How can I grow closer to the Good Shepherd? Part 1

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” John 10:11

Pharisaism replaces rest in Jesus with demands for spiritual performance. People under a Pharisaic system can develop a distorted image of God. In John 10:11-21, we will discover that our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, is on our side and not against us.

We saw in John 10:1-10 that we can trust Jesus as the true Shepherd because of …

– His prophetic credentials (John 10:1-2)

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

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

– His competent leadership (John 10:3c-6)

– His completely free offer of salvation (John 10:7-9a, 10b)

– His constant provision of nourishment (John 10:9b, 10c).

The Pharisees had not entered the sheepfold in the prescribed manner, that is, through faith in God’s Promised-Messiah, Jesus Christ. The Messiah and God’s provision of salvation through Him was a gracious gift not to be earned through compliance with the Law. Because of their unbelief, the Pharisees were false shepherds who misled their followers onto a treacherous path of dependency upon their own efforts to save themselves. Since they led the sheep along the wrong path away from the life Jesus offered, Jesus called them thieves and robbers of God’s sheep.

Being under a Pharisaic system can hinder believers from growing closer to the True Shepherd. The next few days, Lord willing, we will learn how to grow closer to the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, when we realize who He truly is. Those under a Pharisaic system may have a distorted view of Christ which keeps them from growing closer to Him. The remedy? Discover the truth about Jesus. He is a good, trustworthy Shepherd. I can grow closer to the Good Shepherd when I…

REALIZE HIS SACRIFICIAL INTEREST IN ME (10:11-13). Beginning in verse 11, there is a stark contrast between the Good Shepherd and the thief. Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd when He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11). This is another “I AM” statement by which Jesus claims to be the same God Who spoke to Moses in Exodus 3:14.

Notice that Jesus is not a mere shepherd, but “the good shepherd.” What does  “the good shepherd” do? He “gives His life for the sheep” so the sheep might live, but the thief comes to kill the sheep so he might live (John 10:10a). False shepherds come to take from others, but the Good Shepherd comes to give His life for the sheep. Jesus has the best interest of the sheep in mind. He laid down His life so that those who believe in Him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15). The word “for” in John 10:11 refers to the substitutionary death of Christ. Christ died “for” us or “instead” of us. He died in our place so we may live.

The Bible is clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Since God is a holy God, He must punish sin. God says that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The word “death” here refers to eternal separation from God. All people deserve to die forever in the Lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

God could have permitted us to take our own punishment. But instead, 2,000 years ago, God’s perfect Son took our place on the cross and died as our Substitute. The Bible tells us, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

A California newspaper reported that a man fired a gun into a pedestrian-filled sidewalk. To shield a three-year-old boy from the hail of bullets, a twenty-nine-year-old apartment manager grabbed him and ran back into the building. Carrying the boy, he ran up a flight of stairs before collapsing from two bullet wounds in his chest. A policeman observed, “He brought the boy out of the line of fire and died because of it.” 1

As our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ took what caused our death, our sin, and died for us before coming back to life three days later. By dying in our place, Jesus satisfied God’s holy demand to punish our sins. Jesus is alive today and He has the power to save us from hell and give us eternal life. Jesus is the one and only “door” (John 10:9) for the sheep. He is the only One

Who paid the penalty for our sin when He died in our place on the cross and rose from the dead. There is no other way to get to heaven (John 14:6) except to believe in Jesus alone for His gift of eternal life (John 3:15; 6:68-69; Acts 4:12).

Have you ever come to the point where you accepted Jesus’ death on your behalf? If not, would you like to now? Simply take Christ at His Word when He said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The moment you believe or trust in Jesus alone, He gives you eternal life which can never be lost or taken away from you.

Jesus is contrasted with the hireling who does not share the concern of the shepherd for the sheep. “But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them.” (John 10:12).  When the flock gets too large, the shepherd hires a man to help with the sheep. The hireling watched the sheep at night when danger lurked – lions, wolves, panthers, leopards, bears, and hyenas – in the countryside.

“The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep.” (John 10:13). When danger approached, the hireling fled because he doesn’t have personal concern for the sheep like the shepherd has. He only works for money with no sacrificial commitment to the sheep. Since he is a hired man, he also has no personal affection for the sheep.

The shepherd, on the other hand, owns the sheep and cares for their safety enough to even die for them (John 10:11). Christ loves His sheep so much that He was willing to purchase them with His own blood. The hireling is like the religious leaders who only cared for themselves. They used the peoples’ religious performance to meet their own spiritual needs instead of really caring about the needs of the people.

We can act like a hireling when we put our own needs ahead of the people God wants us to serve. For example, when a brother or sister in Christ is opposed by others because of their Christian faith, will we identify with them and support them at the risk of being attacked ourselves? Or will we withdraw from them to protect ourselves? Our Good Shepherd was willing to take a stand and fight for us against the forces of hell when He went to the cross on our behalf. As we grow closer to Him, He can help us put the needs of others ahead of our own.

Prayer: Your goodness, my Lord Jesus, was clearly and powerfully demonstrated when You gave Your life for the sheep. Unlike a robber or a hireling that cares more about himself than the sheep, You were willing to sacrifice Yourself so we may live forever with You after believing in You. False shepherds come to take from others, but You came to give. Knowing You have my best interest in mind invites me to grow closer to You. This can be difficult for me at times because I let my past wounds from spiritual leaders interfere with my view of You now. I pray Your Holy Spirit will remind me that since You gave me Your best when I was at my worst, how much more will You do now that I am in Your sheepfold (cf. Romans 8:31-32)!?! Please live Your life in and through me so others may experience Your goodness as a result. Thank You my Good Good Shepherd. I love You. In Your name I celebrate! Amen.  

ENDNOTE:

1.   From EvanTell’s 2010 “What are you depending on…” gospel tract.

How can I trust the Lord Jesus as the True Shepherd? Part 4

“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” John 10:9

In our study of John 10 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)

– He provides competent leadership (John 10:3c-6).

Today we discover that we can also trust Jesus as our True Shepherd because HE OFFERS SALVATION COMPLETELY FREE (John 10:7-9a, 10b). “Then Jesus said to them again, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.’ ” (John 10:7). After a shepherd separates his sheep from other flocks, he takes them out to pasture to graze. Near the pasture is an enclosure with no door. The shepherd stood in the doorway and functioned as the gate. The sheep could go out to graze in the pasture or if they were afraid, they could retreat into the security of the pen. A gate provides access or entrance.

When Jesus says, “I am the door,” He is saying He provides access or entrance into the nourishment of the pasture or into the security of the pen. Either way, Christ is the only One who can meet our spiritual needs completely. The religious leaders could not.

“All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.” (John 10:8). Jesus refers to the religious leaders as “thieves and robbers” who exploited people and cared only for themselves. Established religions and their leaders cannot meet the needs of God’s flock for safety and security. The Pharisees were telling people that the way to be saved was to follow their religious rules and regulations. Instead of caring for these people, they increased their burdens for their own gain. But “the sheep did not hear” or pay attention to them because they were not the True Shepherd.

Jesus on the other hand, offers salvation freely. “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved.” (John 10:9a). Jesus does not say, “I am a door,” leaving open the possibility of other ways into the fold. No, He says He is “the door.” He is the only way into God’s fold. He is the only way into God’s fold. This is another “I AM” statement by Jesus whereby He claims to be God (cf. John 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1).

The phrase “by Me” (di’ emou) is in an emphatic position (at the beginning of the sentence). Literally it says, “Through Me, if anyone enters, he will be saved” (di’ emou ean tis eiselthē, sōthēsetai). Only Jesus can provide access or entrance into God’s sheepfold through faith in Him alone. There is no other way for people to be saved from their sins and enter God’s family except through faith in Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:12; 14:6; Acts 4:12; I Timothy 2:5-6).

Notice what Jesus promises the person who enters through Him – “he will be saved.” He does not say, “he might be saved,” or “he could be saved.” No, Jesus said, “He will be saved.” The salvation Jesus offers is absolutely certain and complete. Christ’s statement leaves no room for doubt or uncertainty about one’s own eternal destiny.

In verse 10a, Jesus contrasts His free and complete salvation with the Devil and the false shepherds that the Devil uses. “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” (John 10:10a). “The thief” climbs over the wall, cuts the throats of the sheep, and then throws them over to other bandits. The thief robs the sheep of life and cares only about himself. Notice that “the thief” is singular and most likely refers to the Devil who wants “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” This would include the religious leaders (cf. 10:1, 8) whom the Devil uses to deceive the people. The Jewish religious leaders offered their followers a hope of finding God’s life through a life of obedience to their religious traditions. By doing this, they were robbing the people of the life that Jesus offered.

John 10:9-10 make it clear that there is only one way to God, but there are many ways to destruction. Jesus Christ is the only way into God’s sheepfold (John 14:6). All other religions consist of false shepherds who mislead people away from the life that Jesus freely offers. Most of the world’s religions may sound good to an uninformed person, but all of them have one thing in common – they lead you away from the everlasting life that only Jesus Christ can give.

Jesus did not come to steal, kill, and destroy. He came to give eternal “life” freely to those who would believe or trust in Him alone as their True Shepherd (John 3:15-16; 10:10b). The life that Jesus gives is not only long, but it is also rich, which leads to the sixth and final reason why we are to trust Jesus as our True Shepherd.

Because HE PROVIDES CONSTANT NOURISHMENT (John 10:9b, 10c). Jesus said,I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9b). Those who enter God’s family through faith in Jesus, can also “go in and out and find pasture.” This depicts the joy of the sheep finding nourishment in the pasture. Only Jesus can fully satisfy our needs for spiritual nourishment and security. Christ saved us not only so we can live with Him forever in heaven, but also so He can give us everything we need to grow and become more like Him here on earth. When Christians look to people to do for them what only Jesus can do, they will be very disappointed. People cannot give us eternal life or an abundant life. Only Jesus can do that. 

Christ then said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10bc). Eternal life must first be received as a free gift through faith alone in Jesus alone (“I have come that they may have life” – John 3:16; 4:10-14; Rom. 6:23; Ephes. 2:8-9) before we can experience that life “more abundantly” through obedience to Christ (John 8:31-32; 12:24-26). The word “abundantly” means over and above or overflowing life. All those who believe in Jesus have “life” in His name (John 10:10b; cf. 3:16; 20:31). But only those believers who obey Christ’s word will experience that life “more abundantly” both now and in eternity (John 10:10c; cf. 8:31-32).

So, eternal life can also refer to a reward that obedient believers will receive in the future (cf. Matthew 19:29; John 12:24-26; Galatians 6:7-8; I Timothy 6:12, 19). Eternal life is not static. Believers can experience varying degrees of God’s life as they learn to trust and obey Him.

Who is your shepherd? Is it your husband or wife? Your parents? A close friend? An imam, pastor, or priest? Your church, your religion, your government, or your culture? As important as they are they can never be the True Shepherd of your life because they are sheep too. Believe or trust in Jesus Christ alone as your true Shepherd not only for eternal life, but for a more abundant life both now and forever!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I come to You as my True Shepherd. Only You can guarantee life that never ends the moment a person believes in You. Only You can provide safety and security that lasts forever. When I compare all the other religious leaders of the world with You, they all fall short of Your goodness and grace which was fully expressed when You took our place and punishment on the cross to die for all our sins and then You rose from the dead. No other religious leader has ever laid down his or her life and taken it back up again in resurrection. I praise You not only for giving me everlasting life the moment I believed in You, but You also promise me an abundant life when I live for You. This is my desire my Lord and my God – to live for You the rest of my life because Your way leads to an abundant life as opposed to all other ways which rob people of the forever life You freely offer. In Your name I pray. Amen.

What are the narrow and wide gates in Matthew 7:13-14?

13 Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction , and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14  [NKJV]

When growing up in the church, I was taught that the “narrow gate” refers to the difficult commands Jesus gave in His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:12-7:12). In other words, believe in Jesus as the Messiah and do all these things Jesus has just taught, and you will enter into eternal life. The imagery was that of walking through the narrow gate and continuing on this long, difficult and narrow path of obedience to Christ in order to gain entrance into God’s kingdom. The “wide gate” then was living a life of disobedience.

But since my youth, I have come to a more nontraditional view of these verses which I believe is much more consistent with the original language of these verses and the emphasis of the New Testament.

Jesus said,  13 Enter (eiselthete) by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to (eis + accusative) destruction , and there are many who go in (eiserchomenoi) by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult (tethlimmene) is the way which leads to (eis + accusative) life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

Jesus said in Matthew 5:20, For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Christ is using the commands in the Sermon on the Mount to convict His unbelieving audience (the “multitudes” consisted of believers and unbelievers – Matthew 4:25- 5:2) of their inability to obtain the righteousness required to enter the kingdomof Heaven. These unbelievers must possess a righteousness that is greater than the most righteous people they know – “the scribes and Pharisees.” The only righteousness that God would accept as basis for entrance into His kingdom was the righteousness of God through faith alone in Jesus alone (Romans 3:21- 4:25). Jesus was using the Law and its application in the Sermon on the Mount to convict the unbelieving people of their inability to be righteous enough to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Christ brought them to the point of seeking a righteousness outside of themselves. Like a stern and demanding tutor, the Law was intended to lead people to faith in Christ (Galatians 3:19-24).

That Jesus is thinking specifically of the unbelieving multitude who are standing off in the distance is seen in His reference to kingdom entrance at the beginning (Matthew 5:20) and end of His Sermon (Matthew 7:21). He is speaking in the context of eternity. The phrase “in that day” (7:22) refers to the Day of Judgment for unbelievers. When Christ speaks of entering into “life” or “destruction” (7:13-14), He is thinking of eternal “life” or eternal “destruction.”

The word “difficult” (tethlimmene) in Matthew 7:14 means “confined, narrow.” It has nothing to do with a difficult lifestyle as some teach. The imagery is that you go through a gate and you immediately arrive at the place of destination. In the imagery of that day, you have the gate of a city that does not have a path on the other side of it. The path goes underneath the gate but does not go beyond this point of entrance. So the moment you go through the gate, you are in the city. There is not a long path on the other side of the entrance leading to the city.

The word “enter” (eiserchomenoi) in 7:13 means to “go into.” Matthew never uses this word in this kind of situation in terms of going toward something. It is always used of going directly into something. This is confirmed by the use of the Greek preposition eis, “into” with the accusative. If you were going to use a preposition in the Greek text to talk about going toward something, you would most likely use the word pros, “toward.” But the use of eis (“into”) with eiserchomenoi (“go into”) indicates that you are going through a gate which immediately brings you “into” your place of destination. Jesus is not talking about entering onto a difficult path that will lead to some other destination.

The “narrow gate” refers to the same thing Jesus said in John 10:9 and 14:6:

– “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” John 10:9

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6

The narrow gate is “narrow” because there is no other way to enter the kingdom of Heaven except through faith alone in Christ alone. The point of entrance is narrow because it alludes to faith in Jesus and no one or nothing else. The way is “confined” or “restricted” in that there is no other way which leads to the Father except through Christ. The “wide gate” in contrast, has many people entering through it because it is a wide entrance which leads immediately into eternal destruction. The “wide gate” represents all the other options in which men say life can be entered, especially confessing Jesus as Lord while relying on your good works (Matthew 7:21-22). But Christ is inviting His unsaved listeners to seek the “narrow gate” which happens to be Himself. There is only one way to Heaven which makes it “narrow.” That way is Jesus and Him alone.

In Matthew 18:3, Jesus responds to His disciples question about greatness in the kingdom by saying, “Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of Heaven.” In order for people to enter the kingdom of Heaven they must be “converted” or turned away from the cynicism and lack of trust that characterizes most adults and become like children who possess childlike faith. Little children must depend on others to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. Doing the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21) to gain kingdom entrance is choosing to place childlike faith in Jesus Christ to do for yourself what you could never accomplish on your own.

In the context, Jesus is talking about “false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (7:15). These false prophets are standing in front of the wide gate that leads into destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). Outwardly they may look and sound like Christians (“come to you in sheep’s clothing”). But they are preaching many ways to Heaven except faith alone in Christ alone. Those who believe the false prophet’s message and never trust Christ alone as their only hope of Heaven, will be surprised in the day of judgment when the Lord Jesus says to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness”(Matthew 7:23)!

True prophets are standing in front of the “narrow gate” that leads into life (Matthew 7:13-14). They are preaching that the way that leads into eternal life is “narrow” (John 10:9; 14:6). Only faith alone in Christ alone leads to eternal life (John 3:16; 6:40, 47; 14:6; Acts 4:12; I Timothy 2:4-6).

Those who teach a faith plus salvation are standing in front of “the wide gate” that leads into eternal destruction. Jesus says, “there are many who go in by it.” But those who teach a faith alone Gospel are standing in front of “the narrow gate” which is too narrow to carry your works baggage through it. Christ says, “there are few who find it.”

Just because a Bible teacher or theologian has a large following does not mean he or she is teaching the right message. There are many false religions in the world today that have millions of followers, but that does mean they have found the “narrow gate” that leads into life everlasting. It is as if Jesus is saying, “Be careful about those who have a large following. They may be standing in front of the wide gate that leads into eternal destruction.”

On the other hand, if a Bible teacher or evangelist has a small following, that does not mean he or she is standing in front of the wide gate that leads to destruction. If his or her message emphasizes that the only condition for everlasting life is faith alone in Christ alone, then he or she is standing in front of the narrow gate that leads into life. Praise God for that person and pray for them to hold fast to the true gospel of Jesus Christ so that many more people can hear and believe it!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for making it clear that You are the narrow gate that leads into life everlasting. Only believing or trusting in You alone gains entrance into the Father’s Kingdom. Help me to point others to You, the narrow gate, with my words and my works as Your grace works within me. Please expose those who stand in front of the wide gate for who they truly are – false prophets who inwardly are ravenous wolves that deceive people to believe that entering Your kingdom is by faith plus works. Please rescue these misled people by sending Your true prophets to them so they may believe in Jesus alone for His free gift of salvation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Do All Religions Lead to God?

“I, even I, am the Lord, and besides Me there is no savior.” Isaiah 43:11

God created Israel to worship and serve Him alone. He said, “Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me. I even I, am the Lord, and besides Me there is no savior” (43:10-11). Among “all the nations” of the world (43:9), only Israel’s God could deliver His people and know their future and be in control of all things.

We live in a world today that teaches there are many different ways to God. Many people insist that all religions lead to the same God (Universalism). Is this true? The God of the Bible has told us Himself  that “besides Me there is no savior” (43:11). If God had said there are many ways to Himself, then, yes, there are many ways to Him. But He has not said that. He says that He alone is the “savior.” 

In addition, God became a human being in the Person of Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14, 18), so we can believe what Jesus says about this issue. Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).Jesus did not say that He is “a way…to the Father,” implying that there are many different paths to God. No, He said He is “the way” to the Father. According to Jesus Christ, there are no other ways to God the Father.

You may ask, “What right does Jesus have to make such an exclusive claim?” The Bible affirms that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power… by the resurrection from the dead”(Romans 1:4). The proof that Jesus rose from the dead was that He was seen alive after His death by over five hundred eyewitnesses (I Corinthians 15:5-8).

The resurrection of Christ is the most attested fact of history. Thomas Arnold authored a three-volume history of Rome and was appointed to Oxford’s Chair of Modern History. Concerning the evidence behind the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he said, “I have been used for years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than that Christ died and rose from the dead” (see EvanTell’s tract, “How Can I Believe in Christ, When I Don’t Even Believe The Bible”)

The early followers of Jesus made it clear that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”(Acts 4:12)other than Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 4:10-11). The Bible, God Himself, and His followers teach that there is only one way to God and that is through the Lord Jesus Christ. To believe or teach something else means you must deal with the authority of the Bible and the credibility of Jesus Christ (see EvanTell’s 2014The Evangelism Study Bible, p. 776).  

If you have never understood and believed this, listen to what God says in Isaiah 45:22: “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” God the Son, Jesus Christ, now invites you to believe or trust in Him alone to save you from eternal death and give you His free gift of everlasting life.  Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). When you believed in Jesus, the Bible says you can “know” you have eternal life. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life”(I John 5:13).