Thursday, August 20, 2015

Jesus left. Now what?

If you could travel back in time, where would you go?

I would either go back to 1985, seeing that I am a Chicago Bears fan, or I would go back to the dinosaur age.   Just kidding, sort of. 

Where I would really like to go back is to the days of Jesus, when his disciples literally "walked in the dust of the Rabbi". I want to get his nuance, observe his tone, to watch him.  I also have a lot of questions that come up, questions I would like him to be available to answer. I want to walk in his dust and hear his commands.  However, I can't.  He is gone.  He is with the Father for now, so I have to wait.  So now what? How do we follow his command to follow him, when he doesn't leave footprints?

There seem to be a few ways that people respond to this question.

1. "Go fishing." In John 21:3, right after the resurrected Jesus appeared to his students, Peter said, "I'm going fishing.". He went back to his trade, what he was doing before Jesus came.  He went back to life as usual.  I am sure he was an emotional hot mess, so he went back to what was safe. 
Many choose to "go fishing" or just live life as if he did not exist.  They do what is comfortable and known. 

2. Legalism-some formulate a system/religion of rules-a law to follow while Jesus is away.
The Judaisers, whom Paul came against, did this by implying that trusting Christ as savior was not enough.  They taught that you also had to follow his "commands" or the Law.  After all, Jesus/God wrote these commands and in John 14:15, Jesus said, "If you love me you will keep my commandments.". They taught that the 633 Laws (Mosaic Law) and the traditions were an umbrella in which we needed to live under and observe if we wanted to continue in God's favor.

The early church under Constantine developed a very rigid system.  It was a new "law" or a new code to live by.  In reality, all of these laws appeal to the weak flesh, but they are a good way to measure how holy someone is.  The problem is, this is not the measurement God uses.  Baptismal salvation, worshipping on Sunday only, taking the Lord's Supper, paying tithe, and the like became an additional means of grace and a rule to live by.

Today we have this same approach.  There are Christians who fight (these leaving what Jesus taught) over things like carpet colors, where the clock should be in the sanctuary, how long a sermon shall be, whether a preacher should wear a robe or not, style of worship music, alcohol vs. no drinking, whether it is godly to dance, what translation to use, and a whole host of other odd foci. 

We can get so bogged down and draw so many rules up that Jesus most likely would not be welcome if he did show up.  Like in our passage that I am about to dig into.

3. Those who follow Jesus today- And this is what I want to focus on and dig into for myself.  It is something Jesus taught in John 10. 

The Pharisees (Legalists par excellence) said, "What, are we blind too?".

1. Listen to the Shepherd's Voice!
Jesus said, "Very truly I tell you Pharisees... anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.  The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out..."

...hang on.  The sheep listen to his voice.
When I was at Moody Bible Institute, Dr. Marvin Pate told us a story of him observing two flocks of sheep grazing together.  When the shepherd made the call, the red tagged sheep headed toward the shepherd, while the green tagged sheep continued doing what sheep do.

Question- How do you suppose a sheep gets to KNOW the voice of the shepherd?
1) It takes time LISTENING to the shepherd (Jesus even wrote down what he said in a book called the Bible), getting to know his tone, his character.  It takes time to become familiar with his voice. 

An illustration from McDonald's- when I was in high school I worked at McDonald's.  Occasionally I worked the register.  The McDonald's I worked at was fast-paced so you had to be quick and accurate.  One day I was counting through a handful of bills, and noticed that one felt different.  I looked at it and quickly discovered it was a counterfeit. 

The point here is that I was so familiar with the real, from spending so much time with it, that I could quickly recognize the false.  As we spend time with Jesus, listening to Him, we will be able to better discern what is His voice and what is false.

Our problem in getting familiar with the Shepherd's voice is similar to the problem sheep have.
A. Bleating- some let the sound of others bleating block out the sound of the Shepherd.
Things such as drama, politics (this election year especially), news, TV, iPod, texting, etc. All are not bad necessarily, but we need to be skilled at tuning the influence of these things off at times in order to hear what Jesus says. 
B. Grazing- some sheep, like us, get so busy with activity, the grind of life, that we eventually completely lose the ability to hear the Shepherd.  Work, sports, kids, kids programs, caring for sick family members, volunteering, doing things. While none of these is inherently bad, if we don't pick our heads up to look and listen to the Shepherd, we will never learn or hear His voice. This will require some tough boundaries.  Jesus was always getting away to pray, we need to have regular "get away" times too.  I would recommend starting at 1/2 an hour a day.  1 day a month.  2 weekends a year of focus time on the Shepherd, where you seek Him and get to know Him.
C. Stubbornness- Some sheep are stubborn in nature and want to do their own thing.  They don't care what a Shepherd says.  A couple of songs that come to mind are Frank Sinatra's "I did it my way" and Bon Jovi's "It's my life."
D. Prone to wander- I call these "wolf fodder" sheep.  These are the sheep that have been hurt by some of the flock or feel such a strong pull from the flesh, that they go off on their own.  Separated, they are easy targets for the wolf.  Instead of staying near, they go at it on their own. 

So how do we do this?  How do we listen to someone who can't be heard? 
1. We spend time reading what He said through digging into the Scriptures.  Those who did hear him wrote down specifically what he said, so that we can know what he said. 
2. We spend time listening to his word through listening to sermons on it, through biblical music, through Bible studies, through being involved in a small group of believers.
3. Right before the Shepherd left, he told us that it was better for him to leave.  He said that he would send another helper that would remind us of his words and lead us into all truth (John 15-16). Later Paul told us that we will be led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14).  Are you?

2.  Be in the flock!
Jesus goes on, "Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who have come before me are thieves and robbers (I bet this made the Pharisees mad), but the sheep (his followers) have not listened to them.
I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.  They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 
The thief comes only to kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

Not only is Jesus the good shepherd, he is also the gate.  He is the way into a relationship with God.  To hear his voice you have to be in the flock of Jesus. 
Here he is giving the Pharisees a choice-come to me and live.  Enter through me and live. 
What about you?  Will you enter the gate?

"I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  (Jesus is going to reveal the selfish hearts of the Pharisees). The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep.  So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away.  Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.  The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-just as the Father knows me and I know the Father-and I lay down my life for the sheep."

Stop for a moment... so far, his hearers were thinking of Jewish followers.  Israel.
How many of you are Jewish here? Probably not too many. In the following verse, Jesus is going to connect His lesson to the Pharisees to reveal to them that He is the Messiah, the savior of the world they have been waiting for (Isaiah 49:6). 

"I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.  I must bring them also.  They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd."

For me, a gentile, this is exciting!  He is including us in his plan.  He is gathering us into his flock.  What a privilege, what an honor, we are included in His plan of redemption and relationship!  He wants to be your shepherd, gentile.  He doesn't want you to be abandoned.  He wants you to follow him, to be in his flock, forever.  And as John 15 and this passage teaches, he wants a close, intimate relationship with you.

I have a friend who is atheistic.  He doesn't want anything to do with religion.  For years I have been sharing with him that Christianity is not about religion, it is about a relationship... and he doesn't really get it.

I have told him that for me.... it isn't about following a culture or a set of rules.  It isn't about some kind of duty, appease the gods checklist.  I know I cannot earn God's favor or a way into Heaven.  I cannot make a gate, because Jesus is the gate into the sheepfold.

For me, it is about an intimate relationship with Jesus, though shrouded by sin now, some day will be face to face.  It is about listening to and reading Jesus' voice.  It is a joy to get up and read his word.  It is a privilege to pray and to trust my life and my soul to this capable, Good Shepherd.

So for the Christian who is trying to figure out God's will for their life, or whether they should change careers and wants an answer, I say, get to know Jesus' voice through enjoying time with him, then make a choice.

For the young Christian man considering whether God wants him to marry Suzie, I say, get into God's word and seek his wisdom.  He is your Shepherd, your leader, your rock, your protector, your adoptive father, your Heavenly Father, your friend.  Develop an intimate knowledge of what he says.  Commit your ways to follow his voice, and seek his face and you will make the right decision.

People, how is your time with the Shepherd?  What kind of sheep best represents you?  Are you too distracted, too busy, too stubborn, too bitter to live in close proximity to the Good Shepherd, who has given you the honor of having a relationship with him?

Some see Christianity as another religion, with a bunch of duties, codes, and rules.  To Jesus, nothing could be further from the truth!  To be a Christian is to trust Jesus as your savior and to enjoy the honor and privilege of a deep personal walk with the Good Shepherd.

How to start
You are busy.  Here are some resources to get you going:
7. Pick up a study guide to a book of the Bible, like this one from Warren Wiersbe-

Teens- ask your parents/youth pastor

Deeper steps
1. Proverbs has 31 chapters-read one a day
2. Read one of the gospels.
3. Commit to reading a chapter of the Bible or even half a chapter per day. Then challenge yourself to live it out. (some books to start with- John, Matthew, James, 1 John, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippine, Romans)
4. Begin with 10 minutes a day.  Morning, lunch break, before bad, in the restroom, it doesn't much matter.  Then challenge yourself to trust Jesus and live it out.
5. Read Psalm 23, and study the intimate relationship between David & the Good Shepherd

You got it, now get at it.