Episode 1. Life with the Good Shepherd
So, do you believe the Bible? Really? What about one specific verse in the Bible. John 10:10 – where Jesus promises us an abundant life. Well, no, actually, He promises us a super–abundant life. More on that later. So here’s my question. Do you believe that that promise is actually for you? The Shepherd […]
So, do you believe the Bible? Really? What about one specific verse in the Bible. John 10:10 – where Jesus promises us an abundant life. Well, no, actually, He promises us a super–abundant life. More on that later. So here’s my question. Do you believe that that promise is actually for you?
The Shepherd and His Flock
As we race through life day after day, one of the things that happens is that we somehow get conned or duped into the great lie of our times: if you earn lots of money and you spend it on this and this and this and this – this toy, these clothes, that holiday, this dining experience – if you live your life like that, then you are going to be happy.
So, we try it again and again and again. Many spend their whole lives chasing happiness, only to be disappointed at every turn. And before you know it, they are looking back on a wasted life. I mean, how tragic is that?
So, what’s the answer? I think, as we head into yet another new year, now is not a bad time to be asking that question. What is life all about? What’s my life all about? Am I going to be happy this year?
And so, that’s why today, we are kicking off a new series of programmes that I have called, “An Abundant Life in Jesus”, because so many of us have spent so much of our lives chasing happiness – me included. That’s what I was looking for and that’s what I could never find. So many of us wish we could be happy and yet we don’t really know what happiness is, so we go looking for it in the wrong places.
Jesus promised something outrageous to His disciples – to all those who follow hard after Him – He promised them an abundant life. In fact, a super-abundant life! Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Someone once asked me, ‘What does that mean, an abundant life?’ That’s a good question. I mean, ‘super-abundant’ sounds fantastic but what is it? What does it look like?
Well, let’s kick off by having a listen to what it is that Jesus actually says, so if you have a Bible, come with me please to John chapter 10 – we are going to begin reading at verse 1. Jesus said:
Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and he leads them out.
When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep then follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.
‘The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
‘The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.’
That’s a really interesting passage. It’s a beautiful picture of a shepherd and his flock. Back in those days – let me explain the shepherd. The shepherd normally had a small number of sheep, fifty or a hundred sheep and literally, he knew each of them by name. Now sheep aren’t stupid animals; they are actually quite bright but they are short sighted so the shepherd calls them and they hear him, they follow the voice; he leads them; he goes ahead of them and his job is to find them pasture and water and keep them safe.
Now, being a shepherd was a tradition handed down from father to son. A real shepherd; the true shepherd who owned the sheep would literally protect the sheep with his life from wild animals and robbers. We will look at that later. And they would wander this rocky plateau and in winter he would bring them into the sheep fold, into the town or village by night and all the different shepherd’s sheep would be in the one pen. And the next morning, each shepherd in turn would come and call his sheep. And he had a personal relationship with them – the sheep knew his voice and so they would follow just their shepherd, not anyone else’s shepherd, just their shepherd and they trusted him and they felt safe with him.
So this is the picture that the people had in their minds in the first century as Jesus was telling this story. This winsome picture of the lonely shepherd tending his flock, protecting them with his life – that’s what Jesus was drawing on in this story. But did you notice they didn’t understand what He was saying. Verse 6 of John chapter 10. Jesus used this figure of speech with them but they did not understand what He was saying to them.
You and I, we wander through some difficult places in life – we truly do. When we are young, we think we are invincible; we think we can conquer every mountain, but life soon teaches us that we are more of a small boat on a great big, mighty ocean. And yes, Jesus promises an abundant life – we had it there in that passage. Again we will look at what that means, over the coming weeks.
But look at the context … the context of that abundance, is as one of His sheep in His flock under the safety and the care of the True Shepherd. It’s this picture of safety and protection and of a Shepherd who did, in fact, lay down His life to save us … to save us from the ravages of the devil; to save us from our own sin; to save us from God’s judgement.
Storms will come and go, wild animals will come in life and tear at our flesh, thieves will come to steal, kill and destroy, bad things will happen to good people. Is there any one of us who doesn’t have something going on in our lives right now, that’s hurts – something we wish wasn’t there? Is there? Jesus never, ever, ever promised His disciples a comfortable ride – in fact, quite to the contrary. He said to them, at a time when there was fear in their lives, in John chapter 16, verse 33. He said:
I have said these things to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you will face persecution but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.
The promise of this abundant life comes not as a promise to make all our circumstances, all our relationships, all our finances, all our futures rosy – that was never, ever what He promised. No! The promise of this abundant life comes to us in the context of the rough and tumble of life; in the context of a shepherd leading his sheep through a rocky plateau to find pasture and dangers all around. As we live our lives under the protection and the safety and the sacrificial love of this One True Shepherd, Jesus, then He says to us, “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.” And because of the world in which we live, that abundant life was purchased for you and me at a price … at a very great price.
The Thief and His Plan
I was speaking recently with a group of people. It was a church service on a Sunday morning and I asked them this question. I said, “Is there anybody here in this room today that doesn’t have at least one thing going on in their lives that hurts? One thing that they wish wasn’t there? One thing that they want God to heal or to change or to solve or to take away? If you don’t have at least one such thing in your life, raise your hand up in the air.”
There would have been, I’m guessing, over a hundred people in the room. Absolutely silence! I cast my eyes around the room – I just allowed the silence to hang there for a moment and not a single hand when up in the air – not one. These were people who believed in Jesus, these were people who had all heard Jesus say: John chapter 10, verse 10, that:
The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.
They had all heard Jesus promise an abundant life to them. Literally what Jesus says here – the original Greek language – it means a ‘super abundant life’ and yet, everyone had something in their lives that was troubling them. And you know what it’s like: your whole body can be healthy but you jam your finger in a door and the excruciating pain in that one finger is all that you can think about. The fact that the rest of your life is just fine at that point, is pretty much irrelevant. It’s all about the bit that hurts – that’s what we focus on. It’s true isn’t it?
It’s so easy to live our lives, focusing on that one bit in our life that hurts just at the moment: that difficult relationship, that financial pressure, that problem at work, the worry about what other people are thinking about us. It’s pretty much different for each one of us. But when we have that one thing, or perhaps even two or three, that ache, that we wish would just go away – then it can consume us. It actually robs us of life.
And as we saw earlier, the context of this promise of an abundant life was the story; the parable of the Good Shepherd – Jesus the Good Shepherd, we the sheep in His flock. Now this was a really familiar metaphor to those who were listening. They knew that the profession of the shepherd was one of honour, one of protecting his sheep. They knew that as a shepherd led his sheep out over the stony plateau of Israel in search of pasture, thieves would come and often attack and try and steal the sheep. Wild animals would sometimes come and attack and steal a sheep to eat for dinner.
It was the reality of life for a shepherd and a true shepherd’s job was to defend his flock. But let’s focus for a moment in this story, on the thief. John chapter 10, verse 10:
The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.
Jesus is telling a parable here, a parable that’s meant to reach into our lives – and the thief in this story is the enemy; the devil; the tempter; the deceiver He had referred to elsewhere. The one who dangles glittering baubles under our noses – trinkets and treasures that are so alluring, so seductive. They appear to promise so much. Can he get us to wander off? And other times … other times he simply comes to attack us: through circumstances, through other people. We see that in Job’s story in the Old Testament, how the devil uses financial collapse, sickness, family breakdown, to attack Job.
Paul the Apostle gives us a glimpse into the spiritual realm to tell us what’s going on when we are under attack from this enemy, this thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy. Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 6, verse 12. He says:
… our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
See, there is a spiritual dimension to life and we ignore it at our peril. There is a devil who is our enemy; who sometimes comes dressed as an angel of light to deceive us. Other times, he sneaks up like a thief or attacks us openly, like a wolf. All that is in the Bible and we ignore it at our own peril.
But look with me again, if you will, at what Jesus says about Himself:
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come and go and find pasture.
In summer, the shepherds would stay out overnight with their flocks and dotted around the place, were pens that had been built using really dense hedges. So by night, the shepherds would lead his sheep into one of these pens. But those pens had no gate, so he would sleep across the opening and, in effect, the shepherd became the gate – to keep the sheep in overnight, to keep them safe and sound so that none would wander off and to keep the thieves and the wild animals out. He would fight any that came, with his shepherd’s staff and with his rod, a kind of club with spikes. He was the gate. He was their safety, so that they could come and go in peace. He gave them protection and so, safety and peace.
And that is Jesus in our lives today, my friend. Make no mistake about it. The thief will come to steal and to kill and to destroy, to rob us of the abundant life that Jesus has planned for us. The wild animals will come to tear at our flesh, to corrupt our flesh. And yes, we can wander off in our own directions, but out there on our own, we are sitting ducks. The place of safety is with Jesus. The place of safety is close to our Shepherd – the one true Shepherd who would lay down His life for His sheep.
Think about it. If we are constantly being ravaged by the devil, how can we have an abundant life? There are going to be struggles in our lives, and when they come, when things hurt, the place to go is Jesus – the One True Shepherd, the One who lays down His life for His sheep. He is meant to be our refuge. He can and He will protect us. What a pity that so many suffer through things alone when all along Jesus is waiting for them? The thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy.
“I came,” said Jesus, “that you might have life and have it abundantly.”
A Super Abundant Life
Happiness is great – it’s great to feel on top of the world but then, some of the most satisfying moments in life don’t always involve happiness. You can be exhausted; a complete wreck and yet experience a deep sense of satisfaction at what you have just been through or achieved. Or we can experience a deep sense of contentment in life even if all our circumstances and relationships and finances and all those things aren’t quite what we want them to be.
And we can experience a sense of peace knowing that we are safe, even though we might have some things going on in our lives that might be a threat. Or we can experience fulfilment at being comfortable with who we are and what we are able to do with our lives. And even more, being happy to let go of things that we aspire to, that maybe we are not able to do.
Do you see my point? Happiness ain’t everything! There are so many other things that go into making a rich and abundant life. And it’s that abundance that we are taking a look at today on the programme. And with good reason – an abundant life is something that Jesus promised to His disciples.
For me, one of the most fantastic revelations of God and this promise from Jesus of an abundant life, is that everything in my life doesn’t have to be going perfectly well for me to be living an abundant life. Let me say that again because I believe it’s incredibly important: everything in my life doesn’t have to be going perfectly well for me to be having an abundant life.
Now, this was a huge revelation because I don’t think I can ever remember a single time in my life – maybe a week or two or a month or two, here and there – but over all very few times in my life where absolutely everything was perfect: every relationship, everything to do with my finances, everything to do with my work, everything to do with my hopes and dreams and aspirations and sense of self worth. Do you know what I mean?
There is always something there to take the shine or the gloss off life. The Apostle Paul found that too. He had a thorn in his flesh. Now, we are not quite sure whether that was a physical ailment or a spiritual ailment, the Holy Spirit in His wisdom chose not to tell us that. Good thinking too! But have a listen to Paul. Second Corinthians chapter 12, beginning at verse 7:
To keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’. So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
Humph! And this, from a guy who wrote almost half the books in the New Testament! See, there is always something, isn’t there? And I wonder if that isn’t God’s plan. I wonder if everything was always going swimmingly well in my life, whether I would even bother seeking God out at all! I wonder if everything in my life was perfect, whether I would be of any use to you in these programmes. Much of what I talk about, in fact, pretty much all of what I talk about, is born out of the struggles and realities of life, bringing God’s wisdom to bear in our lives.
And interestingly, this passage where Jesus talks about His promise to give us an abundant life is set amidst the story of a struggle – the struggle of a shepherd to protect and feed his sheep. We read through it earlier in the programme. The life of a shepherd was a hard one – thieves, robbers, wild animals – the shepherd was called to protect those sheep with his life and many a time it cost the shepherd his life back then. Without the shepherd, the life of a sheep was precarious. A sheep out there on its own would be a sitting duck, to be picked off by a wolf or stolen or fall down some ravine.
Jesus is telling a story here about life and death struggles. It’s a parable that reaches deep into the realities of our lives. It’s a story about a life lived out there in a challenging world in which Jesus Himself, through His death and His resurrection, becomes our True Shepherd.
A pastor friend of mine told me a story once. He was ministering in a country area and one of his parishioners was a farmer, of sheep. Now the farmer told him, when he was a young lad, he always observed how the sheep would be standing grazing, but as soon as his father would go into the field, they would often lie down. So he asked his dad about that and his father told him that sheep only lie down when they feel safe and that when the shepherd is close, they know that they are safe, which is why they will often take that opportunity to lie down and have a rest.
Brings a whole new meaning to Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; he leads me by still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk into the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me. You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
“He makes me to lie down in green pastures”, which means I feel safe. And even though you and I can end up in the valley of the shadow of death, we don’t have to fear any evil because God is with us – His rod and His staff comfort us. So often, friend, an abundant life is not about being taken out of the difficult circumstances of life. It’s about experiencing the peace and the protection of Jesus – that One True Shepherd – right there; right in the middle of the difficulties of life; right there, smack, bang in that valley of the shadow of death.
And the incredible power of that is this: if we choose that sort of abundance of life; the one that Jesus has to offer – the true one, not the imposters, not the false shepherds, not the ones that come to rob and to kill and destroy. If we choose the TRUE life, with the TRUE Shepherd, then it doesn’t matter much what our circumstances are – good, bad, up, down, positive, negative – it doesn’t matter, because even though we may walk through the darkest valley, we fear no evil because He is with us.
People sometimes ask me, “How can you be so upbeat in the middle of a trial?” and my answer is: this is how – it’s not me, it’s Him because I have decided to live my abundant life through Jesus.
The abundant life that Jesus promised – my One True Shepherd!