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.

Could there be another great awakening coming?

THE IMPETUS

In recent days I have spoken with people whom I greatly respect as mentors and dedicated followers of Christ who mentioned to me that they are anticipating another Great Spiritual Awakening in America and around the world. The impetus? The mistreatment of children.

One of the darkest expressions of human depravity today is found in human trafficking.  According to the definition of the United Nations, human trafficking means, “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons for the purpose of exploitation.” 1 Victims of human trafficking are exploited through different types of human slavery such as sex work, forced labor, or organ removal and selling.

According to The International Labour Organization, there are approximately 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally. 2  The Fox News Investigative Unit also confirms this, saying, “Every year more than 40 million people are forced into the world of human trafficking across the globe and it’s someone’s son or daughter that is trapped in this modern-day slavery.” 3 Of these millions of victims, 25 percent are children, 75 percent are female, and 81 percent are trapped in some form of forced labor. 4

The 24.9 million people exploited for forced labor includes those caught in one of the most common forms of trafficking: sex trafficking. 5 Women and girls are overwhelmingly affected by exploitation of this sort, making up 99 percent of victims in the commercial sex industry. 6 Sex trafficking alone generates an estimated $99 million per year. 7

While human trafficking affects victims of all ages, children are especially vulnerable. About one out of seven endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2017 were likely child sex trafficking victims. 8 Of the 15.4 million forced into marriage worldwide, 37 percent are children. 9

Human trafficking is also a serious problem in the USA. According to the Fox News Investigative Unit, America is among one of the worst nations for human trafficking along with Mexico and the Philippines. 10 Geoff Rogers, co-founder of the United States Institute Against Human Trafficking (USIAHT), said in an interview with Fox News, “We have a major issue here in the United States. The United States is the No. 1 consumer of sex worldwide. So we are driving the demand as a society… We do have men traveling the globe to go to places like Thailand and other places in East Asia to purchase sex with kids. But, in fact, the demand is so great that the supply has needed to be filled here in the United States.” Rogers also said that 50% to 60 % of these kids are coming out of the foster care industry in America. 11

According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report, over 300,000 of America’s young population is considered at risk for sexual exploitation. It’s also estimated that 199,000 incidents occur within the U.S. each year. 12

According to DeliverFund’s website, in the USA, every 2.5 hours a child is taken by traffickers; every trafficked child is purchased for sex 5.4 times a day; 7 years is the average lifespan of a child victim once taken. 13

One teenage sex trafficking survivor known as “C” says, “Five men came in and it went from a Friday night to a Sunday morning — constantly. There was no sleep or break or anything it was just constantly being attacked by these men, and they kept giving me drugs and giving me liquor. And they just kept me hopped up.” 14

Sex trafficking is also connected to politicians in the USA as the more recent Jeffrey Epstein case has shown. 15 I wonder how many political candidates will address the pandemic of child trafficking along with the COVID pandemic as the November Presidential elections draw near?!!! This is not likely if they are also connected to this shameful industry.

The global pandemic of COVID-19 is causing an increase in isolation and human vulnerabilities that traffickers are eager to exploit. 16With many people stuck at home, stressed, or bored, pornography use has increased – Pornhub’s traffic shot up nearly 20 percent in late March. Sites like OnlyFans, a subscription-based social media platform used heavily by sex workers, have increasingly drawn unemployed people desperate for cash. OnlyFans saw a 75 percent increase in signups in March and April. Glamour magazine reported that up to 10,000 creators were joining OnlyFans daily during the month of May.” 17

Pornography has become an entryway for purchasing people for sex. 18 Amanda Eckhardt, the executive director of Restore NYC, a faith-based nonprofit that works with immigrant survivors of sex trafficking, says, “It’s important for the church to know that beyond the shutdown and pandemic, there will likely be a whole new cohort of people who will increase beyond traditional pornography viewing to purchasing sex, which will intersect with the trafficking of women and girls.” 19

I do not want to leave out the fact that child sexual abuse is also a problem in churches. Countless children have been sexually exploited by Catholic priests, nuns, and members of religious orders around the world. 20  Even among evangelical churches, there are young people being exploited sexually by their church leaders. 21 Regardless of culture or religion, the sexual exploitation of children is a very dark reality.

Let’s not forget the horrific treatment of unborn children worldwide. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 73 million abortions took place each year around the world between 2015 and 2019. 22 Since the legalization of abortion on demand in the USA, over 50 million unborn children have been torn apart in their mother’s womb through abortion procedures. 23

WHAT IS GOD’S RESPONSE TO THE MISTREATMENT OF CHILDREN?

Young children are very valuable to Jesus. They have a special place of love and respect from Him. Jesus said, “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10). Little children are very valuable to God as demonstrated by how close their guardian angels stand to the throne of God. Christ said, “It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18:14). God the Father does not want any little child to perish forever in hell.

We also see Jesus’ concern for little children in Matthew 19:13-15: “Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.” Jesus rebukes those who forbid little children from coming to Him. He says not to forbid little children from coming to Him because “the kingdom of heaven” is occupied by those who possess childlike faith in Jesus.

One of Jesus’ strongest statements against the mistreatment of children is seen in Matthew 18. 5 Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. 6 But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5-6). To welcome children and serve them is to welcome and serve Jesus (18:5). So if you want fellowship with Jesus, you must treat children and those who are childlike with tender love and care. Otherwise, Jesus warns of the great danger of causing them to stumble. He says it would be better to drown in the depth of the sea with a heavy stone hung around your neck than to cause a child to get tripped up (18:6). I can think of nothing worse that exploiting children sexually! Those who do so without getting right with God, must face the wrath of Jesus Christ!

In the Old Testament when God’s people sacrificed their children to pagan gods, the Lord’s wrath was kindled against them. 36 They served their idols, which became a snare to them. 37 They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons, 38 and shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with blood. 39 Thus they were defiled by their own works, and playedthe harlot by their own deeds. 40 Therefore the wrath of the Lord was kindled against His people, so that He abhorred His own inheritance.” (Psalm 103:36-40; cf. Deuteronomy 18:10; 2 Kings 16:3; 17:17). What we are seeing in the world today with children being sacrificed on the altars of sexual exploitation and abortion is equally abhorrent to the Lord and invites His wrath.

The God of the Bible is holy and cannot be around our sin (Psalm 5:4; 66:18; Isaiah 59:2;Romans 3:23; 6:23). He hates sin (Psalm 45:7; Proverbs 6:16; Zechariah 8:17), but He does not hate sinners. God loves sinners and wants to save them from sin’s penalty (eternal death) and give them everlasting life. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). Christ died for us “while we were still sinners,” not saints. The idea that we must clean ourselves up and stop sinning before we come to Christ is not found in the Bible!

Jesus loved and died for all sinners including the pedophile, the child molester, sex traffickers, the abortionist, and the parents or grandparents who sell their children’s bodies to make money. No exceptions!!! God’s grace is greater and stronger than our sin through the blood of Jesus Christ! “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” (Romans 5:20). If Jesus’ blood can wash away the sin of all nations from all time in all of history (Hebrews 9:14; Revelation 1:5; 5:9; 12:11), certainly His blood can wash away the sin and shame of those who are caught up in human trafficking the moment they believe in Him for His gift of forgiveness and everlasting life (John 3:16; Acts 10:43; 16:31)!

WHAT IS OUR RESPONSE?

My prayer is that God will use the darkness of human trafficking to awaken the world for its need for the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ! All of us have sinned against God with our words, our thoughts, and our actions (Romans 3:23). All of us deserve to be separated from God forever because of our sins (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:15). In the sight of a holy God, the people who spend more time in a church or a mosque or a temple are no better than those who spend more time in human trafficking. We all have sinned against God.

How will we respond to the mistreatment of children worldwide? Will we try to justify our participation in these very dark practices by saying “everyone is doing it” or “no one has to know as long as I can keep it a secret”? Are we so desperate for money that we are willing to sacrifice the innocence of our children or grandchildren on the altar of human trafficking?

We may think that this does not apply to us because we do not participate in such atrocities. But are we any better than those who practice such evil as we turn the other way and pretend that such wickedness does not exist or perhaps we assume someone else will fix it? The Bible says, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10). Sins of omission are just as evil in God’s sight as sins of commission.

The Bible says, “Deliver the poor and needy; free them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:4). Are we delivering “the poor and needy” children of this world from human trafficking when we turn the other way and pretend this does not involve us? When the Bible says, Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy” in Proverbs 31:8-9, are we obeying the Lord when we remain silent concerning the millions of children who are speechless and needy in the human trafficking industry? Oh may the Lord have mercy on all of us!!!

Human trafficking is one of the darkest expressions of our human sinfulness. Children are being robbed of their innocence through this very dark industry. Whether you are a victim of human trafficking or a consumer, you are probably silenced by your shame.

If you do not have Jesus Christ in your life, God invites you right now to come into the light of His love so He can set you free from your shame. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus did not say, “Come to a church or a mosque or a temple.” No. He said, “Come to Me.” Jesus is the One who can deliver us from the burden of our sin and shame.

Nor does Jesus say, “Come to Me and I will give you stress and shame.” Human trafficking will give you unbearable stress and shame whether you are a victim or a consumer. But not Jesus. He says, “Come to Me and I will give you rest.” You may be suffering in silence feeling horrible about what has been done to you as a victim of sex trafficking. Or, you may be coming apart on the inside with shame because you purchased children for sex. Please know that Jesus invites you to come to Him just as you are to receive the spiritual “rest” of His cleansing forgiveness and everlasting life. The “rest” Jesus offers here refers to a state of mind that exists when a non-Christian realizes he or she does not have to earn or work for their salvation. This refers to the positional rest of eternal life that is based on trusting in Christ’s accomplishment on the cross (John 3:14-16). Jesus finished the work of paying our sin debt in full when He died in our place on the cross and rose from the dead (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6). Jesus is alive today and He knows how deeply you are hurt or ashamed. He loves you infinitely and invites you to come to Him for rest.

If you have never understood and believed this before, and now you do, you can tell Jesus this through prayer.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I come to you deeply burdened by my sin and my shame. I have sunk deeply into darkness. Before today, I thought no one could ever love me or want a relationship with me. But I am realizing that You showed me how much You love me by dying in my place on a cross for all of my sins. Thank You, Jesus, for taking all my punishment when You died and rose from the dead. I am now trusting You, Jesus, alone to forgive all my sins and cleanse me of all my shame. Thank You for the forgiveness and complete cleansing I now have. Please help me to see myself as You do now – as a dearly loved child of God who will never be alone again. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

If you are a believer in Jesus who is a survivor of sex trafficking, please know that Christ loves you infinitely for who you are. What was done to you was terribly wrong, but that does not mean you are wrong. Jesus wants to walk with you through your pain and shame so you can be free from the past. Since you were deeply injured through relationships, you will need to experience healing in the context of relationships with people who will love and care for you regardless of your past. Please see the “NEED HELP?” section for contact information of those who can help you.

If you are a believer in Jesus who enabled human trafficking or purchased children for sex, you also need to know that Jesus loves you very much and He wants to shine His love in the dark places of your soul. Yes, what you did was wrong, but you are not wrong in the sight of Jesus! You are still God’s beloved child who may have unresolved trauma that has led you to medicate your pain and shame with these dark practices. Jesus wants to heal you in the context of loving relationships. Please see the “NEED HELP?” section for contact information of those who can help you.

May all of us pray for the God of all grace to bring to light the darkness of human trafficking in the world so children and consumers will be rescued from the chains of shame through the grace and truth of the Lord Jesus Christ! Only Jesus can replace the enemy’s darkness with His marvelous light and hope!

 NEED HELP?

If you are being trafficked or suspect that someone you know is being trafficked contact:

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (843-5678) or CYBERTIPLINE.ORG.

– National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888

If you are a survivor of sex trafficking or a consumer thereof and would like healing, please contact one of the following Christian Counseling services:  

– NewLife Ministries at www.newlife.com or call 800-NEW-LIFE (639-5433)

– Agape International Missions at www.agapewebsite.org

– Rahab’s Daughters at www.rahabsdaughters.org

– Bethany Christian services at www.bethany.org

ENDNOTES:

1. https://www.glowbalact.com/en/humantrafficking/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwp4j 6BRCRARIsAGq4yMHiB6KnaVuFSaP2hgwYWxfJ7qWRLRy4EHUq6ukzo60rf4m56KBY190aAt6NEALw_wcB

2. https://www.forgottenchildren.org/human-trafficking-by-the-numbers

3. https://www.foxnews.com/world/human-trafficking-victims-are-mostly-underage-children-from-within-the-us

4. https://www.forgottenchildren.org/human-trafficking-by-the-numbers

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. https://www.foxnews.com/us/human-trafficking-in-america-among-worst-in-world-report

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. https://deliverfund.org/the-human-trafficking-problem-in-america/

14. https://www.foxnews.com/world/human-trafficking-victims-are-mostly-underage-children-from-within-the-us

15. https://www.foxnews.com/politics/mitchell-richardson-accused; https://www.foxnews. com/politics/christine-pelosi-jeffrey-epstein-democrats-faves-implicated

16. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-web-only/coronavirus-human-trafficking-ministries-face-crisis.html

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. https://www.bbc.com/news/10407559; https://en.wikipedia.org /wiki/ Catholic_Church_ sexual_abuse_cases

21. https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/may/lifeway-protestant-abuse-survey-young-christians-leave-chur.html; https://www.washington post.com/news/posteverything/wp /2018/05/31/feature/the-epidemic-of-denial-about-sexual-abuse-in-the-evangelical-church/; http://www.religion watch.com/sexual-abuse-crisis-in-the-sbc-also-an-evangelical-problem/

22. https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/induced-abortion-worldwide?gclid= CjwKCAjwyo 36BRAXEiwA24CwGX3b5DXx9cfcMf-7pwvl7eu-cgonf whHVwLrMSTlEAg98qbpdX_76RoCK1 YQAvD_BwE

23. https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/reality-check/2015/03/06/million-abortions-claim-checks/24530159/