Archive for February, 2012

A madman or Messiah

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Scripture

The Jews who heard these words were again divided. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
John 10:19-24

Observation

Context

  • Jesus’ explanation to the Pharisees has ended and their response is recorded
  • This was the last discourse with the Pharisees before His entrance into Jerusalem for the Passover and His days; it is His final explanation to help the Pharisees understand His divine identity and mission
  • This was the climax of the discourse, where Jesus speaks frankly about His identity
  • It might have been that Jesus was addressing the Pharisees but there were other Jews present as well, or that their conversation was spread and heard by other Jews in the city
  • The writer is still recording the claims of Jesus, His opposition and their discourse
  • The attention is now focused on the response from the opposition and general public about Jesus’ response

Passage

  • “The Jews who heard these words were again divided.” This isn’t the first time that his audience was divided (John 7:40-44; 8:31,48, 9:16) and rightfully so – Matthew 10:34 (v19)
  • “He is demon-possessed and raving mad”, again, this charge against Jesus was not new (John 7:20, 8:48-49, 8:52). In a desperate attempt to explain how He “blasphemes” with such authority and miraculous power, they bring out such a charge with insanity thrown into the mix (v19)
  • At that point, the word on the street about Jesus is that He is either: a deceiver (John 7:11-12), a demon possessed mad man or Messiah (John 7:26, 41)
  • “Why listen to Him?” is a question that beckons for an answer. Every reader confronted with this question needs to take a side, to believe in Jesus the Messiah or Jesus the mad man (v20)
  • “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” a rhetorical question if there ever was; such simple logic has stumped them again and again (John 9:16), such empty charges against Jesus is quickly dismantled yet they refuse to believe (v21)
  • The “Feast of Dedication” is better known as Hanukkah. It celebrates the victory of the Maccabbees revolt in reclaiming Jerusalem and the rededication of the Temple in 164 BC. It happens in December in the Gregorian calendar, which is winter (v22)
  • “the temple courts… in Solomon’s Colonnade” was a covered walkway that was part of Temple ground but considered outside of actual sacred grounds, which is why Gentiles were allowed there (v23)
  • Very symbolically ironic, the Priests and Jews would have been involved in celebrating feast that commemorates the rededication of the Temple while Jesus stands just at the brink of the old Temple, not being celebrated as the appropriator of the New Covenant and New Temple.
    • The Maccabbees fought for the Temple, but here Jesus, the New Temple is being fought against (John 2:19-22)
  • “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” this question is likely to have been posed by the Jewish leaders (NET) not just the general Jew population.
    • Plainly could also mean publicly.
    • 2 reasons why they could have asked this: they have gotten tired about beating around the bush and Jesus’ endless illustrations and are looking for a way to pin Jesus to “blasphemy” or they are seeking for the Messiah they envision, not the Messiah that Jesus is
    • They seek a straight answer but only for crooked reasons (v24)

This passage confronts the reader to decide for himself: Is Jesus a mad man and a deceiver or the Messiah?

No one can remain divided; at this point, everyone has to ask themselves plainly “Why listen to Him?” (v20). We either stand on the side of the unbelievers who see a demon-possessed man who was inexplicably brillant and authoritative or on the side of the believers who worship Him as the Messiah. We are either celebrating the glories of the Old Covenant and ignoring the New Covenant like the Jews who were participating in Hanukkah, or we are looking at the New Covenant, Christ the Messiah and see the fulfilment of the Old Covenant in Jesus.

We must be careful not to fall into the trap of believing in a lesser Messiah (as the Jews in John 7:30-31 did). We simply cannot accept Jesus Christ with the preconceived ideas of Messiah in our head. Accepting Jesus as Messiah means accepting Jesus as He presents Himself, surrendering all of our own motives.

Application

Do we stand at the brink of belief still searching for the Saviour? Do we see Jesus the mad man or Jesus the Messiah?

Are we searching for the Saviour that we want in our heads that fits our requirements rather than surrendering these ideas to the Messiah?

Prayer

Father, I believe in You. You are the Messiah, the Law and prophecies fulfilled, you are my Saviour. In you, I place my trust.

Amen.

Of sheep and sheep pen

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Scripture

“I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
John 10:16-18

Observation

Context

  • Jesus is still explaining Himself and this time adds more to His message
  • This passage comes after Jesus’ indirect attack on the Pharisees by comparing them to thieves, robbers and uncaring hired hands
  • “I” is still used instead of “He”, this time it is used with prior claims – “I have other sheep” assumes that the hearer has accepted “I am the good shepherd”
  • The writer is still focused on Jesus’ claims, the opposition and their discourse

Passage

  • “this sheep pen” is His chosen people and nation – the Jews, “I have other sheep”, speaks of Jesus’ redemption extending to the Gentiles (v16)
  • “I must bring them also”, it wasn’t a choice or a want for Jesus, it was a must, in the same way that He “had to” go through Samaria (John 4:4) (v16)
  • “They too will listen to my voice”, the nature of the sheep are exactly the same as the ones in the sheep pen, they have the same relationship with the shepherd and can recognize and follow His voice (v16)
  • “there shall be one flock and one shepherd”, if the previous passage did not stress enough the homogeneous consistency of His flock, here He stresses it even more. The Jews and Gentiles all belong to one shepherd, their unity is found in that they belong to the same shepherd; they exist under the same protection and providence of the one shepherd (v16)
  • The implication of Jesus saying this straight after “I lay down my life for the sheep” is that God’s redemption plan of the cross includes the redemption of Gentiles unto Himself. Jesus Christ is not just for the Jews, it is for all mankind. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world…
  • Notice that the word “and” comes between “listen to my voice” and “they shall be one flock”, to imply that listening to the shepherd’s voice is a condition to being in this flock that belongs to Him – although this could be a matter of Greek grammer of starting the sentence with “and”, similar to the start of this verse (v16)
  • “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life”, this is the third mention of “lay down my(his) life” – His sacrifice; it is of upmost importance (v17)
    • As before, Jesus foretells His crucifixion and the reason for this sacrifice
    • Does this mean that the Father loves Jesus only because He lays down His life? Isn’t God’s love of His Son innate and not conditional? I think this question is moot. It is based on hypothetical assumption of “what if” Jesus does not lay down His life or is not fully obedient to God
    • This verses is perhaps better understood as the Father loves Jesus because He is at the same time God. Jesus can only do what the Father does, the will and enablement is one and the same (John 5:19, 30; John 14:10-11). That is the mystery of the Trinity!
  • “only to take it up again”, is a foretelling of His resurrection and victory over death (v17)
  • “No one takes it from me”, Jesus addresses the possibility that we might think His death is a surrender or loss to opposition (v18)
  • “but I lay it down of my own accord”, the fourth mention of His sacrifice (v18)
    • It is He who gives up His own life, this move is entirely of His own and is voluntary
    • This shows us the extent of His love, that He voluntarily went to the cross for us
  • “I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again”, the fifth mention of His sacrifice (v18)
    • Jesus’ authority is a key message, here He asserts that He has authority over not death and life
    • The cumulation of this message is in John 19:10-11 that shows God had ultimate control over the whole redepmtion plan
  • “This command I received from my Father”, Jesus has many times claimed that His authority is from God (John 7:28-29) (v18)
    • The Pharisees have difficulty believing Jesus’ authority, at times they have asked under whose authority does He teach these things (John 7:15). What they were asking is “Under which Famous Rabbi’s authority do you teach these things?” (in those days, Beit Shammai or Beit Hillel), Jesus again reiterates that His authority and teaching comes straight from the Father
    • These verses mirror John 3:35 that states “The Father loves the Son (v17) and has placed everything in his hands (v18)”, all authority has been given to Jesus by the Father

God’s redemption plan in Christ includes the Gentiles. For those of us who are not Jews, we have every reason to be thankful of this. If not for this inclusion, we would have no hope, no future, no salvation. We are not to equate ourselves to the Jews as if we are similar to them, for we are different. We are “other sheep” (grafted branches), but we are to see ourselves as one with them (“one flock”), as brothers, sisters and partners of Messianic Jews. Jesus’ words would have been offensive to the Pharisees from the School of Shammai, who were much stricter about the laws and absolutely hated the Gentiles. The Shammai Pharisees would have absolutely nothing to do with them. Note that Pharisees from both schools, Shammai and Hillel, were there, John 9:16 shows the dialogue between them and how they were divided about the issue of what was permissible on the Sabbath.

As Jesus prophesies about His death, He says that He does not fall under the hands of opposition, it is His own doing. This is expounded in 2 ways. Firstly, He says that it is of His own will not someone else’s will. He lays His life down on His own accord because He wants to. Second, His will is backed by God’s authority. Whatever Jesus wants, Jesus gets because He has the authority from God to do it.

Jesus’ will and authority stands at a stark contrast to the will and authority of the Pharisees. The Pharisees is typified as the selfish bunch, as thieves, robbers and hired men in this illustration. Their authority comes from the schools which they were taught, which carries the authority of the Head Rabbi there who interpreted the Law – man made authority. Jesus is typified as the good shepherd – unselfish and sacrificial. His authority comes from God above. In John 7:26, the people recognised the Pharisees and Jewish leaders as the authority when they asked “Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah?” but here Jesus sets it straight by saying that that no one else has authority over His life. No one can take His life other than Him. In addition to that, He says that He has authority to take it up again. It is a bold claim to be able to resurrect Himself by His own power.

Application

For God so loved the world (and not just the church), I must also love the world. I must love those outside the church, those who we loath to be identified with – the sexually perverse , the corrupt politician, the child murderer, etc. I was once at that place and grace was extend to me, I must now extend that grace to others.

Look at God’s will and authority and be amazed that with such power, He chose to lay down His life for me. Gratefulness is the least I can feel towards Him. Service is the least I can do to honour Him.

Prayer

Father God, I thank you that you first loved me. I thank you that you chose to redeem me. Help me to extend this redemption to those that society does not love, those the church struggles to love. Give me more of Your love that I would overflow with love for others. Let my attitude before you always be humble and grateful and my service to you always be from a place of thanksgiving.

Amen.

Edit / Update

Zechariah 13:7 and Matthew 26:31 connects this illustration to Old Testament prophesy. The picture of Jesus Christ the shepherd and His disciples the flock was prophesied many years ago!

Of the shepherd and hired man

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

Scripture

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me– just as the Father knows me and I know the Father –and I lay down my life for the sheep.
John 10:11-15

Observation

Context

  • This continues on from Jesus explaining Himself more clearly for the benefit of the uncomprehending Pharisees
  • One again, “I” is used instead of “He”, making His claim more effective and direct
  • Jesus describes Himself as everyday items / activities that people could relate to illustrate His claim – like a shepherd, a gate or bread (John 6:35)
  • The writer is still focused on Jesus’ claims, the opposition and their discourse

Passage

  • Jesus states directly this time that He is the shepherd, but not just any shepherd, he adds the adjective “good”. It is a description of the quality of the shepherd’s function (v11)
  • “lays down his life for the sheep”, He elaborates on what makes a good shepherd good and says that it is the sacrificial characteristic (v11)
  • “The hired hand” is a new character in this illustration, it does not seem to refer to any specific person or group of people (unlike the thieves and robbers who were identified as those who preceded Jesus). He might have been brought up as a point of contrast to magnify the goodness of the shepherd (v12)
  • We are given a brief description of the “hired hand” as one who “is not the shepherd” and “does not own sheep” (NET and ESV). Not only does the hired hand not own the sheep he cares for, it sounds like he generally does not own sheep (v12)
  • The hired hand’s actions are described as “he abandons the sheep and runs away” in response to the seeing “the wolf coming”, (v12)
  • The attitude of the hired hand is revealed; as he is after all “a hired hand” and “cares nothing for the sheep”. It would seem that there is general consensus that a hired hand is not expected to care much for the sheep. That is simply the nature of the hired hand (v13)
  • Whether this mini-illustration of an attacking wolf and running hired hand is symbolic of something greater or if it is simply a point of contrast to the goodness of the shepherd is unknown
    • Seeing the hired hand as the Pharisees would fit quite well since they have no legitimate claim over the people and are only “hired” to guide them with the Law till the true Shepherd (Christ) comes
    • The Pharisees have also been labelled selfish, similar to the character of the hired hand (Luke 11:39)
    • Notice that although Jesus is direct about identifying Himself in the illustration (as the gate and good shepherd), He does not specifically identify the Pharisees as thieves, robbers or the hired hand
  • The effect is that “the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it”, obviously an unwanted result (v12)
  • “I am the good shepherd” is repeated again, stressing the importance of this illustration (v14)
  • “I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” draws parallels between us – Jesus and Jesus – God (v15)
    • In what way is the relationship “just as” (alike)? Is it the nature of the relationship being two ways (us – him and him- us)? Or is it in the familiarity (the quality of the knowing)? Or perhaps both?
    • Note that the word here does not actually say “sheep”, it is also translated as “my own” (NET/ESV), the object (sheep) is inferred from the context, but the word might have been kept general to allow the application of the illustration to people
  • “and I lay down my life for the sheep” is another important repetition, where Jesus previously was describing “the good shepherd” as an generic person, he now points to Himself as the one who lays down his life (v15)
    • This is perhaps an early hint to his ultimate mission to the Pharisees

In this passage, Jesus goes from being the gate back to being the shepherd. His tone as direct as before and his narrative form is used extremely intentionally. The same illustration stands here where people are sheep. As before, He goes back to the theme of safety of the sheep and states that unlike the “hired hand”, He is able to guarantee the safety of the sheep with His life. The reasons He gives for this is that:

  • He is a good shepherd. He stresses on His own sacrificial nature and mission that is able to bring about the sheep’s safety.
  • He is the owner of the sheep. Unlike the hired hand, He has a stake in their wellbeing. He has something to lose when a sheep is lost / attacked, therefore He cares deeply for them (us!)
  • He is familiar with us. The nature of His knowledge of us is on par with the nature of His knowledge of God. With this unique knowledge, He is best poised to protect us.

Jesus places not-so-subtle hints about His mission before the Pharisees. Jesus does not withhold that He intends to lay down His life willingly for mankind as prophesied. This may also be interpreted as “on behalf of” us, speaking of the divine exchange.

The third thing that is of interest is the parallels that Jesus draws between our relationship and His relationship with God. This is absolutely mind boggling. My opinion is that the parallel that Jesus is speaking of here is about the two way nature of the relationship and not about the familiarity. If it was about the familiarity, we would equate ourselves to Jesus, an absolutely absurd idea (If Jesus knows God because He is God, does that mean we know Jesus because we are Jesus?!). Previous verses (and future verses) describe the two way nature of the relationship – He calls us and we recognise His voice / we follow Him.

Application

The police is only effective in protecting me if they have a stake in my welfare, they are sacrificial to the ultimate degree and they know my neighbourhood and me entirely, but everyone knows that it simply isn’t true. The police have a limited stake in my welfare, they are sacrificial only to a certain point and they are not omniscient. No one (and nothing) in this world can provide me protection and providence like Jesus can because no one is as sacrificial as Christ, I am not owned by anyone else and no one knows me like He does. I place my trust entirely in Him.

I thank God that the relationship is two way. It isn’t a one way relationship where we worship a far away God who doesn’t care for us, nor are we cared for by a distant God whom we have no chance of ever knowing. He has made the way for us, the created, to be known by Him, the creator, and to know Him. Only God could bridge such a gap between the creator and created.

Prayer

Father, I thank you that you are omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. In your arms I feel safe, secure and rested. In You I place my faith and trust. I know that You only have the best for me. I ask to know you more and more everyday as You reveal yourself to me. I am so thankful that it pleases You to make yourself known to me. I thank you that I am already fully known by you. That I am not alone in this world, feeling like no one cares or knows about me. Remind me everyday!

Amen.

Of gates and man

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Scripture

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:7-10

Observation

Context

  • The passage starts off with “therefore”, an important adjective that stresses a causal connection with the previous verses (v7)
  • “again”, marking a repetition of the previous verses (v7)
  • Just from these two words, we can see that the miscomprehension of the Pharisees caused Jesus to repeat Himself again – this time perhaps from a different angle to help them understand better
  • Jesus is still speaking to the Pharisees, who are skeptical of His claims
  • The writer is still focusing on Jesus’ claims, nature of opposition and the discourse between the two

Passage

  • “Very truly” stressing the importance of what He was saying again (v7)
  • Jesus claims to be the “gate for the sheep” – note that He specifies what the gate is for (v7)
  • This time, the “thieves and robbers” are “All who have come before me”, this links the “thieves and robbers” to have preceeded Jesus in time (v8)
  • “have not” (NIV) and “did not” (ESV), past tense is used to describe the response of the sheep, which is similar to verses before (v8)
  • “I am the gate” is a repetition again, this means it is an important idea, key to understanding this passage (v9)
  • “whoever enters through me will be saved / kept safe” seems like an elaboration of the function and importance of the gate (v9)
  • “come in and go out, and find pasture”, this verse seem to go beyond the function of the gate to the benefits of the gate for the sheep (v9)
  • The motive of the thief is revealed as “only to steal and kill and destroy”
    • Note the use of the word “only” (v10)
  • The motive of Jesus is revealed, “that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (v10)
    • “life” – ζωή (zōē) which literally means life, it is often used in the context of eternal, real, genuine, active, vigorous life in God
    • “abundantly” – περισσός (perissos) literally more / above necessary

In the previous passage, Jesus uses the third person “He” to illustrate Himself. This time, He uses the first person “I”. It is obvious that the intent is to explain it clearer to Pharisees. He is making His claim stronger and more direct. A shepherd might lead people to God, but the gate is perhaps the equivalent to God himself!

Only 2 kinds have preceded Jesus – those who administer the OT Law and false messiahs.

Moses handed the Law to the people and from then it was the responsibility of the priests to administer the Law. Jesus did not make a distinction between the priests of old (Aaron, Eleazar, Phinehas, Abishua, Sanhedrin) and new (Sadducees, Pharisees and Esseness). It was then perhaps not religiosity that caused the Pharisees to be labelled thieves and robbers, but simply by trusting in the Law rather than on Christ. The law was only a pointer to the promised Messiah but those who saw the law as salvation had totally missed the point. There were other recorded false messiahs claiming to be the Christ (Acts 5:36-37). All of them made claims just like Jesus did, however, none of them could meet all the OT prophesies or fulfil Christ mission. They died and the sensation fizzled away.

Jesus was clear about one thing, that they only had 1 motive – “steal and kill and destroy”. If this description is taken literally, administrators of OT Law seem to be ruled out. However, many false messiah’s had just that motive. Many forcefully tried to establish Israel as an independent nation again. Some were rebels who left a trial of destruction after each revolt battle. If this description is taken figuratively, we can perhaps rule in administrators of the OT Law. However, it would be difficult to consider that their only motive was to “steal and kill and destroy.”

Jesus’ previous claim is that He is the Shepherd and men are the sheep. He is the one who can lead them into God’s safety. He adds to that claim and says He is the gate, through which God’s safety is adminstered. By virtue of being a gate, it is the passage through which what is outside may go in and vice versa. Just like a fence, it also seperates inside things from outside. He elaborates however on Him being the passage this time (John 14:6). People who are led by Him (shepherd) to go through Him are safe (gate).

Another question that beckons to be answers is “safe from what?” Speaking to the Pharisees, they would probably have understood this as the Judgement (Isaiah 11:4) preceeding the End of Days / Messianic Era.

The sheep will be able to “come in and go out, and find pasture”. This is perhaps the best support for “Once saved, always saved” / Calvin’s Perseverence of the Saints. The sheepfold is symbolic of God’s safety and the providence of pasture (and food in general) is often used to describe God’s providence and rest (Psalm 23:2). He then goes on to say that He gives abundant life. The picture that we get is one of bountiful blessing and life whether whereever we wander! That is the benefits of accepting Jesus’ claims.

His words are not just a response to opposition, they are convincing to the general hearer. If not, there would be no need to speak of the benefits of accepting His claim.

Application

Have a holistic view of Christ, who is both the gate and shepherd.

Believe and claim the protection and providence that I already have in Christ!

Prayer

Father, I thank you for being so direct about what life looks like in your sheepfold. Transform my heart to believe and live as you would have me live. Open my eyes to see all the things that I already have to be thankful for and to claim your promises for things I am hoping for. I ask for the abundant life that you have promised!

Amen.

Edit / Update

“come in and go out” is a Greek idiom for living in a relationship in a community (Acts 1:21; Luke 9:4); “to live in / amongst”. Jesus could have been talking about the church (or community of believers) and His safety and security provided when we belong in a church. This could be a possible interpretation.

Of sheep and man

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Scripture

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
John 10:1-6

Observation

Context

  • As Jesus testifies to His own Godhood and His authority as the son of God (John 7:19, 28-29; 8:42, 58; 9:35-37), numerous conflicts and questions were raised by the Pharisees and Jews (John 7:40-43; 8:25-27)
  • So far the Pharisees have not believed in Jesus’ testimony about Himself, this is highlighted at the end of every conflict (and at the end of every chapter: John 7:47-49; 8:59; 9:40-41)
  • In John 9, Jesus heals a blind man. He then highlighted the Pharisees’ spiritual blindness (John 9:35-41)
  • The passage continues on to more irresolvable conflict between the Pharisees and Jesus (John 10:22-42)
  • The themes of the writer are crystal clear; he probably meant for John 7-10 to highlight Jesus’ claims to Godhood (after a whole bunch of miracles in earlier chapters), the nature of His opposition and His response to this opposition
  • The response of the people who followed Him around were also recorded on these occasions, giving the effect that the reader needed to take sides – to believe or not to believe
  • John 10:1-21 starts with Jesus continuing His discourse with the Pharisees after the healing of the blind man on the Sabbath, it is likely an explanation or extension of the Pharisees’ spiritual blindness (and deafness as we will find later)

Passage

  • “Very truly”/”Truly truly” signifies great importance (v1)
  • Jesus is speaking specifically to the Pharisees (v1)
  • Jesus describes a thief and robber (v1)
    • The thief and robber does not enter by the gate
    • Instead he climbs in by some other way
  • Jesus describes the shepherd (v2-3)
    • He enters by the gate
    • The gatekeeper opens the gate for him
    • The sheep listen to his voice
    • He calls his sheep by name
  • The shepherd’s actions when leading the sheep
    • He leads them out (for pasture and water)
    • He ensures that all of them are led out (he doesn’t leave any behind)
    • He goes on ahead of them (a picture of proactive protection)
  • Characteristics of the sheep in relation to the thief and shepherd (v4-5)
    • The sheep follow the shepherd because they recognise his voice
    • The sheep will not follow a stranger
    • The sheep will run away from a stranger because they don’t recognize the voice
  • The Pharisees did not understand what the figure of speech meant (v6)

We (unlike the Pharisees) understand this figure of speech. Jesus obviously wasn’t talking about farming. The key is in Ezekiel 34:31, “You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD.” (See also Psalm 23:1) With this understanding, the little sheep farming story opens into a whole creation redeeming novel. Jesus was making the claim that He is the shepherd and those who listen to Him are God’s sheep. 

What is truly ironic about this passage is that the Pharisees, being the most educated and well learned of the sheep, had no recognition of the shepherd’s voice! They stood before the human incarnation of “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6) and totally failed to recognize Him. They were spiritually blind and deaf.

By implication, the Pharisees were thieves and robbers. Being the spiritual leaders of Israel, they had a greater understanding of the law that pointed to Christ (Galatians 3:24; Romans 10:4). They were to lead the people to Christ, instead, they oppressed people with the law (Romans 10:3). Rather than going to the Shepherd who will bring them in through the gate, they sought to climb over the impossibly high side fence of the law! Worse still, they made it even higher for everyone else.

Application

The question that the writer puts forth is simple: Do you believe in Jesus’ claims? If you do, then you already hear the Shepherd’s voice, so follow Him. If you do not, you are as spiritually blind and deaf as the Pharisees.

It is interesting that Jesus points out not only that the sheep will follow the shepherd’s voice but that they will run away from the other unrecognized voice. Sometimes we toy with strangers rather than run from them and that’s when we get hurt. Anything that isn’t God’s voice is not just to be ignored, but intentionally distanced.

Prayer

Father, thank you for your voice that calls out so clearly to me. I pray for the millions around the world and around me who do not yet see or hear You. Please use me to help them see and help them hear You. Give me the wisdom to discern the different voices tugging at my life and faith daily, and the strength the follow Your voice and run from the rest. I thank you for your provision and protection, you are and will always be my great Shepherd!

Amen.

So help me God

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

“God helps those who help themselves.”

That is probably one of the most quoted non-existent verses from the bible. You could say that it sounds the closest to James 4:8, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” But yet, not entirely.  It has been coined the phantom verse” by another blogger – Hezekiah 6:1. But before we disregard the quote entirely as an unbiblical quote, I think it ought to be examined more closely.

Salvation

When it comes to salvation, it is clear that God helps those who cannot help themselves. And in fact, He is displeased with those who claim that they can help themselves. No one is excluded from this helplessness.

As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; 
there is no one who understands; 
there is no one who seeks God. 
All have turned away, 
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good, 
not even one.”
Romans 3:10-12

We are born into sin (Psalm 51:5) and live being slaves to sin (Romans 6:20). Being in sin is described as being dead (Ephesians 2:1-5), the dead cannot resuscitate themselves. Sometimes we are falsely led to think that we are somehow capable of saving ourselves, the bible tells us that:

We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Isaiah 64:6 (ESV)

Even our best efforts at being righteous are polluted. The translation in the NIV is “filthy rags”. Our best efforts to bring about our own salvation is like washing dirty clothes in dirty water. See also Titus 3:5.

This quote is busted for salvation.

Discipleship

Discipleship is the natural progress of salvation. Our salvation does not lead us back to the same life we have lived, it leads us to a drastically different life. You could say it is the process of growing into Christ. The process of discipleship is by no means simple. It is to practicing our faith in thought, word and deed (James 1:22) – abiding in Christ (John 15:5-8) to produce fruit (Galatians 5:22-23), taming our tongues (James 1:26, 3:9-12), committing to a church (Philippians 2:3-4), loving other disciples (John 13:35), evangelising (Matthew 28:19). A sort of summary of discipleship is: to be like Christ.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
Luke 9:23-24

I have often wondered if this verse is only applicable to Jesus’ first disciples, since He was speaking of his suffering and their journey as His disciples. But the minute anyone decides to become a Christian, it is clear that it applies to all disciples. Anyone who decides to submit their life to Jesus and apply this faith in all areas of life will soon find how difficult, tedious, painful and almost impossible this task is.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Philippians 2:12-13

Does that mean that without applying our faith to our life we are not saved? Absolutely not, no amount of our works can achieve salvation. But the evidence of our salvation (faith and election) is in our works (Ephesians 2:8-9; James 2:18). To be diligent at our own discipleship is to be sure of our salvation.

So we go back to the original premise: does God help you when you help yourself? Phrased in the current context, does God help disciple you when you help disciple yourself? Well, to be absolutely correct, God helps you even before you help yourself. That is exactly the role of the Holy Spirit, who has also been called our Helper (John 14:16).

The Holy Spirit was at work in us before we even receive Christ (John 16:8-9), dwells in us the moment we believe in Christ (Galatians 3:2) and won’t ever leave (John 14:16-17). When we practice our faith in our thoughts and actions, it is to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). It goes even further: our willingness to follow Christ and be like Him and embark on discipleship is not even of our own choosing!

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
Ezekiel 36:26-27

The Holy Spirit living in us actually makes us follow Christ. It causes us to desire discipleship.

The quote is (once again) busted for discipleship.

Life

Maybe the quote is applicable in everyday Christian life. When we lift one end of a sofa to move it, God lifts the other end and helps us. Doesn’t life work that way? Well, not quite. A better explanation of how life work is in the biblical principle of reaping and sowing.

A man reaps what he sows.
Galatians 6:7

It works. Plan and simple. If you are lazy, you don’t get to eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). If you are friendly to others, you will have friends (Proverbs 18:24). If you cut yourself, you feel pain. You reap, you sow. Sure, God helps in supernatural ways in normal daily life. But is there a pre-requisite that you need to be helping yourself first? Sometimes not.

I think we can safely say that while the quote means well, it is far from true.