Posts filed under ‘Theology’
I recently had the opportunity to contribute to a video series at For The Church titled One Thing. The question I answered was “what is the one thing a church needs from it’s pastor?” I responded that a local church needs a shepherd.
My response to this question is influenced by Timothy Laniak at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, whose two books Shepherds After My Own Heart (academic) and While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks (devotional) are an excellent resource for understanding shepherding as a metaphor for pastoral leadership. You can also read my post The Pastor as Shepherd at For The Church.
If anyone ever told you that the Christian life was easy, they were mistaken. The Christian life is not easy, in fact – it is impossible to live in our own power.
However, do not hang your head in despair. Though your fruitfulness in the Christian life will waver, Jesus’ faithfulness has not – and will not ever waver. When we struggle with fruitfulness, we can rest assured that He remains faithful. Remember the words of Jesus in John 15:5.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
The Old Testament frequently uses the metaphor of the vine as a symbol for Israel, God’s covenant people (Psalm 80; Isaiah 5 and 27; Hosea 10). And it is usually not good imagery. It’s used of Israel’s rebellion and sinfulness rather than her fruitfulness. In other words, corporate Israel could not produce fruit consistent with their calling.
The fruitlessness of Israel should be held up in comparison to the fruitfulness of Christ. Jesus is the only Israelite that lived a perfect life – producing the fruit that God desired of the His people. Where corporate Israel failed, Jesus “the true vine” succeeded. And as Jesus’ followers abide in him they will produce fruit.
This is a simple agricultural analogy: one of the obvious realities about pruning is that a branch cannot bear fruit unless it is connected to the vine. No branch has life in itself, it is utterly dependent on the vine.
For Jesus, the call to abide in Him means to continue in a daily, personal relationship with Him, characterized by prayerful trust, dependence, and reliance. The good news is that He has not left us alone. While we are called to abide in Him, He also abides in us. Moreover, He is faithful to produce fruit in and through us.
As Christians we must recognize their dependence on Jesus Christ. We are not perfect – and we will fail. This is why Jesus says that God the Father is the vinedresser (John 15:1). Left to itself, a grape vine will produce large quantities of foliage. So the vine dresser will do a great deal of pruning to ensure maximum fruitfulness. The pruning may hurt, but it is for our good.
We must remember, that where Israel failed, where we have failed, Christ has prevailed. He is our only hope! The process of sanctification involves pruning, and recognizes that He who began a good work in you will complete it.
Our fruitfulness is tied to Jesus’ faithfulness. And God will be glorified when you bear fruit.
In John 14 Jesus tells the disciples to stop letting their hearts be troubled. As Jesus was headed closer and closer to the cross, the disciples were becoming more and more confused and uncertain. And rightly so.
In Ancient Israel, a disciple would begin following a Rabbi or Teacher between the ages of 12-20. At an early age the disciples had left family, friends, homes, occupations – everything – in order to follow Jesus. Their whole world had been wrapped up in Jesus. And now after a few years, Jesus is telling them that he is leaving them, and that they cannot follow him where He goes. Not just yet. Jesus is going to prepare a place for them in His fathers house. They are called to turn their trouble into trust.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Textually, “the way” is placed over “truth” and “life”. In Greek, word order often indicates emphasis. So, we can trust Jesus is the way, because He is the truth. We can also trust that Jesus is the way, because He is the life. Jesus is the only way to God precisely because He is the truth of God and the life of God. No one comes to the Father except through Him.
When Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to prepare a place for them in the Father’s house, it gives us a good depiction of eternity. The word “place” is connected with the verb that means, to abide or dwell. Jesus goes to the cross in order to prepare a place to abide and dwell with God. This is good news. Whatever else heaven may hold, the most wonderful part of it will be the fact that we dwell with God forever. This truth was driven home for me several years ago as I read John Piper’s book God is the Gospel. Piper writes:
“The critical question for our generation—and for every generation— is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?”
Is dwelling with God central to your vision of eternity? I pray so. The way to God was opened through Jesus Christ, who sacrificed Himself in your place on the cross. Believe the truth that Jesus is the only way to an eternal life of dwelling with God.
When C.S. Lewis’s wife Joy Davidman died, he picked up his pen as a way to process the pain of death in the book A Grief Observed. One of the most profound comments that Lewis made in his observation was that “No one ever told me that grief feels so much like fear”.
It seems that we all face this fear of death. Death is the greatest problem facing the human race. Death is the one thing that no one has lived to tell about. For this reason, I think Jesus’ claim to be “the resurrection and the life” is one of the most profound and powerful statements concerning His identity.
As we pick up in this narrative, Jesus is well on his way to Jerusalem, knowing that when he arrives he will face the cross. The religious leaders have their search lights out for Jesus, and he is not far away, and the shadow of the cross is in His sights. In this progression toward His own death, Jesus proclaims:
I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die—ever.
Note that Jesus doesn’t just give life – He is life. Here is another way to think about it – everything would go on in a similar fashion of you or I were to die. It is not so with Jesus. His life is the necessary life and the source of all other life. Eternal life is so closely tied to Jesus that it is embodied in him and can be found only in relationship to him.
Therefore Jesus words, “believe in me” implies personal trust in Christ, Therefore, genuine faith in Christ is the only thing that brings people into true life. Jesus is literally saying, I am life. I am your only hope. Look to me, life, to find eternal life. Do you believe this? This is the most important question you will ever face.
Let’s return to C.S. Lewis. One of this most moving pieces he ever wrote was not published on paper or in books, but on the headstone of his beloved wife.
Like cast off clothes was left behind In ashes, yet with hope that she Re-born from holy poverty, In Lenten lands, hereafter may Resume them on her Easter day.
There is coming an Easter day for you and I. Jesus will call out for everyone that has believed in Him to come forth. Knowing that Jesus has power over death gives us the confidence that we will not face the full horror of death. This also gives us the confidence to face any enemy or fear. This puts our greatest problems of this life in perspective.
There is no sin too great. There is no circumstance too dark. There is no sorrow too deep, or no situation too bleak. If Jesus has power over death, can we not trust him with ten thousand other cares in this life? Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Jesus will never face death, ever.
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.