January 27, 2013
Love Came Down to Give Us Life
“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. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and 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. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.
Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
I have a confession to make to you: I am a real snacker. Every evening after dinner, it isn’t long before I am nosing around the kitchen looking for something to satisfy my craving. Whether it is a little chocolate, some nuts or chips, or perhaps a cookie, something inside of me is looking to be satisfied. This craving will sometimes go on until almost bedtime.
I find there are people in this world who are a lot like me when it comes to living out their lives. They have a deep craving for something to satisfy the emptiness within their spirit, so they nibble around this world looking for it. Typically they don’t find what they are looking for on their own, and this leads to danger and destruction in their lives.
I recently came upon the story of a professional football player named Junior Seau. He was well-known as a passionate, fist-pumping star for the San Diego Chargers. He made the pro bowl twelve times out of his thirteen years as a professional football player, was also selected to the National Football League 1990s All-Decade Team, and his community adored him.
However, on May 2, 2012, at the age of 43, Junior sadly took his own life stunning the community. Later, in an interview with Sports Illustrated, former teammate, Rodney Harrison, explained that Seau was desperately searching for peace in his final days. He said, “Junior told me that the only time he felt at peace with life was when he was with his children or out surfing. He would say, ‘When I’m out on those waves, it’s the greatest feeling. I have no worries, no stress, no problems. I forget about everything.’”
Junior was always searching for peace. A lot of people in the world today are like that. In my own congregation, I have counseled more and more teenagers who are so unhappy with life that they cut a word or symbol into their forearm with a razor. This is a sign of deep unhappiness.
Again and again, we find people who are looking for something to satisfy a craving for happiness. We can actually nibble ourselves to death looking for it.
In today’s scripture, Jesus tells us the reason he came to earth: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Jesus was talking with the Pharisees and other onlookers. He described himself as the Good Shepherd who provides for and protects those who follow him. He promised that those who follow him will find the pasture they need and will satisfy their craving. They will find confidence and security in their coming in and their going out, no matter what they face in life – even as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. He promised to be with them and look out for them. He is the gate that protects them at night when they come into the pen.
Again and again in this little passage, we see the message that Jesus has come to give us life – life that is abundant and satisfies. In fact, the name of the town where Jesus was born, Bethlehem, actually means “house of bread.” Jesus later said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will neither hunger nor thirst” (John 6:35).
Later on in chapter 10, as Jesus is talking about his job as the shepherd, he says, “No one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28b). We are his forever.
I have a couple friends who just celebrated what probably will be their last Christmas with their families. Their prognosis is not very good, for they have exhausted all their chemotherapy treatments and still cancer continues to eat away at them. Jesus’ promise as their Shepherd is very meaningful, because they are sheep who follow the Good Shepherd, Jesus. They know that, when they take their last breath in this world, they will awaken looking into the face of their Savior, Jesus Christ, in the next world.
Jesus came to be our Good Shepherd. He gives us the good life for which we busily nibbling. He did that by laying down his life for sinful sheep like you and me – sheep who are helpless in our sinfulness. Sin is deeply ingrained in all of us, even though we may think we are fairly good people compared to some others.
When my wife Julie and I visited the Holy Land, we made a little trip to Bethlehem. It is a Palestinian town, but they are walled in by the Israelis, and a great tension exists between the two. One can feel the tension as you enter the town.
As we stood in line to view the place designated as the stable where Christ was born, we waited almost three hours, and during that time we saw humanity at its worst. People were pushing and shoving, getting angry with one another. Our Palestinian guide even got into a tussle with some Ukrainians who were trying to butt into ahead of us. By the time we were close to that manger, I knew why Jesus had to come. Even these people, who had tasted of his grace, still had this selfish, impatient nature within them. And it was for people such as myself, because I, too, found myself a little angry.
Jesus came to lay down his life for us so that we can have forgiveness for our sin and be cleansed from within as we receive him. We then become his child. He laid down his life so we can have a new life with our heavenly Father. Time and again, we hear from our listeners who tell us how beautiful their life is when they have said yes to him.
Some people believe Christianity is boring. However, I find it difficult to believe the disciples ever had a boring moment with Jesus. Life with him was exciting. I’ve discovered for myself, as well, that the more I try to follow his life, the more exciting life becomes as we stand up for him and let our light shine.
Other people believe that, although Christianity is a nice idea, it’s not really true. To those who have this opinion, I would suggest they examine the resurrection story. Jesus died on the cross and was raised on the third day. His resurrection was God’s stamp of approval that everything Jesus had said or done for us is absolutely true. Jesus’ life was filled with truth.
I recently listened to a friend tell his story. He was a businessman who dealt with high-end automobiles. Back in the late 70s, his business was struggling, and he was losing a lot of money. Afraid to tell his family about his failings, he drank to cover up his fear.
One day, when he was at the end of his rope, he packed up his files and papers and went to his business competitor asking for help. The man looked at him and said, “My wife and I have been praying for you this past year. We prayed you would come in and visit with me.” My friend was absolutely stunned, and even more so two hours later when he was on his knees in that man’s office, asking Jesus Christ into his life.
Since that day, nothing has been the same. Life has become an adventure as Jesus has shown him who he is, what his gifts are, and has given him many opportunities to use those gifs for God’s glory. Life has become very exciting since that day in his competitor’s office, and he is a satisfied sheep.
Not long ago, I was sharing with some young people about a time in my life when I strayed away from Jesus. I thought I could run my own life, and I felt I didn’t need that religious stuff anymore. This is often the attitude of a young person who has just left home and is feeling his independence. He wants to run his own life. However, after about a year and a half, I was bone dry and empty. It was then that someone pointed me in the direction of the Savior again, and I made a turnaround.
As I pleaded with those young people that day to turn around and come home to him, I, as a pastor and one who loves Jesus and the people he serves, appeal to you today: If you find yourself in this situation, choose life. Choose Jesus. He knows what can make your life work.
If you desire to take that first step back home to a closer relationship with Christ, I encourage you to pray this little prayer with me today. You will recognize it as the last verse of the Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem. However, it has been personalized.
“O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to me, I pray.
Cast out my sin and enter in, be born in me today.
I hear those Christmas angels, their great glad tidings tell
Oh, come to me, abide in me, O Lord, Immanuel.” Amen.
If you are looking for a next step, please write to us. We want to help you on your walk with Jesus Christ. God bless you and have a happy new year with Christ.
Rev. Steve Kramer