Posts filed under ‘Theology’
We all long for provision and protection. Especially in the times of life when our bank account in nearing empty, a relationship is on the verge of disaster, when we leave your parents care and enter the real world, when the diagnosis isn’t what we’d hoped for, or when we just don’t know how we are going to make it another week, or even another day. If you don’t have someone to reach out to, someone to grab your hand, this world can be a scary place.
That is why it is important for us to remember that Jesus provides and protects.
In John 10:11-12 Jesus declares, “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 does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.”
We tend to think of shepherds as sentimental beings, we might picture them with cuddly lambs. But a shepherd’s job was rugged, tiring, and sometimes dangerous. Shepherding required a great deal of sacrifice. The words “lay down his life” carries the idea of an intentional act.
A survey of the Biblical depictions of shepherding give us a more robust picture of the vocation. In 1 Samuel, David mentions fighting off a lion and a bear while watching after sheep. The prophet Amos mentions a shepherd who rescued two legs and an ear of a sheep from a lion’s mouth. Shepherding required courage and a willingness to fight for the flock.
This is what separated a shepherd from a hired hand. In contrast to the shepherd, the hired hand will abandon the sheep in times of danger. The hired hand simply looks after the sheep for pay. The shepherd is much different. If the sheep were in mortal danger, the shepherd would do what he had to in order to protect them.
Jesus is saying, I am the Good Shepherd that will lay down his life for the sheep. It is by Jesus’ sacrifice, Jesus’ death that we are delivered. And the good news is that Jesus has provided and protected us from the one thing that we could not overcome.
Sin is the predator that would mean death for each and every one of us. Jesus is not a hired hand that runs in a time of trouble. In fact, Jesus entered in to the darkest trouble of history on the cross. The good shepherd has laid down his life to deliver us from sin and death.
If Jesus laid down his life to deliver you from the one thing you could not overcome, how can he not provide and protect you through all other things? In John 15:13 Jesus declares, “greater is no love than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends“. If we truly believe that, then we can believe that Jesus will provide and protect us – from any dark moment life throws at us.
The Good Shepherd didn’t just die for you, He died instead of you. Jesus provides and protects.
In 2014, LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries partnered to learn what Americans really believe in seven key doctrinal areas—and the resulting study paints a sobering picture about the state of American theology.
The Gospel Project just released a new, free eBook, The State of American Theology: Knowing the Truth, Loving the Church, Reaching Our Neighbors, collecting the research and thoughtful essays from renowned theologians.
This was the last project I led at LifeWay before entering the pastorate. I am thankful to see it available online. The eBook features essays and articles such as:
- Why Theological Study Is For Everyone by Jared Wilson
- The Love of God by D. A. Carson
- Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart by JD Greear
- The Marks of the Church by Mark Dever
- All Nations and Church Planting by Ed Stetzer
- The Pillar of the Truth by Steve Timmis
- Not So Fast by Trevin Wax
- Soli Deo Gloria by John Piper
- Bible Believing. Bible Obeying by Burk Parsons
- What Should We Say? by Jonathan Akin
- Dealing with Doubt by Randy Alcorn
- Lust and Chastity by Thabiti Anyabwile
- Ordinary Christian Work by Tim Challies
- Christian Parenting by Elyse Fitzpatrick
- Pain: God’s Megaphone by Alistair Begg
- A Teachable Spirit by Justin Taylor
- The Blessings of Humility by Jerry Bridges
- Sabbath Rest by Sinclair Ferguson
- The Holy Love of God by R.C. Sproul
- The Breath of God by Derek Thomas
- Bearers of God’s Image by Trillia Newbell
- The Biblical Evidence for Hell by Christopher Morgan
- The New Heavens and New Earth by Dennis Johnson
- What Is The Gospel? by Ray Ortlund
- Preach the Gospel, and Since It’s Necessary, Use Words by Ed Stetzer
- Only One Way by Bruce Ware
- And many more…
All of us long to connect with God. The history of humanity combined with the countless religions stand as a testimony of our longing to connect to our maker. All religions have notable teachers that offer steps to God. But, the uniqueness of Christianity from all other religions is rooted in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.
While all other religions have teachers that show the way to salvation, only Jesus claimed to actually be the way to salvation. In John 10:9-11, Jesus proclaims:
I am the door. If anyone enters by 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.
So, while all other religions offer people a way to connect with God. In Christianity, God comes to us. In other words, Jesus is the sole means by which people (sheep) may enter the safety of the fold or find luxurious pasture. Jesus is the only way to receive eternal life and true nourishment of the soul.
Just as sheep find all of their needs met when securely in a fold under the care of a shepherd, so the sinner will find all the nourishment his soul needs when he enters eternal life through Jesus.
Other religions claim that to connect with God you must go on a pilgrimage, achieve personal peace or tranquility, give a certain amount of alms, avoid certain foods, perform a certain number of good deeds, or pray a certain amount of times a day in a certain way. While other religions tell you ‘here is the way to God’, Jesus comes and says, I am the way to God. I am the door.
May you enter and find rest, security, and nourishment.
This past Sunday I preached on Jesus’ declaration that He is “the light of the world”. You can watch the video here.
When we turn to the news we are confronted with a truth that is simple and at the same time profound. Human beings are terribly inconsistent. We are capable of heroic deeds of justice and good will, and we are also capable of terrible deeds of injustice and terror. A darkness has set in. The world is not the way it is supposed to be.
As Christians we understand that at the root of these inconsistent deeds is the problem of sin. Now, the world will redefine the problem as chemical imbalance, different external pressures, or point to personal history and upbringing. And while those things definitely shape the outcomes of persons and events, the root of it all is sin – both on a systemic level and personal level.
The truth is, only Jesus can deliver us from the darkness of sin. In John 8:12 Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world”.
It is important to understand that He makes this claim during the feast of tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles was a time when the Israelites celebrated God’s provision and care for their ancestors as they moved through the wilderness for 40 years. Men and women danced through the streets singing praises with torches in their hands. Every night of the feast, large candelabras were lit in the temple and this light shed its glow all over Jerusalem. In fact, it was said that there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that did not reflect the light. At the end of the festival, the lights were extinguished. The lights formed a stark contrast to the darkness of the night.
In this context Jesus says, “I am the light of the world”. In 2 Corinthians 4 the Apostle Paul tells us that people are blind to the light of the gospel because of the darkness of sin. Yet, if Jesus is the light of the world, then all may come to Him. To do so, we must admit our darkness and need for salvation.
In the second part of John 8:12, Jesus says, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” In biblical times “walking in darkness” was used as a metaphor for walking in concealment and deception. It is impossible for anyone who follows the light of the world to find himself walking in darkness. This isn’t to say we will not sin, we will. Walking is in an ongoing pattern of life. If you are perpetually concealing sin, or living in a pattern of deception to cover your sin, you are walking in darkness.
In the Exodus journey, the glory of God in the pillar of fire led the people to the Promised Land. Israel not only had to exhibit faith in God as they traveled, but were also called to faithfully reflect God wherever they found themselves. Just as Israel followed the light of God’s glory to the Promised Land, we are called to walk in the light of Christ.
The difference between us and the world is not that we don’t have sin. The difference is that we fight sin in our own lives to allow the light of Christ shine brighter. As this world seemingly gets darker and darker, let us be a people of the light. Let us remind ourselves of the good news, Jesus delivers us from the darkness of sin. We would be as lost as Israel in a wilderness night without the light of God’s glory revealed in Jesus Christ.
This was origionally posted at For The Church.
The imagery of shepherd is intimately tied to pastoral ministry. In fact, some would argue that the metaphor of shepherding is the primary picture from which we should develop our understanding of pastoral leadership (See Tim Laniak’sShepherds After My Own Heart). The ancient practice of animal husbandry consisted of the roles of provision, protection, and guidance.
The beautiful thing about the shepherding metaphor is that it instructs us on the nature of pastoral leadership with deep emotive insight. In many ways, this is why the Biblical writers employed the shepherding metaphor for pastoral ministry.
Shepherds Nourish Their Flock
One of the most pressing challenges for any shepherd is to provide nourishment (water, food, rest) for their flocks in harsh environments, environments that often withheld essential elements for life and flourishing. A good shepherd knows where to find pastures that are not only lush but safe enough for his flocks to rest in peace.
Eating and drinking bring nourishment (John 21:15-17). Rest is a function of being well provided for. Rest also points to a state of security that comes from the shepherd’s protective presence (Acts 20:29). The church is to be a community of rest, a place for the weary to refresh from the wilderness of everyday life. The call is clear for pastors to nourish the people God has placed in your care.
Shepherds Lead and Protect Their Flock
Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable Psalms that utilizes the shepherding metaphor. In this Psalm David reflects on the confidence one can find in the good shepherds care, even in times of deep darkness. Laniak notes that “even in the deadly shadows that fall at dusk in the desert’s canyons there is safety in his presence. Though easily frightened by nature, this trusting sheep will move through the shadows without fear, (112)” The language of the psalm provides us imagery of the two simple but versatile tools that ancient shepherds carried to protect his flock.
The Rod: This defense instrument allowed the shepherd to be ready for any predator. This short club was a crude weapon for battle, it was also the shepherd’s implement used for counting a flock at night as the flock passes under it.
The Staff: This was the instrument that the shepherd used to nudge wandering sheep back in line, is was a source of comfort because it was used for picking off branches, snagging a trapped animal with the crook, or redirecting misbehaving members of the herd. The staff became a symbol for the protective presence of the shepherd.
Laniak notes that “these two rods may represent the two functions of a shepherd: protector from external threats and peacekeeper among the flocks. (54)”. Pastoral ministry calls for gentle assistance, direction, rescue, and encouragement among the flock of God. Pastors are also called to defend the flock from outside threats and even discipline the flock to avoid dangers from within. The fruits of this authority are security and comfort among the flock because of a good shepherds care and discipline.
Shepherds Intimately Know Their Flock
In his devotional book While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks, Tim Laniak comments on the importance of knowing and naming the flock. “Naming is a powerful, tangible expression of the shepherds intimate bond that begins at birth and grows through an animal’s tenure with a flock. In the practice of animal husbandry responsible shepherds know every member of their flocks in terms of their birth circumstances, history of health, eating habits and other idiosyncrasies. One of the most striking characteristics of the shepherd-flock relationship is that control over the flock is exercised simply by the sound of the shepherd’s voice or whistle. This provides a rich depiction of Jesus’ words in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
To know someone requires time and care. Isaiah provides a good picture of a caring shepherd in 40:11, “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young”. This type of care would be expressed in the life of the church through pastoral visitation, counseling, and ministry in times of sickness and grief. Shepherds who love their sheep notice when their sheep are hurting and seek to be with them to care for them.
Yesterday I preached my first sermon as the senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Apex, NC (you can watch the sermon here). We began a new series examining the “I Am” statements in the gospel of John. In John 6:35, Jesus declares;
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Earlier in chapter 6, Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 men, plus women and children. I believe that this miracle feeds into the proclamation of verse 35 that Jesus is the bread of life. In other words, what Jesus did in that miracle of feeding reveals who He is. It helps us understand that Jesus satisfies the deep hunger of our souls. My goal in the sermon was to help my church family fight to find their satisfaction in Christ alone.
All of us long to be satisfied. In fact, the passage states that the crowd sought Jesus out because they ate their fill of the loaves. They had their meal and were satisfied, but were hungry again. Simply put, they wanted Jesus to satisfy their stomach, but Jesus was not there to satisfy their stomachs. Jesus was there as their savior to give eternal satisfaction of the soul.
Satisfaction is one of the good gifts of God. The problem comes when we seek satisfaction in the gifts of God, and not in God himself.
There are many people that seek satisfaction in food and drink in order to find comfort from their troubled life. There are many people that seek satisfaction in money and possessions to find meaning and purpose. There are many people that seek friendships and relational intimacy in order to satisfy the deeper longings of their hearts.
But in these things no one will never be fully satisfied. There is always more, there will always be a rumbling in the stomach, an emptiness. However, the call of this passage is clear. Jesus satisfies the deep hunger of our souls.
It would seem that it is not lack of desire that keeps people from Jesus. We all have a desire to be satisfied. What keeps people from Jesus is having misaimed desires or wrong ideas about how those desires can be met. Sometimes this is true of Christians also.
What if we really believed that Jesus satisfied the deep hunger of our souls? It would change everything.
Instead seeing food and drink as a way to satisfy our longing for comfort, we would find our comfort in Jesus Christ alone. Instead of seeking meaning or purpose in money or possessions, we would find our meaning and purpose in Jesus Christ alone. Instead of demanding others fill our needs of love and companionship, we would find that where others let us down, Jesus will always be more than enough.
The fight of the Christian life, the work mentioned in verse 29, is to truly believe that Jesus is the answer to all human need, our primary source of nourishment.
It is not an accident that Jesus used the analogy of bread here. Bread is the most basic food of nourishment, even in third world countries today. It’s not like filet mignon, something only a select few can enjoy. No, bread is available to everyone.
Oh that we would be satisfied in Jesus, the bread of life. When we taste and see that the Lord is good, our satisfaction in Him brings Him the glory, and allows us to lay down all the things of this world for the cause of Christ. May we also invite everyone to the table to feast and be satisfied!
Jesus alone satisfies the deep hunger of our souls.
“Many Christians have unwittingly embraced the idea that “church” is a once-a-week event rather than a community of Spirit-empowered people; that “ministry” is what pastors do on Sundays rather than the 24/7 calling of all believers; and that “discipleship” is a program rather than the normal state of every follower of Jesus.”
Jeff Vanderstelt, Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life