10. Recap 1

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 10. Recap 1

Matt 7:13,14  “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Narrow Road requirement: Jesus’ illustration of the narrow and wide gates reminds us that many people go through the wide gate leading to destruction because the road leading through it is ‘broad’ and unrestricted and people want to do their own thing, ignoring God and running on ‘self’. We observed at the start that going God’s way – the narrow road and narrow gate – requires a dying to self and dying to the old self-centred and godless life, what the majority consider a restricted life, but the more we progressed, the more we saw the reasons why that is necessary.

‘Follow Me’ Requirements: When Jesus called Levi to “Follow Me”, it was a call to trust him, but in following Jesus it was also a call to submit to the sovereignty of God. Why? Very simply because God knows best – and we don’t. In fact it was our failure to think and act rightly that enabled the Holy Spirit to convict us and bring us to repentance. Part of that deal meant us giving up or dying to the old life we had lived.

People Problems:  As we looked further at this, we recognised that our ‘not getting it right before’ also meant not getting it right with people. In fact, if it wasn’t for people, this life would be easy, but the trouble is their ways and wants are different to mine, which can mean conflict, so if I am to walk the Jesus way of peace and harmony, it will mean I have to die to my desires and learn to understand others and have care and compassion for them. If I am to achieve that, I will truly have to die to my wishes.

Facets of Forgiveness: But that led us on to consider the difficult question of forgiveness, both our need for it when we have wronged others and to give it when others seek it of us. Perhaps this is one of the hardest areas where we need to die to self if we are to be like Jesus.

Modern Idols: But then we looked more widely at life and recognised that in our old life, although we would perhaps never countenance wooden images of eastern religions, we did, never the less, exalt people and we did rely upon methods, and both of these to the exclusion of God. Oh yes, idols are still very much alive in our modern society and wherever we put our trust in them, it means we will not be putting our trust in God, and therefore we cease to come to the fountain of all wisdom and understanding. We do indeed need to die to the alternative supports where they exclude God.

Aware of Anxiety: While we were looking at the world more widely, we recognised that living life on our own, so often meant that we were full of anxiety which, if we accept as the norm, will settle to become what I called angst, a more deep-seated anxiety which comes from not living in harmony and receiving the resources of The Lord of all. The attitude of self-reign leads so often to a short-fall of ability and that in turn leads to anxiety. The way to overcome that anxiety is to lay down the old life, lay down the self-reign and submit to the Lord of Glory.

‘Less’ or ‘Ish’: From there we considered the conflicting lives of the selfless versus the selfish, the godly versus the godless. We noted that the latter in each case was how we used to live but those lives brought us to failure. We noted how rejecting the selfish or self-centred life requires an application in every area of our lives and that in turn required a discipline and effort, often helped by others. The starting place is death to self and the continuing process requires the effort of me with help from the Holy Spirit. It is a continual challenge to die to self in every new situation or confrontation.

Pleasure: This brought us to the last one, a consideration of the wonder of pleasure that God has given us, while at the same time confronting the very real danger that is rife in our day, of making pleasure the beginning and end of all things. When we do that we are making it a substitute for God, but fortunately or unfortunately it soon creates a jaded feeling in us, together with a need for more and more. Satisfaction is illusory and flits away like a butterfly on a warm summer’s day. It is this recognition that we see results in a need to die to the old life that was pleasure and experience orientated and to the pleasure-seeking attitude that prevails so much today. Pleasure in its right place is a gift from God. When we make pleasure all-important, we stumble, feel jaded and become vulnerable.

Versus God: I want to finish this Part with something about which I have increasingly become aware in recent days. Where we fail to get to grips with these things, as I believe many Christians do, it means that we create both an anger and a yearning in God’s heart that desires to bring His people back to Himself. As the world increasingly (in the West at least) turns its back on God, it opens itself up to the leading of the enemy and so we see ever more strange, weird and, without doubt, ungodly and unrighteous behaviours, an increase in blatant unrighteousness as people reject God’s design and totter down the wide road towards self-destruction.

“Hands Off” Discipline: Romans 1 leads us to believe that this is God’s judgment on the Western world where He has “given them over” to more and more destructive behaviours. For the world, and especially for the Christians who may be drifting alongside this cultural collapse, His desire is for these things to act in a disciplinary manner, i.e. they act as agents to drive people back from the abyss and back to God. Now in the midst, the Lord allows Satan to act as a disciplining agent and we see it when Christians make themselves vulnerable by not dealing with the issues we have been considering throughout this first Part and failing to put them to death. I believe the strength of his activities has been increasing in recent years and I have watched Christians becoming more and more vulnerable to illnesses, problems, difficulties, stresses, anxieties and many other things that should not be in our lives.

Responses/Effects: Now a problem with this assessment is that most of us, the good, the bad, the indifferent, in the kingdom of God, often seem prey to these things. Now there are two responses to this. First, like Jeremiah being carried away to Egypt in the remnant, so we too can suffer the things of the age. Second, I believe it has been like the tide has been turning and so there is greater effort needed to stand and resist these things.

Answers?  So what is the answer? It is twofold. First, it is to do the thing we have been emphasising throughout this first Part – put to death all these things we have considered, that belong to the old life and should not be in the new life. Second, we are to live out the Christian life as it is portrayed in the New Testament, a resurrected life, empowered by God and living differently to the rest of the world, and that is what we will consider in the next Part.

(As we are in the period of Lent, we will pause up this present series four weeks while we do short meditations on the Cross and the crucifixion)

16. Gate and Shepherd (1)

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   16. Gate & Shepherd

John 10:7,9,11     Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep…..  I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture….I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

We said in the previous study that we discern two major themes running through John’s Gospel – the transforming power of Jesus and the identity of Jesus. These verses above speak more to the second theme but reveal how the first one comes about. What is intriguing about them is that, unlike so much else that we have seen where there are links with many earlier verses, the thoughts about a door and the good shepherd appear to come from nowhere, with no earlier links. So why does John introduce them here or, perhaps, in the chronological flow of history, why does Jesus say these things now?

Well, what has just gone before? The blind man has just been healed and there has been much discussion about Jesus’ authority to heal like this, and Jesus has spoken about being the light of the world who reveals the blindness of the Pharisees. The picture Jesus has just been painting by word and deed has been of the one who comes to open the eyes of the blind to let them see and enter God’s kingdom. Now in the Old Testament, the Jews were familiar with the concept of a doorway or gateway into heaven. The patriarch who would give them their name, Jacob (to become Israel), had a dream and we see, “He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen 28:17). We just referred to people ‘entering the kingdom of God’ which in Jewish eyes was virtually tantamount to being given entry to heaven, so Jesus applies the idea of a gate to himself: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.” (v.7) The implication is, “I am the doorway to heaven”

But he links this idea with sheep and refers to Israel as sheep, which was a very familiar concept for them in Psalms and in the prophetic books (use a concordance to look up the many references). Jeremiah introduced the concept of lost sheep (Jer 50:6) and Ezekiel also added to it (Ezek 34:4) and Jesus himself referred to the “lost sheep of Israel” (Mt 10:6), the ones to whom the apostles should go to be brought into God’s fold. The imagery here is unmistakable: “I am the way for the lost sheep of Israel to return to their Lord. in heaven.”

We need to retrace our steps and see the earlier verses in this chapter: Remember we just said he had called the Pharisees blind and now he says, “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.” (v.1) The sheep pen appears at first sight to be the land of Israel, God’s covenant people, but Jesus when he speaks about the kingdom of God means the covenant people who obey and respond to their Lord so He can exercise His rule in and through them.   The sheep fold might, therefore, be better associated with the ideas of the kingdom of God or place where God’s rule is experienced. But there is only one way in to this ‘fold’ and this  implies Jesus is God’s appointed ‘gate’ and anyone who tries to gatecrash (an interesting word!) the sheepfold has obviously tried to appear to get in some other way but they are not there to benefit the sheep but to steal them, and take them off somewhere else (lead them into error). Strong condemnation!

So now he extends the analogy and says the only person to get in through the gate is the shepherd: “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.” (v.2) he then says something intriguing: “The watchman opens the gate for him.” (v.3a) The ‘watchman’ must be angelic beings or the work of the Holy Spirit. (In Ezekiel’s ‘wheels within wheels’ prophecy in Ezek 1, the rims of the wheels were full of eyes. In John’s vision of the throne room of heaven in Rev 4, the four living creatures are covered with eyes. Whatever the meaning we have a picture of ones who see all things – watchmen if you like.)

What then follows is a picture of intimacy between shepherd and sheep: “the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (v.3,4) The sheep recognize his voice, he knows them individually and calls them each by name, he leads them out in the world and they follow him  In fact, “they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (v.5) The work of the Pharisees and all the other religious groups is doomed to failure because the sheep – those of God’s real people – deep down know His voice and no other voice will comfort and make them secure.

Now it makes sense when Jesus says, “All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.” (v.8) Of course the sheep wouldn’t follow anyone else because there is only one voice that will touch something deep within them and bring them peace and comfort. Anyone who came before Jesus in that four hundred year period of silence between Nehemiah/Ezra and the Gospels was just a pretender and so it was no surprise that the people collectively did not follow them. There is a complexity in these verses of chapter 10, a mixing together of the analogies of the door (or gate) and the shepherd. For the moment, we’ve noted the emphasis  on the door or gate: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (v.9) The entry into God’s kingdom comes through Jesus alone; accept no substitutes. We will go on to consider more the picture of the shepherd in the next study.