How can I grow closer to the Good Shepherd? Part 4

“Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes 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.” John 10:17-18

We can also grow closer to the Good Shepherd when we INITIATE OBEDIENCE TO HIM (John 10:17-18). Jesus said,Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.” (John 10:17a). God the Father has a special love for His Son who sacrificially obeyed His will. Jesus did not mean that the Father’s love resulted from the Son’s performance. The Father’s love for Jesus would still have existed if Jesus had failed to obey Him completely. The Father loved the Son unconditionally in eternity past (John 17:23-24). However, the Son’s full obedience to the Father’s will resulted in the Father having a special love for the Son that obedience under testing brought out.

Likewise, God loves all believers unconditionally, but when they obey Him, they enjoy an intimacy with Him that only obedience can produce. Christ said in John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” For Christ to disclose or “manifest more of Himself to a believer, the believer must be trustworthy and obey Him. Intimacy or friendship with Christ is conditioned upon obeying Him. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14). This friendship refers to Jesus disclosing His thoughts to those who obey Him. Thus, Jesus’ friends are those to whom He entrusts Himself. Intimate fellowship with Christ requires obedience to Him. When believers initiate obedience to Christ, they draw closer to Him and experience an intimacy with Him that is absent among disobedient believers.

Some people may ask, “If Jesus is God, how can He die? God does not die.” I like to respond to this question by asking a question. “When humans die, do their spirits or souls stop existing?” They respond, “No our spirit or soul does not die,” to which I reply, “So even when we die as humans, it is the body that dies, not our spirit or soul. We do not stop existing altogether.” The same is true of Jesus. Though His physical body died on the cross, He did not stop existing as God. Just before Jesus died on the cross, He cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Then “He breathed His last” (Luke 23:46). John writes, “bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). Jesus’ spirit went to His Father in heaven when He died. Therefore, He did not stop existing as God.

Then Jesus said to His Jewish audience, “I lay down My life that I may take it again.” (John 10:17b). The purpose of Jesus’ death was to rise again, enriched with resurrection power. From Jesus’ perspective, death was only the beginning, not the end. Christ knew He would not remain dead. Christ said, “No one takes 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 command I have received from My Father.” (John 10:18). We see that Jesus’ death was voluntary (cf. John 10:11, 14, 17-18). Jesus was under no obligation to sacrifice Himself for sinners. That’s why it’s called grace.

Although the Jews would hand Him over and the Romans would crucify Him, this was only possible because He let them (cf. John 19:10-11). An unbelieving observer may conclude that Jesus was overpowered by the Jewish authorities and crucified. But Jesus makes it clear that no one took His life from Him. He chose to lay it down. He also had authority to lay down His life and take it up again. Christ had the power to call upon thousands of angels to destroy His enemies and deliver Him from death (Matt. 26:53), but He chose to endure the cross out of love for us and His Father (Romans 5:8; Philippians 2:6-8). The Father commanded Jesus to lay down His life and take it up again and Jesus submitted to His Father.

Anyone can lay his or her life down in death sacrificially, but only Jesus Christ could “lay it down” and then “take it [up] again” in resurrection! This is what separates Jesus Christ from all other religious leaders and founders. All other religious leaders and founders in history are still dead in the grave. But Jesus Christ is the only One who had the authority to take up His life in resurrection, proving that He is God (Romans 1:4) and that He has defeated sin, death, and the Devil (cf. Romans 6:5-14; 8:11; I Corinthians 15:54-57; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14-15). The New Testament writers attributed Jesus’ resurrection to all three members of the Trinity: the Father (Romans 6:4), the Son (John 2:19), and the Spirit (Romans 8:11).

The One Who voluntarily laid down His life for us and took it up again in resurrection loves each of us very much. He wants to give us the same power that raised Him from the dead to enable us to live a life that obeys and honors Him (cf. Ephesians 1:18-20)! The more we give Him our obedience, the more He will reveal Himself to us in intimate ways.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, there is no one like You. You loved me so much that You voluntarily laid down Your life for me and took it up again in resurrection to honor Your Father’s will. Your obedience to the Father reminds me that when I give You my obedience, You will reveal more of Yourself to me. Right now my Lord and my God, I want to give You everyone and everything I have. I look forward to what You are going to teach me about Yourself today. In Your everlasting name I pray. Amen.

Christ’s claim demands that we embrace the Cross

“When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He.” John 8:28

The third implication of Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world (John 8:12) is this: CHRIST’S CLAIM DEMANDS THAT WE EMBRACE THE CROSS (John 8:25-30). When Jesus said, “If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24b), the religious leaders are disturbed by His words, “I am He.” The word “He” is not in the original Greek which is why it is in italics in the New King James version. When Jesus said, “I am,” He was claiming to be the Self-Existent God who spoke to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-14). So these Jews ask Him, “Who are You?” (John 8:25a). “Who are You to be saying such things to us?” And Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning.” (John 8:25b). Jesus assures them that He was saying nothing different from “what” He had “been saying”about His identity since “the beginning” of His ministry.

“I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him.” (John 8:26). Jesus knew His audience better than anyone. He tells His listeners that He has “many things to say” to them, some of which will “judge” them for their unbelief. However, all that He would say would be “true” because it all comes from the Father who “is true.” His message was for “the world” of unbelieving humanity.

When believers are witnessing to the unsaved, it can be easy to get sidetracked from the central message of the gospel, that is, Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). This is especially true when sharing the gospel with members of a growing cult or false religion. Members of these groups often try  to steer the conversation away from Christ crucified to focus on the central part of their beliefs. Although there is a place for the study of false religions and cults, the best way to expose what is false is to preach the truth about Jesus Christ.

A few years ago I had the privilege of baptizing a new believer in the Philippines who had been a member of the Jehovah Witnesses cult for thirty years. When I asked him how he got saved, he said that a caring believer shared the gospel clearly and simply so he could transfer his trust onto Christ crucified alone for his salvation. You don’t have to know a lot about a cult or false religion to effectively share the gospel with their members. But you do need to know Christ crucified and His gospel message (I Corinthians 2:2)!

The apostle John tells us, “They did not understand that He spoke to them of the Father.” (John 8:27). Christ’s audience “did not understand that” He was referring to “the Father.”At this point in Jesus’ conversation with the Jewish leaders, it looks hopeless for them, doesn’t it? If I had been Jesus, I would have thought, “Why bother with these guys?” But He doesn’t.

Knowing their ignorance, blindness and pride, He graciously says to them28 Then Jesus said to them, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. 29 And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.’ 30 As He spoke these words, many believed in Him.” (John 8:28-30). Many of these very men who had been rejecting Him now believed in Him.

What made the difference? Christ presents three proofs of His identity as God. The first proof is the cross. What does Jesus mean, “When you lift up the Son of man” (8:28)? When you see Jesus on the cross then you begin to understand the facts about His true identity as the Messiah-God – “You will know that I am He.” Christ’s enemies will realize that Jesus is the Self-Existent God when they crucify Him. That is what He is saying. When He is lifted up on the cross He gives Himself for the sins of the world (I John 2:2). He laid down His life for us. So look to the cross. For at the cross is the Lord of Glory (I Corinthians 2:8). At the cross is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). At the cross is the One Who infinitely loves us and washes away all our sin and shame (Romans 5:8; Revelation 1:5b). At the cross is the innocent Son of God (Matthew 27:54). At the cross is the Redeemer of our sins (Ephesians 1:7).

A second proof of Jesus’ claim to be God is His message which did not originate with Him, but from His “Father” (John 8:28b). Christ’s teaching was not independent of His Father’s. He continually depended on His Father to give Him the words to say. He did this to provide an example for us. We cannot live the Christian life without depending on the Lord moment by moment (John 15:5; Romans 8:11-15; Galatians 5:16-18).

Then Jesus repeats that His Father “sent” Him which does not mean that He is “alone” (John 8:29a). Even though Jesus’ countrymen had rejected Him, His Father had not abandoned Him. Likewise, our Father in heaven and Jesus and the Holy Spirit will never abandon us (Hebrews 13:5). They are constantly with us to provide all we need to live for them (Philippians 4:19; 2 Peter 1:2-4).

The third proof of Jesus’ claim to be God is His perfect obedience to the Father (John 8:29b). Christ “always” did those things that please” His Father. Jesus is not only sinless (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15), but on every occasion, He does what pleases God the Father. Only God could obey God’s commands at all times. The proof of Jesus’ deity is His perfect obedience to the Father. No one before or after Him has ever lived a sinless life on earth.

A few years ago on a three-hour flight to the eastern United States, I sat next to a young woman who claimed to be an agnostic. When I asked her if anyone ever took a Bible and showed her how she could know for sure she would go to heaven when she died, she said that no one had and that there was no need to do that with her. When I asked her why, she gave me several reasons why she did not need Christianity, including all religions lead to God, Christians are nothing but hypocrites, the Bible has been translated so many times that it is no longer accurate, and that Christianity is incompatible with science.

When I attempted to respond to each of her objections, she seemed disconnected from what I was saying. The more I talked, the less she responded and I began to realize that only the Holy Spirit could lift the blindness from her heart and mind (John 16:7-11; 2 Corinthians 4:4). I then pointed her to the cross of Christ, explaining how much He loved her. I told her Jesus would meet her where she is at and answer her questions about Christianity if she is honest about her search for truth. He is not threatened by her questions any more than He was with the apostle Thomas’ questions. I don’t know if she ever made the decision to believe in Christ, but one thing I do know, Jesus loves her and proved it when He died in her place for all her sins (cf. Romans 5:8)!

In conclusion, Christ’s claim demands that we GET THE FACTS RIGHT … for when Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World” (John 8:12), He was stating unequivocally that He was God in human flesh.

Christ’s claim also demands that we BE SURE ABOUT OUR FUTURE. Have you believed in Christ alone to provide a future resurrection and never-ending life for you (John 8:24; 11:25-26)? Or have you rejected Him? There is no middle ground. You will either be with Jesus for eternity (John 3:36a; 11:25-26) or forever separated from Him in the lake of fire (John 3:36b; Revelation 20:15).

And finally, Christ’s claim demands that we EMBRACE THE CROSS. Jesus gave up His life for us on the cross. He forfeited His life so we can live for Him now, so that His light can shine through us to help others. 2 Corinthians 5:15 says: “And He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.”

When I preached this message at the provincial jail chapel in the Philippines a few years ago, we provided candles for each inmate. At this time, our ushers lit the candle of each person at the end of a row in the chapel. Then we focused on Jesus’ words, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12). I then said to the inmates, “Look what happens to this room when each of us follows Christ and allows His light to shine through us (other candles were lit by those with a lit candle). The light dispels the darkness, doesn’t it? Together we can make an eternal difference here at the provincial jail and in our country and world. Have you decided to follow Jesus? Do you want God to use you to lead others to Christ and disciple them?

What about you? We are seeing unprecedented expressions of darkness in the USA and world. More now than ever, our world needs the light of Jesus Christ!!! Will you let Jesus shine in and through you as you follow Him and make disciples of Him? A single light penetrates 50 miles of darkness. Darkness cannot overcome light (John 1:5). We are on the winning side. Let’s live like winners!!!      

Prayer: Lord Jesus, please shine Your light through us so that others can receive the hope of everlasting life by believing in You. Please raise up armies of Your disciple-makers around the world who will shine brightly for You and Your glory! In Your name I pray. Amen.