Here we are at the beginning of May and we are still living in a repressed state due to the Covid19 virus. The stay at home order now runs to May 15. Some states are working on opening their economies back up, but doctors warn that returning to normal too soon could be a step back rather than a step forward. Over a million cases of the virus have been counted in our nation and over 61,000 Americans have lost their lives. While some business may soon be opening, I am not so sure churches are going to be on the early list.
We all know the stagnant situation that we are living in, and maybe it is apropos that our text today reminds us that Jesus said he came to give us abundant life.
Our story today really begins with the earlier passages found in John. Before today’s reading Jesus had come upon a man who had been blind since birth. It was the sabbath, and Jesus spat on the ground and made a paste that he put over the man’s eyes and then told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. After doing so the man’s sight was restored. He was taken to the religious leaders. You might think that everyone would now be lauding Jesus as a great and miraculous healer –a miracle form God. But no. Instead the healed man was subjected to an inquisition. His parents were brought in for questioning, and then ultimately, he was thrown out of his synagogue because he had been healed by Jesus. Who was it who first said, “No good deed goes unpunished”?
Now it was at this point that Jesus gets caught up in a conversation with the Pharisees, and he basically tells them that they are the blind ones, because they claim to see when they don’t.
In our text today Jesus is still pushing the point. He is actually speaking quite plainly and explaining who he really is to these religious leaders, and yet his listeners can not grasp what he is telling them. At first, he tells them that he is like the true shepherd. Those that came before him were as thieves and bandits. No one listened to them and they gained little support, because they were not the true shepherd. However, Jesus words and teachings are being heard and people are following him, because he is the true shepherd. Jesus was plainly saying the people are hearing my words and responding to me as the messiah, because I am the messiah. What was happening before them was the prove they needed to believe.
The response that Jesus got from the Pharisees was a blank stare. They could not hear him, and they would not follow him. In John’s gospel the pharisees have just been identified as being blind, and now we see that they are metaphorically deaf as well. They listened but they could not hear.
But Jesus doesn’t give up. One description of our text says that in Jesus time there were two types of sheep pens. There was one in the city in which people would bring their sheep, and when the shepherd returns, he would collect his own as the sheep that were his would respond to his voice and come. The sheep now the shepherd. This was Jesus first illustration. The second type of pen would be out in the countryside where a shepherd would construct a pen and then position himself at the entrance and literally be a human gate. No one, no sheep, no nothing could enter, or exit through the opening except by way of the shepherd.
In the second illustration Jesus tries for a clearer example by leaning toward this other image. He declares “I am the gate of the sheep.” There are thieves and bandits who seek to kill and destroy, but he is the one through whom there is salvation and life, and not just any life but abundant life.
These illustrations may at first be hard for us to understand because they belong in a different time and culture, but Jesus was making it clear he is the messiah and he is the one that gives life in abundance. Jesus has told his listeners who he is, the nature of his messiahship, and the difference between him and others who have made the same claim before him. Now his listeners probably could clearly hear the ideas about sheep and shepherds and pens and gates, but they could not or did not want to accept what Jesus was saying about himself through these images.
Jesus is the one who gives to us salvation and abundant life if we are willing to hear his voice and follow him.
Therefore, abundant living is about entering into salvation through Jesus. As a sheep comes to the gate of the pen and enters in, the assumption is that the animal is now in a safe place. For the sheep wondering alone outside is likely deadly. It will fall into a hole, get eaten by wild animals, or stolen away. There are probably a lot of things that can kill a sheep.
Although we are certainly not sheep, and yet in a like image, it is God’s desire to gather us together for our own wellbeing and life.
The Bible always speaks about the saints of God.
The nature of the church is the plurality of those called out of the world and called to be together.
The hope of our faith is the images of all the people’s being in worship before God. Revelation 5:9-10 describes the outcome of our hope like this:
“They sing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth.”
The image is of the great congregation of God’s true church within all the world. Abundant life is not just a personal matter, but it is about becoming part of this greater gathering that God has called us to. Jesus is the way we enter that greater glory for today and what is yet to come. Being within that eternal body is abundant living.
The way we get there is in hearing Jesus voice. Abundant living is in listening Jesus words to us. The gospel of John loves to play off this idea. There are several places where Jesus is talking and saying one thing, and the person he is talking to is completely missing the point. This idea is at work in our text today. Jesus is talking about who he is and why he is there and the people hearing him show no understanding of what he is saying.
Would you not like to know what God has to say to you about your life, and how to live? Wouldn’t you like to know how you can have an abundant life? Well I think that God has spoken to us already through the scriptures and daily within life. The problem is not that god is quiet, but that sometimes we are poor listeners.
There is a sermon illustration I found online. I don’t know if the story is true or not, but the story is told of Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir.” It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”
Can it be that often we are so fixed on listening to ourselves that often we do not listen for and to the voice of God that is always speaking to us.
Jesus says come and all who call upon his name and believe in him shall be saved. Jesus says let him be your eternal light within the darkness. Jesus says in him there is life and life abundant. All we must do is be willing to hear, and then we must follow.
Not only do the sheep hear the shepherd’s voice, but they follow. Abundant life is found in following Jesus. Now this point is a little trickier because Jesus told his followers to take up their cross and follow him. This is to suggest that following Jesus is no guarantee for riches, comfort, or an easy life. The abundant life is not necessarily a material life. One can have an abundant life and yet be poor or struggling, and one can be rich and yet have a life that is shallow and meaningless. Material wealth and abundance are two separate things. I think that the real issue is simply whether you are living with a love for the things Jesus loves, or not. When Jesus said take up your cross, I tend to think that the cross is the consequence of the chooses you make. The cross is the inevitable outcome because of the things you love. You do not choose to have a cross, it is what is given to you because you won’t let go of something else. Jesus so loved the people he met and he so cared for the people God called him to serve that he went to Jerusalem even though he knew the outcome of entering that city on the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday. Jesus didn’t have a death wish, he had a life wish, and what was wrong with the world crucified him. What do you love in this life because of Jesus that you will willing take up the consequences for him? When you find that place money and wealth count for nothing. Maybe you will have it, maybe you won’t, but certainly you will know God’s will and blessings in your life. You will know abundant life.
A story is told about two men who were called on, in a large classroom, to recite the Twenty-third Psalm. One was a published orator trained in speech technique and drama. He repeated the psalm in a powerful way. When he finished, the audience cheered and even asked for an encore that they might hear his wonderful voice again. Then the other man, who was much older, repeated the same words – ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…’ But when he finished, no sound came from the large class. Instead, people sat in a deep mood of devotion and prayer.
Then the first man, the orator, stood to his feet. ‘I have a confession to make,’ he said. ‘The difference between what you have just heard from my old friend, and what you heard from me is this: I know the Psalm, my friend knows the Shepherd.’ (Alan Carr, Jesus: The Good Shepherd)
Abundant life is in knowing Jesus. If we hear his voice and follow him we live with more than knowledge and more than experience. We live within a living relationship with the one who lived and died for us. In that spiritual depth the world is God’s and we are new creations made in His image. Outfitted for eternal life. Our perspective and understanding of life is different. Sometimes people search for the connections in life to make sense of it all, but it is Christ through whom all things were created and in whom all things have life and meaning.
Abundant life is more than living. It is about living in relationship with the one who created life and gives life.
Therefore, let us not be overly vexed by the troubles of this world or the hardships of life. Let us not be overly troubled by the losses we suffer. Yes there are difficulties and there is loss, but there is a greater life than what the world gives that is ours. Ours is an abundant life in Jesus Christ. Amen.