"The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” - John 10:17-18
"The best sharing of the Gospel comes from people who are at rest" MW
Last week, I had a chance to lead chapel at Wisconsin Lutheran College, and I was assigned the above text as the final point for their celebration of "Good Shepherd" week. As I prayed over the text and what to say and what God might be putting on my heart to share with the college students and the staff, I could not escape the over arching point - that Jesus was willing. That was the guidance given to me as a starting point based on the themes for the various days that week, and as I stared at the text and read John 10 front and back, I came to see these passages as the exclamation point to one of my favorite texts in all of Scripture. Jesus came to give life to the full and... it would cost him his life and... he did it willingly!
Jesus has come through this chapter reminding us of the reality, we are all really like sheep. A lot more helpless than we think we are A lot more prone to wandering than we really believe we can be. With a lot more enemies than we can fathom. He reminds us that there is only one Gate that leads to life, all the other doors we walk through will end in the hands of a thief, a liar and a murderer. He reminds us of his heart, his willingness to sacrifice himself in the defense of and for the lives of these sheep, not just his compassion for them, but his deep love for them. And he reminds us that he is not satisfied with the flock he has, he wants ALL to know the way that leads to life to the full and his willingness to go the distance and make this a reality. And then comes his exclamation point, he is loved by his Father, who loves that he lays down his life. And in doing so WE ARE LOVED, because the only one who COULD do anything about our condition and position DID something - he laid down his life and by his Father's love, picked it back up again.
If you have grown up around church world, you've heard stories like this. If you haven't, this is an illustration into what the bible says God has done for you and me. We had no relationship with God, no relationship with the author of lasting "good". We were lost, nobody would save us. Even the bible notes that nobody is going to die for someone unless they are a really really really good person... and even then they are only willing to maybe dare to die. The sacrifice Jesus is speaking of is of course the Cross. His victory over death, hell and Satan was sealed when he resurrected from the dead (picked up his life) and now WE have a shepherd who not only knows the way, the truth and the life, but IS the way the truth and the life.
The question eventually comes around to "How ought we to respond to what Christ has done for me?". If this is what God has done for me, what is a reasonable response for me his son, his daughter? As I sat with this text there were two responses that were wrestling inside me. One was that, if Jesus was willing to sacrifice his life, I should be willing to do that with mine. Lay down my life, point people to Jesus, do something great for God and... I realized that my heart was motivated by a sense of working to pay God back. (btw "should" is a striving word and it is often a confession of guilt.)
And then it hit me - Rest. My first response in seeing Jesus willingness and knowing my status as his son because I am forgiven in Christ - is to rest in that. There is only one Good Shepherd and it's not me. He was willing. Jesus loves the Father and His obedience to his Father's will that we should be redeemed, showed love by laying down his life for helpless people like you and me. And as soon as he picked up his life again JESUS became our green pastures, our sanctuary, our rock, our fortress and our shield.
So to all of you who, like me, wrestle with what you ought to do in response to this Good message I invite you to rest. And when God opens doors to serve and share the stories of his faithfulness, do so from the position of rest rather than striving. From that place of rest you can:
Be willing to lay down your life in service to others. (John 10:17-18)
See the people lost, broken, hurting and go to where they are. (John 10:16)
Share the story of the heart of God through Jesus for them. (John 10:11-15)
Help them understand and see how Jesus is the one gate to life that lasts. (John 10:7-10)
Point to Jesus, the rescue for sinners, ransom from heaven, Salvation for our souls. (John 10:1-6)
He was willing! You have a shepherd, Jesus, who gives peace in every circumstance and in the midst of any trial or enemy. He picked up his life Easter Sunday morning so you can believe it!