However, if I were stuck on the side of the road or someplace where I needed help, I would greatly welcome those same lights and feel a sense of protection.
Most people want to protect their homes and valuables in one way or another. If you go to certain areas of most towns, you may see bars over windows and doors, to help secure and protect the stores and/or homes. Even if you don't have bars over your windows, you likely have locks on the doors and windows. Many people have opted for extra security services that will warn of window breakage and/or movement in a home when there should be no movement.
If we are able to save money, we want that to be protected. Some may still put it under their mattress, but if so, they surely will have locks on their doors! When we put our savings in the hands of a bank or a financial advisor, regardless of how much the value may fluctuate, we certainly want it to be protected. In our day and age, we know of stolen identities. Recently, the IRS has had more and more stories about people's identities (and refunds) that were stolen. We are more and more careful to do all we can to protect our information and access to different accounts that we may have.
We do see people desiring for protection in this life, but when we think of our spiritual lives, and the life that is to follow, are people looking for protection? I suppose a person could just decide to not believe in anything after this life, and take their chances that when they die, it is truly game over. However, according to the Bible, we have much more than this life we know of. I suppose the first step should be to understand what is to come, and once you have established that, knowing where you will spend eternity, and then what it takes to be protected.
We all must realize that none of us is good enough to have a relationship with God on our own. It doesn't matter if you are the kindest person in the world or if you are the most vulgar person in the world. On your own merit, you cannot stand before God, free of judgment. God established that there must be payment for our sin - any sin, no matter how small or large. In the Old Testament, there were many types of sacrifices that had to be offered on a regular basis, in order to be granted forgiveness from God. Yet, none of those sacrifices could change you. Every person ends up messing up again. God sent Jesus Christ to earth, to live a sinless life, and to be put to death for the payment of all sin. Three days after His death, Jesus rose and provided victory over sin. This victory is for all who put their faith in Jesus. I wish I could clearly explain exactly how that transaction takes place and the mechanics behind it, but we are told in Scripture that we must believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and that our sin would be covered by His sacrifice. This still doesn't really completely change us, as we are still like those who try as they may, still fail. However, this dramatically changes our relationship with God and establishes our eternal position with Him. Certainly there should also be the desire to follow the direction that the Lord gives to us, and as we mature, that should happen more and more. It is not simply belief that Jesus is who He says He is. In the book of James, it says "You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder". Obviously, it takes more than just assenting to the facts. If that was it, this would imply that demons are saved. It is a change in your mind and in your heart, to follow Him. Only when you have made this change can you truly find security for eternity.
In this passage, Jesus says "I am the gate for the sheep". This is a key point that is also found in John 14:6, where Jesus says "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me." We need to realize that Jesus is not just another avenue to God. He is the only avenue. Some people want to take a bit of this belief and that belief and roll their own religion. However, Jesus makes it clear that He can be the only answer. There are some people who try and get close to Jesus, but they only want to view Jesus from afar. They would rather think of Jesus as a window, as opposed to a gate or a door. Perhaps they want to be close, but they don't want to open the door and let Him in. Is Jesus your door or Is He only your window?
Jesus references that others had come before Him, in an attempt to misdirect the sheep. He refers to them as thieves and robbers. In Ezekiel 34, there are references to shepherds that did not take care of the flock. Instead of strengthening the weak and healing the sick and injured or searching for the strays or lost sheep, they chose to rule harshly and brutally. Sheep without a shepherd tend to scatter and instead of being cared for they become food for wild animals. In essence, the church had largely become an entity that watched out for itself, showing little care for the sheep. Similarly today, we as sheep need a shepherd that will tend us. While we do not have Jesus Himself as our tangible shepherd, our ministers should surely speak of the saving power of Jesus. Our churches should strengthen the weak and help heal the injured and seek out the strays. Too often, some churches tend to be little more than rule enforcers, and instead of helping those who have fallen, they often seek to ensure that the fallen stay 'fallen' and falsely imply that there is a level of perfection that can be found.
As Jesus spoke of those entering the gate and being saved, He spoke of the idea of security. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we are saved from the sins of our past, present and future. It is difficult for us to understand how we are saved from all sin. We may be able to understand forgiveness for the sins of our past, but when we sin present day or in the future, many of us will question our security. However, our security is all based on Christ and not on us. Some people tend to want to make Jesus a revolving door, so that you can be in and out and in and out. When we believe that we can lose our salvation, we lose our security and it is hard to find peace.
There are others who come and preach of other ways to get to God. It isn't Jesus plus something else, or Jesus minus something else. When a church begins to speak of any other way to God, they have missed the point. There are things we should do and things we should avoid, certainly, but it is clear that our salvation and our security is not based on anything but Jesus. Jesus says that He came that His sheep may have life, and have it to the full. There are some teachers that have altered this teaching to be that if you follow Jesus, you will get what you want. God can certainly provide anything for anybody at any time, but this is not intended to be the 'form you fill out' to get what you want. Abundant living is having what you need when you need it, as opposed to having what you want when you want it. There are times where we have categorized a want as a need, and that is never guaranteed.
Jesus then contrasted Himself at the good shepherd as opposed to a hired hand. When the hired hand wants to play the part of the good shepherd, there are problems. The good shepherd will risk his own life to defend the sheep. The hired hand may watch the sheep, until he sees the wolf coming. At that point, the hired hand realizes he is just an employee doing a job and runs. The hired man values his own life more than that of the sheep.
Certainly you and I are not the good shepherd, but there is a principle that could be applied, in regards to our feeling of security. If our Christian walk becomes like a job that we do at times and then at times, we head back to our 'real life', then we are just playing as a Christian. We wrestle with this because we know at times, we will fail in our walk. There is a difference in trying and failing, as opposed to just giving in and going back to something else. Our walk should not be one in which we clock in and clock out. It should be a 24 hour, 7 day a week commitment - it becomes who we are. Ask yourself if you are doing the 'Christian' job, or if you are really a dedicated believer.
Jesus continued to say that He knew His sheep and His sheep know Him. In order to meet the needs of someone, you need to know them. It is truly remarkable that Jesus knows you (and me) and He still loves us. We tend to know things about people and we tend to only remember mistakes and bad things that they did. If you think about it, you could probably name a few people off the top of your head and then mention the one big mistake that they made. Based on that one big mistake, we tend to think we know all we need to know about those people we have subconsciously labeled 'failures'.
The reality is that we all mess up and only some people get called out on it. How would you feel if you were remembered for your worst 15 minutes of all time? Wouldn't that be horrible? The thing is that Jesus knows about those 15 minutes, as well as all of the other times in our lives, and He still loves us. He looks past the sins that have been forgiven.
Often, we will have a hard time fully getting past what we've done in the past. We may deal with guilt and shame that lingers for a long time. But we must realize that Jesus knows us, and our deeds, and still, He died for us and has given us salvation. Once we have been forgiven by Jesus, that guilt and shame is self inflicted (or inflicted by someone other than Christ). Some will tend to question other's salvation based on what they may have done in their past or how they are choosing to act now. While those may be legitimate questions, they aren't for us to answer. If we doubt a person is truly saved, praying for them is far more effective than telling them that I don't think they are 'saved'. It doesn't mean we shouldn't call out inappropriate behavior when we see it, and even more so, when someone says they are a believer but their actions are in direct opposition to what the Bible says we are to do and be. But telling another person who believes they are saved, that they aren't, can often times push that person further away from God. When we think of how we often view others, it is more and more amazing that we could be forgiven by God.
Jesus says that His sheep listen to His voice. This implies that the sheep know His voice. Do you know the voice of Jesus? It has amazed me in church nurseries that in a room full of kids, when a mom or dad walks in and says something, their kid will turn to look at them (usually). They have heard their parent's voice more than any other, so it is very familiar. We often miss hearing the voice of Jesus, simply because we don't spend enough time listening. I had read a commentary about the voice of Jesus, and it said for true believers, we are truly in our element when we are sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to His voice. Are you listening?
Jesus continues to say that He knows the sheep and they follow Him. We sometimes forget that Jesus does know us. He knows our wants and our desires. He understands our adversities and He knows what we need. We can get in a mode where we believe that He doesn't know about us, or even care for us, when we are caught up with what we experience in life. Often, when people hit those areas in their lives, it can become harder to follow Jesus. It can be real easy for us to believe, even if we don't say it, that if Jesus knows our condition and chooses not to 'get us out of it', that perhaps He doesn't care. And, if we were to follow that logic, why would we ever follow Him? However, as we go through life, we come to realize that what we are promised is an internal peace and joy, as opposed to a life free of peril, or disease.
In my own diagnosis of ALS, I have to admit that at times, I wonder why. While I know I have sinned in my life, as we all have, it can be difficult to wrap my head around the situation before us. Some look at these types of things and may say that a diagnosis such as this is punishment from God. I suppose a case could be made, but if this was how God punished us, all of us would have a terminal diagnosis of something. I read a book by Ed Dobson, called "Seeing Through the Fog", in which he wrote of his thoughts as he dealt with this horrific disease. He was diagnosed with ALS in 2000 and died in December 2015. He was a pastor of a large church in Michigan. He said that some would tell him that God allowed him to have ALS because God knew that Ed was strong. While I don't' recall his exact words, I know that Ed responded rather harshly to that. He said that he had served God for many years, and if this was how God was going to reward His good and faithful servant, he wasn't sure he wanted to believe in that kind of God. A diagnosis like this, is admittedly, hard to deal with. I don't believe it to be because of sin in our lives or because Berkley and I are strong enough to deal with it. I believe it is happening because we live in a fallen world where death and disease and decay and atrocities occur. I know that Jesus knows our situation, with this diagnosis and other stresses in our lives. So, we are left with a choice - will we choose to withdraw from our faith and wait for a cure or will we choose to follow Him and continue to pray for a cure? Although it is admittedly difficult, we are choosing to follow Jesus. We will not follow begrudgingly, even though we do not understand where this is all headed, but we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and as our Shepherd. We will follow Him wherever He leads us.
Jesus continued to say that He gives His sheep eternal life and they shall never perish. No one will snatch them out of His hand. Isn't that amazing? We are given eternal life. Our bodies and our human lives are fragile. It is indeed a miracle that we can do what we can do. I have learned so much about muscles and neurons and all of the things that have to be lined up in our bodies that I am amazed that we can even breathe, walk or talk. We know that over time, each of our bodies will break down and this life comes to an end. The life that Jesus gives is eternal. In effect, it starts when we believe. As some have said, we have an immortal soul that is present with us now and will live forever. Jesus gives us eternal life from today to forever.
This eternal life is secured and protected (once it is placed in the hands of God). It simply cannot be taken away. The security is not based on anything that we do. We can make choices that impact our human lives, for good or bad, but our eternal life is secured by Jesus.
I often think of an analogy of a hand reaching up towards Jesus. If we believe that our hand grasps Jesus' hand, then we will surely be able to lose that grasp. Even the strongest human hands can only grip for so long. Eventually, any hand will tire and weaken and the grasp will be lost. If the security of our eternity was based on our strength, none of us could ever feel secure. However, in the illustration, picture Jesus' hand holding your own hand. Even when your hand weakens, Jesus has a hold on you. Even if you, at some point, can no longer hold on your own, you are still held. Our eternity is protected.
This power comes from the Father, who had given the sheep to Jesus. God, the Father, is greater than all and no one can snatch us from the hand of the Father. Romans 8:38-39 states "For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rules, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." This passage in Romans does not say that we will not face foes in this life; in fact, it is clear that these things will come. Our lives will never be free from disease or suffering or pain. But it does say that the power that we have, the same power that secures our eternity, comes from our Father, who is greater than any foe we may ever face.
If you are considered a sheep, who is your shepherd? Are you taking the risk that you can find the best fields in life on your own? Are you thinking that you can protect yourself? Would you want to risk your very life and eternity on the 'wrong' shepherd? In this lesson, we see that Jesus is the good shepherd. He is not one of many, but He is THE shepherd that God has sent to earth. Are you willing to put your life in control of the good shepherd, or do you believe yourself exempt from everything stated in God's Word?
We have security in Jesus and by no other means. If you believe that you simply believe in Jesus and then do mostly good the rest of your life for salvation, you've missed the point. While we should seek to do the right things in life, that is not the basis of our salvation. If you thought of a scale that weighed your good deeds vs your bad deeds, would you ever be secure? When people only try and be good enough, and believe that is the key to salvation, they will never have the security. In that scheme, they have stated the sacrifice of Jesus was not enough.
Don't' believe that your faith in Jesus will mean smooth sailing throughout your life. Certainly, you will have your share of ups and downs. As we go through life, from birth to death, we are in and out of school, careers and many different phases of life. However, in Christ, you can find a constant that is with you, as the Wide World of Sports used to say, in the "thrill of victory or the agony of defeat". You can rest secure in the saving faith of your Lord and Savior, knowing that He will be with you throughout this life and into eternity.