How God Makes It All Personal Through Jesus

Good Shepherd by Henry Ossawa Tanner

A sermon idea based on John 10:1-10.

The Big Idea

God isn’t far off and removed, distant and separate from his creation. He is personally and intimately involved with us and, in Jesus, shows us just how personal our relationship with him can be as we learn to hear and recognize his voice.

John 10:1-10 NRSV

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. [2] The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. [3] The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. [4] When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. [5] They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” [6] Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

[7] So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. [8] All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. [9] I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. [10] The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

God speaks. That is, God makes himself known and reveals (unveils) himself to human beings, whom he designed to be relational so that we might hear. So that we might listen. So that we might pray and converse with our Creator.

We know God has unveiled himself to us in nature. As the psalmist said,

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world…

~ Psalm 19:1-4a NRSV

And the writer of Hebrews said, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2 NRSV).

The Bible, for Christians, is one of the ways God has made himself known. Having inspired its various authors and providentially guided its collection, canonization, preservation, and translation, God has certainly given us some great words about who he is and how different people in history have heard from him.

But the supreme way in which the Creator has made himself known to us is in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus and the Father are one. Those who have seen Jesus have seen God. If you want to know what God is like, look at the record we have of Jesus’ life.

Is it any wonder that God would continue to break through the silence to speak to us today through his ever-present Spirit? Different interpreters among Christians have different understandings about the ways in which God speaks today and how much weight we should give to one’s testimony of having heard from him.

I’ll leave that to you, but I will say that it’s a rather sad and strange theology that insists God stopped speaking with the close of the biblical canon and has nothing else to say other than to give us insight as we read the Bible. Personally, I once subscribed to this line of theology and would often quip, “If you want to hear God speak, read your Bible.”

The suggestion is that in order to know anything about God, we must receive the testimony of other humans who heard from God many centuries ago after it has been passed through various ages and generations, translated and re-translated, and finally packaged in a somewhat modern English-language (assuming you’re reading these notes in English, that is) translation either commissioned by a for-profit publishing house identifying with some major segment of modern theology or else commissioned by a long-dead British monarch.

And what do we do with all of the issues that arise from differences in the few copies of ancient manuscripts (no one has the original autographs today) that survive today? Or the ways in which translators may have been biased by their own traditions?

And what, also, do we do with the significant gaps between the cultural conditions under which the authors of scripture lived and our own culture today?

I don’t write any of this to disparage the Bible or its role in communicating to us the words of God about himself, his creation, or his redemptive plan.

Rather I lay all of this out to make a significant point about Jesus. Jesus, himself, taught his followers that they could hear and know (recognize) his voice.

In Jesus’ teachings about being the Gate and the Good Shepherd found in John 10, he unveils several significant truths about how God relates to his people.

1. God wants to have a conversation with his people.

I used to believe this passage was more about who gets in and who is kept out of God’s flock than about the relationship he has with those who are listening.

This passage makes plain the fact that God wants us to know (by direct experience) his voice. And in knowing his voice, we’ll be able to pick it out from the crowd of competing voices that rattle around in our heads and surround us in our culture.

2. God wants to protect us from the lies and insinuations that disagree with his voice.

This passage falls in the middle of the part of Jesus’ ministry in which he had daily confrontations with the false teachers of his day – the Pharisees and religious leaders who sought to use rituals and rules to create false power structures, which of course, would benefit them more than anyone.

He seems to assert that, instead of listening to those voices, we should be listening to his voice. And the more we learn his voice, the more ready we are to deflect the discouraging and derailing words that come from other sources.

3. God wants us to experience more and more life as we relate to him.

And why does Jesus make God known to us in a way that would silence the competing voices that disagree with God’s perspective? Because in him – that is, in our relationship and union with him – there is life to be had in greater and greater abundance.

Deep within you and me, in that most intimate and holy place in the temples of our souls, there is a place of quiet communion and contemplation where God wills to meet with us and give us life as he envisions it.

It’s simply up to us to train our ears.

 


About the Cover Art: Tanner, Henry Ossawa, 1859-1937. Good Shepherd, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

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