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 overcome spiritual blindness? Part 1

“Therefore some of the Pharisees said, ‘This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.’ Others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?’ ” John 9:16

A woman named Rose Crawford had been blind for 50 years. “I just can’t believe it!” she gasped as the doctor lifted the bandages from her eyes after her recovery from delicate surgery in an Ontario hospital. She wept for joy when for the first time in her life a dazzling and beautiful world of form and color greeted eyes that now were able to see. The amazing thing about the story, however, is that twenty years of her blindness had been unnecessary. She didn’t know that surgical techniques had been developed, and that an operation could have restored her vision at the age of thirty. The doctor said, “She just figured there was nothing that could be done about her condition. Much of her life could have been different.” 1

Why did she continue to assume that her situation was hopeless? Had no one told her about the wonderful advances in eye surgery? Then I thought of the plight of those unreached by the gospel. How many will go on living in spiritual blindness unless we bring them to the Savior? Millions will never know anything but spiritual darkness because no one has shared with them the Light that has come into the world.

All people are born spiritually blind to Jesus Christ because the devil has blinded them to their need for Christ (2 Corinthians 4:3-6). The next few days we will see how spiritual blindness expresses itself and how one can overcome spiritual blindness. We will look at the symptoms of spiritual blindness and the solutions to spiritual blindness. 

In John 9:1-12, when Jesus, as “the Light of the world,” gave physical sight to the man born blind, it caused many mixed reactions. “They brought him who formerly was blind to the Pharisees.” (John 9:13). “They” refers to the blind man’s neighbors – those who were close to him (cf. John 9:8). The neighbors of the blind man brought him to the religious experts, “the Pharisees,” hoping they could explain what happened. The problem with this decision to go to the Pharisees is that these men were spiritually blind.

“Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes.” (John 9:14). John points out that Jesus healed the blind man on the “Sabbath,” a troublesome issue to those who are spiritually blind. “Then the Pharisees also asked him again how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.’ ” (John 9:15). The Pharisees again asked the man born blind “how” Jesus had healed him to discredit Christ’s healing grace.

When the man born blind told them the facts, some of the Pharisees concluded “This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” (John 9:16a). They concluded that Jesus is not from God” because He did not keep the Sabbath according to their understanding of keeping the Sabbath. In other words, Jesus did not live up to their spiritual standards. The Pharisees strictly followed Jewish traditions about the Law, not just the Law Itself. Jewish tradition developed a long list of things that could not be done on the Sabbath in an attempt to keep the Law’s command not to work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11).

The first symptom of spiritual blindness is to DENY YOUR OWN SINFULNESS BY FOCUSING ON MAN-MADE TRADITIONS (John 9:13-16a). The Pharisees concluded that Jesus could not be from God because He did not obey their man-made Sabbath laws which forbid mixing saliva with clay. That was considered work. Their adherence to legalistic traditions blinded them to the miracle of the blind man’s healing. But Jesus focused on meeting this man’s “real” need rather than focus on keeping their rules and formulas.

Those who are spiritually blind do not want to admit their own sinfulness and need for a Savior. So, they focus on the performance of others because it will make them look good and help them avoid their own sense of guilt and shame. By focusing on the performance of others, they can avoid the performance of Jesus Christ when He died for their sins on the Cross (I Corinthians 15:3-4). This preoccupation with man-made traditions enables them to avoid the scrutiny of the Cross which reveals the only way to obtain acceptance before a holy God. Today, following religious traditions keeps many people from understanding the simplicity and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is the solution to this aspect of spiritual blindness? Look in the next part of verse 16. “Others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them.’ ” (John 9:16b). Others among the Pharisees knew that a sinner could not perform such a miraculous sign. Only someone from God could conduct such a supernatural healing. Perhaps Nicodemus was among this group of learners (cf. 3:2). The first solution to spiritual blindness, then, is to DIGEST THE FACTS ABOUT JESUS (John 9:16b-17). These observers realized that an ordinary person (“a sinner”) was not capable of performing such a creation miracle as this. This man was born blind and needed God to intervene to create the physical sight that he had never possessed. Only God can create something out of nothing.

To overcome spiritual blindness, an individual must honestly assess the facts about Jesus Christ. His life and miracles point to His origin as being from God. Only God could give physical sight to a man born blind. People who are dishonest with the facts about Jesus are seeking to avoid concluding that He is God. For if Jesus is not God, then they do not need to admit their sin against Him and believe or trust in Him alone for their salvation.

The blind man’s neighbors question him further to help resolve the dispute among the Pharisees. “They said to the blind man again, ‘What do you say about Him because He opened your eyes?’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’ ” (John 9:17). They would not normally question an illiterate beggar but because he did know what happened they want to know what the former blind man concluded about Jesus. He boldly said, “He is a prophet.” Apparently, his gratitude for Jesus’ healing was greater than any fear he had toward the Pharisees. This is more than what he said earlier when he referred to his healer as “a Man called Jesus” (John 9:11). His understanding of Jesus is growing. Eventually the man born blind would believe that Jesus was “the Son of God” (John 9:35-38).

Some of you reading this article may be spiritually blind and you do not even know it. Perhaps you have been focusing on the performance of others who do not measure up to your religious standards. You are quick to say they are sinners or infidels because they do not dress, pray, eat, or worship like you do, and you conclude that they are unclean or evil. Have you ever considered why you do this? Is it possible that by focusing on the religious performance of others you are able to avoid your own shortcomings and sinfulness? And more importantly, you are able to avoid what Jesus Christ did on the Cross?

For you see, if you were to focus on what Jesus Christ did for you on the Cross, you would be confronted with your own sinfulness. The Bible tells us that the gospel by which we are saved is “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” (I Corinthians 15:3). Jesus did not die because He did something wrong. He died in our place as our Substitute for our sins “according to the Scriptures.” The prophet Isaiah prophesied this hundreds of years before the Romans invented crucifixion when he wrote, “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).

Why did Jesus die on a Cross? The Bible tell us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). All of us deserve to die or be separated from God forever. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a). The penalty for our sin is death or separation from God. Jesus took what was causing us to die – our sin – and He died in our place on a Cross so we could live.

Let me explain with an illustration I was taught by evangelist Larry Moyer who founded EvanTell, a wonderful evangelistic ministry dedicated to keeping the gospel clear and simple (see www.evantell.org). Suppose you are in a hospital dying of cancer. I come to you and say, “Let’s take the cancer cells from your body and put them into my body.” If that were possible, what would happen to me? Yes, I would die. But what would happen to you? Yes, you would live. I would die in your place.

The Bible is telling us that Jesus Christ took what was causing us to die – our sin – and placed it on Himself and died in our place so we could live. Three days later, Jesus came back to life to prove that sin and death had been defeated and that Christ’s claims to be God were true. In order for us to live eternally, we must simply believe or trust in Jesus alone Who died in our place and rose from the dead, to give us everlasting life. Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15).

Instead of focusing on the religious performance of others to avoid your own sinfulness or to avoid the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross for you, take a moment before God in prayer to admit your need for Him.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I come to you right now admitting that I have been running from You by focusing on the shortcomings of others. I was afraid to admit my own sinfulness to You for fear that You would punish me. For years I believed that You were merely a prophet and a good moral teacher. I hated You and Your followers. But now I am realizing that Your miracles and teachings point to You as Someone Who is far more than a prophet or teacher. You are God in human flesh because only God could do and say the things You did. As much as I know how, Lord Jesus, I believe You took my punishment for my sins when You died on the Cross and rose from the dead. I am now believing or trusting in You alone (not my religion, my prayers, or my good life), to forgive all my sins and give me everlasting life. Thank You Jesus for the forgiveness and everlasting life I now have. Thank You for hearing my prayer. In Your name. Amen.

To learn more about your new relationship with Jesus, please visit www.seeyouinheaven.life or www.knowing-Jesus.com.

ENDNOTE

1. http://www.biblestudytools.com/pastor-resources/illustrations/spiritual-blindness-11544395.html on 1-3-2017).

Why is being a Nice Person not enough to get you to Heaven?

I have met many nice people in my lifetime. In fact, they put me to shame with their kindness toward others. Instead of being selfish or judgmental, they are quick to help others regardless of their beliefs. Basically they live by the Golden Rule that Jesus taught – “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them” (Matt. 7:12). Many of the world’s religions advocate this teaching. But is being a nice person enough to get you to heaven?

God has told us in His Bible that all people have a fundamental problem that separates them from Him. It is called sin.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

No human being is “nice” enough to get to heaven because we all have sinned against God and fall short of His standard for being “nice.” 

“For the wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23a

“Death” in the Bible means separation from God. Sin separates us from God because He is holy, righteous, and perfect. He cannot be around sin. The only way to approach God is on His terms, not ours. 

God tells us that there is only one way to receive eternal life (access to heaven) and that is “in” Jesus Christ. 

“But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23b

Notice that eternal life is not in being nice or good. It is “in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God loved you and me so much that He was willing to come to earth in human flesh (John 1:1, 14-17) and die on the Cross for our sins and come back to life (I Corinthians 15:3-6) so we could have everlasting life simply by believing in Him (John 3:16).

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

No amount of being nice can take away our sins. 

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Isaiah 64:6

God looks at the good things we do, such as being nice or good to others, and sees that it is like “filthy rags.” The good things we do are all stained with sin before a holy God. For example, we may be nice to someone with selfish motives such as wanting their approval or wanting something in return from them. God sees our sinful motives even though we or others may not be aware of them.

Being “nice” cannot take away our sins. Only Jesus Christ is qualified as the God-Man to take away our sins (John 1:1, 14-17, 29; 14:6; Acts 4:12; I Timothy 2:3-6). Only Jesus was “nice” or good enough to earn heaven. Believe in Him and God will credit Jesus’ righteousness to your life so He can welcome you into His heaven.

“But to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” Romans 4:5

Then Jesus will come to live inside of you (Galatians 2:20) through His Holy Spirit (John14:16-17; Romans 8:9) to give you the power to be nice to others as you learn to trust and obey Him (John 15:5; Galatians 5:22-23).