I have come that they might have life and have it to the full
For the next few weeks leading up to and during the feast of Christmas. We will be thinking about the wonder of the Incarnation of God.
Our faint suspicions that human life is precious and significant are answered with emphatic affirmatives as the God whom the universe cannot contain chose to be contained by human flesh. The Maker became a man. Jesus Christ.
Of course the great question is why? why did God come? what was the reason for this divine visitation? And in these sermons we’ll get the answers direct from the lips of Jesus himself – stating the reasons why he has come. And today’s explanation is there in v10: ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, I have come that they might have life and have it to the full.’
Life to the full – that’s what we all want don’t we? Who wouldn’t want that? But the idea that we would find that life in Jesus Christ, in Christianity, in Church! Our culture tends to think the very opposite to this verse.
Gary Ross’s 1998 film Pleasantville set in the 1950s begins in black and white. Life in Pleasantville is almost perfect but rather dull. It is only with the liberation of sexuality and art that black and white turns to living colour. It’s a film about revolution about change. But implicitly it’s saying that the old Christian values are by their very nature limiting, they will impoverish you, enfeeble you. They will rob you of life to the full.
Those of us who are Christians can be troubled by this. Jesus says he’s come to bring fullness of life but we say I don’t know if I experience this fullness of life. The Christian life can feel dull. We’re tempted to look elsewhere.
However Pleasantville is honest about the fact that the new freedoms to pursue happiness purely for myself bring very negative consequences. The search for life is still on.
Perhaps our biggest problem is that we don’t really know what fullness of life is. We assume it is to do with excitement, pleasure, fulfillment. Jesus will tell us in this passage that it is to do with Care, forgiveness and relationship..
John chapter 10 is Jesus’ last public address in John’s gospel. He’s making huge claims for himself. He likens himself to a Good Shepherd. He also likens himself to the gate of a sheep-fold. It maybe he’s mixing two metaphors or it may have been the custom for Shepherds then to lie in front of the opening to the sheepfold. So being both Shepherd and Gate. Whatever the case – Jesus is making tremendous claims for himself.
By calling himself a Shepherd. His listeners would have understood him as claiming to be a leader, or even a King. Following on from King David who was taken from tending sheep as a young boy to become Israel’s greatest King. So the leaders and Kings in Israel’s history were called Shepherds. Jesus says he is a Good Shepherd. More than thet he is The Good Shepherd
Jesus is the True King
That’s his claim. It’s a claim to uniqueness. Jesus contrasts himself with others – False shepherds: thieves and robbers v1,v7 – who destroy the sheep; strangers v5 and hired hands v12 – who don’t care for and fail to protect the sheep. Jesus, on the other hand, is, vv2-4: the recognized owner of the sheep fold; the sheep know him and trust him; he leads them v9 to pasture and…. he will lay down his life v11, v15 for the sheep!
The context here is important. Jesus is speaking v1 to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of his day. According to the previous chapter Jesus has just restored the sight of a man who was blind from birth: he is the good shepherd. And the Pharisees, who are supposed to be shepherds of the people, are spitting mad with jealousy– insulting the man, throwing him out of the synagogue and calling Jesus a sinner!
Now many generations before Jesus came, through the prophet Ezekiel God had rebuked unfaithful leaders: Ezekiel 34:2 Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? ...you clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals.. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured ...You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
The leaders of Israel in Ezekiel’s day, perhaps like the Pharisees Jesus speaks to, were less like Shepherds more like butchers! Thieves that steal and kill. But listen to this: then and there through Ezekiel God promised that there would be a day when corrupt leadership would be taken away and a true Shepherd would come. Here’s what God said, Ezekiel 34:
I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays, I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.
I will come says God. Jesus is more than a great leader, a great King. He is God who has come. The True Shepherd. The True King. ‘I have come that they might have life and have it to the full.’
The life thatour God Jesus has come to bring is his Shepherd care.
Today in our City there is a great hunger for the care of our souls. The great promises of affluence and pleasure have let us down and left us empty and vulnerable. Our leaders – political and religious – are under more scrutiny than ever before.
If we are outside of Jesus Christ. If we do not hear his voice and follow him then we remain dependent on mere human leaders. Who at best are weak, at worst are corrupt.
The experience of Christians is not that the Good Shepherd necessarily removes all our difficulties or heals all our ills. But that his presence and care in the midst of the brokenness gives assurance and hope and even joy. Just as he promised - He finds us in our lostness and gives us a home, he brings us back when we stray, he binds our injuries and strengthens our weaknesses.
The life Jesus has come to bring begins with his Shepherd Care. He is the True King.
Jesus is the dying King
Several times in the passage Jesus says that he will lay down his life for the sheep. v11, v15 vv17-18
Normally the death of a Palestinian Shepherd meant disaster for the sheep. Much more so the death of a King meant disaster for the people! - You never knew what was going to happen. You would do everything to preserve the life of a King. God save the King. Long to reign over us!
But Jesus says the chief reason that he has come is in order to die. Look at v18 No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. The death of JC is absolutely central: ¼ of the gospel of Luke, 1/3 of Matthew and Mark and ½ of the gospel of John is taken up with the last week of the life of Jesus, culminating in his death. Why is it so important?
This very specific phrase that Jesus uses ‘to lay down his life’ carries the idea of a sacrifice. Jesus’s death is a sacrifice. In the words of John the Baptist back in chapter 1 – Jesus is ‘the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’
In the OT sacrificial system on the holiest day in the calendar – the day of atonement. The High Priest, the representative of the whole people would lay his hand upon the head of a spotless lamb bound on the altar and then the lamb would be slain.
It was a graphic illustration that because of their impure hearts and thoughts and lives, before a holy God the people deserved to die. And yet God would make provision for their sins to be transferred onto the head of the lamb - slain in their stead..
Now of course – as the NT book of Hebrews says, the death of lambs wasn’t what paid for the sins of the people. These were all pictures pointing forward to the once for all saving sacrifice that was to come. The true lamb of God, the perfect man Jesus Christ – who lays down his life to take away the sins of the world. Who lays down his life – that we might never lose ours but have life and have it to the full.
So you see that the life Jesus has come to bring is not only his Shepherd care but the provision of his death. Forgiveness. Salvation, life. He removes the judgement of God that hung over us. He takes it upon himself and deals with it for us. This is the life that we all need. Outside of faith in Jesus Christ, God’s judgement still hangs over us.
See, sometimes life is found in the place you least expect to find it.
HMS Titanic was the ultimate ship. Sailing with her was the ultimate experience life had to offer. She was vast, fast and unsinkable. She carried the richest passengers dining in her sumptuous restaurants; dancing in her ornate ballroom; reclinig in the lavish cabin suites. Yet when the end of that great ship so prematurely came, none of those things – the chandeliers and the sherry – could offer life. When the end came life could only be found in one unexpected place – in the life boats. The unsightly boats that had been reduced in number because they cluttered the polished decks and were largely ignored and considered unnecessary! Sometimes life is found in the place you least expect to find it.
Jesus says, ‘I have come that they might have life and have it to the full.
3. Jesus is the Personal King
Christianity is the only religion in the world that is based on a friendship with its founder; rooted not in practices or rules but in relationship.
I became a Christian aged 12 – I had been invited to a number of meetings where i heard the Bible preached. It was like nothing i had ever heard before, because i knew in my heart that God was speaking to me, that he somehow knew me, that he was calling me through what i was hearing about Jesus. Extraordinary thing. I recognized his voice. I was being drawn into relationship.
We know don’t we that Relationship, knowing another and being known is rooted in communication. We speak to and listen to one another. Jesus says v3 The sheep listen to [the good Shepherd’s] 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.
Jesus has come inorder to draw people like you and me into relationship. And what a relationship!!! Look at v14 – it’s one of the most amazing verses in the Bible: 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.
Sometimes Fiona and I will have a hug. (Often when we need to make up for something) We’ll have a hug in the kitchen. And then we’ll feel a little person. It might be Hannah or Becca or Zac or all 3 - squeezing in. There’s always room for then to get into the middle of our hug.
Jesus says an extraordinary thing in verse 14: That he draws us into a personal relationship a knowing of him and a being known that is just as deep and real as that shared between the Father and the Son. Isn’t that extraordinary?? In fact – to be in relationship with Jesus is to be drawn into the loving eternal embrace of the Father and the Son; into the very life of God;
Listen to what Jesus says in his prayer to God the Father in John chapter 17 This is eternal life (abundant life, life to the full) that they might know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Jesus says I have come that they might have life and have it to the full
And this is what he meant – personal relationship with the only true God through Jesus, the Son. Wow!
So – this is the abundant life that we are invited into. If you are a Christian this is what you have received. Not – excitement, fulfillment and fun. Something profoundly deeper – the life of the Good Shepherd himself: his care; his salvation, his welcome into the divine life of God! Let us ponder on these things to enjoy the life that we have received.