"The Abundant Life of Grace"#84-36
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 7, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: John 10:1-10
So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and he will go in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Christ has risen! He has risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Today, Jesus speaks to us about sheep, sheep pens, and shepherds in John, chapter 10. In the first six verses of this chapter in John's Gospel, Jesus talks about the door a shepherd goes through compared to the way a thief or a robber would gain access to the sheepfold. He discusses the way a shepherd calls his sheep by name and leads them to feed in the pasture. Those sheep, they won't go with a stranger, Jesus said. No, they run from a stranger because they don't know the stranger's voice. That is how the sheep and the shepherd; that's how they work together.
Do you understand what Jesus is saying? Can you relate to the picture that Jesus was painting as He used this sheep-filled figure of speech? The Pharisees didn't. In fact, John tells us that the premier and educated church leaders of the day "did not understand what Jesus was telling them" (John 10:6). They weren't thinking about shepherds and sheep. And, honestly, dear friends, I would imagine that the majority of you don't dwell on the details of what it means to be a shepherd on a regular basis. When you make your way through your week, as you handle stress and responsibilities, when you ponder your troubles and challenges, as you think about family and health and finances and work, when you finally sit down and take a deep breath, I would imagine that your first thought is probably not, "You know, I could really use a shepherd."
Of course, when I hear Psalm 23, I think that figuratively about Jesus, my Shepherd. I love hearing that "the Lord is my Shepherd" and that He leads me beside still waters and He restores my soul. I love hearing about the tender care given by God, as it is expressed in the Shepherd verses of the Bible, it is beautiful; it's refreshing; but I don't regularly think about life with actual sheep.
I'm not living on the sheep wavelength. How about you? And, since I'm a city boy, I don't have natural instincts for such things. So, while there is some excellent sheep raising going on out there, and while I've seen some beautiful 4-H and FFA sheep specimens, overall, people often miss the power of this teaching because we are so disconnected from such things today.
But, to tell you the truth, Jesus' goal in John, chapter 10, was not to make you a shepherding and sheep expert. The Savior was not trying to promote the wool industry. There was something more going on in this chapter and it has to do with the abundant life of grace that God provides for you. A clue to what Jesus was communicating in all of His sheep talk is that He also called Himself a Door.
That's right, Jesus called Himself "the door of the sheep" (John 10:7). When He spoke about sheep and shepherds, He was talking about life. He was talking about grace in life. He was talking about His help, His leadership, His faithfulness to us, His sheep in need of help and shepherding. In the verse before this section of Scripture, Jesus healed a man born blind. This man had grown up to be a helpless and poor outcast in society. He was pushed aside. He was looked down upon, but Jesus approached him, He restored him, and He gave him new life. You see, when Jesus brought up the subject of sheep, He was talking about grace-the undeserved love of God for your life. How can you be sure about that? Well, because Jesus said this, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep." He put Himself into the story!
This is really significant because His listeners, and that includes the Pharisees, they were leaving Him out of the story. Everything was just fine the way they were doing it. Their shepherding system was the way they wanted it to be. But Jesus let them know that the most important thing was missing: God's saving grace.
This is the problem that I want to tackle with you today: the problem of leaving God's grace behind. How could it happen? How could anyone ignore the abundant life God provides in His Son Jesus? After all, think about who the Pharisees were at the time. They were not villainous people. They were devout and mature followers of God, Yahweh, the Lord. They studied the Scriptures. They were dedicated to worship and prayer. What happened to them? How did they overlook, and even resist, the message that Jesus was bringing?
Well, let me speak to you, then, heart to heart. I think it's safe to say that a good number of you who are listening to this broadcast are fairly dedicated and mature followers of Christ. I also understand and give thanks to God that many of you who are listening right now are new in your faith or are exploring Jesus for the first time. I rejoice in what the Holy Spirit is doing in your life and I pray that you know and receive the abundant grace of God today. This grace will transform your life now and forever. This is a precious gift! If you do not know Jesus, hear the Good News. He died for you and He brings you new and everlasting life today.
But I also need to have an honest conversation with people who have walked with Jesus for a while. This conversation may help give you new believers a heads up on what can happen later on in your faith journey. Hear me, veteran Christians, those of you who have a degree of spiritual maturity happening in your life; like the Pharisees, you have been in the trenches of prayer and worship, faith-study and faith-testing. Some of you have many years of Christ-following under your belts. That is why you need to hear this word of Jesus from John 10. It's a word to mature believers. Here's what he says, "Watch out, watch out for the danger of leaving God's grace behind."
How could that happen? Let me highlight three ways you may leave the abundant grace of God behind. The first is in your faith activity. Once you find yourself in the thick of the Christian community, you can encounter some hazards. One is that you get very busy. You're volunteering, you're studying, you're meeting, you're task forcing, you're singing, you're chaperoning, you're participating, and you are pot-lucking. You're going full tilt because you love God and you love what He has done in the lives of His people. But busyness can become a burden. Too many demands and the inability to keep up can make you tired; then bitter; then feeling guilty and inadequate. Equating your faith with a full schedule can cause you to become resentful. And, sometimes, when you feel like your faith is burning you out, you may wonder how a tired and miserable person like yourself, who just can't take another meeting or another phone call, can really call herself or himself a Christian. Your standard of participation in the community of Jesus has become keeping up instead of being loved by God. You see what happens, don't you? You are tempted to leave God's grace behind.
There's another hazard that happens as you get busy with your faith. As a mature believer, you have years, even decades, of contact with the Word of God. You've attended worship services, you've heard sermons, you've taken classes, you've gone on retreats. Some of you have outlasted several pastors at your church. You are no stranger to the Kingdom of God. But as you grow in knowledge, you may begin to believe that you totally understand the mind of God. You have a lock on how He works. But then you see some things you can't figure out. There are puzzling events. There are tragic turns in people's lives. Suddenly, when you realize that the good and solid growth you've experienced still doesn't tap into the mind of God and still can't explain or control the mystery of His ways in this world, you may become frustrated and disillusioned. You may even feel like giving up on Him. You may be tempted to make up answers so you and others will feel better. Do you see what happens? You can leave God's grace behind. You begin to believe that your knowledge is more important than your dependence on God's grace and your trust in Him.
So, take note: your faith activity can put you in danger of leaving God's grace behind. A second way you may leave God's grace behind is by forgetting your faith beginnings. There was a time when you were helpless. You were lost. You needed to be found. It may have been as an infant brought to the healing waters and promises of baptism. It may have been as a teen or as an adult reached by Christ in a wonderful way. But as the years have passed your lostness and helplessness have become distant memories. You're more secure in your walk with God. You are more knowledgeable. You're not shaken by much. It seems like there was never a time when you weren't walking with the Lord. But be careful! This may be a time in your life when you have a difficult time understanding those who are fragile in their faith. You may feel less pliable to meet the needs of new believers, of children and adults who are just starting out. It may become difficult for you to walk humbly alongside of people who don't get it yet, who don't have the same background, the same history. As a mature follower of Jesus, you may be in danger of forgetting that you too were lost, so for others, you leave God's grace behind.
These are tough words, aren't they? I hear these words. How many times have I overlooked the tenderness of the newly found child of God, the thrill of learning the basics of the faith with Jesus? How many times have I beat myself up because I wasn't getting enough done in my kingdom work? How many times have I cringed in discomfort because a person new to the church was doing something unexpected or different? These are hard words. But Jesus wants His sheep to hear His voice. So there is one more area I want to highlight with you today.
A third way you may leave God's grace behind is by neglecting faith friendships. A follower of Jesus tries to live a holy life. A follower of Christ pushes immorality away and fights the fight of faith against profanity and negative thinking and gossip and promiscuity. A follower of Christ tries to grow in controlling temper, in fostering devotion to family, and in integrity in life. But with that growth in Christian living, you may also develop an intolerance for people who do not seem to be living holy lives. You may find yourself becoming critical and less compassionate. You may find yourself wondering how could God tolerate so much sinful behavior. You may start to distance yourself from sinners; and, thereby, you leave grace behind for yourself. You may become cynical. As you read the papers and watch TV, you hear about how awful the world is and you say, "There is no hope. Nobody can make a difference anymore. The generations coming after us are lost." What happens? You leave grace behind as you lose hope and give up befriending people who don't know Jesus.
I think you get the picture. This is a real danger along the way of faith, my friend. The free gift of God's grace alone through faith in Jesus; it can be pushed out of our lives by our own volition. Achievement, self-righteousness, and exclusion can sneak in and take its place.
So, Jesus, hear it again, Jesus puts Himself back into the story in John, chapter 10. Jesus says it straight, "I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved. He'll go in. He'll go out. He'll find pasture" (John 10:9). In your faith activity, Jesus makes it very clear that the only reason you do what you do is because of the abundant grace of God! The only reason you understand anything is because of God's grace, revealed in His One and Only Son! And in everything you cannot understand, God's grace will keep you strong. It will bring you home. Paul gave us great words in Ephesians 2, didn't he? "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10).
If you start to forget your humble beginnings, the Word of God reminds you that you are where you are by God's beautiful grace! In verses 12 and 13 of Ephesians 2, Paul adds this, "Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off, you have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:12-13). You are one who was lost; but you are the one who is now found. You are here to share the Good News of God's grace in Jesus with those who are still lost.
And, as you see many people who don't know Jesus, just remember; God's grace is the answer for them; just like God's grace is the answer for you. Jesus said in John 10: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep...I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them in also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd." Jesus Himself if the Door. Jesus Himself is the Friend of sinners. He is the Hope of the world. He calls you to form faith friendships that will bless people with new life.
Friends in Christ, today Jesus puts Himself into your story again. He says to all people, both the new and the mature in faith, "I am your door. I am your Good Shepherd. Do you remember Me?" Your life and mine; it is full. It's abundant; not because you've accumulated years, but because you have received God's wondrous grace. Don't let thieves of grace break into your life. Today, remember that Jesus' sheep story in John, chapter 10, is your story because Jesus is in the story for you!
Action in Ministry for May 07, 2017
Guest: Dr. Tim Saleska Your Place in God's Plan
ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and this is Action In Ministry; a call to action in response to all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
SELTZ: No matter where you are, God has a plan for your life; a plan for your life, a plan for your salvation.
ANNOUNCER: And we have a resource we'd like to share with you today. It's a booklet titled, Your Place in God's Plan and it's a great reminder of how God can use all of the things in our lives. And joining us is Dr. Tim Saleska, on the faculty at Concordia Seminary since 1997, and he's currently one of the deans there.
SELTZ: Dr. Saleska, glad to have you with us today.
SALESKA: I'm very happy to be here.
SELTZ: Now, Tim, listen. Many people think that they're not going to be happy unless they find themselves, but it seems that people never really find what they're seeking and even when they do, they're not sure about that sense of purpose. Why is this? What are they looking for?
SALESKA: I mean, I think the whole question of how you find meaning in life and purpose in life has become a really big problem in society today. I think if you are of the opinion or believe that the world consists of nothing more than what we see...
SALESKA: ...if it's all material, if we're atoms right down to our core, then really there is no meaning or purpose in life. You're just a bunch of atoms, a happy accident, so to speak...
SELTZ: ...moving through space.
SALESKA: ...moving through space and a lot of people when they begin to become aware of their own mortality and the fact that they are just this kind of speck in the whole universe...
SALESKA: They really struggle with the question of meaning or purpose. That, I think, is where the Christian story... we have to have a sense of mystery and appreciation at the mystery of it because it's not so much that we have to find purpose or meaning, it's actually the meaning or purpose has found us. That's how we kind of look at our sense of vocation, our sense of calling in the world...
SALESKA: That's how we begin to look at what meaning do we have. It's not something we go searching for. It's something that by grace we have been given. That's mysterious.
SELTZ: Kind of unfolds...yeah.
SALESKA: It's a mysterious kind of thing how that works. I love that.
SELTZ: Well you talked about that in a speech, I think, in Ann Arbor. You talked... like a personal story to this too, right?
SELTZ: Talk a little bit about that.
SALESKA: It's a very personal story. My oldest daughter, Rebecca, is a woman of extraordinary talents and abilities, commitment and passion. We saw that very early on. We always remarked, when she was three years old, she was born with one foot out the door. Very, very strong-willed and she had a great compassion for people. But when she was growing up, Diana and I didn't quite know what to make of her. All of our parenting strategies kind of fell on deaf ears. She refused to be bent to our will. The strongest willed person I have ever known and she is to this day. My wife and her really butted heads because my wife is very strong willed as well.
SALESKA: When Becky graduated from college, she was a public health... and always interested in inner-city care. That was kind of her major. So, she went in to Teach for America in LA public schools and taught math and science to 7th and 8th grades in Crenshaw and Southgate, if you know where those areas are.
SELTZ: Oh yeah, I know where those are at. Absolutely.
SALESKA: The first time we saw her in the classroom, we couldn't believe the control that she had over the class. Diana and I would not have lasted a week in that atmosphere, believe me. She had no assistant, no materials; it was unbelievable circumstances. That's when I began to see how the Lord was working in her life in ways that... from a human perspective or earthly perspective, it didn't make sense. Things began to click.
SELTZ: So, it unfolds. We see that in the Bible too, right? I mean, like Peter; he was bold but then there were times he didn't know how to keep his mouth shut and yet God used him in so many ways to spread the gospel.
SALESKA: Yeah, I mean it's an amazing thing. Think about the Apostle Paul. He realizes... I mean in Galatians he says this as he's reflecting on it that the Lord called him from the womb before he was born. He, kind of, only senses that after the fact though; after you see how the Lord's working in your life. So, it's really... as Christians, we begin to interpret things from this perspective of God's hand. At ground level, it just looks like circumstances or happenstance or accident, but all of a sudden you can begin to see the hand of God shaping it as we look with the eyes of faith. It's kind of cool. Again, another mystery for us to rejoice in and stand in awe at, I believe.
SELTZ: Because it's His love compelling all of this.
SALESKA: Yeah, that's right.
SELTZ: Somehow God takes all of us as broken as we might feel at times, and He paints that beautiful picture of His plan for us and for others even through us. Dr. Saleska, thank you so much for joining us today.
SALESKA: I'm very happy to be here. It was great.
SELTZ: That's our Action In Ministry segment today; to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.
ANNOUNCER: And for your free copy of the booklet Your Place in God's Plan, go to lutheranhour.org. Click on Action In Ministry. You'll also find more of our conversation with Dr. Tim Saleska. Or call 1-855-john316. That's 1-855-564-6316.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for May 07, 2017
Topic: How is God With Us Today?
ANNOUNCER: How is God with us today? That'll be our question for Pastor Gregory Seltz. I'm Mark Eischer. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we hear reassurance of God's presence. Before Jesus ascended into heaven He said that He would be with us always, even to the very end of the age. But the question is; how does that work? How is God with us today?
SELTZ: Mark, I love this question because I am very passionate about proclaiming our living God Who is present with us right now. God is not just a thought. Our Savior is not Someone Whom we merely remember fondly. He is personally with us.
ANNOUNCER: God has quite a track record of being with His people in a personal way.
SELTZ: That's very true. You remember in the very first book of the Bible, we hear that God walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day and He spoke with the man and the woman. He was present with them-ultimately to let them know about their salvation from sin.
ANNOUNCER: Later God spoke with Noah, with Abraham. He wrestled with Jacob. He appeared to Moses in a burning bush and He defended the people of Israel against Egypt by appearing in pillars of cloud and fire. It seems God is always close to His chosen people.
SELTZ: And, of course, God's presence filled both the tabernacle and the temple as He lived with His people. God's presence was a source of comfort and accountability as well as being a witness to all people that this was the living God who loved and rescued His people.
ANNOUNCER: That word "tabernacle" or tent, that leads to another powerful manifestation of God's presence.
SELTZ: It's one of my favorites. John, chapter one, tells us, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). That verse refers to Jesus. It says, "He made His dwelling, His tabernacle, among us."
ANNOUNCER: That connects that word "dwelling" to the word "tabernacle."
SELTZ: It sure does. God's dependable and real presence was manifested concretely then and concretely now, most fully in Jesus. That's just the way God works. He loves us so much that He stays close to His people.
ANNOUNCER: All right, but what happened after Jesus ascended? Did God's normal practice of being present change somehow?
SELTZ: Yeah, it did; but it even became more intimate if you think about it. Listen to the words of Jesus to His disciples just before He prepared His last days on earth. He took the bread and cup of wine during the last supper and said, "Take, eat; this is my body...Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Then He says, "I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Matthew 26:26-29). Did you catch what Jesus did?
ANNOUNCER: It sounds like He was letting His disciples know that He would continue to be with them in their eating and drinking of that bread and wine until they saw Him again personally in heaven.
SELTZ: Exactly! There has never been a time since the creation of the universe that God has not been personally present with us. It is still true today. We call it God's incarnational, in the flesh, sacramental action.
ANNOUNCER: God uses tools that we call the "means of grace."
SELTZ: In fact, that's a very important answer to our listener's question. He asks how is God with us today? Well, by being present in strategic delivery points of His grace.
ANNOUNCER: Where else would we encounter God's presence in addition to the Lord's Supper?
SELTZ: Remember the Bible says God's Word is living and active. We encounter our Savior in the words of Scripture. Remember what Peter said to the crowds in Acts, chapter two, "Repent and be baptized every one of you" here it comes "in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the Holy Spirit."
ANNOUNCER: So, wherever God's Name is proclaimed, there He is.
SELTZ: There He is; in His Word, His Name is connected to water in Baptism, His presence in the supper; His Names connects to these gifts-the means of grace-and they deliver the presence of God and God's gifts to us. If you're ever wondering where God is and if He'll show up in your life, look at your baptism and say, "He is with me! He is IN me!" If you ever crave closeness to Jesus, go to the altar and receive His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine. Jesus is really, truly present in His words, the water, the bread and the wine by the power of His Name. That'll strengthen you; that'll renew you.
ANNOUNCER: This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"The King of Love My Shepherd Is" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Wide Open Stand the Gates" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)