Time for the Good Shepherd

Sermon from John 10:1-15

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:6-7

In the verse above, Peter tells us that times of suffering actually work like a refiner’s fire on our faith. It burns away that which is temporary and unproductive, and it reveals that which is eternal and holy. I believe that this time of coronavirus is acting as a refiner’s fire in terms of leadership—it is revealing the quality of leadership as the challenges of this day are being met. It reveals not only the strength of leadership, but also the motives.

This is in all levels of society—not only government, but also business, healthcare, and even within our homes. Being quarantined with our families is revealing both the weaknesses and strengths of our leadership in the home.

The Gospel passage for today is all about leadership. John records Jesus’ comparison between two entities: thieves/robbers vs. the shepherd. The first comparison is in the way they relate to the flock. Thieves access the flock through illegitimate means: secrecy and stealth. By contrast, the shepherd accesses his sheep through rightful and lawful means. The gatekeeper recognizes the shepherd, and so do the sheep—the sheep know him and follow him.

Verse 6 tells us that Jesus’ listeners didn’t understand what he was saying. I don’t think this means they couldn’t grasp the metaphor of leading sheep compared to leading people. I believe what they didn’t understand was how it applied to themselves. They didn’t want to honestly look at the challenges in their own leadership and discover that they were leading God’s people in a way that was not legitimate or correct.

So as Jesus continues his illustration, he shifts the metaphor slightly to try to help them understand. He says, “I am the door for the sheep” (v. 7). Now this is a little bit unexpected. We would expect him to go straight to “I am the Good Shepherd.” He does get there (v. 11), but he makes an important point about the door first. What he is saying is that he becomes the measure of legitimacy when it comes to the leadership of the people of God—he is the only legitimate way to access God’s people. Jesus is the difference between a good leader and a false leader.

He goes on to flesh out the two defining criteria that determine whether a leader is good or false: intention and impact.

The motivating intention of false leadership is self-interest. “The thief comes only to steal” (v. 10). The prophet Samuel spoke of this in 1 Samuel 8:10-18, when the people rejected God’s leadership and demanded a human king. The gist of his warning was this: “Human kings exist to take. They will take your freedom, they will take your children, they will take control of your life.”

Now, don’t hear me saying that human leadership is always of that ilk. There are good and bad leaders, but we always have to be wary that the intentions behind human leadership MAY be self-serving. False leaders desire to take power and resources for their own benefit. This is revealed plainly during these times of suffering. Illegitimate leadership is always destructive to those being led by it.

On the other hand, good leadership selflessly gives rather than takes. It gives abundant life to those who are led by it. In our day and age, how we need good leadership that selflessly seeks to give rather than take, to build up rather than destroy!

In Jesus’ day, the people of God had been scattered, harassed, oppressed, and dominated by many other nations and powers. Jesus compares them to sheep under a bad shepherd, and he offers them the opportunity to return to safety and security under his leadership. He is the Good Shepherd, the one who lays down his life for his sheep.

Jesus gives us the model of sacrificial leadership that we can follow in every aspect of our lives—at home, in the workplace, in the pubic sphere. Jesus says that good leadership gives itself away, and our world desperately needs this right now.

He is not only our example, but he is still the best leader that we could ever follow. All of us are lost sheep who need a strong, loving, sacrificial shepherd:

For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 2:25

Have you given your life to the Shepherd of your soul? Do you listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, who calls you by name and offers to bring you to a place of abundant life? During this time of testing and refining, where are you placing your hope, and who are you following? I encourage you to place your confidence fully in the Good Shepherd.

Into the Father’s Hands

A Palm Sunday Sermon from Luke 23

I found myself emotional as I was watching the online service led by our worship team on the video screen. I’ve been involved in corporate worship for 25 years, and now because of the Covid-19 quarantine, it has been weeks and weeks since we have been able to meet as a corporate body and worship together. I realized the word for what I’m experiencing is grief.

Grief hits us all in different ways at different times, but it always comes in stages. I can see now how I’m going through them all in regards to my grief over the loss of the church body in my own experience right now: anger, bargaining, denial. And now we must come to acceptance, because the reality is that things are probably still going to get worse before they get better.

And so this Gospel passage finds even more significant application on this Palm Sunday as we face these unprecedented times. As Jesus is hanging on the cross dying, he says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). He is surrendering himself totally to the will of the Father. He knows that the will of the Father is his own death, as an act of atonement for the world, a way of expressing God’s love.

This statement from Jesus could be seen as his own acceptance stage of grief. We had previously seen him grieving in the Garden of Gethsemane, truly agonizing over the ordeal he knew was to come. Yet there, on the cross, he comes to acceptance: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

As we consider what Jesus went through, we see that he not only experienced the physical suffering that any person who died by crucifixion would. But Jesus also uniquely bore the spiritual suffering of the punishment for all the sins of the world. And yet he was the only person ever to die innocent. All those who witnessed his arrest, torture, and death could see it (Luke 23:4, 14-15, 22, 47). This is what makes him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world – the Lamb of God, whose sacrifice would reconcile the world back to himself.

Jesus’ death was the will of the Father, and it was the most difficult will anyone would ever have to bear. The good news for us now is that Jesus bore it on our behalf, and so now we don’t have to.

Jesus bore the most difficult will of the Father, and yet in the same way, the Father calls us to bear great difficulties – corporately and personally. We must follow Jesus’ example and surrender ourselves into the loving and trustworthy hands of the Father.

Take a moment to consider whose hands you are entrusting yourself to. Are we placing our trust in the hands of government officials who are making decisions about how we are to weather this crisis? Are we placing our trust in the hands of medical professionals, whose skill and sacrifice are crucial to our survival? Are we placing our trust in the hands of financial planners and banks who can help us weather the financial crisis? We are always entrusting ourselves to other people, and that trust is often well founded – we SHOULD be trusting people who know how to help us get through.

However, our ultimate trust should be in the good hands of God the Father. There is NO ONE more trustworthy and able to control our outcomes.

Like Jesus did, we should commit our spirits, our life, our breath to God the Father. It’s striking that in the current circumstance, the Covid-19 virus attacks our breath – it is the respiratory system that often fails under this disease. Will you entrust your very breath to the Father, even when it is under targeted attack?

The thief on the cross next to Jesus models this very thing to us. Facing his imminent death, he entrusts himself to Jesus by begging him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Jesus shows him favor, love, and kindness, proving that his trust was well-founded.

As we face our own dangerous and uncertain times, let’s commit our own spirits to God the Father in the way Jesus did.

Eyes Healed, See the Light

Sermon from John 9

Corrie Ten Boom was a heroic woman who lived during the time of the Holocaust. She would hide Jewish children in her home, in a place that is known as “The Hiding Place.” After the war was over, she would travel around speaking about her experience, and she used to bring an old tapestry to show her audience. She would hold up the backside, showing lots of knots and loose threads – it looked like a tangled mess. However, when she turned it around, the tapestry revealed that those threads were all working to together to make a beautiful golden crown. She used this as an illustration, saying that often the things we see in our lives and in the world around us feel like a mess, but from God’s perspective, he sees glory. She encouraged her listeners to try to see things from God’s perspective, and this Scripture passage gives us the same message.

In this Scripture passage, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. Continuing the illustration above, this is a single thread, that many people couldn’t understand how this difficult situation was contributing to a good big picture. People looked at this man, and they said that the man’s lifelong blindness must be the result of sin. However, when they asked Jesus about it, he explained God’s perspective.

Jesus said that the blindness was not an evil or a problem or a reflection of sin, but rather it was an opportunity for something glorious.

In today’s circumstances with illness, fear, and isolation, it’s easy for us to focus on the negative, assuming that God is punishing us or that he has lost control. However, if we open our eyes and minds to consider what God might be doing during this time, he is more likely using this challenging time as an opportunity to reveal his glory.

Jesus said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (v. 5). In the midst of darkness and challenge, a light is shining, and that light is Jesus.

During this time when we are unable to go to church to meet with God and his people, we have an excellent opportunity to step back and recognize that church is not the only place that Jesus can be found! If we have eyes to see, we can recognize that wherever we are is where God can be found. Our homes are to be the dwelling place of God.

One thing to think about regarding this Scripture passage is that many people suffer from blindness. Blindness is not just a physical affliction, but also a spiritual one. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were blinded by their legalism, their skepticism, and their pride.

Their blindness prevented them from accepting Jesus’ healing of this man, because he had done it on the Sabbath, and they focused on his breaking of that rule rather than on the amazing miracle Jesus did and what it meant for who he was (v.16).

Does our own blindness keep us focused on the rules and our own intellects and busyness, and prevent us from seeing what God is doing? He desires for us to focus on a relationship with him rather than on the way we think things are supposed to be.

The Pharisees also expressed their skepticism about what Jesus even did. They doubted the the man actually had been born blind, and so they questioned the man’s parents (v. 18). The parents gave in to their fear of the religious leaders, and they let it prevent them from being courageous in faith, even though they had seen the amazing miracle Jesus did for their son.

Like them, we have allowed our fears, doubts, and skepticism to rule our hearts. In today’s world, we have a common enemy – the coronavirus – and we have an opportunity to unify together in calling on the Lord. Now is not the time to be giving in to doubt and unbelief, but rather to be grabbing hold of our faith and living out the Gospel of Jesus.

The man who had been healed from blindness can be our example, because he stood up in courage and testified to what Jesus did for him (v. 24-34). Because of his testimony, the Pharisees cast him out of the synagogue, which many Jews would have considered to be devastating. However, the man went straight to Jesus, where he found faith, affirmation, and acceptance.

In the same way, the Lord is faithful to us, to always shine his light in the darkness in our lives, and to turn difficult and challenging events in our lives, and use them for good. I encourage you during this dark and difficult time to take a pen and some paper and actually write down all the blessings God is giving you during this time, and the ways he has blessed you in the past.

As you open up your eyes to see what God has done and what he is doing, he will continue to open your eyes to see how he is the eternal and unchanging Light of the World.