The vision for our church is to join God in bringing life to Manly. It is the kind of life that Jesus lived… compassionate, whole, healing, full, generous life. And as we grow we hope that life will emerge here in our church community and we will bring life into the wider community! Already I believe we are seeing this life emerge in both of these areas! So why on earth would we presume that life will emerge in our community or spread into the wider community? What is it that fuels life here? What is it that brings life through us to out there? To both we would point to Jesus – the bringer of life!
In John 10:1-18 we find Jesus making some staggering claims ; “I am the good shepherd” and “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” These are big claims that invites us to respond to him and to trust and follow him into…
Something resonates with us about the shepherd imagery… Although not many of us could claim a connection to the land it still makes sense. I have only ridden a horse once and couldn’t walk for a week. We also had a farm at school – I think there were 4 token sheep… poor things! But deep down we kind of know that we are all a bit like sheep in need of a good shepherd! We tend to follow the pack, need a bit of direction and often get lost along the way.
Well if we are going to understand why Jesus brings us life we need to understand the context in which he proclaims he is the good shepherd and bringer of abundant life! In John 9 Jesus has just healed a man born blind and then John 10 finds Jesus at the Feast of Hanukah (or dedication). This was not an Old Testament festival but had become a festival in between the time of the OT and NT. So what was this Feast of Dedication about? Well in the Middle East from 175 BC to 164 BC most powerful leader was Antiochus “Theos” Epiphanes. He was totally devoted to Greek ideas, culture and wanted to Hellenise the world – make it Greek. But the reality is this promoted widespread immorality. These guys were into bad stuff: I was reading a book on Ancient Greece and Rome a few years ago. This was not civilised society. The economy was built upon slavery, women were treated like animals and children were often abused by older men as a common place practice. Yet his goal was to “civilise the world”.
Part of this was to get rid of a transcendent deity. His philosophy was man is ruler of all, we are shapers of our future… Has anyone met him recently? Of course this put him in conflict with the Jews of Palestine – folks who kept on pledging allegiance to someone greater than him. So he tried to get rid of their religion, and the tension builds… In 170BC Epiphane’s army attacks Jerusalem and eighty thousands are killed, his army wipes out the temple treasury. He made having a copy of the Torah a capital offense and outlawed the big things for Israelites: observance of Sabbath and circumcision… So Epiphanes took over the temple in Jerusalem and turned it into an alter to Zeus. He put prostitutes in there and offered swine blood on the alter. Amazingly, during the reign of Antiochus some of the Jewish priests stood by while the temple was defiled. There was a High Priest named Jason who had actually helped desecrate the temple. This went on for 3 years until Judas of Maccabees finally leads a revolt and recaptured the temple.
So Jesus is at the festival of dedication where they celebrated the cleansing and re-dedication of the temple. At the Festival of Dedication, they would read Ezekiel 34 – do you know this passage? A cracker! It’s a passage of judgement and promise – uses this sheep/shepherd imagery speaking of judgement on the leaders of Israel and promise that God will come himself and lead his people.
So they would read Ezekiel 34:2; “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: This is what the Sovereign Lord says; Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?” and verse 4; “You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.”
Do you see why with that recent history they would read this? Particularly with their Priests abdication… Such strong verses of judgement against the rulers of God’s people. In vs 7-10 God basically says that he will remove them from their role, but then comes this incredible promise…
Ezekiel 34:11; “For this is what the sovereign Lord says; I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so I will look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.” And finally vs 16 says; “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.”
So at the feast of Dedication, they remember the betrayal of their leaders, the rescue led by Maccabees, and the promise of God that he would come and be their shepherd… So this is what they are reading, and remember Jesus has just healed a blind man in John 9.
And then John 10:11 – in the midst of this festival, he proclaims; “I am the good shepherd”. Be under no illusions about what Jesus is saying… He is claiming about himself what God had said he would do… So the good shepherd has arrived, God’s promised saviour has come and he has come to bring the healing, justice and restoration that Ezekiel promised.
So how does Jesus bring us this life? Well Jesus describes his role as a shepherd. My friend Darrell Johnson helped me understand this: shepherds would lead their sheep into a cave like structure with 3 walls around it. The shepherd would then lie down across the entrance acting like a gate. The only way in or out was through the shepherd.
But Jesus says he is not the only one interested in the sheep – in God’s people… Verse 8: “All who came before me were thieves and robbers”. Jesus is referring to these leaders who have not looked after the flock. Verse 10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy”. And then outside the pen are wolves. Verse 12: “The wolf attacks the flock and scatters it”.
But in Verse 7 Jesus says; “I am the gate for the sheep”. Again in verse 9 “I am the gate for the sheep, whoever enters through me will be saved”. But this saving is not just about our eternal destiny it is also about our lives now… Verse 10: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”
Is this a good description of life and what Jesus does for us? In this life are there wolves and thieves who come to attacks us, ruin our lives, scatter us from God? I don’t think you have to be a doomsayer to think that there are lots of people who will take advantage of you for their own gain – wolves who are out to get you! My Nana used to watch Today Tonight a lot, so I would have to reassure her that not every butcher, mechanic and real estate agent is trying to get her. But the truth is that there are plenty of people peddling promises that can ruin our lives.
See, if we are married or single, we are only ever a couple of decisions away from making a mess of our lives. Whether it be a temptation to pollute your life with pornography that will ruin your relationships and sex life or the chance of an affair or encounter with a sex worker. Just the other day we celebrated as a nation spending $500 million on a horse race. Maybe there is nothing wrong with a small bet, but for the hundreds of thousands of lives ruined by gambling, it isn’t cool.
Or in the business world there is always someone trying to offer you a scam, a get rich quick deal that will ultimately ruin you… The Bernie Madoffs of this world who will take your money and embezzle it in a Ponzi scheme… Is this being too harsh? It can be quite brutal out there – lots of wolves ready to attack the weak and not so weak. And what about our leaders? Well hopefully we’re not as bad as the leaders spoken about in Ezekiel 34 but it is always helpful to remember that we don’t put our faith for salvation in men and women, fallible as we are!
But the picture Jesus paints is full of hope too. God has seen the way wolves and bad shepherds come to steal and kill and destroy. So God has, and is doing something about it. John 1 tells us that the Word became flesh and lived amongst us and we have seen his glory – full of grace and truth. God has moved into the neighbourhood… He is the gate through which we come to be saved. He lays down his life for us. He lets us come in and out and find good pasture. He has come to give us life and have it to the full….
Well finally, what is the way into this fullness of life? And it is simple: We need to listen to Jesus voice. Jesus talks of the sheep knowing the voice of their shepherd. So listen to his voice, listen to his voice, listen to his voice… And there is no other way to do this except through following him, his ways, his teaching and his life. In other words, to align yourself with Jesus – the author of life! That is why we believe that life will emerge in our church community and then spread into our wider community. Jesus has come to bring us life – saving us from those who would steal, kill and destroy it. If we listen to his voice and take his gospel to our community – life will grow!