How can I grow closer to the Good Shepherd? Part 5

“Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings.” John 10:19

The final way in this passage that we can also grow closer to the Good Shepherd is when we IMPART A CONSISTENT AND CLEAR WITNESS TO THE LOST ABOUT CHRIST (John 10:19-21). Jesus’ claims to be the Messianic Shepherd of Israel received a mixed response from His Jewish audience (John 10:1-18). “Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings.” (John 10:19). Because of what Jesus taught about being Israel’s Messianic Shepherd and yet dying for His sheep, His audience continued to be divided over Him. In the mind of the average Jew this was a contradiction. The Israelites expected a political Messiah to deliver them from political oppression, but Jesus came to be a spiritual Messiah to deliver them from the penalty of sin. The people rejected Christ because He did not live up to their expectations.

Even Christians can succumb to a similar kind of thinking that says if you are following Christ, you will have fewer problems and less suffering. In fact, believers may be quick to reject other believers who are suffering or display weaknesses because of this false expectation.

“And many of them said, “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?” (John 10:20). Some of Jesus’ listeners concluded that He “has a demon and is mad” or insane to say such things! They questioned why anyone would “listen” to such a man. His teachings seemed unreasonable and impossible to them.

Yet others were impressed with what Jesus was saying. “Others said, ‘These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’ “ (John 10:21). Christ’s gracious teaching did not resemble that of a demon nor did His miraculous healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-41). This group says what Jesus is not but they make no attempt to say who Christ is.

Throughout his gospel, John emphasizes the two opposite conclusions that people draw from Jesus’ teaching, even though Christ’s witness to His identity as God was sufficiently consistent and clear. This should be an encouragement to all Christians who tell others the truth about Christ. Not even Jesus Himself convinced everyone that He was God’s Son. When believers openly identify with Christ by telling others who He is and what He has done for them, they can experience a closer relationship with Him regardless of how others respond to the message. After all, Jesus is our Good Shepherd Who has entrusted us with His Good News (gospel) to share with others. As we proclaim this good news to others, we are also proclaiming it to ourselves. And in a world that is filled with bad news these days, it does our souls good to hear the good news of our Good Shepherd! And let’s remember that as disciples of Christ, our responsibility is to be clear and consistent in our witness for Christ to the lost; however, it is Jesus’ responsibility to save them.

It is also true that the lies of the Devil can keep believers from being a consistent and clear witness to the gospel of Christ. After all, Satan is “the father of lies” (John 8:44). In EvanTell’s Evangelism Study Bible, it reads, “He [Satan] misrepresented what God said to Eve since only one tree was off limits (see Gen. 2:16-17; 3:11). He even cast doubt over God’s character, implying that God would hold back what was best for them (see Gen. 3:4-5).

“Satan still uses lies to hinder believers in evangelism today. Here are five he commonly uses:

“1. ‘Non-Christian aren’t that approachable.’ Some aren’t, but some are. How do we know unless we approach the subject of spiritual things? One person who wasn’t open doesn’t represent everyone. Additionally, a person completely closed yesterday may be open today. God can use a single day’s events to get someone’s attention.” 1

For example, when I was flying back to Manila from a mission trip to the southern Philippines five years ago, I sat next to a Filipino businesswoman and asked her if I may show her from the Bible how she can know for sure she has eternal life and will go to heaven when she dies. She told me she was not interested. I thanked her for her honesty, and then I prayed a silent prayer to the Lord asking Him to open this woman’s heart so she can be saved.

As we approached the Manila Airport, the pilot told us that weather conditions were not favorable but they would still try to land. There was a lot of turbulence as we descended toward the airport. As our plane tried to land, it had to pull up at the last minute because the winds and rain were too strong and the pilot could not see. A wave of panic swept across the passenger area. Our plane circled around to make another attempt at landing. I was praying for the Lord to keep us safe and open the hearts of the people on the plane. As the pilot made another attempt to land in Manila he had to pull up again at the last minute because of poor visibility. There was a nervous hush among the passengers. The pilot then announced that our flight would be diverted to Clark Air Base about a fifteen-minute flight (three-hours’ drive by car) away.

The Lord prompted me to share with the passenger who earlier did not want to talk about how to get to heaven. I now asked her if she would like to know what she must do to get to heaven if she only had five minutes to live. She said, “Yes.”  So I introduced Acts 16:31 to her by telling her the Philippian jailer thought he had a short time to live, so he asked a missionary what he must do to be saved from hell. I then shared Acts 16:31 with her and explained it to her. I asked her, “Do you believe in Jesus now to save you from hell so you can live with Him forever in heaven?” She said, “Yes. Thank you.” I briefly explained to her that she now has everlasting life which cannot be lost. The Lord then enabled me to share the same thing with the passenger across the aisle from me. As I was sharing I noticed the passenger directly behind me was also listening. So when I finished with this passenger, I did the same thing with the one behind me. Praise God for the typhoon which got people to think about life and death and where they will spend eternity.

Continuing with lies that Satan commonly uses in evangelism, is “2. ‘You may end up doing more harm than good.’ That’s not possible. God honors obedience, so you never go wrong by serving Him in evangelism. Suppose you say the ‘wrong things’ in the mind of someone else or were not as tactful as you needed to be. God is more honored by someone who attempts to evangelize and makes mistakes than someone who doesn’t do anything. Ultimately God is in control even if we make a mistake, He is bigger than our mistakes.

3. ‘You might not be able to answer their questions.’ You may not be able to answer every objection, but who said you have to? That’s certainly not something Jesus ever said. Should the non-Christian ask a question you can’t answer, it’s honoring to God to say ‘I don’t know.’ Then look up the answer and you will be better prepared the next time. New converts tend to lead more people to Christ than anyone else, yet they know very little and often can’t answer most questions an unbeliever would ask. God often uses their zeal and excitement to convince non-Christians of their need for Christ.

“4. ‘Your life isn’t what it ought to be.’ It may not be. But keep in mind two things. First, Satan is a master of intimidation. No believer’s life is a perfect example of Christ. If you wait till your life is everything it ought to be, you will never evangelize. That’s what Satan prefers. Second, God doesn’t use perfect believers. There are none. He uses imperfect believers who are trying to be who God wants them to be. Seek to live the life you should, but don’t wait till you are ‘there’ to evangelize.

“5. ‘There is probably a better time than today.’ Satan doesn’t care what you do as long as you do it tomorrow. Procrastination is one of his tools. How do people know what the best timing is unless they attempt to evangelize today?

“Lies- Satan’s tool. Recognize lies for what they are and don’t allow him to hinder you in your evangelism outreach.” 2

As I traveled on mission trips throughout the Philippines, I experienced various responses to the preaching of the gospel message. The majority have been very responsive to the gospel of Christ and have publicly indicated that they are now trusting in Jesus alone for His gift of eternal life. Some, however, have expressed indifference or even animosity toward the gospel. Regardless of how people respond, God asks me to be a faithful steward of His gospel (I Corinthians 4:1-2; Colossians 4:4; I Thessalonians 2:3-10).

When we are faithful to preach the gospel clearly and consistently in season and out of season, we can experience a closeness to our Good Shepherd whose witness was always consistent and clear during His earthly ministry. Even Jesus, the perfect Messiah-God, could not convince everyone that He was God in human flesh and nor will we. Our responsibility is to be faithful to our Lord’s command to preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15). It is Jesus’ responsibility to give them everlasting life and transform them into His likeness (John 5:21; 2 Corinthians 3:18).

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, it still amazes me how divided people are concerning Your identity both now and when You walked on the earth. Even though You gave a clear and consistent witness to Your identity as the promised Messiah-God, people formed different conclusions about You. I am realizing more and more that the primary reason for this is because Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44), has deceived people into believing his lies about You to keep them from having life in Your name (John 20:31; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Regardless of how people respond, Lord Jesus, please enable me to preach Your gospel message clearly and consistently to everyone who is perishing without You. You could have chosen angels or billboards to proclaim Your life-giving message. But instead, You entrusted Your precious gospel with imperfect sinners like me to share this life-changing message. Thank You that You are in me and with me through Your Spirit to help me do this in a way that brings You glory and draws me closer to You. In Your name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, copyright 2014 EvanTell, Inc.), p. 1174.

2. Ibid.

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.