Question 1: Have you ever thought of Proverbs as divinely inspired general principles for life rather than specific promises? Does that help clarify the purpose of these pithy sayings?
Question 2: What is your favorite Proverb, and how has it been meaningful to you?
Question 3: What Proverb has been most painful to you as God has used it to convict you? (see Ecclesiastes 12:11)
Sunday, September 29, 2019
The Good Shepherd and His Sheep
John 10:1-21, Remsen Bible Fellowship, 09/29/2019
Last week our thoughts were centered on the previous chapter in John’s gospel, chapter 9. In that chapter we find Jesus leaving the temple, and on his way out he encounters a man who has been blind from birth. Jesus takes note of this man, and subsequently heals him. This man has been without sight his entire life, decades of blindness, living in the dark. And now has he sees. John, the writer, notes for us in v14 that this took place on the Sabbath day.
How do the Pharisees, the religiously serious and socially important people in the crowd, respond to this? Verse 18 tells us that they initially disbelieved. But even after it becomes obvious that this miracle is genuine, they refuse to embrace it as good news. Rather, they are upset that Jesus has overturned their religious apple cart. They demand in verse 24 of chapter 9 that the man, who once was blind but now can see, renounce Jesus as a sinner. They equate such a renouncing of his healer with giving glory to God.
The man doesn’t fall for it, though. He can see! Why would, and how could, a demon possessed man perform such a miracle? This man, who doesn’t yet understand that Jesus is the Messiah, has greater spiritual insight than the religious leaders of his day. Thus we see, when Jesus comes back to the man and explains to the man that he is the Son of Man, the one sent from God (9:37ff), the man declares his belief and worships.
The Pharisees are now not only upset by what Jesus has done, but further by what he is saying. Jesus has said that because they say they have spiritual sight, yet refuse to believe in him, their spiritual blindness is obvious. And this blindness is far worse than the physical blindness experienced by the man whom Jesus healed.
What we need to understand as the story progresses into chapter 10 is that there is no transition. This is the same setting, the same people are present. Jesus’ story and sermon are directed mainly at the audience around him who do not believe in him.
Read: verses 1-5.
In the ancient near east there were two types of sheep folds, the type that existed in the country, and those that existed nearer to settlements. It seems to be the latter sort that Jesus refers to in this story. These sheepfolds would hold the sheep of multiple shepherds, multiple owners. Each shepherd would come in at night, and he would function as the door into the fold by checking each of his sheep as it entered, and then the group of shepherds would pay a hired hand, a gatekeeper, to guard the sheep all night. In the morning the gatekeeper would open to the shepherd, and the shepherd would then call out his own sheep by name, and they would come to him, and he would take them out to pasture.
Note that Jesus begins this story, this figure of speech, by pointing out that some people who are around the sheep aren’t shepherds. Indeed, there exist in the world thieves and robbers, those who want to steal from the shepherd. He who climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. The gatekeeper will only open to a true Shepherd, but some people try and sneak around that system. We read in verse 2 that the shepherd doesn’t need to sneak in. He simply can walk up and come through the gate. Not only that, but when he begins to call his sheep they know his voice. They hear that voice and they willingly, gladly, follow the one who takes care of them. What do they not follow? The voice of strangers.
A key to grasping Jesus’ point here is to understand that the leaders of the people in Israel had often been referred to as shepherds, those who were to lead and guide the people. Perhaps the most relevant of these Old Testament passages is Ezekiel 34.
Read: Ezekiel 34:1-16, 30-31 (pew Bible pg 676)
I realize that was a long passage. But with it as a backdrop, let’s think for a moment about the point of Jesus’ figure of speech. Jesus is using this figure of speech, this analogy, of sheep and shepherd to harken back to the Old Testament and tell these Pharisees, these men who would see themselves as shepherds of the people, that they are not the true shepherds of these people. Think of the man born blind. Does he heed the voice of the Pharisees, or does he come when Jesus calls? Jesus has placed these leaders in the same category as the false shepherds in Ezekiel who eat the fat and clothe themselves with sheepskin. They are robbers concerned with their own well being, not that of the sheep.
Speaking in Matthew 23:2-4, Jesus says, The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses seat, so do and observe what they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
In other words, they treat the sheep not as those whom they are entrusted to care for, but as their personal beasts of burden. As a side note here-pastors and religious leaders today can be just like these Pharisees. Making high demands and offering no practical help. The Bible calls us to obey God in very practical ways, and if you ever feel like I’m tying up heavy burdens and not offering practical or useful help on actually walking in obedience to that, if I’m just tying up heavy burdens, please let me know. As the church, we exist to help each other walk in obedience to Christ day by day, not just in theory on a Sunday morning.
Back in our text, verse 6 tells us the Pharisees miss his point. They don’t understand what he was saying, so Jesus preaches a mini sermon to them.
Rather than moving through the following section verse by verse, what I want to do as we look at verses 7-18 is to ask two questions: What does Jesus say about Himself? And two, what does Jesus say about the sheep?
The first thing we see Jesus say about himself in verses 7 & 9 is that he is the door of the sheep. Now, this is interesting. We are expecting, with the story Jesus told about Shepherds and sheepfolds and thieves, for him to jump right into talk of being a shepherd. Yet he begins by calling himself the door. What does he mean? Compare this to another statement Jesus makes in John 14:6, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Sheep need to be both in and out of the pen. They need the ability to go out and find pasture, and they need safety of coming into the pen at night for protection. Jesus is the only means to the spiritual life that comes from knowing God, he is the one who gives the ability to enjoy true pasture; he is also the only way to be forgiven of our sins and thus have spiritual safety under his protection. Without Jesus, our sins would leave us outside of the protection that we receive as God’s children, God’s sheep.
We also see in verse 10 that Jesus came that his sheep might have abundant life. He contrasts this with the thief, namely Satan, who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus came to give you an overflowing joy, one wherein you might rightly say my cup overflows. Do you picture the Christian life in this way? It’s very easy to look at Scripture or to come to church and hear sermons and think: I can’t do this, won’t do that, don’t want to make God angry. But while there are certainly those notes in the song, they shouldn’t be the dominant melody. Nehemiah 8:10 says, the joy of the Lord is my strength.
Do you know that you can’t earn God’s favor by not doing bad stuff? If you talk to folks about how confident they are in eternity, often what you receive in return are a list of bad things the don’t do: lying at work, cheating on their taxes, killing people, being unfaithful to a spouse. Now, if you aren’t doing those things, wonderful! Keep it up. And if you are, stop. But Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 that people who murder and people who get angry with their brother are in the same predicament before God. In the same chapter he tells us that the philandering husband is under the same spiritual guilt as the man who enjoys checking out the women who pass by and entertaining his thoughts with them. With that sort of heart-level standard, none of us amounts to a a very impressive person.
Which makes life through the door, the entrance into God’s family through the shed blood of Jesus which washes away the penalty for our sins, such an immense gift. God doesn’t wink and nod at our faiures, our shortcomings, our sins. They receive the full punishment they are due, but he pours that out on his Son. The result for us is life, and life abundantly.
Does he promise material wealth, perfect health, perfect relationships, or the like? No. He is promising a different sort of abundance. One wherein we speak with the apostle Peter of a joy inexpressible, and filled with glory. Where we can obey the command of Paul in Philippians 4 to rejoice in the Lord always. Because he has provided the forgiveness of our sins, because he has given us access to God the Father, by whom and for whom we were made, we can now know an abundant joy that allows us to experience life as a gift, even in the midst of very difficult circumstances.
In verses 11 & 14 Jesus makes the claim which you are likely familiar with. I am the good Shepherd, he says. It’s interesting that the Greek word here for “good” is not the one that usually means “morally upright.” Jesus instead uses the word kalos which carries with it the idea of a winsome goodness. It’s a beautiful or a wonderful goodness. It’s as if he says, those other shepherds are acting in ways false and repugnant. But my shepherding is for your good, for your abundance, for your joy. And thus it is a compelling and lovely type of shepherding. It’s a type of shepherding, we see in verses 13 & 14, that is deeply concerned for the welfare of his sheep in a way that mere hired hands aren’t going to measure up to. A hired hand is going to run at the first sign of danger. But what does Jesus do to provide evidence of his goodness? We see it in verse 11.
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. In laying aside his rights as a mere sheep owner, and instead demonstrating a personal interest in us and our well being as our good shepherd, Jesus comes to earth from the right hand of the Father and willingly offers himself up on the cross for us. Again in verse 15, I lay down my life for the sheep. And it becomes abundantly clear that Jesus does this willingly when he says in verses 17-18 that, I lay down my life that I may 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 I have authority to take it up again.
Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, willingly offers up his life for the good of his flock. But of course this is also ironic, because in a normal sheep/shepherd relationship, if the shepherd dies the sheep will die, too. But in this scenario, it is through the Shepherd’s death that the sheep are offered life.
We also note in this the authority of Jesus, because he says no one takes it from me. Many in this crowd are involved in the conspiracy to kill Jesus, a conspiracy which appears to be successful a few short months later. But if they remember these words, the wind ought to have been knocked right out of their sails. Jesus says, you are not in control of if and when I die-I am. Jesus is not some helpless victim in coming to earth. Jesus came willingly, to fulfill the prophecy of Ezekiel 34:10 and rescue his sheep.
So what does Jesus say about himself? He is the door, the way by which we come to God. He is the Good Shepherd, the one whose leadership is beautiful, compelling, and brings us into abundant life. He cares about his sheep, loves them even, such that he knows them by name, knows their deepest needs, and lays down his life to save them. And he is authoritative and powerful, such that he does all of this because he wants to.
What does Jesus say about the sheep in this passage?
The first thing we see about the sheep is that we are, well, sheep. This is a common metaphor in Scripture for the people of God, and it isn’t a very flattering one. It points to our helplessness apart from Christ. We need a shepherd. We see this in verse 9 where Jesus makes clear that we need saved. And by what means must we be saved? The Shepherd must die as our substitute. Do you see yourself in this way? Do you feel helpless in relationship to God, and in need of him to come pursue you, lead you, and save you? Or do you feel sufficient on your own, whether because of some particular competence, or the fact that you’re a good person, or that you’ve been going to church for decades? For judgement I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind (9:39). The blind need sight, and the sheep need saved.
We not only need sight, we need protection from wolves. We see that in verses 12-13, where Jesus explains that a mere hireling is going to hit the dusty trail when danger comes. If sheep are left alone when the wolf comes, they get scattered. And scattered sheep end up being dead sheep. Again, this points to our need for Jesus to lead us.
Again, though, this leadership is by no means a burden to the sheep. Why? Because the sheep are known by the Shepherd. In what way? Jesus says I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. This is a mind-blowing statement. The Father and the Son have always known each other with a perfect knowledge; from eternity past stretching into eternity future. And when Jesus unites us to God, when we come to him by faith and become a child of God, we are brought into a relationship where we are known in the deepest possible way. Which makes his love even more amazing. He knows all of me, and he still loves me.
And this love is not provincial. It’s not just for people of one certain ethnic group, race, class, or background. In verse 16 Jesus says, I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. We might seek to divide ourselves from each other for all sorts of reasons, be it cultures, race, political preferences, etc. Jesus says that he has people from other folds, and we understand going back to Ezekiel 34:13, and looking forward to Revelation 5:9-10 that Jesus’ people come from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people group on the earth. This would have been outside the box thinking fo his original audience, those of the Jewish fold, who thought their show was the only one in town that mattered. Jesus pulls on a theme running all the way back to Genesis, though, in saying that he has other sheep. God had promised Abraham that in his Seed, in Jesus, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. So while we ought to enjoy the abundant love of Christ, we need to realize that it isn’t for us to hoard, but rather to shed abroad. It is meant for us to communicate and pass along, even to those who are unlike us. Because all of the sheep, all who trust in Christ, belong to one flock and we have one Good Shepherd.
The final thing we come to understand about the sheep is that their salvation was planned in eternity past. Note verse 17. Did God the Father not love the Son until the Son came to earth? No, in John 17:24 Jesus says that the Father loved him before the foundation of the world. I think what this helps us see is that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit were planning the salvation of the sheep before the world was created, before sin entered the scene, long before you were ever born. He knew you. He knew you would rebel against him. And he planned to save you. The Son gladly submits to the direction of his Father to come save us, and in being saved we are brought into that eternal love.
The final thing we see in this passage is the response of the crowds in verses 19-21.
We see, as happens so frequently in John, division. Jesus is constantly dividing. He unites all his sheep, all who trust in him. But for the skeptic or the scoffer, who could be more divisive than this man who claims to be equal to God and our only way to be right with God?
So we are left to conclude with this question: what is your response to Jesus? Are you one of his sheep? Do you hear his voice in the reading and preaching of his word and desire to follow him? Or would you rather heed the siren call of self, trusting the wolf to keep you safe? Remember that trusting these is precisely what Satan desires for you, and he is out to destroy you. The Good Shepherd beckons us to life, to salvation, to the green pastures of a right relationship with God.
Wednesday, September 25, 2019
Sight and Blindness
John 9:1-41, Remsen Bible Fellowship, 09/22/2019
As we begin this morning, I want to first address the question of why we’re covering a whole chapter at once. Why not slow down and take this in three or four sermons? There are several reasons, but the main one is this: this chapter contains one story. It’s not quite like chapter 8 where you have multiple conversations on similar themes woven together; instead, while there are several conversations, there is one central narrative around Jesus meeting, healing, and calling to salvation this man born blind. And so while there is certainly material enough in this text for a stack of sermons, I think it will be useful for us to try to look at the story as one cohesive unit.
Read: John 9:1-7
Here we see the opening scene of this story. Everything that follows in chapter nine centers around this event. As we move through the text, we’ll first examine this paragraph centered on the miracle, and then we’ll move one by one through the following five paragraphs, each of which contains a conversation.
- As Jesus passed by, he is coming out of the temple, perhaps immediately after chapter 8; certainly between feast of booths in 7-8 and the feast of hanukkah in 10.
- Jesus takes note of the man; it says nothing of the man drawing attention to himself, and obviously he wouldn’t be able to tell who Jesus was. This man was not looking for a miracle.
- The disciples notice Jesus noticing and so they ask what they think is a good question.
- The disciples-just like the friends of Job 2,000 years earlier and like many of us 2,000 years later-assumed that suffering always had a direct link with particular sin. Jesus calls into question this link.
- How are sin and suffering related?
- Jesus statement in v3 is bittersweet for many of us. There is the relief that comes from knowing suffering is in the world because of sin in a general sense, and not necessarily because I did something wrong. Therefore I need not always be wondering what did I do to deserve this?
- But the part that might seem bitter to us is that God does have the power to control suffering, and yet still permits it to continue. More than that, he has purposes for suffering. V3b
- Is it fair that God allows this man to be born blind and to suffer his whole life up to this point, just so that God can put God’s works on display? Isn’t that cruel?
- What is meant by that the works of God might be displayed in him? The obvious thing to point to would be the miracle of new eyes, of him seeing (v33). But I think John wants us to remember a definition from earlier in the book. John 6:27-29
- If the primary work of God that must be done is belief, then the time to do that is while the light is still in the world. Jesus is the light of the world (v5) which was directly seen while he walked on earth, but that light is now a mediated light which comes through the church. V4, we must work, cf Matt 5:14
- As Christ’s people we are to do more work than simply believing; but our works are to flow out of our belief in Christ and are to be aimed toward helping others see who Jesus is. And that’s what we see Jesus do in v6-7.
- Jesus spits into the dirt, makes mud, rubs it in the man’s eyes, and tells him to go to Siloam and wash. Why not speak the word?
- Of the several possible reasons, I’ll give you what I think is the most important: this form of miracle (which remember, the man did not ask for), is one requiring an obedient faith. The man could simply have refused to go wash, or he could have said “I believe you have the power to save me” but not acted. But instead we see him going down and washing in Siloam. And faith and obedience are tightly linked in this gospel. John 3:36
- Note the name of the pool, which means Sent. Jesus, the sent one, will do the real washing in this story. Just as the man received physical sight by washing in the pool named Sent, so Jesus, the one who promises living water, will wash all who by faith obey his call to come to him and worship.
Read: John 9:8-12
- The neighbors, the people around, they are confused. How could this be the same guy? They argue back and forth, is it really him, could it really be, maybe he just looks like that guy. It’s not settled until he is able to interject, I am the man.
- They are obviously curious, how in the world did you, who have been blind your whole life, receive sight?
- All he can do is recount the facts of what happened. He is very plain and matter of fact. It is easily lost on us how shocking this miracle would be.
- In his simple recounting, his testimony of healing, I think we see a similarity with how our own spiritual testimony. How are we saved? By the work of a Sovereign God seeing our need, sending his Son to bear away our guilt, and by giving us spiritual eyes to see and trust Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit. Our salvation is the work of God all the way through, beginning, middle, and end. Yet when we relate how this happens, it is, “I heard his word, and I obeyed and was saved.” Obedience to the gospel, faith in Jesus, is how we receive spiritual sight. Faith in and of itself has no power, yet it is the conduit through which God’s saving power flows into our life. Faith is the pipe through which salvation’s waters flow.
- So we see this man born blind giving his simple testimony to Jesus as the one who healed him, though he doesn’t yet know who Jesus is (v11, the man called Jesus). And the neighbors now want to know, where is this guy?
Read: John 9:13-17
- The neighbors bring this man to the Pharisees, which probably is not ill intentioned. The probably just are confused by the whole situation and feel the need to get input from their religious leaders.
- But we see in v14 the apostle drawing our attention to when this happened. The Sabbath. This is the 7th of Jesus’ Sabbath healings, and it seems (which the working of the mud and the anointing of the man’s eyes) specifically designed to arouse the anger of the Pharisees.
- If that’s Jesus’ intention, it worked. Because there arises not only anger, but division. V16
- The two factions seem to break into those who hold two different baseline assumptions: 1) those who follow God keep our rules. Jesus doesn’t keep our rules, he’s a sinner. 2) those who work miracles like this must be from God. Jesus healed this man, he must be from God.
- However, while there is initially division, that second group either changes their mind or is silenced.
- They ask the man his opinion on Jesus (novel idea!), and he replies, he is a prophet. Note that he still doesn’t fully comprehend who Jesus is, but this is progress from what we saw in v11.
Read: John 9:18-23
- The Pharisees are incredulous as to his testimony, and so they pull his parents in to question them.
- His parents give a rather feeble answer. They do acknowledge, yes, this is our son and he was blind. But how he can see, we don’t know; he’s a grown man, ask him.
- John explains the reason for their fear in v22.
- This is a super legit fear. Their son has likely been excluded from the synagogue his whole life as one who suffered a severe physical ailment (remember the disciples mental connection between suffering and sin in v2). Now his healing is presenting his parents with the same prospect of social isolation. We often think of the temple of Jewish religious life in that time, and obviously that’s where sacrifices were made, where the priests ministered, where the presence of God was to meet with his people. And yet for most Jews their most regular experience of religious instruction, community, and where they heard the word read and taught was not the temple, but the synagogue. The synagogue held a central place in forming their identity as God’s people. And if his parents tell the Pharisees that Jesus healed their son, they know that could be construed as calling him Messiah and thus having them cast out.
- We should be slow to judge this rational fear. They are looking at a real cost if they confess Jesus.
- But we also aren’t meant to endorse their fear. It stands in stark contrast to what we are about to see from their son in the following verses.
Read: John 9:24-34
- The Pharisees call the man back to the stand, as it were. But not to get real information. They just want their previous biases confirmed.
- And so we see what we talked about last week, namely, that belief and unbelief are not first of all mental or rational categories. They are spiritual or heart level categories.
- These guys are gathering evidence and conducting interviews, but not with any intention of acting upon the facts which they gather. Their intention is to find any way they can to discredit Jesus or accuse him of wrongdoing.
- But note the boldness of our formerly blind man. V25
- They know Jesus is a sinner. He doesn’t know that, but he does know this: he once was blind. Now he sees.
- Are you ever afraid to share your testimony of faith because of all the answers you don’t have? If you have trusted in Jesus, you have as much as the man has here, and it is powerful: he opened my eyes. He gave me life. I once was blind, but now I see.
- The Pharisees want him to repeat the story, but again we have to love his boldness in v27.
- He takes their obvious deafness to his words and throws it back at them: why do you want to hear it over and over? Do you want to follow him? His rebuke cuts them like a knife.
- They claim to be followers of Moses, a claim Jesus already refuted in John 5:46-47. If they trusted Moses, they would trust in Jesus. But what they really trust is in their own goodness and the sufficiency of their religious excellence. They claim to know that Moses was from God and to continue to be in the dark about where Jesus came from (despite the clear teaching of his that he came from the Father, cf 8:58).
- Our friend, the blind man turned apologist, turns this on it’s head as well, v30-33
- His argument is tight, taking their own assumptions (from places like Micah 3:4, Psalm 34:15) about who God listens to, and using those notions to show that Jesus couldn’t be doing something this amazing except by the power of God. Perhaps the only thing as amazing as the miracle itself is their willful blindness to ignore it’s origin.
- They have no way to refute Jesus’ actions or this man’s understanding that those actions only can be done by the power of God. And so they eliminate the problem by removing him from their presence.
- This isn’t the story ending Christian movies or books or talk shows want to paint. This man isn’t living a victorious Christian life where he stands up for God and all the “bad guys” get put in their place. This man is physically healed by Jesus, only to be re-cast out. He is re-ostracized. His taste of “the good life” is fleeting at best. But his story is not over.
Read: John 9:35-41
- After this man loses it all again by being cast back out by the Pharisees, what happens? Jesus seeks him out.
- Who does the pursuing and initiating all throughout this narrative? Jesus.
- Jesus asks, “do you believe in the Son of Man”? The man is eager to believe, though he doesn’t know who that means he needs to believe in.
- Remember, this man has still never seen Jesus before.
- Jesus clarifies who he is in v37; you have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you. Note that before this man met the Son of Man, he had never seen anyone.
- The point of the story, the work which Jesus points forward to in v3, come to a climax here in v38.
- This man has gone from total blindness, physical yes, but also spiritual, in v1. By v11 he is calling Jesus the man who healed him. In v18 he identifies Jesus as a prophet. His stout defense in v30-33 insists that Jesus came from God. But now in v38, he falls down and worships.
- Jesus stepped into this man’s life and he interrupts his physical blindness with the goal of removing his real problem: spiritual blindness.
- If only the story ended there! But it continues. V39-41
- Jeus came to open the eyes of the spiritually blind; receiving that sight, receiving life, happens through the means of obedient faith. Thus, those who believe that they already see won’t believe, and their sight becomes its own blindness. Cf Mark 2:17
- They say, we see. Can they really see? No. But they claim sight, and their self-reliant self-dependence prevents them from receiving the cure. Their sickness won’t be remedied, their blind eyes won’t be opened, their pride soaked hearts won’t be saved.
Four lessons we draw from this story:
- Universal blindness. This man is a picture of us all.
- The danger of obstinate unbelief. The Pharisees stand here for any who refuse to embrace the good news of Jesus. There is a real peril.
- The only source of sight is Jesus.
- Faith grows. It is rarely Paul on the road to Damascus; this man’s progression (or even the slower one of Nicodemus) is more normal. So be patient with other believers, especially young ones.
Jesus is the light of the world. Any who believe in him will have their spiritual eyes healed, and they will receive eternal life. Trust in him, and see.
Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life John 11:17-46; Remsen Bible Fellowship Introduction: You might remember that woven through t...
The Gift of Peace John 20:19-29, Remsen Bible Fellowship, 07-19-2020 Audio Link Introduction Can you think of the time in life when you were...
Our Core Commitments We believe the following commitments flow naturally from both our stated mission and our doctrinal commitments. Beca...