How does the risen Lord Jesus use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail? Part 2

“He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep.’ ” John 21:17

Twelve-year-old Kurt never missed a game of his Little League team, but he didn’t get to play much because of his small size and lack of coordination. The coach never let him play more than the two innings a game required by league rules. Even with Kurt’s participation, the team won many games and qualified for the playoffs. After the last practice before the playoff game, the coach drew Kurt aside and said, “Kurt, just don’t show up on Saturday for the game. It will be better for the team if you are not there.” A dejected twelve-year-old left the field that day.

Peter also felt the sting of despair. He had denied the Lord three times and swore that he was not one of His followers while in the courtyard in front of Annas’ house (John 18:17, 25, 27). After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter may have thought Christ no longer wanted him on His team, so he returned to fishing. Because of his failure, Peter may have felt unworthy to serve as a leader any longer. Perhaps he thought his public denials of Jesus disqualified him as a follower of Christ.

All of us can probably relate to this. We, too, have failed Christ and we feel unworthy to be on His team. We might think our sin is unforgivable or unredeemable. We fear that Jesus would not want us on His team. But please understand that Jesus never says to a repentant child of God, “Don’t show up.” Christ always gives a second chance to those who seek His forgiveness.

We are learning from John 21:15-19 how the risen Lord Jesus can use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail. Last time we discovered He can do this when we make loving Him our first priority (John 21:15). Three times Peter had said he did not even know the Lord Jesus, now three times after breakfast, he would say he loved the Lord. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love [agapaō] Me more than these?” (John 21:15a). When Peter replied, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love [phileō] You,” Jesus said to him, “Feed My lambs.” (John 21:15b).

The word Jesus used for “love” is agapaō and is often used of God’s unconditional sacrificial love. But the word Peter used for “love” is phileō and refers to a brotherly and affectionate love that is between close friends. But Christ does not stop with this one question.

“He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’” (John 21:16). Again, Jesus begins with “Simon, son of Jonah,” to emphasize the importance of what He was about to say to Peter. Jesus uses the same word for “love” (agapaō) to ask Peter a second time, only He drops off the “more than these” to encourage a more positive response. 1  “In His first question the Lord challenged the superiority of Peter’s love. In His second question the Lord challenged whether Peter had any love at all.” 2

Peter replied using the same words as the first time, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Again,Peter appeals to Jesus’ knowledge as proof of his love for Jesus, not his own former behavior. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter had proudly claimed that his love for and commitment to Jesus was superior to that of the other disciples (Matthew 26:33, 35; Luke 22:33; John 13:37). But after his failure and denials, Peter now exhibits more humility.

Seeing Peter’s humility, Jesus says, “Tend My sheep.” The word for “tend” (poimaínō) in the original Greek language means to watch out for other people, to shepherd, of activity that protects, rules, governs, fosters … in the sense of lead, guide, or rule.” 3  This word means “to be a shepherd” or “take care of” flocks. Both Paul and Peter use this word to speak of the spiritual responsibilities of church leaders (Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:2). 4 The word for “sheep” (probata) is a diminutive form of the more common word for sheep, probaton, and means “little sheep.” 5  It is quite possible Jesus is referring to believers who are not yet fully mature in their faith.

John then tells us, “He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep.’ ” (John 21:17). For a third time, Jesus says, “Simon, son of Jonah,” to emphasize the extreme importance of what He was about to say. When Jesus asks, “Do you love Me?” He uses the same word for “love” (phileō) that Peter used.

John notes that “Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ ” The word for “grieved” is lupeō which means “to become sad, sorrowful, distressed.” Was Peter hurt because Jesus used the same word for love (phileō) that Peter had used or was he hurt because Jesus asked him a third time if he loved Him? I believe Peter was hurt because when Jesus asked him a third time, it reminded Peter of his three denials. Peter had denied knowing Jesus early in the morning when standing around “coals of fire” (John 18:15-18, 25-27), and now Jesus was asking him three times if he loved Him early in the morning while being around “coals of fire” (John 21:1-17).

“Seeing Peter humbled, Jesus came down to Peter’s level and met him where he was. Peter was grieved. His three denials of his Lord had now been matched by a question from his Lord repeated three times: ‘Do you love me?’ It broke Peter’s heart.” 8  

All Peter could do is say, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” This time Peter appeals to Jesus’ omniscience (“You know all things”). “When Peter was proudly self-assured about his ability to stand fast at a critical moment, Jesus knew that he would actually crack under pressure (see 13:37-38). He knew Peter’s heart better than Peter did. The grieving disciple understood that now. And since Jesus knew all things, Peter was convinced that Jesus also knew that Peter loved him in spite of his prior failure.” 9  

It may have also grieved Peter that Jesus was asking him questions that He already knew the answers to. 10  But these questions from Jesus were for Peter’s benefit, not the Lord’s benefit.

After Peter told Jesus a third time that he loved Him, Jesus said, “Feed My sheep.” Here Jesus uses the word boskō (“feed”) from verse 15, and the word probaton (“sheep”) from verse 16. Three times Peter had denied knowing Jesus. And now three times Peter affirms his love for Jesus and three times Jesus commissioned Peter to feed His lambs or sheep. This whole scene was intended to show Peter that he is completely forgiven and restored to his position of leadership! Imagine Peter’s joy when for each of his three denials, Christ commissioned him to feed or shepherd His sheep. Peter knew he was forgiven, and he would serve Christ until his dying day!

Peter reminds us, that no matter how great a Christian is, he or she may fall away from the Lord. And when they do, they need to know that Christ always gives a second chance to His humble followers.

Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to say “I love you” to erase the three-fold denial that had happened in the courtyard the night before Christ’s crucifixion. The truth is Simon Peter failed Jesus miserably. But Jesus Christ forgave him magnificently! 

Jesus wants to do the same for you and for me. Failure is overcome by forgiveness. There is no other way. If we want to make a difference in peoples’ lives, we must learn this important lesson. Sometimes we try to overcome our failures by trying harder or being “better” Christians. But trying harder or trying to be “better” Christians only makes things worse. Our failures are always overcome by the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ.  

Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to declare his love for Him because He wanted him to take His forgiveness into his heart where it really mattered. It is one thing to know about the forgiveness of Christ. But it is another thing to take it to heart. 

There may be many of us, if the truth were known, who know about the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. We know in our heads that He died on the cross for all our sins, and on this basis, He is willing to forgive all our sins. We even know that when we trusted Christ for His gift of eternal life, Jesus promised to forgive all our sins (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14).

But when it comes to the worst sin in our lives that we can look back on, the truth is many of us have not taken Jesus’ forgiveness to heart yet. Oh, we know we have eternal life by virtue of believing in Jesus (I John 5:13). But we have not heard Jesus say, “I forgive you” yet in that area of our greatest sin. Maybe that is the reason God brought you to this page, to hear Him say, “I forgive you,” so you can take it into the depths of your heart and soul.   

Keep in mind that Peter had believed in Jesus three years before Christ’s crucifixion (John 1:35-2:11; 6:69). And when Peter came to faith in Christ, Jesus changed his name from Simon to Cephas, which means a stone or rock (John 1:42). Why did Jesus change his name? Because Jesus knew the leadership role that Peter would play when He saw Peter in rough form. Peter would become a rock-solid leader among leaders.

Prior to Peter’s denial of Jesus, he had been walking with the Lord over three years. But Peter failed the Lord miserably when He denied knowing Jesus three times. He was probably uncertain about having a future ministry for his Lord and Savior after his great failure. He probably felt unworthy to be Jesus’ disciple. Therefore Jesus took special time with Peter to make sure he took Christ’s forgiveness into his heart so he would not carry that burden of guilt or shame into the future.

If the risen Lord Jesus is going to be able to use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail, WE MUST RECEIVE HIS FORGIVING GRACE INTO OUR HEARTS FOR OUR GREATEST SINS (JOHN 21:16-17). If we want to take to heart the forgiveness of Christ, we need to do it the same way Peter did. We look at Jesus’ word and we let His word come into our hearts and give us the assurance that His forgiveness has restored our fellowship or closeness with God.  

What does God say a Christian is to do after he or she sins? John tells us in his first epistle, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9). To “confess” (homologeō), means “to agree, admit, acknowledge.” 11  When we confess our sins to God we are agreeing with what God says about our sin. It is not merely a mistake or weakness. It is an offense against our holy God.

And the moment we confess our sin to God, He is “faithful and just” to forgive the sin we confessed and cleanse us of all our unknown sins (“all unrighteousness”) as well. God restores us to a harmonious relationship with Himself. The word “just” (dikaios) means “righteous.“Because of the shed blood of Christ (v 7), there is no compromise of God’s righteousness when He forgives.” 12 Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross satisfied God’s “just” demand to punish all our sin. When we confess our sins, God’s cleansing is total.

It is possible that even when God forgives us after we confess our sins, we stubbornly refuse to forgive ourselves. How long does it take us to forgive ourselves? Since God is ready and willing to forgive us when we seek His forgiveness (Psalm 86:5), what gives us the right not to forgive ourselves? If you are struggling to forgive yourself after God has forgiven you, take some time to write I John 1:9 down on a piece of paper. Then insert your greatest sins for the word “sins” in that verse. Draw a picture representing this truth so it can be installed into your right (limbic) brain. Review this verse and drawing every night before you go to sleep so God the Holy Spirit can massage it down into the depths of your heart and soul as you sleep. Choose to forget what God has already forgiven.

As stated earlier, Jesus used the word phileō the third time to meet Peter where he was at. Jesus was saying to Peter (and to us), “I want to meet you where you are at and walk with you on this journey called discipleship. I want to help you grow in your love for Me. I want to give you a vision of what you can become as My grace works in and through you to feed others spiritually.”

We are not on this journey alone. We have a great and sympathetic high priest who understands our struggles and longs to come alongside us to give us the grace and mercy we need (Hebrews 4:15-16). There is probably not one of us reading this article that feels like we love Jesus Christ the way He deserves. We love Him the best we know how, yet we know there is a lot of room for growth. I hope that all of us want to grow in our love for Jesus.

Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love Me with everything you have every moment of your life?” If we are honest with ourselves, we would say to the Lord, “Jesus, I want to love You more in the way You deserve, but I fall way short of that. I need Your help.” That is sort of what Peter was saying to Jesus. So, Jesus came the third time and said, “Peter, I know you are trying to grow in Your love for Me. I want to come alongside you and help you do that.” This is what Jesus wants to do for you and me. He takes us where we are and helps us grow in the love we have for Him. 

Interestingly, each time Jesus commands Peter to “tend” or “feed” His sheep, He uses present tense verbs (boske… poimaine… boske). This indicates that the feeding process is to be repeated and regular. A meal or two now and then will not develop strong sheep. Nor will a sermon now and then build strong disciples of Jesus. We need to be fed repeatedly, regularly, and often.

Though Peter had previously thought highly of himself, he had come to adopt Jesus’s view of leadership in ministry. Peter understood that being a leader of God’s people is not about arrogantly exercising power. Therefore, he could later write to other church leaders, ‘Shepherd God’s flock among you . . . not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock’ (1 Pet 5:2-3). Peter had taken to heart Jesus’s command, ‘Shepherd my sheep.’ Sometimes God lets his people fail in order to develop them spiritually and prepare them for greater usefulness (see Luke 22:31-32).” 13

Although Peter failed the risen Lord Jesus greatly, Jesus did not take Him off His team. To the risen Lord Jesus, winning men and women, and boys and girls is more important than winning games. Imagine Peter’s joy when for each of his three denials, Christ commissioned Peter to feed His sheep. Peter knew he was forgiven and restored. And he served Christ until his dying day. Jesus wants us to know and experience that we are forgiven so we can serve Him until He says it is time to come home to Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, many of us needed to hear this message from You. We have felt disqualified from serving You because of our past failures. We know in our heads that we are completely forgiven the moment we believed in You for eternal salvation, but our feelings keep lying to us. We have let them convince us that we are unworthy to be on Your team. Thank You so much for reminding us that our failures are not final because of Your forgiving grace. And when You forgive, You choose to forget. Teach us O Lord God to forget our past failures and to embrace Your amazing grace so we may forgive ourselves and help others to grow in their love for You. In Your precious name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 381.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 396 cites Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John Vol. 3 (Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 324.

3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 842.

4. Laney, pg. 381.

5. Ibid.; See also Archibald Thomas (A. T.) Robertson, Robertson’s Word Pictures in Six Volumes, (The Ephesians Four Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 78494-78496.

6. Bauer, pg. 604.

7. A. T. Roberston, Kindle Locations 78509-78510.

8. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1832.

9. Ibid.

10. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 569.

11. Ibid., pg. 1430.

12. Ibid.

13. Evans, pg. 1832.

How can we face challenges with courage? Part 1

“In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you.” John 16:26

Do you know what Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Robespierre, George Washington, Napoleon, Queen Victoria, Golda Meir, Hitler, Stalin, Fidel Castro, and Barack Obama all have in common? The answer is quite simple: They are all orphans. This is the conclusion of a study done by Dr. Pierre Rentchnick in a book entitled, “Do Orphans Lead the World?” 1

After surveying the lives of three hundred leaders who have had a great impact on world history, he discovered that all these leaders had grown up as orphans – either actually, through the death or separation from parents, or emotionally, as a result of severe childhood deprivation. “He concluded that what many would consider emotional deprivation may arouse an exceptional willpower which can be turned to either good or evil.” 2

Today psychologists are giving lectures on how important it is for a child’s development to have a father and a mother performing harmoniously together their respective roles towards their child, and we find this study which shows that some of the most influential people in world history never had healthy relations with their parents.

Paul Tournier, the Swiss physician and counselor, who was also an orphan, was intrigued by Rentchnick’s study, and so he took up the study and realized that many of the most influential religious leaders were also virtual orphans. 3  In his book, Creative Suffering, Tournier states that circumstances are morally neutral, whether fortunate or unfortunate. They simply are what they are; what matters is how we respond to them. 4

Good and evil, in the moral sense, do not reside in things, but they always reside in persons. Rarely are we in control of events which cause suffering. But we can control how we respond to suffering. By God’s grace, we can respond positively, creatively, and see suffering as an opportunity to learn and grow. Or we can respond negatively and stunt our growth.

When we face challenges or difficulties in life, how will we respond? Will we respond with faith or with fear? The circumstances do not determine how we respond. How we view those circumstances determines how we respond. This is the lesson that Jesus wants to teach us in John 16:25-33.

In John 16:16-24, Jesus used the analogy of a woman in the labor of childbirth to teach how He could transform the disciples’ grief over His death into gladness at His resurrection (John 16:16-24). In John 16:25-33, Jesus wants to teach us how to face challenges with courage.

First, we are to RESOLVE TO GO DIRECTLY TO THE FATHER IN PRAYER (16:25-26). Jesus said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father.” (John 16:25). The phrase “these things” refers back to what Jesus just said about a woman being in labor (John 16:16-24). When Christ says He spoke to His disciples in “figurative language,” He is referring to dark sayings which conceal some truth. He admits that He has not given direct answers to His disciples’ questions. But He assures them that “the time is coming” after His resurrection when He will no longer speak to them in figurative language. For forty days after His resurrection (cf. Acts 1:3), Christ would speak “plainly about the Father” and that would be reflected in the apostles’ teaching.

Evans writes, “There is a principle at work here for believers in Christ: God only explains what you are ready and able to handle. You may not understand the circumstances that you’re experiencing, but God loves you and is taking you through a growth process. He calls for your trust and obedience now. Further understanding will come later, when you’re prepared to receive it.” 5

Next Jesus said, “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you.” (John 16:26). “In that day” after His resurrection and ascension to heaven, the disciples would be able to approach the Father directly in Jesus’ name. It would not be necessary for Jesus to “pray the Father for” the disciples as He had done during His earthly ministry, because now they would be able to ask the Father for themselves.

This does not mean Jesus would never intercede in heaven for His disciples because the Bible tells us that Christ intercedes for all believers (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 9:24). What He probably means is that they are not to look to Jesus only to meet their needs, but to the Father also. 6 The verb “ask” (aitēsesthe) is in the middle voice and means to ask for one’s self a favor from God. It is not wrong to ask God to meet your own needs. The disciples could pray directly to the Father because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross which provided direct access into the presence of God in heaven (cf. Hebrews 10:19-22).

All believers can pray directly to God the Father. This is not a privilege limited to pastors or other church leaders. It is a privilege for all Christians. The Bible tells us, “For through Him we both [Jews and Gentiles] have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18).

In Acts 4, the believers of the Jerusalem Church were experiencing opposition to the gospel, so they prayed the Scriptures found in Psalm 2:1-2 (Acts 4:25-26) which describe a future day of rebellion when the nations will gather against Christ under the World Ruler or Beast of Revelation (cf. Revelation 16:13-16; 19:11-21). Do you know how the Lord will respond to their opposition? Psalm 2:4 says, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh.”

This is like the laughter of a father whose three-year old boasts that he can outrun him or beat him in a wrestling match. The father knows the boundaries of power possessed by his son. Likewise, God knows the boundaries of power among the nations and He is amused by their attempts to overthrow Him. That, my friends, is courage. If God laughs at this spirit of rebellion among all the nations, it would be inappropriate for you and me to be afraid among those who oppose the gospel. God has an abundant supply of courage to give us.

Among those who served in the court of Alexander the Great was a famous philosopher who had outstanding ability but little money. He asked Alexander for financial help and was told he could draw whatever cash he needed from the imperial treasury. When he submitted to the treasurer a request for an amount equal to $50,000, he was promptly refused. The treasurer had to verify that such a large sum was indeed authorized. But when he asked Alexander, the ruler replied, “Pay the money at once. The philosopher has done me a singular honor. By the largeness of his request, he shows that he has understood both my wealth and generosity.”

Believers who exercise great faith by asking God to provide for their needs demonstrate a similar understanding of His vast wealth and generosity. That kind of asking honors God the Father. If we are going to have courage when facing challenges in life, we must learn to go directly to the Father in prayer, knowing that He has an infinite supply of courage and He is eager to give it to those who ask.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I am so grateful to have direct access into Your throne room in heaven because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I can talk to You about anything at any time, knowing that You understand and want to bless me as Your child. I honor You when I ask You to meet my needs abundantly because it reflects that You are a good and generous Father Who delights in blessing His children. Lord God, I ask that You supply Your children with an abundance of boldness to proclaim Christ crucified to a lost and dying world. The world may mock or oppose those of us who proclaim Your gospel message, but we are so thankful to have the honor of serving You as Your ambassadors here on earth. Please use us as You deem best to magnify Your Son. In the powerful name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David M. Atkinson, Leadership – By the Book, (Dyer, IN: Grace and Glory Publishers, 2007), pg. 84.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid, pp. 84-85.

4. Philip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), pp. 143-144.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1811.

6. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentar, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 456.

How can I trust the Lord Jesus as the True Shepherd? Part 3

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” John 10:3c-4

David Johnson writes, “Both Old and New Testaments warn of false prophets and spiritual systems that add the performance of religious behaviors to the performance of Jesus on the cross as a means to find God’s approval. All of us, as Christians, are told to be on our spiritual guard. Are the spiritual relationships you have bringing the rest Jesus promised, or do you find just more toil and weariness?” 1

If your spiritual relationships have brought more toil and weariness than the rest Jesus promised, then you can probably relate to the fact that much of Israel’s history has been tainted by false shepherds who only cared about themselves and neglected to care for the people God had placed in their care (Ezekiel 34:2-6). In view of Israel’s false shepherds, the Lord promised a True Shepherd who would care for His flock. That Shepherd would be God Himself (Ezekiel 34:11-16).

We are learning that Jesus Christ is that True Shepherd Whom God’s people can trust to care for them in a way that the false shepherds never could. Jesus promises rest and nourishment for His sheep, not more toil and weariness. So far we have learned that we can trust Jesus as our True Shepherd because…

– He has prophetic credentials (John 10:1-2)

– He has the doorkeeper’s (John the Baptist’s) confirmation (John 10:3a)

– He has personal concern for each of us (John 10:3b)

Today we discover that we can trust Jesus as our True Shepherd because HE PROVIDES COMPETENT LEADERSHIP (John 10:3c-6). Jesus said concerning the True Shepherd,3c He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” (John 10:3c-4). The Pharisees cast the healed beggar out of the synagogue, but Jesus led him out of Judaism into His fold.Jesus calls His own sheep by name to “lead them out” of the fold from the other flocks. His sheep follow that familiar voice. They trust that voice.

Christ did not come to work within the Pharisee’s or Sadducee’s religious systems, but rather to separate those who heard His word from those systems because there was no life in them. As He gathered His flock together, “He goes before them”to show them the way in which they ought to go. The shepherd did not drive his sheep from behind with dogs like many shepherds in the Western world do today. Instead, he leads them from the front. The Pharisees tried to drive the people from behind using fear. But Jesus lovingly leads the people to pasture away from danger. Christ did not point people to a way in which He Himself was not walking but rather led His own sheep in the way He intended them to go. Jesus led by example, not by force. Such is the way of the True Shepherd.

You may be facing important decisions and Jesus loves you so much He wants to guide you. Some of you may be saying, “Great! Just what I need! Someone else to push me around or guide me!” Christ enjoys guiding you. He really does. He knows that life is too difficult to be lived on its own and He wants to guide us in our decisions and direction so we can experience His rest and enjoyment, not more toil and weariness. Jesus promised believers, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30).

The words “yoke” and “learn” suggest a discipleship relationship. What does it mean to take Jesus’ yoke? A yoke is a wooden beam  that attaches two farm animals together. By sharing the load, they lighten the load. They can carry more because they are working together. Who has a stronger back – you or Jesus? Jesus is saying to join up with Him, connect with Him in a discipleship relationship and He will carry the load with you. 

But the yoke is also a symbol of control. Farmers used a yoke to control their animals. Oxen yoked together are controlled by their master; when you and I are yoked to Christ we are controlled by Him. When you are yoked together with Christ you move together in the same direction and at the same pace. If you move at the same pace as Christ and in the same direction as Christ, will you have less stress? Absolutely! Who is setting the pace in your life at this time? You? Your boss? Your church? Your pastor? Your culture? That’s why you are overloaded with stress. When we yoke up with Jesus, He determines the pace and direction we are to go and then we will enjoy His promised rest of discipleship.

If you are a Christian, Jesus wants to guide you. He wants to direct you. You can count on His leadings to move you more into His likeness (Romans 8:28-29). He has good plans for you. Plans to prosper you, not to harm you. Hope-filled plans, as the Scripture says: “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11 – NIV).  Christ is always seeking to lead us. The question that faces us is are we listening?   

Jesus then says, “Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:5). While it is the nature of sheep to follow the voice of their shepherd, they will not follow the voice of a stranger even if he dresses alike or uses the same words because his voice is unfamiliar to them. Instead, the sheep flee to safety. In this context, oppressed people under the legalism of the Pharisees were fleeing to Jesus for safety and rest.

Do we run from unfamiliar voices or to them? When you hear teaching that is contrary to Jesus’ teachings, do you run from it or to it? For example, if you hear teaching that says you must bear fruit or produce good works to get to heaven (see John 3:15-16; 4:10-14; Romans 4:5; 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9), do you embrace it or reject it? If someone says that Jesus is just a good moral teacher or a prophet, but not God (see John 1:1-3, 14-17; Titus 2:13; I John 5:20), do you believe it or dismiss it? When you hear an instructor say that the Bible is full of errors and cannot be trusted (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21), do you accept it as true or call it false? How do we discern Jesus’ voice from so many others that fight for our attention? We must know God’s Word so well that false teaching will be obvious to us in contrast to the truth.

“Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.” (John 10:6). Many of the unbelieving Jews who heard these words“did not understand” what Jesus was talking about. They did not respond to the Shepherd’s voice because they did not belong to the Shepherd. Their rejection of Jesus’ word did not mean His word was false, rather it meant that they were not His sheep. They could hardly have failed to understand the relationship between shepherds and sheep, which was so common in their culture.

Nevertheless, they did not grasp Jesus’ analogy of Himself as Israel’s true Shepherd because they were spiritually blind. They were more familiar with the lies of their father, the Devil (John 8:44), and his followers who sought “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” the flock rather than give them life (John 10:10a). The Devil had lied to these Jews about the identity of Jesus and they believed his lies which kept them from believing in Christ as their True Shepherd. This is at the heart of all who reject Jesus Christ. They have been deceived by the father of lies – Satan himself and his followers (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4; 11:3-4).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for leading me out of performance-based religion which focused more on external rules and behaviors than on the heart. Under such systems, I experienced much toil and weariness instead of the rest You promised to Your followers. Instead of trying to drive me or pressure me from behind using fear, You have provided leadership for me to follow through Your humble and loving example. Please help me to be so familiar with Your voice and teachings that false teachings will be obvious to me in contrast to the truth.Thank You for loving me enough to offer Your guidance and direction to me daily. I am very grateful that I do not have to make decisions in isolation, but I can make decisions based on Your counsel from Your Word and the Holy Spirit’s teaching in my life and in the lives of other brothers and sisters in the family of God. Life is so much better with You, my True Shepherd, guiding me every step of the way. In Your precious name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTE:  

1. David Johnson, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, (Baker Publishing Group: Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 28.