VIDEO I Am the Light of the World

John MacArthur Mar 2, 2014

Open your Bible now to the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John.  It has been a profound blessing in my own life to be preparing these messages in the Gospel of John and spend time in this truth, and at the same time, it is a challenge to articulate for you what has been embedded in my own heart.  So I always ask for the Lord’s help in delivering the truth.  We come in coming to chapter 8 to a familiar story.  The story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery.  And the very familiar line, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

And at this particular point, I face a decision, which I’ve already made, and I’ll explain.  This familiar story, which actually embraces the last verse in chapter 7, the one that says everyone went to his home, this familiar story does not appear in the oldest manuscripts of the New Testament.  It does not appear in any of them at all.  Manuscript study is very important to guaranteeing the truthfulness of the text.  There are about 25,000 New Testament manuscripts, ancient manuscripts.

The oldest of those uniformly do not contain this story.  And so you will find in your Bible probably a note in the margin that says, “Later manuscripts added this,” and that is correct.  Because we have so many manuscripts, there’s really little doubt that this was added later.  If something isn’t in the oldest and shows up later, obviously it was added. 

There’s nothing in this story that is un-Christ like or unlike the behavior of Jesus.  There’s really nothing in the story that’s unlike the behavior of the religious leaders.  It’s a wonderful story of forgiveness.  Very likely, something like this happened and was passed down orally from person to person to person, and eventually, someone decided that the story ought to find its way into the New Testament, even though it wasn’t in the original.

And so they put it there.  In most old manuscripts, it is placed here.  But sometimes in Old Manuscripts, we find it somewhere else in the Gospel of John, and we even find it sometimes in the Gospel of Luke.  So apparently, it was a story that floated around that somebody decided should find its way into the New Testament. 

The problem with that is the church from its earliest years has known it didn’t belong there.  In fact, if you’re looking for ancient commentaries on this story written by church fathers and leaders, you won’t find one until the 12th century.  And even when you start to find the commentary in the 12th century, the notation is made that this doesn’t appear in the earliest manuscripts.  Why is it here?  Because somebody put it in.  Why is it in your Bible now?

Because once it found its way in, it became traditionally a part of Scripture, and apparently, Bible translators are unwilling to remove it, so they just put a notation.  I’m happy to tell you that when this does happen, and it happens here, and it happened also at the end of Mark, there is a similar addition to the Gospel of Mark in the 16th chapter from verse 9 on.  I’m happy to tell you we know they are additions because we have those ancient manuscripts. 

Consequently, we know that the Holy Spirit has then enabled us to preserve the true text.  I have written some notes about this story in the study Bible footnotes.  I’ve written something about this in the commentary on John in deference to people who would be interested in some kind of an interpretation, but the problem is if it didn’t appear in the original text, then it is not inerrant.  There’s no guarantee that it’s accurate.  There’s no guarantee that it’s without error, like every other part of Scripture.

Furthermore, it interrupts the story that’s going on here.  I guess you could call this internal evidence.  It interrupts the story.  We are at this point starting in chapter 7 with Jesus at the feast of tabernacles.  It lasted a week in the fall of his final year, six months from the cross.  We have been going through the events when he arrived in the middle of the week, went to the temple and began to teach.  What follows this story in verse 12 is part of the ministry that Jesus had during the feast of tabernacles. 

So this interrupts those events and the obvious sequence.  It should go from verse 52 to chapter 7 immediately to verse 12 of chapter 8.  So that’s what we’re going to do this morning.  Let me begin reading in verse 12.  By the way, for a more extensive explanation of that, you can check the McArthur commentary on John or any other commentary for that matter.  Let’s begin at verse 12. 

“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world.  He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.’  So the Pharisee said to Him, ‘You’re testifying about yourself.  Your testimony is not true.’  Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I cam going.  You judge according to the flesh.  I’m not judging anyone.  But even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for I am not alone in it, but I am the Father who sent me.  Even in your law, it has been written that the testimony of two men is true.  I am he who testifies about myself and the father who sent me testifies about me.’”

“So they were saying to Him, ‘Where is your father?’  Jesus answered, ‘You know neither me nor my father.  If you knew me, you would know my father also.’  These words He spoke in the treasury as He taught in the temple, and no one seized Him because His hour had not yet come.  Then He said again to them, ‘I go away, and you will seek me and will die in your sins.  Where I am going, you cannot come.’”  We’ve already seen this conflict escalating, and it will escalate fiercely through this chapter in John and through the final six months of Jesus’ life until it reaches the full flame in passion week and takes him to the cross in God’s perfect time.  But the things that Jesus said were the things that kept escalating the animosity of the religious leaders.  And one of those statements is found here in verse 12.

When Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” they knew exactly what He was claiming, exactly.  This is one of the I am statements in the Gospel of John, of which there are seven.  This is a notable one and a memorable one and one with which we’re all familiar.  But I don’t think we may fully understand the essence of this and the way those Jewish leaders received it.  I’m going to help you with that, I hope, but let’s break the little narrative down into some subsection so we can kind of track our way.

Let’s start with the area.  The area, that would be the first point to consider, and for that, I want to take you to verse 20.  When I say the area, I mean the exact location where these words were uttered.  These words He spoke in the treasury as He taught in the temple.  I want to start there because that sets up absolutely everything.  These are remarkable words, but Jesus doesn’t just speak these words out of nowhere.  There is a compelling scenario that He captures, and we saw that already back in chapter 7, verses 37 to 39 when He talked about being the living water, and He said that at a moment when they were going through a ritual remembering the provision of water in the wilderness, which was a daily part of the celebration of the feast of tabernacles, which was designed to commemorate the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.  And Jesus, when He said that He was the living water and if anybody drank of that water they would never thirst was contrasting that spiritual water with the water being poured out in the ritual.

He had a way of capturing the moment, turning it to himself, and He does it again here.  So it’s really critical to know exactly where He is.  He’s in the temple, and a section of the temple where the treasury existed.  Now one of the things that people did when they came to the temple was give money, and there was a massive courtyard in the temple that had 13 receptacles around the entire area.  Thirteen of them.  It was in the courtyard called The Court of the Women.

There was a courtyard beyond that, and that would be the Court of the Gentiles where anybody could come and traffic.  But once you left the Court of the Gentiles and came in, it was for Jews or duly processed proselytes, men and women.  But women could go no further.  They couldn’t go into the next court.  They could go into the Court of the Women.  So naturally, they put all the places to give an offering where both the men and women could come.  It was in that very place that the widow gave her last two coins.  The first court, again, is the Court of the Gentiles.  The second is the Court of the Women where the women are allowed to go.  The next would be the Court of the Priests, and that’s restricted.

Restricted even to men who went in to offer sacrifices with the priest.  And around the porch of this massive Court of the Women where there would be tens of thousands of people at this particular time in the feast of tabernacles because they came from everywhere, there were 13 allocated places to give money, and according to historians, they were trumpet shaped, which means probably they had a larger opening and funneled down, and the money went into some kind of container.

They were very specific as to their connection.  Number one and number two trumpet receptacle was designed for the half shackle temple tax that everyone had to pay.  Number three and number four were where women put money to purchase the two pigeons that they needed to offer to purify themselves from childbearing. 

Number five was where the money went to purchase the wood for the fire on the alter.  Number six also for the incense in the alter.  Five and six then for things related to the sacrifices.  Number seven was designated as the receptacle to keep up the golden vessels of the temple.  To hire the people to clean them and have money to replace them.  Then you have eight through 13.  Those were for the general fund.  Anything and everything else.  There’s where Jesus is.  He’s in this Court of the Women.  It would be the most packed court in the temple.  Just keep that in mind.

At some opportune moment, go back to verse 12.  “He spoke to them again, as He had been speaking.  ‘I am the light of the world,’ he said.  ‘He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.’”  He didn’t say, “I am a light in the world,” which some rabbi or some teacher might say that He was a light in the darkness.  He said, “I am the light.”  He didn’t say, “I am a light in Jerusalem.”  He didn’t say, “I am a light in Judah.”  Some teacher might say that.  He said, “I am the light of the world.”

This is exclusive.  This is all encompassing.  More importantly, this is a direct claim to be the Messiah, and they knew it.  They were very, very familiar with the Messianic promises that came through the Prophet Isaiah, and in Isaiah 42, 49, 50, and 53, you have Messianic chapters of Isaiah in which the Messiah is called the slave of Yahweh or the servant of Jehovah.   And in chapter 42, you have this prophecy about Messiah.  You will be familiar with it where the Father speaks of Messiah, His servant, His slave.  “Behold my slave, whom I uphold my chosen one, in whom my soul delights.  I have put my Spirit upon him.”  There is a prophecy of the Messiah’s coming and His empowering by the Holy Spirit.

It goes on to speak of things concerning Him.  All of this, verse 5, “Thus says God the Lord who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and its offspring who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it.  I am the Lord,” and He’s speaking now to His Messiah.  “I have called you in righteousness.  I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, and I will appoint you as a covenant to the people as a –” what?  Light to the world.

“As a light to the nations.  To open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, and those who dwell in darkness from the prison.  I am the Lord.  That is my name.”  He says that the servant of Jehovah, the Messiah, will be the light of the world.  Again, in Isaiah 49, here again this servant of Jehovah is presented.  Verse 5, “And now says the Lord who formed me from the womb to be His servant, to bring Jacob or Israel back to Him so that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the site of the Lord and my God as my strength,” he says, “Is it too small a thing that you should be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel?  And not just Israel.  I will also make you a light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth,” thus says the Lord, “The redeemer of Israel and its holy one.”  This is from God.  Messiah will be the light of the world.  When Jesus says, “I am the light of the world,” he is making the claim to be the prophesied Messiah.  To be, in the words of Malachi, the son of righteousness who is now rising with healing in his beams.

John even begins his gospel with reference to this.  “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.  There was that true light, which coming into the world enlightens every man.”  So right at the very outset of his gospel, he identifies the coming Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the light.  The light and the life. 

The light, of course, is a magnificent metaphor.  Light is the active power that dispels darkness.  And Jesus Christ is the light of truth that dispels the darkness of falsehood.  Jesus Christ is the light of wisdom that dispels the darkness of ignorance.  Jesus Christ is the light of holiness that dispels the darkness of impurity.  Jesus Christ is the light of joy that dispels the darkness of sorrow.

Jesus Christ is the light of life that dispels the darkness of death.  When He says, “I am the light of the world,” He even uses the tetragrammaton, the I am.  The claim to be God, and the claim to be Messiah.  To say, “I am the light of the world,” is to identify yourself as God.  Psalm 27:1.  The psalm has said, “The Lord is might light and my salvation.”  First John 1:5 says, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”  They understood what he was saying.  He was claiming to be God.  He was claiming to be the Messiah, the light. 

But the question comes up why here, why now?  Why does he say that?  Now we learned back in our last message, chapter 7, verse 37, when He said, “If anyone is thirsty, let Him come to me and drink,” and then spoke about the rivers of living water that would flow from the innermost being of those who came to Him. 

We know why He said that there because He was capturing that moment of the pouring out of the water, and He turned it to himself.  Well He does the same thing here, and so in order to grasp this amazing moment, it’s really important to understand another ritual at the feast of tabernacles, another very important ritual.  He could have said, “I am the light,” just out of nowhere, and of course, it would have made sense in the world of darkness.  We all understand that.  All of us are characterizing Ephesians 5:11 as doing the unfruitful works of darkness.  “We walk in darkness.  The way of the wicked is darkness,” the Scripture says.  “The foolish heart is darkened.  We are darkened in our understanding and excluded from the life of God.”  Scripture talks about that frequently.  It’s a common description.

We have been delivered out of the domain of darkness, so there was certainly theological understanding of the notion of darkness.  Even Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament said, “The fool walks in darkness.”  Isaiah said, “Men substitute darkness for light.”  So I suppose Jesus could have just popped up and said, “I am the light of the world,” and it would have had some impact because people use the metaphor of darkness for the disastrous reality of the human condition even then.

But there’s far more going on here than that.  Far more.  And let me help you with that.  When the feast of tabernacles began, candelabras were set up all through the Court of the Women.  Candelabras really all around the Court of the Women.  As far as historians say, they literally filled the Court of the Women with the capability of light.  Every night, they would go around, and they would light these large candles, and they would burn all night. 

This was actually called by the Jews the illumination of the temple.  And the reason they did was because remember now, the feast of tabernacle is they’re celebrating what?  They’re celebrating the 40 years they wandered in the wilderness.  And how did they know where to go in the wilderness?  They were led by light.  They were led by a pillar of fire at night and a lighted cloud in the daytime.  This was the light that led them in the wilderness.  To commemorate that, they had this illumination of the temple, and they lit all these candles and let them burn all night.

There’s some interesting descriptions of it by historians, ancient historians who describe it as a stunning vision, like a diamond in the midst of the city of Jerusalem was the temple ground with like floodlights coming up across its perimeter walls.  Every night they were lit, the temple became a flashing diamond, a symbol of the pillar of fiery light and cloud that led them in the wilderness.  Some have said they actually quoted Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6.  “I will be a light to the nations.” 

I can visualize Jesus standing there.  “Maybe they’re just lighting them.”  We don’t have the exact moment.  “Maybe they’re just lighting them.”  Or maybe He’s there earlier in the day, and they’ve been extinguished.  And maybe He looks at those extinguished Candelabras and says, “I’m the light of the world, and I never go out.  If you follow me, the light will never go out.  You will never walk in the darkness.  But you will have the light of life.”  It’s a profound moment.  “I’m the light that never is extinguished.  And as the pillar of light in the day and the night led Israel to the promised land, I am the light that will lead you to the kingdom.  I will lead you to God, to heaven, to everlasting life.  It’s not a light to be looked at.  Not a light to be admired.  It’s a light to be followed.  It moves.  It’s to be followed.”

Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let me deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  He said to His disciples, “Follow me.”  They followed the cloud, they followed the pillar, and they were led to the promised land.  That whole generation died, of course, and only the next were able to go in.  Jesus said, “If you follow me, you will go in.  You follow me, this will light you all the way to – you receive the full promise of eternal life.”  So rather dramatically and beautifully and powerfully and effectively does Jesus capture the crowd and the stunning temple ritual turns to Him.

“I know the way out of darkness,” He says.  “I know the way out of the darkness of ignorance.  I know the way out of the darkness of sin.  I know the way out of the darkness of sadness and sorrow.  I know the way out of the darkness of death.  Follow me, and I will lead you to life, eternal life.”  What does it mean to follow?  Just the word itself.  Follow me.  The way it’s used in ancient usage, it’s used of a soldier following his commander as the believer follows Christ as his sole commander.  It’s used of a slave following his master as the believer is to do the same.

It’s used of someone following a wise counselor.  It’s used of someone following the law obediently.  It’s used of a student following the teacher’s line of argument.  That’s what it means to follow all of those things, to follow Christ as a soldier follows his commander, as a slave follows his master, as a person in ignorance follows a wise counselor.  As a disobedient sinner turns to follow the law obediently.  As a student follows the teacher’s line of reasoning and argument.

To be a follower is to give yourself totally to Christ.  To say with the psalm, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”  Where as it also says in the Old Testament, “The Lord shall be an everlasting light.”  “Follow me,” Jesus said, “and I’ll lead you to the heavenly promised land.  I’ll be the light, the true light.”  It might interest you to know that the rabbis even declared that Messiah’s name is light.  They knew what Isaiah was saying.  So Jesus is claiming not only to be the I am, not only to be God who is the true light, but to be the Messiah prophesied.  So we go from the area to the assertion.  That’s what he asserts.  It’s a powerful, dramatic moment.  Captivating the people, and they understand. 

Certainly the leaders understood because you see the antagonism that rises immediately.  The antagonism appears in verse 13.  So the Pharisee said to him, “You’re testifying about yourself.  Your testimony is not true,” which is to say you can’t do that.  That’s not how it works.  They accused Jesus of an invalid claim because He’s making it for Himself.  You’re just boasting.  Why should we believe you?  There are no witnesses to confirm this. 

This is another calculated attack, and of course, they’re saying essentially this is an illegal claim because you cannot claim anything, and we cannot confirm it to be true unless it is confirmed by at least what, two witnesses.  And that’s exactly what Jesus refers to later in the discussion.  Verse 17.  “Even in your law, it has been written that the testimony of two men is true.”  So they go onto that legal aspect, this calculated attack.  It’s biblical law.  You have to have at least two witnesses.  You can’t possibly think that just because you say it, it’s true.  In fact, it’s invalidated because there are no confirming witnesses. 

This is how unbelief operates, by the way.  Unbelief never has enough proof.  His words alone should have been convincing enough.  They had enough hearing of His words to know that He spoke like no other person ever spoke, and that’s exactly what was reported to them by the soldiers they sent to arrest Him in the last chapter.  His works, ubiquitous works of healing, power over disease, demons, death, and nature.  His effect.  But unbelief never has enough proof.

Go back to chapter 7 verse 17.  “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak for myself.”  If you’re willing to know the truth, you’ll know the truth.  If you’re willing, you will know the teaching.  They weren’t willing.  Their unbelief begat ignorance.  Now you can be an unbeliever because you’re ignorant.  That’s a better situation.  Because if we can just remove the ignorance, perhaps you’ll believe.

But the worst possible scenario is to be ignorant because you’re an unbeliever so that when you’re given the proof, your unbelief locks you into your ignorance.  That was then.  They weren’t unbelievers because of ignorance.  They were ignorance because of unbelief.  They didn’t process anything He said.  They didn’t connect any of the evidences, which were replete.  They just wanted Him trapped and dead.  And I would just say, generally speaking, that you want to be very careful if you’re rejecting Jesus Christ in unbelief.  You’re in a safer condition if your unbelief is because you’re ignorant than you are if your ignorance is because of your unbelief.

That’s terminal.  Because if ignorance has been met with truth and you’re unwilling to see it, you are locked into the kind of ignorance that is hopeless.  John 7:17, “If you’re willing, the truth is there.”  The truth is there.  Are you willing?  When somebody says, “I don’t believe the gospel.  I don’t believe Jesus is the son of God.  I don’t believe in Him as the Savior,” there’s usually two things to say.  Number one, “That’s such an amazing and such an astute conclusion.  You must have studied the Bible intensely for years to come to that conclusion.”

Because the world is full of people and has been for centuries who have studied it deeply their whole lives and are convinced He is who He said He was.  So for you to overturn that, you must have made some kind of an extensive and erudite effort to understand everything in Scripture.  That’s not true.  That’s a very humiliating thing to say to someone who probably hasn’t even read the New Testament.  The second thing you’d want to say is, “Are you willing?  Are you willing?  Is your unbelief because of ignorance so that if ignorance is removed, you’re willing?”  These weren’t.  There Pharisees, these leaders, they weren’t.

So you go from the antagonism to the answer in verse 14.  Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true.”  You know, Deuteronomy 19:15, another passage in Deuteronomy, talk about two or three witnesses.  That’s for people who are liars.  That works for us because we’re all liars.  We all live in a world of lies and deception.  We’ve got to confirm things with several people hoping to get the truth.

But that doesn’t apply to God.  Jesus said, “Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true.  I’m not subject to those laws that are meant for a world of liars.  I know where I came from, and I know where I’m going,” and He’s saying there, “I’m eternal.  I’m transcendent.”  “The law was made for man, not for God.  The Sabbath was made for man, not for God.  I speak the truth because of who I am.”  So His answer is, “First of all, my claim is valid because of who I am and where I’m from and where I am going.”

We know where he’s from.  The Word became flesh and dwelled among us, but it was the eternal Word who was with God.  And I know where I’m going, John 17.  “Father, restore me to the glory I had with you before the world began.  I came from the Father.  I’m going back to the Father, but you don’t know where I come from or where I’m going.”  In fact, they didn’t even know what town He was from.  They thought He was from Nazareth.  They never bothered to check.  Why would they?

Their unbelief confined them to a willful ignorance.  They never looked at the records to see that He was born in Bethlehem where Messiah is to be born, and He was of the line of David, both father and mother.  And you remember that discussion from our last message.  So first of all, He says, “You don’t know anything about me, even temporally.  You don’t even know what town I’m from.”  Back in chapter 7, verse 28, He cried out on the temple teaching saying, “You both know me and know where I’m from.”  He’s saying that sarcastically.

We know where you’re from.  You’re from Galilee.  You’re from Nazareth.  The Messiah doesn’t come from there.  He says, “You think you know me and where I’m from?  I’ve not come of myself, but He who sent me is true whom you do not know.  I know Him because I am from Him and He sent me.”  And they were trying to seize Him, kill Him.  He’s saying it again.  When He says, “I know where I came from,” they know He means God.  And I know where I’m going.  Back to God. I’m transcendent.  I’m eternal.  I am God. 

Their denial of His testimony is willful ignorance.  Ignorance is cheap. Ignorance is common, and ignorance in the face of evidence is terminally deadly.  Jesus says, “You judge according to the flesh.”  Verse 15.  You judge according to the flesh.  Your judgment is superficial.  By the way, they judged everyone.  That’s what Jesus referred to in Matthew 7.  A sermon on the mount when He said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”  Stop the judgment.  The final judgment is at your rendering.  That’s what the leaders were doing on everybody, but they judge according to the flesh.

You don’t know me.  You don’t know me at all, and yet you sit in judgment on me and judgment on my testimony.  All you know is external.  All you know is physical, and you don’t even know the town I came from.  You haven’t even checked the temple records.  You don’t even know what you could know.  And you’re the judge of my like you’re the judge of everybody else. 

Verse 15, He then says, “I’m not judging anyone,” in that way he means.  “I don’t judge in the flesh.”  Apostle Paul, you know, in 2 Corinthians 5:16 said, “I judge no man in the flesh.”  What did he mean by that?  He meant I don’t judge people superficially.  If you’re a Christian, you judge people spiritually.  You don’t judge people superficially.  You judge them spiritually.

Pharisees judge superficially, behavior.  Jesus said, “I don’t judge that way.”  But, verse 16, “Even if I do judge, my judgment is true.”  And by the way, He will judge.  Back to chapter 5, verse 22, “And following all judgment is given to Him, and one day, He will raise all the dead to a judgment of life and a judgment of condemnation, and the Father has given all judgment into His hand, and He will judge.

But according to verse 30 of that fifth chapter, “He will judge in perfect harmony with the Father.  Next time He comes, He will come as the judge.”  Back in chapter 3, He said He didn’t come to judge, but to save the first time.  “I’m not here to judge, but if I do judge, my judgment is true, for I am not alone in it, but I and the father who sent me.  I judge in accord with the Father.”  John 5:30.  He says exactly the same thing. 

And then He goes to the second point.  Not only because of who I am from heaven going back to heaven, sent by God going back to God in perfect coordination and harmony with God.  Then there’s a second reason, and at this point, He exceeds to their expectation.  Okay, even in your own law, it has been written that the testimony of two men is true.  I’ll give you that.  I am He who testifies about myself, and the Father who sent me testifies about me.  There’s two.  You want two?  You have two.  Myself and the Father.  Myself and the Father.  This again is an infuriating claim, very much like the claim he made back in chapter 5.   My Father is working until now and I am working, and they wanted to kill Him because He was making himself equal with God. 

Here He says, “I judge and my father Judges.  I testify and the Father testifies.  Two reasons that my claim is valid.  Number one, who I am, and number two, the testimony that my Father corroborates.”  And of course, their response is predictable.  Verse 19, they were saying to Him, “Where is your father?”  Scorn, ridicule, sarcasm, mockery.  I don’t know whether they were throwing some slur at Him as an illegitimate child, which of course appears in ancient times.  I don’t know whether they were mocking the fact that no one knew His father because His father was long dead by the time He was in ministry.  I don’t know really what they were saying, but it was intended as scornful mockery.  “Where is your father?”

Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father.  If you knew me, you would know my Father also.  You don’t know me.  You don’t know my Father.  You wouldn’t know God if he came up to you.  You don’t know Him.  You don’t know me.”  Back in chapter 5, he said similar words.  In verse 23, “If you don’t honor me, you don’t honor the Father.”  Later, he will say to the disciples, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”  But this is the final insult.  They prided themselves on knowing God.  They knew God better than anyone.  He says, “You don’t know Him at all.” 

Matthew 11:27 says, “The son reveals the father.”  You don’t know God.  You don’t know Him at all.  This is a devastating statement.  This is a characterization of the leadership of Judaism in the time of Christ.  They didn’t know God at all.  Still true of those who reject the Savior.  So that was the answer, devastating answer.  Verse 20 then, we already looked at these words He spoke in the treasury as He taught in the temple.

They are now so infuriated that again, again, they want to seize Him to kill Him.  But they can’t.  They tried three times in chapter 7 unsuccessfully.  They can’t because His hour had not yet come.  He’s on a divine schedule.  They can’t do a thing.  Final statement is the avenging.  The avenging, verse 21.  Then He said to them again, “I go away.  You’ll seek me.  You’ll die in your sin.  Where I’m going, you cannot come.”  That’s final.  Earlier, He said, “I’m not going to be around long.  I’m just going to be here a little while,” as if there’s still some time.  Here we are only hours later, at the most, days.  “Your ignorance is confirmed.  It’s willful, and it’s the product of your unbelief in the face of the revelation.”  We know how extreme their rejection was because they attributed what He did to Satan.

So He said, “I’ll go away.”  Not six months from then, but as far as they were concerned, He was gone.  “You will seek me.”  You know, that’s the horror of lostness.  And I told you that last time.  Hell is where you now know finally who you need and you seek but never find.  That’s why there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Where I go, you cannot come.  You will die in your sin. 

I want to close with just a look at chapter 12 because I think it ties this together, and I won’t take long because time is up.  Chapter 12, and we’ll obviously get to it, but for now, verse 35.  Verse 35 is a good concluding portion.  So Jesus said to them this just before His last supper with the disciples in John 13 at the end.  “For a little while longer, the light is among you.  Walk while you have the light so the darkness will not overtake you.  He who walks in the darkness doesn’t know where he goes.  While you have the light, believe in the light so that you may become sons of light.”

That’s the cry, isn’t it?  It’s the same thing He says in chapter 8.   But what’s so stunning is immediately in verse 36, it says, “These things Jesus spoke, and He went away and hid himself from them.  They didn’t have much time.  “Believe now, or I’m gone.’  And He hid himself.”  Verse 37 explains why.  “Though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him.”  Was that a shock to God?  No, it was a fulfillment of prophecy.  It fulfilled the word of Isaiah who said, “Lord who has believed our report, to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 

For this reason, they couldn’t believe.  They wouldn’t believe, and now what?  They couldn’t believe.  For Isaiah said He is – this is from Isaiah 6, the first one from Isaiah 53.  “He has blinded their eyes, hardened their hearts so they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.”  These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory and he spoke of Him.

Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 6 is a prophecy of Jesus being rejected, and then God rejecting the rejecters.  But thankfully, verse 42, many even of the rulers believed in Him, say, “That’s good.”  Not so good, but because of the Pharisees, they were not confessing him for fear they would be put out of the synagogue, for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.  What a sad reality.  He is the light of the world, the only light.  Walk in the light or experience darkness forever.  Lord, thank you again for the truth, the compelling and powerful word of Scripture comes through to us as always.

And we bow beneath its glory, its urgency.  Help us to understand how serious these truths are.  Believe while you can, come to the light while the light is available before it is hidden, and the one who would not believe cannot ever believe.  Willful blindness becomes judicial blindness.  Lord, may the light shine on hearts today.  May Christ be the light of life.  May many follow Him.  Not walk in darkness, but follow Him all the way to that glorious light of heaven.

Father, now we ask that you would use these things that we have learned today to enlighten us and to open the hearts of some who perhaps have been and still are in the darkness and to make us all aware of how important it is to be lights in the world, for this terrible darkness that binds men’s hearts.  Use us, Lord, to be the light.  We thank you for that great privilege.  Do it by your power, we pray.  In Christ’s name.

VIDEO I Am the Good Shepherd

John MacArthur Aug 3, 2014

Turn in our Bibles again to the tenth chapter of John.  And this really wonderful, and rich, and precious portion of Scripture in which our Lord identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep.

That particular metaphor, that simile, that word picture as it’s called in verse 6 maybe needs a bit of an explanation for us as to context so that you know why it happened here.  There’s nothing sort of isolated in the ministry of Jesus.  Everything of course had a context, a historical context.  I think many people read the Bible as some kind of a spiritual book, as if it were detached from history, and events, and people, and consequences, and sequences.  But this is all history.  And all that we read in the gospels in terms of doctrine, and theology, and our Lord’s great discourses were, in a moment and an event, a strategic point where this is what spoke to that moment, and what spoke to that crucial hour.  That’s essentially true of this. 

Our Lord had been, in chapter 8, in a confrontation with the leaders of Israel.  And they had rejected Him, and they had declared their hatred of Him, and they were on a course to kill Him.  In fact, by the time you get to chapter 10, they’ve tried at least three times to bring about His death.  There’s no question what their view of Christ is. 

In chapter 8, there was this conflict, this confrontation.  And admittedly, He escalated it by telling them the truth.  He said to them: “You’re of your father, the devil.”  He’s a liar and a murderer, and so you are liars and murders as well.  We could say that, for them, the incident in chapter 8 ended on a very severe note.  As a result, chapter 8 ends with these words: “Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him.  Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” 

So He escapes a stoning; and on the spot, kind of vigilante mob violence execution.  On His way out of the temple, He sees a blind man.  And by now, He’s absorbed in the crowd.  And as He goes out of the gate, He sees a blind man, ’cause that’s what blind men did.  They sat at the gate to beg.  And that’s where He found this man.  The man had been blind from birth and Jesus stops and heals him. 

By then, His enemies, the Pharisees, had caught up with Him.  They had slowed down the effort to kill Him at the moment, He being absorbed in the crowd and having drawn the crowd’s attention by the miracle.  They are, again, deeply distressed by the fact that He is having such popularity and that He has healed this man and drawn such attention to Himself.  They had made a law.  That law is indicated in chapter 9, verse 22 that if anyone confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, he was to be put out of the synagogue.  Well, Jesus healed the blind man, and then the blind man came to faith in Christ. 

As the story ends, we know down in verse 38 he said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped Him.  So, the man was healed physically, and he was healed spiritually.  And as a result of that, he violated their law.  He has confessed Him as Messiah, Lord, and Savior.  They throw him out of the synagogue, and they are still completely intent on killing Jesus. 

Chapter 9, then, features an extension of chapter 8 in the hostility of the religious leaders of Judaism toward Jesus.  The healing of the blind man, in a sense, in the big drama of things, is somewhat incidental.  Not incidental to the blind man, but the big picture here is that when Jesus does a monumental miracle that has no other explanation, because this is a man congenitally blind, and everybody knows it because he’s a familiar figure there who has been begging a long time, it has no effect on how they feel about Jesus.  They make no move in the direction of affirming something other than that He’s satanic.  Their hostility has passed the point of any return.  They are, in fact, demonstrating themselves to be false leaders who, instead of acknowledging their Messiah, reject their Messiah, and want to execute their Messiah.  They are, in a word, the false shepherds of Israel. 

Shepherding was obviously a metaphor in the ancient world that people understood in an agrarian society.  It was very common in the Old Testament as we read in Psalm 80.  God was called the shepherd of Israel.  Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd,” and other places.  They all understood that because the land of Israel was full of sheep and shepherds.  Shepherds spoke of care and feeding and protection.  These were men who appointed themselves shepherds of Israel, but they were false shepherds.  Truth is: they were wolves in sheep’s clothing. 

So, in chapter 9, after the healing of this man, they surface again with the same hatred and the same hostility.  The chapter closes, chapter 9 does, with Jesus pronouncing a judgment on them because of their blindness, because they are willfully blind to the truth. The conversation, specifically with them, ends with these words: “Your sin remains.”  You are anything but righteous.  You are in your sin. 

Now, He said that back earlier when He said to them, “You will die in your sin, and where I go, you will never come.”  Here He says, a couple of chapters later, “You remain in your sin.”  Your sin remains.  So, here are the blind leaders of Israel, the blind leaders of the blind; here are the false shepherds of Israel.

As we come into chapter 10, He is still talking to them, still talking to them.  They’re still there.  The blind man is still there.  The disciples are there.  The crowd of Jews is there by the location where the healing took place.  And the Pharisees, scribes, are still there.  Jesus then launches into a description of how a good shepherd conducts his life.  That description is what we looked at last week, verses 1 to 10.  It is, according to verse 6, a figure of speech, an analogy, a metaphor.  And we looked at some of the details about that last week that help us to understand shepherding.  A shepherd has his own sheep.  He has his own sheep.  He knows his own sheep.  He not only has the right to lead and feed his own sheep, but he has the responsibility to lead and feed his own sheep.

At night, you’ll remember, the sheep would come into the village fold and every shepherd would bring his sheep, and they would all be in the same fold.  And then in the morning, the shepherd would come and call out his own sheep and call them by name.  He knows his sheep.  He calls them by name.  The sheep know their master’s voice, and they follow him.  The sheep will not follow a stranger.  We also learned that while they’re in the fold at night, thieves and robbers may try to climb over the wall and fleece the sheep or even slaughter the sheep.  And so, there has to be a guard set at the door to protect the sheep, ’cause there are always thieves and robbers.  The shepherd is committed to protecting them at night in the fold, and then in the morning coming and leading them out and, by name, one by one, to green pastures and still waters.  The shepherd is even the door, because they have to pass by him to be identified as his own. 

Beautiful picture of animal husbandry, but that’s not its intent.  That’s the figure.  The reality comes clear when you look at the language in verse 9.  “I am the door; if anyone comes through Me, he will be saved.”  Oh, I see what we’re talking about.  This is a picture of the salvation provided by the true shepherd.  The salvation.  These are all pictures of salvation doctrine.  The divine Shepherd has His own sheep.  They’ve been given to Him by the Father.  They’ve been chosen before the foundation of the world.  He knows them all by name.  He has the right to call them.  He calls them by name.  They know His voice.  They follow Him.  They will not follow a stranger.  That’s salvation.  The elect are in the fold of the world.  But the time comes to call them out, and the voice of the Shepherd calls, and they hear that voice, and they follow that voice.  This is irresistible grace; this is the effectual call, the divine call to salvation.

They will not follow a stranger.  They will not follow a voice that’s unfamiliar.  Yes, there are thieves and robbers, false teachers who try to climb into the fold and fleece and destroy the sheep – can come to destroy and kill – but the Shepherd provides protection for them from the false teachers.  The Shepherd leads them, goes before them, and they follow Him.  He takes them in a safe way to green pastures, meaning spiritual blessing; still waters, meaning spiritual blessings throughout time and all into eternity.  It’s a lesson on salvation.  That’s the figure. 

Contrary to the false shepherds who are the strangers, who are the thieves, who are the robbers, and who we will see in verses 11 to 21 are the hired hands.  The true Shepherd cares for His sheep.  So, this picture, everybody would affirm.  They would all say that’s exactly what a shepherd does.  He has his own sheep, he has the responsibility to care for those sheep, he puts them in a safe place, he calls them out of the fold, he calls them by name, he names them, they know his voice, they follow him, they don’t follow a stranger, they have to be protected from the danger of thieves and robbers, they are led out by the shepherd to places where they can eat and drink.  That’s a good shepherd.  That’s a picture of salvation. 

Who is the shepherd?  Jesus is starting to give us a pretty good idea when in verse 9, as we saw last week, He says, “I am the door.”  Shepherds were the door.  At night, the sheep would go in, and the shepherd would drop his rod and stop every sheep, every sheep, every sheep.  Check them over for any kind of wound or any kind of problem, and then lift the staff and let them go in.  In the morning, he’d call them all by name, and they had to pass by him into his care.  The shepherd was the door.  Jesus is saying this shepherd, this faithful shepherd, this is how shepherding should be done.  This is how I do it.  I am the door.  That gives a pretty good hint.

We know He’s speaking metaphorically because it is a figure of speech, and because in the same verse, He says He’s talking about salvation.  But then in verse 11, He says specifically, “I am the Good Shepherd.”  That Good Shepherd that I just described?  That Good Shepherd that I just identified by the way He behaves Himself and conducts His life with the sheep?  “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.  He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hired hand” – or a hireling – “and is not concerned about the sheep.  I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.  I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.  For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.  No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This commandment I received from My Father.”

“A division occurred again among the Jews because of these words.  Many of them were saying, ‘He has a demon and is insane.  Why do you listen to Him?’ Others were saying, ‘These are not the sayings of one demon-possessed.  A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?’”

So here, in verses 11 to 21, our Lord explains how He fulfills the identity of the Good Shepherd.  He is the Good Shepherd.  He is the One prophesied, as we saw last week in Ezekiel 34, the Good Shepherd that God Himself would send.  And as I told you last time and I reiterate again, He launches into this particular figure of speech because the religious leaders of Israel were known as the shepherds of Israel, but they were false shepherds.  And so, He distinguishes the false leaders from Himself.  He is the True Shepherd of the sheep.  They were blind.  That’s how the conversation with them ended in chapter 9, verses 39 to 41.  They were spiritually blind to the truth of God.  They couldn’t lead anybody anywhere because they couldn’t see where they were going themselves.  They are false leaders.  They are, in fact, strangers, not shepherds.  They are hirelings, hired hands who do what they do for money and have no concern for the sheep.  They are thieves, they are robbers who want to fleece and kill.

Jesus was talking about them, in contrast to Himself.  Did they understand it?  No.  Verse 6.  They didn’t understand what those things were which He had been saying to them, which is proof of what He said in verses 39 to 41 in chapter 9.  “You are blind.  You do not understand.”  He said that earlier.  “Whatever I say, you don’t understand.”  He actually went so far as to say, “Because I tell you the truth, you don’t understand, because you are of your father the devil, who is a liar.”  If I lied, you would get it, but when I tell the truth, you don’t.

So this very paroimia, or simile, metaphor, is designed as an illustration not only of the Good Shepherd, but an illustration of the blindness of the false shepherds, because they didn’t even understand it at all.  The false leaders, thieves, robbers, strangers, hired hands have nothing in mind but protecting themselves.  They are not about to risk their lives for the sheep, as we read.  They want the money, and if need be, they will become thieves and robbers to get it.  They are strangers, not shepherds.  The true shepherd, however, is described here as one who loves and cares for and nourishes, and lives for and dies for the sheep.  And that, of course, is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. 

So let’s look then at these verses 11 through 21, and we’ll just kind of work our way through.  This is the, by the way, the fourth “I am” in the gospel of John.  There are a whole series of “I am’s” that our Lord gives, and “I am” is the Tetragrammaton in Hebrew, the ego eimi in Greek, the “I am,” meaning the name of God; so they are claims to deity as well in the context of each one.  I am the way, the truth, and the life.  I am the resurrection and the life.  I am the door.  I am the Good Shepherd.  All affirmations of His deity bound up in the “I am” statement of it.

But here, He is the Good Shepherd.  Let’s look at that a little bit.  “I am the good shepherd.”  Then He repeats it immediately, “the good shepherd,” again.  Now, this is an important construction for us to understand.  The emphasis here is this: “I am the shepherd, the good one.”  Very important order there.  “I am the shepherd, the good one.”  As if to say, “in contrast to all the bad ones.”  I am the shepherd, the good one.  But there’s two words in Greek for “good.”  One is agathos, from which you get the word, “agatha,” or the name “Agatha.”  Agathos, old name.  Agathos means sort of morally good.  Good, and sort of confined to moral goodness.  It’s a wonderful word, a magnificent word, familiar in the New Testament.

But the other word is kalos, the opposite of kakos, which is “to be bad.”  Kalos is to be good not only in the sense of moral quality, but it’s a more encompassing word.  It means to be beautiful, to be magnificent, to be winsome, to be attractive, to be lovely, to be excellent on all levels, not just in that which is unseen in terms of character, but in all aspects.  I am the shepherd, the excellent one.  I am the shepherd, be it the lovely one, the beautiful one, as contrasted to the ugly ones, the dangerous ones. 

He is not just another shepherd.  He is the shepherd, the good one, the one who is preeminently excellent.  He’s above all shepherds.  The good one. 

Now, the Jews had an idea about who was the best shepherd.  For them, historically, it was David.  It was David.  David the shepherd boy who cared for his father’s flocks and defeated Goliath, and became the king of Israel.  David was their great shepherd, historically.

But you do remember in chapter 5, Jesus claimed to be greater than Moses, and in chapter 8, He claimed to be greater than Abraham – “before Abraham was I am.”  And here, He is shepherd far greater than any other shepherd including David, including David. 

He is the shepherd who is the good one, the premier one.  That is quite a claim to make, to say You are better than Moses, better than Abraham, better than David, and to say You are God?  No wonder He had to back it up with miracles, right?

He was telling those Jews that He was God, because they knew Psalm 23, “the Lord is my shepherd.”  They knew Psalm 80, the “Shepherd of Israel.”  They knew what Isaiah the prophet said about God shepherding His people.  He is saying: “I am the shepherd, the good one.”  Again, another claim to deity. 

Now, His true goodness as a shepherd is seen in three ways here in this passage.  I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t know, but I am going to tell you what’s here.  You can be grateful you do know this, because looking at this again is so rich and wonderful for us.  This shepherd, this shepherd, the good one is marked by three particular ministries to His sheep.  One, He dies for them; two, He loves them; three, He unites them.  He dies for them, He loves them, He unites them. 

Back to verse 11.  The shepherd, the good one, “lays down His life for the sheep.”  Shepherds were absolutely responsible for sheep.  It was serious business.  It was a man’s man’s job, and it was really kind of a lowly and humble job as well, because it was unskilled and it was high risk, and it was messy and dirty.  But a shepherd was absolutely responsible for the sheep.  If anything happened to the shepherd, he had to produce proof that it was not his fault due to dereliction of duty or rustling the sheep away for his own keeping, or letting a friend take one, or whatever.

Amos the prophet speaks about the shepherd rescuing two legs, or a piece of an ear out of the lion’s mouth (Amos 3:12).  They were in battle with beasts.  There were wolves, there were mountain lions, there were even bears.  David tells Saul how when he was keeping his father’s sheep, back in 1 Samuel 17, David fought off a lion, and he fought off a bear.  By the way, that’s what made David such a heroic shepherd.

In Isaiah 31, Isaiah speaks of the crowd of shepherds being called out.  When a lion attacked, they called the shepherds to go fight the lion.  The law laid it down, Exodus 22:13, “If the sheep be torn in pieces, then let him bring a piece for a witness.”  If you don’t have a sheep, if you lost a sheep, you have to account for that sheep to the ultimate owner.  You have to bring a piece to prove that it was an animal. 

To the shepherd, it was the most natural thing then to risk his life.  It’s what shepherds did.  It’s what they did.  You could just take them to the grass and leave them there, I suppose, but why did the shepherd stay?  Why those long, long, long hours of staying there?  Because he had to be a protector. 

There’s an old book called the The Land of the Book, and the author of that historical look at Israel said, “I have listened with intense interest to their graphic descriptions of downright and desperate fights with savage beasts.  And when the thief and the robber come, the faithful shepherd has often to put his life in his hand to defend his flock.  I have known more than one case where he had literally to lay it down in the contest.”  Well, I mean, if you’re fighting a wild beast, you could lose.  So, there was risk and you couldn’t just all of a sudden stop the risk.  It could come to death.

He goes on to say: “A poor fellow last spring, between Tiberius and Tabor, instead of fleeing, actually fought three Bedouin robbers until he was hacked to pieces with their khanjars, and died among the sheep he was defending.”  It happened.  But that’s what a shepherd did.  Talk about a man’s man, talk about a tough job – low paying, low skill. 

A shepherd who was doing what he should never hesitated to risk, perhaps even lay down his life.  And it was voluntary, ’cause he didn’t have to engage in that.  That’s why Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, the shepherd who’s the good one lays down his life.”  He lays down his life.  Go down to verse 18.  “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative.  I have authority to lay it down, and to take it again.” 

Freely, voluntarily, Jesus gave up His life for the sheep.  Some would say, “Well, that’s no big thing.  He’s God, so He had a body, and He gave up the body and, you know, big deal.”  It’s more than that.  It’s strange that the commentators would even say something like that.  There was a lot more than that, and it’s bound up in the word “life.”  He lays down His life.  It’s not the word bios or zoe.  Those are the two words for “life” in Greek.  Bios, biological life; zoe, that gets transliterated “zoology,” the study of life. 

It was neither of those sort of scientific words.  It’s the word psuche, which is the word for “soul,” which speaks of the whole person.  Not the outside, but the inside.  The psuche is the inside.  He gave up His soul, His whole person.  He didn’t just feel the pain of the nails in His body, and the pain of the thorns in His body, and the pain of the scourging in His body.  His whole soul was tortured with sin-bearing anguish, suffering.

In Matthew 20:28, Jesus said, “The Son of man gives His soul a ransom for many.”  It translates “life,” but it’s psuche again.  He gives His soul, His whole person, and He felt it in every part of His being. 

Why did He do that?  Why did He voluntarily lay down His soul?  He says, “for the sheep,” huper, “on behalf of, for the benefit of.”  That’s exactly what it says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 where Paul explains: “He who knew no sin became sin for us” – “for us,” “for us,” “for us.”  Huper appears in a lot of passages that speak about the substitutionary atonement of Christ, that He took our place, that He died for us.  An actual atonement, folks.  He laid down His soul for the sheep.  That’s pretty narrow.  For the sheep.  It was an actual atonement, a complete atonement for the sheep whom He knew, and who, when called, would know Him.

He did it for the benefit of the sheep.  From a natural standpoint, if this happened to the shepherd, that’s the end of the sheep.  If something’s coming after the sheep and kills the shepherd, the sheep are going to be vulnerable.  They’re liable to be killed, they’re liable to be scattered. Whether it’s an animal or a robber or a thief, the death of the shepherd could really spell the end of the sheep. 

But this shepherd?  No.  Because He laid down His life, verse 18 says He had the power to do what?  “Take it up again.”  And on the third day, He came out of the grave and re-gathered His scattered sheep.  Were they scattered?  Yeah, they were.  Smite the shepherd and what?  The sheep are scattered.  Zechariah promised, and they were.  But He came back from the grave and re-gathered them, and He said this: “All that the Father gives to me will come to Me, and I have lost none of them.” 

So the death of the shepherd usually meant the death of the shepherd in some cases, but not in this case.  Why did He die?  Isaiah 53:8, “For the transgression of My people.”  Matthew 1:21, “You shall call His name Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins,” His sheep.  It’s an actual atonement.  It’s not a potential one that you can sort of turn into a real one by believing.  He actually paid in full the penalty for His sheep, whom He knew, and throughout human history is calling to Himself.  Very unlike a hired hand, verse 12.  “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.”

The true shepherd, or the owner – and sometimes they were the same – he cares about the sheep.  It’s not a job for him.  It’s his very life.  He has developed relationships with those sheep.  They’re known to him.  They’re loved by him.  That’s not true of hired hands.  I like the old translation, “hirelings,” “hirelings.” A characteristic of a hireling, according to Zechariah 11:6, is that he makes no attempt to gather the scattered sheep.  The world has always been full of hirelings; this is another word for the leaders of Israel: strangers, thieves, robbers, now hired hands, hirelings.  I suppose it’s better to be a hireling who runs than a thief or a robber. 

But the end is the same.  The end is the same.  The sheep become victims of any of these.  The world has always been full of this, and the flock of God is always attacked, and the world is always attacked by these false leaders who fleece and destroy the sheep, and who flee when real trouble comes. 

And who is the wolf?  The wolf is anything that attacks the sheep, anything.  Anything satanic, anything satanically orchestrated through the world, anything, anything that comes against the sheep.  There are many false pastors, false teachers, as there have been throughout history.  They may say, “Lord, Lord, we did this, we did that,” and He’s going to say, “You depart from me.  I never knew you.”  There are perverse men, Acts 20, who rise up within the church and lead people astray, as well as wolves from the outside.

But Jesus is the one who will risk His life and give it up for His sheep.  A hireling is a mercenary.  No impulse other than personal gain, and a coward in a crisis.  And when the crisis comes, whether it’s an attack on the outside or an attack on the inside, the hireling is going to protect himself.  He’s out. 

There is outside danger.  Outside danger, attack from the wolves.  There is also the wolves dressed like sheep.  Jesus said in Matthew 7, “There is inside danger, the false teachers, who instead of protecting the flock, flee when the danger comes.”  But the True Shepherd, He gives His life for the sheep, and then He takes it back again and gathers them as they have been scattered.

So, the church’s first essential really in leadership is Christ-like shepherding, where you even put your life on the line, even risk your life for the sheep.  You risk your life to be the one through whom God in Christ can call them out, protect them.  When the danger comes, you don’t run.  When the danger comes, you stand up. 

I was talking to one of the missionaries at the conference yesterday, and he was saying, “Where are the people who will stand up and speak the truth to protect the people of God?  Where are they?”  So hard to find any.  We’re all under-shepherds, 1 Peter 5, under the Great Shepherd, the Good Shepherd.  We all have to be willing to risk our lives for the sheep. 

So, the first characteristic, then, of the shepherd’s relationship to the sheep is: he gives his life.  Secondly, he loves his sheep.  This is, of course, what’s behind the giving of his life.  Verse 14: “I am the shepherd, the good one, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”  This explains why He lays down His life voluntarily for the sheep, because He knows them. 

You say, well, where do you get love?  There’s no love there.  It’s all know, four times, the verb ginosko, “to know.”  Well, let me show you something, just a little bit of a hint.  “My Father knows Me,” verse 15.  “My Father knows Me.” Verse 17, “the Father loves Me.”  That’s the interpretive key.  The word “know” here has the idea of a loving relationship.  This goes all the way back to Genesis 4:1 where Adam knew his wife and she had a child.  Cain knew his wife, and she had a child.  Adam knows Eve again and another child, Seth.  God actually says in Amos, “Israel only have I known.”  It doesn’t mean the Jews are the only people He’s acquainted with.  What is it talking about?  It says about Joseph that he was so disturbed because Mary was pregnant and he had never known her.  What is that talking about?  That’s a euphemism for intimacy. 

It’s not about information.  It’s not about information.  It’s about love, and four times, that word “know” here, it implies this intimate relationship, this intimate, sweet, loving fellowship.  This sort of consummated relationship. 

In the 14th chapter of John, and verse 21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me, and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and disclose Myself to him.”  So there, the language is love, rather than knowing.  Verse 23: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.  My Father will love him.  We will come to Him and make our abode with Him.”  So when you see the word “know” in this context, it’s the idea of loving, intimate relationship.

He loves His sheep.  He knows them more than knowing their name, more than knowing who they are.  He has an intimate relationship with them.  He knows them intimately.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Depart from Me, I never” – What? – “I never knew you, but I know who you are.”  It’s not about information.  I know who you are.  I don’t have any intimate relationship with you, any love relationship.  He wanted to give His life for His sheep because He knew them, He loved them. 

John 3:16.  “God so loved the world that He” – What? – “gave His only begotten Son.”  That’s why the Father gave the Son; that’s why the Son gave His life.  He loves His sheep.  He loves His sheep.  This too is in stark contrast to the false shepherds who have no love for the sheep, no affection for the sheep that they claim to shepherd.  He loves His own. 

That love leads to a third aspect of the relationship.  He unites the sheep.  First with Himself, and then with each other.  Verse 16.  “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”

Now, what did I tell you about the fold in verse 1 last week?  I told you the fold in verse 1 is Israel, right?  The shepherd comes to the fold, calls out his sheep.  The Lord is the shepherd; He comes to Israel, to the Jew first, and then He calls out His sheep by name, and they follow Him.  But, He also has sheep which are not of the fold of Israel.  I have to bring them also. 

Who are they?  Non-Jews.  Anybody outside Israel.  The Gentiles, the nations.  This is stunning.  This is unacceptable to the Jews.  This is more fuel for their animosity because they resent Gentiles.  They believe Gentiles are permanently outside salvation, the covenant, and the promises of God.  And yet, in Isaiah 42, a messianic chapter, a messianic prophecy, we read verse 6: “I am the Lord.  I have called You in righteousness.”  This is God speaking to the Messiah.  “I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You.  I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations to open blind eyes and bring prisoners from the dungeon, and those who dwell in darkness from the prison.”  There’s a messianic promise that the Messiah would take salvation to the nations.  Another one of those is in 49 of Isaiah, verse 6.  “Is it too small a thing that You should be My Servant” – the Messiah – “to raise up the tribes of Jacob to restore the preserved ones of Israel?  I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”  What about that?

He’s shocking them by saying, “Look, I have sheep not in your fold.”  It’s why there’s a Great Commission.  “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”  Go make disciples of all nations.

And He will bring them all together as one flock with one shepherd, and that’s why Paul in Galatians 3 says, “In Christ, there’s neither Jew nor Greek,” Jew or Gentile.  That’s why in Ephesians 2, Paul says, “The middle wall of partition is torn down, and we’re all one in Christ.”  Jew, Gentile.

In chapter 11, verse 49, Caiaphas in making his inadvertent prophecy; he was high priest.  He said to the people who were conspiring to kill Jesus, he said, “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, that the whole nation not perish. Now, he did not say this on his own initiative.  But being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one, the children of God who are scattered abroad.”  That was always His intent.  He unites His sheep.  He brings them together.  To Himself, to each other. 

So that is the relation of the Good Shepherd to the sheep.  He gives His life because He loves them, and He brings them into intimate unity with Himself, and with one another.  He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit, one with Him, and one with all others in the one body of Christ.

Secondly, and just briefly, the relationship of the Good Shepherd to the Father is in verses 17 and 18.  “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.  No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This commandment I received from My Father.”  Let me give you a simple understanding of that.  The Father gave a command.  The command to Jesus was: “Lay Your life down and take it up.  You have the authority to do that.  I am commanding You to do it.” 

It was a command, but “no one has taken it from Me.  I lay it down on My own initiative.”  That’s why the Father loves Me, because of My obedience.  This is pretty profound.  Yes, the Father chose Jesus to be the Lamb, the acceptable sacrifice.  Yes, the Father is the One who killed the Son by the predetermined counsel and foreknowledge of God.  He was the sacrifice. 

But this is not fatalism.  This is not something about which Jesus had no choice.  I laid My life down.  No one takes it from Me, including God.  Jesus is telling us this was a perfect act of willing obedience.  These are mysteries.  He couldn’t sin.  He had no capacity to sin.  And yet, there’s a real struggle.  Because in the garden, He says, “Father, if it’s possible” – Do what?  Stop this. – “take this cup from me; nevertheless not My will, let Yours be done.”  He voluntarily did what the Father commanded Him to do, and that’s how He demonstrated His love to the Father, and that’s why the Father loves Him.  “The Father loves Me because I laid my life down that I may take it again.”  That’s what the Father wanted Him to do; that was critical to the plan of salvation, to gather the redeemed into eternal glory. 

He did it voluntarily.  This was not fatalistic.  This wasn’t something He had no choice about.  He couldn’t make a wrong choice, but He voluntarily made the right choice.  “I had a command given to Me.  I voluntarily, willfully obeyed that command and thus secured the Father’s love.”  “If you love Me,” Jesus said – Do what? – “keep My commandments.”  That’s how you affirm your love. 

There’s so much of this in the section we’re coming to in John 14 and 15, I won’t go into it now.  But, His relationship to the Father was one of love and obedience, love and obedience.  Two sides of the same thing.  So that’s a model for us.  “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”  The Father eternally loves the Son, of course.  The Son eternally loves the Father.  But in some unique way in the incarnation, the Son voluntarily, willfully, obeyed the command of the Father to give up His life out of love for the Father, and in so doing, sustained the Father’s love forever.  Love and obedience.

There’s a final relationship here, the relationship of the Good Shepherd to the world, the relationship of the Good Shepherd to the world.  What is it?  Well, it’s in verses 19 to 21.  “A division occurred again among the Jews because of these words.”  And by the way, if you go back to chapter 7, verse 43, back to chapter 9, I think it’s verse 16, there are divisions.  Jesus divided the crowd.  The divisions, though, are not between necessarily believers and non-believers.  There are divisions among non-believers and that’s what you have here.  A division occurred among the Jews because of what Jesus had said.  Many of them, many of them, maybe the majority of them, were saying, “He has a demon and is insane.  Why do you listen to Him?”  That would’ve been the mantra, of course, of the leaders.  And the people would’ve bought into it.  You know, He does what He does by the power of Beelzebub, Satan, as we read in Matthew 12. 

So, at one pole in the division were the people who said Jesus is a maniac, He’s a madman, He’s a demon-possessed lunatic.  We have people like that, people who don’t mind cursing Jesus, saying blasphemous things about Him.  But then there were the others, verse 21, saying, “These are not the sayings of one demon-possessed.”  I mean, that’s pretty rational, isn’t it?  That’s pretty rational.  A demon can’t open the eyes of the blind, can he?  Demon-possessed people don’t talk like that.  They’re not coherent, and they don’t do that.  They don’t do those miracles.  So whatever counterfeit things demons do, they don’t look like this. 

So these are the more rational people.  I guess you could say the first are the irrational blasphemers, the second are the more rational people.  They both end up in the same hell forever, ’cause it really doesn’t matter whether you curse Jesus, or whether you think you need to treat Him more reasonably.  That kind of hesitation gets you nothing.  You either confess Jesus as Lord or die in your sins and occupy the same hell with the extreme blasphemers.

So we meet the Good Shepherd.  In relation to His sheep, He gives His life for His sheep, He loves His sheep, He unites His sheep.  His relation to the Father, He loves and obeys the Father.  His relation to the world, He’s rejected either by those who blaspheme Him in a kind of irrational way, or by those who rationally tolerate Him.  But for us, we’ll place ourselves among the disciples there that day, and we’ll say with Him: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, won’t we? 

And we’ll say this for our benediction, Hebrews 13:20, “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.” We declare Him to be the Great Shepherd of the sheep who came out of the grave.  He is our Shepherd. Let’s pray.

Father, we thank You again for loving us, giving Your life for us, uniting us, loving and obeying the Father, and so willfully being the sacrifice for our sins.  Rising to raise us in justification and glory.  We would be literally overwhelmed if we could even grasp what You have prepared for us in the future.  But we acknowledge the thrill of even what You bestow upon us now.  Fill us with gratitude and with blessing as we continue to serve You.  We pray in the name of Christ.  Amen.

VIDEO I Am the True Vine

John MacArthur July 19, 2015

The Bible is the authority, the only authority, the only book that God wrote.  It contains 66 books – 39 books in the Old Testament, which is the revelation of God before Christ; 27 books in the New Testament, the revelation of God since the coming of Christ, together makes up the 66 books of the Bible.

In the Bible, God speaks.  It is His Word.  When we come together, we don’t come together to hear men speak, we come to hear God speak.  The responsibility then of the pastor and the preacher is to take the message from God and bring it to the people.  I’ve always seen myself, not as a chef, but as a waiter.  My responsibility is not to create the meal, but try to get it to the table without messing it up.  And that is the responsibility which I try to discharge, as we all do whenever we open Scripture.

So as we come to the 15th chapter of John, like anywhere else in the Bible, we are listening to God.  The writer is the apostle John.  But the writer is also God, the Holy Spirit who inspired every word that John wrote.  Because of this, the Bible is without error, it is accurate, and it is authoritative.  When the Bible speaks, God speaks.  And when God speaks, we listen, because God says to us what we must know.

The Bible should dominate every life and all of human society, for in it is contained all necessary truth for life in time and eternity.  And when a nation or a person rejects the Bible, they have rejected God, and the consequences are dire, dire.  Those who listen to God through His Word are given life and blessing, now and forever.

And so we come to the 15th chapter of John.  Just to set the stage a little bit, starting in chapter 13 and running through chapter 16, we find ourselves on Thursday night of Passion Week, the last week of our Lord’s ministry.  Thursday night was an important night.  He gathered with the 12 disciples to celebrate the Passover on that Thursday night when the Galilean Jews would celebrate it.

They met together in a kind of secret place that we call upper room, and our Lord spent that night telling them many wonderful things, giving them many, many promises.  As that night moved on, our Lord exposed Judas as the traitor, and dismissed him.  And Judas left to go meet the leaders of Israel to arrange for the arrest and subsequent crucifixion of the Lord Jesus.  By the time we come to chapter 15, Judas is gone, and only the 11 are left, and they are true disciples.

But as we come to chapter 15, they’re no longer in the upper room.  It is deep into the dark of night.  But chapter 14 ends with Jesus saying this: “Get up; let us go from here.”  Apparently at that time, they left the upper room, Jesus and the 11, and they began their walk through Jerusalem, headed out the east side of the city to a garden where our Lord would pray in prayer so agonizing that He sweat as it were great drops of blood.  And while He was praying, they would fall asleep.  And into that garden later would come Judas, and the Roman soldiers, and the Jewish leaders to arrest Him.  And there, Judas would kiss him; the betrayal would take place; and the next day, He would be crucified.

As they leave the upper room and walk through the darkness of Jerusalem, our Lord continues to speak to them, and what He says to them is recorded in chapters 15 and 16.  Of all these things that He says, nothing is more definitive than the first eight verses of chapter 15.  Our Lord here give not really a parable – although I guess in the broadest sense could be considered a parable because it is an illustration.  It’s really a word picture, a metaphor, a simile.

Listen to what He says, I’m going to read verses 1-8: “I am the true vine and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.  You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.

“I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire and they are burned.  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”

Now it should be pretty obvious from that final sentence what the point of this analogy is.  This is about a vine and branches and fruit-bearing that proves someone to be a true disciple.  This then is about the nature of genuine salvation.  This is about the nature of genuine salvation.  This is a concern to our Lord, a concern to all the Bible writers, and a concern to all faithful Christians, and has been through history.  How does one know that one is a true disciple?  How does one know that one is genuinely headed to heaven?  How does one know that he or she will escape hell?  How do we know?

Nothing is more important than this.  Nothing is more important than salvation.  Nothing is more important than eternal life.  Nothing is more important than heaven.  How do you know?  In this word picture, we have everything we need to know.

But before we look at the nature of salvation, just a reminder: there is also, in the verses that I read you, statements that point to the nature of Christ.  Before we get to the nature of salvation, the essential reality of salvation, we have to acknowledge the nature of Christ, the essential reality of Christ.

The divine nature of the Lord Jesus Christ is here declared in verse 1: “I am the true vine,” He says.  And in verse 5 again: “I am the vine.”  How is this a claim to deity?  Because of the verb “I am.”

Back in Exodus, chapter 3, when Moses came before God in the wilderness and asked His name, God said, “My name is I Am That I Am.”  The tetragrammaton: the eternally existent one; the one of everlasting being; the always is, and always was, and always will be one.  Theologians call it the aseity of God, the eternal being of God.  He is the I Am.

Throughout His preaching, teaching, healing, discipling ministry, Jesus continually declared that He is God, He is God.  He said things like, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”

In a context of discussion about the Sabbath, He reminds them that, “The Sabbath doesn’t apply to God because God is at work all the time; and the Sabbath doesn’t really apply to Me either because I, like God, am at work all the time.”  They were infuriated that He would make such a claim.  That was in chapter 5 of John’s gospel.

Later in chapter 8 Jesus said, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing.  It is My Father who glorifies Me of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’  And therefore if God, who is your God, glorifies Me as God, you ought to also glorify Me.”  And again they were offended at such perceived blasphemy.

In chapter 10, He even said it more concisely: “I and the Father are one, one in nature and essence.”  In that same chapter, chapter 10 and verse 38, He said, “Though you do not believe Me, believe the works that you may know that the Father is in Me and I in the Father.”

All through His life and ministry, He claimed that He is God.  Every time Jesus said, “My Father,” which He said many, many times – every time He said, “My Father,” He was underscoring that He had the same nature as God.  And His Jewish audience did not miss the claim.  They were not at all confused.

In fact, in chapter 5, verse 18, this is what we read: “For this cause, therefore, the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but was also calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.”  They understood that that is exactly what He was doing, exactly.  And one of the ways that He did that was by taking to Himself the name of God “I Am” and applying it to Himself.

There’s a series of those claims throughout the gospel of John.  He says, “I am the Bread of Life.  I am the Living Bread that came down from heaven.  I am the Light of the World.  I am the Door, I am the Shepherd, the Good Shepherd.  I am the Resurrection and the Life.  I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  And then He makes the stunning, inescapable claim, chapter 8, verse 58, “Before Abraham was born, I am eternally existing.”

Jesus is none other than the great I Am, the eternal God in human flesh.  Is that important to believe?  Listen to this, John 8:24, “Unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins.”

Can I say that another way?  If you don’t believe in the deity of the Lord Jesus, you’ll go to hell, that simple.  No matter how religious you are, how moral you are, how well your intensions might measure up with the best of humanity: if you do not believe that Jesus is God, you will go to hell.  If you believe He is a created being of any kind, no matter how noble or how elevated, you will go to hell.  You will die in your sins, which means you will die without forgiveness.  The penalty is eternal punishment.

The Jews understood exactly what He was saying.  It’s a shocking, shocking, devastating assault on Jewish theology.  Their theology had deviated from Scripture, the Old Testament.  But it was a well-developed system.  And Jesus attacked that theology.  He attacked their understanding of God, He attacked their understanding of the law, He attacked their understanding of righteousness, He attacked their perspective on works and faith and grace, He attacked all of the elements of their theology.  And then if that isn’t bad enough, that caused them to hate Him.  Then He claims to be God, which they see is the ultimate blasphemy, and that becomes the reason they want Him dead.

So here He is on the final night with His disciples, and He reveals another powerful declaration of His divine nature and says, “I am the true vine, I am the vine.”  Having looked at that, I want to take you to the most important part of the passage, and that is the nature of salvation, the nature of salvation.  I don’t think this is clearly understood by many people, but there’s no excuse, given these simple words.

The drama that unfolds in this analogy is simple: there is a vine, there is a vinedresser, and there are two kinds of branches – branches that bear fruit and pruned to bear more fruit; branches that don’t bear fruit, cut off, dried, burned – that simple.  As you well know, our Lord could say profound things in the most simple ways; and that’s exactly what you have here.

We know that the first two characters, Jesus said, “I am the vine – ” verse 1, and He said “ – My Father is the farmer, the vinedresser.  So we know the vine is Christ, and the farmer who planted the vine and cares for the vine is the Father.  But the question here is, “Who are the branches?  Who are the branches?”

There are branches attached to Him.  They’re all attached.  All the branches are attached.  But the ones that don’t bear fruit are cut off, dried, and burned.  So who are they?  Let me remind you of the context.  This all begins back in chapter 13 in the upper room, and it’s pretty clear that there are two types of disciples in that upper room.

Jesus is there, verse 1, very aware that His hour of death is coming.  And it says, “He loved His own who were in the world, and He loved them to the max.  He loved His own who were in the world, and He loved them to the max, to the eternal limits of His capacity to love.”  However, there was somebody else there, verse 2.  One of those disciples attached to Jesus, Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, it says in verse 2, “The Devil had already put it into his heart to betray Him.”

I don’t really think there’s a lot of mystery about the two branches.  What did Jesus have in His mind that night?  They had just left the upper room.  The drama that took place there over Judas, the exposure of Judas, the disciples, when Jesus said, “One of you will betray Me,” they said, “Is it I?  Is it I?  Is it I?” which is to say they had no idea it was Judas.

There was nothing manifestly obvious in the life and character and behavior of Judas that would have distinguished him as a false disciple.  He was visibly attached, and for all intents and purposes, looked like everybody else, did what everybody else did.  But, clearly, there were two kinds of people in that room that night.  There were those who bore fruit and there was that one who did not.  There were those who remained abiding in, remaining in, attached to the vine; and there was that one who’s cut off.

I’ve had some discussions with people around the world about this passage, and folks have said to me, “Well, this is proof that you can be in Christ, you can be attached to Christ, and you can lose your salvation.”  The Bible does not teach that, and the words of our Lord Jesus, in the gospel of John, are very explicit: “My sheep hear My voice – ” using another metaphor “ – and I know them and they follow Me.  And I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.  My Father who has given them to Me is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and My Father are one.  Together, we hold those who belong to our flock.”

In John 6, Jesus said, “All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me and I’ll lose none of them.”  This is not talking about believers, fruit-bearing branches that all of a sudden are cut off and thrown into hell.  This is talking about people who are attached, but there’s no life because there’s no fruit.

Judas had that very night just a few hours before walked away from Jesus terminally, finally.  He is what the Bible would call an apostate, an ultimate defector.  He had been for three years close, so close that people didn’t even know there was no life.  Judas now was on his way to the leaders of Israel to set up the deal to arrest Jesus to get his 30 pieces of silver, and to go from there to hang himself, and catapult into hell.

This is the reality of that night, and this has to be what’s behind our Lord’s thinking and speaking here.  He needs to explain to these men Judas.  Wouldn’t it seem natural to you that in this intimate talk with the beloved 11 that are still with Him, that they’re all still trying to process Judas.  He was high profile.  He was the one who carried the money, trusted.  They were trying to figure out just, “How did it happen?  Who is he?  How does he fit?  What’s going on?” and our Lord gives us an explanation.

He says, “There are branches that have an outward appearance of attachment, but bear no fruit.  They’re taken away and they’re burned.”  And He has to be thinking of Judas.  Judas, who was in close connection to Him, has left on his way to eternal hell.  And, in fact, the Bible says he went to his own place.  It says it would have been better for him if he’d never been born, Mark 14.

So our Lord helps us to understand the elements of the parable.  He is the vine, the Father is the vinedresser; the branches that bear fruit are the true disciples; the branch that bears no fruit, cut off and burned, is a false disciple.  That’s the way we understand His words.

There are, in the kingdom of God, possessors of life and professors: “Not everyone that says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into My kingdom,” Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount.  There are people who build a religious house, but they built it on sand, and rather do not build it on rock.  So Jesus really has gathered all the figures in the final night’s drama and formed them into a strong analogy full of meaning.

As we look at this metaphor, many truths unfold for us to consider, and we have to take time to deal with them to some degree.  But I think you can now see what the simple understanding is – and we’ll fill that in.  Let’s start with the vine, the first character in this picture.  The vine, Christ Himself: “I am the true vine,” verse 1, verse 5, “I am the vine.”

He chose to see Himself as a vine, to present himself as a vine.  He had earlier, in chapter 10, presented Himself as a shepherd with a flock.  He had earlier presented Himself as light.  He had earlier presented Himself as, through the Holy Spirit, water.  So He drew from familiar analogies.

And you might say, “Well, He referred to Himself as a vine because a vine is lowly, and a vine is in the earth and in lowliness.  The vine, if it weren’t propped up by some kind of wires or something, would just run along the ground, and this speaks of His lowliness.”  It’s a good metaphor to speak of His lowliness.

Somebody else might say it’s a good metaphor because it speaks of union, it speaks of the closeness and communion of those who are Christ’s with Him, the very same life flowing through the vine, flowing through the branches.  Others might say it’s a good symbol, it’s a good word picture because it talks about fruit-bearing, fruitfulness, the result of being in Christ is manifest.  Others would say it illustrates dependence, as our Lord said, “Without Me, you can do nothing.”  It illustrates that kind of dependence.

All the life comes from the vine.  It emphasizes belonging.  If you are connected, you belong.  And I think all of that is true.  But there’s another, much more important reason why He says, “I am the true vine,” and that is because there was a defective vine.

There was a corrupted vine.  There was a degenerate vine.  There was a fruitless vine.  There was an empty vine.  Who?  Israel, Israel.  That’s right.  The covenant people of God, the Jewish people.

Israel is God’s vine in the Old Testament.  In Isaiah 5, Israel as presented as a vine.  God says, “I planted My vine, My vineyard in a very fertile hill,” Isaiah 5.  And that chapter, verses 1-7, goes on to talk about everything God did to give them all that was necessary for them to bring forth grapes.  They produced beushim, sour berries, inedible, useless.  Israel was the vine.  And that metaphor carried through the history of Israel during the Maccabean period between the Old and the New Testament.

The Maccabeans minted coins, and on the coin was a vine illustrating Israel.  And on the very temple, Herod’s massive temple, there was a great vine that literally had been carved and overlaid with gold, speaking of Israel as God’s vine.  God’s life flows through the nation.  That was a symbol of Israel.  There’s much in the Old Testament.  Psalm 80 – sometime you can read Psalm 80 in its fullness – but Psalm 80 tells us the tragedy of Israel’s defection as a vine.

Just listen to a few of the words from Psalm 80: “God removed a vine from Egypt, bringing Israel out of bondage in Egypt.  Drove out the nation’s, planted the vine – ” like Isaiah 5 “ – cleared the ground before it, took deep root, filled the land.  The mountains were covered with its shadow.  The cedars of God with it’s bows, it was sending out its branches.  It shoots to the river.”  Then this: “Why have You broken down its hedges, so that all who pass that way pick its fruit?  A bore from the forest eats it away.  And whatever moves in the field feeds on it.”

God planted Israel and then turned on Israel in judgment.  Psalm 80 then says, “O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech you.  Look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine, even the shoot which Your right hand has planted.  It is burned with fire.  It is cut down.”  Yeah, that’s Israel, that’s Israel.  Ezekiel said it is an empty vine, no fruit.  Isaiah says it produces sort of toxic, useless, inedible results.

Israel had been the stock of blessing.  Israel had been planted by God.  His life would come through Israel to all who attached to Israel.  But Israel was unfaithful, idolatrous, immoral, and God brought judgment.  That’s what the Old Testament lays out for us.

The disciples, like all the other Jews, thought, “Hmm, I’m Jewish.  I’m connected to God.”  Israel, the people of God, the Jewish people, are the source of divine blessing: “I am a Jew; I was born a Jew.  I’m the seed of Abraham; I’m connected to God.”  Not so.

Our Lord comes along and says, “If you want to be connected to God, you have to be connected, not to Israel, but to me.  I am the true vine, althinos.  I am the true vine.  I am the perfect vine.  Through Me, the life of God flows.”

Paul understood that.  He said Israel has all the privileges in the book of Romans.  They have a form of godliness, but they have no life.  They don’t know God.  They’re alienated from God.  He’s the true vine.

Just to give you a comparison, in the 8th chapter of Hebrews, the writer of Hebrews says, “Jesus is the true tabernacle.”  He’s the true tabernacle.  He is the true vine.  He is the true tabernacle.  He is the true temple.  It is through Him that the life of God flows.

Colossians 2:7 says, “We are rooted and built up in Him.”  These disciples know Israel is going to be destroyed.  They know the temple’s going to be destroyed.  He already told them that just hours before this.  They know it’s all coming crashing down.  It’s over.  He pronounced judgment on them, not one stone upon another.  The fury of God is going to be unleashed.

It’s important that we understand that the stock of blessing is not Israel.  “Not all Israel is Israel,” said Paul.  Christ is the true vine just as He said in John 1, He is the true light.  And in John 6, the true bread.  He is the true vine.

Anybody who’s going to know the life of God has to connect to Him, and has to connect to Him genuinely as God, as the I Am.  All other vines are false vines.  Israel is a degenerate, dead vine.  Christ is the true and living vine.

Isaiah says Israel, as a vine, has run wild.  Jeremiah says Israel has become a degenerate plant, a strange vine.  It’s as if Jesus was saying to those men, “You think that because you belong to the nation Israel, you are secure in your connection to God.  Not so.  You think that just because you’re a Jew and a member of the chosen race, you are connected to the blessing of God?  Not so.  I am the vine and life flows only through Me.  I am the way, the truth, the life.”  So He is the vine.

Now the second character in this picture is the vinedresser, verse 1: “My Father is the vinedresser.”  That’s the farmer, the person who cares for the vine.  Christ pictures Himself as having been planted by God, and that’s true.  The Father was behind everything that Jesus did.

The Father sent the Son into the world, right?  That’s what Scripture says.  The Father laid out the plan.  Jesus said, “I only do the will of My Father.  I only do what the Father tells me to do, shows me to do, commands me to do.  I only do what pleases the Father.”

The Father cared for Him.  The Father provided a virgin so that He could be virgin-born.  The Father provided everything for Him.  The Father provided the Holy Spirit to empower Him through His ministry.  The Father provided everything He ever needed.  So it was the Father caring for the Son, and it is the Son who is the One who possesses true, divine life.

Now verse 2 then introduces the branches, the branches.  And there are two kinds of branches.  “They all appear in Me, every branch in Me.”  They all are attached, just like there were lots of people attached to Israel in the past.  But not all Israel is Israel, and not everyone who is a Jew is really connected to blessing.  They were attached, they were connected, but there were branches that – it says at the beginning of verse 2 – that do not bear fruit.  And He takes those away, the Father does – the Father is the judge.  And then there were branches that bear fruit, and He pruned those so that they would bear more fruit.

The Father is at work and He’s doing two things, two very divine works.  He is judging false branches – cutting them off, drying them out, and sending them to hell; and he is pruning true fruit-bearing branches.  This is the Father’s work.

Now let’s look at these branches and just consider what this is saying.  The vine is flourishing, growing luxuriantly, but some serious steps are taken by the vinedresser, the farmer.  First of all, when He sees a branch that has no fruit, He takes it away, He takes it away.  Down in verse 6, He throws it away, it dries up.  Those branches are gathered, cast into the fire, and burned.  That is drastic judgment by God on false believers, false believers.  No fruit.

You say, “Does every Christian have fruit?”  Yes, every Christian has fruit.  That’s how you know you’re a Christian.  What is fruit?  Righteous attitudes, righteous longings, righteous desires, righteous affections, righteous virtues, righteous behaviors.  That is the manifestation of life; and where the life of God exists, the fruit must be there.

That’s why Ephesians 2:10 says that we have been saved by grace through faith, unto good works, which God has before ordained that you should walk in them.  It can’t not be that way, because where there is the life of God and the soul of man, it becomes evident.  That’s what it says at the end of verse 8.  When you bear much fruit, you prove to be a true disciple.  James said, “Faith without works is – ” what “ – is dead,” it’s useless claim.  The only way you know faith is real, salvation is real, is by the evidence.

Matthew 7, Jesus said, “You’ll know them by their fruit,” and that’s repeated a number of times in the gospels.  Paul in Romans 6 says, “You were slaves to sin, and now in Christ you become slaves of righteousness.”  We’re known by our fruit.  We’re known by the manifest evidence of transformation.

That’s the only way you can tell a person’s a Christian – not by remembering an event, not by remembering a prayer, not by some wishing and hoping.  The way you know someone has been transformed and regenerated and born again is because the fruit of righteousness is manifest in that life.  It’s not perfection, but it’s a dominating direction.  There are people who attach to Christ and are fruitless.

Look, the whole nation of Israel is seen in chapter 11 of Romans as a branch attached to God.  But they were cut off because of unbelief and sin, and a new branch, the church, was grafted in.  They had an attachment to God, but it was fruitless.  There are many people who are attached to Christianity, attached to the church, attached some way to Christ.  But time and truth go hand-in-hand.  Given enough time, the truth will come out.  And ultimately either in this life or the next – for sure in the next – the Father will send them to the fire.  This is a concern all through the gospel of John.  In fact, in chapter 6, many of His disciples walked no more with him.  Remember that?  It’s a call to true discipleship.

There are Judas branches in every age superficially attached.  But let’s look at the possessing branches in verse 2.  Every branch that bears fruit, evidencing the life God, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.  So the Father does hard work.  He completely whacks off the entire branch that is fruitless so that it doesn’t suck the energy out of the vine uselessly.  They’re gathered and burned.

But He comes back at the fruitful branches and He prunes them.  He purges them.  It’s actually a verb kathair that means to make clean.  But it was used in agriculture for pruning.  It could mean removing waste matter after winnowing grain.  It could mean cleaning weeds out of the soil before planting grain.  But it also can mean anything that cleans the plant to make it more productive.

Philo, the Jewish theologian at the time of the early New Testament said this: “As superfluous shoots grow on plants, which are a great injury to the genuine shoots in which the vinedresser cleanses, and he uses kathair this same word, and prunes because he knows it’s necessary.  So God whacks off some branches completely, false believers who spend eternity in hell.  But for the rest of us, God goes to work on us with a knife, with a knife.

In ancient times, I’ve read that sometimes there was a pinching process.  It even started with the hand between the first finger and the thumb to literally pinch the end of a growing shoot that could cause it to die.  There was sort of a removal of kind of a dead end of a branch.  And then there was the thinning of all the sucker pieces coming off that branch.  Lots of ways to do that, but all had the same purpose in mind, and that was so that the branch would be more productive.  That’s the work of the Father for what He does.  The Father comes into our lives with a knife to cut away sin and was us superfluous.

In Hebrews 12:1 it says, “Laying aside the weight – ” right “ – the weight and the sin.”  We all have sin in our lives; it ought to be cut off.  But we also have stuff that doesn’t necessarily get categorized it’s sin.  It’s just unnecessary, wasted, superfluous.  Sucker branches.

The Father comes along in our lives with a knife – it’s painful – and He cuts.  He cuts sin.  He cuts useless, wasteful behavior, preoccupation with things don’t matter.  How does He do that?  He might do it through sickness.  He might do it through hardship.  He might do it through the loss of a job or loss of a friend, loss of a loved one, loss of material goods.  He might do it through the loss of reputation, slander.

He might do it through failure, something you worked really had to pull off.  And He might do it through persecution from people outside, and people you know and even love.  He might do it through grief.  He might do it through disappointment.

It might be extremely painful emotionally.  It mist be extremely painful physically.  God orders trouble.  This is God providentially using the knife.  God orders trouble.

The best thing that can happen to us to prune us is trouble.  Second Corinthians 12: “When I am weak – ” the Bible, Paul says “ – then I am – ” what “ – strong.”  I would rather be content with afflictions, difficulties, weakness, trials, because in my weakness God’s strength is perfected.  James 1: “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, because the testing of your faith produces patience, and patience has a perfecting work.”  Peter put it this way: “After you’ve suffered awhile, the Lord makes you perfect.”  That’s the knife. 

You want to welcome that because you want to be more fruitful.  You can chafe in self-pity and wallow around in disappointment complaining, brooding, full of anxiety when things don’t go the way you think they ought to go.  Or you can look heavenward and so, “God, thank You.  Thank you for working on me to bear more fruit.  More fruit.”

You could say, “Why me, God?  Why me?  Why did this happen to me?  How could it ever be?”  Or you can say, “Thank You.  Thank You, Lord.  Thank You.  I embrace this like the apostle Paul.  I embraced this like James: ‘Count it all joy.’  I embrace this, because this pruning means God intends for me to bear much fruit.”

Another way to look at that is in the language of the writer of Hebrews in chapter 12.  Listen to what he says: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline, nor faint when you are reproved by Him, for those whom the Lord loves, He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He received.  It is for discipline that you endure.  God deals with you as with sons, for what son is there whom his father doesn’t discipline.

“But if you’re without discipline of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them.  Shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them.  But He disciplines us for our good so that we may share His holiness.  All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful.  Yet, to those who have been trained by it, afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”  More fruit, more righteousness is the product of divine discipline – trials, tribulation, trouble.  The believer is to expect this to be fruitful.

And I want to add something here.  The vinedresser has a knife.  What precisely is that knife?  Verse 3 answers that: “You’re already clean because of the word which I’ve spoken to you.”

You’ve already been saved, and you were saved through the Word, right?  Faith comes by hearing the Word.  You were saved by believing the Word.  It was the Word that did its work in you, begotten again by the Word of Truth, Scripture says, and you will be pruned by the Word.

In the final analysis, it’s not the afflictions themselves that are the knife, it’s the Word of God that is the knife.  Now let me explain that.  It is not the affliction itself that is the knife, it is the Word of God that is the knife.

Now we should understand the Word of God is a knife from Hebrews 4:12, “The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  It’s a two-edged knife and it cuts every direction, the Word does, the truth of God.

So here’s the idea.  The Father is the discipliner.  The Father is the one who in His providence, brings about the trials, the troubles, that cause us concern.  The Word becomes, however, the actual cutting instrument, because when the trial comes and we react wrongly, the Word convicts us.  The Word cuts into our disrespect for God’s purposes.  The Word cuts into our hostility.  The Word cuts into our anger.  The Word cuts into our questioning, and it indicts us.  Trials are the handle of the knife.  The blade is the Word of God.  The Father brings the trial, and the blade is the Word of God.  The Word is the knife.

Listen to how Spurgeon explained this: “It is the Word that prunes the Christian.  It is the truth that purges him.  The Scripture made living and powerful by the Holy Spirit eventually and effectively cleanses the Christian.”

He says, “Affliction is the handle of the knife.  Affliction is the grindstone that sharpens the knife.  But the knife is the Word.  Affliction is the dresser.”  He says, “Affliction is the dresser that removes our soft garments and lays bare the diseased flesh, so that the knife may get at it.”  Affliction makes us ready for the knife, to feel the Word of God.

The true pruner is God.  Affliction is the handle and the occasion.  But the pruning, the Scripture is the knife that cuts.  Why?  So that we would bear more fruit.  The more you know the Word, the more you love the Word, the better you react to trials, right?  The more you allow the knife to do its work.

You know, we should be praising God all the time here because, as a church, we are so submissive to the Word of God.  We know it so well, that when we get into these issues of life that surround us, whatever they may be – these disappointments, these elements of suffering and trial that are so much a part of life – we know the Word of God.  And we not only know it, we trust it.  We not only trust it, we love it.  We not only love it, we want it to do its work, and so we submit to the knife.

And I believe that that is why this church is so fruitful.  That is why the fruit from this church circles the globe.  You bear much fruit because you have suffered and let the Word do its work, bringing conviction, cutting away the sin and the things that don’t matter.  That’s how it is in the kingdom, that a lot of people attach to Christ.  Some will be cut off and burned, some bear fruit; and those that bear fruit, the Father works on to bear more fruit, much fruit.  That’s the kingdom.

We’re thankful, aren’t we, that we know that we are fruit-bearing branches.  If you don’t know that, you’re in a very dangerous situation.  Take warning from this passage.  Come truthfully to Christ, genuinely to Him.

Father, we are again this morning so blessed together, so thankful.  We ask now that You would confirm to our hearts the truth, and set it loose in every life to accomplish Your purpose.  We pray in Christ name.  Amen.

VIDEO I Am the Bread of Life

John MacArthur Dec 22, 2013

We have been studying together the Gospel of John, and just going through verse by verse, paragraph by paragraph.  Typically, when we come to Christmas Sunday, I stop whatever series I’m in and do a special Christmas message.  I’ve done that for 40 plus years with an occasional Sunday prior to Christmas when we stayed in the series because there was something in the text that connected to well with Christmas.  And that is the case this year.  So, we’re going to look at John chapter 6 today, John chapter 6. 

I looked ahead a few weeks ago and just kind of planning and anticipating what I might present to you, and I began to carefully prepare reading through John 6 for our regular studies.  And it struck me that this would be a very powerful and wonderful and helpful text to stay in.  So, for the last number of weeks, we’ve been working our way through John 6, and we’ll continue to do that, and when we pick it up again after the holidays.  But I want to draw your attention to the sixth chapter of John, and particularly verses 32 to 59 where our Lord gives this great sermon on, I Am the Bread of Life.  He repeats that several times.  I am the Bread of Life.  He is the true Christmas bread. 

Bread is starting to pile up at the McArthur house, I will admit.  Every Christmas this happens to us.  We get it in the mail.  We get it from FedEx.  We get it stuck on the porch.  We get it from folks at the church.  Last Sunday I went home with bread in two arms, and there’ll probably be a little more bread today.  And that’s good by me; I love bread.  We get bread in boxes.  We get bread in cans.  We get bread in paper bags around Christmas, so it’s like a maniacal carb experience [laughter] to consume all this bread, but I’m a bread lover. 

There’s something about Christmas and bread I guess just in a general sense, and you might wonder, where does that come from?  Why is there so much interest in bread around Christmas?  Well, it does have some interesting history.  It really does.  If you’re from Germany, you’ve heard of stollen, S-T-O-L-L-E-N, which is a German Christmas bread that was first prepared in 1545 for the Council of Trent.  And since then, has been the standard traditional Christmas bread baked and consumed by German folks around the world.

If any of you come from Poland or more of Eastern Europe, you may know about oplatki, which is a Christmas bread that the Polish launched in the tenth century.  And it’s still being prepared every Christmas. 

Now, for all of you Italians, you know about Panettone, Panettone bread.  Panettone comes from two words, the Italian word for bread is “panne” and “Tony” is the Italian word for the guy who fixes your car.  [laughter]  So, you’re not buying that?  Actually, actually, back in the 15th century, the 1400s, there was a baker by the name of Tony.  That’s where it came from.  And he wanted to impress the king because he wanted to marry his daughter, so he baked some bread.  Hence, Panettone bread.  I don’t really think that’s the best way to impress a king about what you might offer to his daughter.  I don’t know how well it all came out for Tony.  [laughter]  But Tony made a mark on history because if you go into any Italian market or almost any market, you find a section with Panettone. 

Interesting to note also that the word “Bethlehem” in Hebrew means “house of bread”, “house of bread.”  So, bread has been associated with Christmas.  In this chapter, the sixth chapter of John, however, we find the true Christmas bread who is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.  And I’m going to do something this morning that I rarely do, and that is to cover a rather extended portion of Scripture.  So this will be an experience that you cannot count on ever happening again.  [laughter]  I want to read this great sermon.  It’s one great sermon starting in verse 32 of John 6.  “Jesus then said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.’ Then they said to Him, ‘Lord, always give us this bread.’”

“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.  But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.  All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.  This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose none, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.’”

“Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down out of heaven.’  They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?  Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Be not grumbling among yourselves.  No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.  It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.  Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.  Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.  I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.’”

“Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?’  So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me.  This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.’  These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.”

A shocking day toward the end of the Galilean ministry of Jesus as He taught the Jewish people in the synagogue at Capernaum.  The most compelling statement around which all of this is built is the repeated statement, “I am the Bread of life.  I am the Bread of life.”  That’s His claim, verse 32, verse 33, verse 48.  This is the first, by the way, of 7 “I AMs” in the Gospel of John, in which our Lord takes the tetragrammaton YHWH, the verb “to be” in Hebrew, the name of God who is the I AM that I AM, and applies it to Himself and adds a metaphor.  “I am the Bread of life.  I am the Good Shepherd.  I am the Vine.  I am the Way.  I am the Truth.  I am the Life.  I am the Resurrection and the Life.”  All of those I AMs are efforts on the part of our Lord to make clear that He is one in the same as God.

This is the first of those seven I AMs, in which He takes the name of God, and in this case applies as He does on several of those occasions, a metaphor to explain something about His nature and His work.  Now, you have to understand how monumental this sermon was given in the Capernaum synagogue.  He’s talking to Jewish people, and He presents this powerful claim that He has come down from heaven.  And that they have to eat His flesh and drink His blood if they want to have eternal life.  Now, the Jews all understood the issue of eternal life, life in the Kingdom, life forever, life in heaven, life with God, blessed life, joyous life.  They understood that.

Jesus is saying, “I and I alone are the means by which that eternal life can become yours.”  This is a long passage, but it can be easily divided into two very familiar components.  And that’s what we’ll do this morning.  It’s full of repetition because it was so stunning and, remember, they were listening.  And repetition is even more important to an audience that is listening.  And so John records a fullness in this sermon that we don’t always find in the Gospel record became this is such a stunning claim.

We’re going to see Him saying the same things over and over and over so that they might register with His listeners and with us.  The two parts that we need to look at here, very simple, divine provision of the bread, human appropriation of the bread.  Divine provision of the bread, human appropriation of the bread. 

You need to have your Bible open and you need to be looking at your Bible because we’re going to be looking for those two elements in these verses.  This is going to be more like a Bible study than a sermon.  I can’t preach a sermon on a sermon.  This is a sermon.  I can’t make metaphors on metaphors.  This is a metaphor.  So, we’re going to take it at face value and see if we can’t examine it.

To say that He is bread is to use really a metonym for food, nourishing food that gives life and sustenance.  Jesus used the word “bread” to refer to that when He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone.”  Bread, then, was simply a word that encompassed all nutritious food.  Jesus is saying that, “I am your food.  I am your true soul food.”  First of all, let’s look at the divine provision of the bread.  This is God’s side here, the divine side, the heavenly side.  God’s provision. 

Several features are indicated here about God’s provision of this bread.  First of all, this bread is divinely preexistent, divinely preexistent.  And I want you to watch this because this is why this works so well as a Christmas section because it continually repeats the reality of the incarnation.  Let me help you to see that.  Look for the phrase, “came down out of heaven.”  You will find it, for example, in verse 32 at the very beginning of the message. “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.”

Verse 33, “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven.”  Verse 38, “I have come down from heaven.”  Now, he switches from the metaphor, the bread has come down, and applies it to Himself and says, “I have come down.”  Verse 41, there’s a lot of shock about that, but I just want you to notice they understood exactly what He was saying.  The Jews are grumbling because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.”  In verse 42, they are wondering how this man whose parents they know can say, “I have come down out of heaven.”

Verse 46, again says, “Not that anyone has seen the Father except the One who is from God.”  He has come down out of heaven.  Verse 50, “This is the bread which comes down out of heaven.”  Verse 51, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven.”  Verse 58, “This is the bread which came down out of heaven.”  Every time you see that, and it’s repeated again and again, you are hearing a statement affirming the incarnation of a preexistent person.  He didn’t come into existence.  He came down out of heaven.  Anyone who claims that falsely is a lunatic or a deceiver, who would have a hard time convincing people.

Over and over and over Jesus speaks of His preexistence.  John began his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” the Word meaning Christ.  Therefore, Christ was there preexistent with God, coexistent with God, self-existent with God eternally.  You cannot ever reduce Jesus to a created being.  Yes, His body was prepared by God for Him, but as a person He is the eternal Son of God.  He existed everlastingly in the presence of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.  He is God of very God.  That’s why John 1:14 says, “We beheld His glory and it was the same glory as the Father.” 

If you go back to John, chapter 3, there’s a helpful statement our Lord makes in the conversation with Nicodemus.  He says, “No one has ascended into heaven.  No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven,” and who is that?  The Son of Man.  I think of that verse every time I see another silly book about somebody who went to heaven and came back.  No one has done that.  No one has ascended into heaven and come back to teach us.  Paul, you say, is he an exception?  Absolutely.  He was caught up into the third heaven.  He came back.  He didn’t tell us anything.  He said, “I can’t even speak of the things that were there.”  The saints that came out of the grave at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, we don’t know who they were.  We don’t know where they went.  They certainly did not deliver any messages from heaven.  Those exceptions prove the rule.  Nobody goes into heaven and comes back to instruct us. 

Back to verse 46.  “Not that anyone has seen the Father except the One who is from God.  He has seen the Father.”  I remind those people again.  You did not go to heaven and you did not see God, and you do not have a message for us.  That is exclusively the right of the Son of God, the preexistent one.  Don’t believe lies about people going and coming from heaven.  Don’t buy those silly books and waste your time.  No one, not even the most holy saint has gone up to heaven to bring the Word of God down to us.  The only One who has come from heaven is the One who was always there.  The only One who has brought us heavenly things is the One who descended from heaven, namely the Son of Man. 

This is the claim that Jesus makes repeatedly in John 8:42.  Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me for I proceeded forth and have come from God.  He sent Me.”  Which means that He existed in the presence of God from all eternity.  In the thirteenth chapter of John’s Gospel, and this is so foundational, I want it embedded in your mind.  John 13:3, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God.”  That’s the night of the upper room discourse with his disciples, that great thirteenth chapter begins with the declaration that Jesus has come from heaven and is going to return there.

In John 16, verse 28, Jesus says, “I came forth from the Father, and have come into the world.  I am leaving the world again and going to the Father.”  In the seventeenth chapter and the fifth verse, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”  Eternity past.  Verse 8, “For the words which you gave Me, I have given to them, and they have received them, and truly understood that I came forth from You.  And they believed that You sent Me.” 

The first thing then to understand about the divine provision of the bread is that the bread was preexistent.  The bread was eternal.  Jesus is not a created being who came into existence like you and I do at the point of conception.  He always existed as God the Son.  So there is divine preexistence.  In the coming of the bread, secondly, there is divine purpose.  There is divine purpose tied to the eternal preexistence of the Lord Jesus Christ is the reality that He came because the Father purposed for Him to come.  It’s not casual.  It’s tied up in divine planning, and I can show you that.  It’s such a clear statement repeated again and again that it’s unmistakable.

Verse 32 at the end of the verse, “It is my Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.”  Verse 33, “The bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven.”  It is there called the bread of God.  It is God who sends the bread.  The bread is God’s to start with to give.  Verse 38, “I have come down from heaven not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”  Verse 39, “This is the will of Him who sent Me.”  Verse 40, “This is the will of My Father.”  And again in verse 57, “As the living Father sent Me.”  So you have here divine preexistence and divine purpose.  The Father sending the Son.

Now, it is not only the coming of the Son of God that the Father purposed.  That’s kind of a general reality.  That is true obviously, but it is more than just a general reality that God sent his Son and sort of let things then happen whatever way man would decide they would happen.  Not so.  God not only purposed to send His Son, He purposed what His Son would accomplish when He arrived.  The specificity of it is in verse 37.  “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and him who comes to Me, I will certainly not cast out.”  Verse 39, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given me, I lose none, but raise Him up on the last day.”  Verse 40, “This is the will of My Father.”  Again, verse 44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise Him up on the last day.”

And this is consistent with Old Testament prophesy.  Verse 45, “It is written in the prophets and they shall all be taught of God.”  Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.  Now, are you starting to see the plan?  God purposes to send the Son, and then God purposes to draw certain people to the Son.  The Son receives the people, keeps the people, raises the people from the dead to fulfill the Father’s plan.  It is not a plan to begin something.  Listen, it is a plan to complete it.  It is the plan for the complete glorification of those the Father draws. 

Jesus made statements that affirm this in His ministry, such as in chapter 10, verse 29, “My Father who has given them to Me.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”  Are you starting to see the picture?  The Father draws, the Father gives, the Son receives, the Son keeps, the Son raises, and no one can snatch whoever is in the Father’s will and the Son’s hands out of his hands.  This is crystal clear. 

Chapter 17 again, that great high priestly prayer of our Lord, verse 2 says, “Even as you gave Him authority over all flesh,” meaning the Son, “that to all whom you have given Me, He may give eternal life.”  Verse 6, “I manifested Your name to the men whom you gave Me out of the world.  They were Yours.  You gave them to Me and they have kept Your Word.”  Verse 9, “I ask on their behalf.  I don’t ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.”  Then verse 24, “Father, I desire that they also whom You have given Me be with Me where I am.”

Over and over again, “You gave them to Me.  You gave them to Me.  You gave them to Me.  They were Yours.  You gave them to Me.”  How did they become God’s?  By divine election.  He chose them before the foundation of the world, wrote their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  In time, He draws those who belong to Him by His own sovereign choice.  He draws them to Christ.  Christ receives them, Christ keeps them, Christ raises them.  That resurrection is not merely a spiritual resurrection; it’s a physical resurrection as well.  In the last day, they are resurrected.  So that is the diving purpose, from election to resurrection.  It starts when God determines who is His, and it goes through the drawing and the receiving and the keeping and securing and ultimately gathering into heaven and even raising from the dead.

Verse 45 is a very important verse, often overlooked I think.  It’s a quote from Isaiah, Isaiah 54:13.  “It is written in the prophets and they shall all be taught of God.”  The only way anybody can come to the truth is if God is his teacher.  “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.”  People don’t come to God under the powerful sway of human reason.  The preacher is not the means.  The preacher is only a tool to present the truth.  The drawing is divine.  The Father is the true teacher.  The Father is the instructor of the heart and the mind.

So we have this bread, preexistent, this bread that is provided for those who are within the purpose of God.  So the bread comes down from heaven, comes to earth to fulfill the will of the Father; not just in a general sense that His will was to send.  His will was to send His Son and then by means of His Son, draw – give to His Son, and ultimately bring to eternal glory spiritually and in resurrected form.  That’s the full picture.  Understanding this bread then, divinely preexistent and fulfilling divine purpose.

Thirdly, in looking at God’s provision, divine promise.  Divine promise.  Why do we want this bread?  Well, what does this bread do for us?  Well, what does Christ do for us?  Why is He important?  Well, go back to verse 33.  “The bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven and gives – ” what?  Life to the world.  Life, zoe.  Not bios, not biological life.  Zoe, spiritual life.  That’s why He came.  The promise connected to the bread is spiritual life.  And He is the only bread of God, the only living bread, the only bread of life, the only one who has come down, the only source of life for the whole world.  Notice please, the phrases that are used to describe this. 

In verse, well, how many verses have we seen?  Verse 32 and 33 talk about the bread that comes down and the bread that gives life and then we don’t go very far until we hit verse 35 and again, “I am the bread of life.”  And then verse 40, again we see, “This the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have – ”  Now life is expanded with a descriptive, “ – eternal life.”  Eternal life.  Now, we’re talking about eternal life.  Verse 47, “I say, he who believes has eternal life.”  Verse 50, “This is the bread which comes down out of heaven so that one may eat of it and not die.”  Not die. 

Verse 51, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever, and the bread which I give,” again he says, “I give for the life of the world.”  It’s life and it’s eternal life.  Verse 53, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.”  54, “He who eats My flesh, drinks My blood, has eternal life.  And I will raise him up on the last day.”  Life, life, life, life.  Eternal life.  Verse 58 at the end, “He who eats this bread will live forever.”  How is this possible?  Because of verse 56, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in him.”

How do we get eternal life into these mortal bodies?  Because we come into real union with Christ.  Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ.  Nevertheless, I live yet not I, but Christ lives in me.”  “He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit.”  We are one in Christ.  And so His eternal life is in us, granting us eternal life.  Really incredible promises.  Jesus repeated those same promises a number of times about His union with His people.  For example, in that upper room the night of His betrayal, He says in John 14:20, “In that day you will know that I am in My Father and you in Me, and I in you.” 

Do you know that if you are truly regenerate and you belong to God through faith in Christ that the eternal life which you possess is the eternal life of Christ in you?  In you.  And as we read in John 10, no one is powerful enough to break that union.  That’s the security of every believer.  So, divine promise.  What’s the promise?  Life.  What kind of life?  Eternal life.  What is the source of that eternal life?  A union with living eternal Christ. 

We don’t follow just the teaching of a noble religious leader.  We’re on our way to death unless He lives in us, unless His eternal life takes over.  So the bread of life is heavenly bread.  The Lord Jesus Christ comes from divine eternal preexistence into time and into space to fulfill the divine purpose of the Father, which is to provide salvation for His chosen people.  That salvation is dependent on a union with Christ that is a true spiritual reality and is why we live forever. 

And it culminates in a resurrection.  Several times Jesus says, “I’ll raise him at the last day.  I’ll raise him at the last day.  I’ll raise him at the last day.”  It is a union that will not only be a union in spirit, but it will be a union in spiritual body.  Philippians 3, “We will have a body like unto His glorious body.  We will reflect His glory.  We will be made like Christ when we see Him as He is,” right?  This is what it means to be a Christian.  It’s not following the teachings of a man.  It’s having His life in us.  This is the work of God.  This doesn’t happen unless you’re taught of God, as verse 45 says.  This does not happen unless God the Father draws you. 

You say, “Well, what are we supposed to do?”  Well, that’s just one side of this amazing duality.  That’s the divine provision.  Let’s talk about the human appropriation.  What’s our responsibility?  Sit around hope it happens?  No, no.  In the wonderful mystery of salvation, we are commanded to appropriate this bread.  Please notice in verse 34, the Jewish people who were listening to Jesus said, “Lord, give us this bread.”  Most likely, they were talking about the physical bread because He had been creating food for them.  They wanted the bread that would satisfy their constant hunger physically, but Jesus isn’t really talking about that.  He’s talking about Himself as the bread they really need.

So in verse 35, He says, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to Me.”  Isn’t that interesting?  “He who comes to Me.”  You just said, “Nobody can come unless the Father draws him,” and yet here it says, “He who comes to Me.”  So the first requirement is to come, to come.  Yes, verse 37 clarifies, “All that the Father gives Me will come, and the one who comes to me, I will not reject.”  Not so much because the person is of value, but because the gift of the Father is of value.  So the first thing is to come.  And since no one can know whether they’ve been chosen, the message is far and wide to be preached to the ends of the earth telling sinners to come, to come, come. 

Secondly, to look.  Notice verse 40, “This is the will of My Father that everyone who beholds the Son,” everyone, everyone.  There aren’t limitations here based upon our understanding of the doctrine of election.  All who come, all who come, anyone who comes, I will not reject.  Everyone who beholds.  What does the word “behold” mean?  It’s a Greek verb, theoreo, which basically means to look at intently, to scrutinize, to study, to gaze on.  It’s not a passing glance kind of word, not just a brief look.  Very strong word.  In fact, the same verb, theoreo, is used in John 8:51 for a statement about seeing death.  Seeing death means experiencing death.  I t is also used, the same verb, in John 17:24 where Jesus says, “I want them to come to heaven, those who believe in Me so they can see My glory.”  That means full exposure, full experience. 

So, what is the human’s responsibility?  Our responsibility laid out for us in a series of commands and invitations, come, come.  Come to Me, come to Me.  And when you get there, experience it, gaze at it, scrutinize it, look carefully, thoughtfully, see who I am.  A lot of the people who were listening to Him in the synagogue that day had done just that.  They had come to Him, and they had attached to Him.  They were following Him.  They were watching Him.  They were listening to Him.  They were scrutinizing Him. 

So you come, you look, and you look carefully at Jesus.  But there’s another word that’s really the critical word.  Look at verse 35, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to Me will not hunger and he who –” and here’s the word, “believes in Me.  He who believes in Me.”  Verse 40, “This is the will of my Father that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life.”  Verse 47, “I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.”  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

John 5:24 says the same thing.  The theme verse for the whole gospel of John, “These things are written that you may know that Jesus is the Christ, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing have life in His name.”  It’s about believing. It’s about believing.  Another way to understand it would be John 1:12, “As many as received Him.”  You have to come.  You have to look.  You have to be exposed to the truth, but you must believe.  Going back to the metaphor of the bread, go to verse 50, and from verse 50 on is really the closing invitation of this sermon.

“This is the bread which comes down out of heaven so that one may eat,” and now we’re back into the metaphor.  Believing is eating.  Taking in, receiving, appropriating.  Verse 51, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”  Verse 57, “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me.”  Again, verse 58, the end of the verse, “He who eats this bread will live forever.”  I mean this is a powerful metaphor that everybody understands.  You have to take Me in.  It’s not enough to come and listen.  It’s not enough to admire to get some kind of information.  You have to eat.  You have to appropriate.  You have to receive Me.  That’s our responsibility.

Since we don’t know who God has chosen, we can only know we have all been held accountable to come, see, and believe.  Believe what?  That I am the bread.  He says that over and over, “That I am the bread that came down out of heaven, that I am the bread that came down out of heaven.”  So it starts with believing in the person of Christ, okay?  Believing in His preexistence, His incarnation, God in human flesh, believing in the person of Christ.  But let me tell you something quickly, believing in the person of Jesus Christ as the living bread is not enough.  Not enough.  Something else.

You not only have to believe in Him as living bread, you have to believe in Him as dying blood.  What?  Verse 51, “I am the living bread.  I came down out of heaven.  If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever.  And the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”  Now, he’s talking about giving up His life.  Very specific terms.  Verse 53, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourself.”  54, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life.”  Verse 55, “For My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink.”  Verse 56, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me in and I in him.” 

I have to tell you, this is so shocking for the Jews in the synagogue that day that I’m surprised there wasn’t a riot.  Leviticus, first of all, Leviticus 17, Deuteronomy 12, Deuteronomy 15 forbids Jews drinking blood.  So this is just – this is, if nothing else, really insensitive.  But He’s not really talking about drinking blood.  This is, of course, a chapter that has been mutilated by the Roman Catholic Church, and they have used this to develop the Mass where Christ is re-sacrificed again and again and again.  And you eat His flesh and drink His blood, just exactly what He’s not talking about.  Blood is simply a metonym for His death, as it is throughout the New Testament.  So what is He saying?  You must accept the person that I am and the death that I died.

You can believe in Jesus as the preexistent Son of God who came into the world and is the source of eternal life, but unless you believe in His sacrificial death, you cannot be saved.  You cannot possess eternal life.  As bread, He nourishes.  As blood, He cleanses.  Blood, then, speaks of His death.  These Jews had a big, big problem with this issue.  The idea that their Messiah would die as a sacrifice, a huge problem for them.  They were utterly unwilling to accept that.  Even the disciples struggled with that, right?  When Jesus said, “I’m going to die,” no, no, no, no Lord.  Peter says, “No, no,” and Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan!”

And it was only after the resurrection that He met them on the Emmaus Road, took them back to the Old Testament to show them from the Old Testament the Messiah must suffer and die.  And when they went out to preach in the book of Acts, they were preaching to the Jews initially the Messiah had to suffer and die.  He had to be the divine Lamb providing the atonement that satisfied the wrath of God for His own.  Again, we don’t worship a noble human teacher.  We worship God in human flesh.  But we don’t worship Him just for the nobility of His divine teaching.  We also worship Him as our sacrifice for our sins who died in our place. 

You have to be able to eat His flesh in the sense that you take Him as the one who nourishes the soul.  And you have to be willing to drink His blood in the sense that you accept his sacrificial death.  This is all way too much, way too much for Jewish people to handle, and you can see their reaction later in the chapter.  It’s just over the top.  Verse 52, they can’t even get to the part about eating His flesh, let alone the part about drinking his blood or accepting His death.

And so in verse 60 saying they were having difficulty with this, “Jesus conscious that His disciples grumbled at this said to them, ‘Does this cause you to,’ what? ‘stumble?’”  Well, what was he talking about?  The blood.  Are you stumbling over the fact that you’re going to have to accept My death?  The answer to the question is yes, that’s why the apostle Paul said that the cross, the preaching of the cross, I Corinthians 1, to the Jews is a stumbling block, a stumbling block.

So, as a result, verse 66, “Many of his disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.”  They came, they looked, they believed.  Maybe they could eat the bread part, maybe they could accept who He was.  The blood?  Too much, too much.  But this is what is necessary to appropriate the bread.  So Jesus is the true Christmas bread.  To believe in His person, to believe in His death is to receive eternal life. 

So Jesus said to the Twelve in verse 67, “You don’t want to go away also do you?”  Simon Peter answered for all of them, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have words of eternal life.”  And then this, “We have,” What? “believed.”  “We believe it all.  We know You are the Holy One of God.”  The Jews were grumbling.  All the way back in verse 36 Jesus said, “I said to you that you’ve seen Me.  You’ve come.  You’ve looked, and you don’t believe.  Verse 41, he says, “They’re grumbling,” John does.  Verse 42, they’re still grumbling.  Verse 43, Jesus says, “Stop doing it.”  Verse 52, they’re arguing, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  Verse 61, even the disciples are grumbling.  Verse 66, they leave.  Vacate the synagogue, leaving only Peter and the Twelve who believed. 

Just in conclusion, a few things to think about.  Eating is necessary.  If you want eternal life, eating is necessary.  You can’t just come.  You can’t just admire.  People do this all the time, all the time.  Oh yeah, I have a lot of respect for Jesus, a lot of respect for Jesus.  You can’t just come and admire.  You have to eat, which is to believe fully.  But eating is in response to hunger.  So, the people who eat are the people who are what?  Hungry!  What is hunger?  It’s the aching of the heart of one who knows he’s empty.  That’s the work of the Holy Spirit to make the heart hungry.  That’s where the Father starts to draw.  The hungry heart sees the bread.

And, by the way, eating is personal.  It’s not a group event.  You can all go out to dinner, but the food has to go in your mouth.  Lots of people can do lots of things for you.  They can come over and change the curtains, fix the room.  People can do a lot of things to help you.  You have to eat.  You can’t do that by proxy.  Eating is necessary.  Eating is in response to hunger.  Eating is personal and eating is transformational.  If you don’t eat physically, you will die.  If you eat, food you take in transforms you, and that’s what Christ does.

I don’t know what kind of bread is at your house, but I hope you’ve all partaken of the true Christmas bread.  Let’s pray together.  This has been such a wonderful day and it’s not over yet as we again celebrate tonight, but Lord we thank You that Your Word is so powerful and so clear and so consistent.  Its divine authorship is unassailable.  Thank You for giving us the truth.

I pray for those who are here who maybe have come, looked, or are looking, but haven’t believed, received, eaten, accepting Christ not only as the bread that nourishes the soul, but the blood that cleanses the soul.  May nothing about the gospel be a stumbling block, but may the gospel be a welcome message fully embraced.  May it be today that there’s some persons who’ve heard this who will eat, who will receive Christ as Lord and Savior and receive with Him the eternal life.  We thank You that we are secure in that life because if we do believe, if we do come, it’s because You’ve drawn us.  Father, You’ve given us to the Son, and you blessed Son will keep us and hold us and raise us at the last day.  We thank You for the glory of the gospel and the opportunity we have to celebrate it again today. 

Father, now we ask that You would do Your work in Your way.  Father, draw many to Yourself.  We give You praise for privilege, undeserved, unearned, the gift of grace that has granted us salvation when we were Your enemies.  We thank You, Lord, that You once made us desperately hungry and then You showed us the bread of life, Father.  And we learned from You as You taught us and You drew us.  We thank You that Christ received us and holds us until the resurrection when we’re fully glorified in Your presence forever.  Thank You for this great truth and may it ring in our hearts as we celebrate in these days of Christmas.  We give You praise, in Christ’s name. Amen.

Yes, I am

by Allen Elston by jc cast

An interesting expression caught my attention at the Summer Missionary orientation last month. When asked, “Are you James Henry? or “Mary Johnson?”, many would reply with a twinkle in their eye, three equally accented words, “Yes, I am.” Several men answered in unison when asked, “Are you from Tennessee” – “Yes, we are.” Then I remembered where I had heard the expression before, and whom they were imitating. It was a TV commercial where the young imposter was asked, “Are you Mr. Maconovich?” (or some name like that), and with that same gleam, he answered in that same positively convincing manner, “Yes, I am.”

Then last week at a service station in Redmond, a couple of young men, sunburned and covered with cement dust, began a conversation with me. They were servicing a truck pulling a concrete pump trailer. I responded to their greeting by saying, “Are you guys real mud slingers?” Then together they said, with those same three equally accented words, “Yes, we are!”, and went on to explain they had pumped 90 yards of concrete that day. They said they were from Portland, and asked where I lived. They made a wonderful impression on me that they were proud of their job, where they lived, and what they accomplished that day. They almost convinced me to join them on their next job!

How refreshing to hear statements of affirmation that are true—not boastful or judgmental—just good, open statements that reflect self-respect and self-esteem in one’s role in everyday life. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to get to the place in our everyday Christian testimony where we could tactfully express our faith and God’s purpose in our lives in an attractive, non-threatening way?

The early disciples were threatened not to speak in Christ’s name. They were living in troubled times. People were having to make up their minds where they stood on eternal issues. Was this way real? It was for them. Their experiences of recent days had made such a life-changing impression that they knew, without a doubt, who they were and what their response to Christ really meant. They could stand before outcasts or authorities with the same boldness that state, “We cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard…”. Maybe they sensed something deeper than many of us because they were living on the cutting edge of a vital, loving relationship with the Father, and the recently resurrected Son that they now knew had come to change the world forever. Their whole personhood had yielded to the purpose of His indwelling presence to proclaim in power the “Prince and Savior…who grants forgiveness of sins.” “Yes, now we know for sure.”

With these thoughts in mind, the other morning a quail caught my attention. Sitting on our deck rail he was broadcasting his role to his world. I said, “Hello, Mr. Quail. Are you doing what the Lord created you for today?” He stood up tall, flicked his top-knot, and with the same three, equally accented words said, “Yes, I am. Yes, I am. Yes, I am.”


[Retired pastor, Allen Elston, has graciously given me permission to reprint a collection of inspiring newsletter articles he authored from 1994-1996 (like this one). I thank him for his generosity.]


Original here