VIDEO Peter, Do You Love Me?

John MacArthur Nov 20, 2016

For this morning, we come we come to the 21st chapter of John, and this morning we’re going to finish our study of this incredibly important gospel.  Somebody asked me if I’m always kind of glad when you come to the end of a book and have the satisfaction that it’s completed, and the truth is I have the very opposite reaction. I hate to let it go, because it’s likely that I’ll never be back again to do this; and this is such an incredibly powerful life-transforming experience, especially for me, because of the intensity that I apply to it in order to bring a message to you on the Lord’s Day. So it’s with a measure of sadness that we come to the end of the gospel of John, but it’s going to be, I trust, a wonderfully helpful consummation as we look at the final section. That final section of chapter 21 looks like a lot of verses, and maybe it could be stretched out a little bit. But it is really faithful to the intent of John not to get bogged down here and wander off into all the world and preach the gospel everywhere, but to stick with the emphasis here. This section is really driven right at Peter. Peter, of course, has already been high-profile in the first half of chapter 21. Again, Peter had acted disobediently; and because he was a leader, he led the other apostles who were with him into disobedience.

You remember I told you, they were supposed to be in a mountain waiting for the Lord, but Peter decided that he was going to abandon his call to ministry, if you will, and go back to fishing. There were reasons for that. He had denied the Lord on three separate occasions. I think he felt inadequate. I think he felt guilty. I think he felt weak. He also was a man who didn’t have a lot of patience. He had not yet, along with the apostles, received the Holy Spirit. They were doubtful of their own power, their own ability, to sustain a ministry he knew that he had failed so many times.

The Lord had rebuked him so many times; the others were unsure about the future even though they had seen the risen Christ for the third time in chapter 21 when He met them for breakfast on the shore of the lake in Galilee. So we understand that Peter was really vacillating in his commitment to ministry. If the gospel ended there we wouldn’t really know whether Peter had an official recommissioning, so we’re grateful for verses 15 and following, because this is the restoration, the recalling of Peter, the reassignment of the ministry that God had given him through Christ at the very beginning of the ministry of our Lord.

Back in Matthew 4:19 Jesus met these fishermen, including Peter; told them to drop their nets, leave it all behind and He would make them fishers of men. You remember they all dropped everything, followed Him. This is three years-plus later, and Peter has led his fishermen friends back to fishing in the first part of the chapter. That’s not the Lord’s plan for them. Peter is the leader; he needs to be restored, and behind him will come the others. God has very significant plans for this denying, impatient, impulsive leader by the name of Peter. And as we look at this final section we’re going to see what is essentially a call to faithfulness for any believer, any disciple of Christ, anyone who is going to serve the Lord. This is what a committed Christian looks like. This is a characteristic of committed Christians. To see what our Lord elicits out of Peter is what He wants out of all of us. This is a wonderful model.

Let me begin in verse 15: “So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ And He said to him, ‘Tend My lambs’ – or – ‘feed My lambs.’ He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Shepherd My sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because he said him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend’ – or feed – ‘My sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.’ Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’

“Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom” – or chest – “at the supper and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?’ So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, ‘Lord, and what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!’ Therefore this saying wen tout among the brethren that the disciple would not die; yet Jesus didn’t say to him that he would not die, but only, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?’ This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” Just a fascinating portion of Scripture directed at Peter.

Peter is beloved by all of us because he is like us. He has all the failures that we are so familiar with in our own lives. He overestimates himself and underestimates temptation. He think he’s more committed than he is. He thinks he loves the Lord more than he does. He thinks he can face any trial triumphantly; finds out he can’t. By the time we get to this point, even though he has seen the risen Christ, he is really a broken man.

The disciples have not yet received the Holy Spirit, so they have not yet been infused with power, and they are very familiar with their own impotence. It’s very easy for them, as we come to the epilogue in the gospel of John, to just kind of drift back to life the way it used to be, to go back to fishing, which this particular group had been engaged in, with the exception of Thomas. But the Lord is going to call him back, and with him the rest of them, back into significant ministry. They will subsequently be empowered by the Holy Spirit, and they will turn the world upside-down. But it requires a certain commitment for them to be that useful, so here you have a call to follow Christ. It has three components. It is a call to love Christ; it is a call to sacrifice for Christ; it is a call to follow Christ no matter what. That is universally the case.

For every believer, for every follower of Jesus Christ, there is the necessity of a call to love, a call to sacrifice, and a call to obey. That is the stuff of discipleship. So this is a very straightforward, somewhat simple – not simplistic, but simple in the sense that it’s very clear, “Look at what it means to be a disciple.” What comes out of those three things that are very easily articulated – love, sacrifice, and obedience – is still the fact that following Christ is not easy. To love that way is not easy, to sacrifice that way is not easy, and to obey that way is not easy. Salvation is not cheap, it is not easy, it costs everything, everything. We are told by our Lord Himself in His gospel calls that sinners are to submit completely to the Lord Jesus Christ, to find their lives by losing them, to fulfill their lives by emptying them, to live their lives by dying to self.

Salvation is not cheap, it is not easy. Our Lord repeatedly said, “It might require you to hate your father, your mother, your sister, your brother, and your own life. It might require you to turn from everything you possess, all your desires, all your ambitions.” “If you want to follow Me,” – Jesus said – “you must deny yourself, take up your cross,” – which means it may mean death – “and follow Me.” You need to count the cost, and the cost could be your life. The cost will be your life, and maybe your death. This is a very, very extreme call to follow a man.

Why would people do this? Jesus was actually calling for people to become His slave, to abandon their own ambition, desire, control; become slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is extreme. What would motivate that? Why would someone do that? What is the compelling desire that is going to cause me or you or anybody else to sacrifice my life for Christ, to spend my life obeying Him? What’s the motive? Well, that’s where we begin.

The motive is love. That is the only power that can motivate this kind of devotion. I think we understand that even on a human level that people who love greatly, sacrifice greatly. People who love greatly give up things. Love is a powerful, powerful emotion, powerful motivation.

Even earthly love is so powerful it can draw the best out of people, and it can also draw the worst. It is love that makes people sacrifice everything to live with one person the rest of their life. It is love that is so powerful it can destroy a family. It can destroy a marriage; it does all the time. It can destroy a life. It can lead to alcoholism, drugs, suicide, murder.

Love is a powerful emotion on a human level. It is so powerful that people sacrifice their own lives for it on the positive side, giving up their life for the one they love, giving up their life, if need be, for the children. Some have such great love for causes that are even beyond personal causes, that they will give their lives for their nation, for their neighbors.

In John 15:13, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his philn, the ones He loves.” People die for love. It is a powerful, powerful motivation. And as far as Christians are concerned, according to 2 Corinthians 5:14, it is the love that we have for the Lord that controls us, that’s what Paul said. It is that love that controls us. Some of the translations of 2 Corinthians 5:14 say: constrains us, motivates us, drives us. Really you follow your love, you follow your love, the things you love; you follow those things in life, whatever they be, even objects that you love, experiences that you love, as well as people that you love.

Love is a powerful, powerful motivator, more powerful than any other. And when you move it into the spiritual dimension and the divine world, love is what causes us to serve the Lord in an extreme act of dedication. In fact, we go to the Old Testament, what do we hear our responsibility is? It is this, reiterated in Matthew 22:37 by our Lord Himself: “You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” That in itself sums up the law. You can have the law of God.

All His laws in the Old Testament directed toward how we respond to Him. You can condense them into the first half of the Decalogue, which relates to how we treat God, or you can condense them once more into one statement: “You love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” That is how you are to live, you are to live a life of love. The Bible never calls for a life of legalism, a life of law, a life of dread, a life of fear; it always calls for us to love God.

And then the second part of that great command like it is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That fulfills the second half of the Decalogue and all the other laws that God gave that deal with human relationships. Love is the driving power in life. It is the driving power in the kingdom as well.

Back in Deuteronomy, when our Lord was reiterating His requirements for His people as they were on the brink of going into the Promised Land, chapter 6, verse 4,  He says, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons, talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, when you rise up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and on the front of your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” What are you writing? “The Lord is one and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might.” That’s what you teach your children. That is the summation of all that should be said about our relationship to God.

Listen to the 10th chapter of Deuteronomy, verse 12: “Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul.” Do you see the totality of that commitment? Every faculty, every aspect of your being is to be loving God. And then as a result, “If you love God with all your heart and all your soul, you will keep the Lord’s commandments and statutes which I am commanding you today for good.”

Again, in chapter 11, “You shall” – verse 1 – “therefore love the Lord your God, and always keep His charge, His statutes, His ordinances, and His commandments.” That’s Old Testament. It’s about loving God. That’s what God called the world to do, to love Him, to love Him.

Our Lord makes it clear in the 14th chapter of John. As you remember, on the night before His crucifixion in the upper room, verse 15, John 14, He says to the disciples and to all of us, “If you love Me, you’ll keep My commandments.” 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.” Verse 23, “If anyone loves Me, he’ll keep My word. My Father will love him; We will come to him and Our abode with him.” Verse 28, “If you loved Me, you would have rejoice because I go to the Father.”

It’s all about love. From the beginning, from the Mosaic revelation to the very New Testament and all through the New Testament, and the summation of all that the apostles write, we are called to love God with all our faculties. It’s about loving Him.

John makes obviously a major point of this when he writes his epistles. His epistles are about loving God in the same way, and John extends them from not only loving God, but loving brothers. He does that in chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4, chapter 5 of 1 John. So when we talk about what characterizes believers, dedicated believers, it begins by saying they are driven by compelling love for Christ, compelling love for Christ.

Love is the power of obedience. Love is the power of duty. Love is the power of service. Love is the power of sacrifice. Love is the power of worship. Love is the power of fellowship. Love is everything. So you see that in the opening verses, verses 15 to 17, and our Lord’s dialogue with the apostle Peter. Here is a man who needs a total restoration.

Now somebody might say, “You know, he’s going to have to have six weeks of therapy to get him back to where he needs to be. There’s got to be a process here. There’s got to be some kind of path. There’s got to be some kind of course he needs to run. There have to be things he needs to learn. Sanctification is a very complicated thing to get him back on track. We’ve got to have him deal with a lot of his past, and plow through and figure things out, and assess things, and find a way forward.”

No. The Lord asks him one question three times: “Do you love Me? Do you love Me?” because you will follow what you love. You will serve what you love. You will sacrifice for what you love, who you love. That’s the question.

So for us to understand dedication commitment in the way that our Lord explains it here in the illustration with Peter, we start by understanding that a committed Christian lives a life compelled by love for Christ. This is very practical. It’s a wonderful way to end this glorious gospel of John. It almost seems, I suppose, like we’ve come down off this incredible high of the resurrection, post resurrection appearances, and now we’re down with the stumbling and bumbling people in the final chapter. But you have to understand that the glory of Christ is going to be placed in the hands of these stumbling, bumbling people; that this treasure, as Paul says, is in earthen vessels. And so we need to learn at the very end of this the kind of people that God is depending on to proclaim the glory of this gospel.

Now look, Peter overestimated himself a lot. But even in the upper room on Thursday night before the crucifixion, Jesus was talking about the fact that He was going to be leaving, verse 33: “Little children,” – John 13 – “I’m with you a little while longer. You’ll seek Me. As I said to the Jews, I also say to you, ‘Where I’m going, you can’t come.’ A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you love one another. By this all men will know that you’re My disciples, if you have love for one another.” That is not only the essence of our relationship with God, it’s the essence of our relationship with each other.

“Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are You going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.’” And he did.

Three separate occasions, and in each of the three occasions, there were multiple denials. All of them happened that one night at the trial of Jesus in the house of the high priest. Peter had already seen Christ twice, and a third time on the shore of Galilee, so he knew He was alive. But he still had serious doubts about himself, and our Lord had to go to the core of the issue. He had been told to go to Galilee and wait for the Lord. Instead, he went up there for a little while and then went back to his old career, and took all his friends with him.

“Let’s go back to fishing.” That’s what they did before it all began. “We know how to do that; let’s go back and do that.” That wasn’t God’s plan for them. That wasn’t the Lord’s will. So Peter needed to be restored, and we need to know what happens to Peter at the end of the story.

This is a public restoration, by the way, because he’s not alone here. Back in verse 2 you have a list of all of the other disciples who were with him: Thomas, Nathanael, James and John, Philip and Andrew most likely – the crew, for the most part, that were the fishermen, with the addition of Thomas. And our Lord has prepared breakfast for them after the wonderful, miraculous catch of fish, and it’s now time to set the standard for discipleship and He’s going to start with Peter. They’ve all been disobedient; Peter’s going to be the example.

Verse 15: “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter,” – by the way, John always refers to him as Simon Peter, which kind of gives us the whole picture before and after. I think there may be one exception to that in John’s gospel. But he chooses to call him Simon Peter. “But Jesus says to him, ‘Simon, son of John.’”

Now that must have gotten his attention. That was his name before he met the Lord, and the Lord had given him another name. “You used to be Simon, now you’re Peter.” Peter was the Lord’s name for him. But Peter had fallen so far that the Lord is using his old name, because he’s acting like his old self. This is like when you did something wrong and your mother called you by your entire name.

This must have been a shock. Peter didn’t necessarily want to be pointed out, he would like to have blended into the group. But he is pointed out, the Lord calls him out, and three times asked him if he loves Him, one for each occasion of denial. For each time that he denied Him, he gets an opportunity to be restored. And here is the restoration, it’s as simple as this: “Simon, son of John,” – or Jonas – “do you love Me?” That’s the question. That’s always the question to ask a disobedient believer, because what is being manifest in any act of disobedience is love. And when you act disobediently, you’re declaring love for something other than Christ, and Peter had done that.

So He says, “Do you love Me more than these?” These what, these men? No, because they had all done the same thing. They were all guilty of a loveless disobedience. He means nets, boats, fish. “Do you love Me more than these things that go with your former life? Are you prepared to give this up, to abandon all your successes, your chosen career? Are you willing to give it all up? Do you love Me enough to do that?”

And the word He uses is agapaó. That’s that high love – the noblest, purest, best; the love of the will. We talk about agape love; that’s a noun form of it. It is love in its fullest sense, love in its deepest sense, love in its greatest sense, love, I guess you could say, in its purest form – divine love.

“Do you really love Me, Peter, at the highest level?” That is the critical question. And that is the key to commitment. It was John Calvin who said, “No man will steadily persevere in the discharge of his ministry unless the love of Christ shall reign in his heart.”

“Do you love Me enough to live for Me? Do you love Me enough to walk away from this? Are you constrained by loving Me? Do you have a love for Me” – in the words of Paul in Ephesians 6:24 – “that is incorruptible love? Do you really love Me in the fullest sense?”

So Peter replies, “He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’” But he changed the word. Jesus used the word agapaó, Peter used the word phileó, he dropped down a notch. Phileó is a kind of brotherly love, kind of warm affection, a friendship love.

Look, Peter couldn’t say, “Yes, You know that I love You at the highest level of love.” That just wouldn’t fly. I mean he had denied Him, and now He had disobeyed Him, and He had enough sense not to be an absolute hypocrite and say, “Of course, I love You at the highest level.” So he says, “Lord, I have great affection for You.” He dared not claim agapaó, but he did claim phileó. But even with that, he has to lean on omniscience: “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”

Now some people think omniscience is frightening; I think it’s a blessing. You say, “Well, that means the Lord knows everything you’re thinking, the Lord knows all about you.” Absolutely. What a blessing that is, because even when we don’t demonstrate it, He knows we love Him.

I’m happy to allow Him to know the things that I wish He wouldn’t know if He can also know the things that I desperately want Him to know, that I love Him. And he had to appeal to the omniscience of the Lord. In a broken and a contrite spirit he refuses to acknowledge the love at the level our Lord put it. But he says, “I have a great affection for You. It’s not what it should be, but it’s real.”

This is amazing. He said to him, “Tend” – or – “feed” – boskó is the verb – “pasture My lambs, pasture My lambs.” Amazing. With a less than perfect love, with a less than ideal love, with a less than noble love, with a less than elevated love, the Lord accepts him and says, “Pasture My lambs. Feed My lambs.”

And I just want to call to your attention that personal pronoun is very important, because whoever we shepherd doesn’t belong to us. This is a calling that Peter reminds all of us about in 1 Peter 5 when he writes and he says, “We are all under-shepherds and Christ is the Chief Shepherd.”

If you’re in ministry, if you’re caring for any other believers in any way, you are shepherding His sheep, not yours. No congregation belongs to a pastor or an elder. No Sunday School class belongs to a teacher. No believers in a family belong, in a spiritual sense, to parents. They’re His. It’s a stewardship that in some ways is really frightening. That’s why in Matthew the Lord tells us to be careful how we treat each other, because not only do they belong to Christ, but Christ is in them. So many people don’t understand pastoral ministry as caring for His sheep.

“Peter, pasture My lambs. The most vulnerable, the most weak, the most prone to wander, the most delicate – I turn them over to you. Care for them.” That’s what pastoral ministry is. It’s not about the world, it’s not about how you handle a culture, it’s how you handle His sheep. “If you love Me, then give your life to shepherding My lambs – the most vulnerable, the most dangerous, the weakest.”

You say, “Well that’s wonderful that the Lord would settle for that.” It is, but He’s not done. Verse 16: “He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’” Same word agapaó. “He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ ‘Okay,’ He said to Him, ‘Shepherd My sheep, not just the little ones, but all the rest.’ In other words, ‘No more fishing; shepherd My sheep. This is your calling.’”

And then in verse 17, “He said to him a third time, ‘Simon, son of John,’ – again, painfully repeated three times – ‘do you love Me?’ – and with that word, He dropped down to Peter’s word – ‘Do you really phileó Me?’ – in other words, He’s questioning even that – ‘Do you really have strong affection for Me? Do you really?’” Peter’s deeds didn’t even support that.

Jesus probes deep into Peter. This is corrective surgery. It cuts deep, it’s painful, but it can be healed. “He says,” – says John – “Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time.” He’s not grieved because He said it three times; there were three denials. He’s grieved, because the third time He says, “Do you phileó Me?” and even questions that love. “And, again, he says, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep, tend My sheep, pasture My sheep. No more fishing. No more fishing. Your job is My little lambs, My sheep.’”

Back in chapter 10 He talked about how He loved the sheep, how He gave His life for the sheep, how the sheep knew Him and He knew them. And now He’s handing them over to Peter. “I’m entrusting you with them, and I need to know that you love Me more than you love this, so that you’re going to be faithful to give your life for them.” So three times Peter had the opportunity to tell the Lord he loved Him. You might have thought that the Lord would have discarded Peter at this point since Peter really couldn’t even defend, by his behavior, that lower level of love. But the Lord accepted him and said, “Pasture My sheep.”

We are truly clay pots. The Lord has to use those of us who have an inferior love. First Thessalonians 4 talks about how we’re taught of God to love in verse 9. And then verse 10 it says, “But you need to excel even more.” We’re told that our love should abound.

But this is where all Christian commitment starts: “Do you love Christ more than” – fill in the blank, whatever it is. “Do you love Him more? Then serve Him.” I can tell what you love by what you serve, what you do, what the priorities of your life are. A committed Christian is compelled, driven by love for Christ, and that shows up in his or her life, a life given to His flock.

Secondly – and this is equally important and builds on the first – a committed lives a life compelled by love for Christ, and secondly, characterized by sacrifice for Christ. This is costly love. I already quoted Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross” – it could mean you’re going to die.

And that’s exactly what Peter hears in verse 18: “Truly, truly, I say to you,” – that’s been repeated many times in the gospel of John: truly, truly, a formula for something that is absolutely true – “I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished. You put on your own belt, you lived your life the way you wanted to. You had freedom, you called the shots, you did whatever you wanted to do. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.”

He’s saying to Peter, “In the future, Peter, you’re going to be taken prisoner. You’re going to be bound and hauled off to a place you don’t want to go. Then” – He says – “you’re going to stretch out your hands” – that is a euphemism for crucifixion. That’s how people were crucified. He’s telling Peter, “When you get old, Peter, you’re going to be crucified. You’re going to be taken prisoner and you’re going to be crucified.”

How do I know that? Verse 19 says it: “Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.” Peter finds out here he’s going to be a martyr. He’s going to be a crucified martyr. And you remember the story that tradition gives us, that when it came time for him to be crucified, he didn’t feel he was worthy to be crucified as the Lord was, so he asked to be crucified upside-down. “So, Peter, welcome back to the ministry. Go feed My sheep, go feed My lambs, and know this, that sometime in the future when you’re old, you’re going to be arrested, you’re going to be crucified.”

You might stop and say, “Well that is really bad news. Why would You tell him that? Why would you tell Him that? Better not to know, right, let it be a surprise.” No, it’s important to tell him that. He needed to know what? He needed to know that the next time he got in a life and death situation he would not deny his Lord. He needed to know that. He needed to know that when they took him and captured him, and tied him up, and stretched out his hands, and nailed him to a cross, he would glorify God.

I think he lived the rest of his life with a newfound confidence that overcame his self-doubt, because he had been such a failure at the trial of Christ. I think this put power into his life. I think this put hope into his heart. I think this added confidence to him and boldness. I think he may have otherwise feared that, “If I ever get into that situation again, what am I going to do?” and that would have sucked all of his confidence out. This is a great gift to this man: “You’re going to be arrested, crucified. You’re going to die, but in it, you’re going to glorify God.” Good news.

This is the ultimate sacrifice, and that’s how believers live. This is the extreme requirement for a committed life. Peter had said, Luke 22, “I’m ready to go with you to prison and death.” Didn’t work out that way first time; it would work out that way the last time. In the end, he will die for his Lord. This is a beautiful life-changing promise. Peter has to be ecstatic, thrilled. His heart has to be soaring. His hopes are flying. His boldness is being elevated as he heads toward a triumphant encounter with those who will kill him for his faithfulness to Christ. That’s what dedication is.

The third thing: a life that is truly dedicated to the Lord is compelled by love for Christ, characterized by sacrifice for Christ, and content with following Christ. The end of verse 19: “When Jesus had spoken the words about Peter’s death, He said this to him, ‘Follow Me! Follow Me!’” So important: “Follow Me!” Simple enough.

In a wonderful gesture, I think the Lord turned and started walking away, and Peter’s going to follow Him, at least for two steps, because in verse 20 it says, “Peter turning around.” What? This guy is incorrigible. “What are you turning around for?”

Well, he saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, you know, the one who leaned on Jesus at the supper, that’s John. He sees John, you know, John, the one who asked the question, “Lord, who’s the one at the table who’s going to betray You?” And verse 21, “Peter seeing John said to Jesus, ‘Lord, Lord, what about him? So I’m going to be crucified. What about him?’” Peter is a project. “What about him?”

I love the answer. “Jesus says to him” – in verse 22, it’s really hyperbole and sarcasm – ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me! Look, if I decide he’s going to live till the second coming, it’s none of your business. Follow Me!’”

I mean this is the kind of focus that our Lord wants: “Follow Me! Don’t compare yourself with somebody else. Don’t ask what God has for somebody else, you just follow Me wherever that leads” – and for him, it’s going to lead to death. “What about John; it’s irrelevant. If I want him to live till the second coming, what is that to you?”

That would be interesting, wouldn’t it, if he were still here. Well, that’s what some people thought, verse 23: “Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die.” That’s gossip for you; they never get it right. It’s ridiculous, “John’s going to live till the second coming.”

The Lord has to straighten that out. Jesus didn’t say to him that he wouldn’t die, He just said, “If I want him to remain to come, what is that to you?” He had to correct a rumor, because if people actually believed Jesus said he wasn’t going to die and he died, then Jesus didn’t know, and they got it wrong. We’ve got to protect His integrity. “Peter, please, just follow Me. Don’t worry about John. Don’t worry about anybody else.” Like Paul, we’re not comparing ourselves with others, “Just follow Me.” First Timothy 4:16, “Take heed to yourself.” You’ve got plenty to work on right there.

Peter would be faithful, he would be focused. And, oh, by the way, John didn’t live till the second coming, he died on the Isle of Patmos at the end of the first century in exile. But he also was Peter’s companion, right? From the Day of Pentecost on to the first part of the book of Acts, it was Peter and John together.

So the Lord wasn’t saying, “You’re not going to have anything to do with John.” The Lord was saying to him, “You follow My plan for you, not My plan for him.” Peter was crucified upside-down; John lived much longer than Peter. God had a different plan; Christ had a different plan for John.

Peter is restored. And, oh, by the way, John, who is being referred to here, adds his own little final note in verse 24: “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” There is John saying, “The one that he was talking about, that’s me, and I’m the one who wrote all of this and it’s the truth.” The apostle authenticates his own gospel. The apostle authenticates his own gospel: “It’s the truth.” What a touching personal end.

And, again, why does it end this way? You know, we’ve been to the heights. We’ve been through the cross, through the resurrection. The glory of Christ has been demonstrated, verse 31, that culminating statement: “These things have been written that you may believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing might have life in His name,” – this great gospel reality.

And in the final chapter, we just come back down to earth and we meet these two guys. That is such a fitting ending, because the glory of the gospel eventually ends up with us, right, ends up with us and whether or not we’re going to love Christ, sacrifice for Him, and be content to follow Him.

And then a final word. There’s just one other question to ask: “Why didn’t John say more about Jesus?” Well, he says, “There are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself wouldn’t contain the books that would be written.”

Now that may seem like hyperbole to you, but we live in a fascinating technological world. Just your life alone and all the words you’ve ever said, ever written, have ever been sent to you, written about you; all the interaction you’ve ever had in this world; I read by the time you’re done with your life could fill 320 libraries; and that just you, and who cares, right?

And you understand that there are so many bits of data in the world that they’re literally uncountable. It’s amazing how one person with one mouth and one pen can generate the volume of experiences that could be written about, conversations that could be recorded, letters that could be repeated, copied. Oh, by the way, it’s all copied, it’s in the cloud; not God’s cloud, it’s in Google’s cloud. But it’s also in God’s cloud. And you would be amazed to know that even though you probably have a maximum of, oh, maybe 20,000 words in your vocabulary, that stretches into an almost infinite number of bits just to represent your one life.

John didn’t know all about that, but he did know that if everything Jesus ever did was written out in full, and everything He ever said was recorded, the world wouldn’t be able to contain it; it would have to be up in the cloud. Someday we’ll have access to that. When we get into God’s cloud and go to heaven, I think we’ll know the full story.

Father, we thank You again this morning for a wonderful opportunity to have our lives examined by Your Word, because that’s what it does, it shines a light on us. It discloses us. It is the revealer of the thoughts and intents of the heart. We thank You for the searchlight of Your precious Word. We thank You for the joy that it brings, the comfort, the encouragement, the counsel, the wisdom, the knowledge, the conviction, the correction. And we would all want to be like You wished Peter to be, motivated by love for You over love for anything and everything else, not loving the world or the things that are in the world, because then the Love of the Father’s not in us. But loving You, we want to be willing to sacrifice for You in life, and even in death if need be. And just in that simple way, we want to follow You, not asking about somebody else or what you have for them, but what You have for us.

Lord, we want to be used by You with all of our frailty. We feel like Peter. We want to say we love You. We can’t climb a mountain of that highest love and say we’ve reached the peak. It’s a lesser love that we claim, and that might even be questionable. But You know our hearts, You know we love You, and we want to serve You. We want to shepherd Your sheep and tend Your lambs. So, Lord, would You count us faithful, know our hearts, and know that we do love You. We are willing to sacrifice for You. We do desire to follow; and in so doing, may You find us useful to Your glory. This is our prayer.

Thank You for all that this wonderful gospel has meant to us and will continue to mean. And as the messages go out around the world in years to come, may they always accomplish Your purpose. And may it be that the testimony that John has written, as he said, will be seen as true, as true. And may the truth enlighten many, many souls to salvation, for Your glory. Amen.

How To Forgive Others without Fail?

forgive others without fail

March 12, 2021Author: Nehemiah Zion

Forgive others without fail. It is the best way to live.

Forgiveness is not possible for those who haven’t realised they have been forgiven by God. Those who truly believe in the forgiveness they received from God alone can forgive others.

It’s a supernatural trait, heavens character. Jesus’ journey from birth to the cross is God forgiving us, on behalf of us. When He did no sin, He took on all our sins so we could once again enjoy Him through the power of His resurrection.

This first requires an understanding of the damage of sin in our lives. Which comes to us when we are born again, drawn into a marvellous light in Christ. The selfless God, in Jesus, forgave us so we could be with Him for eternity.

Who can forgive others without fail?

The standard of forgiveness is revealed in Stephen, when he forgave those who stoned him and attacked him violently.

Paul was stoned and left for dead, yet he forgave all those who went against him. (Acts 14:19)

All the apostles went through great persecution for the sake of Christ. They were fruitful in their ministry because of living out the lifestyle of Jesus. Loving and forgiving one and all. The Thessalonian church amidst much persecution lived out their faith, in humility and lowliness of heart.

To be faithful and to minister, we need to forgive others. The Heavenly Father forgave us and so should we forgive all. The Father’s dwelling place has no room for bitterness, anger or hatred. It is a home full of love everlasting.

When our hearts are full of love for God, we will be quick to forgive and serve people for the Glory of God. Obedience to God’s word and being led by the Holy Spirit is the answer to staying focused, doing the will of God. God gives us the ability to forgive and move on in love.

Jesus is coming to take us home. Maranatha, Praise God and Amen.

Christ Confident “He Has Me!”

Christ Confident “He Has Me!”

By David Jeremiah

Our days are fleeting; they may end before the next sunrise. Yet God’s children are never insecure. The Bible says of us: “We are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.… We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). We cannot be confident in everyday life if we aren’t confident of eternal life.

To be self-confident, we must be Christ confident; and that means being certain of His love for us both today and tomorrow. God has placed eternity in our hearts, and that’s why secularism can’t erase heaven and hell from people’s minds. It’s somewhat surprising, but most Americans still believe in heaven and hell. According to findings published by LifeWay Research, 67 percent of Americans believe heaven is a real place. And 61 percent believe in hell.1

We cannot be confident in everyday life if we aren’t confident of eternal life.

SHARE ON:But who is going where?

A survey by Barna Group found respondents conflicted between “Jesus” and “Good Deeds” as the way to heaven. “Millennials are less likely to believe that Jesus is the path to Heaven than are other generations. Among Millennials who have made a personal commitment to Jesus, only 56 percent say they believe they will go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. This percentage climbs to two-thirds of Gen-Xers (64%), six in 10 Boomers (62%), and nearly seven in 10 among Elders (68%).”

Barna went on to say, “Many adults believe, however, that they will go to heaven as a result of their good works. Broadly speaking, this is the most common perception among Americans who have never made a commitment to Jesus—and it is also quite common among self-identified Christians.”2

It’s frightening to stake our eternal destination on whether we’re good enough to get to heaven on our own. Who can be good enough for heaven? How could we ever earn enough merits to stand in the presence of the glorious God of perfection and purity? The Bible says, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Only Christ can take us there. We have to be Christ confident. We have to say: “He has me!” 

That was the final testimony of the apostle Paul. In his last letter, he declared: “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12).

Until we know the Savior, understand His Word to us, and believe in the security of His work, we’ll not experience a confident Christian life.

SHARE ON:The power of this verse is exhibited in a story that comes down from our hymn histories, having to do with Daniel Webster Whittle, a Massachusetts native who moved to Chicago and found a job as cashier at the Wells Fargo Bank. When the Civil War broke out, Whittle enlisted in the 72nd Illinois Infantry. He was badly wounded in the Battle of Vicksburg and taken prisoner by the Confederates. In the hospital recovering from his wounds, he looked for something to read and grabbed a copy of the New Testament. As he read its words, his heart was moved and he felt a need to accept Christ as his Savior. He wasn’t ready to do that, however, and he drifted into sleep.

A hospital orderly awakened him, saying another POW was dying and wanted someone to pray with him. When Whittle hesitated, the orderly said, “But I thought you were a Christian; I have seen you reading your Bible.”

Whittle later wrote, “I dropped on my knees and held the boy’s hand in mine. In a few broken words, I confessed my sins and asked Christ to forgive me. I believed right there that He did forgive me. I then prayed and pleaded God’s promises. When I arose from my knees, he was dead. A look of peace had come over his troubled face, and I cannot but believe that God who used him to bring me to the Savior used me to lead him to trust Christ’s precious blood and find pardon.”

If you aren’t sure about your eternal destination, you’ll worry every step of the way.

SHARE ON:Daniel Whittle later wrote this hymn—“I Know Whom I Have Believed”—as an expression of his testimony of faith in Jesus Christ. The words said:

I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.

But I know whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.

The Purpose of Christ: Redeemer

That truth summarizes the purpose of Christ. As the song says, though we are unworthy, Christ in love redeemed us for His own. The Bible frequently uses the word “redemption” to describe what Jesus did for us. The idea behind redemption being delivered from the bondage of sin by the offering of Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a sacrifice in our place. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” Titus 2:14 says He “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people.”

The Passion of Christ: Savior

In order to redeem us, Jesus had to offer Himself in our place and suffer the excruciation of the cross. The angels gave Him the title “Savior” as they announced His birth to the shepherds of Bethlehem: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). He came to save us from sin, death, hell, the devil, the world, the flesh, and the kingdom of darkness. He came to save us eternally. Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28).

The Practice of Christ: Intercessor

Having redeemed and saved us, Jesus ascended to heaven to await the consummation of the ages. But He’s not inactive in heaven. He is interceding for us all the time—when we’re tempted, when we’re tired, when we sin, whenever we falter and fail. The apostle John said, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). He later added, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13, emphasis added).

Paul had a similar attitude: “It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:34-35)

Until we know the Savior, understand His Word to us, and believe in the security of His work, we’ll not experience a confident Christian life. If you don’t have confidence in the Savior, you cannot have confidence in your salvation. If you aren’t sure about your eternal destination, you’ll worry every step of the way.

It’s my deeply held conviction that you can know you have eternal life. You can be confident of Christ and His ability to keep you and to keep that which you’ve entrusted into His care. He isn’t a temporary Savior, and His children don’t possess a “hope so” or “maybe” or “wait and see” salvation. He is our Redeemer, our Savior, and our Intercessor. His Word will never fail, and His work will never cease. You can fall asleep every night knowing in whom you have believed and being persuaded He is able to preserve your inheritance in Him.

On the other hand, if you have never acknowledged Him as Lord and Savior, you’re neglecting the only path to heaven. You can’t get there by your own efforts. Even baptism and church attendance aren’t enough. Even good works and a lifetime of charity won’t do. You need Christ alone. There is no other Redeemer, Savior, or Lord. Confess Him as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead. Commit your life to Him for time and eternity. Do it today, and claim His free offer of eternal life.

Christ gladly died to give us eternal life. Let’s claim it, enjoy it, and live with Christ confidence in our hearts. Let’s say, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!”

Live with boldness. He has you—both today and forever.

1Bob Smietana, “Americans Believe in Heaven, Hell, and a Little Bit of Heresy,” Lifeway Research, October 28, 2014,
2“What Do Americans Believe About Jesus? 5 Popular Beliefs,” Barna Group, April 1, 2015,

VIDEO I Am the Door

John MacArthur Jul 27, 2014

Turn in your Bible to John chapter 10, John chapter 10.  This is a very familiar portion of Scripture, and it’s a rather extensive text, running deep into the 10th chapter, beyond where we’ll go today, looking at the true Shepherd, the true Shepherd.

It’s one of the most beautiful word pictures in all of the New Testament.  It is called in verse 6 a figure of speech, a paroimia.  It’s not a parable because it doesn’t start “the kingdom of God is like.”  It is a word picture and, as I said, one of the most magnificent word pictures in all Scripture, really.  And it is a word picture that is not isolated to John 10.  John 10 really draws on the shepherd imagery which covers Scripture from beginning to end.

And I found myself saying, “I can’t imagine a more encouraging word to give our missionaries, as well as all the rest of us, than to look at this incredible picture.”  It’s about the true Shepherd, and its context is very important.  You will note that there is no real break between chapter 9 and 10.  I know it says “Chapter 10” but it’s the same day, the same scene, the same people, and Jesus responding to the same event.  Chapter 9 was about a man born blind who had become a beggar, and Jesus gave him his sight.  And then you remember the beggar and Jesus were confronted by the leaders of Israel, who showed nothing but disdain for the beggar and nothing but violent hatred for Jesus.  They threw the beggar out and they intended to kill Jesus.

In a sense, the main characters in chapter 9 are the leaders of Israel and they are false shepherds, false shepherds, who devour their people, who fleece their people.  In contrast to that, in chapter 10, to the same disciples and the same Pharisees with the blind beggar standing there and the rest of the Jews gathered, Jesus contrasts Himself with them and He actually says in verse 11, “I am the good Shepherd who lays His life down for His sheep.”

I want us just to look at the first 10 verses.  “ ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber.”  With that verse, he describes the Pharisees and the false shepherds.  They are thieves and robbers who have no authority and no right and no ownership of the sheep that they seek to fleece and destroy.  “But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep.  To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.’  This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them.

“So Jesus said to them again, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.  All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.  I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ ”

Leaders of Israel were thieves and robbers who came to kill, who came to destroy.  Jesus is the true Shepherd who came to give life.  The picture of the shepherd here is simply a word picture.  And as I say, Jesus doesn’t even identify Himself as the Shepherd until verse 11.  The story kind of stands on its own because it’s so familiar to the population of Jerusalem and Judea.  They not only understood the agrarian reality of shepherding and caring for a flock, but they knew enough about the Old Testament to know that God Himself was presented as a Shepherd.  So they understood that the temporal, earthly aspect of shepherding, but they also understood that that was an illustration of God’s care for His own people.

On the human side, shepherding was very common in the land of Israel.  The main part of Judea is a central plateau, and it’s very rocky, and it wasn’t good for crops, and so it became the place where sheep would graze.  From Bethel to Hebron is about 35 miles of plateau and maybe 15 to 17 miles wide.  The ground is rough and stony.  Grass was sparse, but that was where the sheep would normally graze.  The familiar figure of the Judean hills and the shepherd was known by everyone.

The life of a shepherd, however, was hard.  It was arduous.  It was outside against all the elements, the heat and the cold.  There is little grass in the area.  Sheep tend to wander.  There is no protective wall out there on the plateau, or the hillside, or wherever they were.  The narrow plateau was bordered by precipices and crevices into which the sheep could fall.  Easy for sheep to get lost and easy for predators to assault them, kill them.  Shepherd’s task was relentless vigilance, constant attention, danger was all around, danger from animals, danger from thieves and robbers who came to steal the sheep for the wool and for the meat.

One historical writer says that “Night, you meet the shepherd and he is coming back to the fold sleepless, weather beaten, leaning on his staff.”  Every day was a long, arduous day.  There were shepherds in the Old Testament that were well known to the Jewish people.  Abraham was a shepherd.  Isaac was a shepherd.  Jacob was a shepherd.  Moses was a shepherd.  He tended the flocks in Midian, the flocks of his father-in-law.  David was a shepherd boy.  Constant vigilance, fearless courage, patient love for his flock were the necessary characteristics of a good shepherd.

But the most well-known Shepherd in the Old Testament was God.  Psalm 23 says, “The Lord is – ” what?  “ – my Shepherd.”  Psalm 77:20 says, “You lead Your people like a flock.”  Psalm 79:13 says, “We Your people and the sheep of Your pastures will give thanks to You.”  Psalm 80:1 says, “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock.”  Psalm 95 says, “He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.”  That is to say shepherding was very intimate.

But I want you to notice one portion of the Old Testament.  It is the prophet Ezekiel and it’s chapter 34, and I want you to turn to it.  This gives us a dramatic picture of the contrast in John 9 and 10 between the false shepherds of Israel in our Lord’s day and Himself as the true shepherd.  Ezekiel 34.  The Word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel the prophet and this is what the Lord says.

Verse 2, “Son of man – ” that was a name by which God identified Ezekiel.  “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel.  Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock?  You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock.  Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them.  They were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered.  My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them.

“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: ‘As I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord:  Thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep.  So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them.’ ” ’ ”

Then verse 11, “For thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.  As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.”  God says, “ ‘I will bring them out from the peoples – ” the nations “ – gather them from the countries, bring them to their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams, and in all the inhabited places of the land.  I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing ground will be on the mountain heights of Israel.  There they will lie down on good grazing ground and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.  I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest,’ declares the Lord God.”

What is that talking about?  Talking about the millennial kingdom, the kingdom yet to come.  How is the Lord going to do this?  Who is going to take this responsibility?  Go down to verse 23.  “I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.  And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I the Lord have spoken.”

Wait a minute.  David lived long before this.  Who is He talking about?  He’s talking about the Son of David, none other than Messiah.  Messiah will become the one Shepherd who will gather His people, not only from Israel, but from all the countries and all the nations, and lead them into the glory of the final kingdom.  Magnificent picture, magnificent picture.

“I’ll make a covenant of peace with them and eliminate harmful beasts from the land so that they may live securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.  I will make them and the places around My hill a blessing.  And I will cause showers to come down in their season; they will be showers of blessing.”  That’s the kingdom.  When the Lord through the one Shepherd, the great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, gathers all His people.

This is a prophecy, Ezekiel 34, fulfilled by Jesus.  He is that one Shepherd.  Let’s go from there to John 10 again.  When you come into the New Testament, there are a number of places where Jesus is referred to as that one Shepherd.  Matthew 18, Jesus is the Shepherd who will risk His life to seek and save the straying sheep.  In Matthew 9, Jesus is the Shepherd who has pity on the people because they are “like sheep without a shepherd.”  In Luke 12, He calls His true disciples His own “little flock.”  I love what Peter calls him.  First Peter 2:25, he calls the Lord Jesus the Shepherd of our souls.  And the writer of Hebrews in 13:20 in that great closing benediction says He is the great Shepherd of the sheep.

God, the Shepherd in the Old Testament of His people, God the one who brings judgment on the false shepherds and gathers His own sheep ultimately in a place of ultimate final blessing.  But all of that comes through the one Shepherd who is Jesus Christ.  So that’s the background to this amazing portion of Scripture.  He is utterly unlike the false shepherds, those Pharisees who are illustrated in the previous chapter.  They are like the ones denounced in Ezekiel 34.  The Pharisees, the Jewish leaders had set themselves up.  They had seated themselves in Moses’ seat, Jesus said in Matthew 23.  They took something that wasn’t theirs.  They were false shepherds.  They were deadly shepherds.  They fleeced the sheep.  That is, they took what they possessed and they slaughtered the sheep, destroying them.  But now there is another shepherd, the true Shepherd, and it is none other than the Messiah.

Now with that as a bit of a background, let’s look at the story and kind of watch it unfold.  It starts with familiar words that are repeated often in the gospel of John, “Truly, truly,” and that’s because it’s serious and solemn and sober, but it’s also new.  It’s new.  It’s fresh.  It’s something you haven’t heard before.  And the picture here is of a fold.  You will notice the fold in verse 1.

What is a fold?  Each village would have in the village or right adjacent to the village a sheepfold, simply a pen.  In each village, that pen would be a place where the sheep were brought at night to be safe.  They would be out on the fields, out grazing during the day, and then at night the shepherd would lead them – sheep follow – the shepherd would lead them, and he would lead them into the fold.  And there’s a lot of history about this.  The shepherd would bring them, each shepherd in the village would bring his sheep and all the village shepherds would put their sheep in one fold.  That was the place of protection.  So there were sheep in the fold that belonged to different shepherds.

But they would enter one at a time and the shepherd would stop each sheep with his rod and check each one out for wounds, perhaps, or some other thing that might be of disturbance or concern to him.  He would check them over from front to back, and particularly the back because they have so much lanolin in their wool that they’re easily plugged up and they can die.  It was a messy and sometimes very dirty job, but that was the shepherd’s role.  And he would let them through one by one.  He would drop his rod over the next one, and then when he had examined, let him in.  That’s why Ezekiel 20 tells us someday God will cause His people to pass under His rod, Ezekiel 20:37-38.  He’ll let them in one by one.

So the simple enclosure was surrounded by a wall, and when night came, all the sheep would come into that enclosure, and they would be let in one at a time so each shepherd could examine his sheep.  Villages had many shepherds, and shepherds had some sheep.  They weren’t wealthy, generally speaking.  They didn’t have massive amounts of sheep.  They knew their sheep.  They knew their sheep.  They would then hire a porter.  The shepherds would go to rest and sleep after a day in the fields, and a hired hand – you’ll notice down in verse 12, it refers to “a hired hand, and not a shepherd” – that’s the same as the doorkeeper in verse 3, and his job was to close the door at night when all the sheep were in and the shepherds went to their place of rest.  And he was the guard for the night.  He had the night shift to guard the sheep.  That was his job.

In the morning, as the sun came up, the shepherds would reappear and they would call their sheep.  They would call their sheep out of the fold and lead them back out to pasture.  Only the shepherds were allowed to get by the porter, by the gatekeeper.  Thieves and robbers, if they came in the night, had to climb over the wall, and that’s what you have here.  You have the robbers who “climb up some other way” in verse 1.

It’s a really vivid picture, but what is the imagery saying here?  What are we looking at?  Jesus doesn’t actually say He’s the good shepherd until verse 11, but what is the picture?  It is simply this.  The sheepfold, some have suggested that’s the church.  It’s not.  Because the shepherd leads people out of the fold.  The shepherd doesn’t lead people out of his church.  Some people have even suggested it’s heaven.  No.  He doesn’t take people out of heaven, either.  Pretty simple.  You say, “What is the sheepfold?”  In this case, it is Israel.  It is Israel.  It is Judaism.  The sheepfold is Judaism.  The sheep are the Jewish people.  The great Shepherd, the good Shepherd, the true Shepherd comes to the fold of Israel as the true Messiah and calls his own sheep out of Judaism.

And not only that, go down to verse 16.  And this is consistent with what we read in Ezekiel.  “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold.”  Who is that?  Another fold?  “I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”  There’s the one Shepherd.  What’s the other fold?  Gentiles, nations, countries of the world, Jew and Gentile, just as Ezekiel promised that God would gather his flock from all of the nations and all the countries.  The fold, then, is whatever holds temporarily the sheep that belong to God: Judaism or the world.

What is the door?  The shepherd enters, verse 2 says, “by the door.”  The shepherd of the sheep is allowed to come in the door.  What is that?  That’s privilege, right, authority, ownership.  The guard is not going to let anybody but the shepherd in.  And this is to indicate to us that Christ is the rightful Shepherd of His sheep.  He has the privilege to come in and call His sheep and take them out.  He has fulfilled all Messianic prophecy.  He has demonstrated by words and works that He is the Messiah, the Son of God.

Throughout the gospel of John, He has been testified to by the Holy Spirit.  In the beginning of the gospel of John, by the early disciples, by John the Baptist, by His words, by His works, even by the voice of demons.  Jesus conformed to every Messianic promise.  He is the rightful Shepherd.  He is the one sent from the Father to be the one Shepherd, to lead the elect of Israel out of the fold of Judaism into the green pastures and still waters of salvation.

Who are the thieves and robbers who climb up another way?  Any false shepherds.  In this case, the Pharisees, the scribes, the self-appointed, self-glorified false shepherds who want to fleece and slaughter the sheep.  The scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites who make two-fold sons of hell out of their converts, their victims, stealing, slaughtering with their false doctrine.  False shepherds are everywhere.  They’re everywhere all the time, not just then and not just in Ezekiel’s time.  But all through human history, since the fall of man.

There is even yet to come a very unique false shepherd prophesied in Zechariah 11:15.  “The Lord said to me, ‘Take again for yourself the equipment of a foolish shepherd.  For behold, I am going to raise up a shepherd in the land who will not care for the perishing, seek the scattered, heal the broken, or sustain the one standing, but will devour the flesh of the fat sheep and tear off their hoofs.  Woe to the worthless shepherd who leaves the flock!  A sword will be on his arm and on his right eye!  His arm will be totally withered and his right eye will be blind.”  Do you know what shepherd that is?  The antichrist, the final false shepherd.

So Jesus, in contrast to the false shepherds of the past and the false shepherds in the future, and the ultimate false shepherd is the true and good Shepherd who doesn’t take life, but gives it.  There He stands, looking at those false shepherds on that day with that blind beggar there, the disciples there, others there.  He has come to lead His own whom He knows by name out of Judaism into the green pastures of the new covenant and the blessing that God provides through salvation.  There He stands in stark contrast to the false shepherds.  “And to Him – ” verse 3 “ – the doorkeeper opens – ” because He has the authority and the right.  He opens to the true shepherd to come and take His sheep “ – and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”

It’s a beautiful picture.  Sheep knew their master’s voice like a pet does.  And by the way, they named their sheep.  That’s not hard to understand.  We name animals.  You don’t have a dog with no name.  You probably don’t even have a goldfish with no name.  Sheep knew their shepherd’s voice because they heard it all the time, became familiar.  A sheep might be called “Gimpy,” or “Blacky,” or whatever, whatever idiosyncrasy was used or event was used to find a name.  The shepherd always knew his own sheep because he examined them every day and he spent the whole waking day with them.  He knew every mark on every one of them.  He knew them from top to bottom, back to front.

And like that shepherd in Israel, the great shepherd knows His sheep, too.  He knows their name because their names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life from before the foundation of the world.  He knows who they are.  The picture here is really stunning.  The true Shepherd has come to call Jewish people out of Judaism, to call Gentile people out of the folds of false religion and judgment across the world.  He knows who they are.  He calls them by name.  They know His voice, and He leads them out.

In working a little bit with the material in this book on the parables, opening chapter is a bit polemical as I can tend to be, and it argues against this trend today.  Preachers are saying we need to be storytellers.  We’ve got to stop with the doctrine, stop with the theology, stop with complexities and depth.  Jesus was a storyteller.  He told these simple stories.  And so they have literally made enemies out of theology in stories.  So the book on the parables has a subtitle.  This is the subtitle: Jesus’ Theology of Salvation in Stories.  The stories that Jesus told are so profound they are almost unfathomable.  You’re beginning to feel that in this, aren’t you?  It all started out pretty simple, and the more you think about it and the deeper you go with it, the more profoundly theological it becomes.

Shepherd always knows his sheep.  They always know him.  He calls them by name and the sheep follow because they know his voice.  Verse 5.  “A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”  That is – you’re getting pretty deep now into theology.  It’s pretty serious theology here.  Divine sovereignty, irresistible grace, effectual calling, this is all theological.  What is our Lord saying here?  He’s giving us the theology of salvation.  Here’s the theology.  The good Shepherd has already chosen His sheep.  He’s already named them.  He knows who they are.  He possesses full authority and sole authority to come into Judaism and into the nations of the world and the countries of the world to find His sheep.  He knows them.  He calls them by name.  They recognize His voice.  They follow Him.  And listen to this.  They will not follow a stranger.  They will not.

Missionary friend, I’m telling you, that ought to encourage your heart.  You’re not going to lose any of God’s sheep to the false teachers that you battle.  They won’t follow.  They know their shepherd’s voice.  That’s the miracle of regeneration.  How deep does this go?  Deeper than I have – unless you want to be here until 6:00.  People say, “Oh, you know, Jesus told simple stories, and here He’s talking to these unbelievers and He’s talking to these disciples who are kind of – they’re kind of hard to teach because they seem to miss the point of so much.  And you wouldn’t want to introduce any complexity to them.  Keep it really simple.”

I don’t think so.  This is so profound.  This fulfills the promise of the Old Testament that God will gather a flock from the world and bring that flock into the glory of a kingdom, a kingdom in which they will nothing but blessing upon blessing upon blessing, and that will move into an eternal condition of blessing.

So He comes, He calls them by name, they know His voice, they follow Him, He leads them out, and then it tells us this.  Verse 4, “When he puts forth all his own, – ” this is ekball.  He has to get them out.  He has to – it’s an effort to get them out of the fold.  We understand that.  We could talk about that.  It’s hard to believe.  It’s hard to repent.  Human nature resists it.  It’s a battle for the soul, right?  He calls them by name.  They hear, but not without a struggle.  Not without the agonizing.  He has to throw them out of the comfort of their worldly condition, their religious trappings.

But once He puts them forth, He goes ahead of them, and the sheep do what?  They follow.  They follow.  “If you abide in My Word, you’re My real disciple,” John 8.  He doesn’t have to keep pushing us.  Once He pushed us out through the miracle of regeneration, once He made us His own, once we recognized His voice, once we began to share His life, once we were set free from the bondage of the world’s fold, we follow willingly, and we will not follow a stranger.

Please notice that the shepherd leads.  He goes ahead of them to make the pathway, to clear the danger, to find the water, the pasture, the provision.  This is a security, protection, provision.  Everything is bound up in sanctification as He leads us into eternal glory and blessing.  What a thrill to know all of this, and isn’t it striking, really, that Jesus is unpacking this amazing, deep theology to some people who have no understanding, don’t even get it, as verse 6 says, and to the disciples who were so new in understanding?  But these are truths that all of us must know.  He leads them out of bondage.  He leads them to green pastures, still water.

I remember as a young boy my father had a hymn that he used to love to sing and so we sang it a lot in church.  You may remember it.  “He leadeth me, O blessed thought, O words of heavenly comfort fraught/Where’er I be, whate’er I do, it is His hand that leads me.”  That’s the reality.  The great Shepherd checks the danger, makes the path, finds the pasture, finds the water, as He leads us.  This is salvation in all its beauty and its richness, sovereign salvation.  And we follow.

Just another comment or two about verse 5.  “A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”  Simple conclusion.  People who are loyal to false teachers don’t know the true Shepherd.  Once we’re out, once He has thrown us out of the fold of sin and death and judgment, we follow.  We follow.  We do not listen to a stranger.  We follow faithfully.  Not perfectly.  We will never heed another voice.  By the way, verse 5, there’s a double negative, ou m, “a stranger they absolutely will not follow, but will flee.”  Matthew 24:24 says that “false Christs and and false prophets, if it were possible, would deceive the elect.”  But is it possible?  No.  That’s why that’s there.  It’s not possible.

Be encouraged, dear missionary.  Be encouraged.  Those who belong to God, those who belong to the true shepherd, they will hear His voice.  They will follow.  They will not hear the voice of a stranger.  Nothing can break the bond between true sheep and the shepherd.  “All that the Father gives to me – ” John 6 “ – will – ” what? “ – come to me.”  And no one comes to me unless the Father draws him.  The robbers and the thieves, of course they couldn’t understand this.  In verse 6, “This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, they didn’t understand what those things were which He had been saying to them.”

Jesus then adds another word picture.  This is one of the “I Am’s” of the gospel of John.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.  All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.  I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”  I want you to see the picture here.  Here’s a second metaphor.  He’s not only the Shepherd that comes in to take His sheep.  He’s the door.  He’s the only way out.  It’s not about going in, it’s about going out.  And the idea of going in and out means moving with freedom when He leads you out of that fold.  And it’s only through Him.  He alone is the door.  He repeated again down in verse 9.  He leads you out and there is a freedom from bondage.

If anyone goes literally through me, passes through me, he will be saved.  Mark that word, underline it, draw a circle around it.  That’s the first time you move from the word picture, from the metaphor to reality, to the theological statement of fact.  This is about what?  This is about being saved.  This is about salvation.  This is the saving shepherd.  “He’ll be saved, and – ” then he’s free to “ – go in and out and find pasture.”

This we could say is the liberty that we enjoy.  We’ve come out of that fold and we are now free in a beautiful way, really.  It’s really incredible to think about, but we can roam the world.  We can go everywhere.  We can enjoy the common grace of God that’s dispersed throughout the world.  We have the right to enjoy it all.  We have nothing to fear, do we?  What can separate us from the love of God in Christ?  Can anything separate us?  Romans 8.  Absolutely nothing can separate us.  So we go in and out and it shows a liberty now, a freedom.  There is no enemy who can destroy us.  We have nothing to fear.  We’re safe.  We can roam free.  No threat is held over our head.

Romans 8, it should be read often because it’s intending by the use of hyperbole to show the protection that every believer has.  What will separate us from the love of our shepherd?  “Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword?”  No.  “I’m convinced that neither death, life, angels, principalities, things present, things to come, powers, height, depth, or any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  And we have a bond with our Shepherd that will go right on into the kingdom and then right on into eternity.

So the Lord is the Shepherd and the Shepherd is the door.  And God feeds us and sustains us with green pastures through our whole spiritual life.  We have received all things pertaining to spiritual life and godliness, have we not?  All things.  Fully sustained, fully supplied.  But what is it that is our food?  What is that pasture?  Well, it’s the Word, isn’t it?  It’s the Word.  “Thy Word was found,” Jeremiah says, “and that’s what became my food.”  We hear His voice.  We know His voice.  Where does His voice come to us?  Through here.  Through the Word.  As the Spirit gives life to the Word, we follow the Scripture.  We love the Word.  We say with David, “Oh, how I love your law.”  It is our delight.

The contrast ends in verse 10 and it’s stark.  False shepherds come to “steal and kill and destroy.”  I think all of us, and certainly me, have been vilified by people for exposing false doctrine.  But I could not be a faithful shepherd before my own Shepherd if I didn’t do my part to protect the sheep.  If I say something against anything, it usually shows up in some headline in such an outrageous form that it incites anger and hostility.  But it’s really not about me being angry.  It’s about me trying to discharge a compassionate responsibility to those who are being victimized by false shepherds who want nothing but to strip them of everything they have and then eat them.

The thief comes to kill the sheep.  There’s some interesting stories.  If a thief came at night and climbed the wall, he would have a difficulty getting the sheep out willingly because the sheep don’t know his voice.  And so very often, they would slit the throat of the sheep in the fold and throw it over the wall.  They knew that.  They knew the kind of work that robbers did.  They would take the wool and then eat the sheep.  The thief comes to kill, comes to destroy after he has stolen.  On the other hand, “I come that they may have life, and have it perissos, over the top.”

What is salvation, then?  Just summing it up, the Messiah comes, the Savior comes, He comes to the fold of Judaism and the fold of the Gentile world.  His sheep are already known to Him because the Father has identified them and given them a name and written it down before the foundation of the world.  He knows who they are.  He enters the door because He has full authority and right to do so.  And out of the world and out of Judaism, He selects His own, calls them by name.  This is irresistible grace.  This is the effectual call.  This is a call unto life.  This is regeneration.  They follow.

They follow because this is a supernatural work of God that draws them out of sin and death and darkness and blindness.  They follow.  They know His voice.  They follow Him.  They go through Him, He alone being the door.  They come out and then they roam the world and enjoy all the rich provision and protection that their shepherd provides for them.  This is salvation.  And one day, we will enjoy this at a level that was described by Ezekiel 34 in the millennial kingdom when the earth is completely rejuvenated and restored, and that will be followed by the eternal state.  Unfortunately, false shepherds and false teachers destroy people.  And Peter says many follow their pernicious ways.

I want to close by just looking to something Peter wrote, 1 Peter 5.  You can look at 1 Peter 5 for a minute.  Just to kind of keep things in perspective, this is to me and to all of you who serve the Lord as missionaries, and pastors and leaders.  “I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, – ” that’s Peter.  He says this.  “Shepherd the flock of God.”  What a great description, “the flock of God.”  And what a sobering responsibility, to “shepherd the flock of God.”  That’s what we all do.  The ones who He identified, they belong to Him.  He called them out.  They came.  They heard His voice.  They follow.  They will follow until they enter into eternal glory.

“Shepherd the flock of God, exercising oversight not under compulsion, – ” not because you have to “ – but voluntarily, – ” just for the sheer privilege of it “ – according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, – ” not for money “ – but with eagerness; not as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but prove to be examples to the flock.”  Wow.  So we are to be Christlike to the flock.  We literally shepherd the flock of God as under-shepherds under Christ, who is the Chief Shepherd.  And then verse 4, “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”  I think when we get to heaven, we’re going to know the Lord Jesus as the Chief Shepherd, and He will have for all faithful under-shepherds the full richness of the unfading crown of glory.

So be encouraged, faithful missionary.  The Lord knows His sheep.  He’s chosen them.  He’s named them.  The one Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, possesses full authority to come into this world and to call His sheep.  He calls them out of this world.  He calls them to Himself.  He calls them by name.  They all follow.  They will not follow anyone else.  He leads them from the fold of the world into the blessings of salvation in this age, the age to come, and the eternal kingdom.  He goes before them to provide all they need and to give them complete protection.  And He’s called you to be His under-shepherd in this wondrous ministry.

Father, we thank You that You have given us this rich Word, and we know that we have just scratched the surface of all these things, but it’s enough to almost overwhelm us.  How magnificent is your Word.  How true is it.  Each passage shines like some glorious diamond, but in perfect harmony with every other passage.  And the more we see it, the more clearly it shines as having been cut by a divine mind.  We thank You for this truth.  Thank You for calling us as your sheep.

We thank You, Lord, that You have also said that whoever comes to You, You will not turn away.  And we pray today that Your Holy Spirit might prompt the heart of some who are Yours but have not yet been called.  Call them this day, lest they live another day without the blessings and the benefits of Your provision and protection.  Call some even from this congregation this day, as well as everywhere around the world where the truth is proclaimed, into Your fold, into Your flock.  Free them from the confines, the restrictions of the world.  Set them free to go in and out and find blessing.  Do Your work, we pray.

Father, we ask that You would do what we can’t do, for certain, and accomplish Your will in every life.  We pray in Christ’s name.  Amen.

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.


By Pastor Jack Hibbs

Ephesians 6:13

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

Wherever you’re at right now, the sun may be shining and life is good, making the reality of withstanding anything evil seem remote. Yet from the moment Eve plucked the fruit in the Garden, sin entered, and each day came under the sway of the evil one. It’s for this reason that Paul exhorts Christians to be geared up and battle ready.

Our adversary, Satan, will do his best to disarm you because he knows that a wobbly, defenseless Christian cannot stand. If we are to stand in opposition to his schemes, it’s essential that we make daily use of the most sophisticated armament available – the armor of God. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4)

It is incumbent upon each of us to be intimately acquainted with each piece of armor and keep it securely fastened. Puritan saint William Gurnall put it this way, “The armor… is to be worn night and day; we must walk, work, and sleep in them, or else we are not true soldiers of Christ.” With your armor firmly in place, you will be able to stand in obedience. Truth will triumph. You will not wobble or waver.

Today, if you are in the midst of personal trials, stand. In grief and sorrow, stand. In temptation, stand. In the chaos of our times, stand. Believer, in the evil day, stand!

– Pastor Jack

Willful Blindness in the Sciences

BY RICHARD E. SIMMONS III | February 16, 2021

In my research, I have found that willful blindness is quite common among atheists, particularly in the world of science.

One of the most prominent astronomers in the last century was Dr. Robert Jastrow. He received his PhD from Columbia University and then worked for a number of years at NASA, until taking a position at Dartmouth, where he taught for 11 years.

Jastrow was agnostic, but spoke of willful blindness in his book, God and the Astronomers. He described how scientists react when they encounter evidence they do not like. He says:

“Their reactions provide an interesting demonstration of the response of the scientific mind—supposedly a very objective mind—when evidence uncovered by science itself leads to a conflict with the articles of faith in our professions. It turns out that the scientist behaves the way the rest of us do when our beliefs are in conflict with the evidence. We become irritated, we pretend the conflict does not exist, or we paper it over with meaningless phrases.”

This is what so often happens in our lives when we encounter evidence that contradicts a long-held belief—we pretend the conflict does not exist. We become willfully blind and, in the process, become irresponsible in what we believe.

In his book The Creator and the Cosmos, astrophysicist Hugh Ross shares an interesting event in the life of Albert Einstein.

“It was 1916 and Albert Einstein didn’t like where his calculations were leading him. If his theory of General Relativity was true, it meant that the universe was not eternal but had a beginning. Einstein’s calculations indeed were revealing a definite beginning to all time, all matter, and all space. This flew in the face of his belief that the universe was static and eternal.

Einstein later called his discovery “irritating.” He wanted the universe to be self-existent—not reliant on any outside cause—but the universe appeared to be one giant effect. In fact, Einstein so disliked the implications of General Relativity—a theory that is now proven accurate to five decimal places—that he introduced a cosmological constant (which some have called a “fudge factor”) into his equations in order to show that the universe is static and to avoid an absolute beginning.”

Clearly, Einstein did not like the direction the evidence was taking him. To believe that the universe had a beginning, that it was finite, and therefore there was some type of cause behind it all would disrupt his life as a scientist. For this reason, he came up with a fudge factor. However, according to Ross this fudge factor did not last long.

“In 1919, British cosmologist Arthur Eddington conducted an experiment during a solar eclipse which confirmed that General Relativity was indeed true—the universe wasn’t static but had a beginning. Like Einstein, Eddington wasn’t happy with the implications. He later wrote, ‘Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of nature is repugnant to me… I should like to find a genuine loophole.’

By 1922, Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann had officially exposed Einstein’s fudge factor as an algebraic error. (Incredibly, in his quest to avoid a beginning, the great Einstein had divided by zero—something even schoolchildren know is a no-no!) Meanwhile, Dutch astronomer Willem de Sitter had found that General Relativity required the universe to be expanding. And in 1927, the expanding of the universe was actually observed by astronomer Edwin Hubble (namesake of the space telescope).

Looking through the 100-inch Hooker telescope at California’s Mount Wilson Observatory, Hubble discovered a “red shift” in the light from every observable galaxy, which meant that those galaxies were moving away from us. In other words, General Relativity was again confirmed—the universe appears to be expanding from a single point in the distant past.

In 1929, Einstein made a pilgrimage to Mount Wilson to look through Hubble’s telescope for himself. What he saw was irrefutable. The observational evidence showed that the universe was indeed expanding as General Relativity had predicted. With his cosmological constant now completely crushed by the weight of the evidence against it, Einstein could no longer support his wish for an eternal universe. He subsequently described the cosmological constant as ‘the greatest blunder of my life,’ and he redirected his efforts to find the box top to the puzzle of life. Einstein said that he wanted to know how God created the world. ‘I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.’”

Do you see what Einstein had been doing? Initially, he was allowing his beliefs to shape the evidence in his research. Eventually, he realized that he must be honest and allow the evidence to shape his theories. Therefore, he changed his belief about the beginning of the universe and in the process Einstein discovered the theory of relativity.

This is why, later in life, Einstein made a very important observation about science. He said, “Most people think it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong. It is their character.” Einstein recognized that the key to being a great scientist is to follow the evidence and the truth, wherever it leads you.

One of the most influential books of science in the last century was Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It was about the progress of scientific knowledge. Kuhn was a superb historian who focused on the great advances of science through which he called “revolutions,” which are so often hindered by holding on to old beliefs.

I think it is so easy to believe that scientists are immune to the influence of their own beliefs and biases as they do research. We have this presumption that scientists are dispassionate and unbiased individuals who are committed to the truth and always simply report the facts.

Kuhn’s book points out this fallacy, as his research into the history of science reveals that scientists are clearly not objective. He provides dozens of historical cases that prove researchers are far from being neutral and unbiased, particularly in testing and evaluating results. He makes it clear that scientists have a real tendency to hold on tenaciously to their theories, even though they face contradicting data.

The late Dr. Herbert Schlossberg, a leading historian and scholar, made this observation:

“Thomas Kuhn concluded that at a given time any scientific community will always have in its structure an element that is more will than intellect, a product of personal history.”

Back in August of 2014, David Brooks wrote an article in The New York Times titled “The Mental Virtues.” He refers to the book Intellectual Virtues by Robert Roberts and Jay Wood. In their book, they speak of the importance of having intellectual courage—the willingness to hold unpopular views. In the article, Brooks then makes reference to Kuhn:

“Thomas Kuhn pointed out that scientists often simply ignore facts that don’t fit with their existing paradigms, but an intellectually courageous person is willing to look at things that are surprisingly hard to look at.”

To gain some insight into the psychology of belief, consider C.S. Lewis. As a skeptic, he was quite surprised that his very intelligent friend J.R.R. Tolkien believed not only in God but Jesus as the Son of God. As Lewis began his spiritual search, he continued to gain new insights that were clearly in conflict with his current atheistic beliefs. He then became acutely aware of something that was happening to him. His intellect was taking him in a direction that his heart did not want to go. His mind was being drawn to that which he recognized to be true, but his heart was resistant. He later realized he was attracted to atheism because of the moral freedom it provided. He saw Jesus as someone who wanted to interfere with his life.

Lewis wrote an essay titled “Modern Man and His Categories of Thought.” Lewis remarks on how irrational people were becoming in their approach to their beliefs. In the audience where he was lecturing, he began to notice, “it is almost impossible to make them understand that I recommend Christianity because I think it is objectively true. But people today are simply not interested whether a religion is true or false…” Ultimately, he says, they are more interested in how it will impact their lives and their lifestyles.

In a recent Christian Post article, Op-ed Contributor Michael Murphy writes that “we are living in a time unprecedented in the lives of our forebears” and comments that “truth (is) being redefined.”

Do we not care about what is true? Are we afraid to look reality in the eye because it may take us in a direction we don’t want to go? I believe this is one of the great flaws in our human character. We stubbornly hold on to our beliefs because they generally reflect how we want life to be rather than how life actually is. For this reason, evidence does not seem to matter.

My challenge to you is to follow the truth wherever it leads, always remembering that truth is your friend. It enables you to believe responsibly. It leads to your ultimate well-being.

Get your copy of Richard’s newest book Reflections on the Existence of God on Amazon or at

Richard E. Simmons III is a Christian author, speaker, and the Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership, a non-profit, faith-based ministry in Birmingham, Alabama. His best-selling titles include The True Measure of a Man, The Power of a Humble Life, Wisdom: Life’s Great Treasure, and his newest book, Reflections on the Existence of God.
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All Things to All Men

by John MacArthur Friday, September 2, 2011

The notion that the church must become like the world to win the world has taken evangelicalism by storm. Virtually every modern worldly attraction has a “Christian” counterpart. We have Christian motorcycle gangs, Christian bodybuilding teams, Christian dance clubs, Christian amusement parks, and I even read about a Christian nudist colony.

Where did Christians ever get the idea we could win the world by imitating it? Is there a shred of biblical justification for that kind of thinking? Many church marketing specialists affirm that there is, and they have convinced a myriad of pastors. Ironically, they usually cite the apostle Paul as someone who advocated adapting the gospel to the tastes of the audience. One has written, “Paul provided what I feel is perhaps the single most insightful perspective on marketing communications, the principle we call contextualization (1 Corinthians 9:19–23). Paul . . . was willing to shape his communications according to their needs in order to receive the response he sought.” “The first marketeer was Paul,” another echoes.

After all, the apostle did write, “I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it” (1 Corinthians 9:2223). Is that a mandate for pragmatism in ministry? Was the apostle Paul suggesting that the gospel message can be made to appeal to people by accommodating their relish for certain amusements or by pampering their pet vices? How far do you suppose he would have been willing to go with the principle of “contextualization”?

The Great Non-Negotiable

This much is very clear: the apostle Paul was no people-pleaser. He wrote, “Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). Paul did not amend or abridge his message to make people happy. He was utterly unwilling to try to remove the offense from the gospel (Galatians 5:11). He did not use methodology that catered to the lusts of his listeners. He certainly did not follow the pragmatic philosophy of modern market-driven ministers.

What made Paul effective was not marketing savvy, but a stubborn devotion to the truth. He was Christ’s ambassador, not His press secretary. Truth was something to be declared, not negotiated. Paul was not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16). He willingly suffered for the truth’s sake (2 Corinthians 11:23–28). He did not back down in the face of opposition or rejection. He did not compromise with unbelievers or make friends with the enemies of God.

Paul’s message was always non-negotiable. In the same chapter where he spoke of becoming all things to all men, Paul wrote, “I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). His ministry was in response to a divine mandate. God had called him and commissioned him. Paul preached the gospel exactly as he had received it directly from the Lord, and he always delivered that message “as of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3). He was not a salesman or marketer, but a divine emissary. He certainly was not “willing to shape his communications” to accommodate his listeners or produce a desirable response. The fact that he was stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19), beaten, imprisoned, and finally killed for the truth’s sake ought to demonstrate that he didn’t adapt the message to make it pleasing to his hearers! And the personal suffering he bore because of his ministry did not indicate that something was wrong with his approach, but that everything had been right!

So what did Paul mean when he wrote, “I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel”? As always, the context makes his meaning clear. We’ll be taking a look at what Paul really meant over the course of the next several days. I hope you stick around.