Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hired Hands

Last week we talked about what it means to be an unbelieving witness. As part of the gospel, we are all called to be witnesses to the risen Christ, and it is possible to be a false witness. As believers in an unbelieving culture, our unbelief grows the more time we swim in the culture, and when we witness the glory of God in the world, our immediate reaction is to think of that glory as being man's, or of being part of a philosophical or religious system that is not Christian. By immersing ourselves in scripture, the writings of the saints, and prayer we quench that unbelief in us.

Chapter Ten of the Gospel of John is quite interesting, because Christ makes three analogies to himself. He refers to himself as the shepherd of the sheepfold, who calls the sheep by name and they know his voice. Then, he refers to himself as the gate itself, through which the sheep pass into the sheepfold. No one can get into the sheepfold except through him. He then refers to himself, in the passage we read today (John 10:11-18) as the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. These are powerful images of Christ, but I want to focus on the three alternatives he gives to the gatekeeper, the gate, and the shepherd. I especially want to focus on the last one, because it is another example of unbelieving witness.

First, Jesus is the shepherd as opposed to a . . . stranger. The shepherd calls the sheep by name and they follow him, because they know his voice. As followers of Christ, we hear his voice and follow him, and we can tell his voice from that of a stranger. A stranger's voice, we wouldn't recognize, and we would not follow. When we encounter alien faiths and philosophies, as Christians, we find something wrong with them, something amiss, and we don't follow the sound. When Christ finds us, his lost sheep, he gives us his word, so that we can understand what his voice sounds like, and we can tell his voice from a stranger's voice.

Jesus is also the gate itself. No one can get to the Father except through him. This is opposed to . . . thieves and bandits. We have advanced from stranger to thief. The sheep do not listen to thieves either, but whereas a stranger does not cause the sheep harm when it refuses to follow, a thief comes after the sheep to kill and destroy. The sheepfold is everlasting life, and so we obtain that through the gate himself.

Finally, we have our passage today. Jesus is the GOOD shepherd, as opposed to the hired hand. Now a hired hand does not seem worse than a thief who wants to destroy the sheep, does he? Well, actually he is worse. Whereas the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, the hired hand will . . . sacrifice his sheep to spare his own life. When he sees the wolf coming, he runs away. He is only a hired hand, he does not own the sheep, like the good shepherd does, and so he has nothing invested in the sheep.

Think of all the hired hands we have in the world. The president. Congress. Our governors and rulers. They will not lay down their lives for us. They will run away and sacrifice us to the wolves. Only Christ will lay down his life—and he HAS laid down his life—for us. We mentioned those world leaders, but here I am. I'm a hired hand, too, and my job is to lead you to the good shepherd, but many times we preachers are tempted is to run away and leave everyone to the wolves.

The reason we have such conflict in the churches, denominational and non-denominational splits, schism, and strife, is because they are run by hired hands, who are not leading the sheep to the good shepherd, or they are pretending to be good shepherds themselves, but they lie. We can take a lesson from Israel if we look at Ezekiel 34:

Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

Leading the sheep astray, running away when the wolf comes, scattering them and leaving them for the wild animals, that is worse than being a thief or a robber. At least the thief has the identity of a thief. The hired hand is supposed to be the helper of the good shepherd, but he turns out to be a self-serving scoundrel PRETENDING to be a helper. The deceit makes the hired hand the worst of the lot. We see this all throughout scripture. Look at Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful;” The ungodly are strangers, the sinners are thieves, and scornful are false leaders.

So this week the problem is not unbelieving witness but unbelieving helpers. The unbelieving hired hand who runs away when the danger comes and sacrifices all the sheep to the wolves. What is the solution? If we study this whole passage of scripture we find that Christ gives us the answer. It's another “I Am” statement beyond gatekeeper, gate, and shepherd. After Jesus tells the Pharisees these three analogies, the Pharisees respond in verse 19:

Again the Jews were divided because of these words. Many of them were saying, ‘He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?’ Others were saying, ‘These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’ What is this about opening the eyes of the blind? Well Chapter 10 of John is the second half of Chapter 9, where Jesus opens the eyes of a man born blind. Because this is the Gospel of John, each miracle Jesus performs is a visual illustration of an I Am statement Jesus makes about himself. In this case, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” Look at John 8:12:

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.'” The next chapter, Jesus demonstrates this in a miraculous way by giving someone WHO WAS BORN BLIND sight. We have been walking in darkness from the beginning of our lives, and Jesus is the only way, we can have light.

Is this the solution? That Jesus is the light of the world? In a way, it is. When we look at the words of Jesus, he opens our eyes. When we read scripture, it opens the eyes of the heart. How do we tell a hired hand who wants to lead you to the good shepherd as opposed to a hired hand who wants to lead you astray and run away when the wolves get ya? To answer that, you know this book inside and out, and you know that Jesus is the light of the world. You know that God's word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths. You know from the first letter of John how to test the spirits:

1 John 4:2: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” Jesus Christ, the messiah, the anointed one of God, has come in the flesh. Who do the pharisees say that Jesus is? Do they say that he is the Christ, the messiah,the anointed one of God? Back to John 10. The Jews were divided. Many said that he has a demon, but others were saying not. The ones who said he had a demon were hired hands who would lead people away from Christ. The others probably became Christians.

Jesus asks Peter, who do you say that I am? Peter responds as a hired hand who will lead people to the good shepherd. You are the messiah, the holy son of God. Jesus is the light of the world. God's word is a lamp unto our feet. Know this. Blessed is the man, who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful, but his delight is in the law of the Lord—today we have the complete word of God at out fingers, so we can read: but his delight is in the Word of the Lord, and in his Word he meditates day and night.