By Mark Mullins
I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief comes to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep (John 10:9-11).
1. The contrast
How many times have you been told as a Christian not to be so black and white? Yet the Lord Jesus was nothing if He was not black and white. He spoke of being the light of the world and contrasted a life in Him as light in place of darkness (John 8:12). He offered people a choice between going to heaven or going to hell (Matthew 25:46). Here He presents Himself as the good shepherd who came to give life as against the thief who cameonly to steal, kill and destroy. This was no ordinary thief the Lord was speaking of: this thief is a killer and a destroyer.
To better understand this contrast we might take a moment to ask ourselves about the extraordinary unfairness we see in the world. Why are the young and the talented so often cut off in their prime? I remember a friend of mine from university who had just passed his accountancy exams. He had his whole life before him. Yet that very week he accidentally killed himself with a chainsaw while up a tree. I remember reading about a bridearriving at her wedding on a motorbike. Her dress caught in the wheels and she lost her leg. And what of the mindless massacres we read about when someone runs amok with a gun against defenceless children? The foolish blame God but the wise will go to the Bible for the answers.
When I became a Christian it was a shock to be told that it was the devil (Satan) and not God who was in control of this world. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2, verse 2, that we all used to walk according to the prince of the power of the air that works in the children of disobedience. John tells us in 1 John 5:19 that the whole world lies in wickedness. Acts 26:18 speaks of being turned from the power of Satan to God.
This ruler is the one to whom the Lord is referring, i.e. who brings death, destruction and loss. One would have thought that anyone who discovers this extraordinary reality about our world would immediately flee out of the hands of the devourer and into the arms of the Good Shepherd. So why don’t more leave their lives of wickedness? The Lord Jesus,Himself, provides us with the answer:
This is the condemnation: light has come into the world but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil (John 3:19).
Men are caught by their love of evil.
Do you know about the monkey trap? A nut is left in a cage which allows a monkey to slip in his hand. Once he has grasped the nut he cannot escape without letting go of the nut. But he won’t let go of that nut because he wants it too badly! That is the same with the majority of the human race. Men love their sin and will not give it up even though the warning signs are there in the Bible that the end is destruction.
2. The Deception
The love for sin is of course only part of the answer. There are not many who will say that they love their sin so much that they want nothing to do with the Good Shepherd although regrettably they certainly do exist.
Most prefer to believe they are quite safely in the sheepfold and yet they have never come through to a living relationship with the Lord Jesus, who describes Himself as the door to the sheepfold (John 10:9). John later records the Lord plainly stating that no man comes to the Father but through Him (John 14:6). At the heart of the Lord’s message is repentance from sin (Mark 1:15).
The thief has a different approach. He deceives people into thinking that they have met with the Lord Jesus by dressing himself up as if he were the Lord himself. Paul was terribly concerned that deception would “catch out” Christian believers. In 2 Corinthians 11:1-4 he warns against the devil beguiling us, as he beguiled Eve, into accepting another “Jesus” who is of course not Jesus at all. His warning was not confined to the Corinthian passage. In his parting message to the Ephesian church in Acts 20:28-31 Paul tells them that after his departure savage wolves would come in to devour the flock and that even members of their own church would arise and draw men away after themselves. These warnings are for Christians, about those claiming to be Christians. If Christians could be seduced into following another Jesus how much more those who have never been born again?
Now I appreciate that this could be very depressing and leave everyone defeated. The truth is Paul gave these warnings to alert us to the danger. What a joy to read in Revelation 2:2 that the Ephesians took heed of Paul’s entreaties. There we read they had “tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and found them liars”. The Berean believers were commended for being more noble than the Thessalonians because they searched the scriptures to check that what they had been taught conformed to God’s Word (Acts 17:10-11). If we do the same then we will be kept from the thief.
3. Key to Life
In contrast to the above the Lord Jesus offers us life in all its abundance. He speaks of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in John 7:38 in terms of rivers of living water flowing from the believer.
However the key to receiving this abundant life is in death—death to self which is the hard part. Men who love wickedness will find difficulty in giving it up, but that is the only way for the Christian. The Lord Jesus said,
If any man wants to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23).
In John 12:24 Jesus likens the life of the Christian to a corn of wheat. Unless it falls into the ground and dies it remains alone. This is why water baptism is vital for the Christian. There we act out the transaction that has occurred at the cross. As we go under the water we go to our burial and when we come out of those waters we rise to new life in the power of His resurrection (Romans 6:3-5).
Thewonderful thing is that when we made that transaction with the Lord we are given eternal life:
And this is life eternal, that they might know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent(John 17:3).
There is another aspect of this life which is worth noting.
Under the ceremonial law of Moses it was forbidden to eat blood because “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus17:11). The Christian’s life is in His blood. It is a wonderful life-giving blood even though it is blood that was shed many years ago on the cross. 1 John 1:7 speaks of the blood of Jesus cleansing us from sin as we walk in the light: that blood has not lost its power!
Finally there is a place of safety that the Good Shepherd offers. Our lives are now hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). We are concealed with Christ in God like a precious jewel locked away for safekeeping.
We come to know the voice of the shepherd and learn to follow Him and avoid the stranger (John 10:16). There is no need for us to go astray again if we are like the Bereans and examine the word of God to test all that we are being taught. That is not to say that we will be without difficulty. It is through much tribulation that we enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). However the wonderful secret of the Christian life is that once we are in Christ nothing can separate us from His love—not even death cf. Romans 8:31-39.
I get so concerned when I hear about Christians clinging to the hope of healing when they have become terminally ill. Of course the Lord is able to heal and it is thrilling to hear of such testimonies. However we must not let the possibility of healing rob us of our confidence that “to live is Christ and to die is gain”(Philippians 1:21).
In Romans 8:28 Paul tells us, “all things work together for good to them that love God...”. That is all things; not just some.
A dear friend was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. A few weeks ago I awoke with Romans 8:28 on my mind and I knew it was for her. Even cancer will work for the good of the Christian.
While I was in New Zealand the newspapers were full of the courageous sacrifice of Austin Hemmings1 who went to the rescue of a stranger and paid with his life. Even that tragic event was in the hands of the Lord and was meant for good. The abundant life in Christ is not ended in death: that is where it emerges in all its fullness.
This article is based on a talk given by Mark Mullins at Bethlehem Community Church in Tauranga, New Zealand, 28 September 2008.