118. I am a sheep.

[John 10]

Do you know about sheep? They are peculiar animals; very different from cattle. Since the earliest times the Hebrews were sheep farmers. When Jacob and his family moved to Egypt in the famine and Joseph was second in command of all the land of Egypt, they received land away from the Egyptians and their cattle.

And the men are shepherds, for their occupation has been to feed livestock; and they have brought their flocks, their herds, and all that they have…. that you may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”(Genesis 46:32-34)

Jacob’s family lived in the land of Goshen, a very fertile land in the eastern part of the Nile delta.

The Egyptians were mostly cattle farmers. They looked down on sheep farmers. Sheep feed on the whole grass plant and pull it out root and all. The shepherds often moved their sheep to a variety of pastures. Agricultural researchers recommend grazing the picky grazers like horses and cattle first and following with the less picky grazers sheep orgoats. Cattle typically tear off large mouthfulsof forage.

Sheep usually follow the rest of the flock. They are notorious to follow each other into danger. The shepherd sometimes trains one of them to follow him and knows the rest will follow.

Here in John 10 Jesus talks about the lost sheep of Israel for whom He came. Thereafter His ministry was opened up to include everybody.

The disciples had to go out to Israel first (Matthew 10:5-6; 15:24).

Jesus was known to reach out to the Gentiles:

  • He healed the servant of the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:10)
  • He spoke to the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4:40)
  • He said that the descent from Abraham was no guarantee into the Kingdom (John 8:39)
  • He healed a Samaritan leper who turned around to say thank you (Luke 17:18-19)
  • He told the story of the Samaritan traveler who showed mercy (Luke 10:37)
  • He welcomed many people from all directions (Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:29)
  • He commanded his disciples to go out to all nations (Matthew 28:19)
  • He is the light of the world (John 8:12)
  • He loved the world (John 3:16)

In Jesus the world can be one and all nations like brothers.

Unity is only possible when we know His voice and follow His voice.

We go out to teach others to know His voice so that they can follow Him. We do not teach church doctrine. We teach people to listen for His voice.

The church of Jesus is the flock. It is that invisible body of people in this world whose hearts are set on Him and His teachings. It has nothing to do with organized religion. We are the Kingdom of God on earth. We are united by choice not by chance.

The passage in John 10:17-18 tells us so much about Jesus.

He lives in full obedience, even unto death. Sonship to Him was nothing but obedience in the highest sense possible.

Jesus views the Cross as the path to glory. He never doubted His death, but also never doubted His resurrection. He had full confidence in God. He has not missed His destiny, as He was willing to pay the price. There is no easy way to greatness.

His death was not a condemnation by the people. He could have called heavens hosts as His defense. He was accepting death fully  (John 19:10-11). He was never a victim to His circumstances. He chose the Cross. He did not lose His life, He gave it.

In the next passage we see that the dilemma of the people is as real today as it was at that time. Is Jesus a madman or the Son of God? There is no escape from the choice. Jesus spoke about God in a way that could not be ignored.

He is not a madman.  His teaching is the only hope for this world.

His deeds are to bring comfort and restore brokennessfor others – a madman would not open the eyes of the blind.

The effect He had on people saved millions upon millions of lives. He makes the bad good. He makes the foolish wise and the destitute hopeful.

The Festival of the Dedication in Jerusalem is sometimes called the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah) celebrated for eight days in December.

The origin of the Festival of the Dedication lies in one of the greatest times of ordeal and heroism in Jewish history. There was a king of Syria called Antiochus Epiphanes who reigned from 175 to 164 BC. He was a lover of all things Greek. He decided that he would eliminate the Jewish religion once and for all, and introduce Greek ways and thoughts, Greek religion and gods into Palestine. At first he tried to do so by the peaceful penetration of ideas. Some of the Jews welcomed the new ways, but most were stubbornly loyal to their ancestral faith.

In 170 BC Antiochus attacked Jerusalem. It was said that 80,000 Jews perished and thousands sold into slavery. A small fortune was stolen from the Temple treasury. It became a capital offence to possess a copy of the law, or to circumcise a child. Mothers who did circumcise their children were crucified with their children hanging round their necks. Temple chambers were turned into brothels.  Finally Antiochus took the dreadful step of turning the great altar of the burnt-offering into an altar to Olympian Zeus, and on it sacrificed a pig to the pagan gods.

It was then that Judas Maccabaeus and his brother arose to fight their epic fight for freedom. In 164 BC the struggle was finally won; and in that year the Temple was cleansed and purified. The altar was rebuilt and the robes and the utensils were replaced. It was to commemorate the purification of the Temple that the Feast of the Dedication was instituted.

It was told that when the great seven-branched candlestick was relit, only one container of unpolluted oil could be found. The vase was sealed with the ring of the High Priest. There was only oil enough in that vase to light the lamps for one single day. Miraculously it lasted for eight days, until new oil had been prepared according to the correct formula and consecrated.

In this atmosphere Jesus utters one of the seven I AM sayings: I am the Light of the world.There is no one else ever to say these words. He is the light in the darkness of political strife, emotional upheaval and the maze of uncertainty that mark life on earth.

There on the porch of the Temple of Solomon where the rabbi’s often met their students the question was put to Jesus.

Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24)

It was the genuine heart’s cry of longing or a trap for Jesus to utter heresy and blasphemy. Jesus answers what He so often told them.

“I who speak to you am He.”(John 4:26)

 “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.”(John 9:37)

He says clearly that His sheep will know His voice. (John 10:26,27)

Jesus promised eternal life. The physical death is just an entrance to more of the new dimension with Him. Nothing would snatch them from His hand (John 10:29-30).

Jesus trusted His father above all. He knew it didn’t matter how scattered the flock was, His Father had control and would not let anyone slip.

 …for He God Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!] (Hebrews 13:5-7, Amplified)

We have God-confidence. Jesus is faithful.

Jesus is God – here He says it. He also prays it in John 17:1 and 20-22.

Through love we are one with God in Jesus. Love implies obedience. Oneness is not philosophical or metaphysical. It is relationship.

[John 13:34; 15:10; 14:21, 23-24.]

This statement of Jesus that He is one with God, made the Jews very angry. They picked up stones to stone Him (10:31). Blasphemy was punished by stoning (Leviticus 24:16). Jesus argued amid the hostility. He is not afraid of the arguments in a heated atmosphere.

He does wonderful things. His deeds could only come from God.

Jesus said that He was consecrated by God for a special task. He is holy – set apart for a specific purpose. God sent Him as messenger from heaven. (Psalms 82:6, Exodus 21:1-6. Also Exodus 22:9; 22:28)

He tests the people to judge His deeds not His words. The fruit of His life speaks louder than words about Him. Deeds are beyond arguments.

Jesus was not stoned that day. His execution was planned and marked on the calendar of heaven. He needed quietness before the struggle. He had to meet with God before meeting men.

He went to the place where John baptized, where He was baptized. There He heard the voice of God strengthening Him and confirming Him. His baptism was one of the supreme experiences of His life.

Jacob went back to Bethel (Genesis 35:1-6).

The people remembered John and what He said about Jesus. Many believed when they remembered the words of John.

Jesus was even greater than John said He would be. He never disappoints. The Jews saw in Jesus the man John predicted He would be and many believed.

Many great men with great futures messed it up somehow and were a disappointment to many. Jesus is God. He comes with the full guarantee of heaven.

He can never and will never disappoint. In Him the dream comes true.

 I am a sheep – I will follow Him.

 

 

 

Advertisements

90. How about you?

Have you ever wondered about yourself in history? Where would you have been in the village life of the Middle Ages, a noblewoman in a castle, a knight fighting for the duke, maybe the duke himself? It is difficult to think with too much ambition about women in history. I am no Joan of Arc. My ideal women in history go a bit further back to Deborah in the Book of Judges, or Huldah in 2 Kings 22. Go ahead and read about them.

Let us take an imaginary trip and place us around the shores of Galilee at the time when everybody talked about a man able to heal miraculously, arguing with the Pharisees and Scribes and reaching out to the poor. Can you imagine the talk around the squares and wells of the villages in rural Judea? Maybe you could have been a hard working businessman in the fish industry, preserving Galilee’s riches in salt; maybe an importer of delicacies from the rest of the vast Roman Empire supplying the Roman contingent in Caesarea or Herod’s palace in Jerusalem.

This past Easter I sat in church listening to a sermon on the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. When I looked at the beautiful picture they had on the screen, I looked at the crowds around Jesus and suddenly wondered where I would have been. I have to admit I have a vivid imagination, but I have had many instances where the Holy Spirit showed me faith pictures in my mind, where I could not have come up with anything remotely so wonderful. One of my most powerful experiences of being healed of a nagging fear, was experiencing the Holy Spirit taking control of my imagination to show me how God is providing for me.

While staring at the picture on the screen in church, I was at once heartbroken. I did not see myself at the forefront, waiving the palm branches and shouting Hosanna. Succumbing to my naturally suspicious and cautious nature, I saw myself at the edges of the crowd, staying close, as I imagined myself very much fascinated by this man, but reserving judgment for later. In prayer I almost wanted to apologize to the Lord about this. I admired Mary Magdalene and John who followed the trial and so courageously found them at the foot of the cross in spite of extreme personal danger, being seen as a friend of the “criminal”.

In that moment the Holy Spirit convicted me to the complete opposite of what I was thinking. He said I would have been exactly where I was now. I was made aware of the miracle of faith, the miracle of salvation and the miracle of spiritual insight into the deep mysteries of God and His Word. Coming to Jesus is a cold rational decision, followed by a miraculous personal rebirth, experiencing the Holy Spirit taking up residence in the deepest inner being of a person. I was overjoyed by this realization that Jesus was revealed to every person who asked God for spiritual insight into His life on earth. It happened then as it happens now.

For me, it was a moment of great rejoicing. I felt my spirit leap up and shout Hosanna. I know deep in my heart just how much I love Jesus and how I treasure God’s word above everything in this world. Throughout the sermon I was enjoying my own triumphant entry into Jerusalem right there by Jesus’ side.

How then did the people know this is the Messiah? In the first chapter of John, exactly this matter is the theme. He states the case for Jesus like a heavenly advocate in a court of law, calling the witnesses to testify to the authenticity of Jesus’ Messianic title.

1:32-34

And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”

The baptism of Jesus removed all doubt in John the Baptist’s mind that Jesus was the Son of God. There by the waters of the Jordan God reveals himself as the Trinity, speaking from heaven and letting the Holy Spirit descend in the symbol of the dove. It was something, which only the eye of the mind and soul could see.

The baptism (Greek=baptizein – to dip or to submerge) of Jesus was a decisive event.

In Palestine the dove was a sacred bird. It was not hunted and it was not eaten. The picture of the dove was one, which the Jews knew and loved. The dove brought the olive branch, the symbol of provision to Noah in the Ark. (Matthew 3:16)

It was at his baptism that the Spirit came down upon Jesus with power in a way that was convincing to John the Baptist.

The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruach and it means wind. The Spirit of God brings us three things:

  • Power: in Acts 2 it is described as a mighty rushing wind.
  • Life: the very existence of man is by the breath of God.
  • God: it is the way by which we live beyond mere human achievement.

The Spirit controlled the prophets. (Micah 3:8,Isaiah 59:21,Isaiah 61:1, Ezekiel 36:26-7)

The Spirit: brings the truth of God, gives men the power to recognize that truth when they saw it and gives them the ability and the courage to preach that truth to men. The Jews knew the Spirit and knew it was God coming into a man’s life.

John goes out of his way to point out that the Spirit remained on Jesus. It is not just a temporary inspiration; it is a permanent abiding. John states the descending of the dove as a Holy Spirit baptism, which implies that He was saturated and flooded with the Spirit of God.

In a Holy Spirit life we are illuminated to understand the Word, strengthened to do the Word and purified by the baptism of fire, burning away the worldly baggage. Spirit prayer is a cry of the heart with no thought of theology and liturgy.

The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2)

That was the Messianic promise from the mouth of Isaiah. It stands as the promise to us who invites the Holy Spirit to saturate our inner beings.

1:35-39:

 Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. 36 And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”

37 The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38 Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?”

They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?”

39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour).

John the Baptist points to Jesus as the greater teacher, full knowing that his own disciples will leave him and follow Jesus. He had no jealousy towards Jesus. He was looking for the vision to be fulfilled.

The character of the true disciple determines that his eye remains on the vision.

What is your God-inspired vision for your life?

Take a moment to write it down. Ask the Holy Spirit to quicken your mind to see God’s heart for you with no attachment to your fellow men or this world. (Habakkuk 2:15)

Jesus turned to speak to the disciples who followed Him. He is always willing to meet us halfway, making things easier for us to get to Him. He is a door opener. (Isaiah 45:1, Revelation 3:8)

Jesus turning to talk to the disciples is symbolic of the divine initiative. God always takes the first step. The human mind seeks and the heart longs. God meets you on the way just like the beautiful image of the father in the story of the prodigal son, waiting for the first signs of his son and running out to meet him. That is a good heart picture to treasure whenever we think of our heavenly father.

We seek God when He has already found us – Augustine.

The fundamental question is: What are you looking for? Your desire needs to be expressed. They could have been legalists looking for an argument. They could have followed Him to enlarge their influence with the leadership. They could have been nationalists looking for political shortcuts. Or were they humble men looking for their Messiah? They could have been puzzled, bewildered and sinful, looking for light and not even sure how deep the need in their inner being might be. This is the perfect approach – dark lives looking for the Light of the World to change them forever.

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?

Are you looking for safety and security, wealth and superficial satisfaction for your needs? It is not wrong to look for these things; it is only a very low aim. There is no security in the changes and chances of life. Some people are searching for personal ambition, having their own goals already shaped, believing God is the instrument to get there. Beware of the detour called life!

Here in John 1 the disciples answered with a question: Where is Jesus staying?

They called Him rabbi, which literally means: my great One. It was a title of respect given by students of wise men. John writes to the Greeks and uses the word for teacher.

What does their question mean?

They didn’t want a short answer. They wanted to sit down, share a meal, talk much. They were not satisfying a curiosity or a superficial need. They wanted to truly know Him.

Jesus answers: Come and see. Those words were a well-known answer to any question of a student of a Jewish rabbi. Jesus’ words imply: we’ll think about this together. If you are in for the long haul, I am more than willing.

John was probably one of these disciples. He notes the time. Almost like in a diary. He is thinking back many years and experiencing that moment, more or less 4pm one afternoon in Galilee that his own life changed forever.